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Puurple

Do I accept a partially funded MA offer?

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Posted (edited)

Hello all,

I have asked this question in a variety of forms on other posts, but now I really need to be direct and get as many opinions as possible.

I've been shutout from PhDs, applied to MA's at the last minute, and now have some acceptances. Of these, 2 are offering me full-time graduate assistantships, which pay monthly, but I would still need to pay around $15k (over 2 years) in graduate tuition.

I am graduating from undergrad very soon. I already have $40k of student loan debt. I am highly reluctant to go much further into debt. However, the programs are decent and the coordinators extremely nice. In the long term, I want to get into a PhD program and try to be a college professor. This would support my career goal. But, it could be ruinous financially.

So, what is the best play? I know there are totally-funded MA's, but I was too late to apply to them for this cycle. In my situation, is it advisable to decline my offers and attempt to reapply next year, to those fully-funded? Would I just work in the meantime? Or, do I just take the financial "L" and continue forth, trying to finish graduate school as streamlined as possible? Am I unreasonably getting myself further into debt? What if I don't get into a fully-funded MA next year, and then regret declining the partially-funded ones?

Please give me some help. If you have any experience with this at all, I would be grateful to hear. I'm in a really tricky situation, and have only a few weeks left to decide.

Thank you all.

Edited by Puurple

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Posted (edited)
49 minutes ago, Puurple said:

Hello all,

I have asked this question in a variety of forms on other posts, but now I really need to be direct and get as many opinions as possible.

I've been shutout from PhDs, applied to MA's at the last minute, and now have some acceptances. Of these, 2 are offering me full-time graduate assistantships, which pay monthly, but I would still need to pay around $15k (over 2 years) in graduate tuition.

I am graduating from undergrad very soon. I already have $40k of student loan debt. I am highly reluctant to go much further into debt. However, the programs are decent and the coordinators extremely nice. In the long term, I want to get into a PhD program and try to be a college professor. This would support my career goal. But, it could be ruinous financially.

So, what is the best play? I know there are totally-funded MA's, but I was too late to apply to them for this cycle. In my situation, is it advisable to decline my offers and attempt to reapply next year, to those fully-funded? Would I just work in the meantime? Or, do I just take the financial "L" and continue forth, trying to finish graduate school as streamlined as possible? Am I unreasonably getting myself further into debt? What if I don't get into a fully-funded MA next year, and then regret declining the partially-funded ones?

Please give me some help. If you have any experience with this at all, I would be grateful to hear. I'm in a really tricky situation, and have only a few weeks left to decide.

Thank you all.

For reasons I prefer not to go into, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and had to do an unfunded MA. I'm not totally against them. Some people really want an MA and there aren't enough funded MA spots for everyone.

However, I will say that I did not have any undergrad debt. Since you already do have debt, if I were in your situation, I would not go further into debt. I would use the year to get a job in the industry, present at conferences if possible, strengthen my application and apply for funded MAs and PHD programs next year.

Of course, you need to take into consideration the effects on the economy the pandemic is having. There is a possibility that the same opportunities this year will not be offered again at some schools for a couple years, but there is also a possibility that this school year will be trash anyway, and you'd be better offer trying to make money while strengthening your application. Ultimately up to you based on the things you value including timeline, cost, what your life would look like with more debt while facing placement problems in academia, etc etc. But if it was me, barring any pressing issues, I would not do it.

Edited by Cryss
I'm picky about wording

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I agree that you may not want to go into further debt to get your MA considering your existing undergrad debt. I also don't think it's a big deal to take off a year (or more) between undergrad and grad school. I took a year off between my bachelor's and my MFA, and will have taken two years off between my MFA and my MA/PhD. Being in the so-called "real world" during those gap years only strengthened my resolve to get my grad degrees; they weren't always a picnic, but I don't regret the experience, which I believe has ultimately been a net positive. Over the past two years I've been able to work on the administrative side of higher ed and establish the beginnings of a non-teaching career, which is experience that will stay on my CV and may come in handy six or seven years down the road if I'm looking for an alt-ac career.

On the other hand, to @Cryss's point above re: the long-term effects of the pandemic, I've heard from one DGS that there's a possibility that admissions will be even more competitive for the 2021-2022 academic year because there will likely be even fewer funded spots. I don't believe you should accept one of your partially funded offers for fear of being shut out next year, but conventional wisdom does say that an economic recession (which seems like a mild term for what's happening now, to be frank) tends to result in a flood of grad school applicants. By the same token, in a year you might be an even stronger candidate, if you take this time off to read more, revise/rewrite your strongest research papers, and put together a kick-ass personal statement. So playing the odds here might just be a wash.

I feel like I'm talking out both sides of my mouth here, so here's the advice I'd give, if pressed: don't go into debt for a master's degree in the humanities. If you can find a way to work part-time during your MA to recoup some of the tuition costs, maybe that will be a viable solution for you, but part of the beauty of a fully-funded offer is that you can devote your full time and attention to your studies. So, yeah, I return to my original point: don't go into debt for a master's degree in the humanities.

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I'm still waiting on some waitlists but am most likely in a very similar boat - graduating undergrad this spring, have around 30k undergrad student debt, no PhD acceptances, but have admission to 3 MA programs that offer partial tuition remission.

I went into this process saying that I would not do a master's program, mostly because I think accruing more debt is a terrible idea and I also just don't think that it is something I need in order to be able to articulate a research focus, etc (for me personally - I know masters programs have been essential and very generative for some folks trajectory as a scholar, so ymmv). It feels more tempting now, but I think I will stick to my guns and end up declining these offers, staying at my current job (assuming it stays safe in the economic downturn) to build my savings, and gearing up for another cycle. I'm worried, as I'm sure you are, about what next cycle may look like given the economic depression (more applicants + less spots, less funding). But I'm not sure that doing a master's program would really make any of those hurdles disappear, and I don't want to strap myself with more debt in such precarious economic times. Even if I did go, I would also have to work part time to make ends meet with rent etc -- while doing graduate level coursework, teaching, working on a master's thesis, and eventually refining application materials for a second go at the end of the program. At that rate, I'm better off staying in touch with my undergrad mentors and rigorously revising my application material while working full time - I'll make more money, probably have more time to focus on materials I have started, and not accrue any debt. It's worth mentioning that applying while in senior year of undergrad is extremely difficult to pull off period, and I think my biggest downfall in this application cycle was my inability to spend as much time as I wanted polishing and refining my materials.

Ultimately, you should do whatever will make you a more competitive applicant, since the competition will only get harder. A master's can make people more competitive applicants, but it isn't the only way.

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The pandemic could change things, but in an ordinary year I think it’s very likely you’d get into these same programs next with the same aid package. I believe programs like Boston College, Northeastern, U Chicago and others tend to refer strong PhD applicants to their MA programs consistently, year after year, though they always offer standard aid packages. So, I think it’s likely you’ll have these offers on the table if you reapply next year, though as others note it’s obviously not a sure thing, so I definitely get the appeal to take one of them now

I have already weighed in on this, but I’m basically in the same position, so will just chime in again briefly: the terminal MA to PhD can definitely work. We know that it works for a lot of people. That said, it obviously does not always lead to a top PhD placement, so you definitely have to consider what you might do if you don’t get into a suitable PhD program. Teach high school? community college? try your hand in the professional world? all viable options, and in most cases the MA will help, but the added debt complicates things, and increases the risk by a lot

Personally, I think it’s a good idea to apply to funded MAs in the next cycle, but there’s no guarantee of success there, so it’s really a tough choice. IMO, it is wise to consider the worst case scenario with the partially funded MA, and to ask yourself if you’re ok with that. Best of luck to you in any case! It’s a tough situation, I totally empathize 

 

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Yes, it is possible a post-pandemic economic downturn will make grad school applications more competitive. But it's almost certain to make the job market worse (and it's already bad). So, while I tend to think it's never a good idea to go into debt for grad school in the humanities, I think it's possible that it's an ever worse idea now, considering that the chance of return on investment is *even lower* than it normally is.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks everyone for the replies, to this point. There are definitely different perspectives. I should add that I have a significant other who has no undergraduate debt, and can move with me to work full-time. Perhaps it is possible this will aid in offsetting costs, especially during my second year. I'm starting to think that so long as a program is going half-way, as in giving me a paid assistantship, and they are academically suitable, I may weather another chunk of debt for the MA. I can only imagine it to be a trade-off--if I can become better for the future, and get into a funded PhD, perhaps it will not have been a "bad" decision. I neither have guarantees for next application cycle, should I decline now. At 22, I want to keep it moving.

I invite more perspectives, if anyone else has an opinion to give. I remain thankful to this forum.

Edited by Puurple

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You should certainly make and weigh your own choices. However, is that debt going to accrue interest in Ph.D world, when it will be hard to pay it down? And then need to be paid off when you're in a likely-terrible job market? It's just worth thinking about. 

At 22, you really have so much time to go back to school, and there are a lot of things you can do outside the academy (psychologically, financially, just having-an-interesting-life-wise) to supplement your career in it. Just my two cents.

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I'm very glad I took time off after undergrad, as are those in my master's program who did the same. Only a few people from my two-year program who came straight from undergrad applied this year to continue on directly to a PhD. So for many people who attend a masters program, the question is not time off vs. no time off, but time off before vs. time off after. It's easy to get burnt out in graduate school, even without the extra financial (and mental) burden of debt. At least at my institution, being a graduate student often feels like being an (underpaid) employee. Sometimes the professional atmosphere results from good aspects of graduate school (like being taken seriously by faculty), but I know I would feel bitter about paying for the pleasure of doing nearly free work. As even the optimistic advisors I've talked to are adamant about never going into debt for a graduate degree in English, I wouldn't do it. I know the future is extremely uncertain, but going into debt while facing an uncertain future seems even more precarious. You might have to face the possibility that a masters degree won't help in the application process as much as it maybe should: make sure to ask for PhD program placement from these schools (and if they "don't keep records on that"... it's a bad sign). A graduate degree, even from a well-regarded program, does not by any means guarantee acceptance into a PhD program later on. Sorry to sound so pessimistic, but I've learned that first-hand this application cycle.

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4 hours ago, merry night wanderer said:

At 22, you really have so much time to go back to school, and there are a lot of things you can do outside the academy (psychologically, financially, just having-an-interesting-life-wise) to supplement your career in it. Just my two cents.

My anecdotal experience suggests that students who have spent a few years doing something other than school are often more emotionally and intellectually prepared for the rigors of graduate school than those who went straight through. There are obviously exceptions to this, but I certainly don't think there is any imperative to go straight to graduate school in order to be successful. 

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19 hours ago, Starbuck420 said:

I believe programs like Boston College, Northeastern, U Chicago and others tend to refer strong PhD applicants to their MA programs consistently, year after year, though they always offer standard aid packages.

I'm not as well-versed with Boston College and Northeastern but UChicago has a tendency to accept most people into their MAPH program as long as they don't have a Master's degree in a related field.  An offer of 75 percent or more from UChicago during the first year might be an indicator that UChicago is strongly interested though. Otherwise, I think it's important to remember that MAPH runs separately from individual departments and that might impact individual interactions. It's also important to remember that even if it's a one year program,  most people will likely not apply until year 2 because otherwise they'd have the possibility of sacrificing their letters since they'd have to ask for letters before many would even have their first graded assignment back. Chicago is a great school but I think it's important to realize that the "prestige" of the university does not extend to its MA programs.

 

6 hours ago, Puurple said:

, I may weather another chunk of debt for the MA. I can only imagine it to be a trade-off--if I can become better for the future, and get into a funded PhD, perhaps it will not have been a "bad" decision. I neither have guarantees for next application cycle, should I decline now. At 22, I want to keep it moving.

I think an MA is great depending on how one approaches it. There's a lot that an MA can help you do and accomplish and it provides a chance for one to develop their interests more. However, I think it's also important to realize that some universities will also compare you to other applicants with an MA. This could mean that they expect you to have conferences, be more current on your research interests or something else. If you're struggling to pay bills or worried how you'll pay them in the future, you might not be able to produce your best work. Sometimes, a break can provide you with with the energy you need to be motivated by your research again. 

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1 hour ago, Glasperlenspieler said:

My anecdotal experience suggests that students who have spent a few years doing something other than school are often more emotionally and intellectually prepared for the rigors of graduate school than those who went straight through. There are obviously exceptions to this, but I certainly don't think there is any imperative to go straight to graduate school in order to be successful. 

My anecdotal experience also supports this. I believe 90-100% of my PhD cohort did not get in straight from undergrad (a mix of MAs, MFAs, teaching, and non-academic work).

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