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Born Losers


Electric Anxiety
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I thought I would start a thread where anyone who has completely, or at least so far, been shut out by all the schools one applied to can discuss his/her feelings about this: what you think complete rejection means, how you are handling it, how does it make you feel, and anything else you would like to discuss.

 

I'm interested in mostly applicants who only have rejections so far, but anyone who has been waitlisted without any acceptances I'd like to hear from you too.

 

If you have been accepted somewhere, thoughts of encouragement (not just "cheer up!") or aid of some sort are quite welcome as well, but I'd like to keep the thread success story free haha.

 

I noticed a few members have deep knowledge, or more than others, about how the overall decision processes work, so to you few, any information you have to help us grasp our reality would be helpful. Obviously it's as simple as our applications just didn't reach a certain standard to make them as competitive as others, but thoughts about what it means to be rejected so late and such are helpful things to discuss.

Any sort of inside knowledge you have I appreciate because I found this entire application process with being in the dark most of the time unbelievably stressful. I know many of you agree...

 

The first thing I would like to discuss is how should one feel being rejected so late in the game? I just got my official rejection by Boston University a few days ago when I saw their first batch of acceptances and waitlisted go out early March.

 

I read many schools send acceptances and rejections in waves, but anyone who recently has been rejected, is this something to feel better about you think? Does this mean we were most likely waitlisted and were still in consideration? Or was it most likely the schools already knew they were going to reject us, and just liked to wait until the end to tell us?

 

It could be either, but how do any of you complete rejects feel about your own last second rejections?

 

And for you, like me, still waiting for a few schools but are too scared to solicit a response, how are you feeling?

 

Anything you have to say to make us all feel in the same boat, the born losers boat, is welcome here ^_^

 

*Of course I don't think we are losers in any real sense, and maybe shouldn't feel like one since the application game is tough, but for those who have been totally shut out, it's easy to feel that way, like a loser :unsure: .This is the forum for those who can relate to eachother, not for the winners to tell us to cheer up lol.

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I applied to 15 programs last year and got shut out (all straight rejections). It sucks a lot. I knew a couple of applicants last year who were involved in 4 application seasons (twice for MA programs and twice for PhD programs). They all said that it gets better and they were absolutely right. This season, I applied to 10 programs and got accepted to 1 PhD and 2 MA's, and waitlisted at 2 other MA's. Also, one of the MA acceptances knew that I had an offer from a PhD program, they decided to change their offer to a PhD one. Maybe my season wasn't as good as other applicants but I am very happy that I got accepted at my top choice program.

Now, here is what I did differently and I think it helped a lot: The program that changed their offer to PhD said that they were very impressed with my writing sample. Thus, the main difference from 2014, I believe, is the writing sample. I wrote on a topic that is current and I know that some of my top choice programs work on that topic. Also, I can't emphesize this enough, write a paper that is directly correlated to you areas of interest. In the 2014 season, I was told by my advisors to send my best paper regardless of the topic. I think that killed my application (some might disagree). Moreover, I found what Sid has posted regarding writing samples to be on point and it is pretty much what I did. I would also like to add that you should have a lot sources. It shows that you did your homework before you have opened your mouth.

Another minor difference is the statement of purpose. This time, it is much more specific and tailored to every single program. Do not just read the general interests of the faculty members. Get specific on what Professor X currently works on and how it relates to your interests.

Finally, what I think that would have helped but I did not do is networking. I think networking would get you much further. I graduated from a state school with an unheard of philosophy program (though the faculty were excellent in my opinion). Their placement for the past 2-3 years were in the 50's to 40's range with an exception of 1 student who got into a top 10 program. I asked my advisor how she did it and he said that she knew people there. She's a brilliant student nonetheless, but I am not sure she would have gotten accepted there if she did not know the right people. 

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. Keep your head up, it gets better.

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I applied to 15 programs last year and got shut out (all straight rejections). It sucks a lot. I knew a couple of applicants last year who were involved in 4 application seasons (twice for MA programs and twice for PhD programs). They all said that it gets better and they were absolutely right. This season, I applied to 10 programs and got accepted to 1 PhD and 2 MA's, and waitlisted at 2 other MA's. Also, one of the MA acceptances knew that I had an offer from a PhD program, they decided to change their offer to a PhD one. Maybe my season wasn't as good as other applicants but I am very happy that I got accepted at my top choice program.

Now, here is what I did differently and I think it helped a lot: The program that changed their offer to PhD said that they were very impressed with my writing sample. Thus, the main difference from 2014, I believe, is the writing sample. I wrote on a topic that is current and I know that some of my top choice programs work on that topic. Also, I can't emphesize this enough, write a paper that is directly correlated to you areas of interest. In the 2014 season, I was told by my advisors to send my best paper regardless of the topic. I think that killed my application (some might disagree). Moreover, I found what Sid has posted regarding writing samples to be on point and it is pretty much what I did. I would also like to add that you should have a lot sources. It shows that you did your homework before you have opened your mouth.

Another minor difference is the statement of purpose. This time, it is much more specific and tailored to every single program. Do not just read the general interests of the faculty members. Get specific on what Professor X currently works on and how it relates to your interests.

Finally, what I think that would have helped but I did not do is networking. I think networking would get you much further. I graduated from a state school with an unheard of philosophy program (though the faculty were excellent in my opinion). Their placement for the past 2-3 years were in the 50's to 40's range with an exception of 1 student who got into a top 10 program. I asked my advisor how she did it and he said that she knew people there. She's a brilliant student nonetheless, but I am not sure she would have gotten accepted there if she did not know the right people. 

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. Keep your head up, it gets better.

 

I actually don't agree with your writing sample advice. I wrote a sample on a topic completely divorced from my main interests, and I think it actually worked in my favor at most programs.

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I actually don't agree with your writing sample advice. I wrote a sample on a topic completely divorced from my main interests, and I think it actually worked in my favor at most programs.

I disagree with your disagreement lol. If I say my interest is in ethics and I submit a paper in ancient, they will think that's weird. If she likes ethics, why doesn't she have a good paper in ethics? How do we know if she knows the literature, can write on it, etc. In your case your paper must have just been pretty good so it didn't matter. But I have heard of programs, later in the process, asking an applicant to send in another sample in their interests, because it's so important they see you can write in your interests. Just me tho. 

 

So I know this isn't supposed to be successful people cheering up unsuccessful ones. I was 0/11 in PhDs last season so I totally relate to how the OP feels. Definitely I was down. More than that I was angry. I had done so well in undergrad, the GRE, had strong letters, the things I thought mattered. I now realized GRE doesn't matter unless it's awful. And GPA and letters only matter if they are from a good school. Almost always, unless you are at a school on "the list", then you aren't going anywhere. But fortunately, that's what MAs are for, and I had more success applying to MAs (2/1/0) and am quite happy at one, and cautiously optimistic about my Phd prospects in the future. 

 

But definitely it doesn't mean anything about you or your work. Everyone is so good. And there is all kinds of chance involved. Maybe they didn't need anyone in your interests, or took fewer people than usual, or the ad comm member who read your file was sick, hungry, upset, etc. when she read yours, whatever. Lots of random stuff. If you are in at an MA, good luck applying out again. If not, you could still apply out, I just don't know how much one can improve their application outside of school. I wouldn't count someone as a loser who decided to not go on in philosophy. Probably, you'd be the smartest of us all ;) 

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If I say my interest is in ethics and I submit a paper in ancient, they will think that's weird. If she likes ethics, why doesn't she have a good paper in ethics?

 

Because their best paper was written for an ancient class? Maybe they didn't take an ethics class, or the class covered topics they weren't specifically interested in and so they didn't have a paper they were really excited about.

 

All the advice I've seen is to simply send in your best philosophy paper. If that's in a different area, then no one is going to look askew at it. It'd be way too weird and nitpicky to do so.

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I didn't get shut out this year, but I can try to give some encouragement. You definitely shouldn't feel like a loser for getting shut out. There are too many factors beyond your control, and too much random noise, for rejections from philosophy programs to say something bad about you. I'm sure you've heard this plenty of times, but it's hard to get in anywhere.

 

One thing that I think matters a lot, and unfortunately is out of your control when you apply, is pedigree. It's not just the name of the institution itself that matters, but coming from a top school gives you a better chance of getting letters from the most respected philosophers in the field. A letter from a top philosopher probably goes a lot further than a letter from someone the ad coms haven't heard of before. I remember that Eric Schwitzgebel wrote on his blog that he couldn't recall a single student from UC Riverside getting accepted to a top 15 PhD program in the past decade or so, and UC Riverside is a mid-ranked PhD program. And even if you seem to have everything going for you, you are probably going to get a lot of rejections because there are just so few spots.

 

If you applied and got into a decent MA, then hopefully you'll have a better shot of getting into a PhD program by taking that route. But if you didn't, it might help to know that some very good MAs accept late applications - for example, I know someone who got into a Canadian MA well after the deadline. So I'd suggest looking at some of the good Canadian MAs if you think you have run out of options.

Edited by cogsguy
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Because their best paper was written for an ancient class? Maybe they didn't take an ethics class, or the class covered topics they weren't specifically interested in and so they didn't have a paper they were really excited about.

 

All the advice I've seen is to simply send in your best philosophy paper. If that's in a different area, then no one is going to look askew at it. It'd be way too weird and nitpicky to do so.

Ya, but if I'm on an ad comm, and the applicant says their interest is ethics but they didn't take an ethics class, I'd be worried they don't have adequate background. Ideally, your best paper is in your AOI anyway. But ya, if easily your best paper is in something else, send that.  

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Work on your writing sample. That's all I can say with the extremely meagre experience I have. It is always going to be worse than you think it really is. So if there's anything wrong with your application it's probably your writing sample. I've seen people with worse GREs and pedigree get into far better places. It's the always the sample.

Edited by verificationist
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First, I'll reply to the main topic of the thread. Second, I'll reply to the tangential discussion about writing sample subject matter.

 

To the main topic, I'll say that I was shut-out last year. Applied to 23 PhD programs and was wait-listed only by UW Madison. It was my second time to apply to PhD programs in philosophy. The first time, I picked a strong MA program over an unranked PhD offer (fully funded). Elsewhere I've said that I think this was the right choice.

 

Here are some of the things I take to be "lessons learned" from my shut-out and from others' shut-outs. I've seen brilliant people do poorly or even get shut-out of philosophy PhD admissions, particularly when those applicants have applied only to very high-ranked programs. I encourage people to accept the fact that you have only so much control over the outcome of your admission season. I see comments above to the effect of, "Well, I did this wrong," or "If only I would have done such and such . . . ." It's always a good idea to learn from mistakes and improve, but do realize that you may have made no substantial mistakes in the application process. You may have been unlucky. Philosophy admissions are hardly predictable even on the macro level; they are much less predictable on the individual level.

 

I think this point is helpful for so many reasons. For one thing, those who have been shut-out needn't conclude that they're poor students of philosophy. Of course you could be a poor student of philosophy, but you can't conclude from a shut-out that you're a poor student of philosophy (or a "born loser," as the thread title jests). Also, you needn't beat yourself up over the details of what you did or didn't do in your application. There's a real chance that these details made absolutely no difference, or if they did make a difference, that no person could have predicted the difference they would make.

 

When you apply to philosophy PhD programs, to some extent you have control over the process. But the rest is out of your hands. It's similar to (though not the same as) a lottery, in the sense that both involve risks and somewhat unpredictable outcomes. It's also similar to a lottery in the sense that admission feels much like winning the lottery. I've spoken to brilliant and successful applicants who acknowledge both that they are supremely qualified and that others (who weren't successful) are supremely qualified. One very generous person told me this last semester, and to be honest, I feel better about my shut-out, knowing that she's going to be an amazing philosopher.

 

So what you're doing when you decide to pursue a career in philosophy is you decide to play against tough odds. That happens at the admission level, and it happens on the job market. So many of us pour our hearts into this because of the hope of success and the belief (usually) that it would be the coolest career in the world.

 

The great thing about philosophy is that, as we discussed in another thread, one needn't be a philosopher (in the very narrow sense of the word) to be a philosopher (in the broader sense). You may get shut out of philosophy programs. But no one can shut you out of philosophy. Sounds corny, but if we all appreciate the sentiment of this a bit better, we may look at all this a bit differently (in a good and healthy way).

 

Now to the tangential discussion on writing sample topics. I believe pretty strongly that writing samples should be offered in one's area of interest. Applications are often read by a small group of people in that area of interest. That group of people wants to admit applicants with whom they will get to work. Suppose you submit a writing sample outside your area of interest. Your statement of purpose says that you want to work with Prof. X, but Prof. Y is left to decide whether you will work with Prof. X, because Prof. Y works in the area of interest in which your writing sample falls. The other reason that a writing sample should come from your area of interest is that your best writing should come from your area of interest. You claim to be a great epistemologist, but we have no way to know whether you're a great epistemologist, because your writing sample concerns Aristotle's ethics. You're a great writer, analyst, thinker. But departments want to see fit. They want to see strengths in your area of interest.

 

This is only a "rule of thumb," because we're dealing with empirical matters. Some successful applicants reject the rule. My point is that generally those applicants are successful despite their rejection of the rule of thumb.

 

Now, if you're in the crazy position that by far your best piece of writing is one outside your area of interest, then I think that's an odd and tough position. I suppose I would submit the better piece of writing. I would be tempted to expand my areas of interest to encompass the writing. If you're pretty good in that area, maybe it's worth pursuing it at the graduate level. Just a thought!

Edited by ianfaircloud
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Ian if you blogged regularly like Leiter, about graduate admissions and philosophy (issues in philosophy, sociology of philosophy, issues in higher ed, etc.) I would read your blog every day. I would have it as a favorite at the top of my browser. 

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Ian if you blogged regularly like Leiter, about graduate admissions and philosophy (issues in philosophy, sociology of philosophy, issues in higher ed, etc.) I would read your blog every day. I would have it as a favorite at the top of my browser. 

Ian > Leiter

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First, I'll reply to the main topic of the thread. Second, I'll reply to the tangential discussion about writing sample subject matter.

 

To the main topic, I'll say that I was shut-out last year. Applied to 23 PhD programs and was wait-listed only by UW Madison. It was my second time to apply to PhD programs in philosophy. The first time, I picked a strong MA program over an unranked PhD offer (fully funded). Elsewhere I've said that I think this was the right choice.

 

Here are some of the things I take to be "lessons learned" from my shut-out and from others' shut-outs. I've seen brilliant people do poorly or even get shut-out of philosophy PhD admissions, particularly when those applicants have applied only to very high-ranked programs. I encourage people to accept the fact that you have only so much control over the outcome of your admission season. I see comments above to the effect of, "Well, I did this wrong," or "If only I would have done such and such . . . ." It's always a good idea to learn from mistakes and improve, but do realize that you may have made no substantial mistakes in the application process. You may have been unlucky. Philosophy admissions are hardly predictable even on the macro level; they are much less predictable on the individual level.

 

I think this point is helpful for so many reasons. For one thing, those who have been shut-out needn't conclude that they're poor students of philosophy. Of course you could be a poor student of philosophy, but you can't conclude from a shut-out that you're a poor student of philosophy (or a "born loser," as the thread title jests). Also, you needn't beat yourself up over the details of what you did or didn't do in your application. There's a real chance that these details made absolutely no difference, or if they did make a difference, that no person could have predicted the difference they would make.

 

When you apply to philosophy PhD programs, to some extent you have control over the process. But the rest is out of your hands. It's similar to (though not the same as) a lottery, in the sense that both involve risks and somewhat unpredictable outcomes. It's also similar to a lottery in the sense that admission feels much like winning the lottery. I've spoken to brilliant and successful applicants who acknowledge both that they are supremely qualified and that others (who weren't successful) are supremely qualified. One very generous person told me this last semester, and to be honest, I feel better about my shut-out, knowing that she's going to be an amazing philosopher.

 

So what you're doing when you decide to pursue a career in philosophy is you decide to play against tough odds. That happens at the admission level, and it happens on the job market. So many of us pour our hearts into this because of the hope of success and the belief (usually) that it would be the coolest career in the world.

 

The great thing about philosophy is that, as we discussed in another thread, one needn't be a philosopher (in the very narrow sense of the word) to be a philosopher (in the broader sense). You may get shut out of philosophy programs. But no one can shut you out of philosophy. Sounds corny, but if we all appreciate the sentiment of this a bit better, we may look at all this a bit differently (in a good and healthy way).

 

Now to the tangential discussion on writing sample topics. I believe pretty strongly that writing samples should be offered in one's area of interest. Applications are often read by a small group of people in that area of interest. That group of people wants to admit applicants with whom they will get to work. Suppose you submit a writing sample outside your area of interest. Your statement of purpose says that you want to work with Prof. X, but Prof. Y is left to decide whether you will work with Prof. X, because Prof. Y works in the area of interest in which your writing sample falls. The other reason that a writing sample should come from your area of interest is that your best writing should come from your area of interest. You claim to be a great epistemologist, but we have no way to know whether you're a great epistemologist, because your writing sample concerns Aristotle's ethics. You're a great writer, analyst, thinker. But departments want to see fit. They want to see strengths in your area of interest.

 

This is only a "rule of thumb," because we're dealing with empirical matters. Some successful applicants reject the rule. My point is that generally those applicants are successful despite their rejection of the rule of thumb.

 

Now, if you're in the crazy position that by far your best piece of writing is one outside your area of interest, then I think that's an odd and tough position. I suppose I would submit the better piece of writing. I would be tempted to expand my areas of interest to encompass the writing. If you're pretty good in that area, maybe it's worth pursuing it at the graduate level. Just a thought!

I agree with many of the things you say, but I don’t believe there are any general suggestions that can be useful to everyone as regards the admission process. Everything depends on just too many factors one cannot even guess, as you said, and applicants can come from extremely diverse backgrounds. Maybe in the context of a certain application a writing sample on your AOI determines whether you will be admitted or not, and in other applications the fact that your AOI is reflected in your writing sample doesn’t matter so much, depending on your SOP, your CV, your overall profile, etc. I think the whole application one presents has to be coherent and organic. So maybe you present a writing sample on ethics and what you want to do is metaphysics, so you could explain in your SOP, for example, how your knowledge in ethical subjects has led you to be interested in metaphysics, and why. It’s just an example. If your best paper is not on your AOI and you think that could make your intellectual profile look strange, maybe you can mention something in the SOP to explain, or maybe you can present a second writing sample (maybe shorter) on your AOI, which can reflect other skills you might have and may make your application more coherent to someone who doesn’t know you. I just believe every application should be considered in itself before thinking about general statements on how applications should be in general.

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