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ekat97

Chances of getting into US PhD with UK/Germany MA?

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I am wondering if anyone (ideally from personal experience) knows how much the reputation of the MA-level school matters in terms of getting into a top ranked US school for a PhD later on. I'm planning on pursuing English Literary/Critical Theory and my ultimate goal is to get into a highly reputable US school for my PhD, but am unfortunately in a state right now where I've limited my choices for an MA. I don't necessarily want to wait a year before re-applying to better schools for an MA, so I'm wondering if I should just go ahead with a school that isn't internationally renowned and just work as hard as I can during it? For context, the MA schools that I'm looking at are in the UK and Germany (Goldsmith's University and Freie University, respectively), so I'm particularly worried about them even being known in the US. Thanks in advance!

 

 

Edited by ekat97

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I think both Goldsmith and FU are decently known. Plus, if you get a some time of scholarship for study (Fulbright, DAAD) it would definitely look good on your application. For what it's worth, I'm an international applicant from a truly unknown school. My app season has been good--not amazing. So far, I've been accepted to one top-20 school and waitlisted elsewhere, but I don't think the rejections are necessarily due to the name-brand (or lack thereof) of my alma mater, though I assume this definitely didn't help. I'm pretty sure my writing sample may have hurt me as it needed more work and wasn't as streamlined with the research I propose in my SOP as I would've liked. If I had to do this again I would prepare two polished af samples rather than one, to showcase different styles/theoretical backgrounds depending on the program and POIs (in my case, for example, one with a more feminist/women's writing bend, and one with a stronger queer emphasis). My WS was almost 'traditional' in its feminist analysis, and the schools I heard good news from housed POIs who I know are into that. I think had I polished an experimental queer seminar paper, my results would have been different (maybe worse, maybe better, but in any case different). All of this to say that while I think prestige can give one a leg-up, it's ultimately down to fit and how much you catch the eye of people on the adcomm. 

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FWIW, I was told by a distinguished professor at my undergrad (which is a top 15 program in the US) that, quote, "I don't think admissions committees will care where you did your MA." This was the response I received when I was choosing my UK MA institution and I reached out to him wondering how much I should factor the prestige of the university into my decision.

A good way to get a sense of this is by looking through graduate student profiles at the programs you're interested in. Many of them list their previous university/universities. I always find a handful at each program with European MAs, and more surprisingly, there are always more than a handful from regional universities and small colleges in the US that, as a US native who was primarily educated there, I have never even heard of. If there are no current students with training outside the US or from non-ivy universities, that should be a red flag for you.

My understanding is that where you've done your previous degrees is not nearly as important as the quality of work you've done at those institutions, fit, and what you write in your SoP/WS. I have been warned, though, that there are certain programs at ivy league universities – Harvard and Yale off the top of my head – that do tend to prefer applicants from ivy league BA institutions, although not exclusively.

I would also say that if you choose a European university, think carefully about who will be writing your letters of recommendation. British & European professors infamously tend to write a very different (read: brief, objective, non-glorifying) style of letter than American professors do.

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@ekat97 I completed my MA in English Studies at Freie Universität Berlin this year and applied to mainly US-PhD programs (English/American Studies). In this cycle, I have been accepted into two programs and waitlisted at two programs. While I'm thrilled with the results, I probably would have had more success had I applied to more interdisciplinary programs that obviously fit with my interests (literary left history and transnational modernisms). Instead, I mostly applied to English lit programs, thinking that I had to continue in the discipline due to my MA. 

Anyway, back to your question: I think your Ph.D. prospects will be fine if you do your MA abroad. Most important is demonstrating that you're capable of PhD-level work and have defined areas of interest that overlap with that of faculty at your school of interest.

If I may pitch Germany: University is tuition-free regardless of nationality, and I even received a scholarship from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, which paid for my living expenses for three years. The English Studies program at Freie isn't the most robust (in comparison to programs you would find in an English-language speaking country) but it did allow me the space to explore my interests with little financial pressure - and no debt! 

There are other perks: I learned German in university language courses. Cafeteria food is subsidized, and it's easy to get cheap ballet and opera tickets. The only cost is a semester registration fee which amounts to 600 euros/year; this includes a city-wide transportation pass.

In comparison to the US educational system, the German system is unstructured. No one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you're progressing and it's very easy to be a student for years on end. You're not required to complete courses you start - you can drop a course by simply not writing the term paper. This forced me to be disciplined with my time and organize myself, which I believe will help with the Ph.D. Happy to answer any other questions about my specific experience.

 

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@ExileFromAFutureTime I have many questions about FU overall as well as the English Studies program, so I will definitely be PM'ing you in the near future if you'd be willing to share your experience. The affordability of Germany's system is ridiculously appealing. Also, congrats on finishing up your MA and your PhD acceptances! 

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@ekat97 I did the NA studies program at the FU. I haven't had a good season but that's definitely on me. The paper system at German universities make it all but gaurenteed you'll have good samples for submitting. If you want my experiences feel free to PM I've had quite a few ppl interested. Also don't sleep on Belgium. Germany is getting the press but Belgium is just as cheap - I'd recommend checking out  LU Leuven - though perhaps it's better for sciences than humanities. 

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