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Do committees look down on a candidate reapplying to a PhD program one year after being denied? My field is social science, if that impacts anything. I currently work at a research org and am wondering if it's worth it to apply this year, although I know my CV will be stronger the following year (theoretically given my current position the CV will keep getting stronger every year, though). While I feel very ready from a personal standpoint and want to go now, I'm debating if it's worth applying now, with the potential ramification of re-applying should I not get in anywhere.

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There are generally three types of candidates for admissions:

  1. Clear-cut admits
  2. Clear-cut rejects
  3. Borderline cases

If you're in the first group, you'll get in and don't need to worry about reapplying. If you're in the second group, not much time will be spent on your application, which means that you're not likely to be "remembered" in future cycles, and your application will be re-evaluated the following year.

The main issue is if you're a borderline case—that's generally where much of the discussion time by an admissions committee is spent. If you're going to reapply, it's likely that someone will remember that you've applied before, and they will want to see what's changed. So it may help you in getting in the following year if they thought you were close but came up "just short."

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  • Is it truly just a matter of "remembering"? Or would there be some database or something where they check? I suppose some schools also ask some type of question about if you've applied before right in the application itself, too. – Blaise May 2 '18 at 22:49
  • It's a bit of both. But reviewers aren't likely to check the database unless they remember the application. – aeismail May 3 '18 at 0:10
  • @aeismail I don't think I would check the old files even if I remembered the application (unless I thought there was something weird about it, like a recommendation letter gave me serious doubts). – Kimball May 4 '18 at 0:06
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In my university (Russell Group (UK) member) I require staff from our graduate school to provide feedback to applicants who have been denied acceptance. This includes some idea about the reasons behind their rejection.

We are able to track applications from the same applicant on the basis of the details they provide. My most memorable case is one who was rejected FIVE times, but got in on the sixth application. She has since graduated from her PhD and is head of her own lab in her country's premier university.

In general, the number of attempts does not feature in our assessments, unless there has been no substantial change between applications. We will flag that an application was previously submitted on such and such a date and was rejected for this or that reason. In these cases, we ask the applicant to provide a summary of the substantive difference between the current application and previous ones.

Two situations that are irksome. First are applicants that spam the same application to a number of potential supervisors, not understanding that we processes things centrally. Second are applicants that submit the same application year after year with no change to their material.

Good luck!

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