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I'm currently working on my applications for the 2017-2018 cycle, and I'd appreciate any input regarding my chances. Some information:

Undergraduate institution: large, mid-tier public university 

GPA: 3.95 overall, 3.98 in major

Majors/minors: Political Science major, theology minor 

Grad school: N/A

Gre: 164 Verbal/160 Quant/5 AW

Research experience: one published paper in the university undergraduate journal (the paper pertained directly to my research interests), completion of an honor's thesis, one semester in a research course where I primarily organized data

Likely LoRs: one from thesis advisor (fairly well-known in the field, got to know him well), one from a top poli sci professor whose upper level course I took (attended office hours regularly for paper advice, but no RA experience), one from another well-known professor whose interests aren't all that close to mine (again, office hours but no RA experience), and the final one from the director of the research course I previously mentioned. All four know I'm capable of advanced analytical thought, but only two actually advised me in a research capacity. 

Research area (IR): political violence, intrastate conflict, human displacement/migration patterns 

Top school choices: Johns Hopkins, MIT, USC, U-Minn, U-Penn

My primary concern is that my research experience is limited. Additionally, I wasn't able to study abroad during undergrad. Any thoughts/comments are appreciated. 


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Your profile sounds pretty strong - if you're concerned about your research experience, see if you can find a summer research job after graduation or extended work with a professor before you apply. It takes some perseverance, but some professors are happy to have some help in the summer months (though be careful you aren't spending too much money just to do this, since most gigs like this are not paid). Also, your LORs don't need to come from professors with research interests that are close to yours or even people in the same subfield (none of mine were, and some were not even in the same department), but they should come from professors who know you well beyond the classroom (office hours are good!) and can speak to your strengths and promise as a scholar. Good luck!

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If you feel like your research experience might be a bit limited, you can try to demonstrate in your SOP when applying why the experience you DO have will help you in graduate school and/or demonstrate your propensity for carrying out sustained research.

I am kind of in the same boat. I will be applying this fall and I think I have a very well-rounded profile, aside from formal research experience. I am, however, proficient in R and have taken courses in quantitative research methodology. I also have professors that can attest to my ability in this area. After this semester I will be submitting one paper to a prominent undergraduate journal and will possibly be presenting a different paper at a conference in the fall. 

Edited by bwgvsu
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Johns Hopkins and USC aren't really on the same level as the other schools you mentioned, and this fact is reflected in their placement records - I would avoid these schools. The other three are all great choices, and you should definitely consider UCSD and Columbia as well if you're interested in studying conflict. The fact that you never studied abroad is unlikely to matter, and your "lack" of research experience (how much can one reasonably accomplish as an undergrad?) can be mitigated by a strong SOP and writing sample that demonstrates your understanding of what political science research really is.

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You have a very strong profile and the advice you've received here so far is solid. I would maybe add four things.

(1) Others might disagree with me—especially because you have very good grades—but if you feel like you could improve your GRE scores by 3+ points per section, it might be worth retaking the test. Every inch counts, especially if you decide to apply to even more competitive places (and I think you should). 

(2) It's great if you can send four strong (and well-rounded) letters. But if one of them isn't particularly strong (or if they'll just be repetitive), it might be worth just sending three. Unenthusiastic letters can hurt you.

(3) I wouldn't worry to much about your relative lack of research experience. It's their job to teach you how to do research. Having research experience on your CV as an applicant is mainly helpful because it is a good signal that you know what research is and what it entails. But you can also signal that in other ways: in your SOP, in your letters, and in your writing sample. 

(4) Depending on what particular aspect of conflict (and region) you are interested in, you might also want to consider Chicago (Lessing and Staniland in the department, Gonzalez at SSA, Blattman and others at Harris, the Program on Political Violence at CPOST, and the new Pearson Institute) and Yale (Kalyvas, Lawrence, Wood, Lyall, Kocher, Wilkinson, the OCV Program). Stanford can also be a great place to study conflict, especially if you're interested in Latin America or in the more IR-inspired approaches to violence and internal conflict. 

Edited by oakeshott
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