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AOI as a criterion for SPEP graduate admissions, PGR?


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To what extent has AOI been directly considered as a criterion for graduate admissions?  We all know that there needs to be a good research fit between the prospective student and the program, but is that all there is to it?  What do we really mean by "good research fit?"  After considering some of the notifications received by myself and others this season, it seems to me that AOI plays a much greater role in the admissions process than realized.  Take for example notifications received by three applicants, 1, 2, and 3, from three strong SPEP programs, Emory (E), Vanderbilt (V), and Penn State (PS):


Accepted (+), Rejected (-)


1: +V, -E, -PS


2: -V, +E, -PS


3: -V, -E, +PS


We see that each applicant was accepted to a program that rejected the other two.  This notification pattern is simply unheard of in the biological sciences and, I presume, many other more quantitative disciplines. 


We might chalk it up to the idiosyncratic preferences of each program, the black box of philosophy graduate admissions, God's mysterious ways and so on, but that would simply take us back to pre-Grad Cafe speculative admissions preparation.  So how do we understand this?  How about AOI?  The admissions committees are not simply looking for high GRE scores, quality writing samples, strong GPAs and glowing letters of recommendation (best student I ever heard and so on).  They're not even looking for a "good research fit."  Would faculty really want an incoming graduate student to work on the same topics they are? Admissions committees are looking for students whose research interests not only "fit," but complement, fill in and expand their own.  Philosophy faculty admit students whose areas of interest could potentially make new connections, fill in gaps, and expand departmental research.  Anyway, I'll stop there.  Any thoughts?  I'm curious what PGR applicants think.


TLDR:  AOI is a much more important criteria than previously realized.  Consider not only AOI "fit" with program research, but how they might expand, fill in gaps, and make new connections between faculty research interests.

Edited by sar1906
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Thanks for the write-up. I also think fit/AOI are incredibly important. The place I've been admitted/waitlisted are, it seems to me, the places where I have the best fit. There aren't always faculty members doing exactly what I do at each place, but there are at least a couple at each place which cover my interests quite nicely. And at all the places I've been admitted/waitlisted, they list the things I work on as specialties, which isn't the case at most of the places I've been rejected.

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In my department, applications are reviewed, in part, by the faculty working in the proposed AOI. So that's one way in which it can matter. But our department also tries to balance the distribution of students across AOSes. So if the phil. of math faculty have tons of students but the German Idealists hardly have any, for example, students applying with an AOI in phil. of math are going to have a harder time making the cut that year because they're a lower-priority AOI. If a student was pretty excited by Kant on math, however, they might have a much better chance, since they fit on both counts.

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I agree that AOI is important. I'm not sure I agree that it's more important than previously thought because, as far as I know, it's always been considered very important.


Anyway, I think it's basically impossible to determine anything conclusive from such a small data set. There are lots of other explanations of what's going on. Maybe applicant 1 had a particularly high GRE score and Vanderbilt really cares about GRE. Maybe the reader of 2's glowing letter from Professor X is close friends with Professor X and knows that her students have always been good in the past.


Also, do try to keep in mind that the application process contains a lot of randomness. Maybe the reader of 3's very solid writing sample was just sick of reading essays on Nietzsche that day.

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