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Discouraging professors...


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I was enrolled in a PhD program in public admin but recently graduated with a terminal master's degree to apply to urban planning PhD programs.

But the thing is, two professors who promised me a good recommendation letter are discouraging me from applying to some of the top schools in the field.

I worked with one of them and got an A- from her class and for the other one, I got an A+ and an A in two of his courses. I am international student who graduated from the top schools in my country with a moderate level of GPA. As to English, the highest TOEFL I got was 110 out of 120. Considering that the minimum for schools ranges between 80 and 100, this is not bad. For GRE, I scored 94% on math, 71% on verbal, and 81% on writing but plan to take the test twice in coming months.

Most importantly I have been contacting, talking to, and meeting with professors at the universities I am interested in. They showed pretty positive signs about my fit and admission. I am passionate and ambitious about my teaching and research careers in the field so I want to get into one of those top schools.

Is this common for professors to discourage students from applying to top schools? I am really lost...

Edited by niceweather
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  • 2 weeks later...

I would directly ask them why they think you shouldn't apply to those schools. You can ask in a humble way, certainly don't be indignant about it, because like another poster said, there could be something they see or understand that you aren't privy to at this point.

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One of those things could be simply that the professor has been embittered by his or her own experience with academia.


Long ago, I was going to approach an undergrad professor for a reference letter and I mentioned that to another one of my letter writers. He looked at me and sternly advised me not to ask that one professor because he was known to have a mean streak when it came to encouraging or even helping his former students apply. He had some weird vendetta against academia because he had been wronged somehow that he didn't believe that others should go through it as well (for their sake and as a stab at the heart of the university).


Strange but I'm really glad that other professor told me so.

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Maybe there's something about the nature of the methodologies/philosophies of the departments in question that your prof disapproves of, or doesn't think that you'd be well served by. Often times prestigious programs can be a bit behind when it comes to emerging questions in the field. Perhaps there are rumors about these departments and their treatment of students (or other professors). If so, you should try to speak with current students at these departments, to assess whether or not these rumors are factual or even likely to affect you as a student.


Other possibilities:

a ) they want to discourage you from entering academia on the whole

b ) they don't think you should apply to these programs, because they see some flaws in your capacities as a student and don't believe that you would be a competitive candidate. 


All these things have been known to happen. I'd have a follow up conversation with them to really explore why. If you're hearing the same advice from multiple professors, there's probably something to be learned there.

Edited by biisis
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