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thepeeps

Applying for my PhD before my Master's is finished?

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HI everyone, 

It's been hard for me to find an exact answer to this problem, and even schools have been having a hard time getting back to me.  I just graduated with my Bachelor's in English, and will be starting my Masters in the fall.  I have the option to finish my Masters in one year, but then I ended up getting curious about how this would work with applying to PhD programs.  There's two schools on my list that look like their deadlines are in early Jan, so worst comes to worst I could always apply after fall grades are entered (which for my university is always mid December).  But there's another school on my list that has their deadline right when fall semester grades will be posted.  So I'm not sure how it will look to just submit my application with no fall semester grades.

My undergrad gpa is low (3.3) but I was a student that didn't know what I wanted to do until I was a junior.  I always did super well in my English courses, but I spent some time studying engineering, so that has brought my gpa low.  My major gpa is of course a lot higher.  So that's why I'm hesitate to just submit an application using only my undergrad work/transcript.

Also, instead of making a second thread, I thought I might just ask here.  Does anyone know how strict literature PhD programs are regarding qualifications?  My Bachelor's concentration is in Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication while my Master's is in Professional Writing.  I emailed a school the other day and got kind of snarky email back where they just bolded "MA in English required".  Of course I knew that, but my MA isn't in literature.  I didn't want to go through the whole process and pay money just to be automatically DQ because of not having a lit background (despite taking lit classes undergrad).

I've lurked on this thread for a while, so hopefully I could get some help :)

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It's standard not to have your full transcripts and grades when applying. It won't be held against you. If you think your grades will improve your odds as they will be better, then I guess trying to include them is better, but whether you will be able to will depend on deadlines (some schools allow you to input fall grades after you submit the application).

As for qualifications, I would assume that English is not necessarily literature, but I would ask for clarification. A quick email to the point shouldn't garner snarky responses usually, though make sure you read the website and FAQs as if the question is answered there it's just a waste of time.

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38 minutes ago, thepeeps said:

I have the option to finish my Masters in one year, but then I ended up getting curious about how this would work with applying to PhD programs.  

A real thing to think about is letters of recommendation. If your MA institution is different than where you did your undergrad, you will only have a few short months to develop meaningful relationships with your professors. While it can be done, you will have to work hard to make sure you can get quality letters written. It might be worth waiting another cycle to have stronger letters and a (hopefully) high MA GPA.

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A lot of people apply during the fall semester of their second year in their Master's program. I think the biggest hurdle you might face with a one-year program is potentially not having strong recommendation letters. Since applications are due in Dec/Jan, it's likely that you'll have to ask for recommendations at a time where your first major paper hasn't been assigned yet. As a result, your instructors will have very little to work off of. (Edit: @illcounsel seems to have been thinking the same thoughts at the same time)

The second area of concern is that your interests might change within that time period. And while a program doesn't force you to stay within a specific time period, I think they can read into whether you seem passionate about something or whether you're writing about something because it feels safe.

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Just now, illcounsel said:

A real thing to think about is letters of recommendation. If your MA institution is different than where you did your undergrad, you will only have a few short months to develop meaningful relationships with your professors. While it can be done, you will have to work hard to make sure you can get quality letters written. It might be worth waiting another cycle to have stronger letters and a (hopefully) high MA GPA.

Sorry I should have specified.  I'm doing my MA at the same school where I earned my BA.  3 of my professors who I was close to during undergrad will also be teaching my graduate courses, so I will already know them and have that relationship established.  I know for sure I will have strong letters since I'm pretty close to a lot of the professors in the department regardless. 

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15 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

It's standard not to have your full transcripts and grades when applying. It won't be held against you. If you think your grades will improve your odds as they will be better, then I guess trying to include them is better, but whether you will be able to will depend on deadlines (some schools allow you to input fall grades after you submit the application).

As for qualifications, I would assume that English is not necessarily literature, but I would ask for clarification. A quick email to the point shouldn't garner snarky responses usually, though make sure you read the website and FAQs as if the question is answered there it's just a waste of time.

I guess my worry was that without my grades from my MA, they would be looking at me from my undergrad background.  I know I was not someone that was good enough to go from an BA to a PhD just like that, so I guess I'm kind of insecure about that.  Despite the fact my low gpa comes from when I studied engineering and not English.  

Yeah when I read the email I was kind of...upset?  The program said English PhD but it's clear it was lit focused.  In the FAQ they only specified an MFA would not be enough to apply.  The fact that I asked if coming from a writing background would not allow me to apply for the program and got kind of a rude response was odd to me.  

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, thepeeps said:

My undergrad gpa is low (3.3) but I was a student that didn't know what I wanted to do until I was a junior.  I always did super well in my English courses, but I spent some time studying engineering, so that has brought my gpa low.  My major gpa is of course a lot higher.  So that's why I'm hesitate to just submit an application using only my undergrad work/transcript.

I totally understand your position. I was an engineering+English major who had a 3.2 cumulative with a 3.8 in English.

When I started the application process, I feared that my GPA would ruin my chances at admission. It did not

After decisions were made, I spoke with a number of admissions committee members at universities that accepted me and at others that rejected me. No one made their decision based on my cumulative GPA. Overwhelmingly, decisions were made based on my writing sample, my statement of purpose, my letters of recommendation, and some notion of "fit."

To paraphrase one adcom member, "I thought your GPA was concerning until I saw your English GPA. After that, I never thought about your GPA again."

However, my GPA did cause a couple of problems:

  • My GPA disqualified me from admission at a handful of schools with school-wide GPA cutoffs. These cutoffs are occasionally "soft" (i.e., an admissions committee can stump for you if they really like you), but they're frequently "hard" (i.e., you have no chance). 
  • My GPA disqualified me from certain university-wide fellowships. Graduate schools only have a couple of ways to compare PhD students from different disciplines. GPA is one of those ways.
Edited by BeachBum

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On 5/16/2019 at 4:41 PM, BeachBum said:

I totally understand your position. I was an engineering+English major who had a 3.2 cumulative with a 3.8 in English.

When I started the application process, I feared that my GPA would ruin my chances at admission. It did not

After decisions were made, I spoke with a number of admissions committee members at universities that accepted me and at others that rejected me. No one made their decision based on my cumulative GPA. Overwhelmingly, decisions were made based on my writing sample, my statement of purpose, my letters of recommendation, and some notion of "fit."

To paraphrase one adcom member, "I thought your GPA was concerning until I saw your English GPA. After that, I never thought about your GPA again."

However, my GPA did cause a couple of problems:

  • My GPA disqualified me from admission at a handful of schools with school-wide GPA cutoffs. These cutoffs are occasionally "soft" (i.e., an admissions committee can stump for you if they really like you), but they're frequently "hard" (i.e., you have no chance). 
  • My GPA disqualified me from certain university-wide fellowships. Graduate schools only have a couple of ways to compare PhD students from different disciplines. GPA is one of those ways.

Thanks so much.  Yeah I always feel bad about my gpa because I did super well in my English courses but it doesn't really reflect with my gpa.  I feel like I don't have a chance at getting a PhD but I kind of just want to go out it with my best foot forward you know?  I''m glad to relate to someone and someone understands.

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