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OnlyATautology

MA, PHD School Targets and Expectations (Needing Advice)

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Hi Gradcafe,

I'm curious about several central things regarding the general process of applications and the sort of expectations that I should have going in ~

I'm currently a senior at a large, mid-tier state school (Non-pgr ranked) which has a I believe, an intensely mediocre Philosophy program. We have an M.A degree. and no PHD, although the M.A. program here seems to be somewhat of a mirage if we can actually call it a graduate degree. 

I'm curious specifically about where exactly I should expect targeting my applications:

A few details about my (potential) application:

Tentatively my interest are: Metaphysics, Formal Epistemology, (and maybe language)

~ I have a 3.85 Overall GPA, 3.9 Within the Major

Relevant Phil courses taken and respective grades: (Intro: A) (Ancient:B)  (Modern A) (Philosophy of Mind A) (Decision Theory A) (Phenomenology A) (Ethics A) (Metaphysics I A) (Symbolic Logic A* - Note below) (Logic II - A) (Philosophy of Science A) (Semantics & Pragmatics- Cross Ling course A) (Currently Enrolled Self-study w/advisor: Analytic Philosophy Frege -> Quine) (Spring Semester Self-Study Course w/advisor: Wittgenstein)

*I took Symbolic Logic and accidentally Failed via an unusual situation (of which I unfortunately had to take an F for). I took the course over and completed the course with a 98%

~I took the GRE this summer and scored a 170V/169Q/5.5AW

~I have a non-major but fairly lengthy math background on my transcript; (Calc 1-3, Linear, Discrete, Analysis I, Abstract Algebra, Stats I and Probability Theory, Intro Data Science)

~Currently I am preparing my writing sample(s). It will be likely on Quines work, although I have a year until my applications are to be sent in. 

 

I've parolled these boards a bit and gotten a decent impression of the landscape that I am considering entering. With all the reading that I've done I am still a bit hazy about many things, including those that seem to have come to the forefront of my attention lately. 

1. The school you attended for Undergrad has an outsize effect on your application. I've been recently mulling a bit of regret in not attending the ivy league schools I was accepted to out of high school. I have no reason to rationally believe that my current application will stick out with forgettable reccomendations from a forgettable school plastering the front of my application. It seems evident to me as I read more and more that these reccomendations are a key component of distinguished applications.

2. How much will the one F on my transcript hurt me? It seems a minor blip on the radar but I am nonetheless subtly concerned. 

After evaluating the field it seems obvious that I have essentially little-no chance at any decent PHD programs at the outset (at best a very minimal <5% one). I've figured that shooting for the MA programs is what I need to look at. So a few general questions in that regard:

What type of applications are representative of the MA programs of which I've heard of (Tufts, Brandeis, Houston, UM-W, NIU, GSU, VT, others that I'm not aware of?) That is what is the prototypical accepted sketch of a student in the aforementioned programs?

And therefore, Is my application such that I have a reasonable chance of being accepted with funding?

* Also for those who have experience with MA programs: What is the level of tutelage from faculty members? Will I see individual attention on my interests or is the atmosphere a sort of more typical academic situation where there is occasional conversation and acquantaince level interaction. I ask as my undergraduate experience has been quite awful in this regarding. Faculty members are too busy or focused on their own projects for any students to develop a meaningful work relationship with them. I admit being both frustrated and somewhat dumbfounded by the fact that it seems often to me that faculty members don't really exist to help students at all, and I am holding out home that at the graduate level this would be in a different order. Actually at times I've wondered why I was even paying to be enrolled at a school which gave me little benefit outside of nice library facilities and a gym with a pool. eh.

Moving forward, Also regarding M.A Programs: I am likely going to work full-time in software for a year during my intermediary year (or perhaps 2) before my application. I am partially willing to pay out of pocket for a bit of my M.A. if it were really to mean that the academic dream of getting into a top PHD program were to be in the cards. Are there any non-funded M.A programs which have solid faculties and may be worth paying for (granted, not at private school tuition level likely) that would give me the sort of placement possibilities I'm looking for?

 

As a coda to all this: It seems to me increasingly obvious that there exists a pool of applicants with GPA 3.5+, GRE's 330+ wherein many ostensibly smart and capable academics meet the whirlpool of despair and rejection to the probabilities that are representative of humanities phd programs these days. I'm interested in seeing the statistitics on pgr-ranked undergraduate candidates and their success relative to the many people on these boards and out there just like me.

 

Thanks in advance ~

 

 

 

 

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You've posed several questions, and I don't have answers for all of them. One thing I will suggest, from my own experience taking a break from academics, is to be able to give a convincing, academically-relevant explanation for your time away from school. Every year away results in more distance from potential letter writers (with whom you claim to have had little memorable interaction as it is), allows your writing sample to gather dust, and gives you more explaining to do in your statements. A PhD application is about telling a story. Be able to tell a continuous one.

You've given lots of essentially numeric info regarding your profile. While grades and scores matter, realize that PhD and MA admissions are a qualitative assessment of your individual aptitude for philosophy. Give 300% more energy to your writing sample than to any other part of the application. None of the things you've mentioned as weaknesses in your profile are concerns so serious as to outweigh excellent writing. With such overall high numbers, you could be accepted into any top MA provided you write well and think carefully about which departments fit your interests.

These two factors, quality writing and specific fitness for a department, will make or break even the world's most perfect undergraduate student.

Also, I will note perfunctorily what anyone on this forum will tell you: don't pay for an MA.

 

 

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Lots of good advice from @kretschmar. A few things: if you're at a funded, terminal MA, you're part of the department. You'll have an office, attend talks with faculty, and have TA duties. You'll be around the department, and you'll run into faculty in the hall. You'll (likely) call faculty by their first names. Your relationship with professors will be different from undergrad. You'll be more like a junior academic, instead of in the separate universe of undergrad. Part of the reason the best MA's are highly regarded is because they take promising students and send them on to good PhD programs. An integral part of that process is the support you'll get from faculty. If you're at an MA-only institution, you also won't be competing with PhD students for attention. In my experience, you'll get the attention that you seek out in a graduate program. At my institution, professors are always willing to talk to students, and students get significant support for their samples/MA theses.

As for a "typical" applicant profile, and how much your undergrad pedigree matters--it's hard to say. I'm in an excellent MA, and students have a variety of backgrounds. Some are from big schools, some are from no-name schools. All are promising philosophers. Apply widely, get good letters and GRE scores (you already have great GREs), work very hard on your sample, and roll the dice. Your application sounds competitive to me (based on GRE/GPA/etc), but this whole process is unpredictable (as I'm sure you know if you've read many posts here). Again, apply as widely as you can afford!

Another word of advice--it's fine to take a year off. I don't think a year or two matters at all, and I wouldn't worry too much about feeling like you have to explain much, particularly if it's only a year. However, it's a good idea to stay in touch with professors who can write you letters during that year. I took a few years off between undergrad and grad school, and I stayed in touch. I really liked the professors who wrote me letters, so it made it easy to stop by their offices to say hello or drop an email now and then--and I'm sure it made it easier for them to write letters for me several years later.

Also, just to reiterate what kretchmar said: don't go to an unfunded MA. There's no reason to do so. If you're competitive and apply widely, you can get a funding offer. Not only is funding essential, but getting to do some teaching--and learning to balance teaching while you're studying--is great experience, and great preparation for a PhD program.

If you have other questions, @OnlyATautology, feel free to ask.

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17 hours ago, OnlyATautology said:

Moving forward, Also regarding M.A Programs: I am likely going to work full-time in software for a year during my intermediary year (or perhaps 2) before my application. I am partially willing to pay out of pocket for a bit of my M.A. if it were really to mean that the academic dream of getting into a top PHD program were to be in the cards. Are there any non-funded M.A programs which have solid faculties and may be worth paying for (granted, not at private school tuition level likely) that would give me the sort of placement possibilities I'm looking for?

Don't pay for an MA in humanities, especially philosophy, unless you are wealthy and do it merely for self improvement.

Do not do it for the PhD placement. The "top" (i.e. PGR, blech) PhD programs are highly selective, accepting about 5-7 out of 300 applicants. It is a lottery.

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5 hours ago, hector549 said:

Lots of good advice from @kretschmar. A few things: if you're at a funded, terminal MA, you're part of the department. You'll have an office, attend talks with faculty, and have TA duties. You'll be around the department, and you'll run into faculty in the hall. You'll (likely) call faculty by their first names. Your relationship with professors will be different from undergrad. You'll be more like a junior academic, instead of in the separate universe of undergrad. Part of the reason the best MA's are highly regarded is because they take promising students and send them on to good PhD programs. An integral part of that process is the support you'll get from faculty. If you're at an MA-only institution, you also won't be competing with PhD students for attention. In my experience, you'll get the attention that you seek out in a graduate program. At my institution, professors are always willing to talk to students, and students get significant support for their samples/MA theses.

As for a "typical" applicant profile, and how much your undergrad pedigree matters--it's hard to say. I'm in an excellent MA, and students have a variety of backgrounds. Some are from big schools, some are from no-name schools. All are promising philosophers. Apply widely, get good letters and GRE scores (you already have great GREs), work very hard on your sample, and roll the dice. Your application sounds competitive to me (based on GRE/GPA/etc), but this whole process is unpredictable (as I'm sure you know if you've read many posts here). Again, apply as widely as you can afford!

Another word of advice--it's fine to take a year off. I don't think a year or two matters at all, and I wouldn't worry too much about feeling like you have to explain much, particularly if it's only a year. However, it's a good idea to stay in touch with professors who can write you letters during that year. I took a few years off between undergrad and grad school, and I stayed in touch. I really liked the professors who wrote me letters, so it made it easy to stop by their offices to say hello or drop an email now and then--and I'm sure it made it easier for them to write letters for me several years later.

Also, just to reiterate what kretchmar said: don't go to an unfunded MA. There's no reason to do so. If you're competitive and apply widely, you can get a funding offer. Not only is funding essential, but getting to do some teaching--and learning to balance teaching while you're studying--is great experience, and great preparation for a PhD program.

If you have other questions, @OnlyATautology, feel free to ask.

 

Thanks for the great information, everything I've heard on these boards about the Terminal MA's seems to be positive and likely exactly what I'm looking for. I'm particularly happy that there seems to be a fairly healthy communal relationship in these ostensible programs. 

I have questions additionally regarding specific programs (of which I've found passing, but incomplete information on these boards)

It seems evident that the Top M.A's are (as follows)

Tufts - (although funding makes this application questionable)

Brandeis - similar w/tufts unfortunately

GSU 

UW-M

NIU

VT

Houston

I am surely going to apply to the above schools, my direct questions concern the veritably of applying to and even attending a slightly less well-regarding terminal M.A Specifically I am referring to WMU (although I've seen good things here) and UMSL, (as well as others that I've heard of here and on leiters blog; SFSU, Colorado State, Cal-State LA, etc etc). Some of the placements are impressive, and some seemingly less so. 

 

My other questions concerns those who have attended funded  Canadian M.A programs, notably

(Are these worthwhile applications, etc in the line with the consistently well-spoken of American M.A's above?)

UToronto

UWO

SFU

UBC

 

Thanks for the help, I'm becoming more optimistic in general after looking through the M.A's like GSU which really seem quite worthwhile.

 

 

 

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18 hours ago, OnlyATautology said:

 

Thanks for the great information, everything I've heard on these boards about the Terminal MA's seems to be positive and likely exactly what I'm looking for. I'm particularly happy that there seems to be a fairly healthy communal relationship in these ostensible programs. 

I have questions additionally regarding specific programs (of which I've found passing, but incomplete information on these boards)

It seems evident that the Top M.A's are (as follows)

Tufts - (although funding makes this application questionable)

Brandeis - similar w/tufts unfortunately

GSU 

UW-M

NIU

VT

Houston

I am surely going to apply to the above schools, my direct questions concern the veritably of applying to and even attending a slightly less well-regarding terminal M.A Specifically I am referring to WMU (although I've seen good things here) and UMSL, (as well as others that I've heard of here and on leiters blog; SFSU, Colorado State, Cal-State LA, etc etc). Some of the placements are impressive, and some seemingly less so. 

 

My other questions concerns those who have attended funded  Canadian M.A programs, notably

(Are these worthwhile applications, etc in the line with the consistently well-spoken of American M.A's above?)

UToronto

UWO

SFU

UBC

 

Thanks for the help, I'm becoming more optimistic in general after looking through the M.A's like GSU which really seem quite worthwhile.

 

 

 

A couple of thoughts--

The programs you list as the best (GSU, UWM, NIU, VT, etc) are indeed great programs. However, I wouldn't write off WMU, UMSL, CSLA, and the like. They're excellent programs too, with strong faculty, offer decent funding packages, and are well worth going to, in my opinion. Good students go to these programs, graduate, and most end up getting in somewhere, at least from my investigations, even if some of the programs don't have quite as consistent a placement record as others. Sure, think about placement, but it's not the only factor. My advice is to apply to a number of programs--those such as GSU, etc, but also to programs like WMU, etc, that are a reasonable fit with your interests.

As for Canadian programs, keep this in mind--Toronto may have an MA program, but what it's most well known for is its PhD program. Therefore, you'll be competing with PhD students for faculty attention and resources, and you likely won't have the support to apply out as you will at terminal MA. Also, it's a one-year MA I believe. There isn't much instrumental utility in a one-year MA, since you'll need to get letters from faculty and to put together a sample as soon as you start the program for the application season. It's not enough time to really do anything. Furthermore, it's harder to get into the Toronto MA as a US student; it's easier for them to fund Canadian students, so there's a preference toward Canadian nationals.

SFU is a terminal two-year MA program, so it doesn't have the issues associated with Toronto. I know that their admissions is origin-blind as well, so not being a Canadian national won't hurt you.

I can't speak to the other CA schools you mentioned, but keep in mind the issues I raised with Toronto above; some of them may apply.

Edited by hector549

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23 hours ago, OnlyATautology said:

My other questions concerns those who have attended funded  Canadian M.A programs, notably

(Are these worthwhile applications, etc in the line with the consistently well-spoken of American M.A's above?)

UToronto

UWO

SFU

UBC

Quite a lot of Canadian MAs are comparable to the top US MAs. IMO, the list of really good Canadian MAs is much  longer than the list of really good US MAs, and I tend to think that the best Canadian MA programs beat the best American MA programs. But that's probably just me feeling misplaced patriotism. ;)

In all seriousness, all of the MAs above are very, very good. Toronto is huge, and as a result MA students do get less attention (although that varies a lot depending on your supervisor). As for the other three, I've only ever heard good things about faculty supervision there.

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

1. The school you attended for Undergrad has an outsize effect on your application. I've been recently mulling a bit of regret in not attending the ivy league schools I was accepted to out of high school. I have no reason to rationally believe that my current application will stick out with forgettable reccomendations from a forgettable school plastering the front of my application. It seems evident to me as I read more and more that these reccomendations are a key component of distinguished applications.

Recommendations matter, but mostly inasmuch as they should be very strong, speak directly to your abilities, and come from established philosophers. That's not quite the same thing as superstars. The reality is that philosophy is pretty small, and a lot of us know one another pretty well. You're not in a great position to know how well your recommenders are known, whether they enjoy a good reputation, whether their letters are typically taken seriously, etc. For some perspective,  I know that at least one super-major guy in my subfield is widely known to write super-inflated letters for his students, and so they get discounted. As long as your recommenders know your work and are relatively active, don't worry about it. Even if they're not especially active, there's no point sweating it. Literally hundreds of other applicants are in the same boat.

Similarly, school prestige does seem to matter, but not as much as people here sometimes think. It seems to matter a great deal that your school be recognized as a good or really good one, but that doesn't mean PGR-ranked. (PGR rank does seem to matter a whole lot more for job placements at PGR-ranked schools, however. There, it matters a whole lot.)

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

2. How much will the one F on my transcript hurt me? It seems a minor blip on the radar but I am nonetheless subtly concerned. 

Don't worry about it. What matters is that you took the course again and aced it. It might be worthwhile to explain the situation in a sentence in your statement of interest, but I wouldn't worry about that at all. Especially since you have a decent math background, and did well in those courses. Nobody's going to hold it against you.

 

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

After evaluating the field it seems obvious that I have essentially little-no chance at any decent PHD programs at the outset (at best a very minimal <5% one). I've figured that shooting for the MA programs is what I need to look at.

I think you're wrong. At a glance, I'd say you're competitive for PhD programs, even very good ones. Of course, an MA will only make you more competitive. But I wouldn't rule out applying to PhD programs, too. Especially if you've got a good writing sample and statement of interest. Those are the two most important elements (and the statement is a document whose importance prospectives constantly and consistently underrate.

 

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

* Also for those who have experience with MA programs: What is the level of tutelage from faculty members? Will I see individual attention on my interests or is the atmosphere a sort of more typical academic situation where there is occasional conversation and acquantaince level interaction. I ask as my undergraduate experience has been quite awful in this regarding. Faculty members are too busy or focused on their own projects for any students to develop a meaningful work relationship with them. I admit being both frustrated and somewhat dumbfounded by the fact that it seems often to me that faculty members don't really exist to help students at all, and I am holding out home that at the graduate level this would be in a different order. Actually at times I've wondered why I was even paying to be enrolled at a school which gave me little benefit outside of nice library facilities and a gym with a pool. eh.

The rule of thumb is that the higher up the academic ladder you are, the more attention you get. Unless you're at a small, primarily-undergraduate university, undergraduates are a dime a dozen. And you have to realize that, despite appearances, faculty aren't actually there to teach undergraduates. Teaching counts for almost nothing with respect to tenure and promotion (again, the exception being small, primarily-undergraduate institutions). As long as your teaching isn't a total disaster, anyway. Publications are all that count. That means that every hour spent cultivating a meaningful relationship with an undergrad is an hour that you're not devoting to your tenure and promotion file--and besides, undergraduates turn over at a really high rate. The other thing to consider is that not all your profs are tenured or even tenure-track, which means that they're actively applying for jobs while teaching and trying to publish. And since the only way to get even a temporary job is to apply to 100+ of the things, and since every job requires around 100 pages of documents (many of them personalized), faculty often just don't have the time to spend on undergraduates. They're too busy surviving.

Things are different at institutions with graduate programs, because the faculty with which you have the most contact are tenured and tenure-track, and because you're a future colleague in the broad sense (or, at least, more likely to be one). These faculty are research-active, which means they spend time on the conference circuit. And since you're working with them, that means you'll see them again after you graduate. So there are many more incentives to actually mentor students.

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

Moving forward, Also regarding M.A Programs: I am likely going to work full-time in software for a year during my intermediary year (or perhaps 2) before my application. I am partially willing to pay out of pocket for a bit of my M.A. if it were really to mean that the academic dream of getting into a top PHD program were to be in the cards. Are there any non-funded M.A programs which have solid faculties and may be worth paying for (granted, not at private school tuition level likely) that would give me the sort of placement possibilities I'm looking for?

Like the others said, under no circumstances should you pay for your MA or PhD. Even at Tufts. Just don't do it. It's a scam. Even at Tufts.

 

On 12/6/2017 at 4:59 AM, OnlyATautology said:

As a coda to all this: It seems to me increasingly obvious that there exists a pool of applicants with GPA 3.5+, GRE's 330+ wherein many ostensibly smart and capable academics meet the whirlpool of despair and rejection to the probabilities that are representative of humanities phd programs these days. I'm interested in seeing the statistitics on pgr-ranked undergraduate candidates and their success relative to the many people on these boards and out there just like me.

It's important to realize these things early on. Most of the people who get into ranked PhD programs (and many who don't) are very, very, very good students. Scary-good. The students at NYU and Princeton are good, but they're not all better than the students at CUNY, or at WUSTL, or wherever. PhD admissions are incredibly competitive, and they're not a straight-up meritocracy. And professors are really bad at scouting talent. Wherever you end up, remember not to look down at students from lower-ranked programs, and don't look up to students from higher-ranked programs. Just remember that students at higher-ranked programs generally have access to far more resources than students at more middling programs, and that can make a really big difference.

It's also worth observing that once you're a grad student--especially once you get to the PhD level--you're entering an extended period in your life when you're going to get precious little positive reinforcement or validation. You won't get enough feedback on your dissertation, and you'll feel like your peers are all better and better off than you. You'll get rejected from conferences and from journal after journal after journal (acceptance rates are generally around 2-5%). Referees will say really mean things about your work, and about you and your abilities. You'll spend years applying for hundreds of jobs, competing against 650-1200 other excellent candidates, and be rejected from everything (or just never hear back). Your hopes will be dashed and your dreams crushed over and over, and if you're really lucky then at the end you'll get to live in a shitty place and make decent money (though still less than what you'd make doing almost anything not in the service industry). It's a really hard slog, and it's good to go in expecting it to be hard.

Just remember what applying to grad school felt like, because then you'll know what to expect from the job market. It's much worse, but it's the same kind of deal. Anecdotally, those of my colleagues who have the hardest time of it are those who seem to have forgotten what it was like to apply to grad school.

Edited by maxhgns

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