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2016 Applicants, What Can You Teach 2017 Applicants

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Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

Edited by Mangosteen

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1 hour ago, Mangosteen said:

Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?
I'd say submit one, make sure it is polished.


(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

take a class if you can, or have a study group. do lots of practice tests.

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

Not necessarily.

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

That is basically me.

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

Be specific, but don't make it all about one interest.

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Don't do this.

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

My take on things...

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Here are some answers to your questions.

It's probably best to submit only one writing sample; the potential advantages of sending a sample that's more tailored to a particular department are likely outweighed by the disadvantages of working on each sample less.

If you feel like your GRE score is going to be abysmal, take some classes; if you think you can manage 160+ verbal and 150+ quant, you still ought to take practice exams and maybe buy one of them study books.

I don't think having other students in your department apply to the same programs is much of a strike against you.

You can place into very good PhD programs in the route you describe, but you are disadvantaged by not having good undergraduate pedigree.

I think you ought to make it clear that you have some specific interests, but don't sound overly narrow at the same time. So I'd use one or two examples that specify your interests without making them sound like that's all you like.

I wouldn't contact POI's.

Here's some general advice for being the best possible PhD applicant, in no particular order of importance. You should: be a woman from a highly-ranked undergraduate institution who went on to attend a highly-ranked MA program, has strong letters of recommendation from professors who know her well, like her, and are famous and likable, has an excellent writing sample that makes a substantive argument within a relatively small and recently popular corner of one of her stated areas of interest, does ancient philosophy, has perfect GRE scores, has a statement of purpose that makes it clear that she is up to date on recent developments in her field, but has long-term projects beyond those, and has presented and published papers in reputable venues. If you do all of those things, I think you can be sure you'll get into a top 10 PhD program. The extent to which you fail to meet all of these criteria, combined with the inherent randomness of PhD admissions, will determine how much worse you do.

Edited by anonphilgrad123

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I'll be back with more comprehensive thoughts once the season's over. As for your questions specifically, I'm going to just answer what I did, and let you judge by how that went (is going) for me.

3 hours ago, Mangosteen said:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

I sent in the same sample to all but the Toronto MA. I sent them a shorter paper because they had a stricter page limit I couldn't meet with my primary sample. NYU permitted multiple samples so I sent both.

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

I don't, sorry. I would recommend basic vocabulary memorization if you don't have a massive inventory, and doing at least one practice test. That was all my study.

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

I wouldn't think so but I don't know.

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

I defer to others here.

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

I was moderately specific, I guess. I listed a number of different interests and went into particular depth for one or two of them.

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

I didn't do this. It would seem imprudent unless you're genuinely contacting them for reasons unrelated to your application, e.g. a paper you're writing.

 

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13 hours ago, Mangosteen said:

Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

Well firstly, don't do it. In all likelihood it will be more brutal and unpatterned (and expensive) than you think, even if you have pretty low expectations. If there's something else you can imagine yourself doing, do that instead. There's a lot of great stuff about grad school, but grad school and the path to it are filled with rejection, poverty, loneliness, insecurity and burnout so be aware. 

Anyway, my thoughts:

1. Just spend your time on one really good sample. 

2. I scored in the 99th% and I'm probably shut out of PhDs and I know folks who have great offers and unexceptional GRE scores, so don't worry about the GRE too much...that said, shoot for 165+V, 155-160+Q if you can. Definitely get some study materials. I had an online program through Kaplan that had video lectures and practice problems and tests that I think were very helpful. 

3. I think so. My program had a ton of people applying out and most places I've been rejected accepted one or even two of our people. I have to think that most (but not all) programs would be hesitant to accept more than one person from one school (unless it's Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, etc.)

4. If you have the MA, that can definitely help. Just look at NIU or UWM or GSU placement record. But good people from good MAs still get shut out just like anyone else. 

5. Good question. I had a pretty developed sense of my interests and identified some projects I'd want to work on and with whom. I made sure programs were a good fit with my interests and cleared the list with advisors who knew my work and interests well and are aware of how admissions goes. But I'm shut out so idk what that's worth. Maybe I should have come across as more of a generalist. 

6. Don't do that. Philosophy doesn't really do that. 

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" (1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?"

For one school, I sent two writing samples. This was a matter of length. However, if you don't have two well-written samples, just send one.

" (2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores?"
Getting a high verbal comes with the profession. Getting a "perfect" verbal means that you practiced enough to avoid the margin of human error. Practices questions under a time limit, note words while reading. With Quant, you just need to not have a low score. If you are bad at math, even this might be difficult. I spent about half a month studying for quantitative. Get a lot of sleep and practice for the time limits. With the essays, it seems to be random and arbitrary. 

"
(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?" 
It can be if they don't have faculty with your area of interests.





 

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18 hours ago, Mangosteen said:

Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

(1) I used the same writing sample for all of my applications. My paper is somewhat long (40+ pages), so I directed them to read 20ish pages total. Some schools wanted even shorter Writing Samples but, oddly enough, those seem to be the schools I was most successful with. 

(2) I can't really help here. The GRE is a joke and can't really measure much except how well you can take tests, which is certainly a positive trait, anyway. I'm not even sure how much it really matters so long as you don't bomb it. 

(3) Honestly, I have no idea. Coincidentally, all my rejections (so far) come from schools to which another classmate also applied. 

(4) I don't have an MA, so I don't know. But I'm not sure if my school qualifies as "no-name" or not. 

(5) Meh. Half and halfsies. I basically said what I want to do, which happens to be both specific and vague. I used the same SOP for all of my applications and changed one or two sentences to make it seem more "personalized." But I didn't mention people I wanted to work with or anything. 

(6) I don't think it's a good idea to seem like a brown noser. That's also one of the reasons why I didn't mention POIs in my SOP, but that's just me. I also wouldn't know how to go about contacting them. I did go to some conferences and asked questions, and only accidentally started talking to people who ended up working in departments I was interested in. 

 

I don't mind sharing all of my documents and stuff if anyone wants to see them. 

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On 2/26/2016 at 1:24 AM, anonphilgrad123 said:

 

Here's some general advice for being the best possible PhD applicant, in no particular order of importance. You should: be a woman from a highly-ranked undergraduate institution who went on to attend a highly-ranked MA program, has strong letters of recommendation from professors who know her well, like her, and are famous and likable, has an excellent writing sample that makes a substantive argument within a relatively small and recently popular corner of one of her stated areas of interest, does ancient philosophy, has perfect GRE scores, has a statement of purpose that makes it clear that she is up to date on recent developments in her field, but has long-term projects beyond those, and has presented and published papers in reputable venues. If you do all of those things, I think you can be sure you'll get into a top 10 PhD program. The extent to which you fail to meet all of these criteria, combined with the inherent randomness of PhD admissions, will determine how much worse you do.

Thanks everybody. That helped clarify things for me. In my case, there is nothing I can do about my undergrad. The rest of my application should be strong (I'm not saying I'm more brilliant than any of the other 99,000 people, but I do have some strengths in my application, in form of letter writers and papers). 

This quote though made me laugh. I appreciate the tips on the SOP. 
 

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On 2/28/2016 at 8:10 PM, iamtheother said:

As someone who was shut out this season, I'll be happy to answer your questions after I meet with my MA adviser. We'll see what she says about these.

Great. send me a message if you find out anything. It could have been the randomness of it all. Good luck next year. 

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On 2/26/2016 at 7:47 PM, Mangosteen said:

Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

(1) I used one writing sample. They say you should use the "best piece" you've ever written. I think I've written better stuff, actually, but the paper I used felt "samply." What do I mean? Well, a lot of the real research that I've done is on obscure and technical stuff on the history of biology, model organisms, and debates over theory structure in science (category theory, set theory, and the like). My thought (and my advisor's thought) was that not many folks on adcomms would have enough background in the specific literature sets that I'm dealing with in those topics, and so it might be better to submit something more generally accessible. So, I used a paper on models in science and the intersection of truth and pragmatics. I think the paper is sort of philosophically unremarkable, but it seems to have done me ok. So, maybe there's some wisdom in the notion of using a broadly accessible piece of writing, so as to make it appealing even to non-experts.

(2) My GRE scores weren't very good. Granted, I didn't study or practice for them at all. I decided to use my time going to conferences and working on my thesis instead. Plus I have a kid... so I dunno. My time is stretched thin as it is, and I'm not sure I think the GRE is that important anyway (I actually think it's an utterly useless metric, but that's beside the point!). I guess, ceteris paribus, you do what you can to get the best score you're capable of. I didn't. Take from that what you will.

(3) I'm the only person applying from my program, so I can't speak from experience here. It seems unlikely that this would count against you, though.

(4) I'm doing ok in this cycle, and I actually have a BA from a no-name university (although it is a very good regional university) and a no-name MA program. LSU, as an MA program, is really well-known for the continentalists in the department (Protevi, Schufreider, Raffoul). I don't do continental philosophy. I came here because they had just hired Charles Pence, and he specializes in the stuff that I do, and there just aren't really very many MA programs with well-connected philosophers of biology. Granted, philosophy of biology is a weird sub-discipline, and most of the best folks in philosophy of biology are not at top-teir Leiter programs... which is really just to say that my case is probably not all that helpful with respect to making inferences about the admissions process in general. Although, it may be good to think about who you'd like to work with in your AOI and whether they're well-connected in the philosophical community in which they participate. An enthusiastic letter from a person that an adcomm member considers a good professional friend can be quite beneficial.

(5) I was pretty specific, but that's mainly because I've done quite a bit of actual research in my sub-discipline. But, I explicitly noted the fact that I'm open to taking on new interests and research areas. It's probably good to be specific so that they can evaluate fit more easily, but it's likely best not to seem closed-minded.

(6) I didn't contact POIs. I ran into a few at conferences and stuff, but that's rather different.

 

Edited by dgswaim

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Just a piece of general advice, mostly for people who haven't gotten started on their apps yet — get your application finished early! I ended up without a writing sample until after the fall semester, so I didn't apply to some of the schools with earlier deadlines. I got into Columbia, but I'm disappointed I didn't even take a shot at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, or Yale.

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On 2/26/2016 at 8:47 PM, Mangosteen said:

Hi, all,

I am a 2017 phd applicant. I am wondering if previous phd applicants, successful or unsuccessful, have advice for those of us applying next year.  I am especially wondering things, such as:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

(1) I submitted the same writing sample with all of my applications. I figured it would be better to spend X amount of time on one paper, rather than 1/2(x) on one paper and 1/2(x) on another. I also spent close to six months total on my writing sample, so keep that in mind.

(2) I got good GRE scores (169V, 161Q, 5.5AW) from just doing 3-4 practice tests. I was already pretty good at verbal, but I suck at math, so I just kicked my ass doing math practice and I raised my score from 148 on the first practice test to 161 on the test.

(3) I don't see why that would be bad.

(4) I wouldn't worry about 'no-name- undergrads holding you back. No one outside of the state of North Carolina (and only a few people in it!) would be able to recognize my undergrad by name. But I got into Pitt, Yale, WashU, Georgetown, and UVA from it, without an MA. So just work hard, and don't worry about that.

(5) In my SOPs, I basically said "I am interested primarily in X, Y, and Z, but I expect my interests to evolve during my time as a graduate student." X, Y, and Z were also very broad. I can't remember exactly, but I think X, Y, and Z were "ancient philosophy, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind." So totally non-specific. I think being too specific can be a bad thing. The department knows who will be willing to work with you, how long they'll be around, etc -- a host of factors you can't possibly know about as an applicant. If they think you're a one-trick pony, and your one POI is about to leave/retire/die/doesn't want new students, then they'll pass over you in silence. No need to risk that.

(6) I didn't contact anyone before I submitted my applications. I don't see how anything good could come of it, but you're taking a risk at making yourself look like either a brown-nosing sycophant or a cocky, smarmy kid too big for his/her breeches. So I wouldn't recommend contacting anyone beforehand. Also, I'd recommend not inquiring about your status until at least March 15. I know it will be hard on, eg February 10, when Program #1 sends out acceptances and you see the posts go up on TGC yet you haven't heard a thing. But just be patient. I learned the hard way this year that there are often waitlists for the waitlists, and it doesn't do any good to pester admissions committees to find out where you are. You will hear back in due time.

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FWIW, I was rejected at all the programs that were an amazing fit for me, but waitlisted at the only two programs where I wasn't an obvious fit. I employed a kind of game theoretic strategy for admissions and it seems to have actually worked. My thinking was that, suppose you're an ethics person, you'll have to compete with every ethics applicant to get a spot at a good ethics-y program. But M/E heavy programs also need ethics students, and it's not as if no faculty there do work in ethics, so maybe I would be a strong applicant at departments where I'm not so obvious a fit (cuz the competition in my AOS wouldn't be as strong). And that strategy seemed to work. I'm waitlisted at a strong department of one type, and was rejected by three lower ranked departments at which I was a much better fit. Just my experience. I'll probably still get shut out anyway tho. 

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On 3/3/2016 at 9:10 PM, Mangosteen said:

Great. send me a message if you find out anything. It could have been the randomness of it all. Good luck next year. 

I was told to present papers, try to publish papers and develop a "research tool" (language, etc.). Also, to apply to Political Science programs with strong focuses on political theory. The last bit of advice is more in line with my AOI though, so take that as you will.

For what it's worth I was described as "philosophically creative" and "inventive"; which was "highly valued" but needed augmentation by "further scholarship and secondary sources". At my program my rejection was partially based on an incomplete file (I was very, very sick and my papers were quite late).

@oldhatnewtricks I also attended a school in North Carolina, which very few people have heard of. Was this school nestled in some valleys with a work program?

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When possible, change your legal last name to "AAA" in order to receive all rejections promptly.

(But in all seriousness, you should know that if you have a last name at the end of the alphabet you  may receive your rejection a day or two later than others. *DONT* take this delay as a positive sign.)

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Every year, previous applicants inform new applicants about the importance of fit. Every year, they're met with disbelief and incredulity. But it matters, and it can matter a lot. For (yet more) proof and some solid advice, see [url=http://dailynous.com/2016/03/24/getting-in-next-time-ought-experiment/]this post[/url] at Daily Nous.

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Here you go:

(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples?

I submitted my thesis to all but three programs. To those three I submitted a sharp condensed argument paper. I had positive responses from three schools, guess which ones? Do not submit your thesis, regardless of what anyone says. Even if the DoGS says you can, do not do it, it is a trap.

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? 

Buy every vocabulary app on the app store and start trudging through. Vocabulary is the most time consuming aspect of GRE prep. Buy, beg, borrow or steal as many practice tests as possible. Use practice tests to monitor your progress and shortcomings. You need to think of the GRE as a meta-test where specific sorts of logic questions are asked concerning two huge seas of information. Learn the information, then learn how to answer the questions. Learning the questions or having all the knowledge are insufficient on their own. 

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school?

Not if you're the best of the three.

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? 

N/A

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific?

The SoPs I have read, from people with the best luck (yes, part of this is luck), have gone pretty deep. I found that going deep on something outside of the purview of your writing sample added the scent of something greater lurking beyond the application. Think big, write particulars!

(6) Did anyone contact professors in their AOI before the application season? Did you feel this is bad or good?

I contacted John Heil at WashU. Didn't get in. It was worth it to talk to John Heil. 

Feel free to answer any or none of these questions. Any advice or general encouragement is good. I'm already freaking out over all the rejections (securing a funded MA was stressful enough!) 

The only advice I would give (apart from what has already been stated) is to always strive to be the best in everything you do. Most, if not all, of the time you will fall short of this goal. However, how can you be the best if you never try? Good luck out there.

JtC

Edited by John_TheClimber
I am bad at message boarding

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From my experience applying this season, I learned one very important thing about the admissions process that I did not know the last time that I applied. If you're on a wait-list, visit the program! Not only is it incredibly informative, but it also may help your chances of getting into the school. I'm not saying that it will be the reason you get in. But, it does help them learn more about you and if you're a good fit, they'll see that and will keep that in mind when they have to choose who to make offers to from the waitlist. 

Yes, it will feel sorta like an interview when you sit down with the faculty (especially if you're sitting down with the person who is making the call about whether to admit you!). But, if you've done your research and you are there genuinely seeking info to help you with your admissions decision, it will be worth feeling a little uncomfortable. 

Some programs also have funds available for folks on the wait-list to visit. So, be sure to ask if they would be able to offer any financial assistance (or if the grad students would be able to host you).

And, if you do visit, be sure to express your gratitude! It really is a big deal when they offer you money and time to meet with you. 

When not to visit: if when you ask the DGS or Admissions director about visiting, they sound discouraging or emphasize that your chances of admission aren't good. 

Hope that's helpful!

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(1) Did you submit the same writing sample with all your applications, or do you think it's generally bad advice to submit different writing samples? Yes and no, respectively. Remember that the point of a writing sample is to demonstrate your very best possible work... and your work will probably be better if you spend months really honing and polishing one truly strong piece of writing instead of five or six or eight different samples.

(2) Do you have any strategies for helping earn strong GRE scores? Take a prep class, if possible. They can be expensive, but they also have nigh guaranteed results. That having been said, don't put too much stock in the GRE... Generally, it seems that as long as you hit 160-ish in Verbal and Quantitative, and work hard on your AW score, you're in good shape. The GRE just doesn't seem to carry much weight after the initial cut.

(3) Is it bad that at least 3 students from my department are applying to the same school? Not necessarily. It's possible that some of the other applicants from your department will get offers from other programs and decline their offer to the common school, and that's assuming that a number of them even receive offers. Don't let other applicants' plans throw you for a loop. Keep your head down, focus on your own work, and make it the best it possibly can be.

(4) Anyone have experience placing in a phd with a no-name undergrad but a known MA program? Yes! My undergrad as a state university in Pennsylvania - truly great faculty, but truly terrible track record and unknown to the point of being embarrassing. Luckily, after receiving my MA from a well-known if not incredibly ranked MA program, I placed in a PhD program this season and was waitlisted high at another. I'm not going to lie, a bad undergrad might make the struggle more uphill, but it doesn't make it impossible. Compensate as much as you can not only with the quality of work in your MA, but with external successes: apply for fellowships, present at conferences, try to publish even something small, etc..

(5) How much detail did you go into regarding your research interests on your SOP? Is it good to be specific or vague? That is to say, for those of us who know our main area of interest, is it detrimental you think to be specific? My two cents on this (possibly not at all grounded in reality) is that it's better to be specific. The goal of the SOP, remember, is to show them that you're excited about your next couple of years of work. You want to show that you've thought about it deeply, and have a battle plan, so to speak. Your research interests here aren't set in stone, so it doesn't matter if those specifics don't quite match up with what you end up doing... What does matter is that your research interests have to be specific and engaging enough to make your application stand out among literally hundreds of other applicants. A vague SOP is not a memorable SOP.

Big Takeaway: Apply to more schools than you think you need to. Apply to so many more. It's expensive and awful, but a lot of program have fee waivers if you can demonstrate financial hardship. Even the schools you think you're a sure-thing for can reject you; even your backup plan programs can get a lot of qualified applicants that season; have backup plans for your backup plans for your backup plans. Apply to as many schools as you can afford / bear.

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