Jump to content
LouisdePointeduLac

Applying to MA programs without an English BA or many English classes.

Recommended Posts

Hello! So I have a situation that I was hoping this forum could shed some light on. I am currently in law school and highly considering a switch to working toward a MA/PhD in Literature with the goal of academia. My main issue is that my BA was in political Science and I don’t have any English classes other than comp 1&2 and a creative writing class. This is due to the fact that litteraute has always been my personal passion with the overall goal being to get to law school which polical science/government classes have been much more helpful in preparing for. If I could go back I would have filled my schedule with every literature class available, but sadly that is not an option. What is the best course to move forward? I think starting with an MA would be smart since I don’t have the background, but even many of those want English majors or at least a substantial amount of credits in the subject. Should I attempt to take some English credits during the summer at some school or should I just look for a friendly MA program that I could get into. If you know any or have any good advice please let me know. Thank you in advance! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would reach out to program directors at target schools and see what they say. I'm Rhet/Comp which has some different standards and expectations than lit, while most people in my MA/PhD program came from an English program, others came from different backgrounds (with some coming from philosophy, psychology, or anthropology departments). 

I know for a lot of lit programs the subject test is considered as part of the application. Studying and scoring well on the subject test could be a way of demonstrating that you could keep up in a lit program. Your writing sample will also be key to demonstrating your literature knowledge.

Basically your application just needs to prove that you are (1) a good fit for their program and that (2) you will do well in graduate school. If your gre, writing sample, and personal statement all show your interest in literature and that you've done your research on the field and the school then you've proved those two things. For a MA program especially, your bachelors degree will be very unimportant if you can do those things. 

 

With that being said. Taking some classes if you have the time and can afford to is never a bad thing. Enjoying literature as a hobby and devoting time to it as a site of research are very different. A few upper level lit classes might help you decide if it's right for you. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In all honesty, it depends on the school. The likelihood of getting into a PhD program straight from the BA (or law school in your case) without any literature classes is slim. So taking a few literature courses would prove useful if the PhD is your goal. Furthermore, maybe speak to a DGS or two at schools you're interested in to see the qualifications for an MA. 

I will echo @renea to say that once you take a few literature courses, you will see if your interests develop beyond passion and into a career. 

Best of luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are a few questions that arise here:

  • What is your perception of what an English Graduate student does. There's a big difference between enjoying literature and being a dedicated scholar in literature.
  • What makes you want to switch from Law School to English? 
  • Are you aware of the terrible job market in the humanities?
  • Did you know that In 1975, 30 percent of college faculty were part-time? By 2011, 51 percent of college faculty were part-time, and another 19 percent were non–tenure track, full-time employees. In other words, 70 percent were contingent faculty, a broad classification that includes all non–tenure track faculty (NTTF), whether they work full-time or part-time.
  • Which areas in English are you interested in? Which time periods you're interested in? What questions have been unanswered that you hope to answer?
  • Is there a way you can build a bridge to combine your previous interests to one in English to show committees why this should be your next step?
  • Do you have professors who can give you a strong recommendation letter about your ability in English? Some programs prefer these be written by tenured or tenure-track professors of English. Some programs don't care.
  • Do you have any experience  teaching, peer tutoring or working as a research assistant in Literature? While not necessary to gain admission, it might help you to get an understanding of what some of the field entails before diving into a MA/PHD program.
  • Are you okay with failing? A considerable amount of PHD schools accept less than 10 percent of applicants. It's estimated that somewhere between 33 and 50 percent of students never finish their PHD. There are often hundreds of people applying for each tenure-track job.
  • Are you comfortable living anywhere to teach in academia? Most jobs are not at R1 schools. A great number of jobs will be at lesser-known institutions. Some of these institutions can be in rural locations.

The best course of action really depends on what you hope to achieve. "Fit" is less important in MA programs than in PHD programs. Location is a huge factor to some people but it isn't a factor for everyone. The GRE in English Literature used to be a requirement for a lot of schools. However, that number has been decreasing in recent years as more schools have chosen to make it either "optional" or to not consider it in its admission decisions. I'd consult your college's English department and ask them what they feel would be the best course of action based on your end goal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, I have an undergrad degree in literature. I like reading and read a ton growing up but studying literature in an academic context was very different than reading it for pleasure. It's also different from the way you approach and look at texts/data when studying law, political science, etc. @Warelin has already given you some excellent advice. In addition to it, I'd just add that I think the best way to determine if you want to study literature and conduct literary research as an academic/scholar is to start by taking one or two upper-level or MA literature courses as a non-degree student. That way you can determine if this is really, truly your calling before going through the application process for and entering into a graduate program that may not be the right fit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Warelin has made great points, but the jobs argument may not be effective at convincing a student of law, where the job prospects are almost equally as dismal!  We have an ex-lawyer in our program who just defended his diss and has a pretty nice job now heh.  Law firms are now offering positions for unpaid associates, "to get experience."  The more effective argument that it is longer, more involved, and potentially more stressful and difficult, for similarly meager prospects at the end (my dad is a lawyer and is stunned at the amount of work a PhD is compared to his law school experience).  Five years ago when I started I was very much of the mind that, "oh, I'm not worried if I don't get a job, I get to spend a half-dozen plus years getting paid to study things I love" -- but by the end of of year four my attitude was definitely "if I don't get a $&@*ing job at the end of this I'm going to be pissed."  This is not a unique experience based on my conversations with others.  Once you get knee deep in the process your attitude gets warped.  I still have few regrets, but my disposition is definitely quite different.  You're taking something you love and turning it into very difficult, high stakes, intellectual labor.

My first cycle I applied to exclusive interdisciplinary (y'know, MTL, MCM, HistCon, etc.) and poli-sci depts. with strong qualitative/cultural studies focuses  before I applied to English.  There were a great many reasons why I was completely shut out that year, but looking back it probably was a fool's errand to apply to poli-sci PhD programs straight out of my B.A. when the only true poli-sci class on my transcript was Introduction to Global Politics.

After my mass of rejections, I briefly considered going for an M.A. in poli-sci (I opted to cast a wide net for English programs closer to my interests), which seems like the thing for you to do (but, y'know, in English).  I would strongly recommend looking at funded M.A. programs, because you've probably already got a lot of debt stacked up from law school.  Funded M.A. programs.  At the risk of offending folks here: Do not go into debt for an English M.A. if you're planning to go into academia.  Do not be hypnotized by masters acceptances from big name schools that will want tens of thousands of dollars from you.  In my program we have M.A. students from unfunded name-brand schools and we have M.A. students from funded not-so-name brand schools and you can make of that what you will.   

Edited by jrockford27

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently completed an MA in literature after coming from a nearly identical situation (Pol. Sci undergrad and almost no lit. classes), so it can certainly be done. One thing I emphasized in my personal statement was that i was switching fields and wanted to complete an MA before a PhD so I could orient myself to the field. That seemed to work fairly well - I got in to every program I applied to. You'll probably do better in programs that have some commitments to interdisciplinary research and course work. They tend to welcome people from outside the field more than traditional lit programs might.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow thank you all for the replies and being honest! I’m going to take all of it into account moving forward. Hopefully if all goes as planned I’ll be back in the forum for application cycles! But I’m not going to just jump the gun. I can see it will be a lot of work and overall i think the best advice is that i need to attempt some upper level literature classes to start. Once again thank all of you. I was not expecting such in-depth  responses! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.