How competitive is admission to MAPSS at the University of Chicago?

Very. Last year, we read 515 direct and 715 referred applications to fill 235 places in our 2017 MAPSS cohort. The direct applicants applied for our January 4 and April 30 deadlines. The referred applicants came to our admission committee after initially applying to Chicago doctoral programs and receiving strong reviews from Divisional faculty.

When will I find out if I was admitted?

Applicants who applied for our January 4 deadline will be notified in early March. Persons applying after January 4 for our April 30 deadline will be notified once all materials are received and the file has been reviewed by our faculty committee. Anyone applying before April 30 will receive full consideration for admission and funding.

Is there an advantage to applying directly to MAPSS?

We strongly encourage direct applications. Direct applicants often know our program best. Many are encouraged to apply by MAPSS alumni who are now faculty at their undergraduate institutions.

Referred candidates may not realize how different we are from MA programs on other campuses, in how selective we are for admission, what placement outcomes we achieve, and how warmly our students are met by faculty across the Division of the Social Sciences. Their faculty advisers are likely to be surprised by the amount of merit aid we furnish, from partial to full tuition.

We read both direct and referred applicants on an equal footing.

What is the difference between your January 4 and April 30 deadlines?

Persons applying for January 4 are read first and most generously. Anyone applying before April 30 will receive full consideration for admission and funding. We encourage anyone applying after January 4 to submit their materials as soon as they are able.

What elements of the application are most important?

We give special weight to the undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and the statement of purpose. The writing sample is optional for direct applicants but always in the candidate’s interest to provide. We give it special attention whenever a candidate is on the tipping point of moving from one merit-based financial award to the next.

How much merit aid do you provide?

98% of our 2017 cohort received substantial merit aid, from partial to full tuition grants.  See the section on financing your degree for other sources of funding.

How important are the GRE scores?

GRE scores are important but play a small role in our review. The MAPSS averages are within 4 points of admitted doctoral students in our Division of Social Sciences, but there are wide variations in the students we admit, and we are much more forgiving than the typical PhD program would be.

We do expect nearly all of our admitted students to meet some minimal thresholds: a 155 verbal GRE and (if applying to do work in a quantitatively-oriented subfield) a 154 quantitative GRE. We see much more variation in the analytic score, but expect most students to come at or above 3.5.

Many of our admitted students score well above those thresholds; a small handful may score below if all other elements in the file are promising.

Yikes! I have been out of school a few years and this sounds much more competitive than anticipated. Is it worth applying?

We welcome all applications, and know that resilience and upward trajectories are highly predictive of graduate success. Do not be put off by the competition. We take pride in identifying candidates who took a little longer to find their feet, but are now seeing serious upward momentum.

We are also happy to recruit students who are coming from institutions far outside the more conventional pipelines. Several such persons have gone on to become our best students. We encourage you to contact us if you have any questions about your candidacy.

What sort of students accept admission to the MAPSS program? Who will my classmates be?

Your fellow students will be some of the most accomplished and promising researchers you have ever encountered.  

Our 2017 cohort has 235 students from 178 different undergraduate institutions. 52% are female. 44% are international, from 33 different countries. 27% of our American students self-identify as racial minorities. The average age is 24.4. We expect future cohorts to be very similar in their demographic make-up, and we hope to recruit the most talented and diverse cohort we can.  

Our students have interests distributed across the Division. Most concentrate in Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology. The remainder focus in Comparative Human Development, the Committee on Social Thought, and the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science.  

Our students also take graduate courses in the Harris School of Public Policy, in Divinity, in Law, in the School of Social Service Administration, in our Booth School of Business, and across the Humanities Division, including Philosophy, Linguistics, and Cinema and Media Studies.

Is everyone on the PhD track?

Not at all. Many come into our program with significant work experience, and many aspire to take their UChicago training into professional careers after they graduate.

Our 2013 cohort, for example, had Teach for America, Americorps, and Peace Corps veterans; a medical doctor; several former psychology lab managers; former field organizers for the Obama campaign; persons with NGO experience in Mexico, Japan, Guatemala, Tanzania, Brazil, Jordan, Honduras, Portugal, Egypt, Belize, India, Costa Rica, Zambia, Nepal, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, China, Bangladesh, the Gambia, and Lebanon; a CFO from a financial consulting firm; former Fulbright scholars in Ireland and Russia; a former NSF researcher in Iceland; former nursery school and high school teachers; a technology analyst for Deloitte India; a former archaeological technician at Carlsbad National Park; an NCAA diver and campus/community organizer; a former intern at Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education; a recording artist with 4 album releases; a former Marine and volunteer zoo archaeologist; a journalist and magazine editor in Israel; researchers from several think tanks and policy institutes; two or three actors and directors with professional theaters; some who had entrepreneurial experience with start-ups in e-commerce; a former public information officer with the UN Food Program; a Chicago pastor; former interns at the White House and various congressional offices; and a former Luce scholar in Cambodia.

Although most students enter MAPSS intent on continued PhD study, by the end of the year 40% will tell us that they are utterly confirmed in that vocation, and that elite-level graduate study is exactly what they hoped it would be. The remaining 60% will tell us that this is not at all the path they imagined, and that they want to take their UChicago training into a variety of professional fields.

We count both outcomes a success, allowing our graduates to make informed choices as they move forward in their careers.

When do I have to decide which track is right for me?

We support all students equally and train everyone the same. Students are not differently “tracked” in their course selections or in their MA thesis. The same professional-grade research and writing skills that make our graduates impressive to PhD selection committees will make them enormously recruitable for professional employers. Keep in mind that you have the entire MAPSS year to make these kinds of decisions.

See our section on careers and placement for the resources we provide and the outcomes we achieve.

Can admitted students start early, say in summer quarter?

The University does offer some optional summer courses that may be of interest, including immersive training in one of 18 different languages through our Summer Language Institute; intensive ESL programming in Academic English; an advanced doctoral math camp for incoming Economics concentrators in late August; and a compressed graduate math camp in early September. These are all outside of our formal requirements, but very popular with our students.

The math camps are free and appear on your UChicago transcript. The language training offers significant scholarship aid, available just to our MA students, with applications that are included in our letters of admission.

More information on our summer alternatives will be sent to all MAPSS students that we admit. In addition, many of our Psychology concentrators arrive early to begin work in lab. Interested students should contact our Psychology Instructor on how best to approach UChicago Principal Investigators (PIs) for placement.