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Advice on Applying to Grad School 5 Years Post-undergrad (Especially Interested in Advice from People who Took a Break after Undergrad)

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Any thoughts/recommendations/advice about applying to graduate school 5 years post-undergraduate degree(s)?  I would be applying to MA programs in literature; part of me wishes I were more interested in Rhetoric and Composition, but I don't think I should "force it."  I suspect time spent away from my chosen field will hurt my chances, but if it helps, my desire to go to grad school hasn't diminished in 5 years.  I am not sure if they will see my experience as relevant or just see me as a wildcard/potentially "rusty" candidate.

A run-down of the past 5 years:

(1) 2 years spent teaching high school and middle school Spanish.

(2) 7 months in a  post-baccalaureate program to get my English licensure (K-12), certificate of completion and license obtained.

(3) a summer working for Pearson-Vue as a testing administrator.

(4) 9 months working for a social services non-profit.

(5) 1.5 years working for Tutor.com, an online tutoring company as an independent contractor (overlaps with #3 and #4).

 

Current Certifications: I hold 2 teaching licenses in my state, a. Spanish (PreK-12) and b. English (K-12).

 

I applied 2 years ago to a 5 MA and/or MA/PHD programs, no acceptances that time around...  I wish I had e-mailed some of the DGSs that first time around to find out more, but suffice to say, I "chickened out."

I plan on applying to MA programs, since I have had nearly 5 years away from my chosen field, and do not think combined MA/PHDs programs are a good idea at this time.  I want to make sure I am making the right choice of chosen field, continuing on to the PHD, etc.  (I also fear since it's been 5 years my undergraduate professors (LOR writers) may not remember me as well; I have kept in touch with some of them, but still, it's not like I graduated last year or the year before)).

 

 

Edited by profpopes

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Hi,

That's not so many years away. For example, I got into 6/8 PhD programs this year, with one waitlist that I think will come through, 15 years post M.A. We should talk; I think I can help. PM me if you'd like, and welcome to the community! Hope to hear from you. 

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I don't know what your undergrad degree is in, but the five years afterwards have made you a BETTER candidate. Of course, you need to write an original SOP and have an interesting writing sample. One area you haven't mentioned, in general you need three academic references, that might be a challenge. Get your ducks lined up! ¡Pan comido! ¡No te va a costar un ojo de la cara! ¡suerte!

 

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I applied after a three year break between my MA and PhD. I emailed my letter writers very early in the process (think, March) to update them on what I was doing and ask what they thought about pursuing a PhD and if they would write me a letter. I really was on the fence at the time, so initiating a dialogue about the pros and cons of pursuing a PhD was a helpful way to get the ball rolling and remind them of who I am. Be prepared to share with them papers you wrote in their classes. Are you still local? If yes, consider going to meet your letter writers in person.

Also, I am very sad your user name isn't profpoops like I initially thought. I am eight.

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Yep, I took a good long break and not only that - when I went back, I did so switching from International Relations/Political Science into English Lit. Then I went for an MA before applying to the PhD, and that too came with a break. I think these breaks have done me well, but I'll echo what xolo said about getting your academic references. If you can shore those up, then the rest is all up to you, and passion can fuel those other bits - SoP, writing sample, etc. 

I will say a quick word about how a break between my MA and PhD was perceived/discussed/etc vs how it played out in reality. I had a proseminar in my MA, which was fantastic, and which I was told in no uncertain terms that there was essentially zero reason to worry about the wait to apply that I was facing (I knew that I would wait at least 2 years to apply to PhD programs, and here I am). And...yeah, I have had moderate success in my PhD application cycle, and things have gone well. But the distance in time between me and my recommenders did become a factor. The writing I did for my writing sample without the guidance of mentors became a factor, even though I am incredibly proud of it and it is headed for peer-review publication. I guess what I am saying is that there is nothing on paper, or in the conventions, or inherent in the profession, that looks down upon the gaps between degrees, and a dose of experience may help you stand out as an applicant (your 5-year rundown shows that you are an impressively industrious soul)...but also that however life and relationships may evolve in those intervening years is a total wild card. The fact that you're here, asking this, tells me that those intervening years haven't derailed you, and you should absolutely go for it. And if I'm reading you right, you're beginning w/ the MA, which is fantastic. I was a non-traditional 30-something when I went for my MA in English Lit and will be every bit the non-traditional 40-something PhD graduate. For me, it simply wouldn't have worked if I was emerging from this whole process as a 26-year old or whatever. I wouldn't be the same applicant, and for me - as I suspect for many of the non-traditionals - that's part of the beauty. Embrace it.

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I just applied and got into an MA program in communication disorders 10 years out of undergrad in a completely different field from my undergrad degree, so it's never too late! I would suggest, if you have time, to take a class or two as a post bac student to ease your way back into being a student and to get new, fresh, academic LORs who can comment on you as a student now, not how you were 5 years ago.

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Thank you all for your feedback!  Just curious where (at what schools) you've gotten and/or are pursuing your MAs and/or PHDs...?  Please respond if you get a chance.

Edited by profhopes

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I was admitted to a top-10 program at a pretty well known state institution. I hope that answers your question - basically go for what you want!

In my case, I was out of school longer than anyone else on this thread and I came from a totally different background from Spanish or even the humanities. I went back to school for several years which afforded me my LOR writers and allowed me the opportunity to produce some writing samples. I don't think it was sublime prose, but it was a solid and unusual research topic (just my humble opinion :) I think those were the most important factors in my case. It also helped that my research topic lined-up very well with the graduate advisor's interests.

I also think academia in the US is more open and diverse than Spain and Latin America.

But beware of what you ask for, in my case teaching undergrad Spanish courses is what I would call a labor of love, especially considering the paltry salary (But still, I'm very appreciate of what I have).

 

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I did my MA at CU Boulder and got into Purdue and Hawaii and wait listed all over the place, including UVA, Mizzou and Santa Barbara. There was a recent comment too from someone else who did an MA at Boulder and spoke to the cohort's success in applying to PhD programs, something along the lines of everyone who tried it got into at least one top-50 program, though that has less to do with your inquiry about a gap there were nevertheless plenty of others with gaps similar to mine... I've made some allusions to the pro seminar that they offer and it is top-notch so that sounds about right. Happy to provide more info or chat privately, let me know what you think and good luck!

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Dear Emma,

I have a friend that attended CU Boulder for philosophy.  I'm hearing a lot of positives about the academic environment there.  I may take you up on your private chat offer. 

Thanks @EmmaJava and @xolo for your helpful feedback!

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8 hours ago, profhopes said:

 

Dear Emma,

I have a friend that attended CU Boulder for philosophy.  I'm hearing a lot of positives about the academic environment there.  I may take you up on your private chat offer. 

Thanks @EmmaJava and @xolo for your helpful feedback!

Sure thing, fire away! 

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I'm probably going to echo better advice here, but I just applied to 6 PhD programs after I graduated with a BA in 2010. During my time off, I worked various office jobs until I finally gave myself the now-or-never ultimatum to apply. I started the process sometime in late June, but I already had early drafts of a writing sample and SOP from previous application seasons (I prepared twice but never submitted). I sent these drafts to a bunch of graduate student friends and to my eventual LOR writers. Over the next few months, they gave me notes on how to improve my work, and I would make revisions and resubmit -- back and forth. I eventually drove down to my old alma mater and met with each LOR writer personally not only to work on my application materials but also to reintroduce myself and to give them a better sense of the kind of person and scholar I had become in the years since I graduated. I can't stress enough the importance of involving your LOR writers as early and as often as possible. This will give your application a sense of direction and some confidence that you're doing things correctly (and that you're not just groping in the dark).

Feel free to PM me too if you have any more specific questions, and good luck out there!

Edited by lesabendio
Specified that I applied to PhD programs.

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