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Going back to graduate school after a terrible mistake...


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Hello, everyone.

Back in 2012, I graduated with a BA in English. I then went on to pursue a Master of Arts degree, but it wasn't in English. It was in interdisciplinary humanities. I had this wonderful opportunity to study English literature at Rutgers Newark (New Jersey), but instead, I went to NYU. Looking back, I realize that I went there for the wrong reasons. I just wanted the name. I took several classes that were irrelevant to my field of study. I also did not develop close relationships with the professors. I was a commuter and it was just easy to chunk together the classes that fit my schedule, not the ones that were relevant to my course of study. 

I even wrote a terrible master's thesis. Looking back, I feel that it was just rubbish. I didn't have an advisor, nor do I even know how it was accepted, but I was lucky enough to graduate with a Master of Arts degree from NYU's Draper Program in 2014. 

Ever since my graduation, I've been struggling to get into a PhD program. My ultimate goal is to get into a funded PhD program to study literature. However, I'm having a tough time, especially with this competitive job market, as well as my weak application. Perhaps my recommendation letters weren't strong enough.

I just feel like NYU was a waste of money. I'm an optimist, so I will always look to the bright side; I did learn a lot about myself while I was there, and I did take away a lot from the classes I took. Still, I keep thinking that I should go back for a second master's degree. There are so many books I haven't read, so many theories and criticisms that I never learned. I would like a second chance at graduate school.

For the past five years, I've been working as a high school English teacher. I love my job wholeheartedly, but someday, I still would like to go for a PhD. I want to go back for a second master's, but I guess I'm having trouble deciding. Can you help me out? 

 

1. Would it be wrong to go to a small state school for my MA after graduating from the giant NYU? I was thinking of going to Rutgers Camden. They have a 1-2 year MA program for English teachers. Also, Seton Hall University has an amazing curriculum. Will a small university name hurt my chances of getting into a PhD program later on? 

2. Is it overkill to go for a second master's? 

3. I want to keep my teaching job while I study. Would it be possible to work on my MA while working full time? 

 

Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thank you. 

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In my opinion, it wouldn't be wrong at all to go to a small state school for your MA! There are plenty of people who are able to get into PhD programs (fully funded ones, at that) after doing this same thing, and I think in your particular case, it would help you out in a lot of ways. You didn't seem to have a strong connection with NYU. You could build these connections during your second MA, and end up not only getting better letters of recommendation, but also strengthen your research interests and therefore, your application. Many people do apply for a second master's. If you desire it and truly feel you would get value out of it (are you pursuing because you're interested, or just for money? I don't think you'd be pursuing it solely for money from what you've explained) then it is not overkill. As for working on your MA while working full time, I think this would be possible if you did the MA program part time. I've worked about 15 hours extra a week while getting my master's full time, and it is HARD. This is coming from someone who worked full time and attended undergrad full time at the same time. I just don't think schedules would align enough for you to be able to do both full time simultaneously. 

These are all just my personal opinions. I think if you're truly interested in programs like this, you should pursue them. However, I would take some time to reach out to the program. See if there are any part time options and if you'd be interested in those, or what student schedules tend to look like there. For instance, do they offer night classes? If so, it could possibly work. You can also perhaps ask to be put in touch with a current student, or see if there are any people working extra jobs and ask specifically to be put in touch with those students to see what their typical schedule looks like. 

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14 hours ago, cassidyaxx said:

In my opinion, it wouldn't be wrong at all to go to a small state school for your MA! There are plenty of people who are able to get into PhD programs (fully funded ones, at that) after doing this same thing, and I think in your particular case, it would help you out in a lot of ways. You didn't seem to have a strong connection with NYU. You could build these connections during your second MA, and end up not only getting better letters of recommendation, but also strengthen your research interests and therefore, your application. Many people do apply for a second master's. If you desire it and truly feel you would get value out of it (are you pursuing because you're interested, or just for money? I don't think you'd be pursuing it solely for money from what you've explained) then it is not overkill. As for working on your MA while working full time, I think this would be possible if you did the MA program part time. I've worked about 15 hours extra a week while getting my master's full time, and it is HARD. This is coming from someone who worked full time and attended undergrad full time at the same time. I just don't think schedules would align enough for you to be able to do both full time simultaneously. 

These are all just my personal opinions. I think if you're truly interested in programs like this, you should pursue them. However, I would take some time to reach out to the program. See if there are any part time options and if you'd be interested in those, or what student schedules tend to look like there. For instance, do they offer night classes? If so, it could possibly work. You can also perhaps ask to be put in touch with a current student, or see if there are any people working extra jobs and ask specifically to be put in touch with those students to see what their typical schedule looks like. 

Thank you so much for your help. I think you're so right. I didn't establish good connections at NYU; I truly went there for the wrong reasons, thinking that the name alone would suffice. It just wasn't the right fit for me. 

I would love to do this master's program at Rutgers. It's a 1-year program for working English teachers. It will help me learn more content, but maybe it can also solidify my research interests and get me better letters. I will definitely think it over.

Thank you so much for all your help! :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

If your ultimate goal is to move on to a PhD program, I would be a little wary of an MA program that is geared towards working English teachers.  They have a value, but that value is generally pedagogical (i.e.: the work is more about teaching the material and hitting certification requirements than it is about engaging with those texts as a scholar, which is what PhD programs will be looking for in your application).  I'm also generally wary of terminal MA programs at schools that also grant the PhD. Too many of them use the former as a source of revenue for the latter.

Another possibility you might look in to: Does your current school system offer a long-term leave option for graduate study?  When I first looked into grad school, I was in a somewhat similar situation as yourself.  I was a high school teacher (four years) and my undergrad history was a bit spotty and hadn't really prepared me for scholarly work.  Rather than resign my HS position outright or try to teach WHILE doing graduate level work (knowing the hours that go into HS teaching, I would never encourage anyone to do both), I took a two year long term leave of absence to complete a 2-year MA program.  Those two years made a huge difference.  I was able to learn how to write and function as a scholar, I got several possible writing samples from the seminar papers, and I was able to secure solid letters of recommendation because I was present in the program and could make those connections with the faculty.  I did end up getting into a PhD program afterwards, at which point I did resign from my HS teaching job, but if I hadn't secured an acceptance (and it went down to the wire--I was captain anxiety on here during my PhD application cycle, haha), I would have had the stability of a full time job waiting for me.

 

Look into things like that and other resources offered by your school system, and regardless of what you end up doing, give that thing 100% of your time and be present for it.  The last thing you want is to be in the same position a year from now, lamenting that you were so busy teaching that you weren't able to connect with the Rutgers professors, and your papers weren't where you want them to be due to lack of time.  

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That is some wonderful advice from @Tybalt

I would like to echo the idea of a 2-year MA program, for all the reasons already mentioned, and also because—as someone who completed a 1-year MA program (albeit in the UK rather than the US, which is a bit different)—I really don't think that two(?) semesters will be enough for you to build up the content knowledge and critical apparatus necessary to be competitive on the PhD application scene. My program ran for 12 months straight, and even though it was quite intense and I produced an MA dissertation at the end of it, in retrospect, certain parts of my portfolio were weaker than I would have liked them to be. I spent the year after my MA fully immersed in independent study, which did a significant amount of the work of preparing me for my PhD. Will your 1-year program culminate in a dissertation/thesis? Will you have an advisor for this work? Because this is often very helpful for creating a writing sample necessary for PhD applications. What is your timeframe for doing this MA? In the current pandemic conditions, I imagine having Zoom-only interactions with faculty will not be conducive to forming the kinds of relationships that lead to strong recommendation letters. You have a lot of factors to consider, but I would urge that if a traditional funded PhD acceptance is what you're after, your emphasis with this potential MA should not be on having the diploma and the transcript to 'tick' a box; it should be on finding a program that will do the most for developing your scholarship. With that in mind, I think a 2-year residential program is likely the best way to go. 

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