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Rejected from PhD program, offered spot in Master's! Decisions, decisions?


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Over the past year, I applied to Ph.D programs in Education Policy. One of the programs that I was highly interested in was UPenn's. I figured that with my application and experience, it might be a stretch. I was rejected from each doctoral program I applied to, but was accepted to the M.S.Ed program in Education Policy at UPenn and was awarded $13,500 in merit-based scholarship and the potential for $10,000 for a Dean's Scholarship. 

Rejection is a bummer, but this offer creates a new opportunity. I am partially unfamiliar with their Master's program in Ed Policy, and this merit-based scholarship still leaves me on the hook for $29k in tuition. Would going to UPenn be worth it? Is this just a really soft rejection? Can I scholarship and assistantship $29k down to something manageable with loans and extra employment? 

I'm currently a teacher with five years of experience and a Master's degree in teaching. I'm looking to transition my career to research and policy in my field. My ultimate dilemma is whether this is a worthwhile opportunity to make that change. Or am I better suited performing  post-mortem on my applications, staying at my current job, and trying again next year? 

Like I'm sure you're used to hearing: any advice would be appreciated! 

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It's your call to make. But if I were in your shoes I would personally not get a second master's degree in the same discipline with a different sub-field. Do you know if any alumni and current students have been accepted into the PhD program with a similar academic background? I'd try to find out for a credible source if having a master's in educational policy is necessary to get into the PhD. But I have a hunch some schools would accept applicants with your educational background if the rest of your profile was strong.

I'd strengthen your application by getting some work experience in the field to show evidence of your interest and commitment to the field. Try doing some research or some special projects related to your area of interest. Maybe there are some courses or workshops you could take to enhance your resume, as well.

You didn't mention having work experience outside of teaching, so I apologize in advance if I am making an incorrect assumption about your profile.

Sometimes what happens is people want to make a career switch. Sometimes they've known for a long time that this is what they want to do. But the problem is that the admissions committee doesn't know that. If you don't have experience in your new area of interest, the adcom doesn't know if you applied on a whim or if you have a good understanding of the field you want to get into or if you are sure that this is what you want to do.

When you put together your statement of interest, the best way to demonstrate your interest is to SHOW it rather than TELL it to them. It is easy to say I am interested in... and I am excited about .... and I want to learn about... so that I can do ... after I graduate. But anyone can make these statements. If you can back up your statements with evidence (such as volunteer work or research you've done) your statement will be much more credible. I think it is important to have a proven track record of commitment to the field and to be able to demonstrate why it makes sense for you to return to school (so that you can fix certain problems or gaps in the field, which you should have good insight into as an experienced teacher). If your application to the program makes sense and can demonstrate a natural progression into this field based on your past work and current interests, then you should have a stronger chance in getting in.

That's my 2 cents, for what's it's worth. Good luck!

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Thank you for replying in detail! 

I appreciate your two cents. I do not have professiona experience outside of teaching, and my research experience is limited to my Master's thesis from five years ago. I sought advice on my SOP and took great pains to highlight my interests in this subfield as well as my career goals. 

I believe that my resume might be where I need to imprpve to bolster my chances of acceptance. Some more academic experience in research and policy was what I suspected might be lacking, compared with applicants who have more quantitative or research-heavy backgrounds. This is why I seriously consider joining UPenn's program where I could potentially learn, work, and build a network among people and organizations that are in this field. 

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Are there other ways you could research, learn, and work without taking out $50K in debt? For example, could you pursue an entry-level position in education policy at a nonprofit or with the local school board?

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The cohort for UPenn's education policy program is also extremely small. When my friend was accepted, she was only one of two people. So I think rejections can also be taken with a grain of salt. The best way to at least secure an interview is to make sure you are a great fit with the person you are applying to work with. I don't know that a Master's in Education Policy will make you more competitive for a PhD program. Instead, perhaps you could email your POI at Penn and see if they could give you useful tips. See if there are ways to get involved with research where you are currently located. Or be involved with the field in some other way that doesn't involve paying out the nose for another M.S.Ed. 

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