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Advice for beginning MA students looking toward a PhD?

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So looking back at my undergraduate years I can think of a lot of things I would have done differently/things I would have been more diligent about to prepare for grad school.


I am currently about to begin an MA in Middle Eastern studies with the hope of working toward a PhD afterward. I also just am beginning to realize that although it's a two year MA, I'll need to begin worrying about grad school applications in only a year and a half all over again. What this means is that most of what I'll be able to put on my applications will only be from the first year of my MA.


For current PhD applicants and students, what advice can you give to us who are just beginning our MAs? What would you have done differently to better prepare yourself for PhD applications?


Regarding writing samples, although a thesis isn't due until my last semester, does it make sense to try to try to knock it out in the Summer break? Or should I just try to go above and beyond on term papers and use one of those?


I've also been curious as to how to obtain letters of recommendation from MA professors. In my undergrad I had 3 years to get close to professors, take multiple classes with them, and allow them to become familiar with my abilities. In my MA I'll only have 1 year, and since the school I'm attending for my MA is much bigger than my BA it's not nearly as likely I'll have the same professor multiple times.


Any advice is much appreciated!

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