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weighing MA programs with PhD in mind


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Hi everybody! I'm coming from an undergrad institution without a linguistics program to speak of, so I don't really have too many resources for practical advice in this area.

So, I'm going for an MA in linguistics next year, as I want to eventually pursue a PhD, but I don't feel like I know enough about the field to pick a doctorate program (or get into it, for that matter). Like, I don't know if I'd want to do applied or theoretical or how to pick between socio and syntax and whatever else.

I applied to a few just straight MAs and a few MAs with TESOL, because I'm terrible at making decisions. My options right now are Georgetown (MA in sociolinguistics, no funding), Pittsburgh (MA with TESOL, no funding), CUNY (MA in linguistics, no funding), Kansas (MA in linguistics, no funding), Ball State (MA with TESOL, partially funded), and University of Alabama (MA with TESOL, fully funded).

The three that I'm more seriously choosing between are Pittsburgh, CUNY, and Alabama. Georgetown unbelievably expensive, Kansas is underwhelming, and Ball State is just so close to home. Pittsburgh and CUNY, as far as I can tell, have more respected linguistics programs. Technically, Alabama's TESOL is actually through the English department. However, at Pittsburgh I'd have no real opportunity for assistantships, and CUNY wouldn't give me that marketable TESOL aspect. I could manage any of the three, money-wise, but I don't want to spend a ton of money on something that's not going to be useful.

I know Alabama's program isn't academically that elite or anything, but I'd graduate with two more years of experience in research and teaching. To me, that seems like it would be more important to future doctoral programs than whether I went to a super high-ranking institution. It's also not as much classwork in linguistics itself as the other two schools would be, but since an MA isn't necessarily the norm for doctoral applicants in linguistics, I kind of think that's okay. My big concern is learning more about the field, understanding what the life of an academic is actually like, and staying open to career options in case I discover that I don't want to get a doctorate at all.

Am I wrong about any of that? How important is the elite-ness of a program? How important are assistantships? What's going to give me a leg up for future applications? Will I be able to get a handle on the field in a more general sense, even if I'm at a less-linguisticsy program? I'm sure there are other questions I should be asking?

I know this was a super long post, but any advice that anyone can offer would be so helpful. I'm basically in a permanent state of existential crisis, as you do in your senior year of college.

Thanks so much!!

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I think you need to get yourself at least some idea about your goals in order to choose. To be frank, I don't think Alabama will get you very far if you want to be serious about theoretical linguistics. I don't know anything about TESOL so I can't comment on that. Assistantships don't matter for PhD applications, so other than for the sake of earning some money, I wouldn't take it as a serious consideration. Normally I'd say the precise coursework you take doesn't matter all that much, but since you're coming from a program with no BA in linguistics, you need to show some linguistics chops if you want to get into a good PhD program, and so in this case I'd say it matters more than usual what courses you take, which professors you work with, and what work you produce. 

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