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Hi guys - so, I just came across this website today where a English prof gives advice to prospective applicants to grad programs (sorry to some of you who are seeing this twice; I posted this on another forum as well).


Now, he says in there something I've never heard before: that those looking to go on to the English PhD should not get their MA from programs which only grant the MA because such programs are so inferior. I'm posting the paragraph below so you can see his reasoning. As for me - I'll come right out and say it - I'm applying to and had hoped to get into Villanova's English MA program - which is just such a program (they do not offer the PhD). I'd heard their Masters programs have very good reputations, and the department says they've sent a lot of their MA students to some top PhD programs. What do you guys think? I know this guy's a professor, but it sounds sort of hokey. His own program (Pitt) itself sounds a bit unusual - I've never heard of programs where the majority of their PhD students are students from their own MA program. Sigh, this process sucks. I'd love your thoughts: I've pasted in his paragraph below:

"There are over one hundred programs granting a doctoral degree in English and scads more that like Rutgers/Camden offer only an M.A, so the first question you face is whether to apply to programs offering only the M.A. Unless there is some compelling reason like location, applying to terminal M.A. programs if your ultimate ambition is a Ph.D. is probably unwise. Why? Graduate programs limited to an M.A. are often so limited because neither the local faculty nor the local library resources are deemed capable of supporting quality doctoral work. And even M.A. programs in pretty good institutions like Georgetown, Clark University, or VPI may leave their degree holders at a disadvantage when it comes to applying elsewhere for admission to doctoral programs, for most doctoral programs have an understandable tendency to protect their own M.A's in the application process. This means that the bar is set much higher for M.A. holders applying from outside than from inside. At Pitt the disparity has sometimes been grotesque, so it has been extraordinarily difficult for students applying from outside to gain admission to our doctoral program (which is now limited to ten fully funded students per year) since so many of the places were taken by our own M.A.'s, who in their prior years here were able to acquire faculty patrons. Indeed, many outside M.A.'s recently accepted feel pressured by funding rules essentially to retake their M.A. credits here. Terminating a so-so M.A. student who is favored by a couple of faculty and wishes to proceed to the Ph.D. once enrolled in an M.A./Ph.D. program is an awkward, painful and often highly politicized process, and many graduate departments like ours do not handle it very well. For many reasons (some of them humane and quite defensible) a foot in the door is hard to dislodge, and the result is that M.A.'s applying to doctoral programs from outside may be at a striking disadvantage."


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 28th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
I agree with you...this guy's reasoning seems a bit off. And I have also never heard of a program where the majority of the PhDs are their own MA students...I thought most programs tried to avoid just that.

The only concern I would have if I were in a terminal MA program is that you don't get to take classes with PhD students. Some of the people I've learned the most from in my classes in my one semester of grad. school so far have been PhD students, who luckily don't seem to snub me just because I'm in the MA program. I guess you'd be losing that mode of peer learning if you were in a terminal MA program...but it's probably not your number one concern, and probably shouldn't be.
Jan. 29th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
I don't have the links off the top of my head, but you might also want to look at the responses to this on gradcafe (this year) and wgi (2 years ago, in January--basically, this community's wgi cohort). If I recall correctly, most of us had pretty negative responses to his entire article. There might also be some relevant discussions in the current iteration of this forum: wgi_lounge_2010 (on lj).

My perspective is undoubtedly biased by the 3 programs that I'm familiar with (ranked within the top 5, top 25, and top 50). At all 3, 30-40% of the cohort consists of students who had previously earned an MA. It's hard to see if these stats representative (my sense is that it's at least a bit high), but from my experience MA holders are not significantly disadvantaged.

Now it is true, I think, that they're held to a slightly different standard. BA students can get in on potential...MA students are expected to begin to fulfill that potential. MA students are supposed to discuss a more focused project in their SoP's, whereas BA students can be (and often should be) more flexible. Still, I wouldn't call it a disadvantage: after all, those are EXACTLY the sort of things that a good MA program will prepare you for...and also the sort of things that one should pick up in the first two years of a PhD program.

It is worth noting, however, that many programs will require their PhD students (who hold MA's from other school) to retake most of their coursework. The trend seems to be that one can "carry over" a semester's worth of credits from the MA program (most are a year or two years long)...so it definitely means re-doing much of your coursework.
Jan. 29th, 2010 05:30 am (UTC)
I think that, as with most things, it's highly dependent on the particular MA program. The best thing you can do is find out placement rates for MA students from programs you're interested in - how many went on to PhD programs, and are those programs ones you would be happy with? There are some programs that are geared toward placing students in good PhD programs, while others are geared toward people with jobs who want to get an MA in their spare time (like teachers, etc).

I also want to note that I agree with circumfession above - you will be expected to provide a more focused and cohesive application as an MA student than as a BA student. This is not a bad thing, just something to be aware of for the future if you end up in an MA program.
Jan. 30th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Thank you again, guys. I really appreciate your thoughts - they're so helpful to me. What you guys say about MA students being held to a different standard makes perfect sense. And that's precisely where I hope to be when I apply - to have a better sense of what I want to do, how and why. If I tried to say something coherent now, I'm afraid it all comes out sounding amateurish and naive. I feel like I could really use the time to do some beginning work at the graduate level, to read and explore things more carefully, to write more sophisticated research papers and so on. I did fine as an undergrad English major, but never did a thesis and pretty much coasted along, not thinking then that I'd end up pursuing academics. My school had a great English program, so I'm kicking myself for it now. Alas. Hopefully through the MA program, I can do what I should have done as an undergrad, though hopefully I'll get even more out of it. This MA program at Villanova lists some PhD programs their MAs have gone on to, and they list some top programs. And overall, it just sounds like a nurturing program: they fund a portion of their students and they seem quite attentive to students who want to succeed. I've emailed back and forth with the chairwoman a couple times, and she's been really kind and encouraging. In any case, I'm hoping for the best. I do realize that I'll probably have to repeat some courses down the road, but I think I won't mind that too much. So anyway, we'll see! Thank you again guys... And I just thought of another question that's been nagging at me, so when I post, if you could share from your wealth of wisdom once more, I'd be grateful!
Mar. 9th, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
Crap, I just saw this (way too late), but I did my undergrad at Villanova if you have any questions.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )