PhD Admissions program are a stressful and complicated process — it involves so much work that you end up not wanting to get your hopes up. Hope does not live in certainty, but certainty lives in hope! So, as you start these long-term PhD application preparations, Be Prepared!
The competition is stiff, but why? It’s tough to say why. Is the PhD program so hard because the students that make it in are more strong? Or is there something about the application process that makes it so hard to prove your worth?
To believe that PhD admissions are a cake-walk, is a great mistake. Lo and behold! The admission process is so much more than just sending an application to your desired university. In fact, it’s an insanely difficult process with many complex steps involved.
Reasons why PhD Admissions turn out to be Difficult!
Too much competition
- Too much competition. In almost every case, there will be more qualified applicants than there are openings, but this varies by program and by the school.
- There is no way for an admissions committee to offer admission to every deserving student. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of bad luck – being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
- PhD Admissions committees look for students who want what they have to offer. It’s amazing how many applicants don’t seem to read about the program before applying or writing their statement of purpose.
- If you’re using to several programs in different areas, make sure your statement addresses why each program is attractive to you and how your interests fit with what the school offers – even if you have to write a different message for each one.
Different standards for different candidates
- The first thing to understand is that there are different standards for different candidates. If you’re a domestic applicant in the United States or from one of the English – speaking countries, you can expect some leeway in your application. If you’re an international applicant, especially one whose native tongue isn’t English, you’ll have to undergo much more rigorous process.
- The second thing to understand is that PhD admissions program are trying not just to identify people who have done well academically but also those who will do well as researchers and teachers. The way they do that is by looking at the letters of recommendation from professors and other researchers, by examining your writing sample (if you’ve supplied one), and by looking at any research experience you’ve had (again, if you’ve supplied it).
- The third thing to understand about PhD admissions is that there’s more demand than supply for some programs. For example, if you’d like to get a PhD in Psychology or History in the United States, it’s not unusual for students to apply to 10-15 programs and receive offers from only a couple.
Lack of Transparency
- Probably the biggest factor affecting admissions difficulty is the lack of transparency. The committee that reviews your application probably doesn’t know you, so they have to rely on your letters of recommendation. In some cases, these letters may not be very positive but can still be good enough for you to get in. You don’t want to lose an opportunity because of a bad letter, so you should always ask your recommenders if they will write you a strong letter.
- Admissions are often based on personal connections rather than qualifications. Professors have limited slots for PhD Admissions program, so naturally, they will give priority to students who have impressed them through some sort of prior connection (e.g., summer programs or internships). If you don’t already know any professors personally,
- The university has a limited amount of doctoral positions and therefore can’t accept everyone. That might be hard to accept but is understandable after all.
- When you apply to a PhD admissions program, you expect that your application will be treated fairly. You presume that all applications are looked at with the same impartial eye, and that every effort is made to compare apples to apples when there is such a wide variety of applicants.
- Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
- For most academic programs, particularly those in STEM fields, there exists a relatively straightforward admissions process: GPA and test scores are evaluated first, letters of recommendation are considered second, and finally extracurricular activities and personal statements are used as tiebreakers.
- The reason for this order is simple – the first two factors can be quantified.
- PhD Admissions people, professors, and committees have a lot of power. All they have to do is say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and they significantly influence your life. They probably don’t know you, can’t predict the future and decide based on limited information.
- Whether they admit it or not, they’re biased. They like some people more than others. These biases may be implicit (unconscious) or very explicit (conscious). Some biases are good ones – helping under-represented minorities, for example – but others may hurt you without you realizing it.
So why are PhD admissions such a big deal to get into? There are many reasons. The most apparent is that these are highly selective programs. Getting into a good school, having an impressive GPA, and securing an area of research in a relevant discipline can be difficult. Not everyone is built for the rigors of academic work, which are generally more rigorous and require more mental aptitude than the working world does.