Columbia PhD/CCCP, Harvard PhD/MDes, MIT PhD/SMArchS

Nov 16 '12 3 Last Comment
Nov 16, 12 10:11 pm

Does anyone have any experience applying to any of these PhD programs and not gaining acceptance, but rather being redirected to a master of design studies course (that could potentially feed into a PhD) they hadn't applied to originally?

I'm applying to programs now, and wondering if it's necessary (or even recommended) to apply to both the PhD and such programs, like the ones mentioned above. A PhD is my prime objective, but if it doesn't work out I'd like to have these programs as an option...


Nov 16, 12 11:35 pm

This is a strategy often used by a doctoral admissions committee looking at a candidate who may have lots of promise, but isn't quite ready to start the PhD. 

Don't forget, many doctoral programs admit only a handful of students each year --sometimes only 2 or 3.  Potential for success (i.e., completion of the degree in fewer than six years or so) is gauged by factors such as previous coursework, writing ability, research experience, academic references, maturity and the like.  So few available (funded) slots means that competition is keen.  Runners-up in the applications process are frequently steered toward the school's academic master's degree as a kind of side door in.  The implication: do well in this (for a year, maybe the full two), and re-apply for the doc program as a much stronger candidate.  No guarantees, of course.

Good luck...

Nov 17, 12 12:27 am

Thanks citizen for your insight!  I'll just apply directly to the phd programs then.

I've heard about the selectivity and my research is fairly focused, so I'm hoping that faculty members with similar interests have open spots but of course it all depends on this year's applicant pool.  

I'm just hesitant about participating in these programs as a side door because of the lack of funding (I'm assuming...). As an alternative, I'm also applying for grants to hone my language skills though that won't place me in any network... 

I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who has experience with the PhD program at McGill, and the main differences between canadian and american PhD system.

Nov 17, 12 12:35 pm

Part of the work of the application process is to research programs and those same faculty members who might be good mentors (methodology, subject matter, or both) and correspond with them.  Tell them what you're interested in, and see if they might be a good fit for you, and (importantly) if they consider you as one whom they can see themselves working with.  If so, they can look for your application in the pile and advocate for it with the admissions committee.  You would mention this correspondence and contact in your application letter.

Of course, this is an ideal situation.  Sometimes you can't reach these people, or they're too busy to respond to people they don't already know.  But the good ones, on the lookout for new talent, usually will try to answer such queries.  (And, alas, sometimes the answer is "no.")

Also, applying directly to the PhD program doesn't exempt one from the process I described in my last post.  If you're an exemplary candidate, you'll be offered admission and funding.  If you don't make that first cut, you may be offered "runner up" status in the academic master's program.

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