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Concerning political science/IR PhD vs. Masters...


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So, I'm a sophomore right now and I've recently transferred universities, from a small business school to a much larger university (top 20 public), to switch programs. I'm now declared a polisci major, IR as a concentration, and I've known since transferring that a research position is what I am looking for; though I'm not entirely against working outside of academia.

Here's my issue. I have a 3.15 GPA from my previous university, two C's bringing down the other high B's and A's. I also did an internship my second semester in a policy office for the Rhode Island State House, had a great experience. At my current university, I have grades transferred from high school in an "Early College Experience" program along with summer courses. My transcript here has a 3.25. I'm transferring most of those from my non-degree to my degree transcript, for my undergrad gpa on my diploma, but the other two C's will always be showing. This makes four C's on my transcript total already, World History & Financial Accounting at the business school, and Math for Business & Econ and World Civilizations from high school-- as well as a W in calculus this semester. It's really a mess, but I'm not failing or anything, I just realize how competitive graduate school is. This said, my major gpa between both schools is a 3.8 (IR and polisci courses)...I look around websites and see posts from people with 3.5+ GPAs worried about getting into a decent program, otherwise their life is over. As it stands, I will have two transcripts with a 3.15 (locked in) and my current 3.32. Of course I can bring this up, but the C's and W aren't going away and I'll never have that 4.0.

I've already written several lengthy political science papers and that's something I'm good at doing. I know that I'd do spectacular in a masters program, no problem. My issue is motivation in subjects that bore me-- accounting, math. Of course those will be out of the way soon enough, except for statistics. I realize that graduate school is becoming more quantitative, but not to a degree that will kill me. If I know myself well enough, here's what I'd be looking at sending grad schools in a couple years:

3.4 GPA

GRE scores (based on practice exams) 700 verbal, 690 quant

Involvement in Model UN, writing organization leadership position, 2 internships at state general assemblies

Great recommendations, I'm close to many of my professors

Great essay/statement (writing is my strongest point)

**MAIN QUESTION: If I apply to masters programs that are top 20-30 and get into one of those, get better grades, etc..would that put me in a better position with PhD programs at top 10-15 schools? Also, what about work experience--helpful, necessary, etc?

Thanks, and sorry for the long story. Transferring was not an easy process and now I'm stuck in a sticky situation in both, knowing how competitive political science is!

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If you have reason to believe that your publication history, writing sample, statement and letters will rehabilitate your relatively low GPA, finish with the best grades you can and apply to several PhD programs that fit your long range goals the upward trend in your GPA counts for something. In the same period, identify and apply to a few MA programs you think might help you achieve better results next time.

As you consider MA programs, keep in mind the following:

- MA grading curves are very generous and you will need to be close to perfect to impress a committee at a great PhD program.

- Prestigious MA programs are often crowded with talented students who are competing with PhD candidates for faculty attention. Sometimes they are only one year and often they provide very little financial support. Getting great letters out of these programs is extremely challenging. It can be an expensive way to improve your application only slightly.

- Less prestigous MA programs may provide you with grants and a department that allows you to thrive and generate interesting scholarship only to have the achievement overlooked by admissions committees because Directional State U is not Princetanford. It can be a time intesive way to improve your application only slightly.

Chart your course between this Scylla and Charybdis cautiously.

One more piece of (unsolicited( advice: get a job when you finish college and spend some time being a 20-something with some money and focus on living. I'm old and I have a lot of friends who have done grad school at a lot of different stages in their lives and careers. Going straight through is heaps riskier than waiting a few years in terms of long-run happiness. As a bonus, if you have a working gap between undergrad and your 4.0, all-star MA performance it looks a lot more like you've changed into a real scholar. "I was an occasional screw up that went into the real world and got some perspective that made me a rock god" is a lot more convincing story than "sorry I screwed up those two econ classes, look I can hack it, I promise".

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