The following bullet points offer an initial summary of more detailed advice written by Dr. Treier.
Applying to a Ph.D. Program
Anyone 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.
- 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.