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AnonymousUser

New: Applying for Masters History Programs - Have no Undergrad Thesis, am I out of my league?

11 posts in this topic

I have been drawn to returning to school with a focus in history for some time now.  My undergrad was at a Big Ten school in International Studies.  I had a 3.9 major GPA (poor overall GPA because of math & physics classes).  I have now been out of undergrad for about 4 years because I am an Officer in the military.  During my time in the military I have been exploring multiple facets of its history in my own individual studies.  I now want to apply to a masters program in history.  My main problem is the fact that I have 0 publications, and no undergrad thesis.  

I am new here but I have read a lot of posts in this forum.  Many people seem to have a 10-50 page undergrad thesis prior to applying, and some have already been published. 

If possible, I want to aim big, and I am looking primarily at a prestigious history departments across the board.  I do NOT have an interest in a PHD program at this time.  

Given my unimpressive undergrad record, and lack of any substantial academic writing, am I out of my league right now?  Do I need to go back and do an undergrad thesis?  Do admissions committees take into account actual world work experience, or is it purely based on academic/research experience?

Any help would be appreciated.  

Edited by Louie34

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3.9 GPA in your department isn't too unimpressive.  I got worse than that and managed to skip a thesis by doing a seminar in intellectual history with a long paper.  (They've changed their requirements since then to make that impossible.)  And now, 30 years later, I just finished a master's thesis at Cambridge.

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I should clarify, that the reason I believe my undergrad is unimpressive is because I had next to no research while enrolled.  

Congrats on your thesis!

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Others who know more about terminal MA programs can give their own perspective, but my impression is that a BA's purpose is to get enough  skills that you can handle post-grad work-- not qualify you immediately for post-docs or Pulitzer Prizes.  Find a reason to go back, and tell a good story about some research you want to do, and someone will probably bite.

That being said, I was asked for a writing sample with my application, and I ended up using one from a night class I'd taken at Harvard because I couldn't think of any specific undergrad papers that were long enough, or that I'd feel happy using as an example of my current work.

 

Edited by Concordia

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1 hour ago, Louie34 said:

I should clarify, that the reason I believe my undergrad is unimpressive is because I had next to no research while enrolled.  

It's pretty common for undergraduate students not to do much research. And, to be quite honest, a lot of the research undergrads do isn't all that impressive because they don't have the time, skills (languages, etc.), access to archives, or funding to do some kickass project. I say this because you're trying to undermine your own accomplishments in the first post when instead you could use your unique background as an awesome selling point in your applications.

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9 minutes ago, rising_star said:

It's pretty common for undergraduate students not to do much research. And, to be quite honest, a lot of the research undergrads do isn't all that impressive because they don't have the time, skills (languages, etc.), access to archives, or funding to do some kickass project. I say this because you're trying to undermine your own accomplishments in the first post when instead you could use your unique background as an awesome selling point in your applications.

I appreciate the advice/motivation, that helps a lot.  Main reason I was worried was because of the talk that grad school is not like law/business school in that grad school really only cares about academic accomplishments and not too much on background outside of academics.

I am definitely going to continue with the applications that I have already started.  

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You're not out of your league and do not need to go back and do anything. I also have a military background and went into my MA program without a undergrad thesis or any other publishings. I used one of my undergrad papers as my writing sample. Getting into a good MA program isn't that deep. You'll do fine once you get in because your advisor to guide along your path. Just listen to your advisor and maintain clear communication with them.

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A few thoughts

Who will you ask to write your letters of recommendation? At least 2/3 should probably be from your undergrad institution. Get in contact with them early. Remind them of who you are and your intentions to apply for the MA. You might want to send them a "packet" of information, including the schools on your list, potential advisors  (less important for the terminal MA, but still...) wide research interests and, if you have a specific project in mind, narrow research interests, perhaps a preliminary statement of purpose and/or a wrating sample. Letters will be of some importance to your application, and since you graduated some years ago, you may need to spend some extra time carefully selecting your recommenders.

Of course, you could still be in great contact with professors and already know all of this. Just thought I'd add to the conversation. 

Your writing sample will also be very important. You don't need to have written a thesis or have published, but you'll want to use something that showcases original, primary research. You can use your statement of purpose to showcase your knowledge of your field ("such and such historian and/or book has influenced the way I think about x"). 

The importance of GRE scores is debatable, but for top programs I think the general consensus is that a good score will not be enough to get you in, but a bad score might keep you out. Verbal counts the most, writing score next, some schools don't even bother with the quantitative  (although that's not a hard rule). 

I completed a terminal MA and went on to work as a grad programs assistant at my institution, working closely with the ad com and DGS for a couple of years. My institution thought very favorably of candidates with your profile type (high achieving in major, military experience, drawn back to academia, etc.). If you can clearly establish what you hope to achieve with the MA in hand, I think you'll be golden. 

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6 hours ago, KLZ said:

A few thoughts

Who will you ask to write your letters of recommendation? At least 2/3 should probably be from your undergrad institution. Get in contact with them early. Remind them of who you are and your intentions to apply for the MA. You might want to send them a "packet" of information, including the schools on your list, potential advisors  (less important for the terminal MA, but still...) wide research interests and, if you have a specific project in mind, narrow research interests, perhaps a preliminary statement of purpose and/or a wrating sample. Letters will be of some importance to your application, and since you graduated some years ago, you may need to spend some extra time carefully selecting your recommenders.

Of course, you could still be in great contact with professors and already know all of this. Just thought I'd add to the conversation.

Thanks a lot for this! I am in fact not in any connection with my old professors as it has been so long. This is extremely helpful!

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Also prepare a CV for them, so they can state confidently that after x years of successful consulting with Firm M, and volunteer service with non-profit R...

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I'd like to echo many of the above statements about really thinking through and writing a compelling personal statement explaining how your experiences have led you to pursue a graduate degree in history, what you want to study, and what you hope to do with it. More importantly, however, I would caution you to use this as an opportunity to really think through what types of places you want to apply. Most terminal MAs, especially at top universities, are unfunded. Even if you are eligible for the post-9/11 GI Bill, this could leave you seriously in debt. Whether this is worth it depends on what use you are hoping to put the degree to; is a prestigious degree necessary for it, or would a fully funded MA from a mid-tier school allow you to meet the same career goals without the debt? In considering your fit with a program, these might be aspects you'll want to weigh.

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