how i pick grad students
Don’t take this post personally – I haven’t been on a graduate admissions committee in a while. But I wanted to start a thread on how sociology programs pick doctoral students.
Things that impress me:
- Overall excellence: Like nearly anyone, I am impressed with applicants who have a high GRE score and GPA.
- Courses that are tough: I am impressed when people do well in courses that are regarded as demanding. In the sociology major, these would include social theory and statistics. Outside the sociology major, I am impressed by foreign languages, philosophy, and anything that requires non-trivial amounts of mathematics. I also give slack for the challenge. The B+ in advanced Arabic is probably more persuasive to me than an A in intro soc. For this reason, I read transcripts very carefully.
Things that sometimes impress me:
- Research papers/writing samples: If they are well written and address non-trivial topics, then I impressed.
- Choice of major: If you can maintain a decent, though not perfect, GPA in a really challenging major, I am impressed. I am not impressed by bad performance in a tough major. I also expect near perfection from applicants in notoriously easy majors.
Things that usually don’t impress me:
- Statement of purpose: I usually find this useful only as a test of basic language skills. It also communicates that the applicant is a good fit with respect to research interests. But these considerations rarely come into play because I can usually tell what I need to know from your transcript and test scores.
- Letters of recommendation: As I have argued many times on this blog, most research, with a few exceptions, shows that letters of reference are poor predictors of future performance. I quickly scan letters for red flags to weed applicants who are clearly not suited for graduate school. But aside from that, I pay very little attention to them.
- The college you came from, unless it is known as an incredibly demanding/undemanding place.
Stuff that I ignore:
- Personal stories/life experience
- Work experience, unless it is obviously related to your research and it’s really unique.
- Internship/Summer research experience. Nothing wrong with those activities, but I don’t have any personal experience or research showing me that these predict success.
I know that people disagree with me on many points. I make no claim that other faculty use these criteria. I’d be interested in your opinions with regard to evluation of graduate school applicants.