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Advice for a prospective grad student? (Where to apply) [#permalink]
31 Mar 2007, 01:04
I'm an non-traditional undergrad accounting student looking to continue studies with a PhD in accounting. The plan is to apply for Fall of '08. Stats are as follows:
Expected GMAT: 97-99 percentile
Undergrad GPA: 3.9 at current institution (State Uni), 3.0 overall
(The 3.0 is due to some very poor grades received during my first attempt at college. Since returning to school a year and a half ago I have maintained a 4.0)
5 year work experience - 1 administrative, 3 retail (including management) and 1 manufacturing w/ supervising duties
Aside from nailing the GMAT and writing an outstanding SOP, what else can I do to improve my chances at this point? Would it be helpful to stay at the current university an extra year to complete a Master of Science in Financial Analysis? (Quant heavy, no research requirement , although it may include the possibility of an R.A.)
Seeing as how I did abysmally directly out of high school, and won't have a prestigious alma matter, I don't think I qualify for top 20. (Correct me if I'm wrong in this assumption.) So, what schools should I be investigating?
your profile seem good to me. the missing parts are:
research interests and career goals. without them it is difficult to assess where you should apply to... if you don't have a clear view of what you want to research, how you want to do it (in terms of methodology) and where you want to end up in - i'd say the best way to spend the next few months (or year and few months) is getting these clear. an RAship may help doing this and also looks good on your profile - but it is not necessary in my view.
if you indeed get into the 95+ percentiles in gmat, why not attempting high?
as i said in other places - i think the most important aspect of the application is fit of interests with department and potential advisors. so you should start researching potential schools in no particular order. going over faculty's bios and interests and program of studies, reading some key papers of those who seem the most interesting to you... and asking yourself something like "would i be happy doing this kind of work, with this kind of person"
that's my two pence...
and by the way - this part was the most enjoyable part of my application process.
As far as career goals: I'd eventually like to obtain a tenure track faculty position at a university in the Pacific Northwest (or possibly California). With that in mind would I be better off attending a West Coast school? Also, I am strongly interested in the teaching aspect. I am of the opinion that fresh research is a critical aspect of teaching at the university level, but that research alone doesn't make you a good teacher. As such, I would like a school that would allow me the opportunity to pursue an elective in pedagogy.
When it comes to research, I have some very broad interests, but nothing specifically identified at this point. Topics include: the FASB & GAAP creation, sustainability, accounting for non-financial aspects that influence economic position, and the influence of metrics on decision making process. I'm uncertain how to proceed with this exploration. I've spent time looking at professor profiles, but they tend to be vague, and don't link to current work. Should I just start making my way through the recent journals? If so, which are the best to read?
firemaplegirl: coming from a state school and not a top ranked school doesn't hurt your chances that much. Going to Harvard, MIT or Wharton becomes a long-shot, but I'd say schools like Michigan, NYU, Yale.. are still definitely in reach. However, sadly (or not), your open interest in teaching does hurt your chances: I'm pretty sure that if you state your interest for teaching in your SOP, it won't help you, and might hurt you at many places. This is not my opinion, but that's how higher education goes at the top schools.
Thus at this point, your big choice is to either 1) get a PhD that will possibly (but not for sure) give you the tools and exposure to publish good research papers AND make you become a good teacher (either by making you give a lot of courses to undergrads, or offering an elective in pedagogy), or 2) get a PhD that will give you those tools for sure, but where teaching is definitely an afterthought. As a 2nd year PhD student in a well-known research university, my very personal view on this is that pedagogy courses are _not_ substitutes for good class preparation and planning. I never got a pedagogy course and nevertheless won a teaching award after 1 year of teaching before I left to do my PhD; I'm pretty sure I won this award because I put a lot of thought into how to teach the class materials.
(However, keep in mind that although any PhD program will be challenging, #2 will definitely be much harder than #1, so there's actually a sizable chance that you'll feel like shit much more often if you choose #2.)
1) West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, it is completely irrelevant. The school itself will play a role in your placement prospects, but it will largely be overshadowed by your dissertation advisor, the quality of your job market paper, and maybe how you fare in presenting that paper at prospective schools. The location of the school itself won't matter, unless you're a big city girl and think you'll die if you go to Indiana U.
2) As far as subjects go, I would strongly suggest you try to meet the top accounting faculty at your current school and tell them about your project. As you said, if you look at b-school website, the "research interests" description under some faculty member won't help you much as it may be vague and outdated. However if you look at the last 4-5 papers they published it will usually be in a more precise subfield. It can be a somewhat tedious but rewarding job to do that for 20-25 well-known schools, as you'll get a good field of what the main areas of research are. Believe it or not, sometimes you know everything relevant about an article just by reading the title.
As far as journals go, the top accounting journals are Journal of Accounting and Economics, Journal of Accounting Research and The Accounting Review. These are the top 3, but after that the two best journals are probably Contemporary Accounting Research and Accounting, Organizations and Society (this last one mostly for managerial accounting). Many good accounting papers have also been published in journals such as Journal of Finance or Journal of Economic Theory. I'm not so sure that reading a journal from cover to cover is so important, but skimming through a recent one might help (you can easily do this because your school probably subscribes to online databases such as JSTOR, ProQuest or ScienceDirect).
One last thing you might try is find a syllabus or two from PhD courses in Accounting, to get a good feel of the seminal papers. I could give you a bunch of them but I think the exercise is worth doing.
One last point about your initial question: as an undergrad you'll be competing against people with Master's degrees. Thus if you want to apply to top 20 schools you might be better off doing the Master's in Finance you talked about, as it will also shrug off some of the questions prospective schools might have about your low initial undergrad GPA (assuming you do well in the MS Finance program). This could also give you important math tools that you need to succeed at the PhD level.
On the other hand if the only important thing for you is to get a PhD so you can teach somewhere, then you can apply to a good, but not great schools (Georgia State, Oregon State..) straight from undergrad. This will probably stop you from getting a job at a top school when you graduate but you'll get what you want and will feel less miserable in the process.
i don't agree with cabro regarding the teachng aspect, and whether or not it may hurt your chances.
I also see teaching as an equally important aspect of an academic career (however - i'm not sure if an elective in pedagogy is the way to get better in this). I stated my interest and experience in teaching in various contexts in my SOP very clearly and said how i am proud with some of my accomplishments in this area.... i don't know if this did the trick or whether other parts of my app mitigated this aspect - but i got in to wharton.... talking with wharton's people they seem to value teachnig very much, they spend a lot of time preparing new course materials and every phd student must teach at least 2 semesters as part of the phd studies requirements.
For clarification - I am equally (if not more) excited about research. Were my interest solely in teaching, I'd do an extra year for my masters, become a lecturer and be done with it. I realize the decision to pursue a PhD is a large commitment and have considered it only because I am passionate about all areas of academia.
cabro57, if I understand what you said correctly, option one would be to attend a lower ranked school. (Somewhere between 20-40?) There would likely be opportunities to improve teaching skills. But under this route, academic rigor and future career opportunities are uncertain. On the other hand, option two would be to attend a well known research university (Top 15ish). This would provide the skills and connections necessary for academic success. However, quality of life during the program may be significantly lower.
I'd be more inclined to do the latter, given the opportunity. Contingent on receiving expected GMATs, do I have any hope of admittance at Stanford? Based on preliminary information, in many ways it seems to be ideal for me. Another highly interesting program is University of Washington. Where does it fit in the spectrum? (It seems to me that it seems to be just under the radar for business in general, but has a good reputation in accounting.)
I've been at my current university a relatively short time and it tends to use a mix of faculty and outside professionals to teach classes. As such, I've only had one class with a full professor and he's not currently conducting research. Would it be appropriate to visit other professors during their office hours to ask for guidance?
I'd like to reiterate how grateful I am for everyone's advice. I know your time is valuable.
I think that not having a marquee university on your profile is less of a worry than your GPA, which to me is the biggest worry by far. Maybe your case isn't as bad as it seems for whatever reason, e.g., you have 2 separate GPAs (?). I hope I'm wrong about the GPA issue, and that a top 20 program can look at the huge improvement in a favorable light, but a 3.0 is very low -- it's a minimum requirement to apply at some places. Perhaps getting an MS financial analysis, particularly at a well-known place, could help your case.
given hobbit's and nedquimby's comments (as well as mine), I guess it's fair to point out another specific thing about PhD admissions, related to what robbie1981 described as a random variable in another thread: faculty members inside a given area (as opposed to a b-school-wide admissions committee as for MBAs) ultimately decide who they'll admit, so ex ante tailoring your application to a specific person's taste is impossible given your information set. That's where you may find people who will react more favorably to someone who states an open teaching interest in his/her SOP.
In other words, having spoken with people who mainly think teaching can be a waste of (research-dedicated) time may have altered my judgement here. Or it may be the case that accounting is different from other b-school fields. However, as a first-order approximation, I still think that regardless of the field, it's more likely than not that someone with stellar research potential but weak teaching abilities stands a better chance at landing a job at a top-ranked school than a good researcher that doubles as a great teacher.
B-schools need some all-stars to teach MBAs, but not every faculty member does teach MBAs. For the rest of the faculty roster they need active people who will help the "higher education" part of the school's reputation. How this translates into the PhD admissions process is that schools will put more weight on research than teaching because they're so concerned about future placement. (That and the fact that if you show a really big interest in teaching you might want to land a job at a teaching school, which _can_ be the butt of some jokes in academia. Again, I'm not saying that I agree with this.)
firemaplegirl: I think you summed the dilemma well. However if you're aiming for Stanford, my opinion is that even if you got 800 on the GMAT, I think it's a very long shot unless you've got some Master's degree in hand, given your initial GPA. Another point: you need to take the overall rankings with a grain of salt, as credible field ranking studies for PhD programs are few and far between, and because of faculty mobility and variable publication rates (especially in smaller fields such as accounting) they tend to get outdated quickly. Thus the "top 20-40" vs. "top 15" story from my original description is very general and I couldn't tell you where to draw the line at all. However you can get _some_ sense of the difference between, say, UC-Davis and Michigan. As far as my quality of life comment goes, keep in mind that I chose option #2 so whether I underestimate the commitment to an option #1 program is an open question (although I'm pretty sure that if I'd been to Temple or U.Conn this wouldn't have been that hard).
Go talk to any professor who's doing research, whether you've had a class with him or not. It really doesn't matter.
I don't know too much about U. of Washington; I know it has a good reputation. It's not Michigan, NYU or Northwestern, but for accounting it's certainly better than places with better general b-school rankings such as Maryland, USC or Wash. U (St. Louis). On one extreme I've seen a ranking where U.Wash is in the top 5 for accounting; I think this is crazy.
Regarding teaching - I'm leaning towards cabro although, like hobbit, I do mention about my teaching experiences in my SOP. My feel is that top reserach schools are keen on developing researchers. If you have experiences in teaching at higher institutions, it is a good thing to talk about.
However, if you have none, I don't think you should talk about your passion in teaching and how a PhD from the school will help you to achieve this passion, etc. Remember, the PhD is geared more towards research - teaching is a minor.
I echo what others have said about increasing your chance. Read the papers and network with the potential advisors. If you can get them on your side, it will help to balance your weakness in other areas. Getting the Master is the next best thing you should do (and make sure you do well). In fact, I see that them as related - while you do your Master, there's a good chance you can get in contact with potential advisors thru your Master faculty. Believe me, such social network gives better results than doing cold calling to the potential advisors.
In all fairness, I should point out that I just looked back at my own SOP from two years ago, and in the "describe your most significant experience" part I only talk about teaching. This got me offers from 3 research universities. So there.