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Thread: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

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    Smile Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

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    UG: Top20 Math (3.9)+Science (3.6), overall 3.7 due to not studying -- partying too much during UG. No econ courses
    Master: Top 20 b-school, 3.7 due to not studying -- I am working and doing research at the same time. My work is policy related; not a top place/big brand. Some Econ courses but at the B-school level only.

    GRE: 160/167/4.5. I did not study for it because I got research to do. I can try to invest several weeks to score a 169 on V/Q but I guess it is unnecessary.

    Research: One top field with revision requested. Two top fields submitted with AE/Editor coauthoring. One other working paper that could be tried to submitted to top 5. My research is between consumer theory, IO, policy, and a bit finance-related.
    Presented in top Economics/Business conferences (like AEA AFA) for five times.

    Letter writers: Currently one strong econ letter from a senior in top 5 (coauthor, regular meeting),
    one b-school letter from an old endowment professor in top 5 (coauthor, met for several times),
    one strong stats/math letter from an old endowment professor in top 5 (coauthor, regular meeting last year),
    one letter from an econ assistant professor from top 20 (taking courses only),
    one letter from an econ assistant professor (not star) in top 20 (coauthor). May invest more time to find better letter writers.

    First Question: What discipline in B-school shall I apply to? I love to do marketing but my paper/background seems fit finance. Also my policy-related paper and work experience fits the TOM/innovation program. My strongest letter would be from an economics professor, but I did not have enough economics courseworks for an econ PhD. So I am having a hard time to decide.

    Second Question: As a nontraditional applicant, what shall I prioritize? Here is my list in the decreasing order of importance:

    1. Revising papers
    2. Submit to Top 5
    3. Get another stronger letter in Econ/B-school
    4. Write an impressive SOP to explain my experience, non-traditional background, and my poor grades
    5. Improve GRE

    Does it sound reasonable? Would a strong rec letter from the academic advisor help to explain my non-traditional cases? Thank you for your advice! Any other comments are welcome.
    Last edited by happyecon; 10-01-2019 at 12:37 AM.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    First Question:
    You wrote you love to do marketing, and I think that's ok. Given tour profile, I think both Quantitative Marketing and Marketing Strategy would work for you.

    I'm in Quantitative Marketing, and my background is in Finance. The new student we have here has a background in Accounting. That kind of background can be useful, specially if you study things like customer lifetime value (which is like valuation methods applied to consumers, with discounted cash flow). Also, we often study the impact of marketing on outcomes like shareholder value. I don't think you would be considered nontraditional here.

    Second Question:

    When are you going to apply? If you are going to apply soon, then there is something that looks more like a priority than any of the things that you listed: decide the discipline to apply (e.g., Marketing), your topics of interest, and find the right schools to apply (this can take a lot of time, and is really important).

    1 and 2 - Papers are good. If you can finish them and submit in time, I think you should do it.
    3 - I'm not sure I understand what you meant by "senior" here. For me, a senior wouldn't be a tenured professor or someone like that. And, in that case, not someone who can provide a strong letter. So, I'm confused when you say you have a strong letter from a senior.
    4 - An SOP that is used "to explain my experience, non-traditional background, and my poor grades" wouldn't be an impressive one, in my opinion. You would probably talk too much about things they don't really care that much, and too little about the important stuff. This is a Statement of Purpose, not an explanation of what you did in the past. You can bring your background if that can help you to explain your purpose, but should not waste much time explaining things from the past.
    And, since you don't even know if you're going to apply to marketing, innovation, or something else, you don't have some critical stuff for your SoP. For example, what are your research interests and what is your purpose in studying them? Or why do you think that the specific school you are applying to would be great for your research interests and purposes?
    5 - Your GRE is not bad, but certainly it doesn't look impressive. It's acceptable, not strong. At least for good schools, they should get several applicants with a score that is better than that. I wouldn't be happy with that score, if I were the one applying.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    Thank you for your reply and sorry for some ambiguous terms. "Senior" means a very old and big named professor with endowment chair. A "top field" means economics top fields not B-school FT50. What would be a classic route for a B-School PhD in top schools? Does the applicant has to have prior research experience directly with the professors in that field (say Marketing)? By "finding the right school to apply", do you mean that I have to find the correct supervisor with the common research interests, so he can take me?

    I am applying to top 20 economics departments (but I highly doubt that I am going to get a good offer) and maybe top 30 business schools.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    I followed you here from a PhD in Econ thread.
    .
    I don't understand your pessimism. If your profile is accurate - you have a top econ field R&R, and a few other papers for which experienced co-authors believe will be in a top field / top 5 journal, you should be a very strong candidate for ANY top 10 business school PhD.

    The GRE is irrelevant. the GPA is practically irrelevant. The lack of econ/grad-econ hurts a little at some programs, but you have enough math background to satisfy the key criteria - being able to finish 1st year core coursework at any program. Research programs primarily care about your research output 5 years later, and you already have more than enough to justify an admit.

    I know a bunch of people at the PhD cohorts in HBS/Stanford GSB; it'd definitely be rare to have a top field R&R before admissions.

    I'd advise talking to your two strongest letter-writers and asking them bluntly if they would be comfortable if you only applied to a mix of top 10 econ/marketing/finance programs. If they say yes, then go ahead and apply to them broadly, and figure out which field/program you prefer later. If the advisors are skeptical, then ask for advice on discipline and range.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    Thank you for your warm and encouraging post. Following your advise, I will ask my referees exactly the same thing that you told me. I rarely asked about similar questions before. I asked which discipline shall I apply to and he said that I should do whatever I am truly interested in. Do you think asking those super-busy big name professor the questions related with rec-letter and application would annoy them or is it a signal that they are well respected by me?

    By the way, the lack of econ background seems fine for B-School, but what about econ phd application? Would the lack of econ background nullify my chances? Do I still have a chance in Top 10 Econ?
    Last edited by happyecon; 10-01-2019 at 11:45 PM.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    Quote Originally Posted by happyecon View Post
    Thank you for your reply and sorry for some ambiguous terms. "Senior" means a very old and big named professor with endowment chair. A "top field" means economics top fields not B-school FT50. What would be a classic route for a B-School PhD in top schools? Does the applicant has to have prior research experience directly with the professors in that field (say Marketing)? By "finding the right school to apply", do you mean that I have to find the correct supervisor with the common research interests, so he can take me?

    I am applying to top 20 economics departments (but I highly doubt that I am going to get a good offer) and maybe top 30 business schools.
    All right, then you don't need more letters.

    At least in Marketing, I don't think having prior research experience in Marketing would be considered a classic route. The diversity of backgrounds is really big in Marketing. Many fields can be useful for Marketing, like Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Engineering, Computer Science, Journalism, Arts, History, Chemistry.

    But I don't expect the same for Accounting, for example.

    About the right school, the correct supervisor with common research interests is probably the most important part. But, for many of us, it can go beyond that.

    Usually, other professors in the department, school, and university will also help with your research, not only your advisor. So, focusing too much on one person may be a problem. If that professor is not taking any new students, for example, then you are done (and it's hard to know). If you need to change the advisor later on, you could be in trouble.

    Different schools also have different values and culture. Some are more competitive and aggressive, for example, and not everyone will thrive in that environment.

    Different schools have different levels of support when it comes to the job market. Some will make really an effort to help you get a job good, while others will not care that much.

    Even things like the city can make a difference. Some people gets depressed in small cities, some people hate extreme cold. It may look like a small thing. But I have seen people struggling with that. A PhD is hard, it doesn't help if you are doing in a city you hated from the beginning.

    The quality and variety of datasets a program has can make a huge difference for a more quantitative track. After all, without data, it's much harder to get something relevant done. For example, it's probably easier for universities in New York to develop close relationships with Wall Street, and that should help research in Finance. If you want to research social media, I know that being close to Facebook has helped some people in Marketing.

    So, a lot of things can influence your evaluation of what are the right schools. And, at least for me, I think that made a huge difference when I got the interview. I listed many reasons when I was asked why I had applied to do a PhD here. Common research interests helped a lot, but then I suppose other applicants could easily say they also had common interests. But I had some reasons that other applicants wouldn't be able to copy that easily. I think I had reasons that set me apart from other applicants.

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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    Thank you William for sharing your valuable experience and I've also come across your blog. Do you mind to share some of the " reasons that other applicants wouldn't be able to copy that easily"? From your blog I guess it is something like "why did I choose the city", and "why did I choose a PhD in this age", or " great goal of Corporate Finance of maximizing shareholder value was to maximize consumer value"? Seems like it is important to have a clear and innovative research topic in mind, and demonstrate prior research efforts on this specific direction. You've basically made a smooth story that sounds very natural and reasonable, so everyone who read about it would be sure that you are indeed motivated. But for me I am not as knowledged as you; I did not have 20 years of practice or 5 years of teaching experience. What is some of the strongest motivation to do a PhD for a younger applicant?


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    Re: Application Advice for Non-traditional Applicant

    Ok, I will not tell you clearly and exactly what the reason was, as that involve other people too.

    But it's something like this. Let's say that we have the same research interests, ok? That's good.

    However, that doesn't mean that our motivation to research that thing is the same. People may have different reasons to study the same thing. You have your story, I have my own story.

    Now, what if your story and my story have some important connections?

    So, not only I tried to connect my future with my advisor's future since we have similarities in research interests, I also was able to connect elements of my journey so far with elements of his own journey so far.

    That helps to visualize the journey. Where I'm coming from, where I am now, and where I want to go.

    I'll try to give an example to illustrate the reasoning. Let's say you want to research about allergies. And then you find a potential advisor who specializes on allergies. That's good, right? Common research interests. But if you decided to research allergies because your son has allergies, and then you know that your advisor has a similar story, then it feels much stronger than just having common research interests. And that's not something one can easily copy, one will not have a son with allergies just because they are applying to a PhD about allergies.

    I don't know what would be a strong motivation for a younger applicant. If you are applying, I guess you have your reasons and they are good. Otherwise, I don't know why you would be applying.

    I think that more than a strong motivation, the problem is often that applicants do not provide evidence or reasoning for that. Like, a lot of them say that the motivation is "love for research" or "always wanted to be a professor". That's not necessarily weak, but this is too generic and need something stronger to be convincing.

    It's like research. You may have a great research idea. But if it's generic, and you don't present strong argument to support that idea, nobody really cares.

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