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Profiles and Results, SOPs, and Advice (Fall 2015)

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Before many of us disappear off into the ether I thought it would be a good idea to continue what has become a bit of a forum tradition. In previous years applicants have posted their stats, background, results and statement of purpose as well as any advice they might have for future applicants.  


If you're willing to it would be great to keep this going by putting up a post once your cycle is complete and you know your results, where you're going and a little bit more about your profile.


Coming from the UK I found these old threads to be invaluable and the generosity and help from people on this forum has been fantastic.


Links to the old threads.


Template from previous years:


Type of Undergrad Institution:
Undergrad GPA:
Type of Grad:
Grad GPA:
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation:
Research Experience:
Teaching Experience:
Subfield/Research Interests:

Acceptances($$ or no $$):
Going to:





Edited by AuldReekie
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Type of Undergrad Institution: Selective private non-Ivy research institution
Major(s)/Minor(s): International affairs 
Undergrad GPA: 3.98
Type of Grad: UK masters
Grad GPA: Distinction
GRE: 170 V / 163 Q / 5.5
Any Special Courses: Masters was in area studies with a focus on politics. Some econ in undergrad and masters.
Letters of Recommendation: 1 undergrad professor, 1 grad professor, current supervisor (with a PhD but not working in academia)
Research Experience: undergrad research for a prof, undergrad and masters theses, current work is a research position 
Teaching Experience: n/a
Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative politics, authoritarianism, political economy, area studies

Acceptances($$ or no $$): 8 all with full five-year $$. 6 of the 8 are top-10 schools.
Waitlists: none
Rejections: 2 
Going to: TBD



My biggest piece of advice that might be useful for some to hear: I am so, so, so glad that I waited as long as I did to apply to PhD programs and did other things first. I graduated undergrad in 2009. I feel more mature and confident than I have in any prior year, I know what I want to study and why, I know what I do NOT want to study and why, I have many more ideas for interesting questions to research, I have more highly developed professional skills, and I have such a better grasp of how the "real world" works than I would have if I had gone into a PhD earlier. There's still tons I know that I don't know, but I know a hell of a lot more than I did when I was 22. I also hope that it means that if I decide a few years in that academia is not for me (though I am pretty sure that it is), I will not see switching out of grad school into some other track as a failure--just a change of plans. 
My biggest concerns entering the process:
  • Weak quant background. Far and away my biggest worry. My quant GRE score was fine but not exceptional. I took college-level stats and calculus in high school, but I basically have not taken math since then (10 years ago!) I took several econ courses in college, but not econometrics.
  • Writing sample that did not demonstrate quantitative analysis--because I have not done research that uses quant analysis before. Basically, my application screamed "QUALITATIVE." And I wasn't sure how many places would be into that. Apparently enough!
My biggest strengths going in (either objectively, or things that I think helped):
  • Strong stats and already highly developed area knowledge and language skills (going into CP)
  • Prestigious scholarships on my CV and a history of finding and going after money to make my own research possible
  • 3 strong LORs--people who knew me well and/or had worked closely with me and who are impressive themselves
  • An SOP that made clear why I want to go into political science and how my past experience has prepped me for what I want to study
Best advice I got / most helpful things I did as I prepared my applications:
  • **Number one most helpful thing I did: set aside a day or two to read the abstracts of every. single. article. that has been published in the top 2-3 poli sci journals and/or journals in my subfield in the past 5 years. That will give you a sense of the current hot topics, how people are framing things, etc. From that you will find a handful of articles whose lit review sections and bibliographies you can mine for pieces to cite/draw from in your SOP. I cannot overstate how helpful this was. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to say in my SOP, but going through this process allowed me to articulate it in relation to recent literature and in the proper vocabulary. This was especially helpful since I had been out of school for a few years.
  • (especially in CP): Frame your SOP in conceptual terms, not regional terms. Your region is what offers up cases to study conceptual issues. Show that you have broader interests than just the region or policy area you have focused on.
  • Show that you know you will be spending a lot of time learning and using math, and indicate that that is one reason why you want to do a political science PhD.
  • Your SOP is not about why you want to go to grad school. It is about what areas you are intellectually interested in broadly, what question you want to research, and why you are prepared to enter a PhD program to start researching it. You need to sound confident, but not arrogant. And you have to demonstrate that you know what political science research is all about.
  • This is a common piece of advice, but worth repeating: write early, write often, and run your SOP by lots of people. I started in July and had a piece of shit SOP until it got ripped by a couple of people in October and I re-did the whole thing in response. When I rewrote it and it got good, I knew.
What I would do differently / what surprised me:
  • Not apply to as many schools. One of the schools I got rejected from, I shouldn't have applied to. It was not a good fit. But it was a top school so I applied anyway. That was a waste of money.
  • On the other hand, I applied to schools that I thought might be a terrible fit, and they ended up taking me, so clearly they knew something I did not. 

SOP: Not sharing with anonymous people on the internet, sorry.

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Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 50 LAC
Major(s)/Minor(s): Unrelated field
Undergrad GPA: 3.7
Type of Grad: Top 5 Law School
Grad GPA: No grades (roughly middle of class)
GRE: 170 V / 165 Q / 6.0 AW
Any Special Courses: Multiple graduate level poli sci and econ courses
Letters of Recommendation: one economics professor, one poli sci professor, one law professor; all fairly prominent; multiple courses under each
Research Experience: Senior thesis, multiple (4+) theses in law school.  All qualitative, which may have hurt the application
Teaching Experience: N/a
Subfield/Research Interests: American, theory
Other: N/a

Acceptances($$ or no $$): One top 10, one top 15 (both fully funded)
Waitlists: N/A
Rejections: Six (all top 10)
Pending: N/A
Going to: Undecided


LESSONS LEARNED: I really didn't see much order behind my application cycle.  I was rejected by every school to which I thought I had a great fit and was accepted by two good programs which did not seem to fit my research interests well (limited overlap in both subfield and methodology to what I expressed in SoP).  I am very happy with the options I have, but either will involve significantly modifying my research program away from what I expected in order to match departmental strengths and faculty interests.


I suppose the lesson would be to apply broadly to places you would attend if admitted, even if you think the fit is poor.  The admissions committee might see things otherwise.  If I had applied only to places I thought were a good 'fit,' I would not have been admitted anywhere (although I did not apply outside the T15).  I was also migrating over from a related field which approached many of the same issues, but from a different direction and with different terminology.  My inability to 'translate' into polisci-talk may have hurt my perceived preparedness for graduate study in the field.


SOP: Not sharing full text.  Outlined in roughly a half page each two of my best research projects in graduate school and how I hoped to expand them into a research program during my PhD.  Named 3-4 professors per school whose research seemed to substantively overlap and discussed the level of overlap.

Edited by randomacctname123
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Type of Undergrad Institution: Fairly prestigious private university in the northeast
Major(s)/Minor(s): International Relations
Undergrad GPA: 3.57
Type of Grad: M.A in European Studies from well-known European university
Grad GPA: 4.0
GRE: V: 167 Q: 158 AW:5.5
Any Special Courses:
Letters of Recommendation: 1 from Undergrad Advisor/Mentor (Tenured Prof in Comp. Pol), 1 from M.A Advisor (Tenured Prof. in Political Economy), 1 from Professor in M.A (Assistant Prof in Sociology)   
Research Experience: Three stints as R.A (two in undergrad, one during M.A), research experience at NGO internship, B.A and M.A Theses
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: party politics, political economy, constructivism

Acceptances($$ or no $$): Johns Hopkins ($$), UNC Chapel Hill ($$), Sciences Po Paris
Waitlists: George Washington, Georgetown, NYU Sociology
Rejections: Berkeley, Columbia, Michigan, Yale, UCSD, Northwestern, MIT, Duke
Pending: LSE
Going to: UNC Chapel Hill



This was my second cycle. In retrospect, my first cycle I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and deservedly struck out. You may not be as naive as I was, but I hope others can avoid my mistakes. (As a caveat, all this is just my two cents, and my experience may well not be representative of the norm). 

1) Do what you have to do to get decent GRE scores: the cutoffs aren't absolute, but scores below a certain level kill your credibility. My first cycle my quant score was 152, and I doubt my applications even got a second look. This cycle, I spent a few months studying quant; my final scores still weren't good enough for the top-10, but were close enough to get into some good programs.   


2) Fit matters enormously. Over my two cycles I've been rejected by some low-ranked programs and accepted by some fairly strong ones. Don't bother applying to programs just because they're strong/prestigious (like I did); you need to be able to make a credible case that you'd fit with several faculty members. The places I was accepted had either a few professors with a very close fit in my particular sub-field niche, or 5 or 6 professors with broader connections to my regional and/or substantive interests.

3) To determine fit and strengthen your SOP, I'd suggest going through faculty pages intensively. When you find a professor whose interests seem aligned with yours, check out their CV and read one or two of their articles. This will help you express a clear fit with the program, and committees notice that.   


4) This is an exhausting and stressful process. I'd strongly suggest that after submitting your apps, you avoid grad cafe like the plague until the end of January at least. If it doesn't work out in the first cycle, don't give up! The competition is ferocious and the results can be a bit arbitrary. If academia/research is all you can imagine doing (and you shouldn't apply for PhDs otherwise), then take the time to improve your app materials and give it another go. Many people on this board have struck out on their first cycle, only to get into fantastic programs the second time around. 

SOP: The best SOPs that I've seen have catchy hooks at the beginning. I wasn't creative enough for that. I found a compromise which was to explain the puzzle of a research question/agenda that I'm interested in, briefly mention some of the literature, and describe a different approach I was interested in taking. This might be too specific for some, but I had some modest success with this. In the body I briefly discussed my previous academic and professional experience, but mostly how they prepared me to pursue my research interests going forward.  Somewhere (I did it in the final paragraph) you should make a sustained case that you're a good fit with the department; I cited specific professors and some of their previous work that was relevant to my interests. 

Edited by NYCBluenose
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Type of Undergrad Institution: 
Top University in South America.

Major(s)/Minor(s): BA in Political Science.

Undergrad GPA: Roughly translated to 3.66

Type of Grad: None

Grad GPA: NA

GRE: 157V/157Q/4.0W

Any Special Courses: Did a grad level course on quantitative methods (mostly non-linear regression and a bit of causal inference). Went to Summer School on Mixed Methods after graduating.

Letters of Recommendation: 4 from PS professors who graduated in different places in the US, distributed them strategically (I don't recommend this as things get unnecesarily complicated, just pick your best 3 and sent a fourth to those places where it would matter).

Research Experience: RA in 4 projects in my department, 1 Research Internship, 1 peer reviewed publication and 2 conference presentations

Teaching Experience: TA in 5 courses (some of them in multiple occasions)

Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative, Democratic and Government Institutions

Other: Things work different in South America, so take all of this with a grain of salt

Acceptances($$ or no $$): 
UIUC ($$), Pittsburgh (no $$)

Waitlists: UNC

Rejections: Princeton, Columbia, Michigan, St. Louis, Northwestern, Notre Dame

Pending: NA

Going to: UIUC



1) It is true that the GRE doesn't matter that much, but remember you're competing with people which profiles are EXTREMELY similar to yours, so everything counts, I'm pretty sure my test scores where a factor that kept me out from many places.


 2) Speaking about the GRE, don't be cheap about it. I studied and improved a lot, but used only free or borrowed material. Spend some bucks (or whatever is your currency) in a good online course. By the time I realized this, I didn't have enough time to retake, but I was mentally prepared for doing it if a second cycle became necessary.


3) Like others have said, fit is everything. Take your time to tailor your SOP and write one for each university. Pick 2 to 3 people in the department and describe how your interests benefit their current research agenda and viceversa. This may sound obvious but it's a hard thing to do, it takes a lot of time to realize how things "fit" together. Take your time starting the application process and do not start a new application until you have finishid the current.


4) Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Use ranking to inform your decision and define a bottom limit and apply to a broad range of schools (ideally, everywhere fit allows). Don't give up to holes in your admission and go for the shot at top programs, have some backup alternatives (in or outside grad school).


5) If this is really your thing, you shouldn't mind going for an extra year if things don't go well. Conversely, don't waste your chance if you got accepted in a program which wasn't your first choice (BTW, all your applications should be your first choice, why else would you apply there?), you can still transfer. In the long run everything falls in the right place.


Edited by Gusvalo
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Type of Undergrad Institution: Community college, M.A.-granting university ranked around 60th in its region by U.S. News
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.3
Type of Grad: M.A. from a U.S. News top-50 Ph.D. program
Grad GPA: 3.6
GRE: V: 169 Q: 160 AW: 4.0
Letters of Recommendation: Two from undergraduate advisors, one from M.A. professor

Research Experience: One semester as undergraduate R.A.
Teaching Experience: One semester as T.A., one semester as grader
Subfield/Research Interests: American politics

Other: Multiple conference presentations, undergraduate scholarships, undergraduate award for best paper presented at a regional conference

Acceptances: Three (top-6, top-25, unranked — all fully funded)
Waitlists: Two (top-25, top-40)
Rejections: Seven (two top-25, five top-40)
Going to: Top-6



1) Research matters. A lot. I had a great writing sample that fit well with the program I chose, as well as a history of winning awards for my research. I was able to write compellingly about my research agenda and clearly identify faculty I could work with. I'm now heading to a program that is ideal for my interests.


2) It seems if you have some previous research you can hang your hat on, then the objective indicators in your file will matter less. Look at my file. I failed out of college at one point! I got a B and a C in graduate school. My GRE writing score was mediocre. The GRE was the one objective indicator that admissions committees could look at and believe I could be successful in their program.


3) I threw in the application to the top-six school because I really wanted to go there, not because I had any expectation of getting in. Don't be afraid of taking a calculated risk and apply to top programs if they seem like a really good fit for your interests.



Wrote about undergraduate and graduate projects, discussed the development of my research interests, and tied my development to a single broad, thematic question that drives my research.

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Type of Undergrad Institution: large, well-known midwestern university
Major(s)/Minor(s): philosophy
Undergrad GPA: 3.1 (pursuing pre-med as long as I did was a giant mistake)
Type of Grad: MA from university ranked in the top 15 for political science  
Grad GPA: 3.98
GRE: V: 165 Q: 161 W: 5.5
Any Special Courses: Political economy, causal inference, linear models at the graduate level
Letters of Recommendation: 3 political scientists, all who said they would write me a 'strong' LoRs
Research Experience: RA and work experience in quantitative and qualitative research
Teaching Experience: none
Subfield/Research Interests: American politics and political behavior/psychology

Acceptances($$ or no $$): Vanderbilt, UPenn, Stony Brook, UIUC, Northwestern, Michigan (all $$)
Waitlists: Michigan and Princeton
Rejections: Stanford, Cal, Minnesota, UChicago
Pending: none
Going to: Michigan


LESSONS LEARNED: I only applied to schools where the research fit was strong. I had many discussions with my recommenders about where they thought I should apply and who would be good to work with given my research interests, and got feedback from them throughout the process. I read books and journal articles by all of the professors I was interested in working with to determine fit and removed schools from my initial list of 15+ schools because research interests didn't seem to mesh as well with mine or I felt I would have a hard time justifying why I wanted to work with someone/be in a department. 


I didn't target based on rank i.e. only apply to top-10/15 schools. Apply widely! Also - only apply to schools that you would attend if you are admitted!  If any of the schools I applied to were my only offer, I would be happily going there.


This is my second cycle - the first cycle I only applied to four schools, had no idea what I was doing, and was rejected from all of the programs. Two of the schools I applied to my first cycle I received admission to this cycle. I did not reapply to one of the schools because I realized it was not a good fit for my interests. My SoP and research interests were much clearer my second cycle, which I owe to being in a MA program and doing independent research. 


SOP: I discussed the research question I want to pursue in a doctoral program and then discussed how my question ties in to and builds upon current research in the field. I then explained how my MA research was a start to answering the question I'm interested in and what methods I hope to use and continue to use to pursue my research question. My last paragraph was tailored to each school and discussed why I am pursuing a PhD and fit within the department, targeting at least two professors with research interests that fit with mine in some way. 

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Type of Undergrad Institution: Mid-Tier Private
Major(s)/Minor(s):Political Science 
Undergrad GPA:3.9
Type of Grad: Master's in Poli Sci from Top-3 UK
Grad GPA: Distinction (4.0?), Won prize for top overall grades in program 
GRE:170 V/ 170 Q/ 5.5 W
Any Special Courses: Game Theory, 1 grad Quant Class (mostly regression techniques)
Letters of Recommendation: 3 Political Scientists-1 from UG 2 from Master's

Research Experience: RA as UG, Won award for Best Master's Thesis 
Teaching Experience: a TFA type thing for a year
Subfield/Research Interests: Comparative, Europe, Parties and Elections, Migration

Acceptances($$ or no $$): 11
Waitlists: 0
Rejections: 4
Going to: Princeton



1. I couldn't really tell you why I got in where I did, and was rejected elsewhere. My rejections were mostly in the top 25 range, but I got into all the top 10s that I applied to so who knows? Fit matters for sure....but I thought I had good fit at some of my rejects.

2. I think its worth taking the time to take GRE twice. I went from 166/160 to 170/170 after taking the time to study.

3. Get your recommendations early. I was told at multiple schools that I had really excellent recommendations.

4. See above for SOP. Also I made mine super dry, and more like a cover letter, and was told by several people who had read my file that this actually made it stand out. I got right to the point, and nearly every word was about research in some way.


SOP: PM me

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Type of Undergrad Institution:
Top-3 LAC
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science and Economics
Undergrad GPA: 3.9
Type of Grad: None
Grad GPA: None
GRE: 170 V / 162 Q / 6.0 W
Any Special Courses: Game Theory, Econometrics, Data Visualization
Letters of Recommendation: 3 undergrad profs (2 political science [iR], 1 economics)
Research Experience: RA to the aforementioned 2 IR profs
Teaching Experience: None
Subfield/Research Interests: IR
Other: Spent 2.5 years in private sector before applying

Acceptances($$ or no $$):
3 (all $$) -- one top-3, two top-10
Waitlists: None
Rejections: 4 (all top-10)
Going to:



- Start early. I had spent a while away from academia, so I reintroduced myself to the discourse and hot topics in IR by reading journal articles starting in mid-August. By mid-September I had banged out a first draft of my SOP. I think the late August to mid-September timeframe is when you should aim to have that first draft written, because...


- Ask others to read your SOP. Ask a lot of people, and ask qualified people. I asked 2 of my undergrad professors (the 2 IR profs who wrote LORs for me) and 3 of my friends who are currently at Top-3 Political Science PhD programs. From mid-September to late November, my SOP evolved considerably. The key theme in my feedback was...


- Focus on research, research, research. No one on the admissions committee needs to hear about "why you want to enter academia." I was worried that I would need to demonstrate why I was coming back from the private sector to do a PhD program -- nope. Just demonstrate that you have a clear area of desired study ("area" meaning anything from region-specific to topic-specific to concept-specific), that you are familiar with the existing literature in that area, that you have ideas for how you can build upon that existing literature in your research agenda, and that you can identify at least a couple of profs at the program you're applying to with whom you could pursue such research. You don't need to be specific about the exact methodologies you're planning to use, nor do you need to confine yourself to a single research topic. I must have proposed at least 4 different extensions on existing literature in my area of interest, but I showed that I was familiar with who had written what in those topics and showed that I understood what unanswered questions remain. By virtue of demonstrating that you are well-informed about current issues in political science and have an idea of how you would like to contribute to the discipline, you will simultaneously demonstrate your fit in academia. This is classic "show, don't tell." At the same time...


- Talk about what you've been up to. If you've been away from academia, like I have, explain what you've been doing and how your experience may help you be a better candidate. In my case, that meant bolstering my relatively weak GRE Quant score by discussing the statistical methods and quant-heavy work I've been doing in the private sector. If you're still in undergrad, talk about your current research, whether independent or RA. However, if you're still in undergrad...


- Go do something else for at least a year. Seriously. This might be controversial, and if you really are sure that you want to pursue a PhD, then by all means, go for it. But I'm glad I had my 3 years away from school to earn money, learn how to live on my own, and learn more about what my wants and needs are in life. I exited undergrad fairly certain that I would want to pursue a PhD at some point, but I needed to be sure -- and making a good paycheck while gaining additional quant skills in the private sector (and working insane hours) was the ideal way to make sure of that. You don't have to go into the private sector, but go join a think tank, join a nonprofit, go teach English in a foreign country. Hell, maybe even go do a master's (hopefully one that you're not taking out loans for) to see if grad school is for you. 5 years is a big commitment and my opinion is that a 22 year old is not equipped to recognize what kind of commitment that is. The three current students I asked to read my SOP all told me that they were glad they had taken at least a year off (to do various things: one was a management consultant, one was a journalist, and one was in a think tank). And finally...


- If you spend more than 36 hours on your application, you're doing it wrong. Now, I don't mean "spend 1.5 days" as in spend two afternoons. I mean literally, if you add up all the time you put into your application itself, you shouldn't be spending more than 36 hours. Maybe you need to read some journal articles to get yourself re-familiarized with the discipline. But the time to do that + the time to research key professors at the programs you're applying to + the time to write a first draft of a SOP + the time to ask for and receive feedback on the SOP + the time to revise the SOP + the time to prepare materials for your recommenders so that they can write a perfect LOR + the time to fill out the dang applications themselves + the time to write any additional essays that some programs require = 36 hours max. You're going to be in a PhD program and you're going to be writing grant apps while studying for tests and doing research. Start being efficient now and stop letting hesitance or uncertainty cloud your path. I had the nagging feeling that I hadn't spent enough time on my applications, but I realized that even before you open the application, most of the hard work is done: your track record (i.e. courses taken, GPA) is set, you've taken the GRE, you probably have some writing samples at the ready, and you've built enough relationships that asking for LORs shouldn't be a stressful thing to do. If this paragraph seems unreasonable, then maybe a PhD isn't for you.


I'm sure you can kind of guess what my SOP looked like based on my comments above. Here was the general structure:

- Why IR fascinates me, and what specifically in IR I want to study

- What is the current literature in that specific area of IR

- What are the lingering questions in that specific area of IR (and maybe how they might relate to current events): i.e. my research agenda(s)

- Why this program can help me pursue that research (i.e. name-drop profs)

- Why I am a good candidate (highlight your track record: any awards you've won, etc.)

- What I've been up to (private sector; gained research and quant experience)

- Conclusion: re-iterate strong interest

Edited by mercuryrising
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Type of Undergrad Institution: Non-US/UK school from Asia
Major(s)/Minor(s): Double majors in History and Politics
Undergrad GPA: 3.67 (we have a different system, this would be equivalent to top 5% of grad class) 
Type of Grad: Research Masters (MPhil), also from non-US/UK school
Grad GPA: No GPA
GRE: 170V/162Q
Any Special Courses: n/a
Letters of Recommendation: 1 well known US Philosophy prof, 2 Political theory profs from home institution
Research Experience: 6 months as paid Senior Research Assistant; Summer internship at think tank 
Teaching Experience: 2 years as paid Teaching Assistant 
Subfield/Research Interests: Political theory
Other: 2 international conferences 

Acceptances($$ or no $$): 7 acceptances - 2 are Top-3 politics dept ($$), 1 is a top-40 politics dept ($$);  4 other philosophy depts ranging from PGR top 16 to 50 
Waitlists: 0
Rejections: Loads, mostly philosophy departments 
Pending: 0 
Going to: A top-3 politics dept in the US



​- If you're from outside the English speaking world, like me, it's to your utmost advantage to have at least one US or UK prof writing a letter for you. Name recognition and reputation really matters. There are a number of ways that you can network with these profs - for me, my letter writer sat on my exam committee for my MPhil degree, and by a stroke of luck he also came to my home institution for a conference, so we had a chance to get to know each other and keep in touch. He knew my work, and this helped a lot. 

- I knew that it would be difficult to get into philosophy departments with a politics background, but since political theory is no longer big in most politics dept (save the top 3), I gave it a go anyway. And my initial suspicions were confirmed: I almost got entirely shut out of the top 50 philosophy schools. Luckily, because of a reminder from one of my profs, I decided to apply to 4 politics dept in the last minute. I got in 2 of them, both of which are top 3. If you're like me and interested in political philosophy/theory but don't have a strong and solid background in philosophy, you should probably apply more to politics than philosophy; the latter places a high premium on having the right background. 

- Always try for 'reach schools'. Always. When I did my application I felt like I was throwing money into the sea, because believe me, I had NEVER imagined that I'd get into top schools (my goal was just to get into ANY PhD program). It's a combination of luck and hard work (with much more emphasis on luck, I'd say), and sometimes you do go further than you ever dreamed you would. So always apply beyond what you think you can get. 

- Have a back up plan in mind: what is something that you could do for the coming year, and ideally something that you would find at least somewhat attractive, if you couldn't make it this cycle? For me, it was getting a teaching cert for teaching high school - not ideal, but at least I could have lived with it. Having this in mind really helped ease the pressure for me, which became especially terrible when I got my first rejection. 



A brief rundown of what I did: 

​- introduce myself and emphasise my strong background in politics and theory

​- briefly introduce my MPhil research work, which led to a short discussion about my research interests

​- expand on my interests and mention what specific questions I'm interested i tackling

- briefly mention my "real world" experience (think tanks, NGO volunteering, etc) that led me to become interested in these questions
- conclude with a tailored paragraph on the reasons I'm interested in so-and-so school, mention profs whose work inspired me


Something that I highly advise AGAINST is the idea of mentioning your weaknesses/any anomalies in your file in your SOP. For me, I had a crappy grade for one particular 100% exam based course that I took while on a study abroad program. It shouldn't have mattered a lot, if one looks at the rest of my transcript, but I obsessed over it so much that I decided to include a short paragraph (for some schools, not all) that explained why I screwed up that exam. I was shut out of all those schools for which I wrote such an SOP. My hunch is that, they will look at your grades, of course, but there's no need to draw unnecessary attention to something and make a big deal out of it, when the adcomm probably wouldn't have in the first place

Edited by kosmo
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​Something that I highly advise AGAINST is the idea of mentioning your weaknesses/any anomalies in your file in your SOP. For me, I had a crappy grade for one particular 100% exam based course that I took while on a study abroad program. It shouldn't have mattered a lot, if one looks at the rest of my transcript, but I obsessed over it so much that I decided to include a short paragraph (for some schools, not all) that explained why I screwed up that exam. I was shut out of all those schools for which I wrote such an SOP. My hunch is that, they will look at your grades, of course, but there's no need to draw unnecessary attention to something and make a big deal out of it, when the adcomm probably wouldn't have in the first place. 



This is really interesting advice. I had two W's in the same term on my transcript from undergrad, and when I was applying to master's programs, my advisor told me to mention it. I didn't end up mentioning it (not because I didn't want to draw attention to something negative, but simply because there was nothing to explain - I messed up those two classes and it was entirely my fault). What is the general consensus? Is there even a general consensus on this? When I apply to Ph.D programs soon, should I mention those two W's, especially now that I have a master's transcript with a 3.6 GPA? 


Edited by MastersHoping
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This is really interesting advice. I had two W's in the same term on my transcript from undergrad, and when I was applying to master's programs, my advisor told me to mention it. I didn't end up mentioning it (not because I didn't want to draw attention to something negative, but simply because there was nothing to explain - I messed up those two classes and it was entirely my fault). What is the general consensus? Is there even a general consensus on this? When I apply to Ph.D programs soon, should I mention those two W's, especially now that I have a master's transcript with a 3.6 GPA?

I've never once heard someone explicitly say applicants should directly address one bad grade or a W. The advice I was given was to address a weird situation by passively mentioning it via learning experience banter. So, if you want to address a couple Ws, find an eloquent way to say something along the lines of "during my undergraduate career I was able to learn what it takes to successfully complete classes and get the most out of classroom settings which has been reflected in my performance as a master's student." So, you're kind of addressing the Ws, if someone is concerned about them and checking your SOP to see what you have to say, but you're not bringing extra attention to the situation.

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