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Subdivision importance?

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Hello all,

I've recently applied to 10 programs (9 PhD 1 MLS program as a backup) and am curious about the subdivision distinction. My interests are in Renaissance poetry and I've been told by several professors in this area that my interest alone helps me the slightest bit with my applications. I've applied to only top 20 programs all with a strength in the Early Modern period and I suppose my question is does having this interest help me at all?

My overall application is decent, I hope. GRE lit score is average, GRE verbal 690, AW 6. I have a 3.85 GPA in both overall and English from a strong undergrad university and also have LORs from well respected scholars in my field. My SOP is, I think, strong and focuses on specific research I've done under one of my recommendation writers as well as my methodology (interested in historicism and the history of the book). I've been worried about my writing sample. I had originally wanted to submit a portion of my honors thesis but realized it would not be polished enough in time so I had to resort to an essay on King Lear. I'm worried because after having read it again (why do I torture myself with that which cannot be changed?) I think my introduction is rather weak and am not sure how "hot" a topic what I focused on truly is.

I realize this is a hodgepodge of information and I appreciate any responses considering either my chances or thoughts on the importance of a subdivision is which typically generates less interest among students.

Thanks again and Good luck all!

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Having a focused subdivision is really important, especially since you're applying to PhDs instead of MAs, because the adcomms are looking for a well rounded incoming cohort--who wants 20 new students with 18 of them being Victorian novel people?? I actually talked to one of my profs about this, and he said he was not on the general adcomm, but he was on a committee of three extra profs who just looked at the Early and 19th century Americanist applicants to give their opinions on the writing samples. In essence, if you're applying to for Renaissance studies, you're basically only competing against other Renaissance applicants. Considering that you said you only applied to schools with strong Early Modern studies, that might still be a wide-ish pool, but certainly less wide than an application with no clear focus that's jostling against EVERYONE else. Personally, in my applications to English lit programs last year, I think not having a clear focus for a subdivision was my biggest mistake, and it kept me out of the running for PhD programs, even though I was a good candidate for the MA level studies (and that's all for the best, really, because I'm a generalist at heart). So yes, your prof is right--your focus will (probably) help. Good luck, I hope you hear good things soon!

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I agree completely with the above poster.

I'm an early/early 19th century Americanist and have been told that my particular interests within this field are going to help me out. Let's hope everyone who has been told this is right and we all get in :)

My professors have all gone out of their way to tell me that you NEVER compete with the whole pool, only with those who share your subfield (within reason, of course). You basically just have to be the very best within your area, and if there aren't a lot of people who share that interest you have a better shot right out of the gate.

I don't think they're admitting no-talent applicants because they have to fill a quota, but if you're at the very top levels where differences in work ethic and ability become smaller and smaller, that kind of numbers game increases in importance.

I think it also helps to have interests that haven't been "done to death"...if you have a lot of unexamined archival material in your field, you probably have a better shot.

Even if committee members do not share your research interests they might get a sense from other members that what you want to work on is exciting and represents something fresh. That means you might make a name for your university and they will want to have you there.

It's all a gamble with this kind of thing, though, because you just never know who is applying your year.

Basically the same people get the majority of the offers: the top Medievalist, the top 20th century Americanist...etc will get a lot of offers and everyone else gets in line.

(Writing this out makes me nervous about all the colonial and 19th century Americanists at my heels! ...cue my constant heartburn)

Best of luck!

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Thanks a lot for the input! I like to think that my focus hasn't been "done to death". My current thesis is on the effects of the plague on Renaissance writers', specifically Donne, conception of death and individuality. Fun, optimistic stuff!

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