how to get into a phd program

How to get a PhD?

Interested in obtaining a phd learn more about the steps to earn a phd, careers with phd, list of colleges offering programs and more..

Updated by TCM Staff on 15th April 2021

How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

15th April 2021

College Monk — How to Get a PhD

A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree awarded to those students who produce an original thesis and make a significant research contribution to their respective field.

PhDs are available for those in a variety of different fields, and it’s often considered the highest and most well-respected degree available. Earning a PhD truly establishes someone as an expert in their field and indicates the deepest level of knowledge on a particular subject.

What is a PhD?

PhD — technically short for Doctor of Philosophy — is a type of doctoral degree, often considered the highest-level degree one can earn.

A PhD is a type of research degree that requires students to do an extensive amount of research and produce an original work, known as a dissertation.

People often use their PhD as a launchpad to pursue a career in academia. But, it’s also a popular option for those pursuing a career in STEM.

Those with PhDs make up a fairly exclusive club. Data from the US Census Bureau shows that fewer than 5% of the population holds a doctorate. And it’s not surprising, considering it often takes up to eight years to achieve this coveted title and requires writing an original dissertation the length of a book.

A PhD is actually just one type of doctoral degree. PhDs are research-focused. The other type of doctorate is application-focused (also known as an applied doctorate).

why PhD image

Source:  https://strathsltresearchers.wordpress.com

PhD admission requirements 

Not just anyone can earn a PhD. Given how well-respected the title is, it takes a lot of work and very specific criteria to enter a doctoral program.

The most basic requirement that all PhD candidates must have is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. You won’t be accepted without this. You also usually need a high GPA.

Another requirement is a statement of purpose. In this statement, doctoral candidates will describe why they’re seeking a PhD, what they’ve done so far to prepare themselves, and what goals they plan to accomplish later.

Finally, PhD applicants will need several letters of recommendation. 

If you’re considering pursuing a PhD, it’s critical that you work to build relationships with professors and mentors who might recommend you. There’s a lot of competition, especially for the top PhD programs, and excellent recommendations will help you to stand out.

Keep in mind that the requirements might vary somewhat from one school to the next, so it’s important to do your research and decide ahead of time where you’ll apply.

Steps to obtain a PhD

Earning a PhD is no easy feat. It takes most students years to do so. Let’s look into the steps someone must take to get a PhD.

Step 1: Complete an undergraduate degree

Before you can take the next step toward your PhD, you’ll first have to receive a bachelor’s degree through an undergraduate program at a reputable university.

This education will provide the foundation for your more advanced coursework later. It’s important that you maintain a high GPA throughout your undergraduate years.

Step 2: Complete a master's program

Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, the next natural step is to pursue a master’s degree.

Graduate school requires that a student take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). A master’s degree typically takes about two years to achieve, and will be in a particular field of study.

While not technically required for a PhD, most people earn a master’s degree before earning their PhD.

Step 3: Apply for a PhD program

Once you complete your graduate program, it’s time to apply for your PhD program.

There are many doctoral programs to choose from, so it’s important that you research and find the best fit for your field of study.

During the application process, you’ll have to submit the following:

  • A completed application
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
  • Your GMAT or GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose

Step 4: Complete your coursework

When you begin your PhD program, you’ll start by taking your coursework. 

As is usually the case with undergraduate and graduate programs, you’ll likely have some required courses and some electives. Usually, students will prepare their own plan of study for the courses they’ll take over the next couple of years.

Step 5: Prepare a research proposal

A research proposal is a document that outlines what, exactly, a PhD student will focus on during their research. 

A research proposal should include the major question or questions someone plans to answer with their dissertation, and how exactly they plan to arrive at that answer. 

Even though the proposal won’t be a part of your final thesis, it plays a vital role in shaping your PhD.

Step 6: Complete a literature review

The literature review is the first thing you’ll do before starting your project report.

In this review, you’ll conduct an in-depth study of all the research in your field. During this phase, a doctoral student should critically assess the existing literature on their topic and find gaps they may be able to fill with their research.

Step 7: Research and collect results

Once a student has completed their literature review, they’ll do more first-hand research and perform experiments to help answer the questions they’re exploring for their dissertation.

Step 8: Produce a thesis and write a dissertation

Doctoral Dissertation Image

Source:  https://www.wikihow.com

Once you’ve completed your research and gathered sufficient results, it’s time to write your final thesis and dissertation. 

Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, your thesis is the argument or conclusion you’ve arrived at, while your dissertation is where you demonstrate your thesis.

Your dissertation is the culmination of all the research you’ve done. Dissertations are original work and often focus on a newly developed theory. A dissertation is roughly the length of a book, and can often take years to produce.

Step 9: Viva Voce

Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “with living voice” or “by word of mouth.” It’s also the final — and one of the most important — steps in the process of earning a PhD.

Unlike other degrees, where you take a final exam, a PhD candidate must defend their thesis before a panel of appointment examiners. It’s common for the examiners to ask many questions, and this process can often take several hours.

Once you successfully complete your viva voce, you’ll be awarded your doctorate and can add that coveted “Dr.” to your title.

Online colleges offering PhD programs

Many students choose to pursue a PhD through an online doctoral program for the flexibility and convenience it brings. 

Here are a few popular online PhD programs:

What can you do with a PhD?

A PhD is the highest-degree that someone can earn. But after all those years of work, what exactly can you do with your degree?

One of the most common career paths for someone with a PhD is academia. Those with a doctorate degree often go on to teach at universities or spend their careers performing research, not all that different from what they did to earn the degree in the first place.

But academia isn’t the only option for PhD recipients, nor is it the most lucrative. 

PhD students often study STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Those industries are thriving today more than ever, making it a great field for those holding a doctorate.

What can you be in phD Image

Source:  https://www.jax.org

Some of the highest-paying PhD fields include:

  • Information assurance
  • Computer science
  • Biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Organic chemistry

Though academia and STEM may be the most common paths for PhD participants, they’re hardly the only ones. There are many options available to someone with a PhD. Other non-STEM fields include clinical psychology, market research, business development, linguistics, and intelligence.

A doctorate is the highest level of degree someone can achieve. There’s no doubt that it takes a considerable amount of work, and it takes most people years to achieve this recognition. 

It’s important to understand these trade-offs before you get started. But once you earn your PhD, you will hold one of the most highly-respected titles in the academic field and have a lot of doors open to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. 1) How long does a PhD take?

A. According to CBS news on an average, an American Student takes 8.2 years to complete their Ph.D. This can change according to various courses and in various countries.

2. 2) What qualifications do I need?

A. In US Bachelors degree holders can also apply for Ph.D. For applying in a PhD program one should have completed 16 years of formal education. Qualification in the entrance test is also necessary.

3. 3) Can I take PhD as a part-time?

A. Yes, part-time PhD is possible, and it has a more flexible schedule with classes and degree completion. In some programs, a minimum one-year residency is required. But, part-time PhD will take more time, and managing a part-time PhD will be more challenging.

4. 4) What is M.Phil?

A. A M.Phil qualification is less advanced than that of a PhD. In this, the students are expected to master a content area and it can be mastered in two years. Moreover, the PhD dissertation takes more time than an M.Phil dissertation.

5. 5) What are Financial Aid options available for me?

A. For Ph.D. there are a lot of financial aid opportunities available in the form of Scholarship and loans. Eg: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

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Wharton Stories

How to prepare a strong phd application.

Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School outline a few tips to help you navigate the PhD application process.

It’s no secret the application process can be intimidating. Where do you start? What exactly are schools looking for on your application? What materials do you need to submit? Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School have outlined a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Don’t Delay the Process

A successful PhD applicant starts thinking about their application months or even years before the deadlines. For Alejandro Lopez Lira , a third year student in Finance, the application process began a year before he actually submitted the paperwork. He said, “I spoke to my advisors way before, like one year before, about my letters of recommendation, where to apply, everything involved in the process.”

Each program has different requirements, which can make for a tedious process. Karren Knowlton , a third year in Management, said, “I took a little while to draft a personal statement. I had my mom, who teaches creative writing, and a few other people that I trust just read over it. Then you have to tweak it for different schools because they want slightly different things.”

Taking time to prepare your application is critical. Starting the process sooner rather than later gives you several advantages:

  • It allows your letter of recommendation writers enough time in advance to thoughtfully prepare a letter that speaks to who you are as a PhD candidate.
  • It gives you more time to review your materials, fix any errors, and proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Finally, it means a lot less stress when the deadline starts rapidly approaching. By planning ahead, you’ll have a much smoother process applying.

Get Letters of Recommendation

Prof. Matthew Bidwell , who previously served as the doctoral coordinator for the Management program , said a common mistake he sees are letters of recommendations from employers. Although he said it is impressive to see work experience, having an employer write a letter is not the best choice.

“We don’t pay very much attention to those because rightly or wrongly, we worry that they’re not looking for the kinds of things that we’re looking for,” he said. “If you have one, it’s not a disaster, but when you see people with two or three — most of their recommendations coming from their work — that kind of heightens our concern. You’re committing to a fairly specialized career, do you really know what that career entails?”

Instead, he suggests getting to know an academic who will be able to write a recommendation attesting to your ability to manage doctoral-level research and work.

Include Research/Work Experience in Your Field

Each program has a unique set of criteria to evaluate applicants, but several doctoral coordinators agree that some research and work experience in your field of interest will strengthen your application overall.

Prof. Fernando Ferreira , doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, thinks work experience can be useful in demonstrating an applicant’s abilities. He said, “Any work experience after undergraduate school is important. If that experience is more related to research it’s even better, but work experience in general is always good.”

Prof. Guy David , doctoral coordinator for the Health Care Management & Economics program , thinks that work experience benefits applicants in terms of giving them a broader view of business. “Work experience creates retrospection about how the world works, how organizations make decisions, and how people function in various situations,” he said.

However, he warns that spending too much time away from an academic setting can have its drawbacks too. “It may lead people to start their PhD later when they are not in the habit of immersing themselves in rigorous studies and have a shorter horizons to develop a name for themselves,” he said.

Although having both research and work experience can strengthen your application, you will not be denied entry because you are lacking either.

Prof. Bidwell said, “I think research experience does give us some confidence that people have some idea about what it is that we do. In terms of work experience, I think we don’t have a strong view. We quite like work experience, but we also take people straight out of undergrad.”

Prepare for the Standardized Tests

Most PhD programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Having high test scores is a key part of an application as it tests skills learned over the course of many years in school. Quantitative skills are especially important when applying to doctoral programs in business areas. Much like any other standardized test, the GRE requires preparation.

Karren, who took the GRE twice to ensure her scores were high enough, offered advice to those who may be struggling. “I would absolutely recommend practicing the writing beforehand. Look up examples and have your outline structured,” she said. “So much of it is just getting the right structure and how you formulate your arguments so knowing what they’re looking for is key.”

Test prep can be time-consuming, but like anything else, practice makes perfect. There are multiple text books and online sites to help you prepare for the exam. Karren aimed to improve her math scores the second time she took the GRE and recommended this site to help strengthen math skills.

Taking advantage of resources to help you study can limit the number of times you need to take the GRE while ensuring you score high enough to remain in the applicant pool.

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Posted: August 4, 2017

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Doctoral Programs

Start your doctoral journey.

Whether you’re just starting your research on PhD programs or you’re ready to apply, we’ll walk you through the steps to take to become a successful PhD candidate.

Deciding to get a PhD

You might be surprised to find out what you can do with a PhD in business.

Is an Academic Career for You ? What Makes a Successful PhD Student

Preparing for the Doctoral Path

The skills, relationships, and knowledge you need to prepare yourself for a career in academics.

How the PhD Program Works How to Become a Successful PhD Applicant

Choosing the right program

What’s the difference between PhD programs? Find out how to choose one that fits your goals.

What to Consider When Choosing a Doctoral Program What Differentiates R1 Universities?

Starting an application

Tips for a successful application process.

Application Requirements Preparing Your PhD Application

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April 10, 2024

Applying to PhD Programs: When, Where, How, and Why?

how to get into a phd program

So, you are thinking you might want to pursue a PhD. That’s great! However, it can sometimes be difficult to decide whether to really go for it. Maybe you are weighing the time commitment required or the prospect of leaving a job you love. Maybe you are wondering whether you are prepared for such an undertaking or whether you’d even have a shot at getting in. When considering such an important move, it’s good to adopt a methodical approach to the decision-making process. 

This article is designed to help you think through some key factors in making important decisions about graduate school. You might ask yourself the following key questions:

  • When should I apply?
  • Where should I apply?
  • How do I get in?
  • Why do I want to go? 

Let’s consider these questions one at a time.

how to get into a phd program

Question 1: “When should I apply?”

The right time to apply to graduate school is when your personal, academic, and professional experiences have aligned such that you know for certain you want to further your knowledge and skills in a specific field. Read on for some signs that these experiences are, in fact, aligned.

In your personal life

Think about when you were first introduced to your field of study. What made you want to keep learning about it? Is that drive to know more about your field of study still there? If the answer is yes, then you might be personally ready for graduate study. Memorable personal experiences – and the lessons you have learned from them – can also make you personally ready for graduate study. 

For example, perhaps you were diagnosed with a condition and have spent the past decade managing it. The psychological strain of this experience has made you highly empathic toward patients suffering from chronic conditions. You’re now committed to studying the effectiveness of various approaches to promoting mental health among this population.

Or maybe one of your fondest childhood memories is birdwatching with your dad, who taught you all about various species and their migration patterns. This experience led you to pursue ornithology, and you still get excited about learning about birds.

Something doesn’t have to be profound to others for it to be deeply meaningful to you.

In your academic life

You’ve demonstrated – via high grades or assignments on which you went above and beyond the basic requirements – that you have a strong grasp of the technical aspects of your intended field. You’ve done more than memorize core concepts and theories; you’ve contemplated how they relate to the broader aims of the field. You’ve taken more advanced classwork, completed an independent project, or did professional work that involved innovation and research. And you now want to apply those theories and concepts in graduate school and your career.

Let’s say you majored in civil engineering. You’ve excelled in all your engineering courses, as well as in chemistry, math, and physics. In the process, you’ve learned how to apply the core principles of each field to design resilient infrastructure that does not fail in extraordinary events and is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.

In your professional life

Whether you’ve worked/volunteered in a relevant setting for six months or six years, you’ve learned about and contributed to the rigorous research process. Ideally, you’ve taken on multiple roles, each one more demanding than the previous one. But at every stage, you’ve taken your responsibilities seriously, because you understand that each task, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed diligently, lest you risk compromising the data and ultimately the findings of the entire study.

As an undergraduate research assistant, you might have begun with basic responsibilities, such as data entry and cleaning in Excel. After demonstrating that you are reliable and diligent, you were able to help conduct studies and maybe even run some of your own analyses using the data.

Then, by the time you entered your current role (the one you’re in when you apply to PhD programs), you are able to not only evaluate all the variables being assessed but also identify other variables that aren’t being measured and articulate why they should be included in future research. At this point, you’re able to generate your own research questions, formulate testable hypotheses, and even design a hypothetical study in which the findings are interesting regardless of whether your hypotheses are supported.

When you’ve identified these signs in your personal, academic, and professional experiences, you’re ready to apply.

Question 2: “Where should I apply?”

To identify the right program(s) to apply to, it is crucial to  look beyond the school’s ranking or reputation . The “2024-2025 Best National University Rankings” by  U.S. News & World Report  should not be your primary source for one simple reason: PhD programs are very idiosyncratic. Even if you have chosen a field of study (ideally, the field in which you received your undergraduate and/or master’s degree), there are likely many research areas within that field and even more specific topics within each area. The right research area for you will depend on your previous research experience, as well as on the specific topic(s) you want to investigate.

For example, within  the field of psychology , there are many areas, including clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, evolutionary psychology, personality psychology, and social psychology. Then, within, say, social psychology, there’s a vast array of specific topics, such as attitudes, aggression, decision-making, emotion, prejudice, and prosocial behavior, to name a few. As you can imagine, these topics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, combining topics can generate unique findings. Therefore, when thinking about where to apply, you might prioritize programs where the faculty are studying combinations of topics you find particularly interesting.

Another factor to consider is that programs differ as a function of the research methods they employ. Thus, when thinking about where to apply, in addition to identifying programs where the faculty are researching the specific topics you are most interested in, it’s necessary to consider whether those faculty members are using methods that you would like to apply in your future career. Do you want to master advanced statistical techniques? Do you want to work with state-of-the-art technologies? Do you want to interact with people? Do you want to observe phenomena in the “real world” or in experimental settings? It’s not only about what you’re researching; it’s also about  how  you’re researching it.

Once you’ve identified programs based on those considerations, it’s time to  identify prospective faculty advisors within your chosen programs . After all, you’re not just applying to PhD programs; you’re applying to work with specific faculty members, and they are the ones who will be reviewing your application and deciding whether to accept you. Based on the faculty members’ professional biographies (which you can usually find on the program’s website), you’ll probably be able to identify the professors whose interests are most like your own.

But it is not enough to be confident that you want to work with a given faculty member. Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with that professor’s recent work by reading research papers they’ve published in the past couple years. As you’re reading, ask yourself whether this faculty member writes and thinks clearly and presents arguments and evidence in a compelling manner. You will be mentored by this person for five years (or more!), so it’s crucial that you find someone you admire and are motivated to learn from.

In sum, the steps in deciding where to apply for PhD study are as follows:

  • Choose your field of study.
  • Identify your preferred area(s) within that field.
  • Discover the specific topics you find most fascinating.
  • Consider what methods you want to employ.
  • Evaluate the merits of prospective faculty advisors.

Question 3: “How do I get in?”

Once you’ve determined that you’re ready to apply, and you know  where you want to apply , the focus shifts to whether you’ll be accepted. Getting into a PhD program is largely  a matter of fit . The faculty members who evaluate your application want to know what insights you can offer to their current and future research studies, how your interpersonal style will contribute to their lab or research hub dynamics, and whether you are committed to extending their research in a meaningful way after you obtain your doctorate. You can convey all this crucial information in your statement of purpose.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of your statement of purpose. You might have an exceptional CV, but if your statement of purpose is lackluster and fails to convey to your prospective faculty advisor that you are the right fit, then you are unlikely to be accepted. Conversely, you might have a modest CV, or even a weakness, such as a low GPA, but nevertheless be accepted if you convey in your statement that (1) you have taken (and will continue to take) concrete steps to become more prepared for PhD training, and (2) you possess unique skills and knowledge that are highly relevant to your prospective advisor’s research area but that might not be reflected in traditional metrics of achievement (e.g., your CV, GPA).

To  write a compelling statement of purpose , you need to articulate everything relevant to Question 1: “When should I apply?” You have already reflected on how your personal, academic, and professional experiences have aligned such that you know that you are ready to apply. But it is not enough  for you  to know that you are ready. You need to convince  your prospective advisor  that you are. 

This is where Accepted can help .  The most valuable service we offer is essay consulting. We can teach you how to craft a narrative about your journey that is coherent, authentic, and distinctive. During each consultation, we will challenge you to think more deeply and clearly than you ever have about where you’ve been and where you’re going. You will learn how to identify and effectively convey the reasons your prospective advisor should accept you.

Question 4: “Why do I want to go?”

A PhD is an academic degree that prepares you to conduct original research, perform advanced statistical analyses, interpret empirical results, and evaluate competing theories. You will be trained to become an academic – that is, a university professor who directs a research lab and teaches students the nuances of a specific field. The skills you acquire during your doctoral training can be applied to industry, governmental, and nonprofit settings; however, doing so should not be your primary goal. Your prospective advisor will want to know that you are committed to the work of an academic. It is great if your research has important implications for those other sectors, so long as you are still committed first and foremost to the production and dissemination of knowledge in your field. The thought of conducting original research in a university setting should make you excited to get started.

Thus, the best reasons to pursue a PhD are intrinsic. After all, a PhD is a Doctor of  Philosophy . You get a PhD because you are passionately drawn to the philosophy of your chosen field. You can’t help but think about it in your everyday life, because you see it everywhere. It is a lens through which life makes sense. Discovering its guiding principles, subject matter, and potential applications allows you to identify patterns in the world around you – and sometimes within yourself as well. So why should you pursue a PhD? Because you can’t  not .

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Vanessa Febo has ten years of experience teaching academic and professional writing at UCLA, with a special certification in teaching writing techniques. She has drawn on this expertise to guide clients to placements at top institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and USC. Before joining Accepted, Vanessa coached UCLA students through the application process for graduate programs, major grants, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Fulbright, Stanford Knight-Hennessey, and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Additionally, Vanessa has extensive experience successfully guiding clients through applications for a diverse range of programs, including those in business, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. Want Vanessa to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Related Resources

  • Get Accepted to PhD Programs in the Humanities , podcast Episode 568
  • How to Apply Successfully to STEM PhD Programs , podcast Episode 566
  • Graduate School in Psychology: PsyD or Psy Phd, Which Is Right for You?

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Your Guide to a Strong Ph.D. Application

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The Graduate School at Duke University

Rarely is there discussion of how to prepare for doctoral programs in professional master’s programs. So when I came across a workshop on preparing Ph.D. applications by Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Development J. Alan Kendrick , I jumped right into it even though it was scheduled to be around midnight in my time zone. (Yes, graduate school remotely from Pakistan is tough and disorienting, but that is a topic for a different blog post.) Here was someone who, in addition earning a Ph.D. himself, has years of experience in selecting Ph.D. applicants, so there could not have been a better opportunity to get introduced to the process! In this piece I’ll touch upon some major points highlighted by Dr. Kendrick to explain what it means to aim for a Ph.D. program and build a solid Ph.D. application.

THe Master's Versus the Ph.D.

Starting off, it is crucial to know the difference between a master’s program and a Ph.D. program. Whereas a master’s degree will generally be more specific than an undergraduate degree and usually span one to three years, a Ph.D. program usually entails a more focused set of question(s) within a discipline and usually spans five or more years. In a Ph.D., the cost of attending is often covered through a combination of fellowships and stipends. Schools are more likely to look for applicants who secured funding from external sources, but this it is not always necessary.  So, a good yardstick to measure your readiness and commitment for a Ph.D. program is your willingness and ability to work consistently for years on the academic inquiry you wish to pursue to push the frontiers of existing human knowledge. Scholars in STEM fields such as microbiology or solid-state physics usually spend most of their time in labs, so it is essential to get to know the work environment, culture, and expectations in your prospective labs.

A Strong Application

After getting clarity on what a Ph.D. program demands, let’s get into some major elements of a strong Ph.D. application. Broadly speaking, a Ph.D. application consists of previous academic grades, competitive examination scores, work experiences, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. For a Ph.D. program, all previous academic grades are weighted and assessed including undergraduate transcripts, while standard examination scores (i.e., the GRE) are now becoming optional at many institutions. And while top-tier grades are a great foundation, they are not decisive as each application is looked at holistically with all its elements to give a better picture. Letters of recommendation from previous academic supervisors are weighted heavily along with your personal statement.

One thing Dr. Kendrick emphasized was to not just get recommendations as mere “character profiles” but rather what he called “ strong recommendations.” Before you ask for faculty recommendations, share your résumé with them, sit down with them over a Zoom call (at least during the pandemic) and share your aspirations and objectives, and then ask for strong recommendations. Additionally, you should waive your right to review recommendation letters in your applications as doing this will indicate that the referee has been candid in your assessment for the admissions committee.

Mastering the Personal Statement

Finally, I come to the part where the ball is really in your court: the personal statement! I say this because while other elements of your application—grades and transcripts, previous work experiences, etc. are no longer alterable—the personal essay is your space to unapologetically express your true self and how you have evolved to be the person you are today. You can explain how your intellectual life has brought you to your specific academic area and where you see yourself going forward. Your statement should make it clear why you are interested in the field, the institution and program you are applying for as well as your research and career goals. Your essay should be tailored to the institution and/or program. Red flag here: if you end up with an essay where you can just replace institution names, then you haven’t met your goal. Additionally, your statement should include details about your background that can help the faculty better understand your motivation for pursuing their program. This can be anything—people, events, challenges, and achievements that have aided your growth and add to your fitness for the program. Additionally, you should address any noticeable discrepancies or gaps in your profile or transcripts that are worth mentioning.

While the personal statement is crucial to your application and speaks on your behalf in a room full of faculty who are judging your application, it is important to understand that there is no standard format or template that you should follow. This space is supposed to be personal, and it is supposed to be yours. It is also equally important to understand that the faculty judging applications are humans like us and often have diverging opinions about different profiles. Also remember that funding and positions for Ph.D.s are often limited and hence a rejected profile does not necessarily make it an incompetent or ineligible one.

In a nutshell, for a strong Ph.D. application, you need academic questions that keep you up at night and the discipline to follow the guidelines Dr. Kendrick shared, so that you can demonstrate your willingness and ability to work under supervision to answer those academic questions. This session with Dr. Kendrick brought me much-needed clarity to tackle my Ph.D. applications, and I hope this post does the same for you!

Editors’ note: You can find additional resources on preparing a strong application on The Graduate School’s website.

Soman Ul Haq

Soman ul Haq

Master's candidate, Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment

Soman is a Fulbright Scholar from Pakistan and a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Nicholas School of the Environment concentrating in Energy and Environment. He is currently focused on energy access in developing countries, sustainable development, energy transition, and behavioral changes with energy transition and access. Prior to joining Duke, Soman worked with the German International Development Cooperation (GIZ) as a technical advisor for energy access in off-grid areas and energy transition in industrial sector in Pakistan. As a mechanical engineer, he has experience consulting commercial and industrial sectors in developing energy efficient practices to achieve their sustainability goals. He tweets at @somaanulhaq

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