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jferreir

Applying to Ph.D. from MA?

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Background:

I begin my coursework-only MA degree this September, which is exactly one year in length. For what it's worth, the MA degree is considered "doctoral stream", meaning I can complete a Ph.D. in four years instead of the usual five. As it turns out, most Ph.D. applications will be due around early January, before I have completed any of my graduate courses. Additionally, since these graduate courses usually culminate in a major research paper, there is a distinct possibility that most of my professors will not have had the opportunity to view/critique my final work. This raises a plethora of issues which I have tried to spell out below - I would appreciate any/all advice! I apologize now for the length of this post (you've been warned!).

Grades:

Given Ph.D. application deadlines, I will not have any grades finalized for my MA courses. How, then, will Ph.D. admission committees use grades to determine my candidacy for the Ph.D. programme? That is, will they defer to my undergraduate GPA, or will they set a minimum graduate GPA as a condition of acceptance (or both)?

LORs:

I completed my undergraduate degree at a different university, so I will only have a few months to make an impression on my new professors. Is it advisable to seek a LOR from one of my previous professors, who will presumably be more acquainted with my work/study habits? Tentatively, I only plan to seek one LOR from my previous department.

GRE:

Admittedly, I did not think this one through. I will not have the time to adequately prepare for the GRE during the course of my MA degree, so I was wondering if this requirement can be waived. I know that current Ph.D. students have had this requirement waived, but this is at a Canadian university. How likely is it that US departments would be willing to waive the GRE requirement as well?

Internal Candidacy:

On the department website, it stipulates that applications for the Ph.D. programme originating from within the university will be considered on par with external applications. However, it seems that a large majority of the current Ph.D. students also completed their MA at this university. Is it common for MA students to have an advantage in gaining admittance into the Ph.D. programme, or is this sheer coincidence?

Finally, any other words of advice? Thank you all for the assistance!

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GRE:

Admittedly, I did not think this one through. I will not have the time to adequately prepare for the GRE during the course of my MA degree, so I was wondering if this requirement can be waived. I know that current Ph.D. students have had this requirement waived, but this is at a Canadian university. How likely is it that US departments would be willing to waive the GRE requirement as well?

This an entirely unacceptable and unsatisfying explanation for not taking the GRE. You'd have better luck asking them to waive it simply because you don't want to take it. I dunno if you've noticed, but it's August which leaves you months to prepare before you'd even have to take the test.

I myself started preparing for the test the night before, so you really have no excuse whatsoever.

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This an entirely unacceptable and unsatisfying explanation for not taking the GRE. You'd have better luck asking them to waive it simply because you don't want to take it. I dunno if you've noticed, but it's August which leaves you months to prepare before you'd even have to take the test.

I myself started preparing for the test the night before, so you really have no excuse whatsoever.

Well, perhaps you can prepare for the GRE in one day, but I cannot. I'll be balancing a full course load on top of TA assignments and a job. Given that I will have to have the grades submitted by December (to make the early January deadline), I would probably have to take the GRE in October/November (if it's even available at that time). There is absolutely no way I'll have the time to prepare for this. This really makes me wonder how the GRE is perceived in the US as opposed to Canada. Here in Canada, I know current Ph.D. students who submitted their application without any GRE scores, citing no reason for not taking the test, and they were still accepted into the program (best in the country, top 15 worldwide). I'm starting to think that the GRE is just an American thing... you folks do love your standardized testing!

So, any feedback on my other questions?

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Background:

I begin my coursework-only MA degree this September, which is exactly one year in length. For what it's worth, the MA degree is considered "doctoral stream", meaning I can complete a Ph.D. in four years instead of the usual five. As it turns out, most Ph.D. applications will be due around early January, before I have completed any of my graduate courses. Additionally, since these graduate courses usually culminate in a major research paper, there is a distinct possibility that most of my professors will not have had the opportunity to view/critique my final work. This raises a plethora of issues which I have tried to spell out below - I would appreciate any/all advice! I apologize now for the length of this post (you've been warned!).

Most programs will want to see a writing sample (or three), including something research-oriented. Consider holding off another year before applying to doctoral programs unless you're planning on feeding straight into the program at your current institution.

Grades:

Given Ph.D. application deadlines, I will not have any grades finalized for my MA courses. How, then, will Ph.D. admission committees use grades to determine my candidacy for the Ph.D. programme? That is, will they defer to my undergraduate GPA, or will they set a minimum graduate GPA as a condition of acceptance (or both)?

Most doctoral programs have a set minimum for both undergraduate and graduate GPAs. Not yet having one will bump you to the bottom of the consideration list.

LORs:

I completed my undergraduate degree at a different university, so I will only have a few months to make an impression on my new professors. Is it advisable to seek a LOR from one of my previous professors, who will presumably be more acquainted with my work/study habits? Tentatively, I only plan to seek one LOR from my previous department.

I would say no more than one letter from undergraduate, leaving you with two from graduate. However, as you have mentioned, you won't really have had the opportunity to make meaningful connections with faculty.

GRE:

Admittedly, I did not think this one through. I will not have the time to adequately prepare for the GRE during the course of my MA degree, so I was wondering if this requirement can be waived. I know that current Ph.D. students have had this requirement waived, but this is at a Canadian university. How likely is it that US departments would be willing to waive the GRE requirement as well?

I've not encountered many US programs that waive the GRE requirement; even when I stayed at my undergraduate institution to complete a master's they required the GRE for admissions. I agree with belowthree. This is a poor excuse for not wanting to take the GRE. You currently have two to three months to study for the test. If you're going to do it, do it. Don't do it halfway.

Internal Candidacy:

On the department website, it stipulates that applications for the Ph.D. programme originating from within the university will be considered on par with external applications. However, it seems that a large majority of the current Ph.D. students also completed their MA at this university. Is it common for MA students to have an advantage in gaining admittance into the Ph.D. programme, or is this sheer coincidence?

In my experience, usually completing a previous degree from the same program leads to an advantage.

Finally, any other words of advice? Thank you all for the assistance!

Based on the whole of your post, I am assuming that you are planning to apply to the same program for your doctorate. If that's the case, these questions need to be directed to your advisor/committee chair rather than an open forum. They are likely more versed in master's students feeding into the doctoral program and can better guide you on how to complete the application to their liking. If, however, you are looking at applying to other schools, I would really, really consider waiting a year to have the appropriate materials gathered.

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Well, perhaps you can prepare for the GRE in one day, but I cannot. I'll be balancing a full course load on top of TA assignments and a job. Given that I will have to have the grades submitted by December (to make the early January deadline), I would probably have to take the GRE in October/November (if it's even available at that time). There is absolutely no way I'll have the time to prepare for this. This really makes me wonder how the GRE is perceived in the US as opposed to Canada. Here in Canada, I know current Ph.D. students who submitted their application without any GRE scores, citing no reason for not taking the test, and they were still accepted into the program (best in the country, top 15 worldwide). I'm starting to think that the GRE is just an American thing... you folks do love your standardized testing!

So, any feedback on my other questions?

I prepared for the GRE in one long weekend, and I did well enough. You could study by devoting just an hour or less a day to learning vocabulary words and brushing up on whatever math skills you thought you needed work in.

Unfortunately, you are right, the US is rather obsessed with standardized testing at every level. I wish it would stop. Canadian Ph.D. programs don't usually require the GRE, at least as far as I have heard. US ones do. Some will waive the requirement for people with a MA, but not all will. Unfortunately, you are going to need to find a way to fit in taking the GRE, as not having time is not a valid reason not to.

As for your question about students being accepted to Ph.D. programs at the school where they did their MA, it depends. In some places these students are at a disadvantage, in others they have an advantage. I was not accepted to the school where I did my MA for my Ph.D., which was just as well for me because I was ready to move on, and the department I'm joining is a better match for my interests.

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Well, perhaps you can prepare for the GRE in one day, but I cannot. I'll be balancing a full course load on top of TA assignments and a job. Given that I will have to have the grades submitted by December (to make the early January deadline), I would probably have to take the GRE in October/November (if it's even available at that time). There is absolutely no way I'll have the time to prepare for this. This really makes me wonder how the GRE is perceived in the US as opposed to Canada. Here in Canada, I know current Ph.D. students who submitted their application without any GRE scores, citing no reason for not taking the test, and they were still accepted into the program (best in the country, top 15 worldwide). I'm starting to think that the GRE is just an American thing... you folks do love your standardized testing!

I have anything but love for the GRE, but if you call up a grad school and claim you can't hack studying for a simple test while in school how exactly do you expect them to trust you to kick ass with research? And you haven't even done the research yet to see when the GRE is available at your location?

This is just you not wanting to take the test, it has nothing to do with any hardship or lack of time.

Sorry for being harsh, but you seemed like you could use a small reality check.

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Here in Canada, I know current Ph.D. students who submitted their application without any GRE scores, citing no reason for not taking the test, and they were still accepted into the program (best in the country, top 15 worldwide). I'm starting to think that the GRE is just an American thing... you folks do love your standardized testing!

I can't remember your specific field, but you likely won't need to take the GRE if you're staying in Canada. Check the websites, they'll tell you. Belowthree is right that if there is a requirement, you won't get it waived, but there likely won't be one.

You're going to have to work with at least one undergrad letter and undergrad grades, which frankly puts you at a disadvantage. You can see if your professors are willing to read your best undergrad work and help you refine it for use as a writing sample. That will also give them a sense of what your research looks like for letters. If you don't have time to adequately prepare, consider taking a year off. You may be able to get work teaching college or hanging around as a TA/RA at your MA school. I have friends who did both between MA and PhD. It let them devote a lot more time and effort to PhD apps, which are important enough to deserve your full attention.

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which is understood from the sense of the word "arrogant".

I was giving you the benefit of the doubt that you wouldn't be one of those people who ask questions they already know the answer to as a poor substitute for simply stating your objection to someone's behavior. Don't ask cutesy little questions and then get angry when you get straightforward and honest answers.

If you have a problem with me, say so. Preferably in detail and preferably in PM where there's enough room for both of our personalities where we don't crowd out the other participants in this thread who can help with the OP's questions not relating to the GRE.

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Well, harsh, arrogant or whatever, most US Universities expect the GRE. Typically taken before entering grad school at all, at the MA or PhD level.

I realize standardized testing sucks, (and I suck AT it as well.) But I highly doubt you are going to find a good US institution that will waiver it on any situation, especially given that you are not done with your thesis or the equivalent thereof, unless under EXTREME circumstances, ie: found a cure for cancer or something... or you are the new Einstein.

Perhaps an answer to your question, standardized testing hang ups aside, is to spend a few bucks and take the GRE. If you bomb it, than stop there. Finish what you are doing research-wise, retake GRE after studying, then apply.

If the initial GRE results are on the good side for the programs you want, you could take the chance to apply..

I caution against this though, because of a few very solid reasons. You will be spending a lot of money to apply. Without the GRE score you can achieve with some time spent studying, and minus the LORs, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. If you have patience, you may get a better shot and better funding. (given the US assumption that GREs have anything to do with grad success, but that's besides the point...)

To simplify, I hope, I offer my situation. I am at an MA program. I took the GRE and did rather poorly. If I were to apply to a doctoral program without my thesis work complete, I doubt anyone would be willing to risk funding me. SO I will finish my MA, (and possibly even retake the GRE) and apply then. The extra year? Yeah looks like it'll have to happen. To me it isn't worth going into a doctoral program without full funding.

Bottom line, don't rush it. This is the rest of your life you are considering. Study for the GRE, finish your paper, and then apply with your LORs. You'll be better off for it in our competitive application environment.

And as always, good luck!

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Thank you for the various responses. I apologize for the late reply, but I've been out of town for the past few days. Anyway...

Just to clear things up, I'm not attempting to dodge the GRE. In fact, I know very little about the GRE, which is why I asked if the requirement is likely to be waived. You need to understand that here, in Canada, the GRE is largely superfluous. That is, most universities do not require GRE scores (MA or Ph.D.), and most do not view the GRE as an accurate indication of academic merit/potential. Perhaps I posed this question out of ignorance, but it certainly wasn't laziness.

After considering the various responses, here is how I view the matter. First, if I'm going to go through the trouble of writing the GRE, then I want to be adequately prepared the first time. Without going into detail, this will probably require that I write the test at the conclusion of my MA. Second, if the strength of my application is already compromised by the lack of graduate coursework, then there isn't much incentive to writing the GRE within the next 1-2 months (waste of time/$$$). So, it would appear that writing the GRE next year would be best. The one concern I have with this approach, however, is that it may appear as though I'm complacent about pursuing a Ph.D. One of my undergraduate professors once cautioned me about taking a year or two off; he made it sound as though my enthusiasm for the discipline may appear "stale" to admission committees. Does this sound reasonable to those familiar with the process?

Finally, I realize that the DGS would best answer these questions, but he is currently on vacation, so this open forum will have to do.

"belowthree":

Intentional or not, your posts were arrogant as they made a number of unjustified assumptions. There are ways to make a point without coming off as a condescending ass. That said, I'll assume you were having a bad day and I'll take your points for what they're worth. Thank you for the input.

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One of my undergraduate professors once cautioned me about taking a year or two off; he made it sound as though my enthusiasm for the discipline may appear "stale" to admission committees. Does this sound reasonable to those familiar with the process?

I don't see taking a year off as any sort of a problem. Consider the payoff: instead of applying straight out of undergrad with no meaningful grad experience, weaker LORs and no time to prepare for the GRE, you'll apply after having tasted grad life: you'll be able to make a stronger case for your ability to do grad level work; you'll have better, refined ideas about your research, which you've actually had time to explore; and you'll have stronger LORs from profs who will back all this up. You'll also have more time to study for the GRE, but personally I think the reasons I stated earlier are much more compelling. Invest this year wisely in making contacts, writing (at least one) strong paper to serve as your writing sample, attending conferences and publishing if at all possible - and you'll only benefit from waiting the extra year. It's also feasible that you'll be able to get an RAship at your new school or find an internship in your field for that extra year, so it won't be "taking the year off" at all. But even if you got a "regular" job, I still think it'll be worth it for the possibility to aim higher and have better chances at both being admitted and securing funding.

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"belowthree":

Intentional or not, your posts were arrogant as they made a number of unjustified assumptions. There are ways to make a point without coming off as a condescending ass. That said, I'll assume you were having a bad day and I'll take your points for what they're worth. Thank you for the input.

I assure you that he wasn't just having a bad day. I've read enough posts by him to know that for sure ;)

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I'm Canadian too. You've probably looked at the programs in Canada that you like and confirmed that they don't ask for the GRE, but in case you didn't, I thought it was worth warning you that Toronto asks for GREs for philosophy PhD applicants, and McGill "strongly encourages" that philosophy PhD applicants take the GRE (so at least some Canadian programs want it).

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I agree with fuzzy.

Your prof was probably just making sure you weren't planning on taking too much time off. As in, "I am going to move to (insert interesting locale here) to find myself... be back, um soon."

2 years? Bad idea...

1 year to get your work done? No problem.

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personal GRE anecdote: I got a late start on the application process. I initially intended to apply only to the MA program at my home institution, and so scheduled my GRE appointment according to their rather late deadline. Around the middle of November, I decided I wanted to apply to other programs. I lost out on that opportunity because they were unwilling to accept my scores after their application deadlines. I somehow doubt those programs would have been receptive to a request for a waiver.

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This started out as what appeared to be an earnest question and quickly dissolved into a childish string.

But to the point of the original question, I do agree with "the spirit" of of many of the responses. I've been out of school for over two decades, I work a fulltime job and was carrying two preliminary graduate courses when I took the GREs. (I also have family obligations.) I had about two weeks to prepare, had not taken a math class in over 25 years nor any traditional academic courses in over 20 years. I did well all things considered and I'd never been a much of a test taker. Again, I'd had not had formal education in over two decades and was completely outside of the academic world, wherea it sounds like you're still very much in that groove. So I don't see the point of dreading the preperation for this exam, which it does sound like what you are doing. Lamenting the necessity of taking standardized tests to get into an American graduate school is like complaining about metric measurments on the Canadian highways. It may be silly, but if you you want to drive there you need to play by their rules.

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Once again, thank you for the comments.

Forgive my ignorance, but I just learned that the GRE is offered more than once every 1-2 months (as I naively thought). This actually makes studying considerably easier because I can take the test as late as December (while still having my score in time for application deadlines). Now, I have a new question... what is the best way to prep for the GRE? I'll probably pick up one of those Kaplan books, but does anyone have any recommendations for the vocab cards? What about the math prep? It's been a loooooooong time since I've taken any math course (6+ years if I remember correctly).

Thanks again!

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It hasn't been quite six years since I took a math class, but none the less, my skills were rusty. I got one of my friends who is a math wiz to tutor me. This, along with rapt attention to the suggestions of the Kaplan guide, and use of the many free practice tools on the internet helped me to take my initial score (the Kaplan guide comes with three CAT practice exams which simulate the real thing nicely) from a 450 to a 610 in only a couple of weeks. The key is to get as familiar with the test as possible, so take as many practice exams as you can. As for the verbal portion, its mostly vocab. Again, pay close attention to the suggestions in the kaplan guide. Supplement that with playing word games. Check out Freerice.com, sign up to have a "word of the day" in your inbox every morning, and look up every single long word you aren't sure of as you come across them in your reading.

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I'm not sure whether you're intending to apply to the US or Canada. As someone else pointed out, there are a few Canadian schools that require the GRE. Most seem to be psych departments. If you intend to study in the US, yes, you definitely need to write the GRE.

I am also Canadian, and I agree that we don't have the same attitude towards standardized testing. In my experience, however, a negative attitude towards the GRE will only hurt you. If you want to go to school in the US, it's something they require, so just do it like everyone else. Schools and departments vary on how the view the GRE, so don't assume the department you're applying at thinks it's a waste of time.

gre . . .

Book an appt. at a testing center, asap, so you have a deadline to work towards. You don't have to, but I took a GRE course and it was definitely worth it. The test requires you to move quickly, so you don't have much time to think. Courses also teach you various tricks that will increase your speed and effectiveness. If you don't want to shell out for a course, a book is more than adequate: Barrons, Kaplan, GRE Bible, Princeton Review, etc. Use more than one book. Do some GRE everyday. Expand your vocab (even if you think you have an extensive vocab). Do at least one CAT a week.

After having said all that,. from what you said about just starting your MA, I would hold off applying until it's completed--thesis and all. I did my MA at a Canadian university where stuff like this was discussed at length. I'm very surprised your supervisor told you not to take a year off. Most faculty think it's all the better. I told my super that I wanted to pursue a PhD, but planned to take a year off, first. I remember my supervisor saying "well, it makes sense to finish one thing before starting another."

US and Canadian applications differ, so they can't be seen, or written, the same way. Definitely spend some time understanding the process.

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