Jump to content

chances for Ph.D. programs with a blemished M.A. record?


Recommended Posts

Hi all,

I'm currently a first-year MA student in Islamic Studies, and will be applying next year to Ph.D. work to several top programs -- Chicago and Yale in Political Science, Duke, Princeton and Harvard in Near Eastern Studies/Religion, and Michigan in History/Anthropology. I've got a strong undergraduate record (4.0 GPA and multiple majors), decent GRE scores (660V, 730Q, 6 writing), and a pretty strong publishing record this early in the game -- several articles, several conference papers, and I'm working on my first book as we speak. The thing is, in my first year as an MA student this past year, I took a bit of a ding, getting two A minuses (on account of taking on waaay too much this year).

I know graduate GPA is expected to be higher than undergrad, so I'm wondering, is an A minus here as an MA student a deal-breaker for top Ph.D. programs? I imagine it varies across the spectrum of programs, so if anyone can comment intelligently about any of these programs all the better -- especially Michigan, as I don't specifically have an anthro background, so that one is going to be a little trickier. Will a less-than-perfect (but still strong) MA record stand in the way of admission to these top programs?

If this does stand to pose a problem, might it be worth retaking the GRE? My scores were above 90th percentile across all registers, but I know the verbal can stand to be improved. Might that be necessary in this case?

I practically had a panic attack after getting my *second* A-minus (I was borderline by half of a point, and my prof refused to budge). I just took on waaay too much this year, otherwise I don't think this would have happened. I'd really appreciate any feedback anyone can provide, as it'd go a long way to alleviate my angst. Thanks!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know about the other schools, however a lot of Near Eastern departments focus on Islamic studies from an ancient perspective - most of the ones I've looked into the most recent time period is Medieval. If you want to go that route - why not look into Chicago's NELC program and the OI? Also, Michigan might be difficult to get into without an anthropology background, as it's one of the top PhD programs for anthropology, so that's more of an issue concerning your application than your GPA.

Your credentials sound fine to me, if you are concerned about your GPA perhaps consider taking less classes? Over-exerting yourself won't necessarily win you any favors from admissions committees, however I don't think that two A-'s are going to totally negate you from top programs. I'd focus more on developing an interesting research project and finding a way to show the departments you want to apply for that you're a good fit. I would try posting on the Interdisciplinary forum about Islamic Studies to get better feedback than on the general forum, or even on political science under the social sciences forum. I don't think you need to retake the GRE because the social sciences and liberal arts don't have the same stringent standards that say engineering or computer science does.

At this point, I'd focus on what you can do about your application rather than worrying too much about a couple less than stellar grades. Make sure you have strong letters of recommendation, and work on a strong statement of purpose - try finding a professor at your current school who serves on the admissions committee to read it and tear it to shreds a few times.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the feedback! Agreed, I'm totally done over-exerting myself, as this year taught me. No one at school bothered to mention that taking 14 graduate credits in a single semester (when the standard is 9), alongside this book project, is suicide. I'll be done with my book at the end of the summer, and in my second year I can focus and take the standard course load, shoot to write a solid MA thesis, and all will be well. Still, I can't undo these two A minuses.

With Chicago, I'm reticent to do NELC because it's very pre-modern. I'm more interested in the modern period, hence my interests being more in the social sciences. I just want a grounding in pre-modern thought, but I certainly don't want to write my dissertation on that period. With Michigan, I'm not applying to anthro, but to the joint history/anthro program, and since my work in my current MA is almost entirely pre-modern history, I'll have that end covered. As for the anthro end, one of my undergrad majors was sociology (I wrote my honors thesis in sociology), think that might stand to cover me better?

Yep, I'm working on statements as we speak, and I know I will have very solid recommendation letters. My key faculty all know how much I've taken on this year, and are outright amazed that I'm writing my book in the same year I'm undertaking MA work. So, my thought is that if they mention as much in their letters, perhaps it will mitigate the record a bit? Or is that wishful thinking?

I'll post up on the interdisciplinary forum as you said. Hopefully some folks will have some ideas there. Thanks so much!

I don't know about the other schools, however a lot of Near Eastern departments focus on Islamic studies from an ancient perspective - most of the ones I've looked into the most recent time period is Medieval. If you want to go that route - why not look into Chicago's NELC program and the OI? Also, Michigan might be difficult to get into without an anthropology background, as it's one of the top PhD programs for anthropology, so that's more of an issue concerning your application than your GPA.

Your credentials sound fine to me, if you are concerned about your GPA perhaps consider taking less classes? Over-exerting yourself won't necessarily win you any favors from admissions committees, however I don't think that two A-'s are going to totally negate you from top programs. I'd focus more on developing an interesting research project and finding a way to show the departments you want to apply for that you're a good fit. I would try posting on the Interdisciplinary forum about Islamic Studies to get better feedback than on the general forum, or even on political science under the social sciences forum. I don't think you need to retake the GRE because the social sciences and liberal arts don't have the same stringent standards that say engineering or computer science does.

At this point, I'd focus on what you can do about your application rather than worrying too much about a couple less than stellar grades. Make sure you have strong letters of recommendation, and work on a strong statement of purpose - try finding a professor at your current school who serves on the admissions committee to read it and tear it to shreds a few times.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi all,

First, let me apologize for my previous set of posts -- I'm new to the forum, so I didn't quite know the proper etiquette and decorum. Judging from the negative comments I'm guessing what I last wrote came off as pompous. My apologies for that.

In any case, I'm vying mostly for programs in political theory, focusing on Islamic political thought. Chicago, Yale, and Princeton are immediately coming to mind. Also considering NELC/religious studies programs at Duke and Harvard. I've got a strong undergrad background, but this year in my MA program I got dinged with two A minuses. I keep getting told that your GPA as an MA student is a lot more important than your undergrad, so I'm worrying that this can stand to compromise my candidacy. So I'm wondering, is this really something to lose sleep over? I suppose I have some other stuff to compensate for it (decent GRE, some conference presentations, etc.), but if programs expect a flawless MA record, then I'm in trouble. Any ideas or feedback would be really appreciated. Thanks so much.

Link to post
Share on other sites

By the time you get to the PhD level, grades are not the most important thing anymore, not by a long shot. Actually, it can be frowned upon, for reasons such as your "panic attack" after getting an A-. The programs generally don't give a crap about your grades as long as you don't get put on academic probation. They want you to be focused on research, and if you are the type of student who is freaking out about an A-, then you may wind up taking time away from your research to strive for A's, and honestly, programs do NOT want that. Probably the type of lesson your prof who wouldn't budge on the half a point from a A was trying to give you.

I think the grade-obsession is a very immature approach to grade school.You say your grades dropped this year because you took too much on, but do you expect less from grad school? If you are looking for a funded PhD, not only will you have the full load of classes, but you will probably be TA-ing and doing research too. The average work week in grad school is 6 days a week, and anywhere from 50-70 hours depending on the advisor.

And as you can tell from the reputation value this post has given you (in case you don't know what it is, the red number at the bottom right hand corner of your post), I think you REALLY need an adjustment in your priorities. This post came off as a narcissist who is being insecure and seeking validation from everyone that you are still wonderful. I am sure you are a great student and you didn't mean it that way, but still, that is how you are coming off to your peers, and could in the future to professors and other grad students. You need to build networking and relationships in your field, and honestly no one is going to want to listen to stuff like this.

So pretty much the overall message of my post is chill out! Get over the grade-obsession, because it's not going to get you anywhere in life. Re-taking the GRE's is not going to help you any more if you are already in 90th percentiles, A-'s are not going to kill you. The best thing you can do for yourself is chill out, and focus more on research in your MA, get more publications, and really make sure your recommendations and SOP are awesome. I am sure you will get in, just think you need to see the big picture more instead of obsessing on a 4.0.

To put it in perspective, in my undergrad I had a 3.65 GPA, 75-80th percentile GRE's, and I got into and am attending the #9 ranked program in my field, and an Ivy. What got me in was my 3+ years of academic and industrial experience, and stellar recommendations. So RELAX!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I read your previous post--it honestly sounds like you don't have much to worry about, as A-'s aren't the end of the world, and your B.A record looks to be near flawless, and your GRE scores are good. Just focus on your language preparation (languages, above all else, are critical for area studies programs) and completing your MA for now--you seem smart enough to do well in your M.A program if you just take it easy and try not to overload yourself. While I'm not NELC (I'm a South Asianist), I can assure you that most programs don't look for flat out perfection by the numbers, but good research fits. So make sure your desired programs fit what you want to research. Other than that, I'm not sure what to tell you--your stats are a lot better than mine, so I can't really tell you there's much to improve there.

Link to post
Share on other sites

From my perspective, no sociology will not help you with anthropology, they have diverged a great deal in the past 50 years and approach the analysis of human societies with very different perspectives. I looked at University of Michigan's history/anth PhD, and it might be an ok fit for you - I would start contacting faculty members and maybe other graduate students there to get a better idea. You don't want to end up wasting the application fee if you are not a good fit for the department from the get-go.

My best advice echoes so47's - relax, and maybe think outside the box. Some of the best advice I have heard about the graduate school process is that at the end of the day, yes the PhD from a top program is amazing, however it's the gunner, not the gun. You can do great things elsewhere - graduate school is a huge commitment and it might behoove you more to find a department with faculty members that fit your research interests well rather than focusing on the program that is the most prestigious - especially for the social sciences.

As far as your letter writers are concerned, I would probably not advise to have them mention that you over-exerted yourself to explain your A-'s, as so47 said that shows immaturity, rather have them focus on what makes you the best possible candidate for PhD programs. Those letters should be singing your praises, not highlighting your pitfalls. However, unless there is some circumstance that forced you to overload your schedule (ie certain classes only offered once in a blue moon all happened to be offered this one term) maybe that is something they should mention, otherwise I would just want them to focus on the positives.

It is also beneficial to start contacting faculty members at the universities you wish to attend, figuring out who you would like to be your adviser, and getting your name and face known around those departments. Although certainly not a guarantee, I feel as though personal connection to the department ahead of time means your application is more likely to get a second or third look.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I can damn near guarantee you that your grades aren't going to cause any problems. I got accepted into area studies MA programs at Stanford and Harvard with a 3.7 undergrad GPA (but 4.0 in both of my majors). The most important things in my field, which isn't too far from yours, are languages and actual experience. I had both studied abroad and spent time traveling in the country of my program during my undergrad years, and had spent not only every semester of college taking language classes, but also spent two summers taking advanced, immersion workshops at other US universities. In my field, both Harvard and Stanford said that at the very minimum, 3 years of course work in the target language were necessary just to be considered. Bottom line -- quit worrying about your grades and start concentrating on your language preparation and specific research interests.

Link to post
Share on other sites

All, many thanks for your feedback. And yes, I certainly did come off as prick-ish in my original post. The freakout session was borne of the story I've been spoonfed for the past several years: that you're allowed to screw up periodically as an undergrad, but not as a grad student. In retrospect, this is a pretty stupid way of proceeding. And the negative feedback the post garnered made it perfectly clear that I'm approaching the process the wrong way. So, terribly sorry for coming off like a crybaby :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

Yeah, you don't need to worry, but I would like to ask about my situation, since grades are a big deal. Undergrad GPA is 3.05 (and 3.16 in History), but MA GPA is 3.73. I am retaking the GRE, and have a writing sample that shows that I can use the foreign languages in my field (Arabic and Turkish). Should I bother applying to top programs? I am looking at Berkeley in particular, but also UCLA, UCSD, Stanford, and NYU. I know it's a long shot, but hopefully my GRE will be high enough when I retake it. Thoughts? Thanks!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.