- Do a master's first. It will give you experience in postgraduate education, especially conducting independent research, thus making you a better candidate for a PhD. It also gives you a one-up on funding applications, which are highly competitive.
- If you're applying for a subject that requires you to put forth a research proposal it's a good idea to begin working on it ASAP, especially if you're taking a master's because you'll be busy with your classes and exams around the submission deadlines.
- If you're flexible about your research area, it's a good idea to check out what projects universities are interested in. There will often be generous funding available if you're willing to mould to fit their interests. As an added bonus, it may lead you into an area that you love but would never have considered before.
|The only way to research productively is in a coffee shop in|
full view of other people. Isolated research reaps no results.
- The application form is often long and tedious. You have been warned.
- Don't copy and paste elements from one to another. Universities can spot bland general comments a mile off and they don't take them well.
- A lot of application deadlines are in December or January, but some universities accept them on a rolling basis. Make sure that you do your research well in advance and write down the closing dates so that you're not caught out.
- Spread your applications across a number of universities. Acceptance rates vary from subject area to subject and university to university, so I can't give you any detailed advice on how many to make. However, I can tell you that the best way to find out what's normal for your subject is to ask others in your field (groundbreaking, I know).
- Universities will often automatically consider you for internal funding opportunities, but some schemes require additional applications. This is tricky because the deadline for applying will be before you know whether you've been accepted. You can waste a lot of time on funding applications, especially if you're applying to multiple schools. At the same time, you're going to need funding. Apply for as many as you can, but be aware that it's a never-ending source of work.
- The decision-making timeline is a joke designed to play with your nerves. If you haven't heard back after a set date it's no indication of success or failure.
- Check your spam folder if you use Gmail. I should have found out that I was accepted to Oxford on St. Patrick's Day, but I didn't receive the news until a month later. A month is a long time when you spend the majority of your waking hours obsessively picking apart your value as a person.
- Rejection can be hard to process, but don't beat yourself up. Often it's nothing to do with the quality of the candidate or the idea, but whether the university is interested in that field (for courses that require a research proposal).
- If you've put in multiple applications and your first response is a rejection it can be easy to lose hope, but try not to obsess about it and wait to hear back from everyone before you freak out.
|Dr Schrödinger famously wrote terrible checklists.|
- When the offers start rolling in it's a good idea to take a step back and think about what you really want. One school might offer better funding than another, but what quality of life can they guarantee? Location and culture are important factors for consideration. If you have the time, take a trip to the different campuses and see which one gives you 'the feeling'.
- Further to this point, but so important that it requires its own bullet, is accommodation. As a victim of the Dublin housing crisis, I can personally attest that the quality, price and location of accommodation is the most important non-academic consideration. Nothing could have prepared me for the carnage that was house hunting before I began my master's.
The questions you want to ask are: does the university offer housing? Does it offer a service to help incoming students find housing? What is the private rental market like? What is the average cost of renting? If renting privately, who will you live with? How far are you willing to commute?
- Finally, if you've been rejected by the university you had your heart set on, take some time to consider your options. If you have offers from other universities, ask yourself whether you're happy to go there. As mentioned before, visit them and see where you find yourself.
If you decide that you're not ready to give up on your dream school, consider taking a year out of education to work. Your application may benefit from a year's relevant work experience and it will give you time to work on a new research proposal (if your subject requires one). Taking this route may be difficult to accept at first because you feel like you're putting your life on hold, but concentrate on the positives i.e. it will help you to prepare financially for a PhD.
Overall it's a nerve-wreaking time. I won't gloss over my own experience. I was incredibly stressed and a general misery to be around, but now it's just another chapter in life. And remember that you're not alone, everyone who wants to pursue higher education has to go through this.