Frequently Asked Questions
Can I be admitted to your master’s program?
No. We do not offer a terminal master’s program.
But your website says there is a master’s degree, and I can choose the master’s option in the application – are you sure I cannot apply to your master’s program?
Yes, we are sure. Occasionally, under extraordinary circumstances, we choose to grant someone admission to the program for the sole purpose of pursuing a master’s degree. However, this option is not available to ordinary applicants. In any event, such a candidate would still need to meet the standards of admission set for acceptance into the PhD program.
Do you accept non-degree seeking students?
If terminal master’s students are rare and extraordinary, non-degree seeking students are even more so. The only ones we have admitted in recent years are people who have performed a great service to the University, and with whom we have a special relationship.
Is there a minimum GRE score I must have to be admitted?
No. A high score does not guarantee admission just as a lower-than-average score does not doom an application. GRE scores do matter, however. Some years, depending on the composition of the committee and the applicant pool, GRE scores matter more, other years less, but our admissions committee is looking both for evidence that your interests fit with the interests of the department, and for indicators of promise as a graduate student. As a result, most applicants have very good scores. For the 2013 cycle, GRE scores of admitted students averaged in the 77th percentile on the quantitative section and in the 93rd percentile on the verbal section.
I didn’t major in political science. Also, I have been out of school for a while, but am ready to be a full-time student again. Can I apply to your program?
Yes. It is true that the typical applicant admitted is either completing their undergraduate or master’s degree or has done so recently, usually with a degree in political science. However, the key question really is whether you have been doing something in school or since you have left school that might prepare you, and show evidence of aptitude, for an academic career in political science. The typical successful application describes a particular interest in political science research that the student wishes to continue pursuing in the PhD program, and that matches the interests of faculty in our department. We understand that your research question may change once you arrive, but it is important for us to know that your interests match the interests and strengths of the department. Moreover, a strong application will usually contain letters of reference from academics who are knowledgeable about the applicant’s academic performance and/or capabilities. Letters from non-academic supervisors, while they may be easier for non-traditional applicants to secure, are typically less persuasive and less helpful to an application. Presenting such an application convincingly is what is critical, as opposed to your current or recent academic status or your initial fields of study.
I have a master’s degree and a law degree. Are my credits going to transfer?
Most will probably not transfer. When students have previous coursework count toward their degree in our program, it is usually because they were a master’s student at the university and already took one of our graduate courses. Generally, we expect students to take our seminars as part of their normal program of work. Any exceptions would be made on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of the graduate advisor in consultation with the relevant field chair, a decision that would be made after you are already in residence and taking courses. In any event, transferring credits is not likely to significantly affect your progress toward a degree. We require that you take a minimum of 16 organized courses; even if you were granted a waiver from a course or two, you would still have to meet substantive requirements, and acquire substantive knowledge in your field of interest, and write a strong dissertation proposal, all of which often requires more than that many courses. Moreover, the key to moving swiftly through the program is efficiently designing and executing your dissertation research, which accounts for the bulk of your time here.
The website says that the application deadline is Dec. 1. Is it really Dec. 1? Do I really have to have all my application materials in by Dec. 1?
I want to complete your program on a part-time basis and am only available to take courses in the evening. Is this a problem?
You can still apply and may be admitted, but our expectations are that students will be full time and available to attend classes during normal business hours, and our experience is that part-time students experience difficulty being successful in the program. The program is not designed or particularly well equipped to accommodate part-time students.
I want to change the world – that’s a good thing, right?
Yes, but it is important to remember that graduate study in political science brings together a rich mixture of humanistic academic study and ‘harder’ scientific methods and inquiry. Political scientists enjoy untangling intellectually puzzling theoretical questions with empirical rigor. While their normative commitments often inform the subject matter of their research, political scientists ideally can detach how they carry out their research from the policy and political implications of their findings. Our primary goal is to find applicants who are interested in and capable of carrying out excellent social scientific research in an academic environment. If your primary goal is to do policy work, it may be that you are better suited to a professional program such as a school of public affairs, as opposed to an academic program like ours.
I want to work for a think tank, or the government, or a non-profit, or do anything other than become a professor – should I apply to your program?
Maybe, maybe not. Many of our graduates go on to successful careers outside of academia. However, this is not the typical career path for our students. Our program trains, and is designed to train, academics wishing to pursue tenure track academic jobs at research universities (first priority) and liberal arts colleges (second priority). If you want to work in the public sector outside of academia, you might be better served by a school of public affairs.
What will make me a competitive applicant?
Our application process is much like those of our peer institutions. We are looking for applicants who show promise of a scholarly career in teaching and independent, original research – which is quite a different thing than being a very good undergraduate student. Applicants should have a fairly clear sense of what they want to pursue in graduate school and a good idea of why it makes sense to do it at Texas. Questions committee members might ask themselves could include: Does this applicant fit our current program needs? Are there faculty members here who would be able and willing to advise this applicant? What are the applicant’s objective qualifications and how do they compare with the sophistication and research experience or promise expressed elsewhere in the application? Is there evidence of intellectual excellence and social scientific curiosity? Does the applicant demonstrate focus and direction? Do we believe this applicant can accomplish what they say they are interested in doing? Why is this applicant pursuing a PhD? Is this applicant genuinely interested in an academic career? Are the applicant’s letters of recommendation from the people the file suggests they should be from? Do we see this applicant as marketable after completing their dissertation? You should know that the strongest applicants often have advisors or mentors at their current or former university who have been helping them become competitive and coaching them through the application process. It would be very good if you could talk to someone who can both advise you as to the realities of a PhD program and the complexities of the admissions process.
How many people apply to your program each year, how many are accepted each year, and how many enroll each year?
Since 2009, on average, we have been receiving 210 applications, admitting about 54 students, and enrolling about 21 new students each year. However, all three of these numbers are on a downward trend which is more reflective of our expectations. In 2013 we received 173 applications, admitted 40, and enrolled 17.
Will I be funded?
Graduate student funding consists primarily of nominally 20-hour per week positions as Teaching Assistants, supplemented by positions as Research Assistants, Assistant Instructors, and Fellowships. All applicants are automatically considered for Teaching Assistant and Fellowship positions after submitting an application for admission. Typically, unless they have external sources of funding (such as the military), all newly admitted students begin the program with either a Teaching Assistantship or a Fellowship, although funding does not always come through until late in the admissions process or after the admissions process is complete. Every year, continuing students apply for, and are reviewed to see if they qualify for continued funding (even if they have been guaranteed funding as part of their admission offer). This serves the students (and us) as an opportunity to evaluate their progress and performance to date. While continued funding is not indefinitely guaranteed for all students, between 2006 and 2012, 90% of students who applied received funding.
Do my letters of recommendation really need to be uploaded by the individuals writing the letters? What about interfolio, email, or snail-mail?
Yes, your letters of recommendation really do need to be uploaded by the individuals writing the letters. We understand that this is less convenient for some applicants, compared with interfolio or having letters emailed or mailed in hard copy. Unfortunately, we must use the system the university has in place for receiving and processing letters of recommendation, and it cannot accommodate interfolio.
I am just starting to look into the UT PhD program, and I have a lot of questions. What should I do?
Read the graduate admissions section of the website carefully and in detail, along with the rest of the website. After you read it, if you still have questions, take a second look at the website. We find it answers many of the typical questions prospective applicants have. If, after two or more readings of the website, you still have questions, you can contact us directly. Our graduate admissions people can answer questions about technical requirements – faculty usually do not have that kind of information. If you have a particular substantive interest in a faculty member or field of study it may also be appropriate to contact a faculty member by email.