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Reality Check: MAs


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Hey everyone, 

It has been fairly quiet on the forums since all decisions have come out, and I'm sure we're all taking a break (whether we got the admits we wanted or the rejections we didn't!) from grad-school-related conversations. But if there are any stragglers out there who want to offer some insights, please do...

Firstly, have you invested yourself 100,000% in this application process that you're starting to wonder why you even want to go to graduate school? Like, all the reasons you had before are melting away, as The Professor is In words ebb away at any hope you had for yourself in academia? I'm really feeling that way right now. I feel like an empty shell, to be honest. I spent a good year (and at this point, it's almost 3 years) after undergrad experiencing life and really deciding what I wanted for myself, and I knew it had to be pursuing a PhD. I wasn't going for the "wrong" reasons. I knew what I wanted to do, it wasn't an escape or "pause" from "real life"; it was a calling. Which, apparently, is also a reason you shouldn't pursue a PhD. So the question is, who the heck should be pursuing a PhD? 

After I realized what I wanted in life, I applied to PhD programs. I had some help from a LOR writer who I had a solid relationship with, and without her help my SoP would have been laughed out of admissions committees. I didn't apply to any MA programs with the overwhelming advice that it was a waste of time and money, since I was confident that I knew I wanted the PhD. However, I didn't have any conferences that I presented at- I didn't have publications, or even a stellar GPA. I had nothing but my SoP, and an "A" paper from an ethnography course as my writing sample. The 7 rejections I received my first-time around had me re-asking all the questions I thought I had answered. 

I came back to the forums and asked for advice- and so many people advised applying for an MA, which made sense to me (and I don't understand where that advice was my first-time around) in terms of gaining more training, a refined thesis as a writing sample. The caveat to this advice was not to go if it was unfunded- but when I started researching MA programs that would be a good fit for me--or even just regional, close-by schools--none of them were funded. It was this vicious cycle that I didn't know how to navigate. In order to be competitive for a PhD, I would need an MA, but it would be imprudent to pay for that MA, but you should have an MA to be competitive for the PhD.

I was offered a half-tuition scholarship to attend UChicago's MAPSS program. I petitioned for more funding, spoke with all the professors I wanted to work with (post-acceptance as well, hoping it would encourage someone to help plead my case), and the program director, and was turned down for additional funding. I researched every single MAPSS, MPSS, and MAPH-related post on Grad Cafe and Google. I read every blog, wordpress, news article, intagram, twitter, and grad-cafe post I could find. I literally read everything about people's opinions, experiences, and reached out to a dozen MAPSS students to get a fuller portrait of their experience. 

So many people rage against the MA program at UChicago, whether it be in social sciences or humanities. However, I don't hear the same rage against Columbia's terminal MA program, which they often funnel their PhD rejects into. Can someone provide a reason why people hate UChicago so much, and not other MA programs in general? There isn't any hate against any other MA the way there is hate for MAPSS. I really want to get to the bottom of this. So many people have trashed it, saying that it isn't even a real program, or just a way for people to buy an MA, being a "cash cow" for the university, and the list goes on. But I never have heard that about Columbia or NYU, which are equally prestigious and virtually offer the same thing. 

I guess I just want to reconcile all the advice given here, which sort of boils down to this (for individuals like me, with little academic-related CV points on their applications): 

->You should get an MA for the training, experience in academia, refined thesis, overall being better prepared for PhD work

---> You should not pay for an MA

------> but there are very little funded MAs out there

---------> and any program/university making you pay for an MA is using you, and all you're doing is funding their preferred PhD admits 

--------------> You should't go into debt for a humanities/social science degree, even if it will help land you a fully-funded PhD from a top-tier university in the future

So what I'm left thinking is this: if you want a PhD you need to be brilliant and be accepted right out the gate, or have a trust-fund so that you don't have to worry about the debt of earning an MA. It's so disheartening, and makes me feel so hopeless. Should I just accept that I wasn't brilliant in undergrad, or squandered my opportunity to gain relevant experience, and give up the notion of ever earning a PhD? I was rejected from the other three PhD programs I applied to, and the MA at UMASS Amherst, so I clearly can't get into grad school with my current CV/Application. That's two cycles I've been universally rejected across. Something is't right, and I think the best step would be to do an MA- but I don't know where these fully funded MAs exist! 

 

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I'll be graduating from my MA institution in a couple weeks and starting my PhD in the Fall, and I agree about how stressful and demoralizing the PhD application process can be.  At several points throughout the process I found myself wondering if I was making the right choice, but in a way I think that's natural - I'd be more worried about someone who had zero doubts about pursuing a PhD.

Regarding the collective enmity for MAPSS: I think they get more heat for a couple reasons.  First, because both MAPSS and MAPH are funneling applicants from multiple departments into the same program, it becomes an easily identifiable target that is universally recognized as a cash cow across disciplines.  Deserved or not, it's kind of become the go-to example of a "cash cow" MA because it applies to folks from anthropology, economics, poli-sci, psych, sociology, etc.  I think another reason that it really gets demonized is the name of the program - MA in Program in the Social Sciences is so broad and ill-defined that at first glance the degree's applicability only appears to be training for getting into a PhD program.  While Columbia and NYU certainly have terminal MA degrees which operate similarly to MAPSS, calling the degree an MA in Anthropology serves to legitimize the program.  It sucks, but them's the breaks.

As for paying for a MA, that's really going to depend on your personal circumstances.  When I applied to MA programs two years ago I was willing to go into a little bit of debt, as I had finished my BA with zero student loans and had some money saved from working a full time job for two years after graduating.  I ended up getting a fully funded spot in an interdisciplinary MA, which was fortunate, but my other offers were similar to yours: half tuition without a stipend.  Even if you don't get offered funding right out of the gate, it doesn't preclude you from finding some down the line.  I know people in my program who weren't initially offered funding, but were able to find some through the Graduate Life Center or one of our area studies programs, and others who ended up getting funded for the second year as TA spots opened up.

What it boils down to is this: ignore the noise, and do what's best for you.  If you can realistically take on some loan debt to gamble on yourself, then go for it, but keep digging around for funding opportunities everywhere you can.  

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@museum_geek Thanks for your thoughts! It certainly is demoralizing, especially when there are so many people (current students, professors, or The Professor is In) saying that there are very few people who should actually be going to grad school (pursuing a PhD, more specifically). 

It's unfortunate the program gets so much heat. It's been a serious deterrent for me to accepting the offer...I am afraid that everyone will look at it as being less than worthy, or being a "fake" program. While I don't think an MA in social sciences will be useful for a career in accounting, it certainly could be helpful for a myriad of other jobs, like in the non-profit or government sectors. I don't see it as being illegitimate, and I just wish others didn't either. 

That's awesome advice about looking out for funding down the line- I didn't know that was possible, and it's very reassuring to know! 

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How many MA programs did you actually apply to?

I think there are more funded MA programs out there than you have identified/portrayed in your post. Sometimes you don't actually know about the funding situation until after they admit you. Furthermore, sometimes the more funded programs are not the top schools - they don't need to offer funding for people to go there. You also can be a little creative...some programs such as area studies and ethnic studies - typically programs that do house a lot of anthropology students - offer better funding than straight anthropology degrees. Large public schools are more likely to offer TA positions to MA students. Lastly, there are also foreign options (specifically, Canada) that have fully funded master's programs because it's the norm to do an MA before getting accepted into Ph.D. programs there.

Edited by Comparativist
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@Comparativist makes a great point re: finding programs.  I'm finishing up my MA at a no-name, interdisciplinary program at a big state school and I managed to get several funded PhD offers.  When you're applying with an MA I think the quality of your work (mostly the thesis/writing sample/SoP) outweighs the name on the diploma.

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@Comparativist @museum_geek I think the work (should) outweighs the name of the school, too- I just have never had much help in finding MAs that provide funding. Even when discussing options with my LOR writer, she mentioned that it wouldn't be in my best interest to apply to MA programs (and like I mentioned in my post, a lot of people on here said it wouldn't be in my best interest either). That's why I didn't even consider MAs my first time around. My second time around (2016 cycle) I narrowed down my schools to absolute best fits, to schools/programs whose faculty I spoken with, which were 3 PhD programs and I threw in one 1 MA (Amherst) as a sort of backup, which I didn't get into either. I also didn't know that funding opportunities were presented after admission- I guess that makes sense, but I just didn't know. I spoke with a lot of professors and students, and no one mentioned any aspect of attaining an MA- I wish I would have asked specifically...

I already accepted the MAPSS offer but to be honest, I don't feel all that good about it, only because everyone's points about it make me feel pretty bad. I personally am excited about the courses being offered, the rigorous academic environment I'll be in, etc. But, it seems like everyone has their own idea about the right applicant to be, the right path to the PhD, the right life after the PhD...it's hard to tune everyone's negativity about MAPSS out. Now I am wondering if another path (like seeing if my regional state school would have given funding) would have been better...

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1 hour ago, striped said:

I personally am excited about the courses being offered, the rigorous academic environment I'll be in, etc. 

That's great!  Focus on this - everything is else is just noise.  Use all the resources at your disposal during your time at MAPSS and I'm sure you'll get some great PhD offers next cycle.  Also, for what it's worth, there's definitely some positive posts about MAPSS floating around the anthro forum that you might want to check out.

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4 hours ago, striped said:

@Comparativist @museum_geek I think the work (should) outweighs the name of the school, too- I just have never had much help in finding MAs that provide funding. Even when discussing options with my LOR writer, she mentioned that it wouldn't be in my best interest to apply to MA programs (and like I mentioned in my post, a lot of people on here said it wouldn't be in my best interest either). That's why I didn't even consider MAs my first time around. My second time around (2016 cycle) I narrowed down my schools to absolute best fits, to schools/programs whose faculty I spoken with, which were 3 PhD programs and I threw in one 1 MA (Amherst) as a sort of backup, which I didn't get into either. I also didn't know that funding opportunities were presented after admission- I guess that makes sense, but I just didn't know. I spoke with a lot of professors and students, and no one mentioned any aspect of attaining an MA- I wish I would have asked specifically...

I already accepted the MAPSS offer but to be honest, I don't feel all that good about it, only because everyone's points about it make me feel pretty bad. I personally am excited about the courses being offered, the rigorous academic environment I'll be in, etc. But, it seems like everyone has their own idea about the right applicant to be, the right path to the PhD, the right life after the PhD...it's hard to tune everyone's negativity about MAPSS out. Now I am wondering if another path (like seeing if my regional state school would have given funding) would have been better...

I think you can get excited about the courses, etc. etc. but what I believe to be true of getting accepted into a PhD program is to meet as many professors as you can; especially the ones you want to work with for your PhD, well before you apply for your PhD.  If I had to prioritize it would be attend the talks/workshops/seminars where the profs you're interested in will be at, or simply just go to their office (yes, even if that means flying down there on your own dime).  Personally, I think much of everything else is a bit of waste of time, meeting them, impressing them is what's going to get them in.  Your CV, GREs, writing samples are too abstract - people decide within a few minutes of meeting someone whether they want to work with them for several years.  That's my two cents.  You can of course take it or leave it, but if I can give any piece of advice, do well in your course, of well, but focus most on writing the best dissertation, and meet as many professors as you can that you want to work with, especially if you feel like you may not be as competitive as others.  

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Hmmm... the MA funding thing means not to pay, it doesn't mean you have to get a position from the department. There are positions in Student Affairs, Residential Life, language departments, etc., which will provide a stipend and tuition waiver. If you want to pursue a MA, you really should think broadly about the possible ways to get funding.

If you're able to afford MAPSS, then do it. Are you planning to take a year off after MAPSS so you can get letters of rec from the program? If not, it's value may be limited.

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@CrunchCrunch I think you make a good point about meeting as many professors as you can, and establishing relationships- but I live in California and certainly can't afford to travel across the country all the time, and take off time from work, for various events that one professor might be at, or attend office hours... especially since I'm looking at a number of schools. I will definitely do my best to meet as many as I can, though, when on campus! I'll also be nearer to other schools on the east coast, making visiting them much easier/affordable.

@rising_star I didn't realize funding was offered if you held a job unrelated to the department- or even, held a job (at the university) at all. I thought funding meant that they give you money up front- with opportunity to TA, but since MAPSS doesn't allow their MA students to TA, it seemed like the only avenue for funding was what they offered upfront. Thanks for letting me know- I will investigate more opportunities for workstudy/jobs at the university. 

To my knowledge, the MAPSS program does not support you if you apply to PhD programs your entering semester, and I'm fine with this because I'll be living abroad immediately after graduation (I'll be doing everything in my power to graduate on time in the summer), hopefully gaining some informal experience, and also working on my PhD application for the next year. 

And I can't really afford MAPSS. I couldn't even afford my undergrad education. I'm the only person on both sides of my family to graduate even high school, so I had to take out loans for all my academic endeavors. That's why I was so torn about MAPSS- here I finally had an opportunity to make myself more competitive for a PhD, but at such a price! That's why I feel so conflicted- it seems to me that you either have to be brilliant or rich to pursue a PhD, and that's why I was asking if anyone knew of MAs that funded, as I wasn't aware that many did.

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14 minutes ago, striped said:

@CrunchCrunch I think you make a good point about meeting as many professors as you can, and establishing relationships- but I live in California and certainly can't afford to travel across the country all the time, and take off time from work, for various events that one professor might be at, or attend office hours... especially since I'm looking at a number of schools. I will definitely do my best to meet as many as I can, though, when on campus! I'll also be nearer to other schools on the east coast, making visiting them much easier/affordable.

@rising_star I didn't realize funding was offered if you held a job unrelated to the department- or even, held a job (at the university) at all. I thought funding meant that they give you money up front- with opportunity to TA, but since MAPSS doesn't allow their MA students to TA, it seemed like the only avenue for funding was what they offered upfront. Thanks for letting me know- I will investigate more opportunities for workstudy/jobs at the university. 

To my knowledge, the MAPSS program does not support you if you apply to PhD programs your entering semester, and I'm fine with this because I'll be living abroad immediately after graduation (I'll be doing everything in my power to graduate on time in the summer), hopefully gaining some informal experience, and also working on my PhD application for the next year. 

And I can't really afford MAPSS. I couldn't even afford my undergrad education. I'm the only person on both sides of my family to graduate even high school, so I had to take out loans for all my academic endeavors. That's why I was so torn about MAPSS- here I finally had an opportunity to make myself more competitive for a PhD, but at such a price! That's why I feel so conflicted- it seems to me that you either have to be brilliant or rich to pursue a PhD, and that's why I was asking if anyone knew of MAs that funded, as I wasn't aware that many did.

Obviously, I get what you're saying, but it's a time-cost analysis - let's say you want to get into a school but you don't want to spend the money to travel; well what if visiting the school means that you really click with that professor and you don't have to apply again the following year?  I'm not trying to minimize the cost/time aspects, but it's one of those things, in my opinion, is one thing I regret not doing.  So, this is just my two cents, if I had a do-over, that's what I would do.  Spend the money and fly and meet professors (obviously, tell them you're coming so they are there and you have an appointment).  

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On 4/21/2017 at 10:13 PM, striped said:

@CrunchCrunch I think you make a good point about meeting as many professors as you can, and establishing relationships- but I live in California and certainly can't afford to travel across the country all the time, and take off time from work, for various events that one professor might be at, or attend office hours... especially since I'm looking at a number of schools. I will definitely do my best to meet as many as I can, though, when on campus! I'll also be nearer to other schools on the east coast, making visiting them much easier/affordable.

@rising_star I didn't realize funding was offered if you held a job unrelated to the department- or even, held a job (at the university) at all. I thought funding meant that they give you money up front- with opportunity to TA, but since MAPSS doesn't allow their MA students to TA, it seemed like the only avenue for funding was what they offered upfront. Thanks for letting me know- I will investigate more opportunities for workstudy/jobs at the university. 

To my knowledge, the MAPSS program does not support you if you apply to PhD programs your entering semester, and I'm fine with this because I'll be living abroad immediately after graduation (I'll be doing everything in my power to graduate on time in the summer), hopefully gaining some informal experience, and also working on my PhD application for the next year. 

And I can't really afford MAPSS. I couldn't even afford my undergrad education. I'm the only person on both sides of my family to graduate even high school, so I had to take out loans for all my academic endeavors. That's why I was so torn about MAPSS- here I finally had an opportunity to make myself more competitive for a PhD, but at such a price! That's why I feel so conflicted- it seems to me that you either have to be brilliant or rich to pursue a PhD, and that's why I was asking if anyone knew of MAs that funded, as I wasn't aware that many did.

Meeting professors comes through presenting at graduate student conferences - now that you're going to be at MAPSS, make sure you apply to at least two! I presented at one during my MA and it's the same one I'm going to be attending for a PhD this year.... when I got in touch with my POI, I made sure to mention that I had met her during the conference, and that she may remember me. She did! Not a guarantee of any kind, but definitely a boost. Also, everyone I know who has attended MAPSS accepted that it's a tough situation to be in; they also grudgingly admit that it played a huge role in getting them into grad school. MAPSS whole claim to fame IS getting their students into PhDs, if people pay through their nose to attend it's because they really do work on getting a funded PhD offer for you - that comes at the price of a lot of stress, but it seems you are set on getting a PhD and for that purpose, MAPSS will likely be worth it. 

Edit: Also; keep in mind, it's pretty easy to get funding for conferences from your department/school! 

Edited by enfp
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On 4/21/2017 at 1:13 PM, striped said:

And I can't really afford MAPSS. I couldn't even afford my undergrad education. I'm the only person on both sides of my family to graduate even high school, so I had to take out loans for all my academic endeavors. That's why I was so torn about MAPSS- here I finally had an opportunity to make myself more competitive for a PhD, but at such a price! That's why I feel so conflicted- it seems to me that you either have to be brilliant or rich to pursue a PhD, and that's why I was asking if anyone knew of MAs that funded, as I wasn't aware that many did.

If you can't really afford it, then don't do it. Think long-term about what it will mean to pay that debt off and what future options won't be open to you if you do MAPSS. Were I in your shoes, I would take a year off, take a graduate course or two at a local university in the evening, and work on strengthening my application. I might try to present at a conference if there's a local one. Or, if not, try to attend a national conference that's not too far away. Next year, apply to a mix of funded MA and PhD programs, keeping in mind that you could get funding through an assistantship from something outside the specific department. Either way, going into a program you know you can't afford with no guarantees at the end is a risky proposition.

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Nothing on the department site of my school said anything about an assistantship, but I had spoken with Grad Assistants in the Writing Center because I would do assignments in there as an undergrad. I had to sift through the various links on the grad school site before I found the link and application form to be awarded an assistantship. I received an assistantship for my entire MA and while there has been no waiver of tuition, I have received a 9-month stipend and performed all kinds of interesting assignments for the professors I was assigned to. I am teaching a section of comp & rhet this semester. I believe the whole experience improved my overall CV and was somewhat instrumental in my receiving a fully funded offer from a Ph.D. program.

Having rambled all over the place with that comment, what it boils down to, is that sometimes assistantships for Master's students are not out there for everyone to see. You have to look for them, but departments depend on both GAs and undergrad student workers, so keep looking. My school is a Tier 1 South Regional School with 10,000 students, so not large at all. I own a home here that is mortgage free and did both undergrad and MA at the same school because of not having to pay rent or a mortgage. I will be moving this summer for a Ph.D. program.

Edited by cowgirlsdontcry
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@rising_star I think what you're saying is correct- but I don't really know what to do. I've accepted the offer, I thought about it for a good month and half, spoke to tons of people, and I I didn't get a ton of advice about funded MAs. That's why I wrote this post, I guess. I'm trying to see if any one could point me in the direction of funded MAs they were in, or knew of. I couldn't afford my undergrad education either- and that's where I'm so frustrated by the system, because it seems like education is built for either the very accomplished/brilliant, or the rich. If I'm neither, should I not pursue it? As far as options that won't be there because of MAPSS-could you please expand on what I would be prohibited from because of the debt, that I wouldn't already be prohibited from doing due to my undergrad debt? 

@cowgirlsdontcry Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me. I didn't realize those options were available, and I'm not sure why they're not more publicized- maybe because everyone would flock to them and make them extremely competitive? That's also awesome that you owned your home and didn't have to worry about livings costs- that's the dream! 

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On 4/23/2017 at 11:31 AM, rising_star said:

If you can't really afford it, then don't do it. Think long-term about what it will mean to pay that debt off and what future options won't be open to you if you do MAPSS. Were I in your shoes, I would take a year off, take a graduate course or two at a local university in the evening, and work on strengthening my application. I might try to present at a conference if there's a local one. Or, if not, try to attend a national conference that's not too far away. Next year, apply to a mix of funded MA and PhD programs, keeping in mind that you could get funding through an assistantship from something outside the specific department. Either way, going into a program you know you can't afford with no guarantees at the end is a risky proposition.

This is very sensible-- even if a year off doesn't produce paydirt with funded programs, you might at least have a little more cash in the bank.  Can you defer in order to keep the MAPSS option open?

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@Concordia I'm not sure if I can defer. I don't really want to, I guess. I've already taken 2.5 years off, I feel like I'm ready to be back in school. I just wish the MAPSS program wasn't so widely distrusted/despised. I guess I came here to get some advice about where to find funded MAs, like specific schools/programs, just in case I have the option to rescind my acceptance...

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@rising_star well, I am not 100% against deferring. I was hoping for people to share their experiences at specific schools and specific funded MA programs. No one I've spoken to has alluded to specific ones, and I wasn't sure where to start looking.

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@striped, you're not the first person to ask about funded MA programs in anthropology...

Depending on your research interests, you may be able to get funding from the FLAS program to pursue a MA in either anthropology or area studies. You haven't said what you're interested in, so it comes across as you wanting people to do the legwork of going through dozens of anthro programs for you. 

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I get that- just looking for help, as I've researched many programs for two years now and haven't found much out about funded MA programs. I have definitely done my research, but I guess that's why I wrote this post- I've reached a dead-end and tons of conflicting advice both here and from professors and students. Anyway, I don't want to come across as wanting others to do the legwork for me, so I guess I'll just end the thread here :) 

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Honestly, if you did want people to help you, you should at a minimum say more about what you're interested in and what you want to be studying... If it's archaeology, that'll be a different set of options than someone interested in cultural or physical anthropology. The ones I've seen mentioned the most around here (without considering the area of study) include Georgia State, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, UGA, University of Florida, Montana, and Portland State...

You may also want to check out this thread:

 

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While it is not directly anthropology, the Texas Tech University museum science program has funding available. We have entho and anthropological graduate assistantships. Our program has an internship or thesis track. While its not much, lubbock is a low cost city. 

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Well, the overarching gist of my initial post asked a couple of specific questions in the vein of "do funded MAs exist" (as I had not found any, and people I spoke to in person didn't provide a lot of info on MAs in general) and asking for opinions on who should be pursuing a PhD (after all, I feel pretty disheartened), as well as if anyone had thoughts about the cycle I discussed. The conversation sort of evolved into asking about specific programs, and I didn't make my interests clear. I am interested in aesthetics, media, technology, on-demand service culture, social media, and modernity. 

Thanks for all insights given, everyone! Personal experience is always the best teacher, and I appreciate you guys telling me about your PhD journeys. 

 

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Given your interests, you may want to look into the programs at Bowling Green (though that might be cultural studies and not anthro) and Michigan State too. I think both offer MA students funding, though honestly this isn't something I've looked into in a while.

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