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Emily K.

The Dilemma ( . . . *NOT* the terrible 2011 "comedy")

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Hi, everyone! 😊

Here's my dilemma . . . 

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 2014 with a BA in English lit (GPA 3.5); now, in 2019, I've decided to make my return to school for (eventually) a PhD so that (again, eventually) I can teach. My dream schools are top-tier. After reading other posts on this forum, I'm guessing that my best bet would be to apply to MA programs (or possibly an MSt program at Oxford?), but I'm nervous about how I'd look on paper. It's been a few years since I graduated, and I haven't done much of anything that would seem to advance my cause. Throughout my undergrad, I suffered pretty severely from an eating disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. I shuffled between three or four schools before graduating, and even though I earned respectable marks everywhere I went, I didn't make any lasting connections. Now that I'm a few years into my recovery, I'm hoping to audit a few courses in the fall/spring so that I can connect with professors and prove my true ability before applying (for the fall of 2021, I guess? or should I just take my chances and apply in the fall of 2020?). I'm also hoping to publish something and connect with literary societies. Are there other things that I should consider doing to make myself a better candidate? Am I overthinking timelines? (In other words, should I just apply for the fall of 2020 instead of 2021?). If I were to apply in the fall of 2020 (without auditing courses), how would I address my past difficulties (i.e., my 'average' grades) in applications? 

Thanks for any guidance. (I realize this is rambling, which . . . welcome to me!). 

Emily

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Hello!

I would definitely apply this year if I were you. I don’t think schools expect BA applicants to have much under their belts experience-wise. Your GPA seems fine. I wonder if you have a professor who would be willing to work with you on refining your WS and/or SoP? Or several? That experience alone might strengthen their abilities regarding writing rec letters. 

It doesn’t seem like BA applicants are expected to have publications or presentation experience so I personally would just apply straight to MAs and PhDs, unless you’re not sure what you’d like to focus on, in which case is just apply to MAs.

 

As far as addressing the past...I went to four different schools over fifteen years before I finally got my BA. I didn’t address it. Granted I didn’t get into any top tens. I do wish now that I would have mentioned how that experience impacted my research, but IMO it’s hard to talk about the past without sort of infantilizing yourself, when you really want to present the most polished and developed version of yourself as a scholar. I think one thing to note is that having a non traditional trajectory towards graduate school can be a good thing- it means you’re potentially contributing to the diversity of a department.

I think the most crucial indicator of how your past has served you is really the quality of your SoP and WS. So I’d focus on them, rather than on trying to explain what is a trying time for honestly most students.

Good luck!

Edited by kendalldinniene

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If the people you want to work with are at top-tier schools I would just make sure your writing sample speaks to their work. Also in your SOP make sure you have clear goals. 

Don't worry so much about the gap in time, I do not think it is looked at as a huge deal. A lot of people I know have taken long breaks and now it seems to even be suggested to make sure academia is what you want to do. 

For the MA, I would recommend finding a good funded MA in the US that you can make good connections at so you have strong letters. "Name" does not matter much from what I understand for MA, but how good the letters you get from it does. 

Hopefully that helps! Also make sure you have a set domain within the field you are aiming for and do a lot of research into which schools would best serve you there.

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I also graduated undergrad in 2014 and I applied this year. As others have stated, I don't think the gap is a problem and you really don't need to conference or publish as a BA candidate. The only I thing on my resume that came from my gap years was joining the MLA in 2016. Though I don't think schools really cared that much that I paid a membership fee for a few years. My job during those years was not academic or related to writing or literature whatsoever.

For your recommenders, reach out to who you might want to ask now even if you don't think that they'll remember you. Express your interest in applying and if you can recall the class you took with them--or if you still have your work from those classes--sharing that information with them would be ideal. For one of my recommenders, I actually met them in person because I didn't think they would remember me and I didn't want them to write the letter without having that face-to-face. I think that helped a lot. 

I think the biggest determining factor for how you strategize which schools to apply to is your writing sample. If you're confident in its quality and if you can have some good second readers comb through it (ideally your recommenders) then I would recommend applying to both PhD and funded MAs, which is how I went about this go-around. 

Hope some of that helps!

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