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hotpotato

Does anyone ever decline a PhD acceptance to reapply next cycle?

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Sorry, this might sound wacko considering how stressful and hard it is to get accepted, and how amazing it is to get that "you're in!" letter, but I've been curious to see if there's anyone who got accepted to one or a couple PhD programs, but chose to turn it down and instead improve their app/get an MA and reapply. For whatever reason: trying to get into a "better school" or finding a better fit, hoping for more funding, really not wanting to relocate to that school, visiting the school after being admitted and not feeling a click, or something else.

It's just that, in the horrible, insanity-inducing limbo of waiting to hear back from schools that already have acceptances on the board (:P), I've been thinking back on my apps and I know they could have been a lot better. I also could have picked better/better-fitting schools to apply to.

What if you could take a year to work, get more experience, improve your app, and get into [your top 3 choices] instead of [not your top 3 choices]? What if you tried that but didn't get in anywhere, even to the school(s) that accepted you the first time? Does it matter so much where you go as long as you're okay with the school environment and where you're living and the program/faculty provides decent support for your research interests and career goals? (As they say, "One acceptance in the hand is worth two in the bush"!)

Edited by hotpotato

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So, I would say that you shouldn't be applying anywhere you don't want to go, but that's not very helpful now. Personally, I would take the spot and see how you feel there, you can always reapply anyway, but there are no guarantees that you will get a better spot and you probably won't get your current offers. Consider what you're going to be doing in the year off and whether that will be better or worse for your application than staying.

So, while I'm sure some people will tell you that you shouldn't go anywhere you don't want to go, and that the spot will be better served going to someone who will appreciate it, I'd warn you to be careful as this is a very competitive environment and you should take what you can get. Ultimately, there are a lot of factors and you need to figure out whether the place you've been accepted to will make you happy, satisfy your career goals and allow you to thrive.

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I’m that person who’s going to tell you to only go somewhere you believe in. Otherwise, make room for someone who might be on their last leg of academia if they don’t get in off the waitlist.

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I'm currently thinking about this, because (for fear of sounding like an ungrateful snozzberry) the place I'm currently accepted comes several choices down on my list, behind for instance a place I was waitlisted at last year (and so I know that theoretically I could get in) and that's my #1 choice.  On the one hand, there's this lil voice that's like "BUT...if that #1 place doesn't work out, you could take post-grad classes, get a relevant job for a year, don't let anxiety and stress make you rush part XYZ of the app process, and MAYBE get into the #1 place.....

But echoing what @WildeThing said, that's probably not a voice that should win out.  Realistically, I know the school I got accepted to will still be a good one if not my #1 choice, and a large factor in what's driving this little voice is just classic FOMO.  I also fully stand by the sentiment that things you never knew you wanted might surprise you in a good way.

(And if literally all else fails...transferring isn't totally out of the possibility.  I had a peer who got accepted to UPitt's PhD, attended, found it wasn't the best fit, and transferred to NYU's, the professors helping them out because they knew the person would find more personal success there.)

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Somebody last year accepted an MA offer over a top 20 PHD offer because they felt the fit was better at the MA school and could provide more opportunities. They were hoping to get a better offer when they reapply again after completing their MA.

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I turned down a funded offer last year, but it was a pretty steep stack of issues with both the university and the applications. This is a bit lengthy, but there was a lot of thinking and justifying involved, so here it all is:

On my side, it had been a somewhat premature and, in retrospect, slightly half-assed cycle of applications. I'd gotten waitlisted at two top programs and accepted to third without funding (UK school) and rejected from 2 where I hadn't even contacted anyone (one of which was Harvard, so why even count that?) so not exactly a thorough application season. I still had a full year of my MA to go, including all the thesis work (my supervisor had kindly written me a letter after knowing me all of two weeks. It wasn't the greatest, obviously) and it was actually pretty dodgy whether I'd even manage to finish the MA in time to be in the US in September, as our school year (international student here, to add to it all) runs much later - the deadline for my thesis wasn't until January 1st (as in, six weeks ago), and that was the early one that no one ever actually met (I did!!!). Even my first year grades were only half in at that point, and I had all sorts of dodgy looking notes explaining what happened with this course or that one, as I'd also spent most of a semester of that one year abroad for work, hanging on to student status by a single course and a lot of slack from professors (and my BA was pretty bad and really needed the much better MA transcripts to balance it. MA GPA was 3.9 to 3.1 in the BA, but I needed, well, more of it.) I also found out the two people from my MA program who I knew in good US programs for PhD had both taken two rounds, so it somehow normalized taking another year.

On the university's side, the funding was a bit unclear and tied to a project that the POI had which was about as far from what I wanted to be doing as was possible while still being in the same general subfield, and with little seeming opportunity to transition to my interests (in a big way - everything from part of the world to basic methodology) They just weren't in the particular program's ballpark (I'd applied because of the POI, but as it turned out, he'd moved on and didn't have any immediate prospects of getting back to that work.) The university is also known for a good MA program, not so much for PhD - basically, I would have just about put myself out of the running for a realistic shot at an academic research career down the line then and there, which was something that dawned on me throughout the application process, but that I didn't have a good sense of going in. To add to it all, I wasn't thrilled about the city.

So, I talked to the POI after I was admitted, tentatively brought some of this up, and he basically told me right away to give it another year and took the decision as made then and there. From his perspective, there was just no way I'd be done in time anyway, and I guess we both sensed I wanted to give this another go (his own PhD was from one of those top programs I was waitlisted at, as he candidly admitted). So a decision I expected to agonize over for weeks and weeks was done in a twenty minute skype call (I still had the two waitlists trickle in with negatives though, just to really stretch it out), which I was ridiculously grateful for. 

I also had really solid prospects on an improved application a year later. The thesis turned into a paper, and so did that long work trip; a half-dozen international conferences; completed MA (I lie. I still have one credit left on the damn thing. But my transcripts don't have a note anymore); a job lined up as a research assistant. There was also a lot more opportunities for 'soft' stuff this year, which I was much more proactive about taking - networking and building mentoring relationships with my professors, participating in organizing conferences and research groups with somewhat-more-senior peers (PhD students, post-docs) who provided a lot of insight and support into giving me feedback on my research, improving the application and pushing me to do more reaching out to schools I was interested in, including following up with the waitlisted schools and getting candid feedback on the application. (I did, via the POIs. They were nice and encouraging and it helped.) In fact, the process of applying the first time brought me into networks - both locally and internationally - that have opened a few professional and academic doors that have in turn made for a better PhD application.

This year round, I have two funded admissions to top 10 programs (including a top 3, I think - small field, not sure if there's an official ranking) and possibly still waiting on a few more. So absolutely not regretting the decision - It's been a great, really productive, really confidence- and resilience-building year, and I feel way, way more ready to tackle a PhD than I did last year. I'm also not nearly as resentful of having a 'gap' as I did at first. I've gotten so much work done -  working on a book chapter and a 3rd paper I'm hoping to have in decent form by the time I move, and I'm an assistant on 3 (!) separate research projects (all paid) that are each very cool and much more in my field than what I would have been doing for that PhD - that it just feels like making good progress. Socially speaking its been a bit of a limbo - bouncing between sublets and my parents and feeling like I have a foot out of the door - but also kind of fun and almost relaxing.

So...to summarize, it was definitely the right call for me, but only because I knew I had a good way of using that time to genuinely make for a stronger application and that it had been a close-but-not-quite (+ a smidge of bad luck) application last year. If I didn't have that knowledge, or if I got a pile of waitlists as well this year, I would have gone with the lower ranked program because I know there's nothing more I could do between now and a third round that would be as big of a leap.

Good luck, it's a tough call.

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I had a friend who was accepted last cycle, but after speaking with their DGS and others in the program, realized it would be a bad fit, so they declined.

They got one acceptance so far this cycle (this is my third cycle as well as my friend's third), and it is a MUCH better fit for him than the program he was accepted to last round.

Having never been in this position, I don't have any other feedback than go with your gut.

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During my last application cycle (for my MA) my husband turned down a funded offer to wait and reapply. He applied to around 8-9 programs and got accepted into 1.

We were both only matched with one school and after visiting and receiving our financial offers we decided it wasn't the right fit. On paper, correct fit, but for us at that time it wasn't. You shouldn't apply to anywhere you don't want to go- but sometimes things don't work out as expected. A school that looked like a good fit in November, may no longer be a good fit in April. Additionally, people would be surprised how much you can grow as a scholar in just a year at an MA program. I'm so glad I pursued my MA before my PhD. I have a much better idea of what I need from a program. I also now know that the other school we were considering would not have given me as many resources and opportunities. 

For us, we realized my husband wasn't ready for graduate school. He needed a break to decide if that was what he really wanted to pursue. He's in the sciences, so accepting an offer meant a 5-6 year commitment, whereas my MA I accepted was just 2 years. We're reapplying for PhD programs together this year and so far he's only heard back from one program, but it was an acceptance to a school that would be a really good fit for him (so yay! already a better cycle). He's had time to get some other types of work experience and figure out what he wanted to research. Ultimately it was a great choice for him. 

What it really comes down to is why you want to wait.

For my husband, the waiting was less about getting into a better school or getting better funding- and more about taking time for himself and maturing as a person and scholar. Waiting only works if something changes, either you, your experiences, or your research. If you turn around and submit the same stuff hoping to get into a "higher ranked" ranked program or get a better funding package, you'll probably be disappointed. If you do as you're suggesting, improve your app, gain more experience, spend more time selecting schools- it could work out for you.

Just realize though, that reapplying doesn't guarantee acceptance. The harsh reality is that you could do all those things and not be accepted anywhere. However, if you feel that the rewards outweigh the risk, then I would highly suggest waiting. Getting into an MA program would be an ideal solution, as you would have the ability to build your CV and figure out where you would fit for you PhD. 

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Last year I declined a PhD offer, but it was mostly because they had funding issues that were only apparent to me after getting in. At first I really wanted to go, but the uncertainty of funding prompted me to take a closer look at what they were offering as a department and I realized (with the help of this forum) that it wasn't prudent to attend. 

For me the ideal option is an integrated MA/PhD and this year I'm on the waitlist for my top choice - OSU. I will say that after a year my application changed pretty drastically: my research interests are different and quite frankly I'm just smarter than I was last cycle. By no means am I prescribing this as a solution, but I thought that the lower ranked PhD program was the best I could do - and perhaps it was at the time - yet I surprised myself with what I was able to put together this time around. 

Each one of us has different circumstances, but I think declining an offer to try again is a serious move regardless. What's important is to make an informed decision. 

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I'm in a different field in the humanities (art history), but I thought I might have some thoughts to add to this conversation and I lurk on your guys' forum because you have good conversations and art history isn't as active.

I applied 2 years ago straight out of undergrad to a mix of PhDs and MAs (probably 8 schools? don't remember exactly). I received 2 funded PhD offers at top 15-20 schools, and 2 funded terminal MA offers from top 5 programs for my field. While I felt really good about 1 of the PhD options, my heart was telling me that I could do better, and the consensus of my professors and LOR writers that I spoke to was that I could do better with more preparation. They also said that they were accepting more students with MAs to the PhD program at my undergrad than those without. Though I was antsy to start my PhD right away, I took an MA offer at an exceptional program. 

The past two years have been sort of a "finishing school" (I often say that as a joke, but its also a compliment to my program I think.) I feel so much more professional as an academic/student now. I have been held to a high standard, and exposed much more to the "culture" of academia. I've presented at two conferences, watched dozens more professors give highly polished public lectures, I've had another rigorous methodology course, I've been asked to try to publish a paper. I have had the chance to take language courses which have bolstered my ability to do original research. I've had much more of an insight into the world of my field and also, in my first year, was able to watch the 2nd year students in my program apply to PhD programs (and jobs) and see how they fared in the process. 

This fall, I was much more strategic than I had been in my first round of applications. I knew more what I wanted, and I only applied to schools I would definitely attend if admitted (no safeties). I did more research into fit, I knew how to play the game better, I showed off my language skills in my writing sample and showed how I had developed my research abilities. My SOP was more conversant with tangible questions within the field. When I look back at my SOPs from my first application round, I cringe at how unprepared they sound. You might be in a better place than I was then, but I didn't spend as much time as I should have on my applications the first time, didn't know how to play the game, etc. Also, it doesn't hurt that my MA GPA is better than my undergrad GPA.  

I applied to 8 schools this time. I have gotten in to only 2/8 (waiting on 1 more, rejected at 5). I'm not at all beat up about it, firstly, because I only applied to some of the very best schools, and secondly, because I got into two programs that are an excellent fit for me. I realize that the two schools I have gotten into (both top-10 programs, one tippy-top-3) are the ones that my application materials and preparation best spoke to. I have a good connection with my POIs and other faculty, and I think I can see precisely why my writing sample/SOP worked at these two schools and not the others. Just trying to be honest and sorry if it sounds arrogant, I'm mildly surprised I didn't get into at least one more school, but hey, it goes to show you how much of a crapshoot things are, and that even coming from a really good MA, nothing is a guarantee. A friend of mine who also turned down PhD offers to do a funded MA has similarly gotten into only 2 places for the PhD, including one that they had already gotten into the first time. But I don't think they would say the MA was a waste— they have completely changed their research direction, are working in a different region/period now, and have gotten so much more training and clarified their project, so the school (and new POI) is a better option for them that it was two years ago. 

I would just say that nothing is a given. I could easily have had worse luck this year, perhaps due to circumstances outside my control (internal politics at the departments I applied to, etc), perhaps due to consistent issues with my application, and not gotten in to either of the programs I did. There are people in my MA who have not had success in applying to PhD programs this year. For me, when I made the decision to come here 2 years ago, how I thought about it was this: what would end up being best for me not 5 years down the line, but 10 or 15? Where did I think I needed to go to set myself for the best long-term future? I know much better what I want now, feel more mature as a student, and have gotten to experience and learn so much that I think will enhance my future success, regardless of whether I had gotten into PhDs this year. I am lucky to be at a place that is a terminal MA (no PhD students), where there is good funding and resources, and where they have prioritized preparing us for the next step in our careers, whether they be academic or alt-ac type things or "industry." If you have an opportunity that won't put you into debt, where you can make connections with professors that well be good mentors to you, where you can get field-specific training that will bolster your research (languages, archives, paleography, idk), and where you can be involved in a vibrant intellectual community, I think it could be a good move to do an MA. But do so with the knowledge that things are crazy and it's no guarantee of a 1000% better outcome next time, but rather that you are making an investment in your future potential, and that the time won't have been wasted if the MA is a good program for your growth and interests.

Best of luck and sorry for the long ramble, it was just an interesting topic for me to reflect on my trajectory, and of course, I don't know your specific circumstances so always take random internet stranger thoughts with a grain of salt. 

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10 hours ago, Warelin said:

Somebody last year accepted an MA offer over a top 20 PHD offer because they felt the fit was better at the MA school and could provide more opportunities. They were hoping to get a better offer when they reapply again after completing their MA.

I know who that person is!! :) And they don’t regret it, last time I spoke with them.

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Thank you everyone for your thoughts and personal experiences! I really appreciate them and they were great to read.

I'm not exactly asking because I'm considering it -- I'm still waiting to hear back from a few places, and I'm visiting the school I was admitted to soon (I'm very excited, and hope to love it!). I just feel weird about it because, much like @TK2 said, mine was a "slightly half-assed" application cycle. 

I can see a huge difference in quality even between my first application and my last one; in the month or two between, I learned a lot about my own research interests and how to present my qualifications and readiness. So sometimes I think how much better my application could potentially be -- and how much more prepared I might be -- if I rewrote my crappy SOP and writing sample, or got an MA and more research training, or had a different work experience, or otherwise could grow as a person and submit better apps.

This isn't out of ambition, wanting more money, thinking that I'm better than the school I got into, lusting after X or Y top-tier school, or anything like that! It's mostly, as a couple people have touched on in this thread, a fear that I don't know who I am as a scholar, won't be prepared for a PhD (I was not super impressive in undergrad), and may be inadvertently walking myself into a 5-year commitment to a place that isn't actually the best fit because I applied to the wrong places. 

I also worry because going to this school would mean moving far away from my entire community/support network, but I guess that part of it is manageable and is mostly an issue of nerves.

@WildeThing @renea I agree both that you should apply to places you'd actually want to go and that sometimes things can change or crop up between November and April!

@chellyfish_ Yeah, I think FOMO is a big part of it, mixed with some lack of confidence. +1 to "things you never knew you wanted might surprise you in a good way", too.

@TK2 @renea @Narrative Nancy @unanachronism Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and justifications, and giving some insight into what concerns were significant enough that you decided against accepting your earlier offers! I wanted to hear what the thought process was from people who had been in this (thus far hypothetical, for me) situation and what ended up happening in the next application cycle.

Edited by hotpotato

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15 hours ago, hotpotato said:

It's mostly, as a couple people have touched on in this thread, a fear that I don't know who I am as a scholar, won't be prepared for a PhD (I was not super impressive in undergrad), and may be inadvertently walking myself into a 5-year commitment to a place that isn't actually the best fit because I applied to the wrong places. 

I don't have any advice for you, but I would to add to this sentiment.

When I went into my MA program I had a certain plan, but by the end of the first semester I realized that I, yet again, hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to do or study. I finally feel secure about my career goals, but it has taken some time and a lot of unique experiences to learn what they are and why I have lasting interest in them. I switched emphasis, went to some very influential workshops, produced work for non-profits, worked in finance after graduation, and then switched back to academia to teach as a lecturer. It has taken all of that to figure out what I want to do as a scholar and to truly be sure about it. 

Of course, some people figure out what they want to do and who they are as a scholar much more easily, and boy am I jealous of that kind of internal intuition. I just don't have it. But I don't feel bad about not having it, and I don't feel bad about trying my hand at different things to figure who I am and where I want to be in academia. If you feel like you might need to zigzag a little bit more before you commit your whole career to one specific path, that's freaking okay.

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My father was not full of great life advice, but he had a few useful things he used to say frequently.  One of them was, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." That is, don't let go of what you've actually got for the outside chance you could get more of the same thing.

Admissions decisions can be very capricious. Those who are enjoying an embarrassment of acceptances this year may be doing so because there happened to be a lot of programs looking for talented folks in their subfield this year.  Those shut out may be shut out because people in their subfields happen to just not be on the adcoms this year. It is a very risky assumption to assume that you'll do better next year because these kinds of admissions criteria/variables can change wildly year over year.

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I did three rounds of applications (not all in a row!) before starting my current program-- the first two times, I turned down offers from well-regarded programs (not top 10, but very respectable) simply because it just didn't feel like the right choice to be starting a program then. By the time I decided to apply for the third (and, I told myself, final) time, my interests had completely changed, and I ended up at a school I hadn't even given a thought to previously, and I'm quite happy.

If something doesn't feel right, don't push it! However, if you're simply concerned about not knowing yourself as a scholar... well, that's what the coursework period of a PhD is for. Pretty much everyone at an institution knows that your interests are likely to shift while you're there-- probably not drastically, but at least slightly. If you want to be in school, and you're happy with the program, don't stop yourself from diving in because you don't have yourself figured out yet. That's all part of the process... it's not five+ years long for nothing!

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5 hours ago, urbanfarmer said:

If something doesn't feel right, don't push it! However, if you're simply concerned about not knowing yourself as a scholar... well, that's what the coursework period of a PhD is for. Pretty much everyone at an institution knows that your interests are likely to shift while you're there-- probably not drastically, but at least slightly. If you want to be in school, and you're happy with the program, don't stop yourself from diving in because you don't have yourself figured out yet. That's all part of the process... it's not five+ years long for nothing!

Thanks for this reassuring point!

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I can only tell you what I've seen and about people I've talked to, so take this for what you will. 

I was in an MA cohort at a funded program and most of the people who came in for an MA had designs on PhD programs (or so they said when we started). I think out of ten, four of us applied to PhD programs and one has already changed directions. In the course of their research the other 6 people in my program decided that they had other things that they really preferred about research/teaching/etc. Most of them have great jobs and they're thrilled that they've chosen the paths they did (PM me if you want more detailed info about their alternative careers).

As for me, my experience in an MA program completely changed my research interests and fields of study. I met interesting people, went to conferences, and read books I wouldn't have otherwise. I, personally, am glad I didn't go for my PhD right away because I would have ended up in a program that was wrong for me. Of course, I have friends who applied directly to PhD programs and loved them; however, I've yet to meet someone who goes through the MA process and still doesn't know what they want, whereas I have met people (a few) who have quit PhD programs because they discovered that it wasn't for them. 

On a more encouraging note, congrats on getting accepted to a program! You've proved to yourself that you can get in, now you have to decide if it's for you. Having written all of that, based on the fact that you're asking this question, I would tell you to go get a funded MA and apply in a few years one you're a more well-rounded scholar and have a better idea of what you want. 

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Hi everyone,

This thread has been incredibly insightful, thank you @hotpotato for asking and thank you to everyone for answering. I'm in the same boat, but things are a little more complicated as the PhD/PI I'm having issues of fit with is actually the place I did my undergrad in. I've been considering the same thing due to a lack of fit as I mentioned, and this lack of fit is mainly a result of a slight change in research interests (and career interests) over the past 6 months. A lot can change even in the time between applying to schools back in November and now. Some of you mentioned that you did a MA before reapplying to PhD programs, and others of you took a gap year. I was wondering if there's any insight on the pros and cons of each option in terms of bettering yourself for reapplication. I've heard that admissions look more favorably on work done during a gap year than a MA, but it seems that this is directed towards MA that aren't research focused/paid out-of-pocket, or towards people who didn't necessarily do much themselves during their MA program (other than simply finishing it). To give you more background information, I'm deciding between doing a funded research MA for 2 years or taking a gap year (and trying to get volunteer research assistant positions) to improve myself for reapplication.
Thanks in advance!

And I know this decision is tough-- I've already gotten some flack for even considering the idea of turning down this PhD offer, mostly by friends/people I know in the department though. I really emphasize that I'm not trying to reapply simply because I'm unsatisfied with the ranking or prestige of the program-- I love the school and believe in its work. I mean, I chose to go to undergrad here! The fit simply isn't great and I don't think it's fair for me or the PI to embark on this journey with half of my heart still unsure about how happy I'll be with the research I can reasonably do with them (given our differences in interest). Basically, this is a long winded way for me to say that I totally feel you and I hope we can both do what's best for ourselves-- whatever that may be.

Edited by boopbop

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9 hours ago, boopbop said:

To give you more background information, I'm deciding between doing a funded research MA for 2 years or taking a gap year (and trying to get volunteer research assistant positions) to improve myself for reapplication.

A funded research MA strikes me as a better opportunity to improve your application than trying to find a volunteer RA position. 

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9 hours ago, rising_star said:

A funded research MA strikes me as a better opportunity to improve your application than trying to find a volunteer RA position. 

Yeah, @boopbop, I'm searching trying to figure out what you could possibly do in a gap year that would be more advantageous for your PhD applications than doing two years of funded research/teaching/coursework in an academic setting. I mean, we can talk about the value to your life overall, and the development of your overall self as a separate issue, but in terms of academic credentials I'd be really curious.

While extracurriculars and interesting CV lines you can gain in a gap year may not be totally ignored, they'll be a lot less significant than the type of application building you can do in a funded MA program (for example, working on a new writing sample under the guidance of your advisor/mentors, conference presentations/publication [which will be much easier to do within a program], improvement of GPA, getting well developed letters of rec that attest to graduate level accomplishments).

If your goal is to "improve yourself for reapplication" then the advantages of doing a funded MA over a gap year are pretty much boundless in my opinion. Indeed, improving one's PhD prospects is one of the handful of reasons why funded terminal MAs in English exist. Funded MAs aren't super common and represent a great opportunity. 

Edited by jrockford27

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10 hours ago, rising_star said:

A funded research MA strikes me as a better opportunity to improve your application than trying to find a volunteer RA position. 

 

34 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

Yeah, @boopbop, I'm searching trying to figure out what you could possibly do in a gap year that would be more advantageous for your PhD applications than doing two years of funded research/teaching/coursework in an academic setting.

@boopbop, take this with a grain of salt, as you always should with advice, but I have heard that in English lit, getting an MA can make you less likely to be accepted into certain programs. Just as not getting an MA can shut you out of certain programs. My husband had spent two years working as a background investigator and growing on his own. He has, in this time, published two book reviews and a short story, read a ton, and defined his research interests. It's entirely possible that he wouldn't have gotten into Harvard if he decided to accept his MA offer at Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin, or Edinburgh. I believe that a lot of Ivy/Ivy-ish schools prefer BA-only applicants, as do a whole lot of other programs (while on the other hand, plenty of programs we looked at required or preferred applicants with MAs). But I'm sure others could chime in with more info on that. (@Warelin?)

So clearly I wouldn't have had it any other way, but that's just our experience. I don't think you can necessarily go wrong doing an MA or taking some time to work professionally and on oneself. In the end, it's truly up to you and what you'd rather do. As we all know, there isn't a guarantee of admission to a PhD no matter what you do!

Edited by punctilious

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5 minutes ago, punctilious said:

Take this with a grain of salt, as you always should with advice, but I have heard that in English lit, getting an MA can make you less likely to be accepted into certain programs. Just as not getting an MA can shut you out of certain programs. My husband had spent two years working as a background investigator and growing on his own. He has, in this time, published two book reviews and a short story, read a ton, and defined his research interests. It's entirely possible that he wouldn't have gotten into Harvard if he decided to accept his MA offer at Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin, or Edinburgh. I believe that a lot of Ivy/Ivy-ish schools prefer BA-only applicants, as do a whole lot of other programs (while on the other hand, plenty of programs we looked at required or preferred applicants with MAs). But I'm sure others could chime in with more info on that. (@Warelin?)

So clearly I wouldn't have had it any other way, but that's just our experience. I don't think you can necessarily go wrong doing an MA or taking some time to work professionally and on oneself. In the end, it's truly up to you and what you'd rather do. As we all know, there isn't a guarantee of admission to a PhD no matter what you do!

Penn State openly admits to the majority of their acceptances being straight from the BA. They make exceptions but it has something to do with how their program is designed and how the grad school functions. From the conversations I've had with different departments: The BA-only and MA applicants are sometimes in the same pool; but sometimes in different pools. Often, the expectations for MA applicants are higher because the extra one or two year program is designed to get them focused on knowing what they're interested in and how to express your interests on a more "mature" level. 

There are certain programs that will automatically not consider you if you do not hold an MA. Some programs (Wisconsin's come to mind) requires an MA for their Rhet/Comp program but you could apply with a BA-only if you go through their MA-Bridge program in African-American Studies if it is something that interests you.  Michigan requires a MA in English or Education to enter their English and Education PHD program but their English and English and Women's Studies PHD program do not. I do not think it is possible to transfer from one program to another because they each have a separate application process.

At one point, Ba-only applicants were the norm. Now, more programs are increasingly becoming more balanced. (I think UI Chicago mentions somewhere that they accept BA-only applicants but they've only accepted one or two people with only a BA in the past few years.)

A BA-only applicant can beat out an MA applicant if their work fits the program, has compelling work, has shown activity in the field since leaving college and can bring an unusual perspective to the table. These things are possible to do without the MA but would require the applicant to be motivated and be able to be independent by guiding themselves.MA applicants usually have additional support available to them if they know who to ask and where to look. It's expected of them which is why they're often held to a higher admissions standard when I've talked to people on various admissions committees.

An MA alone will not grant you admission to any college over any other applicant.

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55 minutes ago, Warelin said:

Penn State openly admits to the majority of their acceptances being straight from the BA. They make exceptions but it has something to do with how their program is designed and how the grad school functions. From the conversations I've had with different departments: The BA-only and MA applicants are sometimes in the same pool; but sometimes in different pools. Often, the expectations for MA applicants are higher because the extra one or two year program is designed to get them focused on knowing what they're interested in and how to express your interests on a more "mature" level. 

There are certain programs that will automatically not consider you if you do not hold an MA. Some programs (Wisconsin's come to mind) requires an MA for their Rhet/Comp program but you could apply with a BA-only if you go through their MA-Bridge program in African-American Studies if it is something that interests you.  Michigan requires a MA in English or Education to enter their English and Education PHD program but their English and English and Women's Studies PHD program do not. I do not think it is possible to transfer from one program to another because they each have a separate application process.

At one point, Ba-only applicants were the norm. Now, more programs are increasingly becoming more balanced. (I think UI Chicago mentions somewhere that they accept BA-only applicants but they've only accepted one or two people with only a BA in the past few years.)

A BA-only applicant can beat out an MA applicant if their work fits the program, has compelling work, has shown activity in the field since leaving college and can bring an unusual perspective to the table. These things are possible to do without the MA but would require the applicant to be motivated and be able to be independent by guiding themselves.MA applicants usually have additional support available to them if they know who to ask and where to look. It's expected of them which is why they're often held to a higher admissions standard when I've talked to people on various admissions committees.

An MA alone will not grant you admission to any college over any other applicant.

To echo this, I believe UT-Austin explicitly states that they reserve the majority of their spots for BA applicants. 

Agreed with your final point. I think the numbers would bear out that many of the so-called top 10 US schools prefer BA applicants for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which being the extra two years of control--to borrow a baseball phrase. Other disciplines (like philosophy) choose to do things differently.

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3 hours ago, Hermenewtics said:

Agreed with your final point. I think the numbers would bear out that many of the so-called top 10 US schools prefer BA applicants for a whole variety of reasons, not the least of which being the extra two years of control--to borrow a baseball phrase. Other disciplines (like philosophy) choose to do things differently.

So I'm not big into sports so what do you mean by "extra two years of control"? I am just very curious as to why top schools would only choose/prefer BA only applicants and would love to understand why they have this preference. Personally, I'm a big proponent of getting a Master's and I actually had no idea that it could potentially limit the type of schools you could get into for your PhD.

My partner (who's in English) and I both got our Master's since we were unsure if a doctorate really was the path we wanted to take. I know some people definitively know after their Bachelor's that a doctorate is what they want, but I love that we both got to confirm during our Master's that getting our doctorates really was the path for us. Also I don't think either of us quite knew the type of research we wanted to do and I really think if we had tried to immediately do the PhD route without the Master's in between we could have ended up in programs/projects that were very poor fits for us. Both of our research interests have changed during our Master's. I have definitely sought out different types of programs and advisors than I would have at the end of undergrad and I think I am much, much better for it since the field I will be going into is much more marketable for jobs than the field I would have likely chosen at the end of undergrad. I genuinely think Master's programs are a good test of whether academia is the right fit for a person and if you just want to stop at that degree you usually have more flexibility in future job prospects than if you had jumped head first into a PhD and ended with that degree (at least in my field). Obviously getting a Master's before a PhD does lead to more time in school but I honestly had no clue that having a Master's could be a detriment to acceptance to certain PhD programs. Does this hold true for those with Master's applying for faculty positions in these types of institutions too?

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3 hours ago, FishNerd said:

So I'm not big into sports so what do you mean by "extra two years of control"? I am just very curious as to why top schools would only choose/prefer BA only applicants and would love to understand why they have this preference. Personally, I'm a big proponent of getting a Master's and I actually had no idea that it could potentially limit the type of schools you could get into for your PhD.

My partner (who's in English) and I both got our Master's since we were unsure if a doctorate really was the path we wanted to take. I know some people definitively know after their Bachelor's that a doctorate is what they want, but I love that we both got to confirm during our Master's that getting our doctorates really was the path for us. Also I don't think either of us quite knew the type of research we wanted to do and I really think if we had tried to immediately do the PhD route without the Master's in between we could have ended up in programs/projects that were very poor fits for us. Both of our research interests have changed during our Master's. I have definitely sought out different types of programs and advisors than I would have at the end of undergrad and I think I am much, much better for it since the field I will be going into is much more marketable for jobs than the field I would have likely chosen at the end of undergrad. I genuinely think Master's programs are a good test of whether academia is the right fit for a person and if you just want to stop at that degree you usually have more flexibility in future job prospects than if you had jumped head first into a PhD and ended with that degree (at least in my field). Obviously getting a Master's before a PhD does lead to more time in school but I honestly had no clue that having a Master's could be a detriment to acceptance to certain PhD programs. Does this hold true for those with Master's applying for faculty positions in these types of institutions too?

Ah, sorry. In baseball, upon being acquired by a team, that team has full control of that player as long as that player is in their propriety system (aka, the minor leagues). Once a player has been developed, the major league team is careful to bring him up only once they're sure he's ready because once he's played for a certain amount of time (measured in years) he's eligible to become a free agent, and teams have to bid to sign him. Obviously, from ownership's perspective, it's much more cost effective to control a player for as long as possible, integrating him into your system and getting the maximum amount of return from his arm/bat for as long as possible. 

The analogy holds for a BA admit, though I'll admit that, like you, I think the MA track is much better for many scholars. However, Ivies and other top 10-ish schools hire almost exclusively from each other, so if it's simply one big family, then isn't it reasonable to want to get a student into the family ASAP? At least, that's one way of thinking about it. 

Again, I agree that MAs are fantastic, and in many disciplines they're well-respected and important (philosophy, to cite an example in the humanities), but some English departments are weird.  

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