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Seeking direction, advice from current grad students


bck203

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I'm a recent (this May) college grad with a BA in English, and I'm trying to decide 1) whether to apply to grad school this fall and 2) if so, to what kinds of programs I should apply. I'd be really appreciative of any advice or reading suggestions to help me with this process. I am not looking at MA or PhD programs in English, but rather something more applied, possibly Communications. I'd especially love to hear your experience/advice if you followed a similar winding path.

I apologize if this gets a bit long-winded, but here's my background: BA in English (3.96 gpa, Phi Beta Kappa) from a top-20 university. I also got a teaching certificate in TESOL and did a lot of coursework in linguistics and cognitive science, though I guess none of that counts much since I didn't do a second major. Proficient in Spanish, held several journalism/publications internships, leadership positions at university paper and radio station, volunteer experience as an ESL tutor and essay editing coach for a non-profit that works with underprivileged kids. Currently doing an Americorps VISTA year until July 2011 at a large university in their Service Learning office, doing work such as web redesign, blogging, creating a resource manual for faculty designing service syllabi, coordinating university partnerships. It's interesting work and I'm enjoying it, but not enough that I think I would want to continue in a university administration-related field. I've realized that I really miss doing substantial writing projects and academic research, and I really want to go back to school already, but I am lacking direction. I am studying for the GRE (and really enjoying doing so...that's how much I miss studying!) and starting to research schools. I'm looking for master's programs that fit the following criteria:

-Have actual job prospects, whether non-profit or corporate (so, not English lit programs)

-Substantial focus on writing and research, because that's what I love to do

-Good funding possibilties (I don't want to go into debt), also looking at schools that will double my Americorps education award (turn $5k into $10k)

-A broad program that will allow me to narrow down my interests (since I am still pretty undecided)

My weaknesses: I did not have a close relationship with a faculty mentor in college, nor did I do a thesis (my university didn't really encourage it and I was too shy to seek it out...darn). I'm also terrible at math and doubt that my math GRE will be too hot, even with all the studying I'm doing, but I aced the verbal SAT and SAT II, so maybe I'll do OK there (although I understand the GRE verbal is a whole different beast).

Given all that, what are your thoughts? I don't really want to face the job market again with just my BA in English after I finish my Americorps year, nor do I have clarity on what kind of grad program to apply to. I've always been indecisive and done well in a wide range of subjects from Spanish to journalism to linguistics, and I'm thinking it might be time to just pick something and see where it takes me. A lot of similarly indecisive English grads seem to go to Library Science school, but that doesn't sound like my thing..sigh. where to begin?

Thank you so much!

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Here's just a couple things to consider. First, given your indecisiveness I would not dive into a PhD. It's too big of a commitment to start without actually knowing what you want to study or whether academia is your long term goal. Given that you're focusing on masters, I'd say you're on the right track. That said, getting a variety of work experience can also be really useful for helping you figure out what you want to do, and often what you don't want to do. I imagine landing any position at a paper, journal, etc. would be really hard right now, but it might be an option to get to write, bring in a paycheck, and give you time to figure out your direction.

As for masters, I can't say I am too familiar with your area, so I won't pretend to know. Best of luck!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks! Yes, I am definitely only looking at masters' programs at this point.

I am kind of bummed that 116 people have viewed this thread but only one person replied. Does anyone else want to weigh in on jumping right in vs. waiting it out? I feel very conflicted because many people have told me to wait and work until I have more clarity, while others have said that more education always leads to good places and I should just pick a program that will allow me to explore options. I'd love to hear from someone with a similar background. Maybe most people on this forum are hardcore PhD students and that's why no one can relate to my indecision...?

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Thanks! Yes, I am definitely only looking at masters' programs at this point.

I am kind of bummed that 116 people have viewed this thread but only one person replied. Does anyone else want to weigh in on jumping right in vs. waiting it out? I feel very conflicted because many people have told me to wait and work until I have more clarity, while others have said that more education always leads to good places and I should just pick a program that will allow me to explore options. I'd love to hear from someone with a similar background. Maybe most people on this forum are hardcore PhD students and that's why no one can relate to my indecision...?

Here's the first thing about graduate school you need to know- don't take everything personally. It's only you who makes a big deal of anything you care about. People will give advice if they feel qualified to do so. It's hard but it'll take time to develop a thick skin.

I really discourage anyone from applying to graduate school just because they are too frustrated with the job market and want to use it to escape the reality of the job market out there. Graduate school is truly different from undergraduate. You really are expected to study that specialized subject intensively and think at higher level. It's all extremely self-motivated, which is difficult for most students. Graduate students have very little life, even with excellent time management, outside of coursework/thesis/research. When you have a job, you're out at 5 and don't have to think about your work again until 9 AM the next morning.

Your job experience will go much longer way than a MA at this point. I just graduated with my MA (went straight after undergrad) and most employers cited lack of job experience on my resume as the primary reason for not offering me the job. While I don't regret having gone onto grad school right after undergrad, I do wish I had actually worked for a while to give deeper thought to what I want to do with my PhD. Also, remember there are a lot of people out there with MAs as well who were laid off and have all the experience- that's my trouble in my field.

The MA will only be a good way to get your feet wet and see what graduate school is about if you're thinking of the PhD. But be sure it's worth going into debt.

Edited by ticklemepink
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