Wheaton College Graduate Students

Advice to Applicants

Considering Ph.D. work is an important decision. Our Ph.D. faculty member Dr. Daniel Treier has written advice to evangelical students who are pursuing doctoral programs.


The following bullet points offer an initial summary of more detailed advice written by Dr. Treier.

Applying to a Ph.D. Program

Dr. Daniel TreierAnyone considering a Ph.D. should be aware that:

  • A Ph.D. takes several years, requiring money in hand and/or debt.
  • A Ph.D. takes other forms of perseverance, including the right blend of humility and confidence for weathering storms of competition while struggling with quantity and quality of work you’ve never faced before.
  • A Ph.D. takes high academic aptitude, not just interest in studying more or the ability to get decent grades from your master’s level courses.
  • A Ph.D. therefore takes distinguishing application features, such as strong GRE scores (for U.S. programs anyway). Even with ideal scores, such tests are only a threshold through which one passes to start a more competitive process.
  • Moreover, a Ph.D. requires “counting the cost” in general. If you can imagine yourself doing anything else besides a Ph.D., then you should consider that alternative.
  • Honestly assess your own particular gifts and opportunities. A valuable step in this direction would be to ask your potential recommenders to give an honest assessment of your aptitude.

Determining When and Where to Apply

  • Pursue multiple options, especially if you are applying to top-tier programs, which frequently face a range of considerations beyond test scores and references.
  • Prioritize your potential supervisor(s) in selecting the program(s) to which you apply.
  • Contact one or more potential supervisors at each school.
  • Expect no magic formula for knowing when to apply. It varies with each student.

Developing a Strong Application

  • Get good references.
  • Get as many languages in place as strongly as possible.
  • Build some preliminary contact(s) at the various schools, and learn the nuances of what particular programs ask for in their applications.
  • PRAY!
  • Cater your writing sample to the schools at which you are applying. Work hard at crafting and proofreading this sample, which will become a key factor if your test scores and references are strong enough.
  • The same applies to application essays.
  • Be prepared to present a dissertation topic and approach that shows that you understand the concept of writing a dissertation, are aware of the literature surrounding the topic, have an angle on a topic that will contribute to the academic community, and the beginnings of a research plan with which to approach the topic.

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