Tips for Applying Abroad for a Doctoral Degree
One of the things I did while I was in India preparing for applications to Canada was to send my tentative proposal to the top experts in my field in various Canadian departments. I had little expectation that they would respond but nearly 8 out 10 profs did and with several important suggestions that helped me fine-tune my proposal. Some wrote openly to say that they couldn’t champion my application that year (for various reasons) but that they knew others who might; others wrote encouragingly that I should apply.
I used that feedback to parse my proposal and its claims further, and I also realized when I finally received admission at the University of Toronto, Queens, and Dalhousie that the people I contacted played an implicit part in the final decision. Once I became a faculty member in the US and was part of a graduate student admissions committee, I saw from within how the system works and I realized that having a Trojan within cannot hurt. Now I can make no claims that this is exactly how it works, or indeed, if having someone who will champion your application from within might not actually backfire. But I do realize that contacting professors about your interests is a positive thing and you just cannot foretell how well it might work for you.
The other thing I did was to ensure I had some family or friends in the place I went to. This is not always possible, of course, but it is an important factor: a new country, with new rules, new ways of being – you certainly want as many people in your camp as you can get. Homesickness will be big in year one; so having access to homely things and folks helps.
One more tip: write to the department secretaries who can put you in touch with students who are in the program and who have come from your part of the world. Email them and ask them about costs, duration, support etc.
My biggest advice, then, is to get ready to be proactive about emailing people in the departments of your interest: students, department secretaries, professors, potential funding bodies etc. The more info you have before you apply, the stronger your chances! And finally, when you contact people by email, be professional but not craven; be friendly but not colloquial or slangy; be confident but not disrespectful. And always, wait a bit for their response (don’t importune!) and send a note of thanks to anyone who writes back.
The author would like to remain anonymous.
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