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Applying to doctoral during first year of masters


mewtoo
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I applied to doctoral programs in clinical psychology this past cycle and had one interview (was waitlisted for another interview) but didn't make it in. So I applied to a fully funded experimental psych masters program and got in. During the lapse between applications and now my CV has improved (won 2 research awards). I talked to my undergraduate mentor about applying during my first year and leaving a year early if I got in and she thought it would be a great idea, but I've heard others be more wary. I tend to give stock to my mentor's opinion since she actually went to this exact masters program and expressed concern she thought it would be a rigorous as I wanted or needed. For something to note, typically psych only lets you transfer 6 hours from a masters program and have to get another masters, so this degree won't put me ahead in that sense. Plus I'm having to take out a lot of loans to live on since the stipend is less than half of what doctoral programs in psych usually get! I thought it would be a good idea since if I got in, I got in! If I didn't get in I could just stay and finish out my masters program and apply again. To me its a win-win situation, but...

 

I wonder, how does it look to doctoral programs that I would be leaving a year early if I got in? I don't think it would be a "burn bridges" situation since my mentor said she thought the masters program would be supportive of me applying to doctoral, but will doctoral programs think I won't care or am fickle if I do this? Any advice on the situation would be appreciated!

 

Sorry if this isn't quite the board to post something like this.

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Two things that popped into my head:

1) Who would you get your recommendation letters from? Your undergraduate professors in all likelihood. Will those letters be able to make up the difference between not getting in and getting in? Doubtful, since they'll say the same thing they did before.

2) If you do get interviews, how will you handle that along with your master's coursework? Will you be honest and tell them you've applied elsewhere and that's why you'll be missing class? And, if you do that, how will you handle it if you don't get in a second time (this is common, btw) and have to return for a second year in that program?

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Two things that popped into my head:

1) Who would you get your recommendation letters from? Your undergraduate professors in all likelihood. Will those letters be able to make up the difference between not getting in and getting in? Doubtful, since they'll say the same thing they did before.

2) If you do get interviews, how will you handle that along with your master's coursework? Will you be honest and tell them you've applied elsewhere and that's why you'll be missing class? And, if you do that, how will you handle it if you don't get in a second time (this is common, btw) and have to return for a second year in that program?

Personally I'm not too worried about the letters aspect. I did research with three different profs in undergrad and they gave me very awesome letters. I was talking to my UG mentor and actually asked about that and she said if I was on top of my game with research her past adviser who will most likely be my adviser would be happy to write me one. If not, however, I feel confident in my past letter writers.

Yes, I plan on telling them I want to apply to doctoral programs before I actually apply to them. I figured being upfront and truthful was the best policy. I haven't thought about what it would be like my 2nd year if I didn't get in that much. I just assumed it would go back to normal. Are you thinking my professors may treat me differently? Personally, I've come to expect nothing in terms of getting in after this past cycle, so I don't think I will be an emotional wreck from it. Thanks for some insight. :)

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1) Yes, things will be weird. Everyone will know that you tried to jump ship and failed.

2) It will look weird to be in a master's program and not have a letter that addresses your potential to do graduate level work from someone that has interacted with you at that level. In other words, if you're basically just going to be applying with the same credentials as you did this year, then what's the point of even going to the master's program?

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When I interviewed for my MS program, some people told me they had tried to do that and they had all gotten rejected. It was awkward and a waste of an application cycle and a large amount of time. I also imagine explaining yourself in a PhD interview could be a bit awkward and that it would strain your relationship with your master's mentor.

 

Honestly, 2 years for a master's program (which is really like a year and a half) goes INSANELY quickly. Focus on getting great experience (getting your name on posters/publications, getting new research experience in different areas, having a fantastic thesis you can talk about on interviews, making connections, going to conferences, etc.) and growing as a researcher. PhD applications are so time consuming that if you do it both year 1 and year 2, you're really limiting the amount of time you actually have to learn and wasting your master's program. Also, I think it's good for someone's long-term career to have experiences working with different people, both from the viewpoint of learning new things as well as forming new connections. You worked with profs in UG, now in your master's program, and then eventually in your PhD program. Think how much better you will do in a PhD program with the extra "grad school" experience that you will have.

 

My advice would be to slow down, learn and grow from each experience, and don't try to rush each step.

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1) Yes, things will be weird. Everyone will know that you tried to jump ship and failed.

2) It will look weird to be in a master's program and not have a letter that addresses your potential to do graduate level work from someone that has interacted with you at that level. In other words, if you're basically just going to be applying with the same credentials as you did this year, then what's the point of even going to the master's program?

 

I agree with rising_star -- presumably you are in the Masters program now because you want to improve your credentials to get into a doctoral program later on. But, if you are applying this fall, then you won't have any benefits of the masters program yet (you would have just started!). It would make more sense to wait a year, then you can use the Masters program to help improve your application. It would be very strange for an applicant who is in a Masters program to not have a LOR from their masters program, and you wouldn't be able to get a strong LOR from just a few months in your new program this fall.

 

I'm assuming this masters program would help you gain more experience or whatever you feel that you were lacking in your doctoral applications the last time around? If you think that your current qualifications are good enough to get into doctoral programs and that maybe you were just unlucky, or didn't apply to schools in the right range, etc. then you don't need the masters program -- there's no point enrolling at all and having to take out loans for living expenses etc.

 

What I'm saying is that if you are confident of your ability to get into a doctoral program with your current qualifications, then why do a Masters for 1 year, drop out, and be in debt? If you want to use the Masters program to help you develop your experience and improve your chances to get into a doctoral program, then you should probably wait another year before reapplying!

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Overall advise, probably not worth it

 

Seconds point, only do it if you know with very high likelihood you will succeed

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1) Yes, things will be weird. Everyone will know that you tried to jump ship and failed.

2) It will look weird to be in a master's program and not have a letter that addresses your potential to do graduate level work from someone that has interacted with you at that level. In other words, if you're basically just going to be applying with the same credentials as you did this year, then what's the point of even going to the master's program?

 

 

I agree with rising_star -- presumably you are in the Masters program now because you want to improve your credentials to get into a doctoral program later on. But, if you are applying this fall, then you won't have any benefits of the masters program yet (you would have just started!). It would make more sense to wait a year, then you can use the Masters program to help improve your application. It would be very strange for an applicant who is in a Masters program to not have a LOR from their masters program, and you wouldn't be able to get a strong LOR from just a few months in your new program this fall.

 

I'm assuming this masters program would help you gain more experience or whatever you feel that you were lacking in your doctoral applications the last time around? If you think that your current qualifications are good enough to get into doctoral programs and that maybe you were just unlucky, or didn't apply to schools in the right range, etc. then you don't need the masters program -- there's no point enrolling at all and having to take out loans for living expenses etc.

 

What I'm saying is that if you are confident of your ability to get into a doctoral program with your current qualifications, then why do a Masters for 1 year, drop out, and be in debt? If you want to use the Masters program to help you develop your experience and improve your chances to get into a doctoral program, then you should probably wait another year before reapplying!

 

 

I agree with both of these.  I myself was in a similar situation last year.  I got rejected from the Clinical Psych programs, got into a Master's program, and pondered reapplying while doing my 1st year of the Master's and hopefully jumping ship.  I weighed the pros and cons of this and came to the conclusion that what it would show PhD programs mostly is that I have commitment issues.  PhD programs are long and grueling so incoming students need to be the type that are going to do what they have to in order to finish.  If I started a Master's program and bailed at the first opportunity for something *better* then what would stop me from doing that again in a PhD program?  I could be in my PhD program and decide I should be at a higher ranked one and so on and so on.  Not a good impression. 

 

I also realized that since the Master's program was unfunded I'd have a years worth of debt with no degree to show for it, wouldn't be able to transfer more than 2 (if any!) of those classes to a PhD program, and a half a Master's degree wouldn't boost my employment options.

 

Then there was the flip side to consider.  Let's say I spend my 1st year in this Master's program and reapplying to PhD programs.  If I want to gain more research experience, publications, LOR's, etc why would any of those professors be willing to help me knowing that I've got one foot out the door already?  And if I didn't get in and went crawling back to them for help I don't think I could deal with the *well look who's back* type looks.

 

So for me I decided to complete the Master's and reapply for PhD programs in my 2nd year so that I could really use the opportunity to boost my application.  A year has flown by already and I just can't believe it.  I also don't feel in anyway *behind* others aiming for Clinical programs. 

 

Of course OP your situation is yours and you need to make the best decision for you.  From your post it does sound like you're really not into the Master's program so it does seem like a waste to start it.  Are you able to continue/start any research projects with professors from your undergrad?  That could be enough to boost your application, especially if you're able to get in some conference presentations and/or publications.  You could also consider a Graduate Certificate program in some area of psychology.  Those are generally shorter (4-8 classes depending on the subject), often have a capstone project which can be as grueling as you like (possibly even a mini-thesis?), its demonstrates your ability to handle graduate level work to PhD programs, you can add it to your CV for future employers, and it's cheaper than a Master's program and any debt (unless you're able to pay out of pocket) will be for something you actually finished and can use.

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