The ABCs of Applying to a PhD Program
May 12, 2020
Submitting your application to a PhD program is the first step to completing your last degree. If you're applying to a doctorate, you've likely already worked hard to get to this point, so it's important that your application reflects that.
First and foremost, use your available resources. Professors from your current or previous degree(s) can offer advice on applying for and pursuing a PhD and so can former classmates who may have already gone through the process themselves. Use your contacts in the field as resources before you apply.
Unlike a bachelor's or master's degree, a doctorate often has less focus on classwork and more focus on activities like research, teaching, and your dissertation. As a result, applying early ensures that you're considered for all available research funding and teaching assistantships that you may be qualified for. It also allows you ample time to connect with professors who are looking to collaborate or fill positions in the upcoming academic year. Applying early ensures that you not only have time to complete your application but also that you're not missing out on any exciting opportunities that can enhance your degree experience.
If you're applying to a doctorate, you've likely already worked hard to get to this point, so it's important that your application reflects that.
Most PhD programs ask for a standard set of materials to evaluate your admission eligibility: transcript(s), résumé, letter(s) of recommendation, standardized test score(s), and an essay. Control the parts you are still able to control. In your essay, make sure you very clearly state what your research goals are and how your background relates to them or has prepared you for them. If your program has an interview, be sure you can clearly articulate this, too. Have a candid and open conversation with the people you ask to write you a letter of recommendation and ensure that they are highlighting the relevant skills that you feel are most important to highlight in your application. Put your very best foot forward.
Contact the Department
Every department at every school conducts its admission process differently. Some departments encourage you to connect with a professor or potential advisor prior to applying, whereas some departments like you to apply first and then contact professors you're interested in working with. Drexel has departments that have very strict deadlines because they host an on-campus interview weekend in the spring where they make admission offers and match students with advisors right away. Other departments have rolling admissions over several months as funding becomes available. Then, there are departments that do a mixture of both. The important thing is to do your research and if anything is unclear, just ask. Be knowledgeable so that you can be prepared and know exactly what to expect during the process.
Patricia Beavan is an Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at Drexel and focuses on recruiting and supporting international applicants.