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Applying For The Ph.D.
Vanderbilt’s application system is easy, particularly if you apply using our online system. The Graduate School is presently waiving the $40.00 application fee if you apply online. To be considered, students must complete the online application and submit all official undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) transcripts, official reports of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores on the General test, official reports of GRE scores on Subject tests if required by the department, and three letters of recommendation from current or previous research mentors/advisers, instructors, or supervisors.
While there is no minimum test score or GPA required for admission to our Ph.D. programs, you should be aware that high scores (>600 in each section) and high GPAs (>3.5) are extremely common in our application pool across disciplines. Departments do look at GRE scores, but faculty here are serious about doing a comprehensive review of the student's file. The numbers only tell us part of the story.
Final decisions are more likely to be made based on the letters of recommendation, how clear it is that you understand and plan to stick with a grad program in your chosen field, and that you have some evidence of independent research. The best predictor of future success is past success. Have that in mind as you craft your application.
Often faculty write the kinds of letters high school teachers might: short, repeating information already in the file, and impersonal. Make sure that your recommenders understand what we're looking for and that they know you well enough to sell the you that exists beyond what your scores and grades might tell us. Make sure that the people you ask to write letters have the time and capacity to write comprehensive letters in support of your candidacy. These letters should tell us information that cannot be gleaned by looking at other pieces of your application.
Most departments require a “statement of purpose” which gives them a sense of your specific interests in the department. In some ways, this statement is one of the most important elements in the application process. Please indicate as precisely as possible what you propose to accomplish in undertaking graduate work. Explain your interests in the particular department and faculty; this helps faculty determine how much of a match there will be between you and what the faculty can offer. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your previous preparation.
Because admission to our Ph.D. programs is a very competitive process, most departments either require or expect you to include a writing sample (preferably a paper from a course that illustrates your ability to write and to conduct research). Both you and your recommenders should be specific about your role in any research projects you’ve done with them. If your writing sample(s) do not represent your ability to do independent research, please make sure this is noted somewhere in the rest of your application.