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MA/MPhil in Latin American Studies-- too many options, or none?!

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Hey everybody! I'm an undergraduate at Columbia University studying Latin American and Caribbean Studies and will be graduating this year. My focus is on the emergence of popular culture and modes of representation in the early stages of Portuguese colonization of the Americas and Africa, while my current masters proposal will look at refugee movement from the Levant to Brazil-- somewhat of a shift from early modern history and literature analysis to human geography.

I'm very much on the fence about entering academia or the professional sphere (having experience in both,) so I chose to apply to a number of one-year masters programs in the U.S. and abroad to help direct me and do some additional research. I applied for the MPhil (in Latin American Studies) at Cambridge, the MSc at Oxford, MA at Stanford, and am considering sending an application for an indisciplinary Development Studies masters at the Graduate School of Geneva, which I've been interested in for some years due to its generous financial aid. This week I heard back from Cambridge with a conditional offer of acceptance but no funding (will hear back from individual colleges/Cambridge Trust later in the month and in March.) I'm still waiting on the other schools.

I am currently very much uncertain as to the next step I should take. Funding for every school except the one in Geneva will likely not cover the majority of costs and I will have to take out some portion of loans. I'm set on doing a one-year program for the given reasons but also don't want to saddle myself with unneccessary debt right out of university, especially since I'll be leaving Columbia debt-free. My GPA upon graduation will probably be around a 3.73-3.75 which under Columbia's ridicuously strict honor allocations amounts to "cum laude," which has made it more difficult competing for the top Oxbridge fellowships out there like Rhodes and Gates-- I'm looking at internal funding for graduating Columbia seniors for the time being.

My question is: should I look into other schools/programs that offer better funding, or apply again in a year's time and work in between? I'm not sure how possible it will be for me to do the second route since I'd like to start my career (whether it be in private sector/social enterprise, non-profit, NGO, etc.) with the long-term in mind versus in expectation that I would leave my job to do a masters. For the time being I'm not considering a PhD unless my experience in the following year convinces me otherwise. I also haven't spent time looking at jobs post-graduation given the amount of time I had to dedicate to fellowship/postgrad applications, and by this point in February I feel like it's too late.

Lastly, I'm Brazilian and don't plan on staying in the United States for the long term. I'd like to work in either Europe or -- if the economic situation gets better -- in Brazil, so making contacts through a European program makes sense to me.

What do you all reccommend? Would it be sensible to take out loans for a program of this caliber and in consideration of the research/networking advantages it comes with, or am I digging myself into a hole? Thanks!

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I would be very weary of taking out loans for this program unless you are confident that you’ll be able to pay them off in a short time period (<1 year) with no concern. Also know that many of these one year masters require a lot of independent research, and are quite different from the american system, where masters students receive much more instruction and the program more structured.

I did an MPhil in History & Philosophy of Science at Cambridge last year, and I loved it, but I want to make sure that you know the risks. Will you make great connections? It’s possible. Are the connections worth spending that kind of money? No. Is it prestigious? I mean, I guess, but tbh no one really cares unless you’re going into finance or continuing on in academia.  

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  • 1 year later...

I highly recommend working first. It doesn't make sense to saddle yourself with debt if you don't have a clear idea of your future plans. Working can help you figure it out and be more financially beneficial to you in the interrim. Who knows? You may change your mind about grad school altogether, which is fine, too.

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