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Hey all,

a little while ago I posted the topic "Grades versus Writing Sample?" in which I admitted I was unsure of if I ever really wanted to go to graduate school. Since then I've thought about it and I realized that I do want to get my M.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

I chose Columbia for a number of reasons: For one, it's been my dream school since I was eight years old but I went to a local public university instead. Second, my university hasn't provided me with the education or exposure I need to pursue my career goals. My current uni offers only a handful of classes on extremely random topics where the professors gloss over really interesting critical theory; half the time I feel as though I'm teaching myself, which I'd rather not pay thousands of dollars for. (Ex. We have classes on Afrofuturism and Islamic Literature but absolutely no classes focused solely on a theory or theorist, plus very few novels that are based on a timeline.) Columbia has these amazing classes that I'd die to take: This fall they're offering whole courses on New Wave Cinema (which I've actually written about in the past for a Manhattan-based art magazine!), Realism and Naturalism, and Jazz and American Culture, all offered to graduate students! Also, most of the established writers, peers, and publications I want to work with/for are near or attached to Columbia University in one way, shape, or form. Also, I feel as though Columbia will provide me with the challenge I seek to become a great writer and thinker as opposed to a good one. I have a friend in their Comparative Literature program right now and she's reading all this amazing discourse for her classes—texts that my school's highest courses haven't even touched yet. (I've taken three grad courses so far and they've all been pretty easy-ish.)

I'm also flirting with other Literature programs, but Columbia is definitely the goal. Here's the problem: My GPA took a major hit this spring because I went through some home life issues and mental health problems that made it difficult to focus on my schoolwork, let alone complete it. There were times where I'd sit in a seminar trying to listen but couldn't focus because I was overwhelmed by my thoughts; other times it was difficult to even go to class. I've seen a therapist since then and worked the issues out. It was a complicated time.

Thankfully, the semester before I made Dean's List and was admitted to Sigma Tau Delta. I've also developed great relationships with most of the English professors, which has helped a lot yet hurt a little: During my rough time this past spring they gave me a lot of leeway to get my act together, but since they know my prior work they expect more from me so when I turned in less-than-stellar work because I felt bad it just made me feel worse and worse.

My GPA is far from a 4.0 (right now) but I think my CV is coming along nicely: I've been published in two local newspapers, The New Inquiry and a couple of art magazines with forthcoming work on Hazlitt and Catapult, and I'm currently working on a research project to be added into a book of literary criticism published by Salem Press in 2017. This coming year I'm working on a senior honors thesis while taking easy classes this fall to rectify my GPA, lol. 

I don't intend on applying until Fall 2017 or 2018 after I've graduated so I have enough time to get my act together. I'm visiting the school this summer for more information about their program, and I'm most likely going to turn either my senior thesis or my chapter in the book in as my writing sample, if they'll even allow 20 - 50 pages, lol. Also, I've heard that taking a couple of years off after undergrad to work can help boost your chances of admission in grad programs.

So, basically, is there anything I'm missing? Is it even possible to get into Columbia if your GPA isn't perfect? I am looking at other programs but deep down I don't think I'd want to commit to another school—but this is really my only attempt at undergrad so it feels like if I don't get in now I never will. I dunno. I hate GPAs!

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Okay, I do not want to be a killjoy here, but have you considered other Master's programs? The Columbia program only offers, at best, a scholarship for tuition. Are you able to pay out of pocket for this degree, or will you be taking out loans for it? If you have a bunch of money saved, or can live with family while attending the program, that would make a difference. BUT! If you do not, then you should think about applying to funded Masters programs (e.g., Georgetown or Maryland), or even PhD programs.

Just to address some other random things in your post: Your extra-curricular publishing will look nice, but it's not going to be super helpful overall--academic publishing is much more important for our field than those places, though I do think they will make you a more interesting candidate, all things being equal. Most writing samples are 20-30 pages long. Your GPA matters a lot less than you think for the Columbia masters program...in large part because it is unfunded, and so is less competitive. Also, plenty of people get into top schools with GPAs that are imperfect; you have to remember that the quality of your scholarly writing and letters of rec can make up a lot of ground.

Anyways, just to reiterate: please, please be aware of the financial costs involved in an unfunded degree. 

Edited by echo449
threw around some numbers; didn't think they were that helpful to my point.

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6 hours ago, echo449 said:

Okay, I do not want to be a killjoy here, but have you considered other Master's programs? The Columbia program only offers, at best, a scholarship for tuition. Are you able to pay out of pocket for this degree, or will you be taking out loans for it? If you have a bunch of money saved, or can live with family while attending the program, that would make a difference. BUT! If you do not, then you should think about applying to funded Masters programs (e.g., Georgetown or Maryland), or even PhD programs.

Just to address some other random things in your post: Your extra-curricular publishing will look nice, but it's not going to be super helpful overall--academic publishing is much more important for our field than those places, though I do think they will make you a more interesting candidate, all things being equal. Most writing samples are 20-30 pages long. Your GPA matters a lot less than you think for the Columbia masters program...in large part because it is unfunded, and so is less competitive. Also, plenty of people get into top schools with GPAs that are imperfect; you have to remember that the quality of your scholarly writing and letters of rec can make up a lot of ground.

Anyways, just to reiterate: please, please be aware of the financial costs involved in an unfunded degree. 

Unfunded??? Ugh, of course. Education really shouldn't be that out-of-reach, smh.

I'm looking up funded programs now; are there any schools you think I should look at?

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When I look at grad programs, I first look for POI and then funding. No funding, no education. It's that simple for my currently broke self. I can barely afford applications,, so a ton of money for a two year program is a no-go lol. However, I must state that somebody else on this site stated that going to an unfunded program was the best thing they ever did because they made contacts that got them into a highly ranked, fully funded program or something like that. With that being said, is your main interest theory? Or are you still trying to find an area of specialty? Most areas involve a bit of theory, so it's good to have the basics down and then a few that you really know inside and out for you area.

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1 hour ago, kaiphi said:

 

Unfunded??? Ugh, of course. Education really shouldn't be that out-of-reach, smh.

I'm looking up funded programs now; are there any schools you think I should look at?

I mean, Georgetown and Maryland, for two. I'm not that up on who offers funded masters...I know Mizzou also offers one, and met a few people on campus visits who had received PhD offers after finishing that program. UI-UC and Penn State have masters programs that are sort-of-but-not-quite distinct from their PhDs, and often students will go elsewhere after finishing the first part in those places. So, ja, look around. (I also think that, if you're considering a career in academia, just going for a PhD at this point also makes sense. You should talk to faculty about it, and see what people who know you think).  

 

And I know exactly what you're feeling when you talk about how amazing those courses at Columbia sound, but, I mean, oftentimes the best syllabus with the trendiest stuff is a weird headache when you're actually in that seminar (not to say that Columbia's courses aren't great, tho I have no experience with them). Most of your best work will be self-directed; you'll discover the writers and theorists you need on your own. Also, FWIW, I'm at a program that is relatively theoretically conservative, and I'm frequently assigned tons and tons of trendy stuff, more than I would have expected before my seminars began. What is more important is that you are in a program that supports you and helps you develop as a scholar without doing you harm in other ways. To that point: I know that sometimes doing a paid masters works out for people. Cool. I believe that. A pretty famous poet/PhD is a graduate of Chicago's MAPH. But, overall, and in this market, it is probably not a safe choice for MOST people. It's to that 'most' that I'm directing my advice. 

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17 hours ago, BlackRosePhD said:

When I look at grad programs, I first look for POI and then funding. No funding, no education. It's that simple for my currently broke self. I can barely afford applications,, so a ton of money for a two year program is a no-go lol. However, I must state that somebody else on this site stated that going to an unfunded program was the best thing they ever did because they made contacts that got them into a highly ranked, fully funded program or something like that. With that being said, is your main interest theory? Or are you still trying to find an area of specialty? Most areas involve a bit of theory, so it's good to have the basics down and then a few that you really know inside and out for you area.

I'm still trying to find an area of specialty, but I am very interested in literary theory, the Harlem Renaissance and Négritude, as well as the relationship between literature and cinema. These are why I've gravitated mostly to Columbia, though funding it will be difficult lol.

I'm kind of interested in a lot, lol; do all MA programs require a concentration in which you have to focus on or is the area of focus just for the thesis?

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I don't know all of the funded MA programs, but I do know that U of Delaware has been pretty well-funded.  Beyond that, based on your interest in theory, it might be a good idea to look at UBuffalo's PhD program.  Theory is pretty much their calling card.  Alternatively, you could look at Cornell (they host a very well-regarded summer theory program every year).

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1 hour ago, kaiphi said:

I'm still trying to find an area of specialty, but I am very interested in literary theory, the Harlem Renaissance and Négritude, as well as the relationship between literature and cinema. These are why I've gravitated mostly to Columbia, though funding it will be difficult lol.

I'm kind of interested in a lot, lol; do all MA programs require a concentration in which you have to focus on or is the area of focus just for the thesis?

Basically, MA programs are not given much weight in the US. Funding goes towards PhD programs, and often MA programs exist specifically to fund PhD programs. If you are interested at all in becoming an academic, you would be in a much better place to apply to funded PhD programs. 

In regards to concentration, you're more or less expected to go into all graduate programs, MA or PhD, with some sort of focus. That being said, your listed interests seem specific enough that you could formulate them as an area of research—say, "Transatlantic Black Modernism & Film" or something along those lines. They aren't expecting you to know what you'd want to write a thesis or dissertation on, and you'll have to take courses in various areas in all programs, but they want to know that you have some sort of idea about your potential location as a scholar. You mention that Columbia has a number of scholars with whom you're interested in working—take those scholars, figure out exactly what interests you about them, and find a way of synthesizing those interests into a sort of profile. You're interested in Négritude and film, for example; can you tie those two together? Do you want to look at their intersections? Likewise, does your interest in New Wave cinema tie to your American interests? Would you frame what you want to do as a comparative project situated between Anglophone and Francophone contexts? You can be interested in "a lot," as you say, and still find a way to connect a lot of it together. 

You should talk to a few of your professors, and ask them whether they feel like you should apply directly to PhD programs. Having taken some graduate coursework, you seem like you would be prepared. The publication in The New Inquiry also bodes well, since they tend to publish a fair amount of work by significant young scholars & academics. One thing I would consider, however, is where you stand in terms of language proficiency. If you want to work on Négritude and New Wave cinema, do you have the necessary French? 

All of that being said, you should also check out some other departments/scholars. In absolutely no case will Columbia be a safe bet. Maybe consider looking at Donna Jones (Berkeley), Fred Moten (UC Riverside), Daphne Brooks (Yale), Tavia Nyong'o and Malik Gaines (NYU), Glenda Carpio (Harvard), and Alexander Weheliye (Northwestern). Also look carefully at the citations in work you are inspired by; who is most often referenced? Would you want to work with any of those people? 

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1 hour ago, poliscar said:


One thing I would consider, however, is where you stand in terms of language proficiency. If you want to work on Négritude and New Wave cinema, do you have the necessary French?

Yes. You'll need to learn French at some point. Most of Cesaire's work (and the articles that speak about it/ accompany it) are in French. I also have to learn it on top of another language.

 

Kaipha, we have similar interests. I'll send you a PM about my program. It's fully funded (or at least most receive funding).

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If you're interested in the MA as a stepping stone to other PhD programs I'd strongly encourage you to look for funded MA programs.  While they might not carry the household name recognition of Columbia, there are brilliant scholars to be found everywhere.  If you see your MA as a stepping stone to a PhD, perhaps consider Columbia as a goal for your PhD.    Not only do you have to think about the cost of Columbia, but the cost of getting by in New York as well.  

Before I was actually in a program and active in my field I was pretty mesmerized by fancy names, but once I actually started looking around I realized that there is good work being done everywhere, and also that there's really nothing better than minimizing your debt.  I mean this truly.  The job market is terrible.  Consider that when you finish your degree you are likely to be - at least for a little while - stringing together adjunct employment just to get by while you look for more stable work.  Do you want to be burdened during this time with a debt payment that eats up most of the money you have to live off of?  Don't think of the MA as your endgame, think of it as a place where you will build a dynamite CV and craft an awesome thesis that will define who you are as a scholar so that you can make the excellent case to the fully funded PhD program you've been dreaming about, because once you have your PhD no one is going to really look much at where you got your MA.

Consider taking a look at NC State, they offer a funded MA that is very highly regarded (especially if you go the film route) and may speak to your interests.  We have several excellent scholars in our PhD program who came out of NC State.

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3 hours ago, poliscar said:

All of that being said, you should also check out some other departments/scholars. In absolutely no case will Columbia be a safe bet. Maybe consider looking at Donna Jones (Berkeley), Fred Moten (UC Riverside), Daphne Brooks (Yale), Tavia Nyong'o and Malik Gaines (NYU), Glenda Carpio (Harvard), and Alexander Weheliye (Northwestern). Also look carefully at the citations in work you are inspired by; who is most often referenced? Would you want to work with any of those people? 

IMHO UC Irvine would be well worth looking at too. Arlene Keizer does postmodern black feminist lit (haven't read her but she looks like she does interesting work). Also, Irvine has Frank B. Wilderson III in their drama department and Jared Sexton in their Film and Media Studies and African American Studies departments, both of whom are doing really interesting work in both Black Studies and Film.

Edited by mollifiedmolloy

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3 hours ago, mollifiedmolloy said:

IMHO UC Irvine would be well worth looking at too. Arlene Keizer does postmodern black feminist lit (haven't read her but she looks like she does interesting work). Also, Irvine has Frank B. Wilderson III in their drama department and Jared Sexton in their Film and Media Studies and African American Studies departments, both of whom are doing really interesting work in both Black Studies and Film.

Yes! Also Kara Keeling at USC is also someone I should have mentioned. 

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