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HOW much do you learn in MA?


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Hello people, I'm a long time lurker.

 

So far I have heard from two out of six schools to which I've applied--one PhD rejection and one funded MA acceptance.

Though I have to wait for the rest of the results to make a final decision, it's mostly likely that I will end up going to the MA school for it is close to my family. I don't feel as competent as to jump right into a competitive PhD program(if by any luck that ever happens this admission season) and carry out a quality research, especially since I've been out of my undergrad for two years. I need some catch up!

 

So the question is this. How much does your intellectual caliber grow through the MA experience? Honestly, six courses and a final thesis don't seem like a lot of work and I'm worried if I will be in the same shape scholarly after the one year.

Dear comrades, I want to hear about your MA experiences before committing to my MA program. Any advice?

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Thank you for giving me an excuse to gush about my MA experience. As a senior, I applied to PhD programs and was rejected almost across the board from 13 schools - got waitlisted at one and accepted to the MA program at BC as a "consolation" acceptance. I went to BC and learned a lot - my classes and interactions with faculty helped me find focus (which was previously more or less "I like things that are old and British") and is now much more specific and interesting. I got published, presented at a conference... I think reading so much more scholarship (SO MUCH) is part of what made my academic writing better. Now, I'm out of my MA by two years and applying again, to schools that are a better fit for me, and so far it's going pretty well. If there's anything else, more specifically, that you'd like to know about what I learned, I'd be happy to answer!

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So, this is probably not going to sound very helpful, but I think the intellectual caliber of an MA is really what you make of it.

 

An MA is a good time to start asking more complex questions and forming what you think is your specific point of view on literature. The classes that you take will allow you to really begin to enter into a critical dialogue with the texts that goes beyond what you did in your B.A. Getting an MA is really the thing to do if you know your passionate about doing this stuff, but your not quite sure specifically the specifics of that passion. You may enter the M.A. and get really amped up about Milton, or the Frankfurt School, or Science Fiction, or Cultural Studies, but through your classes you'll figure out what it is about these things that interests you and why. These things may change for you, but thats ok. You also start to figure out how you might be able to start contributing to the field.  

 

I say that it's really what you make of it because at my MA program, we had a mixture of people who were interested in using the MA as a step to a PHD, teachers who were looking to get a pay bump, and others who didn't really know what they were doing.  The people who grew the most were the people who took the most risks and asked the most questions. They were the people who totally through themselves into classes and tried to figure out how each class somehow related to another. 

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Thank you for giving me an excuse to gush about my MA experience. As a senior, I applied to PhD programs and was rejected almost across the board from 13 schools - got waitlisted at one and accepted to the MA program at BC as a "consolation" acceptance. I went to BC and learned a lot - my classes and interactions with faculty helped me find focus (which was previously more or less "I like things that are old and British") and is now much more specific and interesting. I got published, presented at a conference... I think reading so much more scholarship (SO MUCH) is part of what made my academic writing better. Now, I'm out of my MA by two years and applying again, to schools that are a better fit for me, and so far it's going pretty well. If there's anything else, more specifically, that you'd like to know about what I learned, I'd be happy to answer!

 

This.  Cannot say enough about how great my MA has been.  In addition to everything mentioned above, getting paired up with a mentor who can walk you through the brass tacks of professionalization is really valuable.

 

Edit:  I had the same experience of rejection, and now I'm also reapplying.  The confidence boost has been so helpful.

Edited by thebeatgoeson
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I pretty much agree with all of the above posters. I was rejected across the board from PhD programs after my BA and decided to go to a funded MA program. It has been a fantastic experience. I have grown so much as a scholar over the last two years through the 10 classes I've taken and the thesis I'm still working on. In addition, I was able to really figure out the field I was interested in (Comp/Rhet rather than Lit) and receive a great deal of personal attention from my adviser on my thesis, PhD applications, and general goals for professionalization. If you get into a PhD program, that's great, but if not, you should definitely consider the funded MA option. I'm so glad I did. 

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In my experience, you get as much out of your MA as you put into it. I applied to 11 PhD programs after college and was waitlisted at 3, but ultimately I ended up in a one-year, unfunded MA program. Not ideal at all, but I had no debt from undergrad and just felt like it was what I wanted/had to do. Of course I could have worked on my application independently and applied again, but honestly I felt like my MA program served me really well—and I'm not just saying this to make myself feel better about being in debt now, ha (or am I?). No, really. My MA program enabled me to narrow down and better integrate my interests; present at a pretty inspiring conference; read read read read read; and write and be judged like there was no tomorrow. I was also working on a field that had no presence at all in the department, so I really learned to stick up for my ideas and campaign for myself. I was very intentional with my choice of classes, the papers I wrote, and the books I wanted to read for my thesis because the program was so short (which was good because I just wanted to get to a PhD program ASAP!), and I left with a clearer sense of purpose. Hence, the statement of purpose I wrote this year was much more cogent and specific, and I have gotten offers at a few programs already. In your case, I think a funded MA would be great if that's your only option. You will definitely grow! The students that did not get much out of my MA program were the ones that did NOT want to be there at all—seriously, I knew people that just smoked pot all day and wrote their papers the night before like they were in high school. 

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Not in English/Lit/Rhet/Comp but I got a lot out of my MA. As everyone has said, you get out what you want and what you're willing to put in. In my case, I learned a lot more about and got a lot more comfortable with theory during my MA program. That matters and will be a huge help. I also had a piece of writing that I was proud of (my MA thesis) that I could excerpt from for writing samples for various things. I also got networked into the field, meeting people at conferences and presenting my research, which was nice.

 

But, FWIW, I also took way more than six classes during my MA. I took 11 total in two years, plus thesis research hours. It gave me a good background in the field, helped me hone in on my particular area, etc. So, there's nothing wrong with doing a MA, especially if it's funded. I'd be wary of doing a one year MA, just because it doesn't really give you the time to cultivate new recommendations, gain experiences for them to write about, and show your intellectual growth to adcomms.

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I'm doing an MA right now and I'm finding the experience really valuable, mostly for 2 reasons: 1. my field requires a lot of foreign language training, and I've managed to learn a new language and improve in all my other languages during my time here, and 2. I've made amazing connections to faculty here. The relationship between a grad student and his or her professors is completely different from the one between undergrad and profs, in my experience. Being an MA student in a small program has allowed me to forge real friendships with very encouraging, supportive and intelligent professor/mentor/advisors who have helped me IMMENSELY in applying for a PhD this year. I also got to enter the world of academia in a way I would not have been able to without being in school. I've been out of undergrad for 2 years, and without access to a university library it's difficult to do any outside scholarship. 

 

So I guess what I'm saying about my MA is that it's not so much about what classes I took, or what I "learned" per se, but who I met that has made the experience so worthwhile.

Edited by DontHate
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I think MA Programs are great if the fit is right: you're not locked into the 5-7 year commitment of a PhD program, so you get a little extra time to both knead together the issues and problems and literature and theory that could ultimate form into a smooth, satiny dissertation; and to make sure that you're in love with your subject enough to put yourself through the ensuing years of doctorate work. I am in an MA program presently, as a sort of stopgap, to keep myself occupied academically more than to earn a degree.

 

Plus, it's flipping AWESOME to be a student. I don't care what anybody says, might say, or can say: there is nothing that makes me happier than a student's existence; moi, I am totally addicted to that sinusoid of stress-relaxation; the smell of university libraries couldn't be tastier; and walking around a college campus just feels right, chaleureux.

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Plus, it's flipping AWESOME to be a student. I don't care what anybody says, might say, or can say: there is nothing that makes me happier than a student's existence; moi, I am totally addicted to that sinusoid of stress-relaxation; the smell of university libraries couldn't be tastier; and walking around a college campus just feels right, chaleureux.

 

Haha, I totally agree with you.

 

Thanks everyone for such kind advice and helpful insight!

On a tangential note, is anyone concerned about doing an MA adding extra two years to your study? I'm already in the second half of my 20s. But oh well, lewisthlewisamteenth is right. The longer you stay as a student the more colorful your life will be!

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I also agree with most of the above. However, I wouldn't say that I really "learned" anything in course work more than what I got out of undergrad classes. The classes are smaller, and much more intimate and you get to know you profs really well. I even had one Whitman class with 7 people in it, and occasionally just meet at the bar across the street for class time. So there's stuff like that that makes graduate school cool. But as far as academic caliber goes, you don't get pounded with info or learning or whatever you wanna call it. 

 

However, what you do learn, and what I found to be most valuable, is you learn how to be an academic. You're suddenly a "member" of the academy and not some undergrad waiting in line at Starbucks. You're included in boards, elections, search committees, research projects, etc. So, I would say it's worth it just for that. You get your first taste of the "professional" side of things. I've heard that being PhD candidate really stresses this because there's much more to being a "scholar" than writing articles and teaching, but you certainly get a lot of it as a grad student. If you get accepted to a funded MA program, I would totally do it. 

 

And you do form really great relationships with profs, and I think that that is pretty much the best part. You get to see profs as people, and they take you seriously -- you're no longer just some number in the back. And you get to work one-on-one with them, which is great. It's no longer a 10 minute conference with a prof over your Mrs. Dalloway paper. You now get to spend hours with them and they take your work seriously as well.

 

Getting my MA was a great two years, and I do feel as though I learned a lot. Oh, and you're writing skills will improve because you'll write, like, a million seminar papers.  

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And you do form really great relationships with profs, and I think that that is pretty much the best part. You get to see profs as people, and they take you seriously -- you're no longer just some number in the back. And you get to work one-on-one with them, which is great. It's no longer a 10 minute conference with a prof over your Mrs. Dalloway paper. You now get to spend hours with them and they take your work seriously as well.

 

This times a million. I'd like to add that depending on where you get your PhD, the MA may be the only time this is true. A current Top-30 PhD student/graduate of my MA program who ran a PhD application workshop I attended basically told us that in several years in her program, she has never gotten direct feedback on a seminar paper in the way she did as an MA student. This may or may not be true everywhere, and I assume many places that it is not, but it is worth thinking about.

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Funded MA programs ROCK in my experience.

 

A couple years ago I applied to grad schools with a mediocre undergrad GPA, no academic accomplishments to speak of, and only a low-level understanding my my current discipline because I hadn't studied it in college.  Unsurprisingly I was rejected by all the PhD programs I applied to, save one unfunded offer at a very low-ranked program.  But I was offered admission to a funded MA, so I went for it.

 

Once in the program, I put my whole heart into my work.  I made an effort to get to know professors.  I submitted my papers to prize competitions and devoured a million books and learned how to do original research in my field.  My understanding of the discipline evolved from a"yay, I like old stuff" sort of attitude to actual participation in the scholarly conversation.

 

This round I reapply with an excellent graduate GPA, sterling recommendations from well-connected professors, multiple awards for my work, experience presenting at conferences, a solid writing sample, an article in the publishing pipeline, and something of a vision for my dissertation. 

 

I only applied to PhD programs ranked in the top 20, and while I'm still waiting to hear back from most of them, I've received strong expressions of interest from two.  So I know I'm competitive at a high level now.  The MA is what made the difference.

 

As for age -- I'm about the same age as you (late 20's).  Among MA students I was maybe 2 or 3 years older than the average.  A bunch of them were fresh out of undergrad (and some just seemed to be killing time because they didn't know what else to do -- which meant they didn't really value the resources being offered and didn't capitalize on opportunities the way I did).  But the doctoral students ranged in age, including many in their 30's.  So I don't think it's at all unusual to finish in that decade of life.  And while, yeah, it would be great to magically not have to have spent an extra two years doing an MA, it's been worth it to have a shot at the best PhD programs, which will then lead to the best job prospects. 

 

So I'd say go for the funded MA, but don't let yourself sail through -- make the most of it!!

 

Edited to add: sorry that was a bit TL;DR.  I just really really got a lot out of my MA program and needed to rave about it for a second.

Edited by Katzenmusik
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I also agree with most of the above. However, I wouldn't say that I really "learned" anything in course work more than what I got out of undergrad classes. The classes are smaller, and much more intimate and you get to know you profs really well. I even had one Whitman class with 7 people in it, and occasionally just meet at the bar across the street for class time. So there's stuff like that that makes graduate school cool. But as far as academic caliber goes, you don't get pounded with info or learning or whatever you wanna call it. 

 

However, what you do learn, and what I found to be most valuable, is you learn how to be an academic. You're suddenly a "member" of the academy and not some undergrad waiting in line at Starbucks. You're included in boards, elections, search committees, research projects, etc. So, I would say it's worth it just for that. You get your first taste of the "professional" side of things. I've heard that being PhD candidate really stresses this because there's much more to being a "scholar" than writing articles and teaching, but you certainly get a lot of it as a grad student. If you get accepted to a funded MA program, I would totally do it. 

 

And you do form really great relationships with profs, and I think that that is pretty much the best part. You get to see profs as people, and they take you seriously -- you're no longer just some number in the back. And you get to work one-on-one with them, which is great. It's no longer a 10 minute conference with a prof over your Mrs. Dalloway paper. You now get to spend hours with them and they take your work seriously as well.

 

Getting my MA was a great two years, and I do feel as though I learned a lot. Oh, and you're writing skills will improve because you'll write, like, a million seminar papers.  

 

yep. sounds like my undergrad so far.

 

what do people think about doing an MA in the UK? though I hear the only reason the probability of funding is 0% is because that's a mathematical impossibility, it's one year. saves time.

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what do people think about doing an MA in the UK? though I hear the only reason the probability of funding is 0% is because that's a mathematical impossibility, it's one year. saves time.

 

I think you just answered your own question.  You have to shell out loads of cash, and while a one-year program may "save time," it might not position you very well.  For instance, you may intend to enter a PhD program directly after the MA.  But applying in the fall of a one-year program hardly gives you any chance to improve your work, forge relationships with professors, or build up your CV.  So then you'll want to take a year off between programs, and at that point, you might as well have been enrolled in a funded, two-year MA.  

 

That said, I have a friend who did a one-year MA in the UK so he'd have better access to the archives he needed for his research.  He ended up at a top-notch PhD program after taking a year or so off, but he had to take out tons of loans, and he worked himself basically to the bone while he was there to make the experience worthwhile.

 

And I would agree that an unfunded one-year program is better an unfunded two-year program, assuming it would cost about half as much.

Edited by Katzenmusik
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Okay, the general consensus here seems to be that if you ultimately plan on applying to PhD programs, a one year MA is not the way to go for a combination of financial, academic and professional reasons. That said, does anyone know anything about the one year MA in rhetoric through Carnegie Mellon? Carnegie Mellon is a great fit for my research interests, and I don't yet have an MA (I am considering an pursuing an MA degree first if I don't get into a strong program this time around). 

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