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Four quick questions 
12th-Dec-2012 05:53 pm
fields of gold
1. What type of format is standard for writing samples? Do they want to see a title page, abstract, and an outline? Last name in the header in addition to application number (if provided) and page number even if it is technically "wrong" according to the citation method you are using? How did you format your writing sample?

2. Some of the schools I'm applying to have sub-sub-departments within a sub-department within a department. The sub-departments are, of course, specified on the applications through drop-downs. The sub-sub-departments (and smaller) are not. It's pretty clear which track/sub-sub department I intend to work in just by reading through my SOP, but should I be more explicit? In some cases, the distinction between two of the sub-sub-departments is not entirely clear, which is why I am hesitating for some schools, and I'm unsure if these specialty tracks are "technically" decided later when you've already been accepted.

3. Personal history/diversity statements: How casual can these be? I am under the impression these are not truly read by departmental adcoms or really given any weight unless you are Truly Diverse in terms of admissions -- though ofc they may help with funding.

4. If you are applying to your undergrad institution for a PhD in the field you are currently majoring in ... I am unsure how to revise my SOP for this one, to be honest. It feels awkward to write. Any tips for revisions? (To be more specific on this last question: In my other SOPs, I mention I work on a project for a professor here and that it has led me to appreciate blahblahblah, which is present at Other University. Of course, when writing this in for my current school, I would need to tweak this. Yes, it has led me to appreciate said blahblahblah, but should I then say, "If accepted, I fully intend to continue working on said project?" Little things like this.)

13th-Dec-2012 01:16 am (UTC)
Why are you applying to your undergrad school? Except if the program is that good (like, top in the nation), I wouldn't. Put some diversity in your resume and concentrate on schools elsewhere.
13th-Dec-2012 01:37 am (UTC)
There are fewer than ten full programs in North America for my field. At least three of these programs are going under due to faculty retirements, and one other has only recently started rebuilding. Among those that are left, only five do anything related to what I want to do. This is with me stretching a bit and compromising on my research interest. I don't really have the luxury to be picky; when I was starting the application process, I was actually told I may as well apply to every school in North America regardless of research fit so long as my budget can handle it.

Anyways, all that aside, my undergrad school is actually the best in the nation in my field and easily hangs with the best internationally. What's more, the scholars here do exactly what I want to do, and I get along tremendously with them, so I don't have to be concerned about fit. Funding is not a problem here, and I know they will be replacing faculty when they retire, which is not at all guaranteed at other schools.

I have discussed this extensively with others. I actually wasn't going to apply here to begin with, but I've been told it won't be too harmful so long as I don't stay here for, say, post-doc. It's not as if I'm not going to be exposed to new ideas anyways; as I'd mentioned, my school will be replacing some faculty soon in my field, so I'll definitely have the chance to interact with new blood a few years down the line assuming I stay.

Edited at 2012-12-13 01:43 am (UTC)
13th-Dec-2012 02:02 am (UTC)
Oh that's totally different. By all means apply then.

For the SOP, if you DO intend to continue on the project if accepted, then sure, you could talk about that. But I'd focus more on the OTHER opportunities that would become available to you as you transition to a PhD student - expanding the project to include something related that a different professor is working on, or learning a new instrument that you weren't able to get access to before that you think could really change the way your area of research is doing things, or whatever you think might be going on at that school/program that will be big for you in the next five years.

You want to make it clear to them that you've thought this whole idea of staying there through, and it's not just for convenience, but there's real benefit to staying.

For the rest...

(1) Not sure if there is a "standard" format. You could ask the program/admissions coordinator for each app if they have a guideline.

(2) Read the sub-sub-departments website. It probably directed you to the main department's website to apply, right? Most of the time, once you're accepted, the finer details of the sub-sub-department you're formally a part of are worked out, and the application just has the main department. You can ask the coordinator this too if you're not sure.

(3) Never assume something is given no weight. Although I do think diversity type essays matter more for funding for most schools than for the actual admission, your entire application is usually given to every admissions reviewer.
14th-Dec-2012 07:22 am (UTC)

Re: the SOP for my undergrad, I guess I am wondering to what extent I'm expected to address the fact that I've already attended the school, or if I should just treat it like any other school I am applying to (with more effort put into specializing the faculty section).

Hm, I do intend to continue working on the project. Unlike at other schools, though, it's a bit difficult to play up my role in it by omission of details, haha.
20th-Dec-2012 06:46 am (UTC)
I put in a phd application with the school I attended for undergrad, and went with the latter -- treated it like any other school I'm applying to.
13th-Dec-2012 04:18 pm (UTC)
1.) Unless otherwise specified, the format for the writing sample should be the format that is most commonly used in the field to which you are applying. For instance, in English that would be MLA and History, Chicago. If you're not sure what is the standard format, look at the formatting in the top journal of the field or ask the program that you are applying to.

2.) As to whether tracks are decided during or after you are admitted depends on the program. For my PhD program, this wasn't decided but another program at the same university did require that grad students be assigned advisors as soon as they started. Because of this, I think it'd be best if you ask the program you're applying to how to handle this.

3.) I also get the sense that diversity statements aren't taken seriously unless you fulfill the diversity criteria by the federal government, but I do think you should take this document seriously. If someone on the adcom does happen to read it, you want to make sure that you are giving yourself the best impression.

4.) How you write your SOP for your alma mater depends on what exactly you want to do in the program. I highly suggest that you talk to your professor about your intentions to either keep working on the project or continue a new project. It certainly wouldn't look good if that professor read your SOP and saw that you had different plans than ze thought you had.
14th-Dec-2012 07:27 am (UTC)

You would think that my checking multiple minority boxes would make it easier to write a diversity statement, but it's unfortunately not the case for me. I always feel a little skeevy taking advantage of my minority status when I don't think it's had much at all to do with my decision to pursue graduate studies... Additionally, I really don't feel as if I've been disadvantaged at all, so I'm banging my head against the wall trying to come up with something.

For my SOP to my undergrad institution, how much of it should address the unspoken question "You attended undergrad here, why are you still applying here?" vs. the typical "Why are you applying?"
14th-Dec-2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
I agree that writing diversity statements are really hard unless you have the particular background that is normally associated with being diverse, e.g. race and low economic background. I also think it's wrong to expect you to write one - it really should be optional. But anyway, you have to write one. What is the prompt for the statement? Rather than focus on being disadvantaged, is there a way you could focus on how your background has given you unique insight in the field? I realize it might be a stretch, but that's probably a better way of handling this.

As for the SOP to your undergrad institution, I think that really depends on the school. In my program, there are a lot of students who were also undergrads at the same university - so I don't think there's as much a concern about incest. Have you spoken to some of the professors at your undergrad about you applying? What was their reaction? If they seemed fine with you applying, then I don't think you need to address this issue explicitly, just make sure that your SOP clearly shows why this program is a good fit for you. If they seemed concerned, then you might need to talk about it explicitly. Probably just say something that even though you were an undergrad there, you want to continue studying there because it's a great fit for you. Because your field is so small, I suspect this isn't going to be an issue, but I could be wrong.
14th-Dec-2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
If I had the option to opt out of it, I totally would. D:

It's the Berkeley "Personal History" statement, which is really a diversity statement if you read down the list of what they'd want to see. Funnily enough, I actually check the "race" box; unfortunately, I'm an ORM at Berkeley, and I'm sure they don't want to hear another story about Asian-American identity crisis (which I don't have anyways). The truest thing I may be able to talk about is a little bit of culture clash, but even then, it's not substantial.

I'd mentioned above that I hadn't been planning on applying to my undergrad institution. In fact, three of the profs I consulted (out of four) in my department told me I should definitely apply here, so they should be pretty aware of my circumstances, I imagine. The fourth pretty much just said that he preferred to send students elsewhere and that it would be more difficult for me to get into my undergrad institution, but he didn't seem particularly hesitant towards my staying otherwise.
15th-Dec-2012 12:32 am (UTC)
I sent you a message regarding the diversity issue.

In terms of the SOP to your undergrad, I wouldn't worry about explicitly addressing why you are applying despite being an undergrad there. It doesn't seem to be an issue. Just make sure that it's clear in your SOP that this program will support your studies in your research interests.
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