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FearNTrembling

Advice for Applying: MA or PhD?

5 posts in this topic

I am applying to 12 programs in philosophy this fall. I've received conflicting information from my advisors/letter writers regarding what I should do. I will graduate with a master's in theology in December (4.0 GPA). I already have a BA in philosophy and religion (3.3 GPA, 3.5 major GPA). I ultimately want a PhD in philosophy. About half of the schools I am applying to are MA programs and the other half are PhD programs. A couple of the PhD programs have a track record of accepting students with M* in theology/religious studies. 

"Professor A" tells me not to bother applying to MA programs because I can earn an MA along the way in a PhD program. He seems to think I can get into a PhD program without doing an MA in philosophy. Although I am flattered, I am aware of the fierce competition in this field and I want to get into the best program possible. 

"Professor B" (who has an MA in theology and an MA in philosophy) has encouraged me to apply to stand-alone MA programs in order to increase my chances of admission into a good PhD program. I'm trying to be realistic: I am expecting to get shut out of all 12 PhD philosophy apps if I apply without an MA. I have had a steady job for a few years while in grad school, I am debt free, my wife has a killer job in medical field and can get a job anywhere, we are both young, no kids, nothing tying us down. With my current job I can pretty much work from anywhere. Thus, I am willing to do an MA even if the funding isn't stellar (but I am shooting for a funded program, of course).

Which professor should I listen to? Should I stick with my gut and apply for some MA programs, or should I go all in and only do PhD apps, in hopes that I get accepted and earn an MA along the way? 

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My instinct would be to apply to PhD programs without a second MA, but I don't know you or your qualifications so this is a shot in the dark. If you want to play it safe and you're picky about where you want to do your PhD (totally fair), why don't you hedge your bets and apply to those PhD programs that you'd be thrilled to attend now (without an MA), plus some MA programs with a track record of getting their alums into those same programs? 

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It seems like you already know this, but don't bother applying to MA programs that don't offer funding (tuition plus some stipend). There should be a list of those somewhere on this forum.

My sense is that the reaction to a theology MA could vary wildly by department. Some would be fine with it and perhaps even see it as an asset especially with certain interests (are you doing phil religion?). I fear some programs might see it as a liability, which may be assuaged by the addition of a strict philosophy MA. I know someone who did a Theology MA followed by a Philosophy MA and is know at a top 10 program (I think his BA was in theology). So this is definitely a possible route and depending on your philosophical training, may be the best option. 

I think I'd second @fuzzylogician's advice. Apply to those PhD programs you would love to attend and then apply to have a few MA programs. I'm not sure if 50-50 is the right ratio. I might lean toward more PhD programs, since you seem like a strong applicant for MA programs, but PhDs are (always) a crapshoot. Also, if possible, I might suggest not using a philosophy of religion paper as your writing sample, especially for PhD programs. I think if you can show that you can do philosophy proper outside of philosophy of religion, a PhD program might be a lot more willing to take you on than if they think you have limited philosophical breadth.

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I have the same questions as they do, but otherwise would agree with them. You are wise to think your odds are long in the first place. I got into a PhD program after an MA in theology and an MA in philosophy; I was glad to have the MA in philosophy, personally. I guess it all depends on where you're applying. As long as the PhD programs aren't top 20 PGR, then I would recommend the ratio of PhD:MA be something like 2:1. If you can afford more schools, do it.

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Yeah, if I were you I'd apply to mostly PhD programs and then throw in maybe 3-4 funded, targeted MAs that have a good track record of getting applicants into the programs you're interested in. Good luck! :)

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