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I contacted a professor for PhD study, and discussed the project. I would like to make a formal application: should I first ask would it be competitive?

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    Can you clarify if you mean competitive as "with comparable quality for this position" or as "if there will be other applicants?" – Penguin_Knight Dec 14 '15 at 16:18
  • It is a top 5 university in Europe, so they will probably have dozens of applications. I would like hear them saying "yes, please apply" :) So I am referring to my application vs. others' applications – user46039 Dec 14 '15 at 16:20
  • You can but this is a very difficult question to answer for a faculty. We don't want to say "yes" and make you feel as though you've been guaranteed a spot (see multiple questions/rants on academia.se that reflect just this) nor do we want to say "no" and shut you down prematurely. So you end up with a qualified maybe which doesn't help you (the student) much. – RoboKaren Dec 14 '15 at 17:33
  • I think your comment @RoboKaren could be an answer. Could you make it such, so I can accept it? – user46039 Dec 14 '15 at 17:59
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    @RoboKaren agreed, if by "a very difficult question to answer" you mean "an impossible question to answer". I would simply reply that OP is welcome to apply and that I have no way of knowing how competitive his/her application is until I've compared it to all other applications. – Dan Romik Dec 14 '15 at 19:59
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You can ask us but this is a very difficult question to answer for faculty members.

On the one hand, we don't want to say "yes" and make you feel as though you've been guaranteed a spot when we have no idea of how competitive the pool is this year (see multiple questions/rants on academia.se that reflect just this kind of misinterpretation) -- nor do we want to say "no" and shut you down prematurely.

So you end up with a qualified "maybe" which doesn't help you (the student) much.

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90% of the time you will get the professor to tell you that he/she doesn't really make the decisions (a committee does) and that the degree of competitiveness is always dependent on the particular applicant pool for that particular year. This is all true; it is also a gentle way to tell you that if you want to know, just apply.

Now in your case you've "discussed the project." Does that mean that he/she has already expressed that he/she would be willing to take you in to work on a particular project? If that's the case, I would assume he/she has already checked out your credentials?

  • Yes, I had sent my CV already, and discussed some particulars of the project. I followed @RoboKaren's advice :), and did not ask the question, and to my surprise they wrote in the next email "please apply to our program". – user46039 Dec 15 '15 at 8:40

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