I am applying to History PhD programs, and recently finished my MA thesis and coursework in August 2016. But I began initially began MA studies in Fall 2013, and so it took me three years instead of two. Basically I took a full-time course load for one year and then shifted to part-time (my undergraduate study was completed in the common 4 years). I would think that my reasons for delay would be fairly common, but I'm entirely unsure on how decisive the admissions committees typically look at these kinds of things, if it is necessarily to explain them, and if so, to what level of detail:

1) I'm a veteran, but ran out of GI Bill funding after first year of study (Fall 2013-Spring 2014). MA students aren't funded where I went, so I was strapped for cash and had to stretch money and span out my education expenditures.

2) I'm married, and from Spring 2014-Spring 2015 the marriage basically exploded and ran off the rails. The catalyst was the intensity of time/being I devoted to graduate study and undergraduate study previously, which ignited the underlying marital issues type of thing. So we cut back on everything and took time to work on the relationship. Everything now is resolved in its entirety, and except for a medical emergency requiring me to care for my partner, none of these previous issues can really possibly arise any longer.

3) I did fieldwork and took extra time in revising and extending my thesis, which ended up to be more like a mini-dissertation. At least as my professors told me, they all supported the project because of this potential and weren't too concerned about me taking Fall 2015-Summer 2016 for its completion (and its still a work in progress with numerous gaps). Most of the professors in the department I worked with have encouraged me to apply to the top PhD programs (Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc.).

Number 3 seems easy to explain and incorporate if I need to. But number 1 and 2, I'm not sure. I do not want it to appear as if I could not handle the workload or something; although, I could see that in the most immediate, practical sense, I couldn't actually handle it, since I could not balance my marriage/family issues with my scholarly pursuits.

Anyone been in the same situation when applying to PhD programs? Any advice or tips?

1 Answer 1


From what I have been told, no one cares if it took you a little longer.

Especially if you don't have multi-year gaps in employment + education then there really isn't anything to explain. You could spend some words in your Statement of Purpose on explaining the good things that you did during that time (fieldwork and working with profs).

  • Cool, thanks. I did address my fieldwork and working with profs in the statement of purpose, but did not go into detail about the time length. So would you think it isn't necessary to explain any of this in this prompt for the Harvard application for example: "If you consider anything about your academic record or career pattern to be unusual, please explain. Account for time (three months or more involving military service, travel, family responsibilities, etc.) not covered in preceding questions." Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 17:05
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    @RyanFontanilla From the details you've provided, I really don't think your situation is unusual at all. You don't want to waste precious words in your SoP on boring details that won't help make you shine. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 17:08
  • Good answer. Note that with some drastic editing, you could probably come up with a very succinct boiling down of the reasons for your slower progress. And I think most schools won't ask for as much explanation as Harvard did. Congrats on resolving your family situation. No need to share much detail about that with Harvard -- just say "took some time off for family matters" or something like that. I didn't quite understand about the medical emergency, so I'll just say best wishes for your partner's good health. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:32

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