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Hi!

So I'm a 2014 English PhD applicant, applied to 10 schools (many top tier...too many) and was rejected from most programs, waitlisted then rejected from one wonderful one, and accepted to UW's masters without funding.

I turned down UW so I could do a gap year, pursue other interests (intern at a publishing co now, training as a ballroom dance pre-professional), and work on my new apps.  Getting my PhD is my absolute life goal, despite its difficulties.

 

Today, 9th of June, I got into Columbia's Masters English program! Woah. But no funding :(

 

I'm already settling into a new year of life in Berkeley, CA, with my boyfriend who's here, and with new plans on how to improve last year's app. It'll already be stronger because I won an award for my thesis and graduated with honors. 

 

Most friends who hear I got into Columbia immediately say I should go, because of the effect that big name could have for my future apps and my career. What do you all think? It'd cost $60,000 of my and my parents' money to afford it and get housing, etc, and while I'm fortunate I wouldn't necessarily have to take out a loan, that'd be all of my savings and backup cash.

 

Columbia has brilliant professors for my field (19th cent American/ Feminism), but I'm also worried about what academic life is like for 1 year master's students.  Are they treated as inferior to the PhD's?... 

 

Help me decide!

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I'm new to the application process, but my unqualified advice is the same as rising_star's qualified advice -- it's really not worth it if it's not funded. Columbia looks to be an amazing school in many respects (understatement). I'd give one or two of my inessential organs to study with Edward Mendelson -- W. H. Auden's literary executor. But if you want to go the Ph.D. route, a Master's -- even from Columbia -- isn't necessarily going to help you in that endeavor, while it will set you (or your parents) back a huge chunk of money...while you'll still have to go through the same process in a year or two anyhow, while being geographically separated from your boyfriend.

 

Ultimately, despite your Ph.D. rejections in this past application season, you know that high level, fully funded programs exist, and you probably have a better sense of the process as a whole moving forward. A year off sucks, in many ways, but so does paying a large chunk of change for a degree that might not really help you achieve your end goal, prestige aside.

 

Just my two cents.

Edited by Wyatt's Torch
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Absolutely don't do it.  Search for Chicago's MAPH and Columbia's MA program and you'll get tons of previous threads about this issue where I (and many others) have shared our experiences and advice, but if you're looking for the tl;dr version: don't do it.  Stick to your current plan.

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While it's great that you wouldn't have to take out loans, spending all of your savings on an MA program is rough. I went into my fully funded PhD program with some savings thanks to working for a few years, and I can't tell you how often I fall back on it. Our savings helped us buy a house (and our mortgage is less than the rent of my peers), helped fund conference travel, and now is helping with baby preparation. I would really hold onto your savings, because even in a funded program, having a safety net to fall back on is a huge (and much needed) relief. 

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If you've dreamed since birth about going to Columbia to achieve an English MA, are aware of the financial consequences and the fact that it most likely won't give you an outstanding boost over B.A. applicants to Ph.D. programs (unless you consider applying internationally and need one), then do it. I'm not sure that one year of your life is necessarily worth $60,000, but it's up to you. It's a huge honor to just be accepted - it's fantastic that you're in a financial situation where you can pay for it (I certainly wouldn't be able to without a fellowship!) but obviously you have to weigh for yourself whether or not the cost can truly be justified.

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So, I'm with the majority: DON'T DO IT! But you can certainly use this moment to your advantage.

 

There are two times when academics have any sort of power in this game, and it's when we're accepted to a grad program and when (if ever) we've been offered a TT position. So you haven't been offered funding. That doesn't mean you can't network. Make professional contacts with scholars in the program. Ask to talk with current grad students. See how others who haven't been offered funding end up paying to live in one of the most expensive places on earth without going into crippling debt or spending their entire life's savings.

 

You might end up being surprised by the resources that ARE available to you, even if that means you don't get to go to Columbia right now.

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I do know multiple people who have chosen this route (an unfunded MA from a high-ranking school) and successfully gotten into top-tier PhD programs. However, I think this route may be better suited for someone who really thinks they need a boost in their applications due to a low undergrad GPA, didn't have strong recommendations from undergrad professors, or more research opportunities. This doesn't sound like your situation. After getting into both the University of Chicago's MAPH program and Univeristy of Toronto's Medieval Studies MA, I seriously looked into the cost/rewards of going to a top school with no funding, but I was saved at the last minute by getting into a PhD program. If you have a job and a decent shot at getting in the second time around, I would definitely wait and try again for PhD programs.

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