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lekw

a few questions

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Okay I need some big time advice and have many questions so thanks in advance to anyone willing to tackle this and provide assistance.

First some background. I was a history Major in college a SUNY school then took about 21 graduate credits in history at CUNY Queens College. My college history GPA was about a 3.5 and graduate GPA 3.8. Before finishing graduate school I went to law school. I graduated passed two bar exams and have been a practicing attorney for three years. I now have an opportunity (no need to get into the specifics), to apply and attend history programs. This is something I always wanted to do but decided I should have the practical law education first. Now my questions and issues:

1) How important is the GRE Quantitative section? I have not studied math for +10 years. In the practice tests I take I score high verbal but horribly low in math. Can I get into a program with +600 verbal and maybe like 300 math?

2) I have zero letters of recommendation what should I do? I can get letters from judges, employers, even politicians but my last history class was 5 years ago? I can ask college professors for recommendations but even if they would write them these would be based on only grades and no memory of me. Can I get into programs with less then great recommendations?

3) Should I try to enter MA programs to establish more of a foundation in history. Are the requirements less strict? For example can I get into a top MA program then work my way into the PHD program?

4) Are there any schools or any fields that I can apply to that my law degree would help. I was thinking early American History maybe focusing on Constitutional history?

I know I have many questions but really have no idea how to proceed at this point. I feel that this is a lifelong dream but that I am at a severe disadvantage for going the practical rout first. Do I have any hope of getting in anyplace worth while? Thanks again so much for any help, information.

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Hello me of a year ago. I have been practicing for about twice as long as you, and I had some success with applications so it can be done. Success is an inherently subjective assessment, but I was admitted to my personal top choice in the MA/PhD program with the standard 5 year package of tuition/stipend, so that's success for me. As for your questions, my personal take is:

1. The GRE Quant is undoubtedly less important, but I would still try to get it up as far as possible. I had not had a math class in a decade, but I bought a GRE prep book and studied obsessively in the two weeks leading up to the exam. I got 700+Q... I hated every second of it and hope to never do anything similar again, but it is doable, and though I'm sure I didn't need a 700+, I Am also sure it didn't hurt me.

2. Most people are going to tell you that you need academic LORs and they are generally correct. I started priming the LOR pump a few years ago when I first started thinking seriously about going back - got back in touch with old professors, etc., long before I had to ask for an LOR, mostly because I hate asking for things, and even more, I hate reaching out to people after years only to ask for something. You may not have the luxury of years, but you do have months, and with a little memory jogging, your old professors may remember more than you think. And what about law school professors? I actually had one non-academic LOR, which I justified with the thinking that certainly having an LOR from someone who has actually seen me at work within the last decade should count for something from a practical standpoint. Maybe it hurt me, who knows, but it did not stop my application in its tracks.

3. Some people will say yes, doing an MA first will shore up your application, give you a chance to explore interests and further define your area of study, get LORs, etc. All those things are more or less true, but personally I wanted just to be certain I had the opportunity to complete the PhD... the idea of going through the application process all over again in 2 years did not appeal to me. Even if you apply to some straight MAs, at least apply to some MA/Phds - you never know, especially if the fit is right, and it is much easier to get funding with the latter. Obviously I do not know your financial picture, but some money is always better than none, even if you do not absolutely need it.

4. I cannot add anything on this one. Most people I meet assume I want to study history in a way that is directly related to law, but that is not the case. There is a reason I am going from full-time legal work back to school, and it is not because I love the law.

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Thank you so much for your reply. I hope to be in your position next year. It appears we have very similar backgrounds and I would very much like to ask you further questions about the transition from law to PHD. Is there anyway I can contact you of the list (lekw2001@gmail.com)?

A few other questions generally for the forum. I am trying to put together a personal statement. I have seen samples and advise online and in books that point to a review of life academic work. How specific should the statement be? Many samples just say that the student would be interested in entering any history program. Would I have to be specific saying something like I would like to study E. European History or even more so I would like to study the history of womens rights in Romania during the 1950-70's? Any other essential things I should know about the statement? Thanks again everyone so much for all the help.

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Don't base your decision on what field to study on your law degree. You can pitch your legal career as helpful for any field (research, clear communication skills, etc.) but you'll be miserable if you somehow end up in a field you don't like.

You need academic references. There's no real way around it. You may want to consider taking part time courses (ideally graduate level) in your field to meet professors so that you can get references.

If you think you can get straight into a PhD program then do it. I applied to MA programs only (I am from Canada so at least I am well funded) and am now sort of regretting it. I'd consider applying for a variety of programs if I were you: some top tier PhDs, some mid-range ones, a few MA programs, and depending on your field maybe even some outside of the US.

re: SOP

Be as specific as possible. You don't just want to show what your research interests are, you want to show that you can intelligently write about those interests and that you understand what sort of research a historian does and what sort of questions a historian should be asking.

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1) How important is the GRE Quantitative section? I have not studied math for +10 years. In the practice tests I take I score high verbal but horribly low in math. Can I get into a program with +600 verbal and maybe like 300 math?

While departments may downplay the importance of the Quant section, I'm pretty sure if you score a 300 they will think (correctly, IMO) that you have no business becoming an academic. At least get into the 500s if you don't want departments to cringe when they see your scores. Seriously, the percentile rank on a 300 has got to be less than 10th.

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Thank you so much for your reply. I hope to be in your position next year. It appears we have very similar backgrounds and I would very much like to ask you further questions about the transition from law to PHD. Is there anyway I can contact you of the list (lekw2001@gmail.com)?

A few other questions generally for the forum. I am trying to put together a personal statement. I have seen samples and advise online and in books that point to a review of life academic work. How specific should the statement be? Many samples just say that the student would be interested in entering any history program. Would I have to be specific saying something like I would like to study E. European History or even more so I would like to study the history of womens rights in Romania during the 1950-70's? Any other essential things I should know about the statement? Thanks again everyone so much for all the help.

Keeping in mind that I can't imagine a part of the application that will be more unique to the applicant, I agree that you want to be as specific as possible. At the same time, I took to heart some advice that you also don't want to appear to be TOO narrowly focused, because that may turn off people who would otherwise be interested in your application. Plus, going to graduate school, especially at the MA level, is supposed to be about exploration, at least in part, so you should be open to it. Personally, I expressed one narrow interest, how that particular interest fit into one or two broader interests, and then finished up with the statement that I was looking forward to exposure to new areas, historiography and issues during graduate school, which I perceived to be fundamental to the undertaking.

I'll PM you for any other questions you might have.

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You can pitch your legal career as helpful for any field (research, clear communication skills, etc.)

I DID do that, which definitely has merit. Most of law is research and writing after all. Which is also why I had one non-academic LOR - someone who had seen me research and write for years. And even better, there were clients who actually paid for my written results, unlike academia. :lol:

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I think that it would be reasonable to have one non-academic reference if you had at least two strong academic references, but I may be wrong.

The SOP should be specific enough to show that you have a handle on the topic, but you need to show a connection to the broad themes, regional/chronological areas, and the existing wider historiography. If it makes sense, you need to use a specific topic to show that you understand things more widely.

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I think that it would be reasonable to have one non-academic reference if you had at least two strong academic references, but I may be wrong.

The SOP should be specific enough to show that you have a handle on the topic, but you need to show a connection to the broad themes, regional/chronological areas, and the existing wider historiography. If it makes sense, you need to use a specific topic to show that you understand things more widely.

I would probably have gone with 3 academics, if a 3rd had been readily available, so even though I had a non-academic, I wouldn't say it's a sure fire way to go. I tried to look at it from an AdComm perspective though - if you're applying nearly a decade out of undergrad, how relevant are your undergrad professors observations? On the one hand, if you stood out sufficiently that they remember you all that time later and like you enough to write strong references, that says something; on the other hand, it would seem that hearing from someone who can assess the type of thinker you are today, ten years on, would seem more meaningful to me, but that's why I'm not on an AdComm.

We definitely took different approaches on the SOP; I don't think I went into as much detail, although I probably should have in retrospect. Yet one professor I met with post-admit said that my grasp on the historiography of the field (based on our in-person conversation) was much greater than what they expected from an entering MA student. And I don't think said grasp is all that great - in fact, I have a growing unease as the end of August approaches. But at least there's one program out there that doesn't expect their newly entering MA students to be masters of their field.

In any case, I don't want anyone to think I'm presenting my application as perfect - certainly 50% of the schools to which I applied found it lacking - but as someone who struggled with applying after a long break from academia and an intervening profession, I'm just describing how I did it and that even a flawed application can succeed. Thepoorstockinger's advice is probably better in terms of making your application the best possible.

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4) Are there any schools or any fields that I can apply to that my law degree would help. I was thinking early American History maybe focusing on Constitutional history?

Would I have to be specific saying something like I would like to study E. European History or even more so I would like to study the history of womens rights in Romania during the 1950-70's? Any other essential things I should know about the statement?

Forgive me for being blunt, but, well, early American Constitutional history and E. European women's rights are about as disparate as two fields can get. I'd invite you to spend some time thinking about whether this (that is, pursuing a PhD in history) is really what you want to do, and for the right reasons, because yes, you do need to have at least a clear idea of your fields of interest when you write your SOP. I'm not saying that you have to know exactly what your dissertation topic will be. Rather, you need to demonstrate intellectual curiosity regarding a theme, era, and/or region. That means knowing whether you'd like to be an Americanist or a Europeanist, for starters.

And, in the event that you just threw those topics out there as random examples so as to not blow your cover, I beg your pardon and wish you the best of luck.

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Forgive me for being blunt, but, well, early American Constitutional history and E. European women's rights are about as disparate as two fields can get. I'd invite you to spend some time thinking about whether this (that is, pursuing a PhD in history) is really what you want to do, and for the right reasons, because yes, you do need to have at least a clear idea of your fields of interest when you write your SOP. I'm not saying that you have to know exactly what your dissertation topic will be. Rather, you need to demonstrate intellectual curiosity regarding a theme, era, and/or region. That means knowing whether you'd like to be an Americanist or a Europeanist, for starters.

And, in the event that you just threw those topics out there as random examples so as to not blow your cover, I beg your pardon and wish you the best of luck.

I assumed that the E. European History vs. The Rights of Romanian Women 1950-70 was an attempt to gauge the degree of specificity that departments want in a SOP. Why the OP didn't use gradations in the field he/she designated, e.g. Constitutional History vs. the role of englightenment philosophy in anti-federalist thought, I couldn't explain. But I didn't pick up anything that indicated wavering between romanian womens movement and constitutional history.

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The math section is horrible if you're not a math person, but with a little studying/reviewing I think you should be able to break 500 (I SUCK at math and even I got a 530).

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Yeah, I wouldn't worry so much about the Quant. It's by far one of the last things anyone will look at on your application, and even a 'good score' isn't really that great percentage wise. I got a 730, which placed me just outside the top fifth. It still comes after LORs, SOP, transcript, writing sample, GRE Verbal, GRE Writing.

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The math section is horrible if you're not a math person, but with a little studying/reviewing I think you should be able to break 500 (I SUCK at math and even I got a 530).

The biggest danger in applying with a sub-500 score is not that departments are going to think that you're awful at math (which they may or may not care about) but that it could send them the message that you are lazy. The math on the GRE isn't very hard; I work for a test prep company, and in my humble opinion the GRE math section is easier than even the ACT math section. With a bit of preparation, I would be surprised if anyone that graduated from an accredited high school (not to mention university) could get out of the 300 range. Even at the top of the 300s, you are still beneath the 10th percentile; 300 is the 3rd percentile. Unless a department explicitly states that they do not even look at the Quant section, I would be wary of submitting an application with "3rd percentile" on any section of the required standardized test. I mean, if you can't study for a couple weeks and cram pythagorean theorem, etc. into your head, what does that say about your work ethic?

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Thank you so much everyone for all the information and advice. I have taken heed and have begun studying GRE math like crazy on the weekends and after work. Although it is draining, especially after a long day at the office, I do think that I am making good progress and will probably have a much more respectable math score when I take the exam.

I have also been working on recommendations. So far one law firm partner geared on research and writing and second from a grad school professor who actually remembered me!!! Now my biggest problem is the personal statement. I am trying to focus on what area I would like to study but this has been difficult. I will try to explain. I love European history especially Eastern Europe and took many classes on the area in college and grad school. However, I do not speak Russian or any Eastern European languages. Other then English I do speak, read and write Hebrew and Spanish. Obviously this will not help me with European history which appears to require at least German and French. I also read a great deal of American history especially civil war and constitutional history. Constitutional law was probably my favorite law school class. I think I would be happy studying either and am trying to decide which to choose. Now as noted I am aware these are very different areas of interest but I do have interest in both. From a practical matter I seem to be moving towards American Constitutional and early post colonial history. Does this make any sense at all? How do you balance practicality and interests?

In regard to kate07 response I used the wording in my last post as examples (I was looking at two college papers I had written). That being said as noted above I am not sure what area I would like to specialize in. I do not think this fact or that I am interested in multiple areas suggests that I am not doing this for the right reasons. As per my original post I have a well paying profession that I worked ridiculously hard to become part of. I also have a full time job which I am aware probably pays me more then I will be paid even after six or more years of school to get my PHD. I also know that the job market for PHD

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It's okay to have broad interests. Nobody's expecting you to come with a dissertation topic. If anything they discourage it! Yet ,they do want you to have some solid research questions that you would like to explore when you are in the PhD program. These questions will have some relation to geographical boundaries, time periods, or themes. Just as long the admissions can fit you in some kind of category, they're happy.

So that said, step back from your statement and look at the big picture. What compelling questions do you have? What more research does the field need? Do you have any new theories or ideas that can contribute to the field's direction? They want thought provoking stuff, like what Benjamin Franklin would think up ;)

As for interests, I've heard a wide variety of answers on how people came to choose their interests and topics. Many, really, came to graduate school unclear of what they wanted to do- all they knew that they wanted to study 19th century American history or the civil rights movement in Europe or something. I think they were able to get into graduate school that way because of their numbers, LORs, and excellent writing samples. One of my professors got to where she is now because of a footnote in a class reading! Some people get their inspirations from class papers.. Think back to your past classes, do you have any lingering questions or interest in topics that you explored? It could be a good jumping off point for your SOP.

Some of us are a dime in a dozen and have known what we wanted to study since before college. I have loved the Holocaust since I read this children's novel for class in 5th grade. My interest has sustained ever since and it's still quite strong. I will admit that once I started doing upper division work in undergrad and my MA program, my thinking of the Holocaust has expanded beyond Europe and WWII into new areas of inquiry and interest. It's about making connections between ideas. As one of my professor said to me along the lines of not always having a straight path but a path of many twists and turns but it's still a path. There are no dead ends. Since I've been with this for a long time, I can trace my path from that novel to today and different sources that shaped it. It's quite incredible.

Rest assured, you will be fine. You need to spend some time reading academic journals in areas that you are interested in and thinking about how you can bring together your broad interests and make them work. Global and transnational history are slowly being accepted and popular and perhaps even in demand as we are living in globalization.

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While departments may downplay the importance of the Quant section, I'm pretty sure if you score a 300 they will think (correctly, IMO) that you have no business becoming an academic. At least get into the 500s if you don't want departments to cringe when they see your scores. Seriously, the percentile rank on a 300 has got to be less than 10th.

I strongly disagree with this statement's content and tenor. Getting less than a 500 in NO way means you "have no business being an academic" or that departments will "cringe" when they see your application. Some people find math difficult and it ONLY reflects upon their math aptitude, not their overall intelligence. Personally, I got a low score on my math GRE and I had no problems finishing my MA with full competitive, merit-based funding at the top of my program or being accepted recently by two excellent PhD programs with full funding.

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I strongly disagree with this statement's content and tenor. Getting less than a 500 in NO way means you "have no business being an academic" or that departments will "cringe" when they see your application. Some people find math difficult and it ONLY reflects upon their math aptitude, not their overall intelligence. Personally, I got a low score on my math GRE and I had no problems finishing my MA with full competitive, merit-based funding at the top of my program or being accepted recently by two excellent PhD programs with full funding.

Congrats on your success and it's useful to know that people can have poor scores and still achieve great placement. but I'd have to agree with misterpat -- as a general indicator of success, a 300 on the QUANT GRE is absolutely ridiculous and should be read as a red flag. if learning disabilities are a factor, these should be indicated elsewhere in the application, or personally conveyed to POIs.

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Congrats on your success and it's useful to know that people can have poor scores and still achieve great placement. but I'd have to agree with misterpat -- as a general indicator of success, a 300 on the QUANT GRE is absolutely ridiculous and should be read as a red flag. if learning disabilities are a factor, these should be indicated elsewhere in the application, or personally conveyed to POIs.

also this thread is two years old -- which meant that you searched thegradcafe "archives" to respond to it. where's freud when you need him?

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