Where and how to apply for a PhD in USA?
Selecting a PhD programme that best suits your needs and interest can be a long and exhausting process. Here are some tips how to select and approach the school of your choice
Where to apply
The first stage of the application process ought to be shortlisting universities
- Identify your research interest: Since you are applying to a graduate school, you will be expected to have an idea of what research you plan to undertake as a PhD tudent. On the basis of your BA and MA studies in India, you may have identified certain opics or broad areas that stimulate your interest and that you feel have not been sufficiently taught by existing researchers.
- Once you have an idea of what you want to work on, read up on that topic, if you haven’t done so already. You will then be able to see which of the scholars’ research interests or methodology appeal to you. Find out the universities where those scholars teach. This is one way to shortlist universities. The other is to go to the websites of universities and departments that you are aware of. Check out the list of faculty members and see if their stated research interests match with yours.
- Shortlist, in this way, between 5-10 universities.
- It is most tactical to select a few top-ranked universities, a few mid-ranked universities and a few low-ranked universities – the latter two depend on how keen you are to go to the States to study. So, if you would like to shift to the US only if you get to a top-ranked university or the professor of your choice, then there is no harm in applying only to institutions which are harder to get admission into
- The earlier you start surveying university web sites, the better. Try to begin this process at most by August of the year in which you apply, if not earlier.
- e-mail any queries that you have about the admission process to the staff members designated on the website, such as admissions coordinators and the like. Do not contact professors with queries about the admission process.
How to apply
Once you have identified the departments and professors that interest you, email the professors whom you think might be interested in the research you plan to undertake as a PhD student. This you should do around 2-3 weeks before the deadline.
In the email, write very briefly what you are currently doing (in one sentence), your academic qualifications (also one sentence), what particular research questions you want to examine and why you would like to work with them. In sum, this email should not exceed 3 short paragraphs. The shorter the better.
Be polite and to-the-point in such correspondence. Do not be overly flattering or wordy and at the same time, do not be boastful about yourself.
The professor may reply and encourage you to apply to the PhD programme. Conversely, the professor may reply and discourage you from applying because his/her research interest may not match yours. In this case, you should not apply to that department unless another professor in it encourages you to apply. Lastly, there may be no reply from the professor in which case you should only apply to that university if you really want to study there or if you are very keen on working with that professor.
If the professor does reply to you, do not needlessly contact the professor or ask him/her questions about the admission process.