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Where to apply for an MA in English (US/UK)?


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I am looking for several target universities in the US/UK to pursue my master degree in English, specifically focusing on poetry and poetics. My problem: I don’t know which university will suit me.

To give you a picture of what I am looking for: I long to study under Helen Vendler of Harvard University. (Harvard doesn't offer MA in English and continuing directly to a Ph.D is still out of my reach. Thus, I will have to postpone this dream.) What this means is that I want to study poetry mainly in its aesthetic aspects (e.g. what makes a particular poem interesting, what makes a poem well-written/badly written; what is the distinctive voice of a particular poet). As with questions of gender, class, or race through poetry, I have little interest.

What university, then, that I should aim for?

Edited by mdirgantara
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Well, it depends. Some of the more "prestigious" places to get a master's degree in English would be Oxbridge in the UK and Columbia, Georgetown, and UVa in the U.S. But these programs are very expensive and offer little to no financial aid, so you would have to be independently wealthy to pay for the degree. There's also the question of your preparation. Why do you want an MA in English? Is it because of poor undergrad performance, because you're switching fields, etc? These factors will also impact "suitability." 

Usually the recommendation is that an MA degree is not worth exorbitant loans, considering the limited functionality of the degree. There's a list of MA programs that give funding (usually through teaching assistantships) floating around here somewhere if you use the "search" function. 

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I want to add that Columbia has two options: a sequential MA leading to the PhD and a free-standing MA.  The sequential option is not a stand alone degree, one must be accepted into the PhD program and is awarded the MA after the required coursework.  The doctoral English program is as competitive as Harvard's, admitting fewer than 5% of applicants in any given year.  The free-standing MA is strictly a pay for play program, offering no financial aid.  The admittance rate is slightly higher--approx. 15% admit rate--but after completion there's no guarantee that one will be accepted into the doctoral program.  In fact, on the department website it states that zero or one MA graduate from the free-standing program is the norm, which make the odds about the same or even higher than applying straight to the PhD program.  They also state, however, that several MA graduates are accepted to PhD programs elsewhere.

From personal experience, the wife of a friend graduated from the free-standing MA: had perfect grades, received outstanding LORs from her Columbia English professors, wrote a killer SOP, and was still rejected to the PhD program.  She was accepted to several other programs, including NYU, but decided to resume her career in publishing.  Just a caveat that it is no walk in the park.  Being admitted to PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences are becoming harder because of smaller cohorts and less funding, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try if that's the ultimate life goal.  One should apply, however, to several programs ranging from very competitive to competitive to give one a chance of being accepted somewhere--assuming of course the program's fit.  

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18 hours ago, hj2012 said:

Well, it depends. Some of the more "prestigious" places to get a master's degree in English would be Oxbridge in the UK and Columbia, Georgetown, and UVa in the U.S. But these programs are very expensive and offer little to no financial aid, so you would have to be independently wealthy to pay for the degree. There's also the question of your preparation. Why do you want an MA in English? Is it because of poor undergrad performance, because you're switching fields, etc? These factors will also impact "suitability." 

Usually the recommendation is that an MA degree is not worth exorbitant loans, considering the limited functionality of the degree. There's a list of MA programs that give funding (usually through teaching assistantships) floating around here somewhere if you use the "search" function. 

Thank you for your answer, @hj2012!

To respond the points you raise. On the question of funding:  I am not planning to pay for myself; I plan to apply for a government scholarship (Fulbright (US), LPDP (Indonesia), Chevening (UK)). As to the question of choosing MA instead of PhD: in Indonesia (where I come from), it is not the norm that one continues directly to a PhD program without having a terminal MA first. However, I want an MA not because I have a herd mentality; rather, because my undergraduate program does not prepare me for a direct PhD--likely as the result of the said norm. To give you concrete examples: I have little to no first-hand knowledge of English literature before 20th century and I can't read any relevant foreign language (German, French, Classical Greek, etc). To continue directly for a PhD, I--at the least--have to have this under my belt.

I want a terminal MA because I think it will give me a proper foundation for a PhD in the far future.

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17 hours ago, ltr317 said:

I want to add that Columbia has two options: a sequential MA leading to the PhD and a free-standing MA.  The sequential option is not a stand alone degree, one must be accepted into the PhD program and is awarded the MA after the required coursework.  The doctoral English program is as competitive as Harvard's, admitting fewer than 5% of applicants in any given year.  The free-standing MA is strictly a pay for play program, offering no financial aid.  The admittance rate is slightly higher--approx. 15% admit rate--but after completion there's no guarantee that one will be accepted into the doctoral program.  In fact, on the department website it states that zero or one MA graduate from the free-standing program is the norm, which make the odds about the same or even higher than applying straight to the PhD program.  They also state, however, that several MA graduates are accepted to PhD programs elsewhere.

From personal experience, the wife of a friend graduated from the free-standing MA: had perfect grades, received outstanding LORs from her Columbia English professors, wrote a killer SOP, and was still rejected to the PhD program.  She was accepted to several other programs, including NYU, but decided to resume her career in publishing.  Just a caveat that it is no walk in the park.  Being admitted to PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences are becoming harder because of smaller cohorts and less funding, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't try if that's the ultimate life goal.  One should apply, however, to several programs ranging from very competitive to competitive to give one a chance of being accepted somewhere--assuming of course the program's fit.  

Thank you, @ltr317! 

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4 hours ago, mdirgantara said:

Thank you for your answer, @hj2012!

To respond the points you raise. On the question of funding:  I am not planning to pay for myself; I plan to apply for a government scholarship (Fulbright (US), LPDP (Indonesia), Chevening (UK)). As to the question of choosing MA instead of PhD: in Indonesia (where I come from), it is not the norm that one continues directly to a PhD program without having a terminal MA first. However, I want an MA not because I have a herd mentality; rather, because my undergraduate program does not prepare me for a direct PhD--likely as the result of the said norm. To give you concrete examples: I have little to no first-hand knowledge of English literature before 20th century and I can't read any relevant foreign language (German, French, Classical Greek, etc). To continue directly for a PhD, I--at the least--have to have this under my belt.

I want a terminal MA because I think it will give me a proper foundation for a PhD in the far future.

I see. Yes, as an international student I think it might be especially helpful for you to enter an MA program first. If you're relying on outside funding, I think Columbia, UVa, Northwestern NYU, Georgetown and Wake Forest would be good places to consider. 

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5 hours ago, mdirgantara said:

Thank you for your answer, @hj2012!

To respond the points you raise. On the question of funding:  I am not planning to pay for myself; I plan to apply for a government scholarship (Fulbright (US), LPDP (Indonesia), Chevening (UK)). As to the question of choosing MA instead of PhD: in Indonesia (where I come from), it is not the norm that one continues directly to a PhD program without having a terminal MA first. However, I want an MA not because I have a herd mentality; rather, because my undergraduate program does not prepare me for a direct PhD--likely as the result of the said norm. To give you concrete examples: I have little to no first-hand knowledge of English literature before 20th century and I can't read any relevant foreign language (German, French, Classical Greek, etc). To continue directly for a PhD, I--at the least--have to have this under my belt.

I want a terminal MA because I think it will give me a proper foundation for a PhD in the far future.

You are pursuing the right course in order to extend your knowledge. Most MA programs in English require a foreign language basis, usually French, Spanish or German, as those are the languages most foreign scholarship is published in. You will need to look at the particular programs in order to ascertain acceptable languages. Even programs that don't have a foreign language requirement for their MA, usually require one for a PhD. So it's advisable to take the classes during your MA. There may be further requests for languages by advisors during your PhD, depending on what you specialize in. Understanding the American canon from its inception with the Puritans up to the 20th century provides a basis to better understand contemporary American lit because many American writers delve into earlier writings in order to write. Cormac McCarthy said it well when he stated "Books come from books." Have you studied any British lit? British lit is relevant to Americanists because there were no publishers in America until the 19th century, which caused earlier American writers to somewhat lean toward a Brit style in order to get published. You are going to need to understand background in order to do well in a literature PhD. 

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10 hours ago, cowgirlsdontcry said:

You are pursuing the right course in order to extend your knowledge. Most MA programs in English require a foreign language basis, usually French, Spanish or German, as those are the languages most foreign scholarship is published in. You will need to look at the particular programs in order to ascertain acceptable languages. Even programs that don't have a foreign language requirement for their MA, usually require one for a PhD. So it's advisable to take the classes during your MA. There may be further requests for languages by advisors during your PhD, depending on what you specialize in. Understanding the American canon from its inception with the Puritans up to the 20th century provides a basis to better understand contemporary American lit because many American writers delve into earlier writings in order to write. Cormac McCarthy said it well when he stated "Books come from books." Have you studied any British lit? British lit is relevant to Americanists because there were no publishers in America until the 19th century, which caused earlier American writers to somewhat lean toward a Brit style in order to get published. You are going to need to understand background in order to do well in a literature PhD. 

Yes, I studied short poems of this and that poets in class (Yeats, Shakespeare, Blake, Elliot). But I would say it is far from being a comprehensive study. My undergraduate professor are generally more well-acquainted with Derrida than with Shakespeare, so to speak. What I know about English poetry I got more from my own reading than their lectures. 

I feel encouraged by your post. Thanks.

Do you have any specific MA program in mind where I can feel the taste of Vendler's class? 

Edited by mdirgantara
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1 hour ago, mdirgantara said:

Yes, I studied short poems of this and that poets in class (Yeats, Shakespeare, Blake, Elliot). But I would say it is far from being a comprehensive study. My undergraduate professor are generally more well-acquainted with Derrida than with Shakespeare, so to speak. What I know about English poetry I got more from my own reading than their lectures. 

I feel encouraged by your post. Thanks.

Do you have any specific MA program in mind where I can feel the taste of Vendler's class? 

Except for Eliot (who considered himself a Brit and became a British citizen), those are all British poets/playwright, spread out over a couple of hundred years. I'm a 20th century Americanist. I really have no clue as I haven't looked into those programs. I think you should probably look for a general lit program that's heavy on the poetry side (more than one professor).

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