Questions about Grad App Questions
December 29, 2008 9:32 AM   Subscribe

A few questions that I'm running into while submitting my graduate school applications about fellowships, diversity statements, other schools I am applying to, and accepting admission without funding.

I'm applying for PhD programs in Political Science, and have about 7 programs left, and I've run into the same thing on a number of applications and I'm not sure how to handle it.

1) Most applications have a place where I can note any fellowships that I have applied for. I hadn't identified any to apply to (although I haven't looked very hard) and I'm wondering if it hurts me that I'm not applying for any outside sources of funding? Will it help my chances at the remaining schools if I apply to some fellowships?

2) Some schools allow for an optional diversity statement. As a generic white/upper middle class student of two people with post-bachelor degrees, I don't have a very compelling diversity/adversity statement. Although I'm a good writer and could probably craft something good, it doesn't feel to me like I have exactly what they want and my statement might not compare well to others, so I'm wondering about whether I would be better off writing the best one I can or not submitting one at all.

3) Most programs ask me about which other schools I am applying to. Does anyone know what they use this for and how it might hurt or help my chances at any one individual school?

4) Finally, for programs that don't fully fund all students, some ask me whether I would accept admission with partial or no funding. Ideally, I would want full funding, but to be accepted anyway even if they couldn't offer financial support, but I don't want to mark yes that I would accept admission without funding because then it would allow them to admit me without funding, even if they were willing to admit me with funding. Any idea on how best to deal with this?
posted by davidstandaford to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Finally, for programs that don't fully fund all students, some ask me whether I would accept admission with partial or no funding.

The year I was applying to graduate school, the U of I had some budget disaster and had no funding at all for anyone (in the math program). I had checked the box saying I wouldn't come without funding, and got a card at some point saying they had no funding and so weren't accepting me.

Long story short, if you would consider attending with partial or no funding, then I would check the box saying that you would accept admission with partial or no funding---otherwise, if they don't have money then they might not bother to admit you.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:11 AM on December 29, 2008

For graduate school, an acceptance without funding is, in most cases, the same as a rejection. Yeah, you got in, but they don't view you as worth their resources. Unless you're applying to programs that just don't have funding period, e.g. law school, medical school, or some MFA programs, unless you get funding you shouldn't accept.

It can be a hard truth to swallow, but the academic market is ridiculously competitive, so if you're getting signals that good programs don't consider you one of their top prospects, you should consider alternative career paths. Maybe that means getting some experience before applying for grad school. Maybe it means getting a masters in a related field before applying for a Ph.D. But attending without funding is essentially betting against the wisdom of your program, because they don't think you're worth it.
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

For #3:

First off, I'm applying to cogsci/psych programs right now so maybe it's different in your field. But here, have an anecdote...

When I went to a conference this fall where I fortuitously got to meet and talk with several of the advisors I'm interested in working with, several of them asked me flat out where else I was planning to apply (this was in October). When I told them, I got multiple comments along the lines of "great, those are good choices given what you're interested in." So if nothing else, the list of where you're looking at might help indicate that you have a relatively clear idea about what type of program you want.

I think that's as much as I'll say since I'm in the same boat you are!
posted by heyforfour at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2008

1) It won't help you as the deadline has passed, but the default answer is NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. You should apply for it next year though -- it's a nice feather in yer cap and a fantabulous ride. Hey -- I even told you about in in August! NOTE TO ANYONE ELSE EVER CONSIDERING A PHD IN POLITICAL SCIENCE: APPLY FOR THE NSF FELLOWSHIP. IT IS WELL OVER $100K IN FREE MONEY, AND THE APPLICATION PROCESS IS FREE AND NOT DIFFICULT.

2) If you won't add anything diversity-wise, then I would leave it blank rather than get out the golden shovel.

3) They probably use it to try to figure out who else might admit you, how much they might fund you, and how hard they'd have to compete for you. The worst thing that might happen is that if you're very good, a second-tier program might not work very hard to lure you because they don't think you'd actually come. This isn't really a problem in any realistic sense.

4) Is this just a checkmark? Is there any way to indicate "Yes, I might attend your school unfunded, but only if nobody funded me." Anyway, I'd suggest just answering honestly and not trying to game it -- you can always bring it up after you have your admissions. "Yes, I said I'd go without funding, but Big 10 has admitted me with $FUNDING_PACKAGE. Can you assemble a competitive funding package?" And, yes, if nobody funds you, you should take that as a hint.

Where-all are you applying?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 AM on December 29, 2008

A few things: I'll just third the "don't go without funding" advice. It's really not worth it. If you don't get in anywhere, by all means try again in a year and if that still doesn't happen then it's most likely time to move on.

If you haven't sourced outside funding but you're good enough for school x, then it's not a problem.

As far as diversity statements are concerned, I have no idea.

As a piece of general advice: don't over think an application. If they ask you what other schools you're applying to then put them down. This is the kind of information that might never get passed onto the department in question or it might play a factor in who they offer places to. You don't know which (or if it's somewhere in between) and I suspect that it might be university and/or department specific.
posted by ob at 11:00 AM on December 29, 2008

Ah, I see I should have previewed to read ROU_Xenophobe's field specific advice. Still, generally, doing what's required of you for an app, answering questions honestly rather than trying to see all the angles, sending it off and not thinking about it will preserve your sanity.
posted by ob at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2008

Yes, I said I'd go without funding, but Big 10 has admitted me with $FUNDING_PACKAGE. Can you assemble a competitive funding package?

Just as a note, I did this for a school that I really would have gone to if they could have come up with a competitive offer to the one I'm attending. To their credit, they really made a good faith effort. It's a completely legitimate thing to politely inquire about.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2008

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