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PhD or Harvard MA?


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Hey everyone,

Looking for some advice. I was offered full funding from a PhD program that usually hovers in the high teens-low twenties in the US News rankings. I was also offered tuition remission (though no stipend) by the master of theological studies program at Harvard Divinity School. I'm interested in studying the sociology of religion and feel that a theology masters at Harvard may help me get into a top 5 or 10 soc PhD program (I was rejected by every top 10 PhD program to which I applied). i have a BA from a mediocre state school so i feel a masters from Harvard may help if i were to apply for those programs in 2 years. At the same time, I understand that route of action would just add on debt and I'm not sure if it actually would help my chances. Any advice would be appreciated

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Generally speaking, I personally would not take on debt in pursuit of a sociology PhD. I'd probably take the PhD offer. 

That said, without knowing more details about your situation, it's hard to know what to recommend. There are some subfields (such as my own, lol) that don't have as wide a range of job market options as others (i.e. stratification and other topics at the core of the field). If you plan on going into an area like religion or culture, it might be worth getting your MA and trying to land in a higher ranked program. That's hard to say for sure though, because there are programs in the range of ranks you specified that are really, really good at getting their students tenure-track jobs. 

I also think it's probably important to come up with a solid estimate of how much debt you'd need to take on to get the MA. That'll make the whole cost/benefit analysis easier, I think. 

PM me if you'd like to talk more but don't want to post tons of details on here!

Edited by sociopolitic
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As someone finishing a second master's program finally en route to a PhD (long story), my advice would be to do the master's degree ONLY IF there are additional benefits to doing it other than raising your chances of a higher level PhD admission. If you're still exploring topic areas or wanting to solidify things like potential publications, you know it would be an enjoyable and personally valuable experience etc, then go for it. But if you know you want to do a PhD in Soc and you feel pretty confident about your specialization, I'd do that if I were you. Of course these decisions are totally based on the person and vary for a thousand little individual reasons, so trust your gut. I'd just hate for anyone to bide their time in an MA, reapply, and then get similar admits (because admit decisions can be pretty arbitrary, after all...) and feel like it was a waste of valuable time. Best of luck!

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