I spent a good part of the weekend reading PhD files.  It seems like a fairly strong year, perhaps because the economy has closed out other opportunities.  (Many applicants hail from Wall Street).  I’d love to hear your impressions of any application pools you have seen.  But if you are one of the students who are applying, you might want to take a look at this site, which has some nice information and advice for applicants.

It’s too late for advice about applications, recommendation letters and statements of purpose, but not too late for advice on admissions decisions and phone or face-to-face interviews.  My own advice is to devote a lot of time to school-specific preparation.

Make sure you know which faculty are currently research active, and read at least abstracts of their papers on their school website or SSRN.  Get on Google Scholar and see if any of the faculty at the school have written review papers, or perhaps had their work summarized in review papers. This type of preparation serves the dual goals of (1) improving your chances of admission by making you look informed, motivated, dedicated and professional, and (2) improving your chances of making the right decision between multiple admission offers, by making you more able to assess research fit.

I almost hesitate to write this advice, since it seems so obvious.  But only a handful of applicants took this strategy for their written statement of purpose, and most tailored their applications only minimally (mentioning the name of the school), not at all, or incorrectly  (we are not the “Cornell Department of Accounting.”)  For those looking at applying for PhD programs next year, I strongly recommend school-specific preparation for the statement of purpose in your original application.  After all, the information is all there on the web.  The only reason not to tailor your statement of purpose to each school is because you didn’t think of it, or you thought of it but didn’t bother because you thought it was too hard and not sufficiently important.  Sadly, you will be in good company.  But this makes the benefits of tailoring even greater–standing out from the crowd is essential when admission rates are in the range of 1-4%.

Anyone else want to add their two cents?