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Lost undergrad student seeking advice for terminal MA

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Hi all,

I'm a third-year studying literature at a lower-tier UC, and I'm thinking about grad school, though frankly I'm a little lost, so I'd appreciate some input from those more experienced.

I'd like to get a terminal MA both because I'm too lost -- meaning, I don't know what I want to specialize in, what my research strengths are, or even if I'm cut out to spend years of my life spending lit. -- and because I'd like to teach community college or maybe high school. Of course, I'd like to do it without accruing too much debt, too.

But my questions are as follows:

-- I've just started my third-year, though I still don't really have a focus; part of that is because I haven't been diligent in doing my own, independent study of the history of literature and literary theory, so I don't have a comprehensive understanding of different movements (e.g. I know, in a couple of sentences, what the Frankfurt School is, but not in any depth). How should I go about...well, finding an interest, especially so that I can do some independent research before grad school? This isn't to say I haven't found anything interesting -- rather, everything seems interesting to some extent, and I'm a bit overwhelmed, unguided. My coursework has been in a bunch of different subfields, so i have a shallow understanding of many things.


-- Secondly, I've perused this forum and found a thread or two on terminal MAs. The upshots: go only if you have funding, there aren't many funded MAs, and choose a city that you like. Besides that, any recommendations on programs? One problem I seem to be having is that I'm not sure whether I'm a competitive candidate for a lot of programs, say Georgetown, because most MA programs don't post data like they do for undergrad (comprehensive freshman profile w/ SAT scores,  GPA, etc.). Could anyone give me basic stats to give me an idea? Furthermore, it's hard to identify "fit" when I don't have a solid research interest.


-- Thirdly, what exactly are the most important criteria for admission? My understanding is... Fit > previous research experience > letters of rec > personal statement > GPA > GRE > Extracurriculars > Misc.

Currently, I don't have any research exp., but I do have a high GPA and pretty good extracurricular experience in journalism. But what does it take, for example, to get funded at Georgetown MA? What about SF State's MA?



Edited by sho.chiku.bai
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I'm not sure why a lack of knowledge of critical theory is preventing you from forming a research focus. A research focus in literature, at least when it comes to graduate admissions, is usually a literary period, movement (by which I mean, like, the Beat poets rather than the Vienna circle), or author. It's fine if you also have a favorite critical lens, but it's not required. If you don't have any exposure to critical theory, it is strongly recommended that you take a class rather than try it on your own: critical theory is written in a difficult style, especially the earlier stuff, and if you're not experienced in philosophy, can be difficult to (mis)understand, so it's better if a professor is there to guide you the first time. That, or have fun reading the Norton anthology.

Humanities master's really aren't very competitive. Funding is, however. If you're looking for funding, the simple answer is to apply to programs that give a lot of it to many people. People get funded at Chicago MAPH too, but like 1-2 in the entire cohort, and nobody can tell you ex-ante where you'll get funding and why.

Most important criteria are writing sample, SOP, and letters. Fit is important in PhD admissions, but in master's, while it should be very important to you, it's not going to be a huge deal to the admissions committee. These programs aren't competitive enough for that. You don't need research experience. Extracurriculars don't matter.

Edited by ExponentialDecay
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A few things:

1. If you're at the beginning of your third year, it's definitely not too late to buckle down and find a focus. If you want to do this, then seek out rigorous classes with good professors for your next semester's worth of classes. Think about doing a senior thesis or an independent study, if you're so inclined. 

2. I don't know where you're getting the idea that funded terminal MA programs are rare. There are still plenty out there (though they are indeed growing rarer as funding structures keep changing). No, you won't find them at the top schools in the country. But you will find them at large state universities throughout the Midwest and South. I would recommend that you start looking at large flagships or other big universities in those areas. These English departments typically have large and well-developed rhet/comp programs, so they offer funding in exchange for teaching. They're in the not-so-glamorous places of Lafayette, Indiana, or Athens, Ohio, or Oxford, Mississippi, which is probably why people don't talk about them very much. But please don't think that your only options are to either pay for an MA or get into a funded PhD program. 

3. In terms of the application materials--writing sample and SOP are most important. But this doesn't make GRE scores or grades UNimportant. The entire application has to be strong. 

Edited by Bumblebea
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I just started a funded MA, and from what I can make of my cohort, everyone appeared to have a strong writing sample, even if they weren't set on a literary focus. A lack of focus or general ambivalence toward a PhD are good reasons to consider an MA. I did get into Georgetown but without funding. My school does not have a glamorous reputation, but it has placed graduates in very strong PhD programs; of course many graduates choose not to consider a PhD. That along with an abundance of resources, high-quality professors, and a pay check that helps me pay rent and buy food all make this experience feel worthwhile. 

Our cohort is a group of 12 (all funded) and we were selected from an applicant pool of over 120. So it's competitive but not quite as horrible as a PhD program. 

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The university where I am an English PhD student, funds their MA/MFA students. I believe Bumblebea is correct. Large state universities and universities that do not have a PhD program, but have an English MA, will provide funding. Sometimes it may be partial, but there is certainly funding available. I received an assistantship during my MA. I was paid a stipend, but tuition was not part of the coverage.

Do you not have to take a theory class as an undergrad English major? It was a required part of my BA. Theory simply allows one to understand how they look at writing. I use a mixture of theories, as most academic writers do. If you're having difficulty understanding scholarship, viewing it from a point of theory could help. You certainly don't need to be an expert in theory to enter a MA program.  I did not start focusing on a research topic until I was working on the MA. It began with a wide idea and gradually shrank until I had a research topic for my master's thesis, which I hope to carry over into my dissertation. 

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  • 1 month later...

I'm currently doing a funded MA at a small state university, though I was accepted to 3 other programs. Most of us came in with ill-defined research interests, but we're being allowed to explore and receiving valuable guidance on future career opportunities. We are getting help with both applying for PhDs and applying for community college jobs. In my literature cohort of 6 students, 4 are fully funded. The other 2 did not apply for funding (as far as I know). So far my MA program has been a great opportunity to learn more about the direction I'd like to go with my research and to fill in some of my knowledge gaps in the field of literature. For my program I think writing sample, SOP, and letters were more important than anything else. Teaching experience is common among people who received funding, but not all GTAs had prior teaching experience. 

I had no idea what I wanted to specialize in when I was applying for MA programs, but I pretty quickly developed a good idea of what I want to do. Good luck! 

Edited by CaffeineCardigan
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