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Hi everyone! I'm new to thegradcafe.com but I desperately need some advice, guidance, ideas, etc. I'm really torn as to what my next move is academically and life-wise. 

I will be graduating in the spring of 2017 with an overall GPA of 3.2, my degree will be a BA in Political Science with a French minor. I want to go on to get an MA & PhD. The two fields I am leaning towards are History and English/Writing. Clearly I don't have a high enough GPA to get into an upper-level school, so to speak. However, I really want to get my PhD from a top 20 school. My GRE scores were: 148 quant, 162 verbal, 5 writing. I plan to retake the GRE in the spring to see if I can get higher scores. So, what next steps would you recommend? Here is what I've considered. 

-Go home, work for a year (maybe two) and attend a local university to take one or two graduate courses to make a firm decision on what to get my degrees in. Then apply for an MA/PhD program or just an MA and then my PhD at another school.

-Begin an MA program at my state school (a good one) and get that degree, then go on to a top 20 school for my PhD. 

Basically what I'm wondering is this: 

-With my current academic standing, would it be beneficial for me to take a few grad courses at my local school, excel in them and then attend a matriculating MA program somewhere that better suits my interests? 

-Is it frowned upon to get an MA at one university and go to a different one for a PhD? 

-Would working for a year or two while taking classes (and getting the best grades possible) improve my application package for programs? 

-Should I take some extra undergrad classes at my local university in history or english since those fields weren't my major field?

-Is there any chance, if I excel in an MA program and prove to be a valuable asset, I could be fully funded for a PhD program/get assistantships, etc? 

-Is there a chance I could go to a lower-ranking school for my MA and potentially get funding if my GRE scores were fantastic? 

-Is it bad to take a few years away from my undergrad, work and such, and then formally apply for an MA program? I'm dead set on getting a PhD so I know I will go back to school no matter what. 

 

I'm leaning towards going home to work, save money, and try a grad class or two to confirm it's what I want to pursue. However, what is realistic for me to pursue after I take those classes and excel? Thank you so much for your time and thoughts! 

Any and all advice is welcome. 

 

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On 12/8/2016 at 10:03 PM, everytearcameredemption said:

Hi everyone! I'm new to thegradcafe.com but I desperately need some advice, guidance, ideas, etc. I'm really torn as to what my next move is academically and life-wise. 

I will be graduating in the spring of 2017 with an overall GPA of 3.2, my degree will be a BA in Political Science with a French minor. I want to go on to get an MA & PhD. The two fields I am leaning towards are History and English/Writing. Clearly I don't have a high enough GPA to get into an upper-level school, so to speak. However, I really want to get my PhD from a top 20 school. My GRE scores were: 148 quant, 162 verbal, 5 writing. I plan to retake the GRE in the spring to see if I can get higher scores. So, what next steps would you recommend? Here is what I've considered. 

Hello,

First, understand that any advice from any of us is limited to the portion you shared with us. You and your professors know better your situation, your possibilities, and your overall professional aim. So bear that in mind. 

It is clear to me that you need some time off. You talk about getting a MA and a PhD as if the degree was the only thing that mattered. From what you expose, there is no clear project of what you want to do, only that you want another degree. What are your professional goals? What do you want to do? Do you need a MA or PhD for that? If yes, then you are on the right track. But be honest to yourself about your career aims. Getting a degree is not a professional goal, it is a Peter Pan symptom (oh yes, I had that!)

-Go home, work for a year (maybe two) and attend a local university to take one or two graduate courses to make a firm decision on what to get my degrees in. Then apply for an MA/PhD program or just an MA and then my PhD at another school.

-Begin an MA program at my state school (a good one) and get that degree, then go on to a top 20 school for my PhD. 

I am of the opinion that getting job experience can never work against your odds. Getting a job implies time-management, responsibilities, and career-planning that do not exist before you actually do it. This, of course, does not mean that everyone should do it. I know very successful PhD students who went straight from undergrad. But in your case, I think it will serve you well to slow down and figure out precisely what you want to do. An obsession with GPA, GRE scores, and rankings is not enough to get you into grad school. They are necessary, of course, but you also need a project, a question, something that moves you to wanting more. Wanting to get a PhD in History or English tells us that you haven't thought about what you want, what questions you have, and how you want to answer them. You owe yourself thinking about this. 

Basically what I'm wondering is this: 

-With my current academic standing, would it be beneficial for me to take a few grad courses at my local school, excel in them and then attend a matriculating MA program somewhere that better suits my interests? 

-Is it frowned upon to get an MA at one university and go to a different one for a PhD? 

If you are accepted into a Master's program at University X and apply for a PhD elsewhere, it is OK. At least in history it is not frowned upon. I know several students in my program who come with Master's from other (very good) universities. We learn different things at different stages in our lives. Intellectually, we sometimes benefit from one environment until it cannot give us anything else and we move on. This is part of life, and I cannot think of anyone that told me they had a hard time not moving on into a PhD in the same school. What is weird -but could happen for a number of reasons- is you enrolling in a PhD and leaving with a MA to continue your PhD elsewhere. It can happen, but it doesn't seem this is what you had in mind when you asked the question. 

-Would working for a year or two while taking classes (and getting the best grades possible) improve my application package for programs? 

Improve, I don't know. I think it doesn't hurt. But it can also be irrelevant. 

-Should I take some extra undergrad classes at my local university in history or english since those fields weren't my major field?

I would decide first what is it that you want to do with History or English. Then, go and talk to a professor that knows you in whatever department you choose and take it from there. (Extra courses could never hurt you, although remember you have to pay for them, right?)

-Is there any chance, if I excel in an MA program and prove to be a valuable asset, I could be fully funded for a PhD program/get assistantships, etc? 

Funding does not come because you are a valuable asset. I'm sure you are, and I'm sure I am, but if my funding defines how valuable I am... I want to cry! :) What you need to proof is that you are serious about your professional goals. That you have interesting questions and that people in X department would benefit from having you in their intellectual community. It is not a question of getting straight As. It is a question of being clear about how you want to improve the field (since you are talking about the humanities). 

-Is there a chance I could go to a lower-ranking school for my MA and potentially get funding if my GRE scores were fantastic? 

Funding packages are never based on GRE or GPA, at least not for Doctorate programs. During this time off, I think you should research what schools do you want to attend and the funding they have. Contact faculty and tell them about your project. Have a project to talk about. Contacting faculty to ask them if your GPA is too low tells them you are thinking like an undergrad, and you should "graduate" to something else. Does this make sense? 

-Is it bad to take a few years away from my undergrad, work and such, and then formally apply for an MA program? I'm dead set on getting a PhD so I know I will go back to school no matter what. 

Being set on doing something doesn't make it happen. From your questions I gather that you didn't do much research as how grad school works, what matters, and how to prepare properly (or maybe you didn't have good advisors). That's ok, we were all there! I'm strongly advising you to consider your career planning, schools research, and thinking about your project as part of preparation for grad school. These are at least as important as the numerical elements of GPA and GRE that you are worried about. Let me put it bluntly: a good GPA does not guarantee a spot in ANY school. They help make the cut, and that's it. From your post, it is clear that you don't want to be a "that's it" person. You clearly want more, although you don't know (or did not post) exactly what that "more" is. 

I'm leaning towards going home to work, save money, and try a grad class or two to confirm it's what I want to pursue. In addition to your instinctive leaning towards working for a while and taking some grad classes, participate in graduate activities. You will not confirm your career goals with classes only because academic work -if that's what you want to do- exceeds the classroom, the assignments, and the note-taking. Again, this is connected with your career goals. Do you want to teach? Do you want to do research? Where would you like to work? What do you want to do? Not everyone knows this and many go into grad school only to discover that it is not what they wanted. Many have clear career goals and then change them. Since you are thinking of having some contact with graduate students and professors while you work, think about beyond the program, what is it that you want to do? Getting a degree is not enough. Wanting a degree is not enough. What is it that you want to pursue? What do you want the degree for? 

However, what is realistic for me to pursue after I take those classes and excel?

Only you know this. Have you talked to a professor in your program? They could guide you better. Do you have any mentor, advisor, or professor in the History or English depts that can shed some light on this?  

Thank you so much for your time and thoughts! 

 

 

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Hi @AP!! Thank you so, so much for your thorough and thoughtful answer! In regards to asking about my interests, here is what I'm interested in: 

I want to write a text (or multiple) on female political leaders throughout history. Specifically I'd like to do research on female prime ministers throughout history, the role of women in the political arena in those countries (India, Pakistan, etc) and the connection between women and those elected to office. I also would like to research women's political history in the U.S., in which I am leaning towards applying to Rutgers with their CAWP. Thus, I would be mixing my interests in political science with my history interests. I want to be a professor at a university while doing this research and writing, etc. 

Thank you for your emphasis on how wanting the degree is not enough, and how important the research interests are behind it. It's easy to get caught up in the allure of the PhD and not always fully consider all the work and depth that will be behind it. 

A poster on another site recommended that I take a few undergrad courses in History (akin to a minor) and excel in them, in order to strengthen my package for application, to prove my ability for success in the field/show I am prepared, and to be sure that's what I want to be pursuing. Thus, maybe a preliminary idea would be to work next fall while taking one to two upper level undergrad courses in history? Or should I try a grad level course in history? What do you think? I've taken two classes in history during my undergrad: US History up to 1877 (A) and Russian History from 1900 onwards (B+). I really enjoyed both of them but I haven't taken one in about two years so I think I'd like to try another to make sure. Plus, I definitely need more experience with primary source materials and basic historical research.

I'm happy to know funding, decisions, etc aren't 100% said and decided on GPA & GRE. That was my biggest concern. I'm not worried about showing my interests and what direction my research is going in, I'm more worried they won't consider me qualified whatsoever. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm very interested in Rutgers and their Center for American Women and Politics. Clearly this would be a great location for what I'm interested in researching and writing about, in terms of my interests in U.S. politics and women. 

I plan to confer with a wide range of professors tomorrow in order to see what they think. Obviously I have no plans set in stone, just sending out feelers, trying to get as much advice/input/knowledge from a wide range of sources as possible. 

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