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mollycm

Teach For America vs Starting a M.A.

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I am an education student set to graduate in Spring 2017 and quickly approaching application season. I am interested in graduate programs in Educational Psychology, Learning Sciences or Curriculum & Instruction. I plan on earning a Ph.D. in the long run and working in academia. Although I have a good idea of what I am interested in, my interests are too wide right now and I think I could use some time to focus my research goals before applying to Ph.D. programs. Right now I am weighing the benefits of doing Teach for America or earning a preliminary Master's degree. Both are about a two-year commitment. The former would give me more field experience and make a lot of connections but I might lose ties with potential letter-writers and wouldn't be getting any research experience. The latter would give me more research experience with little field experience and I will accumulate significantly more debt because M.A. students don't get funding like Ph.D.s do. If any of you are in education, it would be great to hear your input. 

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For the PhD programs you've listed, I think it will be immensely helpful for you to have teaching experience. Therefore, I recommend TFA. It's certainly not required, but I think it will help you focus your interests, and be more familiar with the field you're studying. I honestly can't imagine studying education without at least some experience teaching. LORs are an important consideration, and I can see what you mean, but I was still able to find an undergrad professor willing to recommend me even after 5 years of teaching. TFA will also provide multiple contacts that could potentially write LORs. A combination of academic and professional LORs is very much acceptable.

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Also, if you do decide to go with TFA over the MA, it might be prudent to mention to professors now that you intend to apply to PhD programs in a few years, you may ask them to write a LOR, and that you'd like to stay in touch about your research interests. 

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A couple more notes: it is possible to get research experience while teaching. You can do an independent "action research" project in your classroom, which would set you apart as an applicant, especially if you present or publish it somewhere. There are numerous journals that describe this process.

Additionally, depending upon where you are placed, TFA may require and/or subsidize a master's degree in education while you teach. 

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On 7/5/2016 at 8:18 PM, mollycm said:

I am an education student set to graduate in Spring 2017 and quickly approaching application season. I am interested in graduate programs in Educational Psychology, Learning Sciences or Curriculum & Instruction. I plan on earning a Ph.D. in the long run and working in academia. Although I have a good idea of what I am interested in, my interests are too wide right now and I think I could use some time to focus my research goals before applying to Ph.D. programs. Right now I am weighing the benefits of doing Teach for America or earning a preliminary Master's degree. Both are about a two-year commitment. The former would give me more field experience and make a lot of connections but I might lose ties with potential letter-writers and wouldn't be getting any research experience. The latter would give me more research experience with little field experience and I will accumulate significantly more debt because M.A. students don't get funding like Ph.D.s do. If any of you are in education, it would be great to hear your input. 

Do TFA to gain some real experience, you could always work on your MA afterward. This will give you an idea if teaching is for you or not before you invest too much time or money in it. 

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I agree that TFA is shady - there are lots of articles out there about how shady it is. I had a former RA who did TFA and she emailed me towards the end of her first year to tell me about the experience; it was not positive, although she learned a lot. (She wanted to understand the needs and problems of low-income children before going to medical school, and boy, did she get it.)

With that said, I would encourage teaching experience if you are interested in careers in academia in a school of education. Many faculty positions in these fields require 3 years of K-12 teaching experience, and many of the PhD programs strongly recommend it. You'll find it less in educational psychology but very much in curriculum and instruction - because C&I is a field that often involves faculty members teaching and preparing K-12 school teachers, and how can you teach a teacher to teach if you haven't taught yourself? 

You won't lose potential letter-writers. Professors will still remember you in 2 years. I still remember students I taught and mentored longer ago than that. You'd just provide them with a resume updating them with what you've done since college, plus a few other materials.

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