OK, in Episode I, your humble blogger talked about what undergraduates should and should not do to get into a quality Ph.D. program in political science. In this exciting sequel, the natural question to ask is, "what if I’m not an undergraduate?"
To explain the advice I’m about to give, however, let me begin with a small parable. Consider two applicants, Johnny Undergrad and Jenny Postgrad. By a strange coincidence, Johnny and Jenny matriculated at the same undergraduate institution, received identical grades during their time as undergraduates, and both wrote fine theses. They both followed the guidance provided in my dos and don’ts post to the letter. The only difference is that Jenny is four years out of college, while Johnny is not. The latter, a senior, is now applying to grad programs. So is Jenny, but she’s spent the past four years earning some coin and collecting some very relevant work experience for an important government/multinational corporation/NGO/think tank organization.
Now, you would think, ceteris paribus, that Jenny would have the stronger application for a Ph.D. admissions committee – she’s more mature, more seasoned, and possesses an identical academic record. But you would likely be wrong.
See, Johnny has been in more recent contact with his undergrad professors. Since their memory of Johnny is likely stronger than Jenny, their letters of recommendation will be less bland and boilerplate. Johnny hasn’t signaled that callings other than being a professor might tempt him, since he applied straight out of undergrad. Johnny’s grades are an accurate reflection of his abilities, whereas Jenny’s academic skills atrophy with every year out of the ivory tower (pro tip: if you don’t know what ceteris paribus means, you’re in trouble). Any thesis that Johnny has written is more up-to date.
This is the challenge you face if you are a post-baccalaureate applicant – and with each year further away from your graduation date, these problems get worse. So, if you want to be admitted, Jenny’s goal should be to do everything possible to her file resemble something that blows Johnny out of the water. How does she do that? Here are five useful tips:
1. Reconnect with your professors. You need to have strong letters of recommendation, and almost all of those letters should come from people inside the academy. Fair or not, admissions committees will discount letters from people who themselves do not have a Ph.D.. If you’re thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program, start by making sure the profs who you worked closely with as an undergraduate have a sharp memory of you. Remind them of what you were interested in as an undergrad and update them on what’s your interests are now. If you’ve collaborated with academics during your post-bac jobs, make sure they write you a letter. You will need one recommendation from your supervisor/boss even if they don’t have a Ph.D. – but make damn sure that, besides praising your overall competence and maturity, they talk about your burning desire to go back to the academy.
2. Ace your GREs. The GREs are a good first approximation of whether you have the intellectual chops to cut it in a doctoral program. If you’ve been out of school for a while, they might count a bit more, because there is that question of whether you’re really ready to go back to school. An outstanding GRE score will not automatically get you admitted, but it can allay any fears about your abilities to earn a Ph.D.
3. Craft your personal statement with care. You have a more interesting tale to tell than undergraduate applicants, because you’re like, older and stuff. That said, the statement also needs to signal an admissions committee that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and are eager for the challenge. Sure, you can talk about how your research interests are born out of your real-world experience, but make sure you also phrase your research interests in the context of the relevant literature. Again, this signals to an admissions committee that you know your interests from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, as a twentysomething, you have the luxury of reading up on the relevant academic literature and not being intimidated by big words like when you were 18 years old. Use that intellectual maturity to your advantage in your statement!!
4. Publish, publish, publish! You know that phrase "publish or perish?"It’s not just for professors anymore. Demonstrating an ability to publish – even if the publication is not a peer-reviewed academic journal – is a signal to an admissions committee that you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Publishing in a policy journal, or a think tank report, can count for something – particularly if it’s a sustained piece of research. So, if your job requires you to write, try to get that writing into the public domain.
5. Get a master’s degree. OK, let’s say that your undergraduate performance was… less than stellar. Or, it’s been a long time (more than five years) since you were in college. These are the situations when getting either a professional or terminal master’s degree makes some sense -and a two-year program is a better option than a one-year program. If you know you want to get a Ph.D., then make sure you indicate that fact to the professors closest to your area of interest at the outset, take their courses, and have them supervise your thesis. Oh, and write a sharp M.A. thesis and think about getting it published. Strong letters from professors indicating that you did well in graduate school are the ultimate trump card, and are the one way that Jenny’s application packet can blow Johnny’s out of the water. With a good M.A. degree, Jenny can ensure that she is a better, stronger, faster version of Johnny.
Now, I’m still a bit reluctant to proffer this last recommendation, for a few reasons. First, a terminal master’s ain’t cheap. This means accruing a decent amount of debt and then going to graduate school for a few more years and then, if you’re lucky, getting a job that won’t help all that much in paying down your debt. Second, this approach takes at least two years to execute. You can’t apply to a Ph.D. program in your first year of an M.A. program, because applications need to be in by January and your master’s program profs won’t know you well enough to draft good letters (that’s why a two-year program is superior). Furthermore, as crazy as this sounds, for most Ph.D. programs, your M.A. coursework won’t count – you’ll often need to do a certain number of course requirements (it does help intellectually, however). And with all of this, there’s still no guarantee you get accepted.
All that said, however, if you really want the Ph.D. and you’re well out of college, this is the best gambit. A strong performance in an M.A. program – professional or not – is the best signal to a Ph.D. admissions committee that you can cut it in a doctoral program. Oh, and one last point: as a risk-averse strategy, choose an M.A. program at a Ph.D.-granting institution, so you can always try to complete your doctorate in your home institution.
Tags: Academia, foreign policy community, International Relations, political science
More from Foreign Policy
graduate school, political science statement of purpose
The following is an excellent example of a statement of purpose, also known as a statement of intent, that was used to gain admission to a political science graduate degree. You can use it as inspiration while writing your own statement of purpose for any graduate program.
Note how this personal statement is truly personal and after reading this statement you feel like you know this applicant already. They also leave you feeling a lot of emotions. Both warm and sad. And that's good. You want to create some sort of emotion in the admissions committee members that read your personal statement.
Lastly as always, do NOT copy and paste this statement under any circumstances. That's a sure way to get rejected. If you need help writing your personal statement, click here to contact us today to schedule your FREE initial consultation today and find out how BeMo can help you make your personal statement to ANY program stand out. Guaranteed.
Here's the sample personal statement:
"As an applicant to _________, I am one among many candidates who acknowledges the highly diverse and appealing culture of the campus. As an immigrant candidate, I am among those individuals who acknowledges their gratitude for a country that has enabled them to explore endless opportunities and to write this very statement. I have been given an opportunity, one which lets me offer a glimpse of my individuality, the story behind my journey, my capabilities and future possibilities for _________. In recognizing my ethnicity, my academic progression, continuous community involvement, work experiences, and strong regard for _________, I have been equipped with the passion, knowledge and determination to pursue __________.
My journey was challenging, but has characterized the woman I've become, and solidified the mark I want to leave in this world. In addressing my ethnicity as an Assyrian, I was born in Iraq. At the tender age of 4, my family and I fled to Turkey as refugees in hopes of safety, and were eventually granted acceptance to_________. My parents' relentless will to leave all they had known to offer my siblings and I a safer environment, one which would enable us to flourish with opportunities, was inspiring and admirable. Assimilating into another culture was seemingly difficult. However, leaving Iraq was necessary to ensure I had a future, one that would allow me to learn, experience, and eventually become a_______.
“Why have you decided to pursue____?”. A question that seems direct, however can be daunting to simplify in two pages. Coming from an oppressed war nation of extremists, justice is buried among the remnants of homes. My early exposure to a war-stricken environment led to a realization and eventually a passion; my relentless pursue for social justice. My culture has also enabled me to express patience and understanding to individuals of all backgrounds. Openness is the very ingredient, which echoes within _____and, is expected of ______students attending _________. I offer a distinct diversity in representing a small and underrepresented group of individuals; I speak Assyrian, an ancient language of Aramaic, spoken during the early times of Mesopotamia. With a passion for linguistics, I have also become advanced in speaking Arabic and French. Diversifying my communication is a trait I can bring forward to _________ as the backbone of the school thrives in multiculturalism and offers multiple global/international opportunities. Moving forward I want to continue utilizing my personal experience and platform to advocate for families displaced, as I strive to be at the forefront of international affairs.
My university career, employment and volunteer experiences have further fueled my passion for _______. Additionally, they have enhanced my academic thought, cultural awareness and critical approach in _________. The education I gained at________, with a major in Criminology and minor in Political Science provided me with an advanced knowledge of political relations. As a student, I gained the research skills to analyze individual behaviour and public policies. I analyzed criminal patterns, from a theoretical and statistical standpoint. The analytical framework and organizational skills I gained are notable qualities that I can apply to my studies. During my entire university career, I remained employed and at times held two occupations. Additionally, I held an internship, played soccer, and remained active within the community in partaking in numerous charity events, and associations, such as Transition 2 Betterness, Heart & Stroke, and Social Science Society. My internship at Border Services Agency strengthened my regard for national security, while sports taught me discipline, effective communication, and team collaboration. Furthermore, my passion in music, has led me to explore creativity with artists of all backgrounds. Having written multiple songs, and recorded with a variety of artists, I have challenged my writing abilities, and allowed myself to be vulnerable and ready to grow. My ability to balance employment, volunteer, academics and music has characterized my motivation to improve myself as a student, and as a________. Alternatively, my career experiences have tested my creativity in utilizing various resources to achieve my end goal. In the 3 years I spent within recruitment/consulting industry, I gained a professional outlook, and got an insight into the competitive market. As a Scientific Recruiter, I worked alongside scientists/chemists and medical doctors, to ensure they found a suitable opportunity. Through technical screenings, and developmental feedback, I was able to strategize and prepare the candidates for client interviews. As an Account Manager, I led the first Scientific Division for my company. I worked 60 hour weeks for two years to build a pipeline and plant the seeds for new business relationships. I partnered up with clients across the Greater Toronto Area within various industries; pharmaceuticals, consumers and hospitals. Through extensive business development, I assisted clients by finding candidates that were technically and culturally a fit. My experience within sales was challenging, and at times exhausting, but taught me patience. I was able to gain a multitude of survival skills that can certainly be applied to _________. I learned to self-start, self-motivate, and lastly I learned that at times you will fail, but that does not mean you have failed. As an Academic Consultant at ________, I assist graduate students with their application and interview process to Medical and Dentistry School. We examine problematic scenarios, address pressing issues and explore multiple strategies. Evidently, I am apt to apply similar critical perspective to further my research by exploring multiple measures to gain a diversified analysis.
Through my non-profit partnerships; my role as a War Child Catalyst for War Child and Journalist for Observatory Media, I have gained cultural awareness in international relations, and advanced my researching and writing abilities. As a War Child Catalyst I created my own committee, One Army, which raises funds for families and precisely children affected by war. As a journalist, I have furthered my knowledge in current Canadian policies, and generated awareness for displaced individuals.
Upon my acceptance to _______in the _______ program I hope to advance my critical thought and awareness in international affairs and national security, through a calculated evaluation. I will also advance my focus through a _______ Diploma that is offered. With a variety of courses, such as ____________, __________, and __________, I will adapt a dynamic perspective to direct my thesis. In addition, I hope to collaborate with ________ and ____________, notable professors with substantive work regarding national security. With respect to campus involvement, I will see that my experiences will be utilized as I plan to join the _________, ensuring I will be at the forefront of political and social justice issues.
As examined, my work experience, passionate community involvement, and academics will enable me to not only apply, but also excel at ___________. How will we ensure national security when our nationalism is questionably crippled by our democratic stance towards multiculturalism? An ironic question which I intend to explore, and one which I have prepared for my entire life."
Make your personal statement for ANY program stand out with BeMo. Guaranteed. Contact us today to schedule your FREE initial consultation and learn more.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo