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I'd be more interested in hearing from people who didn't have luck the first time around, and what they have learned. What are you doing differently? What mistakes did you make?

I'm not sure that I'm the best person to address this, because I did have strong Ph.D offers the first two rounds. However, while reapplying for my third and last round, I'm incorporating what I learned (belatedly), so this is hopefully still useful.

-I'm writing a very different kind of sample. Whereas the writing sample from my first two rounds essentially offered a certain reading of a text (as well its reception/criticism), I'm engaging much more broadly with historicist/cultural questions. I'm hoping that this will seem less like an "undergrad" writing sample and far more like a glimpse of how scholarship is actually in my field.

-My SoP is very different. This may be because I'm applying with an MA under my belt (hence, different rules apply to those of you with a BA), but my focus is far more specific, virtually an abstract of a possible dissertation topic. The "fit" paragraph is also much more specific. Whereas I basically googled CV's and read web bios during my first two rounds, I did a lot more research this time. I read the recent books (sometimes from cover to cover) of the professors whose works are the best fit for my interests, and thought carefully about how their work might help guide my future projects before writing the SoP.

-I'm going with lor writers from graduate school, rather than undergrad.

-I'm leaving "the numbers" alone--that is, not re-taking the GRE's or worrying too much about my GPA. (The GRE's consumed FAR too much of my time the last two rounds).

-unlike my strategy during my second round, I'm actually *not* focusing on getting a publication or a submitting to conferences. I may do this anyway if I find a good fit, but I've come to realize that focusing my energy on producing a single piece of strong scholarship to serve as my writing sample is far more useful than trying to line up publications. (In any case, it takes 6 months or longer to hear back, so submitting now isn't very useful).

Good luck! I'm curious what everyone else is doing.

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I applied to four schools last year, and I didn't get in anywhere. But, I have learned a LOT since then!

First, I totally did not apply to enough schools! 4 is not enough, not in anyone's book, and all 4 programs were highly competitive. This time around, I'm applying to 13 schools, which is almost too many--- but, better too many than too few. The application fees are going to kill me, but it's going to be worth it in the end. I'm applying to a wide range of schools all over the country, from Rhode Island to Wisconsin. Also, I made sure there were at least 1-2 professors I would want to work with at each school, and I am going to start emailing these professors in October.

Second, my first SoP was absolute crap. I have realized this in hindsight, and I'm putting a lot of effort into writing a much better one. I'm only on my second draft, but it's already leagues better than the one I used last year. I recommend buying the Asher book: Write Your Way into Grad School, or something like that. Amazing book.

Third, I'm re-working my writing sample. I'm using a 15 page paper that was my "senior thesis" (the English thesis at my University is shorter than at most places), but I'm making some edits to it to make it a much stronger sample. A professor of mine from college is going to go over it with me, and I think this will turn out to be a very, very good paper. Not to brag. :P

Fourth, and last, really, I'm re-taking the GRE's. My scores last year were atrocious, but I was too... mad? stubborn? embarrassed? To re-take them. I'm going for math tutoring with a good friend, who is also a math phD student, and I'm just working on my vocab. I go on number2.com at least five times a week, and I carry flash cards around with me. I am NOT, however, re-taking the Literature GRE. While my scores were only in the 50th percentile range, a good number of the schools I am applying to do not require it. I would much rather spend the hours upon hours it would take studying for this test on my SoP and writing sample, and I think most schools agree with me.

Whew. Okay, I think that's it. Best of luck to all!

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