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Turning down PhD offer for... MA??


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I applied to a mixture of PhD and MA programs and received admission into several MA programs and one decently-ranked PhD program. The school offering me the PhD is, unfortunately, my last choice. I'm not crazy about the program, not crazy about its ranking, and definitely not crazy about the location. But they are offering me an amazing funding package and have already gone above and beyond to show their interest in me. Would I be a complete and utter fool to turn down this offer for one of my (funded!) MA programs? I understand this means that in two years time I'll be going through this whole process again, but I feel much stronger about the MA school than I do about the PhD school... Advice or thoughts? :wacko:

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If you're coming from UG straight into the PhD program, you could be making a commitment of five, six, seven years. If you really don't think you'll be happy there, then the MA program might be the best fit for you right now. You also have the option of taking a little break after your master's degree. You could work for a year or two, even teach part-time somewhere, and then start the PhD application process.

Ultimately, I think, you need to go with the program that can provide you the greatest mental health; that is, a program where you feel at home, you feel welcomed, you feel challenged, and you are able to do the work you want to be doing. Otherwise you're setting yourself up for failure on some level. You can't do your best work if you're always stressed out because you hate your program or your city or your classmates, etc.

Good luck.

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One other thought - You can talk to your POI at the MA program and say that you plan to eventually apply to PhD programs, and ask him/her what kind of success their students tend to have with transitioning on to PhD-level study. You might also ask if there are any specific courses or workshops, etc., you can participate in as a MA student that would be particularly helpful when it comes time to apply.

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Turning down a PhD in favor of a Master's IS potentially crazy. But at this point, only potentially.

The fact that the Master's is funded makes it less crazy. At least since it's funded, you're not taking on unnecessary debt (I'm guessing). And sometimes a Master's can be a great thing to do, depending on the situation and the field.

That said ... just because you do a Master's is no guarantee of getting into a PhD program in a few years. If they're really trying to recruit you, it may be worth at least a rethink. In the end though, it's really about more than just the program. It's about you and your ability to deal with the program. And if you're not happy with the program/area, it may be harder to do well and work the program to your advantage.

So, maybe crazy, but it's about picking something you can live with and be happy about for however many years you're there. Definitely worth giving the PhD program another look, but ultimately you've got to pick what's most likely to bring you success.

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Obviously it would be impossible to say 'yes, get the MA and then you'll DEFINITELY get into a PhD program!' That said, though, it sure seems like you want to do the (funded!) MA. Worst case scenario, you spent time doing something you love, didn't go into debt for it, and have an advanced degree - though not a PhD. More likely, it seems, is that you get a lot out of a program that really excites you, you produce good work, and you have a stronger application for PhD programs in a year or two than you have now.

If it was unfunded, it would be crazy. But since it really sounds like you're leaning towards the MA anyway, and the PhD program really seems to not mesh with what you wanted, then I say go for the MA.

But, I'm just a random person on an online forum! This decision is a big one, and ultimately the only person that needs to be comfortable with it is you.

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Thanks for the replies, everyone! I understand that receiving my MA will in no way guarantee acceptance into a PhD program a few years down the line, but as you all pointed out, I probably won't produce my best work in an environment in which I'm unhappy. And yeah, the fact that this MA is fully funded makes me feel more confident about the situation. I just wanted to hear others' perspectives. Thanks again :)

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I echo everyone else's comments - you could definitely turn down the funded Ph.D. program, but in two years' time, you aren't guaranteed a Ph.D. acceptance (perhaps unlikely since you will presumably be a strong candidate...but definitely not improbable.) Being somewhere that you really like, but more importantly, with people doing the research, etc that you like is super important. A plus to the M.A. could be that in 2 years, you could apply to that Ph.D. program you were accepted at and complete your studies there. (Perhaps they'll accept some of your M.A. credits!)

Good luck to you!

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I did this. I was offered a well and fully funded go (was informed I was their top applicant) at Australian National University's PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture. Thing is, I would have had to started this January (found out in Sept of 2011), would skip doing an MA, and would never know if I was going to be accepted into any of the other programs. It was a hard decision but really came down to knowing that I could always apply there again and in reality, moving to Australia from Canada is not something I can take on right now (I've got pets, my partner who also wants to be able to work and school, etc.). My supervisor at ANU would have been good, but my supervisor in Canada will also be awesome. I'm also turning down Cambridge for similar reasons to turning down ANU (location mainly, but in Canada I will have a much better fit with my supervisor than at Cambridge).

I've decided to stay in Canada because it makes the most sense practically and financially and I won't be losing out on my school fit by making the choice. MA at UofT here I come :)

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Good point! If the PhD program has an MA en route, you could always accept and then apply to other programs in a year or two when you have the MA (or are just about to get it) and if you get into a better school, then leave with the (funded) MA -- if not, then continue on at the program.

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I would definitely be careful of accepting an MA offer over a PhD offer, if the PhD is your ultimate choice. I know several people who went that route (i.e., got their MA first) and were not accepted to any (ANY!) PhD programs. I know some other people who went from a top-10 program for their MA only to get into a mid-level PhD program (one that they had been accepted to straight out of undergrad, and thus, "wasted" 2 years in the MA program).

Then again, it is potentially very beneficial. It's a gamble. You might win big, you might lose big.

If it were me, I would visit the schools. I've visited some schools, and it has put me in a much better spot in terms of understanding where I want to be for the next several years and where I can really see myself doing some good work. I think you'll have a better idea of where you are supposed to go, if you visit.

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I'm not you, and I don't know anything about your programs, but my honest opinion (and that's what you're asking for, right?) is that yes, you would be crazy to turn down a PhD offer for an MA if (and this is a bigbigbig "if") a PhD is your ultimate goal. MA's are swell for testing out the grad school waters (a smart route for people who aren't sure if grad school is for them), or for biding your time and staying in the academic loop while you build up your application after a round of rejections (totally valid and smart)....but if you've been offered a path towards your ultimate goal, why shirk it? This isn't exactly an arena in which gambling usually offers high rewards.

I know you say that you have a better "fit" at the MA school, and that several factors dissuade you from choosing the PhD program, but I caution you from basing too much on your pre-application research. Being in a program is VERY different from evaluating it from the outside, and (unfortunately) you can't possibly know where you are going to "fit" until you're there. You liked the PhD school enough to apply in the first place, and you imply that they clearly want you there (which is a big, big factor, imho), and the funding is good...I, personally, would have a REALLY hard time turning that down in favour of a path that looks shiny on the outside, but has no guarantees of getting you where you ultimately want to go. I'm a big risk-taker, and rarely shy away from following my "gut", but if I was in your situation, I think my head would win out.

I'm being quite blunt, since you were soliciting opinions, but of course this is only my personal train of thought on the subject and, like others have said, you need to do what feels right for you and what you think has the best chance of making you happy in both the short and the long term.

It's a tough choice, good luck with your decision! :)

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Without hesitation, I'd accept the offer of the Ph.D. program over the MA program.

As noted, succesful completion of a M.A. program does not mean that you'll get into a Ph.D. program. But also, upon getting into that doctoral program, you might be required to jump through the same hoops again--in terms of requirements--and you'll definitely have to start from square zero in terms of buidling relationships with your professors.

My $0.02.

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If you're not crazy about the program, I wouldn't go just because it's a PhD program. You'll be there for at least 5 years. Why waste the time just on the off chance that you'll like it more once you actually get there? Go with the MA. You clearly want to. Plus it's funded, so hopefully you won't be going into any debt. Apply to PhD programs afterward. Although it's not guaranteed that you'll get in, I'm sure that if you're smart about applying to a range of schools, and do well in the MA program, you'll be fine.

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This is tough! All previous posters make good points. Other things to consider:

- Is your field one in which having a master's might actually make it more difficult to get into a PhD program? Or, possibly, much easier? Take a look at your top choice doctoral programs now and figure out if they tend to take bachelors-onlies.

- Is your field one in which having more variety in your education would make you a better job candidate?

- Keep in mind that selective programs accept only people they think would be a great fit and would be happy there. You might need to do a lot more reevaluation of that doctoral program!

- I was recently unofficially accepted to a really great (funded!) master's program. I communicated openly with them about this very issue, and they told me to absolutely take a funded doctoral acceptance over a master's. I'm in a different field than you, though.

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The following applies to humanities (and anthro) MA's:

From everything that I've read and heard from talking with professors (at my undergrad uni and at prospective grad uni's) doing a solid research based MA is really beneficial. You get to network, work experience if you RA or TA, opportunities to publish your research, and also time to further hone your research interests and build a solid foundation for PhD work.

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Don't do the PhD. But heed the advice above, you might re-apply after your MA and find yourself going to a LOWER ranked school. How do you avoid this? Plan ahead and get the heads up on what will improve your application early, don't waste your two years there - do something substantial with your end goal in mind.

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Also consider (which I'm sure you already have) just how long you'll be in school if you do the MA first and then the PhD. Not that grad school isn't fun and hugely rewarding and blah blah blah, but you're looking at 8 more years at the lower end (!) - 8 years of scrimping and saving on tiny stipends etc.Something else that was important for me to consider when I was making my grad school apps (and now as I plan my progression through my program) is the age at which I'll finish my PhD - because (as someone who started their program in their late twenties) I wanted to think about how to fit in having a family etc with going on the market and (hopefully) the tenure track. These things shouldn't dictate your decision, but I do think it can be helpful to take them into consideration.

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but you're looking at 8 more years at the lower end (!) - 8 years of scrimping and saving on tiny stipends etc.

This timeline depends on the program. For example, UofT's MA in socio-cultural anthropology is a 1 year program, the PhD a five year. So providing you keep your nose to the grind-stone that's 5 years. 5 years is the same amount of time it would take to do a PhD at UofT if you did not already have an MA in anthropology so doing the MA vs direct entry PhD, in terms of time, makes no difference.

Check out your program and what the timelines are and what is a realistic timeline for you to accomplish your goals.

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This timeline depends on the program. For example, UofT's MA in socio-cultural anthropology is a 1 year program, the PhD a five year. So providing you keep your nose to the grind-stone that's 5 years. 5 years is the same amount of time it would take to do a PhD at UofT if you did not already have an MA in anthropology so doing the MA vs direct entry PhD, in terms of time, makes no difference.

Check out your program and what the timelines are and what is a realistic timeline for you to accomplish your goals.

Well, yes, I'm from the UK, where MA + PhD would only take 4 years, but Implied in my post was that I was referring to the OP's programs, which are both in the US and so, presumably, 2yrs + 6(ish) yrs is the expected time frame.

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Also consider (which I'm sure you already have) just how long you'll be in school if you do the MA first and then the PhD. Not that grad school isn't fun and hugely rewarding and blah blah blah, but you're looking at 8 more years at the lower end (!) - 8 years of scrimping and saving on tiny stipends etc.Something else that was important for me to consider when I was making my grad school apps (and now as I plan my progression through my program) is the age at which I'll finish my PhD - because (as someone who started their program in their late twenties) I wanted to think about how to fit in having a family etc with going on the market and (hopefully) the tenure track. These things shouldn't dictate your decision, but I do think it can be helpful to take them into consideration.

Totally agree with this. I would want to start my post-grad school life ASAP. Even if you don't mind the thought of 8 more years of school now, what about down the road when you're 8 years older and still in school? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if it were me, I would take the phd. Also, I was a nervous wreck during this process and would do anything to avoid doing it again. Finally, what were the good qualities in the phd program that led you to apply to it in the first place? I always am surprised when people apply to programs they really don't want to go to (application fee down the drain)...perhaps focus on what made you like it originally.

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Don't do the PhD. But heed the advice above, you might re-apply after your MA and find yourself going to a LOWER ranked school. How do you avoid this? Plan ahead and get the heads up on what will improve your application early, don't waste your two years there - do something substantial with your end goal in mind.

Sorry about posting again, but you have little control over adcomm's perceptions of you. I'm sorry, but doesn't EVERYONE plan ahead and improve their applications? Many people STILL don't get into ANY programs even after improving their apps. It really depends on if there is funding that year.

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The other thing I would say is this:

I would be careful to think about what your ultimate goal is. It is easy, but dangerous, to start thinking of grad school as a way of life rather than a means to an end; grad school should be a just a small part of your life, one that prepares you to work as a teacher and a scholar - which should be your ultimate goal (in my opinion). Think carefully about the reasons that you are a bit wary of committing to this PhD program - are they legitimate concerns about the work you'll be able to do there, or are they more nebulous worries about perceived prestige etc? I've personally been struggling a little with the program I accepted - it's not ranked super highly by US News, it's not super prestigious, and although I like to think of myself as someone that isn't bothered by that, I actually clearly am. However, when I think about it logically I have to ask myself - what is the PhD for? It's a period of apprenticeship that prepares me to work in a profession, and my program, though not super highly ranked, does that REALLY well - it places nearly all its students in good tenure track positions that I would be very happy to work in.

So, I guess what I'm saying is this: look carefully at what the PhD program can offer you, don't discount your quality of life etc for next 5-7 years you'll spend there, but also look at it as a long term decision: if this program can most likely get you to a place where you will be competitive for the sort of jobs you would like to do, then you should probably accept it.

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