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Top Sociology PhD Programs Admitting Mostly Masters Students

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So this is more of a hunch or a question regarding how the admissions process works for sociology. 

So I've noticed, as have most of you that the Sociology Master's program is growing less and less frequent in the United States. More often than not now, maybe for funding issues or as a way to try to keep students at their current university, schools are doing away with offering a Master's degree in Sociology, in favor of the "masters on the way to your PhD." That being said, I've noticed a lot while browsing some of the better schools, that quite a few of the current students or admits have a master's degree from a different university already. 

So this has me wondering whether, despite the fact that they say you don't need a Master's degree to apply, if there is some kind of unspoken rule or pattern that favors the students who already have their masters. 

Now I realize that obviously most of the time, these students are more qualified than students who just have their bachelor's degree. They have more years of research experience typically; they often have a clearer idea of what they would like to study; and they have a master's level thesis to send in as their writing sample. 

So I guess my question is, with the breakdown/deconstruction of the separate master's program, how are schools making sure that each candidate is looked at fairly, or are they not? Does anyone else think this has the potential to create problems for students without Master's degrees, as fewer and fewer respected and ranked universities are offering terminal MA degrees? 

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My professors have consistently told me that admissions is more about fit (and then other random things on top of that) than GPA, GRE, transcripts, etc... It may be beneficial for us as the applicants to get an MA so as to get more research experience and a clearer perspective on our research goals to then be able to describe in the statement of purpose, but I don't think that disqualifies undergraduates from being able to both gain research experience and have a clear vision for their own research to explain in the SOP. 

As for your question about the fairness of the application process in regards to BAs or MAs, I have no idea. I don't think that this will create problems on the whole, but if you didn't do any research in undergrad or develop a clear SOP, then maybe a MA would have helped. Some undergraduate programs encourage that sort of thing more than others. 

Edited by draco.malfoy

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Well first let me say that I did do some research and TAing at my undergraduate institution; my BA was at a research-oriented university. And I do acknowledge that you can obviously have some research experience and have a pretty clear idea of what you want to study coming out of undergrad, and I'm not completely worried about my own application per say. However, looking at things in the long term or broad perspective, it feels like it has the potential to create a gap in the admissions process. 

So for instance, if 2010 was the year that most universities began to do away with the terminal MA. Over the course of the next few years, most of the out of undergrad applicants applying to top PhD programs would be competing with master's applicants as opposed to just bachelor's applicants. Naturally, most of the master's applicants who apply to universities with the right fit for them will get accepted because they will have more experience, the experience and research done in undergrad and in their master's programs as well as being a good fit for that university. While overtime, there will be less and less master's students looking for PhD institutions (not 0% because some will choose to transfer/leave/stop there etc), and once again the majority of applicants will be students fresh out of undergrad. But in between, you're going to potential see a difference in the pool of applicants who are applying.  

Now I'm not saying this is the only thing that matters. Obviously, as you said, fit is extremely important, as well as many other factors, but was just curious if anyone felt that this could create a problem. In fact, I think in general it is beneficial to keep the master's and PhD programs separate, as far as admissions is concerned because then you have two pools: mostly bachelor's competing for master's programs and mostly master's competing for PhD programs. 

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From what I've heard from the graduate students and professors I've worked closely with throughout my undergrad is that the schools are more comparing undergrad to undergrad and MA to MA, and that they're only going to accept one maybe two applicants coming right out of undergrad every year. Like a grad student I worked with implied that, and then my primary investigator for my senior thesis pretty much outright said that and she's been on the committee before. Which makes sense because you really can't compare undergrad to MA, MA would win out every time. So I can't really answer your question about schools getting rid of their sociology master's programs (As far as I know, only smaller schools don't have one- my undergrad institution did and so did many of the institutions I applied to for my PhD), but that's what I know about the whole undergrad/MA thing.

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8 minutes ago, bradley610 said:

I doubt a school would specifically reserve spots for undergrads just to do it. They're going to take the applicants who are most qualified and offer the best fit for their program areas, whether those applicants are coming straight from undergrad or already have an MA.

That's not really what I was saying. Just that they're going to accept way more MA students than undergrad students, and they're not really comparing undergrad applicants to MA applicants. Usually its only one student who just has a bachelors, but it could be more. I don't think its a reserved spot as much as it's common practice. You don't have to believe me though, I'm just sharing what I know.

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The primary reason having an MA helps is because it gives us more research expierence, especially if we completed programs that require a thesis.  For mine I created an administered a survey to around 750 individuals and recieved 390 back for my data.  I also conducted ~45  interviews (average length 1hour 13 minutes) as well as over 300 hours of participant observation and internship working with my participants.  I had 3 interns to help with data entry from the survey and used SPSS and R for the analysis, did most of the transcription on my own (1 intern helped with this but she quit after 3 transcriptions), developed a code book with the help of my advisor and did all of the coding in Nvivo....I am just finishing up my thesis, it is around 200 pages and will have several articles ready to send into journals when I am done as well as a book with my advisor....that took me 2 and 1/2 years.  It was A TON OF WORK, but all of that experience is why my advisor told me I stood a good chance of getting into a PHD program despite my lackluster undergraduate GPA that nearly kept me from getting into an MA program.  That's a lot more research experience for me, the MA student, than for my interns who could also claim research experience during their undergrad but who didn't do the entire project.  In fact, I've already written lettters of rec for some of them to grad programs....so undergraduate research experience just isn't the same as doing it as an MA student and what the shows PHD programs your potential is.  

Also some programs, like mine, let you teach undergrad classes- I taught a lower level intro class 6 different terms...that's super different from TAing for a course.  I mean I gave lectures, wrote tests, graded papers, led discussions, did the whole thing by myself. 

I should add that despite all of my experience I am yet to get in ANYWHERE.  Part of this is that I am switching fields (anth to soc) and part of that is also that I didn't have a thesis to send to them (I could send it to them now but early December I was still deep in edits and so I used a conference paper).  Point of this post is that yea the MA is supposed to help, but it isn't a magic bullet if my experience so far is any testimony.  It might take me another round to get into a program- another year to actually publish, have a finished thesis to show programs, and another year to give more papers at more conferences (I have 3 under my belt and one poster).  It stands to reason that someone with a BA who has published will have a good chance of getting in over me, who has higher GPA or GRE, who has a better written writing sample, who also has been to conferences with posters....

Ok this is getting long and the whole point is that from what I can tell and MA helps, but a really solid undergrad application beats mine on merit because I have some parts of what they are looking for but maybe not others.

That's my insight into what an MA does to help, but how a BA can beat it. 

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2 minutes ago, bradley610 said:

That makes sense, though I'd be interested to see the raw numbers of MA vs. BA applicants. I'd be surprised if most have an MA.

Perhaps it is different at other schools, but my undergraduate institution has a decent sociology PhD program and the classes I knew certainly embodied the proportions of students who already had an MA to students with just a bachelors that I described.

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13 minutes ago, bradley610 said:

That makes sense, though I'd be interested to see the raw numbers of MA vs. BA applicants. I'd be surprised if most have an MA.

That's actually what I'm most curious about. Like I said, I wasn't necessarily saying it was one way or another, but I'm curious to know the number of applicants (BA:MA) vs admits (BA:MA) to schools that only offer a "masters along the way" or no masters program, and if it's ethically reasonable for schools to tell you in their FAQ that a master's is not at all required (much less encouraged) when in fact it might be not required but somewhere mentioned that it's encouraged. 

And I'll say that every program I'm looking at made me apply to the PhD program, hence masters along the way or no masters. Now this isn't to say that my experience suggests it's on its way out as contradictory statements here might suggest otherwise, but I have heard that from professors. 

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56 minutes ago, bradley610 said:

I bet you'll make it into a program this go around. Most people who are admitted to PhD programs have not been published, and you seem to have done some substantial work.

 

I hope you are right!  It is sure a crazy process of not knowing what programs are looking for. 

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