I was a philosophy major who took a bunch of graduate-level classes in linguistics and I wanted to apply to PhD programs in linguistics (in the United States). I had a writing sample in the philosophy of language, and I found out later from other professors that PhD programs in linguistics are mostly only interested in BAs and MAs in linguistics (unless they have a very strong linguistics writing sample), regardless of what courses they took. So I ended up getting waitlisted to a couple of schools (one top-ranked) and rejected everywhere else, and turned down at both places I got waitlisted. I informally applied to a bunch of MAs in linguistics in May, just by sending emails, and I got accepted to many but without any kind of funding, so I wasn't able to go anywhere this year.

I have no plans or anything whatsoever this year, and to be honest, it's depressing and boring. I'm also unable to get a job. I'm doing my best to do research and work on two new writing samples for linguistics, which I hope will make me seem like a more serious applicant.

I was just wondering: will this situation look bad on my application? Should I describe what I went through in my statement of purpose? I want to reapply to a school I got rejected from and another school I got waitlisted from. Would that be all right if I really improved my application?

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    I find it a little curious that you got wait-listed at a top-ranked school but not accepted anywhere. (To be more precise, this would be strange in my field -- mathematics. I don't know that it's the same in yours.) How many programs did you apply to? – Pete L. Clark Aug 18 '15 at 11:49
  • Can you apply for a MA in linguistics for this fall? – Davidmh Aug 18 '15 at 12:00
  • Pete: I guess you could say I had a weird application. I was very strong in some areas of the application (transcript, recommendation letters) and weak in the most important bit of the application (research). I guess the top program I got waitlisted from didn't care as much about research. And I already (informally) applied for MA programs and got accepted. But no funding, so I can't go. – Nephenee Aug 18 '15 at 12:51

Your situation sounds similar to mine. After finishing my undergrad and not getting a PhD position, and since it was too late to apply for a full MSc, I moved to another country, enrolled just in the thesis and I worked on it for a year. After that, I got a lot of experience, a good recommendation, and a position. Now, I was lucky I could move and found a university that the only requirement for registering was finding a willing supervisor. So, I won't say necessarily that everything is lost, but it may be difficult depending on your situation.

I would advise against being fully independent researcher. You are fresh from undergrad, and with not so much experience in the field. If you work without adequate supervision chances are you will be reinventing the wheel, walking down paths that lead nowhere, or creating a beautiful yet useless theory. Your priority should be finding a professor that can guide you and provide some interesting problems to work on and feedback.

You should also keep an eye to applications in Europe: positions are opening and rolling all year round.

  • You are right, so I'm keeping in touch with my professors. I already have a research/paper topic ready and I'm going to start writing it soon. I've even done the experiments needed for the paper. Some of the professors say they're too busy to give comments on my research though, so it's not very heartening. Some of them say my research is really good though. Life is hard. I looked at schools in Europe and I can't afford to go to any of them I'm afraid. – Nephenee Aug 18 '15 at 12:51
  • @Nephenee what do you mean you can't afford going to Europe? A PhD is paid, and usually there is no tuition. (MA is different, though). – Davidmh Aug 18 '15 at 15:08
  • I was talking about an MA. I don't intend to get a PhD in Europe (if I even bother to try again). – Nephenee Aug 18 '15 at 17:56
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    @Nephenee may I ask why are you rejecting Europe? – Davidmh Aug 19 '15 at 16:00

David's answer looks very worthwhile thinking carefully about.

An additional option for you might be to enroll in a carefully selected program as a non-matriculated student in the U.S. You would sign up for something like two credits of research. This would not require you to go through the whole admissions process.

The key here is to find a professor who is willing to do this with you. It's basically an "independent study" project.

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    This is a possibility, but to me it seems unlikely that you'd find a professor willing to work with you as a non-degree seeking student. Independent study and research with students are often uncompensated activities for professors (don't carry teaching credit, etc) and so they are usually done only with degree students, in whom the institution has a greater "investment". – Nate Eldredge Aug 18 '15 at 16:06
  • This sounds like the US equivalent of what I did, thanks for adding the right terms. I think they key to overcome @NateEldredge's objection is to show the professor that you can be more useful than drag; I think that is why my supervisor took me on: he wanted someone to work on a project, and thought I would take less time than doing it himself. – Davidmh Aug 19 '15 at 7:43
  • I suppose the place to begin looking would be the MA programs that gave informal acceptance (without funding). --- I forgot to say, this approach would probably involve moving to a new town and getting a part-time job to pay the rent. A little scary, but doable! – aparente001 Aug 19 '15 at 11:26

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