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well_then

How many classes is too many?

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Hi guys! I wanted to pick your collective brain(s) about program structure. For reference, I'm a year & a half out of undergrad, and I don't have a master's. I've been accepted to a couple of MA/PhD programs in Communication, and in the process of weighing pros & cons before I visit, I've been reading through graduate handbooks to check out program requirements, etc. 

One of the programs that I'm looking at has (what I see as) extreme requirements -- specifically, they require 3 classes/semester for 7 semesters, on top of TA/RA duties (15-20 hours/week). In contrast, other programs only require 5-9 classes...total. We're talking about 5-9 classes vs. 20+ classes!

What do you guys think? I'm obviously judging based on a fairly small sample size, but I wasn't sure if 20 classes is the norm across Communication. Is this a red flag? My worry is A. getting super burned out before writing my dissertation, and B. lacking time to actively do research. Any guidance is very welcome!

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Depends. I have one program that expects around that many in the official requirements, but they usually waive about 3 classes for students with MAs (based on previous class subject matter) so it ends up being 3 years of classes (including comprehensive exam) and 1 year of dissertation. However, the content of the classes is all set up for research, presenting that research, and getting published, so you'll be making progress on your dissertation (and your CV) while in class, killing two birds with one stone. 

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The number of courses required and the rigidity of those requirements greatly varies from department to department. For instance, my department requires we complete at about 18 classes before we go on to do comps. Conversely, I've heard of other departments who allow students to have entirely customizable plans of studies that are tailored to a each students' individual interests. 

Since you are going into an MA/PhD program you'll likely have to take more classes than someone just doing a PhD because you have gotten a MA yet. 

Honestly, burnout is a big concern. Speaking from experience, talking three classes and having a 20-hour TA assignment can be stressful dependent on how demanding the classes are and your responsibilities as a TA. It is manageable, though. You just have to be sure to carve out time for yourself, separate from your studies. 

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Thanks guys! This is really helpful! The only experience that I'm relying on is from my undergrad institution, which is all the way on one end of the "flexibility" scale in their grad program, so 3+ years of a full class load was shocking to me. 

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Definitely pay attention to the workload for each class (including the classes you TA for) @well_then . Ask around. Don't save all the hard classes for one semester (try and do one hard class each semester to help the balance). Don't sign up for presentations in your classes right when your students have a major paper/presentation due. Basically, it's super doable (though not necessarily easy) and just requires learning great time management.

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Also, don't look at the number of hours per say in the TA position, ask how many classes and students you are responsible for. I am in a MA program that does normally 3 courses a semester, so you complete the degree in 2 years not counting summer courses which could shorten your time, and you are responsible to teach 1 course (10 hour TA) to get a tuition waiver. At UIC, you are expected to take 3 courses a semester which is "12 credits" because 4 is their standard hours per course, and the 20 hour TA is only 1 course with about 20 students. Not the most intense. Ask for a sample syllabus for their graduate courses and for the course they usually require to teach.

Really, look at graduate school as a full time job.

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I would ask what counts as a class. At my MA institution, you could/did take "Directed Research" as a class basically every semester, which you then used to work on your own research. So it was a class and counted as credit hours toward graduation but didn't require the same work that a graduate seminar might. This is definitely an area where you want to talk to current students to get their sense of how the program works.

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