Logo for Graduate School

Advice to Applicants

Dr. Daniel Treier

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

Anyone considering a Ph.D. should be aware that:

  • A Ph.D. requires several years and financial sacrifices.
  • A Ph.D. requires other forms of perseverance, including the right blend of humility and confidence for weathering storms of competition while facing a quantity and quality of work you’ve never encountered before.
  • A Ph.D. requires 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. application therefore requires distinguishing 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.
  • A Ph.D. requires “counting the cost” in general. Hyperbolically: If you can seriously imagine yourself going without a PhD, then consider that possibility! Put differently: Do a PhD if you can’t seriously imagine not pursuing it—if there is an area of study that you simply have to pursue, and you would be delighted with the formative experience of the PhD even if you knew that having the credential would never land you an academic job.
  • A Ph.D. requires realistically considering your particular gifts and opportunities. A valuable step would be asking your potential recommenders to provide an honest assessment of your aptitude.

Determining When and Where to Apply

  • Pursue multiple options, especially if you are applying to strong programs, which typically choose between many candidates with high test scores and significant references.
  • Contact one or more potential supervisors at each school.
  • Prioritize your potential supervisor(s) at each school.
  • Expect no magic formula for knowing when to apply. Each student is unique, and no student ever feels fully ready.

Developing a Strong Application

  • Get test scores and a GPA that make you competitive.
  • Get good recommendations, including at least one in your particular field.
  • Get as many languages in place as strongly as possible.
  • Make some preliminary contacts at various schools, and make sure that your applications reflect the nuances of particular programs. For Wheaton’s Ph.D. program, please be sure to contact a potential supervisor before submitting your application!
  • Tailor your writing sample and application essays to particular programs. At the very least, craft and proofread your sample carefully, since it can become crucial if your scores and recommendations are strong.
  • Propose a research topic that shows you understand the nature of a dissertation, are aware of key literature on the topic, and have the potential to develop an original scholarly contribution.