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Is it possible to get into an English PhD program with an MA in Humanities?


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Hello, everyone.

I hope this message finds you all well and that you're staying safe. I've been doing so much thinking, and my heart is still set on getting a PhD in English. I know I shouldn't be thinking about it, especially since I've been blessed with a high school teaching job and an adjunct teaching gig, but I want more. I want to go into academia and make an impact with my love for the written word.

I have a Master's degree in Humanities from NYU, but I was toying with the idea of going back to graduate school for a second master's degree, one in English. A lot of people have told me it will be overkill and that it's not a good idea, but then some other people tell me it will benefit me in the long run. I did have a wonderful experience at NYU, and I'd love to go back for their English Department, but I'm not sure if I should pursue another master's degree.

I did get into a PhD program at Temple University, which is a wonderful school, but they didn't give me funding. This is giving me some hope that perhaps I can get into a PhD program with my current master's. Overall, I would love to hear some advice. Thank you in advance. Stay safe, everyone! I've been using this time to catch up on my reading! :P 

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If you are set on getting the PhD, then I agree that a second MA might not be very helpful (especially if you'd have to pay for it). Perhaps taking the time to speak to your professors/advisors/other graduate students and focus on preparing the strongest PhD applications you can manage would suit you better. If you don't mind my asking, what is pulling you toward a second MA, specifically, if you already know you want to go on to a PhD? 

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11 hours ago, onerepublic96 said:

If you are set on getting the PhD, then I agree that a second MA might not be very helpful (especially if you'd have to pay for it). Perhaps taking the time to speak to your professors/advisors/other graduate students and focus on preparing the strongest PhD applications you can manage would suit you better. If you don't mind my asking, what is pulling you toward a second MA, specifically, if you already know you want to go on to a PhD? 

Thank you so much for your response! It's truly so expensive. NYU already cost me an arm and a leg, so if I do go for a second master's, it would need to be funded.

I guess I was just scaring myself. I took so many classes in graduate school that were irrelevant to what I want to study at the PhD level. For instance, at NYU, I did their Draper Program, where I took classes in women's studies, philosophy, and creative writing. I only took two classes in American Modernism, which is what I want to study. Those were the professors that wrote me the letter of recommendation for the PhD program. I just feel like I should have taken more literature classes. Perhaps it's just me scaring myself, but after giving it a lot of thought, I'm not sure if the second MA is a good idea. :(

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I think it is possible to get into a funded PhD program with your current MA in Humanities. A number of my PhD colleagues have MAs in Cultural Studies*, rather than in English. One factor that may make a difference is to what extent prospective programs can see the relevance of your MA; focus on demonstrating in your personal statement exactly how your degree has prepared you for the degree you want. You may also want to consider PhD programs with a stated interest in interdisciplinary work, as these programs would likely see your diverse coursework as a strength. 

*Their MAs are from a program in the same city as our current PhD program, and the faculty at our uni is well aware of the rigor and relevance of this particular cultural studies program. I would imagine many programs recognize the rigor of an NYU degree, too, but your mileage may vary. 

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On 6/27/2020 at 12:55 PM, LittleShakespeare90 said:

Thank you so much for your response! It's truly so expensive. NYU already cost me an arm and a leg, so if I do go for a second master's, it would need to be funded.

I guess I was just scaring myself. I took so many classes in graduate school that were irrelevant to what I want to study at the PhD level. For instance, at NYU, I did their Draper Program, where I took classes in women's studies, philosophy, and creative writing. I only took two classes in American Modernism, which is what I want to study. Those were the professors that wrote me the letter of recommendation for the PhD program. I just feel like I should have taken more literature classes. Perhaps it's just me scaring myself, but after giving it a lot of thought, I'm not sure if the second MA is a good idea. :(

I second the fact that it might help you, given your background, to stress interdisciplinarity in your applications. It's awesome you love American modernism (that's my field, too!) but you don't necessarily need to be fully immersed in all the intricacies of the field at this stage. The experience you've likely gained from your women's studies, philosophy, and creative writing classes have probably also fed into your interest in modernism. It's a good idea to think about what attracts you in that field, what would you like to learn more about, and then try to address how your studies in these other humanities fields may have prepared you to conduct the kind of study you're eager to do in modernism. 

I can relate to where you are right now; 3 of my 4 undergrad years were devoted to a wildly different field (and it wasn't even in the humanities) so when it finally hit me that this is what I truly wanted to do, I felt at a loss because I had taken some English classes and kind of knew what I was interested in. At that time, I was applying to MA programs, and the best piece of advice I received over and over was not to shy away from the work I had done in my other field, but to embrace it and articulate how those experiences got me to where I was, and how they could make my scholarly insight fresh, unique, or interesting. 

The bottom line is, no one on this forum will be able to tell you definitively whether you should or shouldn't pursue a second MA; that decision is entirely up to you. However, you should not feel like you'd be seriously lacking from a formal point of view if you chose to forego that option. There are plenty of ways to make yourself into a strong PhD applicant given the academic history you do have. 🙂 

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