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MA---->PhD?


hippityhop123
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Here's the story:

 

I graduated college last year. I've been thinking about earning a History PhD for the last year or so. After graduation I wanted to spend some time working in the real world, so I took a government job. 

 

I didn't apply for PhD programs (Fall 2015) because I didn't feel like my application was strong enough (several poor grades, average GREs, etc.)

I've been applying to MA programs instead, & I've been accepted at several of my top choices (American, NYU). 

 

Does earning an MA first strengthen my application for when I apply to PhD programs in the future? 

 

If my MA program is a year, when would I apply for a PhD?

 

I've been hearing the phrase "cash cow" in reference to MA programs, thus me trying to weigh the pros/cons :/ 

Edited by annabee
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I have two colleagues who did their (world) history MAs at NYU.  It wasn't a wonderful experience for them-- the atmosphere was impersonal as it could get.  It was also quite expensive to live in NYC (though same could be said for DC).  But their MAs did give them "hitting the ground running" for the PhD where they took on a different focus (and used "world history" as one of their minor PhD fields).  For what i knew about their application process for the PhD, NYU didn't propel into a higher ranked program.

 

If you don't already have undergrad debt, then perhaps it's worth the risk.  If you do have debt from undergrad, go to a cheaper MA program or work off the loans a bit.  Your PhD stipend will hardly be enough to keep up with the payments (you pay into the interest before the principal).

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Here's the story:

 

I graduated college last year. I've been thinking about earning a History PhD for the last year or so. After graduation I wanted to spend some time working in the real world, so I took a government job. 

 

I didn't apply for PhD programs (Fall 2015) because I didn't feel like my application was strong enough (several poor grades, average GREs, etc.)

I've been applying to MA programs instead, & I've been accepted at several of my top choices (American, NYU). 

 

Does earning an MA first strengthen my application for when I apply to PhD programs in the future? 

 

If my MA program is a year, when would I apply for a PhD?

 

I've been hearing the phrase "cash cow" in reference to MA programs, thus me trying to weigh the pros/cons :/ 

Question one: Yes, anything you're doing that helps you figure out specific details for your PhD applications will always further your endeavors in that field> That said, I would've seriously emphasized applying to at least a few PhD programs because you could be selling yourself short. As it is, my decision would be heavily predicated on an economic question, namely

If you had the amount of money you would need to borrow/spend to do your masters in hand, could you do a better job of pursuing your interests?

Basically, the MA will offer you a way to refine the questions you ask, and give you the time you need to ask them. If you don't really need refining, I'd jump straight to asking them, look through archives, dig up sources, think critically about what you want to argue.

(you'll probably decide an MA has something to offer you, which is fine. But I think you should really spend the time making sure that's true, rather than jumping to spend the money)

Question two. Again dependent, on what you are looking to do, what languages you will need, whether you can handle an extra class (Applying for the PhD), whether you have a sense of what your MA thesis will be and so on. More often than not, I think the answer is it will be easier to apply the year after your MA is done, but it's not impossible.

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Funded MAs exist. I was offered the opportunity for a few. If you don't feel you can afford the MA/don't want to risk the money, do better research on finding programs that fund for the next cycle.

 

Some people are all for MAs improving your PhD app, others say they are worthless, just depends which route they took personally :P.

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For me, the MA route was a must. I applied for a mix of MA/PhD programs two years ago, and did not get accepted anywhere that was direct to PhD. I am so glad. Like you, I had some spotty grades, but the MA gave me a chance to show a more competitive GPA and that I could be successful in graduate courses. It also offered the chance to make new connections and earn stronger letters of recommendation. Depending on how focused you are, you may also be able to hone in on a potential dissertation topic and build your knowledge in that area. The tradeoff is that I did have to incur some debt. Also, in your case, a one-year MA would mean you would have to take a year off to really benefit. You would likely not have any grades in or any chances to get new letters by the time applications are due this cycle.

Edited by jayray11
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Congrats on Harvard jayray11. The MA route is my best hope too. I'm in my mid 30s. My overall GPA is sorta mediocre and my history GPA was 3.6. Since college, I have graduated from law school and worked in the legal field. Law school was a bad experience for me. I'm wondering how to explain my poor law school record and average undergrad GPA to MA programs. What do you think helped you the most? Thanks. 

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Thank you! From the feedback I received, I would say my writing sample and my letters of recommendation were the most important. I am in a very specific subfield  and my writing sample showed that I can work in that field, using sources that demonstrated both paleography and translation skills. Also, my MA advisor is a rising star who has relationships with some of the people I wanted to work with (including my POI at Harvard). Her letter definitely went a long way. I didn't spend time trying to cover up gaps in my purpose statement. For the record, Harvard's application can make anyone look bad on paper. You have to list your grades in all history and history-related courses and all math courses. But my purpose statement focused on what has been consistent in my interests and work, even though I come from a non-history undergraduate degree. I was told that I conveyed a sense that I was still very open to learning and had the skills to do so, rather than being an expert in something (and therefore, potentially unteachable). I would hit hard why you are pursuing history and perhaps what about law might shape that or why those degrees might complement each other.

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I think doing an MA definitely helped my application. My writing improved tremendously. I applied during the year following my MA but others succeeded at doing MA and applying at the same time. If you think you application is strong, why wait for end of MA?

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It seems like you have already completed an application season, but before you go for the "cash cow" MA I would encourage you to look at fully funded MA programs. They are not common, but they exist. I did a fully funded MA and it improved my applications immensely. I am a non-traditional student and really needed the past two years to develop my interests and learn how to situate my little slice of research in the broader historiography. I was also able to have well-respected members of my field on my MA thesis committee, and I think those letters of recommendations were instrumental in my acceptances this season.

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jayray11 - did you address your poor grades in your application? Did your writing sample and recs come from the MA program? Thanks again.

 

No, I did not address grades beyond talking about how I worked full time during undergrad. I focused on my MA preparation and what I learned and wanted to do with it. My writing sample was my major MA report and all of my recs were from MA. I certainly think it helped. Feel free to PM me if you have more specific questions!

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countrynyc- I consider myself a non-traditional students for two reasons. I didn't finish my BA until my late 20s, and I had an entirely different career prior to entering my MA program. I am more than happy to discuss grad life as a non-traditional (and in my case first generation) student in a PM if you'd like.

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Thanks for the replies! Since I've been accepted to all of my top schools, I'm like "gah why didn't I just apply for PhD programs as my mentor said?!" Then again, MA & PhD admissions are very different, and while I have a lot to be thankful for w/the MA decisions, I still don't believe I would have been accepted into a strong, and more importantly, fully funded PhD program this cycle. One of the schools gave me 50% off tuition for my MA (which everyone says is amazing), so I'm leaning towards doing the MA in the next year... costs of housing in NYC are causing me to recoil in fear tho.

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  • 2 months later...

An aside: I don't know about anyone else, but I found the digressions in this thread helpful. Is the protocol here that we try to stay on topic? If it becomes a separate discussion, it does make sense to relegate to PM, but what about when more people benefit from such discussion? I guess this is a good opportunity for lurkers to quit lurking.

 

Also -- I am aware that this is an old thread, found it through a search, and even so it answered a lot of my questions - including ones that were digressive. 

 

Would protocol be to initiate a separate thread?

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