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Do I need an M.A.? And did I screw myself? - History Graduate Students

About Do I need an M.A.? And did I screw myself?

Previous Entry Do I need an M.A.? And did I screw myself? Feb. 1st, 2010 @ 03:54 pm Next Entry
I am considering applying for grad school, with the intent to get a Ph.D. in U.S. history. I have two questions, though, and my Google skills have failed me.

1. Do I need to apply for a master's degree program, or can I apply for doctorate programs right off the bat? Or, in other words, will not having an M.A. make applying for Ph.D. programs a waste of time and money? Google has given me answers consisting of "Yes," "No," and "It depends on the program."

2. A few years back, I entered a M.Ed. program through University of Phoenix. At the time, I was having trouble getting a full-time job (I was working several part time jobs instead) and thought it would bring me job security. About a year into the program, I was hired full-time at a newspaper.

Long story short, I completed the required courses, but when it came time to do the student teaching, a lack of money and the crashing economy (I live in California, and right as I was ready to start arranging student teaching, the districts I live near started laying off hundreds of teachers) made it unwise for me to leave my job for four months, especially with that job turning to layoffs and furloughs already. I withdrew from the program.

I'm not crushed, because observations and classes showed me that teaching at the high school level would probably be very frustrating for me (the state curriculum makes me kind of ragey, and it really seems like high school teachers have to cram in too much stuff and can't go in-depth into anything), but I'm wondering if having withdrawn from a previous graduate study program will look really terrible when applying for grad school?

I apologize if these questions have been asked before. I skimmed through the past few months of entries and didn't find anything about either.

EDIT: Thank you all for the excellent advice! I really appreciate it. And I will definitely be looking into your suggestions.
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From:mayhemwench
Date:February 2nd, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the quick reply!

So it seems like my best bet would be to pick a couple programs I am interested in, and then see what they offer/require?

And thank you for the awesome link and the list. I'm actually hoping to be able to focus on U.S. expansion from around the 1870s to 1920 or so. Not that I've thought about it at all. >.> But yeah, that will help me narrow things down a lot, I think. Thanks.
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From:saralinds
Date:February 3rd, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
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2. Do what I did and go through every damn D-1 football school in you can think of and Google "Big school graduate history" and spend months pouring through them.

LOL. That's one of the reasons why I picked my current MA program! When it came to start applying for PhD, I realized that my school was the ONLY D-1 football program. I agonized over this. "What can I do to have fun if I can't go to a football game?!" Then a prof suggested another D1 school and I said to my football crazy mom, "Hey Ma! I have another football school for you!"
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From:tigg
Date:February 2nd, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
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I'm a year away from completing my PhD in US and women's history.

As noted, it does depend on the program - I'm at Washington University - St. Louis, and frankly, coming to this program with an MA won't help you if you're in an Americanist.

The general "rule of thumb" (if you can call it that) is that it depends on your grades. If you have a strong background, academically, then you probably don't need the MA. However, it's also good practice to apply for a mix of MAs and PhDs.

Your withdrawal from grad school has a very specific reason that you've given here - you can probably account for that in your apps. with no problem.

The challenge you'll face now with applying to grad school is that with the economy, programs are accepting fewer students - but the applicant pool has gotten larger. Furthermore, the job market in history ABSOLUTELY SUCKS. It's incredibly dismal, so the best thing I can tell you is ABSOLUTELY DO NOT GO INTO DEBT FOR A PHD. Find a fully funded program and get in. Also, only do this if you love it. If you're wanting this to get a good job, just be aware of the risks.
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From:dreadpirateange
Date:February 2nd, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
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This-- in my program, half came in with MAs and half did not. If your undergrad GPA was quite high, and you have some other nice CV boosters that are history-related, you can apply directly to PhD programmes that grant MAs along the way. If you do not feel competitive enough, you may want to do an MA to show how serious you are about it. However, know that fully funded PhDs are offered at most top tier and upper second tier schools, while a fully funded MA is elusive.

Definitely don't go into debt for a history PhD. Also don't do a history PhD unless grad school in and of itself sounds like something fun you would like to do, becuase the degree comes with no guarantees.
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From:lissiehoya
Date:February 2nd, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
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Nothing important to add, but I wanted to say hi because I just started at SLU. :)
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From:tigg
Date:February 3rd, 2010 03:15 am (UTC)
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Hi there! Are you enjoying STL and SLU so far?
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From:lissiehoya
Date:February 3rd, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
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Yeah, but I moved from Berkeley, so I'm trying to get used to cold weather and snow again. :)
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From:bafooz
Date:February 2nd, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
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Apply to a mix of MAs & PhDs. I think it's increasingly common, at least in my program, for people to come in MAs in hand. However, at my program, there's no credit for it (i.e., you go through the same coursework as those of us who come in without MAs). However, I'm in a field that requires good foreign language skills off the bat & a lot of people pick that up during the MA. There are only two of us in my program currently who don't have MAs, but I got into my top choice PhD program right off the bat, my first & only time applying to grad school. A lot depends on the program - here, we have 3 years of coursework, so profs are generally more likely to take a chance on someone who doesn't come in with a dissertation topic all picked out & maybe needs more polish at the graduate level etc. I wasn't a rockstar in college - I had an OK GPA (nothing stellar, but not bad by any stretch), but good GREs, a good writing sample & SOP, and GREAT LORs.

Do NOT put too much stock in top 20 lists. I'm *still* not sure what the US News people were smoking when they put the list together for my subfield - though it's great if you're looking for a program that's currently in the process of imploding or rebuilding, I suppose. Much, much better to talk to people who are plugged into your subfield & can offer advice based on concrete experiences.
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From:mayhemwench
Date:February 2nd, 2010 04:37 am (UTC)
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To be honest, the teaching degree was just so that I could be doing something that used my degree, and because I missed being in school; at the time I started it, I was working in fast food and at a library (but just checking out books, not anything fun). People had been telling me that I'd make a good teacher, I got along well with teens, it seemed like it could be fun for a few years until I was ready to go for a Ph.D. *shrug* Like I said, I'm not really crushed that I wasn't able to complete it. I went in for the wrong reasons, and if the economy hadn't tanked, it probably would have worked out, but I'd probably have taught for a few years, then been right here anyway, because history geekery and reasearching and writing is what I really love.

I will definitely give your school a look. (And the library thing doesn't sound so bad; my undergrad school had a smallish library that was mainly stocked with books for other programs, so I did all my senior thesis research via interlibrary loan or at the public library, where you put what you want in a slip and they shoot it through a tube and then you wait and wait.)

It's encouraging to know that a screw-up won't mean I don't have a chance! Thank you for the advice.
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From:javabean
Date:February 2nd, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
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My advice would be to definitely apply to one or two PhD that aren't high ranked but still might be a good fit for you academically. I was rejected from two high ranked programs, but I was able to get full-funding for a doctorate at a third-tier university. I found the education that I received in this PhD program is just as wonderful as it would have been if I had gone to the other two schools.
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From:mayhemwench
Date:February 3rd, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
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Hmm, this is good to know. :-)

I'm really appreciating all the "get funded" advice. I didn't realize so many programs -were- fully-funded!
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From:bafooz
Date:February 3rd, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
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I would be careful with this. Sad fact is that prestige does matter when you're going on the job market.

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From:lissiehoya
Date:February 2nd, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
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I'm doing history from within a religion department, so my experience is slightly different, but I will say that doing a M.A. before I entered the PhD really helped me focus my interests, which were originally a bit all over the place.

If you know already what you want to study, then I can't imagine doing a M.A. would be that helpful, but I second the person who suggested applying to a mix of programs and seeing how it turns out.
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