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Calvin S

For those who got into PhD Religion Programs

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I have a few questions for those of you who got into PhD Religion programs in the last couple of years...

1) Did you visit some/all of the schools you applied to before applying?

2) Did you email professors at some/all of the schools you applied to before applying? If so, just one from each school, or several from each school?

3) How many total schools did you apply to?

Thanks!

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First thing to keep in mind: PhD applications are a highly subjective experience. Everyone has anecdotes, many people have something about their process that differs slightly from what other people did or experienced. I was applying five years ago, but I think this still holds.

I was admitted to and chose to attend a fully funded program that I neither visited nor contacted prior to applying. That said...

1) Prior to applying, I only visited one program, CGU, which was the only one within a short drive of where I was living at the time. I had a meeting with my POI there. I did get in, but my perception is that they admit more students than other RS PhD programs because they have very little funding to offer. I do not think that traveling cross-country to visit campuses is worth the time or money. Your time would be far, FAR better spent on polishing your writing sample and statement of purpose. And the money could even be put toward a professional editing or tutoring service that can help you really polish your SOP and writing sample, though I don't think that's even really necessary.

2) I did email a number of programs prior to application. At this stage, however, I think we're right on the cusp of it being a little too late to start doing that if you haven't already. In retrospect, the most important thing that emailing POIs did for me was help to narrow down my list of schools and figure out how to tailor my SOP to each program. Some people were extremely helpful, offering to talk on the phone or forwarding my information to their DGS who gave me further information on their respective programs and even advice for altering my SOP to better fit their department. One person, Mark Taylor at Columbia, told me not to waste my money applying--not because he didn't think I was smart or capable but because they received so many applications and he could only take maybe one student a year, he thought my money would be better spent elsewhere. Others simply didn't respond. I crossed those programs off my list, but again in retrospect, I probably should have applied to them anyway. For example, I found out that my POI at UCSB (Tom Carlson) rarely if ever responds to queries from prospective students. But he still takes on 1-2 new students a year. So I should've just gone for it. Also, I didn't email my POI at the program that I ended up attending. I decided to add four more schools to my list very last minute (about mid-November) and thought it was too late to contact people at those schools. I didn't get into any of the programs with whom I'd had extensive correspondence, but I got into the one with which I had none (see my "first thing" above.) All of that said, I do think it is a good idea to contact POIs if for no other reason than it can give you a better idea of what a department is looking for and how competitive it is.

3) My original list was six schools, and I expanded that in mid-November to ten. I got into two, one of which was (and still is) a fully funded offer at an elite school.

I'm fully aware that my experience may be the exception and not the rule, but I think it's really hard to say that there are any hard and fast rules in PhD applications, assuming one has the requisite grades, languages (if necessary), and decent GRE scores. All of those things being equal, it's often really difficult to say what exactly puts one application over the top for any particular school in a particular application season.

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1) I visited three of the five schools to which I applied. The three that I visited where those that I was most excited about. These visits turned out to be extremely important for me, as they gave me a chance to get to know my POIs. I will say, though, that if you haven't visited at this point, it's probably too late. If not, you're getting close. 

2) I first e-mailed my POI at each school. In one case, I had two POIs at the school (Baylor, where I ended up), so I e-mailed both. Then, most of these folks suggested I also get in touch with the other faculty to introduce myself. 

3) I applied to 5 schools and got accepted to 4. 

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Thanks @RD_Paul and @marXian. That is helpful. The application process is very confusing because some students visit all their schools and some none. Since I'm out West, I do not have the time and money to visit all my schools but was thinking about one last-minute trip. I think I will devote my time to working on my SOP and Writing Sample instead. I am, however, going to AAR/SBL, so I am going to meet with some POIs there. 

I have been emailing POIs, but not multiple for every school.

I am definitely applying to 5 schools and may add one or two more. I know someone (in another discipline) who applied to 12 schools, but there just aren't 12 schools I would go to if I got in, so I don't see the point of that many.

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No problem. AAR/SBL is a fantastic place to meet POIs and honestly just as effective as visiting them on their campus--maybe even more so. I also think you're wise to not apply to any schools you don't think you'd attend anyway. If there's any chance you don't think you'd fit well even if you got in, then stay far away. PhD work is far too emotionally draining to be at a place where you're uncomfortable or working with an advisor who only marginally understands your project, etc.

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On 11/3/2016 at 11:33 PM, Calvin S said:

I have a few questions for those of you who got into PhD Religion programs in the last couple of years...

1) Did you visit some/all of the schools you applied to before applying?

2) Did you email professors at some/all of the schools you applied to before applying? If so, just one from each school, or several from each school?

3) How many total schools did you apply to?

Thanks!

1) None. 

2) I only emailed them to set up a meeting at SBL. I think I met with three professors there.

3) 12 i think (accepted at 5)

Don't waste your time on campus visits (unless it's very convenient to do so). As marX said, try to set up meetings at SBL/AAR. Don't stress if the some professors are unavailable. You should go to the receptions of schools of interest. Graduate students should be on your radar. They are often much more willing to talk about the program (esp. at length) and can offer insight into the kind of students said departments accept. The professors you do meet will likely not remember you. They don't have your CV in front of them (nor should you give them one when meeting). If they do remember you when your application comes up a month or two later, it will likely be very vague (e.g. did this applicant seem competent? More importantly, did s/he seem like a pleasant person? If you do meet professors, do not underestimate your likability. I'm not saying you have to be charming. Just don't come across as pretentious, anti-social, painfully awkward, selfish, and so on). Another note on graduate students. I think I actually emailed more graduate students at school's of interest than professors. They have insider information and they are thus much more valuable than most of the cliches you will hear on this forum (my comments included!). They know who is on leave and who is and is not taking students (the schools' websites will be useless). And so on. 

Edited by sacklunch

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On 11/5/2016 at 6:22 PM, Calvin S said:

I know someone (in another discipline) who applied to 12 schools,

 

6 hours ago, sacklunch said:

3) 12 i think (accepted at 5)

Well, I'm glad we figured out whom Calvin S. was talking about.

 

 

 

But on a serious note, I would echo sacklunch on campus visits. My professors assigned an article that said that campus visits generally do little to affect your acceptance into graduate school. When I questioned them about it, they said that campus visits matter when you are trying to figure out which school you want to attend after you have already been accepted. Furthermore, when you are accepted (or are being interviewed) the schools will usually fly you up there because they do want you. 

Edited by Almaqah Thwn

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On 11/3/2016 at 8:33 PM, Calvin S said:

I have a few questions for those of you who got into PhD Religion programs in the last couple of years...

1) Did you visit some/all of the schools you applied to before applying?

2) Did you email professors at some/all of the schools you applied to before applying? If so, just one from each school, or several from each school?

3) How many total schools did you apply to?

Thanks!

1 - All of them because I only applied to a few and they were all relatively close to me. One school I visited twice -- the year before I applied, and the year I applied.

2 - I emailed 2-3 professors at each school. I gave an introduction of myself (slightly braggy), and said why I was interested in their work. I also asked a few whether they were taking on students as advisees during what would be my incoming year.

3 - I had a strange case. I applied to two completely different fields. I actually only applied to one religion program, because it was the only one that met all my needs and that I stood a chance at. Thank God (ha) I got in! By emailing professors at the other Religion programs I considered, I discovered they weren't as good of matches as I'd thought they were. 

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