Applying to Doctoral Programs: It’s All About the Match!

Not a good match.

My advisor told me today that Ph.D stands for Piled High and Deep. I’m not quite sure how to interpret this but at least I love what the program piles on. For those that are interested in a research doctorate, whether it’s a Ph.d in Biology, Chemistry, History, English, Sociology, or Psychology, there are various commonalities to the graduate school application process.

The first and foremost important thing to know about applying is that it all comes down to the match! In the world of academia, faculty members view their students as colleagues they will be working intimately with for five or more years. If the student and the professor do not share the same passion, those five years could be pretty unpleasant.

For example, suppose Harvard is your top choice and Dr. Smith at Harvard is studying depression in adolescents. You apply with your perfect GRE and GPA, have numerous publications and conference presentations, and feed blind homeless children three meals a day seven days a week.  A letter arrives in the mail and you have been invited to attend interview day! Yayyyy…time to book a flight!

You and Dr. Smith really hit it off during the interview. The two of you have so much in common. You both are hikers, dog lovers, Harry Potter readers, and super-liberal. It’s a match made in heaven with the exception of one thing; you are interested in ADULT depression.  Sorry dude but you won’t be going to Harvard this year. This may seem blunt but it really all comes down to the match.

Finding the Match:

Now you may ask yourself, “How do I decide if I am good match?” I recommend getting into the literature and figuring out who is publishing research that catches your interest. After doing this, Google them and see what institution they are affiliated with. Next, see if they mentor graduate students. Sometimes this information is visible on the department website but if not, contact them directly. Repeat the above steps and you will have a preliminary list of schools. I did this for days straight and eventually created an Excel document that included the faculty member, their university, admissions data, contact information, and hyperlinks to bio pages and application documents.  This made my life so much easier and I recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing a Doctorate.

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