drew’s advice for graduate school applications

—Drew Engelhardt

  1. Make sure that grad school is something you want to do
    1. I’m assuming that since you’re reading this that step 1 isn’t a worry.
  2. The GRE!
    1. I recommend taking it near the end of the summer before your senior year. This will give you the summer to prepare for it and also allow you opportunities to retake it in the fall. From my understanding, the primary score graduate admissions committees look at is the quantitative portion. Schools will usually post score ranges for admitted cohorts. You should shoot to have both your verbal and quantitative scores at or above the 80th percentile.
  3. The statement of purpose
    1. Be sure to weave answers to these in your statement: What research question(s) interest you? Are there any readings from classes that you found inspiring and relevant for your research?
    2. Also include experiences at WM that shaped your interests. What research work have you done? Have any classes or professors been especially influential?
    3. Crucial points: How does school X fit with your interests? What faculty do you want to work with? Are there institutes or other organizations affiliated with the university related to your research interests? Be sure to demonstrate knowledge about the research your professors of interest have done. Browse their CVs and skim the abstracts of papers related to your interests.
      1. Be sure to demonstrate knowledge about the research your professors of interest have done. Browse their CVs and skim the abstracts of papers related to your interests.
      2. Tailor this section for each application. It’ll ease the writing process.
    4. Write. Rewrite. Write some more. Getting started on the statement of purpose is crucial. Having an initial draft finished by the middle of September would be a decent goal. Send the draft to friends for a proofread, but find a professor or two to work through the revision process with you. There will be several drafts. It’s all part of the process.
  4. Letters of recommendation
    1. Find your letter writers earlier. Give them plenty of advance warning. While your professors will want to write for you, they’re busy. Usually they’ll have instructions about materials they want you to provide, too. Follow those and follow up. Don’t forget to remind them about due dates–they’re human, too.
  5. “Tech up”
    1. Methods. Methods. Methods. Make sure to demonstrate some familiarity with statistical methods in your statement of purpose. If you haven’t, plan on taking the quantitative methods class offered by the government department the fall of your senior year. If you have, consider taking some of the econometrics course in the economics department. These classes will help you transition into the graduate methods sequence.
      1. Aside: The methods courses I took (Quantitative Methods, Introductory Econometrics, and Cross-section Econometrics) have so far helped me immensely and I’m only one month in (as of this writing). Nothing says “welcome to grad school” like being assigned to replicate the data analysis done by an eminent scholar in your field who just so happens to also be the instructor of your class.
    2. Consider familiarizing yourself with multiple statistical analysis platforms. Stata and R are the primaries. This doesn’t require expertise, but including a line in your statement of purpose, or a mention in your CV, may get your brownie points. Regardless, comfort with multiple statistical packages will help you transition into your program’s stats sequence. Moreover, versatility here will increase the number of collaboration opportunities open to you because faculty vary in the programs that they use.
    3. LaTeX. LaTeX is a typesetting program that many political scientists use. It’s useful for formatting equations, among other things. Like the multiple stats packages, it will be useful to at least familiarize yourself with the program and acknowledge this on your CV.
  6. Ask for help! There may be others going through the same process who you can collaborate with. I’m also more than willing to answer questions about the application process, what to do after you’re admitted, or what to expect in grad school. My email is andrew.m.engelhardt [at] vanderbilt.edu