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Rejected by all PhDs, offered MA at Columbia and Uchicago. Should I go?


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Applied to 7 top Sociology PhD programs and the political science PhD at Uchicago. International Student. Offered MA at Columbia and UChicago(with half scholarship). I have a MA in Middle Eastern Studies already, not sure if it's a wise decision to go to UChicago and do another MA in Political Science and apply to PhD again this year. My parents are urging me to find a job instead, while my professors all said I should go for the MA.

Any advice?

 

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Email the programs you applied to and ask why they rejected you. Though they are legally barred from sharing what is in your letters of recommendation, they should be able to give you a good idea of how to improve your application file.

 

Also, given how competitive graduate admissions are, you could simply reapply the next year and have more success. There is little to separate those who are admitted and those who are rejected. Sometimes, the line between admission and rejection is a matter of luck.

Edited by slacktivist
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 There is little to separate those who are admitted and those who are rejected. Sometimes, the line between admission and rejection is a matter of luck.

 

I think this explanation works for why you wouldn't get into 1-2 schools for which you are qualified.  I think that the probability of going 0/7 to well chosen schools for which you have the credentials is quite low.  This suggests that there's something in the application file that's a mismatch to the programs OP applied to.  Maybe he just chose the wrong schools (poor fit between his interests and what they specialize in), maybe he picked bad letter writers, maybe he didn't write a good statement of purpose, maybe he didn't really have the GRE/gpa for the schools he applied to.  

 

Without insider information, there's really no way of knowing what you need to do to increase your chances next year.  If you can't get inside information from a department, you could try sending a full application file over to a mentor/letter writer that you trust.  I had a senior faculty member at my school who had been teaching poli sci for ~30 years review my credentials: he let me know that my GRE quant was pretty poor for schools in my range and that I should apply broadly to maximize my chances of at least one admission committee not caring.  The advice was sound and led to my best offer being from a school I wouldn't have applied to otherwise.

 

As to the original question, a non-funded masters is almost always an awful choice from a financial standpoint.  You will never recoup that $50,000.  And after room and board, Columbia is going to be closer to $70,000.  Only you can assess whether getting into a program is worth putting yourself in a situation which will probably objectively harm your wealth significantly for the rest of your life.

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Definitely toss out Columbia.  It's not worth 70k.  Chicago is a valid option here, especially if there are faculty at Chicago that work in areas that you are interested in working in during your graduate studies.

 

Instead of going after a masters program, I would say that you should try to find a research position at a university that would allow you to work closely with Political Scientists - perhaps as a research assistant or fellow at some university institute.  At my university, I know a few of these that hire people with BAs and/or MAs for two-year periods, and many of them are able to attain a recommendation from a (or multiple) big name professor(s) when they apply during their second year.

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Instead of going after a masters program, I would say that you should try to find a research position at a university that would allow you to work closely with Political Scientists - perhaps as a research assistant or fellow at some university institute.  At my university, I know a few of these that hire people with BAs and/or MAs for two-year periods, and many of them are able to attain a recommendation from a (or multiple) big name professor(s) when they apply during their second year.

 

Like the OP, I too have a masters and did what Doorkeeper suggested.  For the last three years I've been working in research for a university.  This time around, my experience played far more to my benefit than did my masters degree.  All interviewers wanted to know about the research I've been doing over the last few years than my masters projects.  

 

And the bonus is that over the last three years I was on salary while also publishing papers. I also got much stronger letters from more prestigious names for this year's application cycle. Worked out for me.

Edited by agrizz
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OP, I went 0/8 for PhDs last year (pretty much, one offer unfunded). This year I applied even more widely and have a top 20 acceptance, a top 40, and a few waitlists. I think it's worth a second cycle if you really see academia as the place for you. But I agree that you should look for a job/internship for this year, and try and get that M.A paid for in the framework of a PhD program. As an alternative, I did an MA abroad, which can be way way cheaper than in the States.

 

The biggest difference for me from cycle to cycle was re-working my SOP and focusing obsessively on fit. It's really worth reading at least 3 or 4 articles from each of the professors you propose to work with so you can better connect your interests to theirs in your application.

Edited by NYCBluenose
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as an international student an American MA can be  a good spring board if you think what may be keeping you out is your grades ( often in other countries there is less grade inflation) or recommendations. It can also help if you want to switch fields. (Do you want to switch though? I am not clear about that)

Ask your professors maybe they have something in mind along these lines.

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Like the OP, I too have a masters and did what Doorkeeper suggested.  For the last three years I've been working in research for a university.  This time around, my experience played far more to my benefit than did my masters degree.  All interviewers wanted to know about the research I've been doing over the last few years than my masters projects.  

 

And the bonus is that over the last three years I was on salary while also publishing papers. I also got much stronger letters from more prestigious names for this year's application cycle. Worked out for me.

Thanks a lot for both of you for the advice. Yes I am looking for RA positions, and I think there are quite a lot of things I could do since I speak both Chinese and Persian, and spent about a year in the Middle East.Wondering how competitive are those RA positions? Probably no less than PhD applications?

 

I think this explanation works for why you wouldn't get into 1-2 schools for which you are qualified.  I think that the probability of going 0/7 to well chosen schools for which you have the credentials is quite low.  This suggests that there's something in the application file that's a mismatch to the programs OP applied to.  Maybe he just chose the wrong schools (poor fit between his interests and what they specialize in), maybe he picked bad letter writers, maybe he didn't write a good statement of purpose, maybe he didn't really have the GRE/gpa for the schools he applied to.  

 

Without insider information, there's really no way of knowing what you need to do to increase your chances next year.  If you can't get inside information from a department, you could try sending a full application file over to a mentor/letter writer that you trust.  I had a senior faculty member at my school who had been teaching poli sci for ~30 years review my credentials: he let me know that my GRE quant was pretty poor for schools in my range and that I should apply broadly to maximize my chances of at least one admission committee not caring.  The advice was sound and led to my best offer being from a school I wouldn't have applied to otherwise.

 

As to the original question, a non-funded masters is almost always an awful choice from a financial standpoint.  You will never recoup that $50,000.  And after room and board, Columbia is going to be closer to $70,000.  Only you can assess whether getting into a program is worth putting yourself in a situation which will probably objectively harm your wealth significantly for the rest of your life.

I think fit might be a problem, but also as KAYKAY said, not having a MA from a top American university could be a big barrier, since all my references are from professors in Europe, who don't have much connection in the States. I also didn't apply to any programs below the top 10, which might be a strategic mistake too. But I do think if I go to Chicago and apply again, there is a good chance I will get into a decent place. But since a PhD doesn't guarantee you a good job immediately afterwards either, I might need to think whether it's worth to spend that 50,000.

Edited by angelaxu
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