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What is the best way to determine your chances when applying for PhD programs? I'm using the US News rankings to create my list of schools to apply to, but I'm not sure how far down the list I should go. I'll be applying to top-ten schools but I don't know what would be reasonable "safe" options for me. I'm sort of thinking of applying to schools in the #30s ranking as my backups. Any thoughts on this question? 

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2 minutes ago, lkjpoi said:

What is the best way to determine your chances when applying for PhD programs? I'm using the US News rankings to create my list of schools to apply to, but I'm not sure how far down the list I should go. I'll be applying to top-ten schools but I don't know what would be reasonable "safe" options for me. I'm sort of thinking of applying to schools in the #30s ranking as my backups. Any thoughts on this question? 

There really isn't a good way to know what one's chances are. The simple answer is that you need to be the best applicant to fit in a program (research-wise) and be the strongest applicant given that fit. However, even then, there's a litany of reasons why a person might not be accepted, and these reasons are rarely explicitly stated, even if they are known to occur.

People on these boards might be able to better estimate your chances if we knew your stats, but it's impossible to say without them.

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As simple as it may sound, finding out whether the faculty member with whom you would like to work is taking students at all is a good way to identify programs that you will not be able to get into.  Obviously, you need to have researched which faculty you want to work with before you send those emails, and you should be prepared to discuss how that professor's work applies to your research interests.  A brief email asking in the first sentence whether the faculty member is accepting students let me know that regardless of my qualifications, I should not apply to a couple schools, which saved me about $150 in application fees.  There is a lot of info out there regarding what other information to include in that first email, but above all, keep it very short.  Treat this like you would a large research project, because at this stage, that's exactly what it is.

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Unlike undergraduate admissions, there are no "safety" schools in PhD programs.  Even low ranked programs have their pickings of the applicant pool.  They can be quite selective-- for example, the History Department at George Washington receives about 100 applications annually and they have 5-7 admits.  The chances of getting into GWU is just about the same as getting into Yale.

Most important thing is finding the right intellectual fit and you do so by reading historical scholarship and find people whose ideas you really like and match with yours.

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13 minutes ago, TMP said:

Most important thing is finding the right intellectual fit and you do so by reading historical scholarship and find people whose ideas you really like and match with yours.

Slightly off topic, but it's fairly aggravating when you read someone's work you really love, and then you find out they don't work in academia. Ergh. That happened to me multiple times. Or they work in a completely unrelated discipline. Or have retired.

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1 hour ago, lkjpoi said:

What is the best way to determine your chances when applying for PhD programs? I'm using the US News rankings to create my list of schools to apply to, but I'm not sure how far down the list I should go. I'll be applying to top-ten schools but I don't know what would be reasonable "safe" options for me. I'm sort of thinking of applying to schools in the #30s ranking as my backups. Any thoughts on this question? 

I wouldn't worry about rank. What is it you want to study and research? That is far more important than simply wanting a PhD. Once you determine that, peruse through the faculty listing of every school you're interested in and see if there's a professor who matches your interests. Read their papers/books and build a personal statement around wanting to work with them.

You may find that a highly rank school may accept you and a lower-ranked one will reject you all on the basis of whether your interests align with the faculty at the given school.

Good luck!

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4 hours ago, lkjpoi said:

What is the best way to determine your chances when applying for PhD programs? I'm using the US News rankings to create my list of schools to apply to, but I'm not sure how far down the list I should go. I'll be applying to top-ten schools but I don't know what would be reasonable "safe" options for me. I'm sort of thinking of applying to schools in the #30s ranking as my backups. Any thoughts on this question? 

Even in my program (ranked 20-30, depending on source), there was about a 10% acceptance rate for our cohort (not sure what the yield rate is)...200 students applied, 20 accepted. Out of 13 (or so) on visit day, only one person was directly from undergrad, with all of us having a grad school degree + international experience (field work or industry). I wouldn't bank on a school ranked in the #30s being a "backup" school by any stretch of the imagination. Apply to places where about 3 people are doing work related to what you want to do, and make sure your methodological inquires fit as well. 

Edited by nevermind
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One more tidbit. Some schools definitely have higher acceptance rates, but they might offer poor funding. These programs' funded student percentages can approach percentages similar to higher ranked programs' acceptance rates. In short, getting into a funded program is pretty difficult, no matter where you apply. Very few places can afford the luxury of funding lots of students.

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This is pretty much echoing what others have said, but I wouldn't rely on a "safety" school when applying. I was rejected from a program in the 90s which I ignorantly assumed was a safe bet considering its rank. It's much more about you fit within a program and how your experience, grades, etc. along with fit compete with other applicants. You will also need a faculty member who is interested in taking you on as a grad student. So there is really no way to predict how this will go, so it's best to choose multiple programs that are a good fit for you, rather than relying on lower ranked programs to admit you. It may be good to consider applying to some higher and some lower programs that appeal to you for a better variety.

 

While applying I tried to predict which schools would accept/reject me and I ende up very wrong so, you just need to go on and give it your best and see how things work out in the end. :)

 

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