Jump to content
woolfie

PhD admits: Did you have an MA?

Recommended Posts

I'm wondering about my own experience and would like to hear about PhD admits to top 50 schools. Did you have an MA from a lower ranked school or were you fresh out of undergrad? I myself am fresh out of undergrad, auditing graduate classes right now. I'm wondering if I will be rejected across the board for top phd programs as I know some of the people I'm competing with are way more advanced in their graduate work than I am.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm wondering about my own experience and would like to hear about PhD admits to top 50 schools. Did you have an MA from a lower ranked school or were you fresh out of undergrad? I myself am fresh out of undergrad, auditing graduate classes right now. I'm wondering if I will be rejected across the board for top phd programs as I know some of the people I'm competing with are way more advanced in their graduate work than I am.

Nope, I don't have an MA, and have never taken a graduate class (with the exception of a couple of undergrad/grad combo seminars during my undergrad, but I don't count those).* There are some places, like Penn State English, where it's really difficult to get accepted with an [English] MA--they only take one or two a year, if any. There are other places where it seems that most admits have MAs. It really depends on the program. And, there is again the old debate as to whether having an English MA when applying to English PhD programs hurts or helps you (I was told by my undergrad profs that it can be a detriment; I've met plenty of other people who make a good case for the opposing viewpoint). Also, I'd note that in my casual observations at recruitment visits it seems that most of the comp lit PhD admits I've met are coming in with MAs of some kind (whether in English or another language, or occasionally in comp lit itself) but I've met far fewer English PhD admits with English MAs in hand. And I have met quite a few PhD admits who have completed MFAs, which is interesting.

*Yes, I am utterly terrified of that first quarter coming up in the fall.

Edited to add: Like Lompoc, while I don't have an MA I'm also not "straight out of undergrad" in the strictest sense. I've taken some years off which, I think, has been beneficial to me intellectually and personally, and which was probably also helpful for my applications for a number of reasons.

Edited by Pamphilia

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nope, I don't have an MA, and have never taken a graduate class (with the exception of a couple of undergrad/grad combo seminars during my undergrad, but I don't count those).* There are some places, like Penn State English, where it's really difficult to get accepted with an [English] MA--they only take one or two a year, if any. There are other places where it seems that most admits have MAs. It really depends on the program. And, there is again the old debate as to whether having an English MA when applying to English PhD programs hurts or helps you (I was told by my undergrad profs that it can be a detriment; I've met plenty of other people who make a good case for the opposing viewpoint). Also, I'd note that in my casual observations at recruitment visits it seems that most of the comp lit PhD admits I've met are coming in with MAs of some kind (whether in English or another language, or occasionally in comp lit itself) but I've met far fewer English PhD admits with English MAs in hand. And I have met quite a few PhD admits who have completed MFAs, which is interesting.

*Yes, I am utterly terrified of that first quarter coming up in the fall.

That's a good point, I've heard the same thing about MAs sometimes being a detriment and sometimes not. I'm wondering how we find out which programs prefer what? For instance, I wonder what some top 25 programs state schools like Texas, Illinois, Michigan want and for some reason I'm inclined to say they prefer BAs with no MAs, though I'm basically just making that up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's a good point, I've heard the same thing about MAs sometimes being a detriment and sometimes not. I'm wondering how we find out which programs prefer what? For instance, I wonder what some top 25 programs state schools like Texas, Illinois, Michigan want and for some reason I'm inclined to say they prefer BAs with no MAs, though I'm basically just making that up.

Many programs have brief profiles of their current grad students online; usually that would include previous degrees. You could skim the students' profiles from schools in which you are interested to see how many have an MA from another school.

Also, just as Pamphilia noted the prevalence of MAs among comp lit people, I think it may also vary by time period--medievalists, in particular, often have a master's degree, due to language training and interdisciplinary background.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a few of the schools I've come across that require an MA in-hand to enter their PhD program: Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, U of Maryland

I don't have an MA, but will be getting one in Fall 2010, luckily with a teaching assistantship.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have an MA. I received my BA in 2008, took two years off to work and be a person, and then applied to PhD programs with happy results.

Honestly, I think the reason to do an MA is either 1) if you're not sure you want to do a PhD but want to pursue upper-level work, or 2) if you didn't feel that you produced the sort of work during undergrad that could be developed into a kickass writing sample.

Before anyone freaks out on me, these are just my perceptions, based upon friends and colleagues who've done MAs with happy results (including either pursuing PhDs or deciding to use their MAs to go into publishing or high school teaching).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a few of the schools I've come across that require an MA in-hand to enter their PhD program: Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, U of Maryland

I don't have an MA, but will be getting one in Fall 2010, luckily with a teaching assistantship.

Ohio State has recently changed and no longer has an MA program. I'm pretty sure it's just direct admit PhD and you don't necessarily need an MA. I don't know about those other schools though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just came in to say that I don't have an MA and only took one official grad course as an undergrad. My BA is also from a fairly low ranked school (last time I checked it was maybe tier 3 on the US News and World Report?) but I was a part of a citywide Honors College that has gained some notoriety at least in NYC over the last few years.

Edit: Just to make this post a little more substantial, from what I gather at the schools that I applied and was accepted to, having a BA vs. an MA was a moot point as long as the scholarship that an applicant provided (i.e., writing sample, personal statement and, in some cases, CV) all was of a graduate-level caliber. In my case, due to an incomplete on my record that will take too long to explain and will only get me angry by explaining it, I had been out of coursework for over six months before I had actually "officially" graduated so though I had said that I had a BA, I didn't really at the time.

Edited by diehtc0ke

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What kinds of programs did people get into?

I got into several schools, all in the top 30. Most were in the top 20.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another reason to get the M.A. before applying to PhD programs would be a switch in disciplines. I hold a B.S. in the hard sciences, but discovered toward the end of my undergraduate education that my passion was in English Lit. Because I did not have the paper trail of dedication to the field, I only had a few options to be competitive in the PhD application process: 1) going back to undergrad studies and completing english courses or 2) doing an M.A. in English Lit. I opted for the latter. The results this year have been varied: having the M.A. definitely hurt my chances with a few schools that prefer to teach their graduates through the entire graduate process (Boston U, for instance)--on the other hand, I was able to be competitive at a couple of top 20 schools despite the change in my field of study. It seems like an issue that has no hard or fast rules--its very dependent upon the school's criteria.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ohio State has recently changed and no longer has an MA program. I'm pretty sure it's just direct admit PhD and you don't necessarily need an MA. I don't know about those other schools though.

Is the OSU website outdated? I didn't apply there because of what I read.

here's the section that I read: "Admission to the Ph.D. program requires an M.A. degree in English from an accredited university, a G.P.A. of 3.6 or higher in previous graduate work, and a GRE score of 600 or better on the verbal and at least 4.5 on the analytical writing portions of the General test."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is the OSU website outdated? I didn't apply there because of what I read.

here's the section that I read: "Admission to the Ph.D. program requires an M.A. degree in English from an accredited university, a G.P.A. of 3.6 or higher in previous graduate work, and a GRE score of 600 or better on the verbal and at least 4.5 on the analytical writing portions of the General test."

I think it must be outdated because they used to have a seperate, terminal MA program so maybe that's what it's referring to. Because I also read this on another page: "All students admitted to the M.A. program for fall 2010 are automatically admitted to the Ph.D. program. All students progressing to the Ph.D. must complete all of the requirements for the M.A. degree and maintain satisfactory academic standing. The Graduate Admissions Committee will consider any qualified candidate with a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university for admission to the M.A. program." Maybe I'm confused, but I think their website it contradictory because they are in the process of changing the program.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I applied so straight-out-of-undergrad that I'm not even out of undergrad yet, and though applying during my senior year was stressful, I'm really happy with my results (in my signature). My sense is that admissions committees look for different things in a BA-only candidate, especially a relatively young one. Somebody with an MA is expected to produce unambiguously graduate-level work. Somebody with a BA must show talent, dedication, maturity, and so on, but one's writing changes a great deal during one's first year of graduate study, so committees are looking for potential as well as previous accomplishments. One professor put it to me this way: "You can teach somebody to apply theoretical methods. You can't teach somebody to be a great writer." Another side of this is that people with MAs are held to higher standards in the admissions process, because it's assumed (correctly or not) that they are less likely to go through an academic "transformation" than a BA-only student.

Of course, none of this goes against the excellent point that an MA can be key for people who don't feel comfortable with their undergraduate institution or record (either because of poor grades or because of a change in major)—and that it can give people the chance to explore graduate study without committing to 5+ years. The upshot is that you have to figure out what your needs are, and go with that. Not very precise advice, I'm afraid, but there you have it.

Edited by ratiocinator

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how typical this is, but I got into several PhD programs in comp lit with just a BA (I graduated from a good, but not great, program - probably top 30. I also didn't take any graduate classes). One of the programs I got into was a top 10, and they didn't seem at all concerned that I didn't have an MA. As someone else mentioned, it's more about the quality of the writing sample and evidence of previous scholarship, even at the undergraduate level, that matters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I got into two programs this year straight from undergrad. I hadn't take any graduate coursework (except a few of those undergrad/grad hybrid seminars that have been mentioned). I'm also sort of an oddbird in that I was a political science (actually IR) major. I had only completed the equivalent of about half an English minor (18 units I believe) when I applied. I came from a completely unranked public univeristy....I got into good programs, one is top 20 (Comp Lit) and one is top 30 (English). So it CAN be done.

That being said, these are my thoughts:

My main concern for those coming straight out of undergrad would be the writing sample. Not having completed an MA or having done any graduate coursework I hadn't really written a paper over 6 pages in English, let alone a serious piece of scholarship. This meant I had to spend A LOT of time turning a 6 page seminar paper into a 13 page writing sample (which still should have been better/longer), and had to wade through all sorts of intense and obscure theory on my own. Plus, I had to take my best paper which was in an area of literature completely unrelated to what I wanted to work in. I think for some who come from undergraduate programs that are more rigorous or that require a more serious piece of scholarship (like an Honors Thesis or Senior Thesis) might not be in such bad shape but I am LUCKY that I got into two great programs with the writing sample I had.

Coming straight from undergrad (and non-English major at that) my area of specialization was something quite hazy (I knew I didn't want to do Victorian Lit, okay...)...and if I'd done an MA I would have been able to spend more time really figuring out what lights my world on fire and really getting a good grasp of the major arguments and issues being grappled with in that field. I could have spent time really broadening my exposure in that area reading all of the major figures, etc. etc. As it stands I've got A LOT of catch up to do this summer in the way of reading and getting well-versed in my area.

While I was lucky that I got into two great PhD programs and am happy with my options I DO feel like I just barely squeaked in and there is no doubt in my mind that if I had done an MA somewhere beforehand I would have been much, much, more competitive and might have had a shot at some of those TOP TOP programs.

I guess what an MA really does for you is buy you TIME, and if you take that time and use it wisely (reading lots, crafting an amazing writing sample, studying for the stupid GRE's)....it can be highly beneficial.

Other thoughts:

I've heard that BA-holding applicants are judged slightly less critically than MA-holding applicants. I don't know how much of this is true but it sort of makes sense that you'd be expected to be a little more polished and put together if you've gone through an MA program.

My experience, both on this board and at recruitment events is that there tends to be a pretty good mix of all types of applicants. I'm sure some schools probably favor a certain type of applicant but I'm always wary of people who claim that there is a hard and fast rule anywhere (be it for type of degree or test scores or....). You've got to be an outstanding applicant, there are many, many, many different variations of this. Sometimes it means having ridiculously good test scores, sometimes it means having compelling work experience (mine really worked in my favor), sometimes it means having an MA, sometimes it means speaking three languages, sometimes it means having a very exciting and unique area of interest. Just look through this board and you'll see the range of test scores and interests and backgrounds that get into great programs. It ALWAYS means having an outstanding writing sample. I think getting an MA can really help with lots of these things, but if you've got them without it, don't waste your time.

That's my 2 cents.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I applied to six programs during my senior year of college, and got into three: Princeton, Cornell, and UNC. My sense is that if you've done well in college, it doesn't matter whether you have an MA. If your college record is less than stellar, getting an MA might help your chances; but if you have a good GPA and strong letters, why put yourself through more coursework, and possibly accrue more debts, before starting your PhD? In fact, I hear that some programs are biased against students with MAs.

Echoing a previous poster: This does NOT mean that you should dash into a PhD program straight out of college. I had the arrogance to believe I could, but adjusting to grad school was a nightmare. I'd recommend taking one or two years off after college, which may even help your chances.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I applied to six programs during my senior year of college, and got into three: Princeton, Cornell, and UNC. My sense is that if you've done well in college, it doesn't matter whether you have an MA. If your college record is less than stellar, getting an MA might help your chances; but if you have a good GPA and strong letters, why put yourself through more coursework, and possibly accrue more debts, before starting your PhD? In fact, I hear that some programs are biased against students with MAs.

Echoing a previous poster: This does NOT mean that you should dash into a PhD program straight out of college. I had the arrogance to believe I could, but adjusting to grad school was a nightmare. I'd recommend taking one or two years off after college, which may even help your chances.

Oh, and callmelilyb is right: If you have an MA, you need a MUCH stronger sense of what you want to be doing in grad school. BAs can get away with a bit more uncertainty: my boyfriend, a grad student at a top-20 school, wrote his senior thesis on Samuel Beckett, but applied to do Renaissance lit and was accepted to three good PhD programs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i got into basically 2 phd programs from the BA-- one being a direct track and one where they accept most people w satisfactory progress after the MA. 1 other program (NYU) bumped me down from the phd to the MA. i think some schools saw potential in me but that i hadn't blossomed to full potential-- but others felt i was sufficient for a direct track phd. who knows what goes on with these schools?!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A couple thoughts in addition to the extensive discussion here:

-Check to see how schools treat MA students once they matriculate. That is, do they give students course credit, or do they make them repeat coursework they've completed elsewhere? This isn't always an indication of how schools feel about students with an MA during the admissions process, but it can give you a sense of what it's like to enter the program with one. Does the school let you count some MA courses towards the PhD? How many? Do those courses fulfill requirements, or just add to your number of credits? For what it's worth, my school makes everyone start afresh, and there are 3 MAs (and 2 MFAs) in our group of 11.

-Certain schools, like NYU, do have anecdotal reputations for favoring MA students, while others, like Yale, seem to prefer people to come in with a BA. Some programs like to train their own, while others are more willing to give you some credit for past work.

-I attended the Bread Loaf School of English, a program run through Middlebury College, during the summer before I filled out applications. It was wonderful: gorgeous setting, fantastic and engaged students, brilliant faculty from all over. I had been out of school for a couple years and wasn't happy using any of my college materials as a writing sample, but choosing Bread Loaf courses wisely allowed me to finish the summer with a strong draft--with helpful feedback!--of what became my writing sample. It's an expensive option, but they have good financial aid and on-campus work opportunities (and I was lucky to be working at a place that gave me partial tuition remission). Bread Loaf also helped me realize that I really did want to get a PhD--I loved the work I did there and wanted to do it for more than just five weeks every summer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm finishing an MA right now, and were I to go through the application process again, I would email every program I'm thinking about applying to and ask if they have a preference for BAs, if they set aside a certain number of spots for each, etc. Very few programs say on their website "we don't take MAs", but some basically don't (BU, as mentioned above, took 1 MA this year). So, as to whether it helps or hurts, it depends on where you want to go - you should include the degree preferences of programs in your evaluative criteria.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To MA or not to MA... I will throw this little story out there. Three years ago, I was waitlisted in Vandy's PhD program, and didn't make it off the list. Since, I have applied twice. This final time, with a completed masters of 36 credit hours and a 4.0. I never made it further into Vandy's little world than I did three years ago, back when all I had was a 3.76 undergrad GPA from over eight years ago. Go figure.

Some of my admits allow credit for the MA, but rarely as much as work as I completed. If youc an do the straight MA PhD, do. If you can't, look for schools that give some credit - I believe that most do. Of my applications, Stanford, Vandy, and Stony Brook did not. All the rest did.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i got into basically 2 phd programs from the BA-- one being a direct track and one where they accept most people w satisfactory progress after the MA. 1 other program (NYU) bumped me down from the phd to the MA. i think some schools saw potential in me but that i hadn't blossomed to full potential-- but others felt i was sufficient for a direct track phd. who knows what goes on with these schools?!

J, are you going to Lehigh? Would you mind if I PM'd you if so?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was fairly successful applying with a BA only--was accepted into 7 programs, 6 of which were in the "top 20" (for whatever that's worth). I did take two years off, which was absolutely critical. Looking at where my writing/thinking was during my senior year, I would have gotten in absolutely nowhere had I tried to apply then. Even two years of working various non-intellectual jobs helped to to distill my focus and training.

These two rounds are not comparable (I applied in different fields, and with entirely different methodological approaches), but I was actually far more successful when I applied with an MA under my belt. It may or may not make a difference that my MA was earned "en route" while in a PhD program. (Some programs explicitly will not accept applicants who are essentially "transfer" students even if they're willing to start over. Some might conceivably view my training to be of a higher caliber since it's PhD rather than MA level coursework. I suspect that the plus and minuses--as compared with a terminal MA--probably balanced each other other). The "MA" (or more specifically, graduate-level coursework) was really useful in enabling me to learn how to adjust my methodology, how to come up with an original, well-researched argument, etc, etc....even though I did not take any classes in my field during this time. And for what it's worth, I also took graduate-level classes as an undergrad. They were helpful and I did well in them, but for some reason, I simply wasn't ready to really make use of them. It took a certain amount of maturity and distance before graduate training became truly productive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.