Friday, June 7, 2013

Grad School Part Four: The Application

With the GRE done I could finally get down to deciding where to apply to. I found a number of resources that ranked and described the strengths of the various international relations master's programs. My ideal program was something that had some focus on China, was highly ranked, and was at a school with a good PhD program. I couldn't necessarily find all those things in each school, but that was largely what I looked for. The problem was I had no idea how good a school I could get into. I had some really strong parts to my application, living in China for the last five years, getting great GRE scores, but I also had some really weak parts, a bad undergraduate GPA, not speaking much Chinese. There was also other stuff that I didn't really know how it would play. I hadn't taken a single political science or economics class as an undergrad, and had taken only a few math courses. My letters of recommendation were also a little bit all over the place.

On the one hand, I thought I might be able to get into a top program with my GREs and international experience, but on the other I worried that I wouldn't get in anywhere with my low GPA and no language skill. I also remembered that I ended up wishing that I had applied to more colleges when I was an undergrad. Not that I didn't like Wisconsin, just that I wish I'd given myself more choice. So I decided to apply to a ton of schools. I considered almost every international relations school out there. I removed some that were just too different from what I wanted, and ones where I didn't meet there entrance requirements. I was still left with 12 schools to apply to. I think my parents thought I had lost it when I told them I was going to apply to 12 schools. The fees for applying alone where pretty stiff.

The actual process of applying was also pretty intense. A lot of the application dates were fairly close together and I felt like I didn't have time to do anything other than write essays and fill out forums. Thank God not every school required totally different essays, but I still had to adapt the ones I had done already. I think there were 30 drafts of my "Why I Want to go to this School" essay. I took basically the whole autumn to write all the essays and fill out all the forums. Some it took so long that I finished applying with literally hours to go before the deadline. Some of the forums were so vague or confusing that I'm still not sure if I filled them in correctly. I owe my parents a huge amount for all there help looking at the essays and advising me about the more confusing questions on the forums.

To give you a sense of just how big a project this all was I'm going to list all the schools I applied to and why I applied to each one. The list is organized vaguely in the order I had ranked them in my head when I started, though by the end I had pretty significantly revised my opinion of some schools. You should also know that what I'm putting here is a very short version of the information I collected on each school. I made an eight page list of what I thought of each school that is too long to post here, and probably evidence of my insanity.

-Harvard-Kennedy School
Harvard has some of the absolutely top China scholars and ranks very highly for masters programs, plus it ranks first in PhD programs. This was basically my ideal school, though I'm sure the same could be said for a lot of people.

Not specifically known for china, but a very highly ranked program with a good PhD program and some amazing professors, though the best are economists. I had heard this program was also supposed to be good for people who wanted to go on to get a PhD, which was a big reason I regarded it so highly.

-Princeton-Wilson School
Highly ranked with some impressive professors though not specifically know for China. The students tended to be more focused on policy careers, as opposed to academic, which wasn't what I wanted. Princeton though is known as the only masters international relations program to give out a ton of scholarships, almost every student gets one. Which considering the huge cost of these programs is reason enough.

-Johns Hopkins-SAIS
SAIS, as its usually called, is actually located in DC not in Baltimore with the rest of Hopkins. While it is also more focused on policy careers it is very highly ranked, usually number one or two. It also has one of the most impressive China programs with a number of great professors.

-UC San Diego-IR/PS
San Diego isn't nearly as highly ranked as those first four, it's PhD program is ranked a lot higher than its masters program, but it still ranks well. It also has a significant China focus and as a state school was somewhat cheaper than the others. At the time I applied I basically thought that this was where I'd end up.

-Yale-Jackson Institute
A very new program, but a highly ranked one. Mostly I wanted to go there because of how well it was ranked, and I thought they gave out some scholarships.

-Tufts-Fletcher School
Also a highly ranked program. Was also more focused on policy, as opposed to academic, but was supposed to be a great school.

-UC Berkeley-GSPP
This was actually a public policy rather than a international relations school, but they had a international relations focus and there PhD program seems to be specifically for people completing masters, which was what I was looking for. They had some notable China people in the past as well.

-American University-SIS
AU has a surprisingly highly ranked international relations school, I always remember AU as not a great school from when I was a kid. It's gotten a lot better and SIS is supposed to be really good, and being in DC is always a plus for international relations.

-University of Denver-Korbel School
Not as famous as some of there but had at least some China focus, which not all the schools did. It also had a few famous alumni the most notable being Condoleezza Rice, who even before she worked for Bush was a big deal professor at Stanford. DU also ranked pretty well 10 or 11 on some lists.

-University of Michigan: Ann Arbor-Ford School
Michigan was one the place to study China and still has some China focus. It also has a good PhD program and ranks well generally for political science.

-University of Pittsburgh-GSPIA
This one was definitely in the safety school category, though it was still one of the few universities to have a dedicated international relations school.

Given that this post has gotten really long I'll cover where I actually got into next time.


Sarah Sanderson said...

Daniel, I am loving all of your grad school posts. As I am in the midst of studying/applying/thinking right now it has been both helpful and therapeutic to read the process that you went through. Thanks!

Debra said...

Remembering this process. Ugh.