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Acceptance Rates


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It's generally slightly less than 5%. You can take a peek on websites and often they will give you those statistics, but that's the number I've been given most frequently.

Here's the huge BUT though...you're not really in competition with the whole applicant pool. So say you're an early Americanist and the department hasn't had any of those in a good long while, they have a couple faculty, and there are only 2 other early Americanists in the pool. (cue the end of my wishful thinking dream sequence). That's who you are battling for the spots. You're never trying to beat out everyone, just everyone like you. Your chances vary based on the number of faculty in your area on the committee, what kind of students they want/need, and who they already have.

Of course there are ten trillion other factors, probably including which side of the pillow the committee head woke up on, how many vowels in your name, and a million other things that are impossible to predict or control designed specifically to give all of us nightmares.

I'm sure that was a lot longer and more rambling than you needed, but since applications are over there's nothing to do but be a windbag on the Internet :)

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From Brown's site: We receive approximately three hundred applications each year, and we are able to offer admission to approximately 18 of those applicants.

From Michigan-Ann Arbor's site: we aim for an incoming class of 12 students. During the fall 2009 admissions process, we received 353 applications.

From UC-Berkeley's site (though, due to budget cuts, this will probably be much lower this year): The English Department typically receives between 450-550 applications each year and offers admission to 40-45 applicants, of whom 18-20 enter the program.

From Stanford's site: We are able to matriculate about 10 students with funding from an applicant pool of 350+.

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Can anyone provide first-hand knowledge about the expected acceptance rate for any of the top twenty English Ph.D. programs?

There are a few with really huge applicant pools: Columbia receives around 700 applicants a year and accepts 18. I imagine NYU would have similar numbers. Penn received over 500 last year and accepted 11. An email from the graduate admissions secretary at Penn gave a higher figure for this year, but I can't recall what it was.

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There are a few with really huge applicant pools: Columbia receives around 700 applicants a year and accepts 18. I imagine NYU would have similar numbers. Penn received over 500 last year and accepted 11. An email from the graduate admissions secretary at Penn gave a higher figure for this year, but I can't recall what it was.

I'm an undergrad at Columbia and went to an info session about grad school and was shocked by that number. Is that number mostly due to the location? Either way, I'm not applying there.

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I'm an undergrad at Columbia and went to an info session about grad school and was shocked by that number. Is that number mostly due to the location? Either way, I'm not applying there.

I think the huge number of applicants at Columbia must be partly because people want to be in NYC, because other tops schools such as Stanford and Harvard state on their websites that they generally receive around 350 applicants. Though UPenn did receive 690 applications this year, which is up there with Columbia.

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I think the huge number of applicants at Columbia must be partly because people want to be in NYC, because other tops schools such as Stanford and Harvard state on their websites that they generally receive around 350 applicants. Though UPenn did receive 690 applications this year, which is up there with Columbia.

Yeah, it seems to me that there are several factors that create enormous application numbers, and the two most important seem to be Ivy League status and location in a major city. Both Columbia and Penn qualify for that, and Columbia seems even Ivier and big-citier than Penn - hence the consistent figure of 700s. But I'm not convinced the quality of those large applicant pools is comparable to, say, Indiana's, which would draw people who have done their research and want to go there for reasons other than the idea of living a shiny, glitzy dream city and the idea of going to a school that the world at large recognizes as "good." People who aren't necessarily extremely informed or serious might apply because of perceived prestige and the glamorous idea of the city. That's a major and maybe unfair generalization, but that's my sense. There's no way that Columbia is that great of a "fit" for all those applicants, so it's got to be something shallower. Even looking at those dubious rankings, it gets way more apps than higher-ranked programs. This sense is reinforced by the fact that the number of applications NYU receives is also regularly close to that range. All I can think is, good lord, it was difficult for me to get by in New York with a cushy salaried job in publishing and sharing a tiny 3-bedroom apartment with 3 other people. I can't even IMAGINE doing it on a English grad student's stipend! Godspeed to those "lucky" few of the 700!

BTW, those links I posted are almost definitely outdated - departments don't keep them up regularly. I remember all of them except for Michigan's being the same in 2007. So who knows how helpful they are. Bottom line is that acceptance rates are absurdly low.

Edited by intextrovert
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Well, a little harsh but probably mostly true intextrovert. Still, Columbia subsidizes grad housing and it's definitely doable. But you're right, no way it merits 700 applicants.

Haha, I didn't mean to sound judgey or harsh. My internet persona maybe comes across a little more sarcastic than I really am. I mean, I was naive and not too informed my first time around as well. And there's nothing wrong with liking the idea of living in New York while you're young - it's just not great criteria on which to base your decision to go to grad school. There are bound to be a lot of uninformed applicants, since it's really hard to get info about programs, so basing it on things like location and institution reputation is the easiest thing. But because we are all on Grad Cafe and thus have done our research, that doesn't apply to any of you fine people! :)

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Yeah, it seems to me that there are several factors that create enormous application numbers, and the two most important seem to be Ivy League status and location in a major city. Both Columbia and Penn qualify for that, and Columbia seems even Ivier and big-citier than Penn - hence the consistent figure of 700s. But I'm not convinced the quality of those large applicant pools is comparable to, say, Indiana's, which would draw people who have done their research and want to go there for reasons other than the idea of living a shiny, glitzy dream city and the idea of going to a school that the world at large recognizes as "good."

This is true.

Also keep in mind, everyone, that Columbia's program is inclusive of both English and Comparative Literature, and so attracts students interested in both fields, accordingly. If Harvard's Comparative Literature and English pools were combined, I'm sure the number of applicants would be similar. (Probably a little less, because Cambridge/Boston is no New York.) Still, yes, it's scary to think you're all thrown in there together.

Probably less than a third of the students applying to any of these programs will genuinely appeal to the admissions committee. If you're competitive, you're not competing with 700 people; you're competing with far, far less.

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It occurs to me that, perhaps, UPenn's high number of applicants is due in part to the fact that they do not require the Literature GRE.

Also true of Columbia. I love the statement on their website, which warrants its own paragraph:

"Our department does not require the GRE Subject Test in English literature, which we regard as unsubstantive and not predictive of the quality of graduate work."

(http://www.columbia.edu/cu/english/grad_applications.htm)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I wouldn't be so quick to assume that choosing where you'd like to be location wise is a poor criteria for 'fit' when seeking a graduate school. When I told my mentor that I was applying to graduate school, his first response was something along the lines of, "What part of the country do you want to live in? City or not?" We then sort of culled through all of the options related to my particular field based on that. You don't want to end up at University of MiddleofNowhere if you love living in a major city; you'll be living there for 5-7 years and your displeasure with your adopted home will effect your work and ability to study.

Columbia, of course, is not the only school in New York. I'd be curious to see what the numbers are for NYU, Fordham, and the like, and how they compare to Columbia. I will say, though, that location is probably not something I'd mention in a Statement of Purpose (I'd love to go to Columbia, because I WANT TO LIVE IN NYC!!!!), but is still an important consideration.

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I wouldn't be so quick to assume that choosing where you'd like to be location wise is a poor criteria for 'fit' when seeking a graduate school. When I told my mentor that I was applying to graduate school, his first response was something along the lines of, "What part of the country do you want to live in? City or not?" We then sort of culled through all of the options related to my particular field based on that. You don't want to end up at University of MiddleofNowhere if you love living in a major city; you'll be living there for 5-7 years and your displeasure with your adopted home will effect your work and ability to study.

Right on. My undergrad mentor really emphasized location. She said there are other factors that can be equally or more important, of course, but that if you are deeply unhappy with your location, it can reflect in your work. She said weather is a big factor to consider. It is also important, she advised me, to consider cost of living in the area vs. average funding packages. If you are struggling to make ends meet, that can be a detriment to your work, too.

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Probably less than a third of the students applying to any of these programs will genuinely appeal to the admissions committee. If you're competitive, you're not competing with 700 people; you're competing with far, far less.

Forgive me, because I'm not in English Lit. I did ask one of my LORs this question. He said there is a big difference between number of applicants and number of viable applicants.

Just wanted to second the thought.

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Forgive me, because I'm not in English Lit. I did ask one of my LORs this question. He said there is a big difference between number of applicants and number of viable applicants.

Just wanted to second the thought.

Too true. Two cents more: My mentor made the point that many of the applicants in the pool this year who are applying because the economy is down are likely not as competitive as applicants who have been planning for several years to do graduate work (since these applicants likely have, to some extent, tailored their undergraduate career toward becoming a viable candidate for grad school admission).

Edited by ecg1810
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Too true. Two cents more: My mentor made the point that many of the applicants in the pool this year who are applying because the economy is down are likely not as competitive as applicants who have been planning for several years to do graduate work (since these applicants likely have, to some extent, tailored their undergraduate career toward becoming a viable candidate for grad school admission).

Yes, I asked one of my advisers about how much I have to worry about people trying to avoid a bad economy, and he said something very similar. I'm trying to find a little comfort in that.

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Yes, I asked one of my advisers about how much I have to worry about people trying to avoid a bad economy, and he said something very similar. I'm trying to find a little comfort in that.

I've gotten similarly comforting comments, to the effect that while the applicant pools is increasing, the number of good students in that pool is not increasing at the same rate and that the smart ones will continue to be successful.

I second that the location of a school should be important factor in considering where you apply or accept. Personally, I couldn't bear living in California, so I'm sticking to my cold Northeast. It was funny how much NYU wanted the location emphasized in the SOP: please address these questions "WHY do you want to live in New York City? What do you imagine the intellectual consequences of living in New York City will be?.." Maybe that is partially to try to distinguish the people who want to come to here because they think its a Sex in the City episode vs. the ones who have a sense of opportunities for primary research and the environment of intellectual exchange and the literary arts scene outside the academy.

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It was funny how much NYU wanted the location emphasized in the SOP: please address these questions "WHY do you want to live in New York City? What do you imagine the intellectual consequences of living in New York City will be?.." Maybe that is partially to try to distinguish the people who want to come to here because they think its a Sex in the City episode vs. the ones who have a sense of opportunities for primary research and the environment of intellectual exchange and the literary arts scene outside the academy.

Sounds like NYU is more interested in grilling people for their interest in the city than they are in helping those people be able to afford to live there...

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I've gotten similarly comforting comments, to the effect that while the applicant pools is increasing, the number of good students in that pool is not increasing at the same rate and that the smart ones will continue to be successful.

I second that the location of a school should be important factor in considering where you apply or accept. Personally, I couldn't bear living in California, so I'm sticking to my cold Northeast. It was funny how much NYU wanted the location emphasized in the SOP: please address these questions "WHY do you want to live in New York City? What do you imagine the intellectual consequences of living in New York City will be?.." Maybe that is partially to try to distinguish the people who want to come to here because they think its a Sex in the City episode vs. the ones who have a sense of opportunities for primary research and the environment of intellectual exchange and the literary arts scene outside the academy.

Oh dear. I did not see that at all when I wrote my NYU SoP. I simply submitted my usual template, tweaked towards NYU's faculty. Then again, I don't particularly want to live in NYU (I certainly wouldn't mind it, but I did not apply for the location), so I don't think I would have had a good answer anyway.

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Oh dear. I did not see that at all when I wrote my NYU SoP. I simply submitted my usual template, tweaked towards NYU's faculty. Then again, I don't particularly want to live in NYU (I certainly wouldn't mind it, but I did not apply for the location), so I don't think I would have had a good answer anyway.

I wouldn't worry too much about not addressing those questions. Even though I was trying to follow all their prompts ( I think there are about seven questions, some with two parts), on revisiting the English website just now I realize I missed some of them. The question about the city was followed by a question about the school ("- Do you have a particular reason to come to New York City? can you envision the intellectual consequences of living and working here? - In light of the description above, do you have a particular reason for wishing to work within the Department of English at New York University?"), and clearly the latter question would be much more important to address.

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I wouldn't worry too much about not addressing those questions. Even though I was trying to follow all their prompts ( I think there are about seven questions, some with two parts), on revisiting the English website just now I realize I missed some of them. The question about the city was followed by a question about the school ("- Do you have a particular reason to come to New York City? can you envision the intellectual consequences of living and working here? - In light of the description above, do you have a particular reason for wishing to work within the Department of English at New York University?"), and clearly the latter question would be much more important to address.

Thank you for the reassurance. My statement was already far over the word limit, so I don't think I could have sneaked in a "this is why I love NYC" paragraph in there as well. Good luck with NYU--and your other apps this year! According to gradcafe results from the past two years, it looks as though they notify in the last week of February. It feels like an awfully long wait.

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  • 2 months later...

It was funny how much NYU wanted the location emphasized in the SOP: please address these questions "WHY do you want to live in New York City? What do you imagine the intellectual consequences of living in New York City will be?.." Maybe that is partially to try to distinguish the people who want to come to here because they think its a Sex in the City episode vs. the ones who have a sense of opportunities for primary research and the environment of intellectual exchange and the literary arts scene outside the academy.

Wow. NYU must be an even bigger bunch of douchebags than I already thought they were. The "intellectual consequences of NYC"? Are you kidding me? Is that self-important horse's manure of a question really on the application? What possible need could NYU (or anyone) have to draw attention to the already obvious attractions of NYC? Isn't that just NYU's veiled way of learning about a candidate's finances and hipness, and determining whether a prospective graduate student's sense of entitlement matches those of its undergraduates?

As I do my work on search committees, I don't think I will be able to look at new NYU PhDs in quite the same way again.

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