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Dear all,

My specialism is political thought and intellectual history. At top US institutions like Princeton and Harvard, would I have a greater chance of admission if I apply for PhD programs in history, or in political science?

Which field is less competitive in top research universities?

Thanks,

Dem

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Admittance to top U.S. programs in either discipline is extremely competitive, approximately 5% or less in a given year.  Since you haven't provided any statistical information, there is no way to even guess your probability. 

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24 minutes ago, ltr317 said:

Admittance to top U.S. programs in either discipline is extremely competitive, approximately 5% or less in a given year.  Since you haven't provided any statistical information, there is no way to even guess your probability. 

Upper second class honors (2:1) from UCL, MA with distinction from UCL/Queen Mary joint degree. GRE 164 verbal, 159 quant, 5.3 (rounded) analytical writing.

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History and political science (even theory) are completely different. You are asking the wrong question here. You need to figure out which discipline best aligns with what kind of research you want to do and more importantly how you want to do it.

For reference, I don't think there is too much of a difference. History has less applicants but smaller cohorts while political science has more applicants but bigger cohorts. At the top places you are undeniably looking at under 10% (probably much less) admittance rates.

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13 minutes ago, Comparativist said:

History and political science (even theory) are completely different. You are asking the wrong question here. You need to figure out which discipline best aligns with what kind of research you want to do and more importantly how you want to do it.

For reference, I don't think there is too much of a difference. History has less applicants but smaller cohorts while political science has more applicants but bigger cohorts. At the top places you are undeniably looking at under 10% (probably much less) admittance rates.

For my specialism of political thought / intellectual history, I was told by my teachers at UCL that either PhD program could suit my current academic interests, depending on the supervisor. So it's really a question of which program is less competitive. 

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2 hours ago, Dem P said:

Upper second class honors (2:1) from UCL, MA with distinction from UCL/Queen Mary joint degree. GRE 164 verbal, 159 quant, 5.3 (rounded) analytical writing.

Your stats, plus an outstanding SOP, WS and LORs would place you in the pool for consideration at most top History and Poly Sci programs.  That just gets you past the initial stage, but you will then be in a smaller group with others who have equal or better stats.  At this stage, admin committees will determine which candidate(s) have the best fit for their respective programs.  

Comparativist gave you good advice, check out the two departments at each school.  They are generally different in focus and methodology.  There are some programs, however, and I'm speaking only about History departments since that's my field, where a PhD student can take a few courses across disciplines as electives.  You will have to research which programs have an interdisciplinary approach.  Furthermore, less competitive means nothing for top programs.  It's all relative, there's really no difference between a 5% acceptance rate vs a 10% acceptance rate.  What matters most is the fit your research aligns with a particular program.      

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17 hours ago, Comparativist said:

^ You should take a look at the course offerings and programs requirements of each before you conclude that they are interchangeable. I assure you they are not.

All right, thanks. I will. I guess what my teachers had in mind was if I'm for example broadly interested in how Aristotle's ideas about women inspired 16th century gender discourse in Britain, I would be able to consider an issue like that both as a history topic (focusing more on how such ideas reflected in daily life etc) and as a political theory topic (parallels between Aristotelian discourse and the intellectual discourse of 16th century Britain). 

15 hours ago, ltr317 said:

Your stats, plus an outstanding SOP, WS and LORs would place you in the pool for consideration at most top History and Poly Sci programs.  That just gets you past the initial stage, but you will then be in a smaller group with others who have equal or better stats.  At this stage, admin committees will determine which candidate(s) have the best fit for their respective programs.  

Comparativist gave you good advice, check out the two departments at each school.  They are generally different in focus and methodology.  There are some programs, however, and I'm speaking only about History departments since that's my field, where a PhD student can take a few courses across disciplines as electives.  You will have to research which programs have an interdisciplinary approach.  Furthermore, less competitive means nothing for top programs.  It's all relative, there's really no difference between a 5% acceptance rate vs a 10% acceptance rate.  What matters most is the fit your research aligns with a particular program.      

5% vs. 10% can make all the difference though. For an applicant pool of 300 people, I could be among the 15 additional people that get admitted at 10%.

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"5% vs. 10% can make all the difference though. For an applicant pool of 300 people, I could be among the 15 additional people that get admitted at 10%."  

You're missing my main point: good GRE and GPA scores only get you past the initial applicant pool.  After that, your SOP especially will determine how well you fit with a particular department.  The SOP has to be specific enough to determine if there is a professor(s) that can advise your prospective research.  So if the admin committee doesn't think you're a good fit, you won't be included in the group of potential candidates.  To go further, even if you were included in that smaller group, there may be an additional 30 or 40 other applicants who are equally good fits, then you no longer have an advantage.  The admin committee then has to make the difficult final decisions on admittance.  This happens often in top programs, where there are more strong and suitable candidates than available places.  At times, it's a crap shoot.  Yes, I know the difference between 5% and 10%, but getting into a PhD program, even into less than a top tier one, is more involved and complicated than simply looking strictly at probability in a vacuum.  What I wrote is based on the knowledge and experience given to me by my M.A. advisor and several other professors in my department, so you can take it however you like.  Regardless, if you're interested in applying for a History PhD, you should focus on a research question you would like to investigate in your SOP, and then check out the programs you're interested to see if there are faculty who can either direct you specifically or broadly in that sub-field.  Good luck with your application process! 

Edited by ltr317

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On 8/31/2017 at 7:04 AM, Dem P said:

Which field is less competitive in top research universities?

 

On 8/31/2017 at 9:07 AM, Dem P said:

So it's really a question of which program is less competitive. 

 

7 hours ago, Dem P said:

5% vs. 10% can make all the difference though. For an applicant pool of 300 people, I could be among the 15 additional people that get admitted at 10%.

I think that you need to lean forward a lot more if you want to earn an offer of admission to a top research university. IMO, the first step would be to abandon the "which path is easier" line of thinking--it comes across as lazy and entitled. Your playing the numbers game defies the received wisdom of this BB. Every season, there are members who seem to be sure bets to get into Happyland University but end up disappointed while others are very pleasantly surprised to receive offers from College of Happyland at Nirvana.

The second step, already detailed by @Comparativist, is understanding that the study of history is different than the study of political science. Practitioners of the latter often argue that the two disciplines are closely aligned. Historians often push back. IMO, should develop a firmer understanding of the differences between the two fields of expertise--one that isn't based upon what you've heard from your professors.

The third step, as mentioned by @ltr317 would be to develop an affirmative argument for attending a specific school in a specific department. Why you want to go to School Z to study A is not the same for wanting to go to School Y to study B.

FWIW, IRT history, I don't agree that you have to define a specific research question. (If a specific question is framed too narrowly, you could send an unintentional message to readers.) IMO, one is better served by demonstrating an understanding of how one wants to engage specific trajectories of historiography. YMMV.

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FWIW, IRT history, I don't agree that you have to define a specific research question. (If a specific question is framed too narrowly, you could send an unintentional message to readers.) IMO, one is better served by demonstrating an understanding of how one wants to engage specific trajectories of historiography. YMMV.s

Sigaba - I agree with you about being too narrowly focused.  I should have re-read and edit my posting.  My professors have advised that there should be some specificity; as in not too broad like "I want to investigate 19th Century U.S. Political Culture" but rather, "I'm interested in researching how the U.S. Penny Press became a politically persuasive tool from the 1830s to the 1860s for example.  This sends a signal that the applicant has thought about a possible research question and some knowledge of historiography within the broader 19th c. political climate.   

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