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Torontonian131

Looking for a good Grad School for Political History

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Hey all,

I'm applying to graduate schools this fall and was wondering if I could get some advice on where to look. My main focus right now is applying to Cambridge for their MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History. I'm Canadian and my GPA for history should be around 84-85% or higher once I graduate. I'm currently doing the second of two additional semesters in my BA in order to complete two research seminars for my joint honours degree which I recently switched into (I was an English major and history minor for most of my degree, now it's joint honours English and History). Also, I'd like to know how Canadian grades are converted to the British grading system. Cambridge requires a minimum of an upper second-class undergrad degree or its equivalent in order to be considered for this MPhil course.

I'd like very much to go to England for my master's since my interests are European history and the universities there offer many resources. My area of focus is Renaissance Political thought and specifically the history of the republic as a form of government and its development in Western political thought. Right now I'm also looking at Durham, UCL, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. In Canada, I'm looking at UofT (which would save major $$$), McMaster, McGill, Carleton, Western, and a few other places but I'm not sure where the hubs are for the study of history of political thought.

Another reason I want to go to Europe is because I heard somewhere that if you get a degree in European history from an institution outside Europe, instead of traveling the locations in person and doing research and such accordingly, you won't be taken as seriously as an academic in the field. I'm sceptical about this, but I'm not sure if whether it's untrue. Say I wanted to teach at a European university- if I got my masters and PhD at Canadian universities, would I be very appealing as a professor to a European institution?

The main obstacle for going to England are the staggering overseas fees (the 9-month course @ Cambridge will cost over $40,000 CAD minimum) so unless I'm offered considerable funding I won't likely be able to go there or to any other British universities. I've thought about going to Germany (where I spent my third year on exchange), but I'm not confident enough in my German skills and I can't find any institutions that seem to offer degrees focusing on the history of political thought.

I'm a very ambitious person, but I only started buckling down and maxing out my history grades this last year (my 4th) so I hope potential grad schools will be impressed by my learning curve (my average grades in history floated around 80-82% in previous years and averaged at 86.5% for 4th year).

Sorry if my post is a little disorganized. Anybody have any thoughts?

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Well, if you want to study Renaissance Political Thought and Intellectual History, there's no better place than Cambridge. I can definitely understand your concern about funding. But, there are a few options. You should apply for the Gates-Cambridge scholarship, which could offer you full or partial funding. There are also Rotary-type scholarships available, which might help.

If you're thinking of Oxford, then also consider the Rhodes Scholarship. It sounds daunting, but you never know until you apply, right?

In terms of grades, an upper second at Cambridge means high 60s, which sounds low, but is actually a very decent mark in that system. I don't know how it would translate in North American terms, but my guess would be that they would want to see at least 80%+ overall. If/when you apply, you should also have your referees address grades in their letters of reference (i.e., ask them to explain what 80% means or what 85% means in Canada).

Good luck with your applications! If you have any questions about history at either Oxford or Cambridge, feel free to PM me.

Edited by crater21

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Another reason I want to go to Europe is because I heard somewhere that if you get a degree in European history from an institution outside Europe, instead of traveling the locations in person and doing research and such accordingly, you won't be taken as seriously as an academic in the field. I'm sceptical about this, but I'm not sure if whether it's untrue. Say I wanted to teach at a European university- if I got my masters and PhD at Canadian universities, would I be very appealing as a professor to a European institution?

This is definitely not true. Check out the historiography in your field. Have all the main texts been written by graduates from European programs?

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Hey Torontonian, I just graduated from UofT (History and Political Science) and I will be studying for an M.Sc. @ LSE in one month. Cambridge MPhil programs expect a minimum CGPA of 3.7 from North American undergraduates (but I've been told that they focus on your last two years). So, if your GPA for your last two years is over a 3.7 then you're safeish (just write a good statement of purpose and contact your professor of interest early on if you haven't already).

The LSE expects a 3.3 CGPA from Canadian university students and 3.5 from American university students. In reality though you need higher CGPA's because the competition for some programs is tough. I hope this info helps.

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Thanks for the responses, guys.

@crater21: I'm applying for the Gates Scholarship as well the Cambridge Trust Scholarship and a few others. I'll only be able to muster about $10,000 - $15,000 CAD (6-10 thousand pounds give or take) privately, so it all depends on whether I get a really good scholarship. I doubt that'll be the case, but like you said there's no harm in trying.

The Prospectus says, under "Fees and Financial Support", that: "Applicants should ensure that they have adequate financial provisions in place not only to cover College and University fees, but also to cover the cost of any necessary travel for research purposes. Before an applicant's admission can be finally confirmed, he or she needs to prove the ability to meet University or College tuition fees and living expenses in Cambridge." Does this mean I *need* to be able to supply the 25,000 pounds privately in order to be considered for funding? It looks to me like they might really be asking: "should you be able to get the funding you require, can you prove that you'll have enough privately to cover the rest of the costs?"

@barricades: Thanks for clarifying. Judging from what I've read, a lot on political thought seems to come from Cambridge, but also from places like Princeton so it looks like I wouldn't really be prejudiced if I were to get my education on European history outside of Europe. Chances are I'd be going on trips anyway to do some on-site research.

@jogatoronto: Congrats on your degree! The competition does seem pretty tough but I have a good proposal in the works so hopefully that'll work to my benefit. I was actually about to contact some possible supervisors there but then read in the Prospectus that you shouldn't because the committee will find you a supervisor. I'll give LSE another good look.

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The fees part is probably part of them covering for the British visa, which requires you to have a certain amount of money before they will approve you for a student visa. So they don't want to accept a student, who then will be denied by the Home Office.

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So, basically, when you get accepted, they will send you a conditional offer. The offer will be conditional on two things: grades (if you're still studying) and finances. If you are a really super star student, they might give you an unconditional grade offer, but that happens less and less now. A friend of mine from Canada got into an MPhil (not the one you're going for) and his conditional offer was "final graduating average of 80%". However, keep in mind that the Political Thought MPhil is something of a flagship program, and requirements may be tougher.

In terms of finances, they will want to see proof that you have enough money on hand to pay for University fees, College fees, and living expenses.

You can send proof of having met these conditions as/when they are met. During the same time, you will be going through the Cambridge Trusts scholarship and bursary process (it's parallel, but completely separate). So, if you end up getting something from Cambridge Trusts, you can list that as part of your proof of finances.

But, essentially, they cannot issue you a Visa Sponsor Letter, until they have both of these pieces.

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The committee will find you a supervisor but I would still suggest reaching out to professors in the department. The professors you talk about learning from or studying with in your statement of purpose are often the first to review your application. It's helpful if those professors have already approved your topic informally.

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if your desire is to eventually teach in europe, a PhD from europe or the US will set you up well. a PhD from canada, in general, will not. there are canadian PhD programs that are strong enough to get you placed at any level of school in any country (such as medieval history from U of T), but these are the exceptions. in general, getting your PhD from a canadian school that doesn't happen to have a renowned reputation in a certain subfield will almost guarantee that you'll only get hired in canada. which is fine, because i love canada and can't wait to move back, so i'm not knocking it. i'm just letting you know that if you want to teach in europe or the US, you will be much better positioned if you get a PhD in europe or the US. also, if you do want to return to canada to work, having your degree from outside of canada is also an advantage. canadian departments give preferential treatment to canadian citizens and permanent residents when they hire you, but they also like the prestige that comes with having faculty that received PhDs in the US or europe, so you automatically have a leg up on your competition.

keep in mind this is all only applicable to PhD programs. getting your masters in canada sets you up really well for admissions to the top PhD programs in canada, the US, and europe. it also saves you some money, if you have to go the terminal MA route before getting the PhD, because canadian MAs are often fully funded, either with TAing, a SSHRC, or both.

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I'll still try to get into the MPhil but it looks like applying there after for the PhD might be better since I'd have more money, a better idea of research, and a thesis to show off.

Cambridge aside, here in Canada I'm seeing a lot of grad schools posting the honours BA in History as a requirement while other degrees "may be considered eligible." Does that mean I likely can't get in with a joint-honours that includes history? I don't know if it matters or not but I met the full requirements for an English honours and I have a high average in history.

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if they want an honours BA and you have an honours BA, what's the problem exactly? they want history and you have history and english, so... you'll be fine. don't make things more complicated than they need to be.

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