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"Elite" masters vs. lower-ranked PhD


SummoningSquare
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I have a background in humanities graduate study. In most humanities fields, the prestige of your school matters a great deal -- a Philosophy or English or History PhD at a regional or low-ranked school is a not a guarantee of joblessness, but it certainly makes the job market orders of magnitude more difficult.

Does anyone have a sense of the extent to which program prestige matters in education fields? I've been accepted to two higher-ranked Master's programs in one field (Ed Policy at Vanderbilt and Penn), but also have been receiving a lot of interest from a Learning Sciences PhD program at a lower-ranked school (Pittsburgh).

I want to end up in a research-based career (e.g. a think tank or a university-based research center). My sense is that the opportunity for more significant research experience through a PhD program, even if not at an "elite" school, is of more value than any Master's program. I'm also very enthusiastic about the specific research projects my PI at Pitt has, and was very impressed with my Pitt interviewers. But my instincts are still formed by all that time I spent in the humanities, when a PhD offer from a lower-ranked school was considered a bad career move.

Obviously I don't want to let US News and World Report make my decision for me. But I am not sure how much weight I should give program prestige in my decision here. Does anyone have a sense of how much this sort of thing matters in the ed policy/research world?

(Edited because I accidentally posted halfway through writing; good thing internet forum proficiency is not part of grad school applications.)

Edited by SummoningSquare
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  • SummoningSquare changed the title to "Elite" masters vs. lower-ranked PhD

I am not currently applying to PhDs, however I might end up in a similar boat as well-- I have received an acceptance from a lesser known program that is an excellent fit for my research interests, but may get admitted to far more prestigious schools. 

My first question is, if you took the Master's, would you pursue a PhD later on down the line? If you would find any value in the Master's aside from adding it to your resume, that might be a better option. Plus, it could launch you into an even more prestigious PhD. You just have to justify the financial blow that a Master's will deal you.

Also, have you applied to PhD programs anywhere else? If so, did you receive any feedback on your application that might help you decide if it's worth a Master's as a boost?

(Mind you, Ed Policy is not my field, but these are the thoughts that sprung to mind)

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3 hours ago, chai time said:

I am not currently applying to PhDs, however I might end up in a similar boat as well-- I have received an acceptance from a lesser known program that is an excellent fit for my research interests, but may get admitted to far more prestigious schools. 

My first question is, if you took the Master's, would you pursue a PhD later on down the line? If you would find any value in the Master's aside from adding it to your resume, that might be a better option. Plus, it could launch you into an even more prestigious PhD. You just have to justify the financial blow that a Master's will deal you.

Also, have you applied to PhD programs anywhere else? If so, did you receive any feedback on your application that might help you decide if it's worth a Master's as a boost?

(Mind you, Ed Policy is not my field, but these are the thoughts that sprung to mind)

Thanks for the feedback 🙂

If I took the Master's, I would still want to end up in a research-based career. It seems that that's possible with an MPP, but it seems the best-paying and most exciting opportunities expect a PhD.

I've received feedback from professors at three LS/ed psych programs that I am a promising applicant (promising enough to interview, at least) but that my lack of research experience and lack of stats/quant courses are significant issues. So I have reason to believe that going the Master's route first (particularly the Peabody MPP, with its 9+ credits of stats and and the possibility of a research practicum) would make me a much more competitive candidate later on. The only problem there is that I'm an old person I've spent years in the field already and so would be looking at finishing up a post-Master's PhD when I'm 40ish. I guess there's nothing wrong with being an elder statesman.

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1 minute ago, SummoningSquare said:

Thanks for the feedback 🙂

If I took the Master's, I would still want to end up in a research-based career. It seems that that's possible with an MPP, but it seems the best-paying and most exciting opportunities expect a PhD.

I've received feedback from professors at three LS/ed psych programs that I am a promising applicant (promising enough to interview, at least) but that my lack of research experience and lack of stats/quant courses are significant issues. So I have reason to believe that going the Master's route first (particularly the Peabody MPP, with its 9+ credits of stats and and the possibility of a research practicum) would make me a much more competitive candidate later on. The only problem there is that I'm an old person I've spent years in the field already and so would be looking at finishing up a post-Master's PhD when I'm 40ish. I guess there's nothing wrong with being an elder statesman.

That's certainly a challenge! It sounds like taking the time for a Master's would be a good investment, and with combined with your experience in the field I'm sure they'd make you a fierce competitor for PhD programs. But time is far more valuable than dollars, and if finishing your PhD earlier is essential than it is a tough decision.

From my limited experience, it's worth it to hold out for the thing you want. Maybe consider which one would leave you wondering, what if? 

Either way I wish you the best of luck, and I hope someone with more insight can offer more pertinent advice.

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12 hours ago, SummoningSquare said:

Thanks for the feedback 🙂

If I took the Master's, I would still want to end up in a research-based career. It seems that that's possible with an MPP, but it seems the best-paying and most exciting opportunities expect a PhD.

I've received feedback from professors at three LS/ed psych programs that I am a promising applicant (promising enough to interview, at least) but that my lack of research experience and lack of stats/quant courses are significant issues. So I have reason to believe that going the Master's route first (particularly the Peabody MPP, with its 9+ credits of stats and and the possibility of a research practicum) would make me a much more competitive candidate later on. The only problem there is that I'm an old person I've spent years in the field already and so would be looking at finishing up a post-Master's PhD when I'm 40ish. I guess there's nothing wrong with being an elder statesman.

Particularly with a lack of research and quant experience, a masters which gives you that experience would definitely make you a stronger candidate for PhD programs. I was in a similar situation; I already had an MEd (more practitioner-based, not much research) and was considering doing a second masters before applying for PhD programs. For age reasons as well, I went directly for the PhD route; the limited feedback I received from places I was not accepted suggested that a stronger research-based background would have been beneficial. Obviously every program has different criteria for acceptance; I did get multiple acceptances and am in a 'top 15' (whatever that means) policy PhD program now. Especially if you can do something like the Peabody MPP, it would greatly enhance your PhD prospects. And as someone who is also on track to finish a PhD at 40, don't worry, being mid/late-30s isn't really unusual; I think the average age in my program is around 30, with more senior outliers than younger as well.

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On 2/5/2021 at 4:25 PM, SummoningSquare said:

I have a background in humanities graduate study. In most humanities fields, the prestige of your school matters a great deal -- a Philosophy or English or History PhD at a regional or low-ranked school is a not a guarantee of joblessness, but it certainly makes the job market orders of magnitude more difficult.

Does anyone have a sense of the extent to which program prestige matters in education fields? I've been accepted to two higher-ranked Master's programs in one field (Ed Policy at Vanderbilt and Penn), but also have been receiving a lot of interest from a Learning Sciences PhD program at a lower-ranked school (Pittsburgh).

I want to end up in a research-based career (e.g. a think tank or a university-based research center). My sense is that the opportunity for more significant research experience through a PhD program, even if not at an "elite" school, is of more value than any Master's program. I'm also very enthusiastic about the specific research projects my PI at Pitt has, and was very impressed with my Pitt interviewers. But my instincts are still formed by all that time I spent in the humanities, when a PhD offer from a lower-ranked school was considered a bad career move.

Obviously I don't want to let US News and World Report make my decision for me. But I am not sure how much weight I should give program prestige in my decision here. Does anyone have a sense of how much this sort of thing matters in the ed policy/research world?

(Edited because I accidentally posted halfway through writing; good thing internet forum proficiency is not part of grad school applications.)

Hello, have you received an acceptance from Pitt? I thought that the School of Education's decisions are not ready yet :(

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57 minutes ago, PenelopeWaiting43 said:

Hello, have you received an acceptance from Pitt? I thought that the School of Education's decisions are not ready yet :(

Sorry for the alarm, Penelope -- I haven't received an official acceptance yet, just favorable interviews. All I know about the timeline is that the word "weeks" was used toward the end of last month.

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2 hours ago, SummoningSquare said:

Sorry for the alarm, Penelope -- I haven't received an official acceptance yet, just favorable interviews. All I know about the timeline is that the word "weeks" was used toward the end of last month.

Ahahah, thanks! Then, we are in a similar boat :D By the way, Pitt is a great choice for me. Good luck with your decision ;)

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2 minutes ago, PenelopeWaiting43 said:

Ahahah, thanks! Then, we are in a similar boat :D By the way, Pitt is a great choice for me. Good luck with your decision ;)

Best of luck to you as well! Did you apply for LSAP or another program within the School of Education?

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5 minutes ago, SummoningSquare said:

Best of luck to you as well! Did you apply for LSAP or another program within the School of Education?

I applied to LLC and I had a promissory interview and contact with my POI in January. They said that results will come "relatively soon", so... I am here, waiting for 🤷‍♀️

Edited by PenelopeWaiting43
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1 hour ago, exitiumax said:

My 2 cents is that it matter *less* in education. FWIW, Pitt is a great program and a great city (Go Panthers). If you're offered full funding, I'd absolutely take that offer.

 

 

I would agree. From what I've heard, the most important thing is conducting research that ends up being published in prestigious journals - the school where you do that research doesn't really matter very much. I'd pick a lower ranked school with a professor who is in line with my research experience any day. Once you graduate, those published articles will matter a lot more than the school name.

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On 2/10/2021 at 11:00 AM, PenelopeWaiting43 said:

I applied to LLC and I had a promissory interview and contact with my POI in January. They said that results will come "relatively soon", so... I am here, waiting for 🤷‍♀️

Hi, I notice that there is a LLC acceptance, is that you? I applied for LSAP, has anyone received acceptance in LSAP? Thank you for sharing! 

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