Advice for prospective PhD students

I receive frequent inquiries about our PhD program. Here’s my generic advice for those interested in it:

  • GRE score matters a lot. Don’t neglect that. Your scores need to be in the upper echelon.
  • Work experience can be helpful, but it will not typically make up for a non-stellar academic record. The kind of work experience that tends to matter is work that would have provided close interaction with good quantitative social science research, like being a program manager for a JPAL randomized control trial or something along those lines.
  • It helps to know which faculty you like, and it is good if the faculty that you like have active research programs, which you can assess by seeing if they have been publishing in top journals/presses in recent years.
  • There is really nothing to be gained by writing to professors that you do not know personally to tell them that you are planning to apply or to ask to discuss applying. So don’t bother—just apply. Professors do not hand-select students to work with them, rather admissions decisions are done centrally by a department-level admissions committee. I understand that in other fields like psychology or some policy schools, or even at European universities, faculty can select people that they would like to admit as students to “work with them.” Our program, like all political science programs in the US that I know, doesn’t work that way. It makes sense to contact professors with whom you already have a relationship, based on having been their student or working for them as a research assistant, say. And of course if you are already accepted to a program, you should feel free to contact professors to ask for information.
  • Finally, I consider NYU’s political science PhD program to be a “boutique” program for those wishing to specialize in quantitative social science, both in terms of applied statistics/econometrics and formal theory. This has two implications. First, if that kind of specialization doesn’t appeal to you, then you should consider another program. Second, our admissions committee is typically looking for people with academic backgrounds that clearly indicate that they would thrive in our highly quant-oriented program. Many of our admits have studied in fields like economics, math, statistics, computer science, etc., as well as political science and related fields.