How to Apply to Lots of Graduate Schools
How a woman with 17 years of public policy experience learned how to tell her story in a way that shows PhD programs how she’ll change the world.
Welcome to another edition of our new series, Hit Submit! In this series, we chat with current clients of The Art of Applying® before they’ve heard back from their schools, and after they’ve submitted at least one application.
For this edition, we interviewed “Gia,” who has spent the last seventeen years working in public policy, but wants to do research that gives citizens a voice to change their communities. To accomplish her goal, she’s applying to PhD programs in urban planning and policy.
Here’s where Gia applied with the help of The Art of Applying® team as an Application Accelerator® client:
- UC Berkeley
- Arizona State University
Before we jump into the details of the interview, let’s get Gia’s top takeaways.
Top Takeaways from Gia’s Hit Submit Interview:
If you are applying to a PhD, apply to a LOT of programs. Acceptance rates for PhD candidates are much lower than for master’s programs. That’s because the fit between you, the school, faculty, and research focus is critical.
Know what your why is. The application process requires deep introspection to convince the school, and yourself, that you’re absolutely certain you want a PhD. It’s not just about getting the credential. It’s about what impact you want to have on the world as a result.
Get your game face on! The application process for a PhD program is just as rigorous as being in the program itself. It’s great training for what you’ll be doing when you become a PhD scholar.
Here’s our interview with Gia:
Gia, how did you decide which schools to apply to?
I’m applying for a PhD in urban planning and policy. How I came up with the list was with Planetizen’s guide and rankings, which helped me quite a lot in terms of determining the quality of the schools. I also looked at the relevance of the programs I’m applying to. I’m interested in technology and new media in planning, and obviously, the faculty plays a big role in that with the kind of research they’re doing. In addition to that, I also looked at the facilities and how the school presents itself. It’s very important to me to look for a school that I know I’m going to feel welcome and I’m going to belong when I get there.
So, what is your “why” for applying to graduate school? You’re interested in the PhD in Urban Planning, talk to us about what you hope will open up in your personal and professional life as a result of getting that degree.
My main why is to impact public policy. I’m applying for a PhD after spending seventeen years in the field working. I’ve encountered challenges as I’ve been going through my practice. What I really want to look at is how, through research, citizens can actually participate in having a voice in policy formulation, as well as a way of shaping their own communities.
What strengths and/or personal qualities did you bring to the experience of applying to graduate school?
The first one is that, personally, I’m very open to growth. I’ve studied quite a lot in terms of academics and my mantra is, “I know I don’t know enough.” I believe that there’s so much that others have to share. Also with my background, I’ve worked quite a lot in engaging with the public, engaging with citizens, and engaging with government. I know that with that kind of background, I’ll be able to succeed in what I’m doing.
We know what strengths you brought to the table, what have you learned about yourself as you work through the application process?
My consultant keeps saying to me, “I’m training you for your PhD!” It’s very comforting and it went into my head that I’m no longer in the space that I was before I came to you guys, you know? All the work I’m doing [with The Art of Applying®] is like I’m already doing the PhD.
What surprised you about the application?
A number of things! I didn’t think that I needed to introspect so much to uncover my past history, to rediscover certain qualities about myself. Somebody on the other side must be convinced that you want to do this. It’s not just because you want a degree, but it’s about what impact you want to have in the world.
I was also quite surprised that I needed to apply to so many schools. Had I been doing it by myself, I would have probably applied to three schools.
If you could go back to the very beginning of your application process and give yourself some advice, what advice would you give?
Especially with the PhD program, it’s very much about fit. It’s very much about what you want to research and if there’s faculty that is interested in what you want to do. Read more about the schools and take notes as you read about the schools.
Let’s speak to your future self who is going to hear back from your schools. What do you today want to say to yourself in March once you start hearing back?
I’d say to myself, “You’ve worked hard to get here and you absolutely deserve to have a PhD. As you go on this new journey, always remember your why. Never leave it behind.”
We can’t wait for all the offers Gia’s going to receive! If you’re inspired by her story and want help getting into a PhD program or other graduate degrees, book a Quick Call with us today!