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PhD Chances with MAs from a European University/Non-Traditional Candidate Profile

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I am currently enrolled in two masters programs (German Language and Literature, Comparative Literature) at a university in the German-speaking world, and I am interested in applying for American PhD programs in one subject or the other once I've completed my degrees. Is anyone out there/has anyone out there been in a similar situation?


A bit more relevant information about myself: I'm an American who ended up abroad on an English-language teaching fellowship after completing my bachelors in 2013, and then subsequently began MA study. My undergraduate stats are decent (I graduated from a competitive LAC with a 3.8 GPA), although I did not write a bachelor thesis. That being said, when I finish my masters degrees, I will have written two masters theses. However, this won't happen until 2017, as I'm also working part-time to afford rent and other living expenses. This means that if I were to ultimately pursue the goal of a PhD, my first semester would be in the fall of 2018, a full five years after getting my undergraduate degree. 


I'm curious to know what kinds of things American PhD programs in (foreign language) literature would be especially keen to look for in an applicant with a European MA in addition to, of course, excellent scholarship and a thorough research proposal (i.e., same things they look for in everyone). Moreover, I would also like to know whether any PhD programs out there are particularly receptive to applicants coming from Europe.


I'm wary that my somewhat non-traditional candidate profile will somehow end up hurting my chances, but I'm committed to at least sending some apps out in a couple years and seeing what happens. Thus, I want to be as deliberate as possible right now in hopes of bolstering my profile in whatever ways possible.


Thanks for reading!

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I think you'll be fine. Other than the standards that you mentioned, language fluency goes a long way, both reading and writing, especially if you can TA or teach intro courses to that foreign language. If the MA program is in the native language of the country you are in (German Lit in German in Germany for example at a German University) that will really help you. 

Edited by Appppplication
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Well, it's always difficult to gauge chances, especially such a long time in advance, but I'll give you my two or three cents because I'm coming at it with a kinda similar perspective but reversed biography. I'm German (about to graduate with Staatsexamen) and got my Master's in Comp. Lit. in the US in 2012. I applied for English PhDs last year (8 rejections) and this year and also for one Comp Lit PhD program this year. I got into the Comp Lit program and I'm really excited about that although I would probably consider my interest in American Lit as stonger than in German. I'm sure that me being a native speaker and applying for Comp Lit and my American MA contributed to this acceptance but there's always other factors. My perspective, maybe my delusion, was that me being German makes me kinda exotic (yeah I know, but well) and I imagine in your case, your non-traditional bio will in the very least make you interesting to grad programs and isn't that what we want. Having 2 MAs will hopefully show them that you can stick it out too.
Another tidbit about my bio: All in all, I took somewhat longer to complete my German degree as is often the case here (I also had to work and stuff but I also genuinely enjoyed studying...) and Maryland at least doesn't seem to mind ;)


If you're not set on what kind of program to apply to, I'd definitely go for Comp Lit or German in your case. Fewer spots, yes, but I imagine your degrees from a German-speaking uni can give you an edge.


Also, the German grading scale translates into a pretty decent GPA.

Good luck!

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Just in case: I was joking in my response. So many of these 'What are my chances' threads seem to just be seeking out affirmation: "Dear Gradcafe, longtime lurker here. I want to apply for a phd in French literature--I majored in comp lit at a prestigious American university,  I'm getting an MA in French at the Sorbonne, and my wife is the head of the French Dept. at Yale. Do you think I have a shot? Or should I become a chimney-sweep?"


Do you really think your qualifications are going to hurt you?

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helioglaubus, fair point. Also, I read your first post as a joke, and it was definitely self-awareness-inducing for me.


Megeen, thanks for sharing your experience. Out of curiosity, did you also apply to graduate programs in Europe, or did you have your eyes dead set on the states?

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I pretty much had my heart set on the US but if it hadn't worked out this time or maybe next season, I would've looked at Germany too. I never had to though because--I don't know how familiar you are with the German PhD application system--the whole thing is vastly different.

You basically have to wait until you have your degree in hand, write a dissertation prospectus, (which doesn't happen until the second or third year in the US), find a supervisor (Doktorvater/-mutter) who's willing to take you on based on your proposal, which is not very difficult because you tend to take care of funding yourself and then you're basically stuck with this supervisor and maybe one other Doktorvater/-mutter. Tuition is not an issue because we don't have any and so you basically only have to figure out your living expenses. Some, very few people have something comparable to GA-ships that include the option to teach your own independent course, some people get external scholarships from institutions or political parties, many people work regular jobs next to writing their dissertations or rely on mon and dad, and lately some schools have started to launch interdisciplinary graduate schools in the humanities that offer funding, but those spots are coveted too.

That's it in a nutshell, a very, very simplified notshell. Overall the entire PhD process tends to be a lot less structured than in the US which is one of the reasons why I prefer to do my doctorate in the US, but there's also advantages to the German system such as the fact that you don't have to take classes before you start writing your dissertation, which is good for those who know exactly what they want to write about, and you generally have a lot more freedom. Basically, no one will hold your hand, but no one will hold your hand... If you're highly intrinsically motivated to work on your stuff, it can be great but it can also be very isolating because you're not necessarily involved in everyday life at your institution and it depends on your professor how much they promote communication between their doctoral candidates. Some do, some don't, some try and fail. Mostly it's just difficult to gauge the entire thing from the outside whereas in the US I find everything fairly transparent by comparison but well, that's subjective...

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