Graduate School in English

Graduate School in English
MA or PhD??
Am I ready for grad school…
…or do I need a break?
 Do I feel totally burned out? Do I have the
stamina to finish an MA or PhD program?
 Am I mature enough, persistent and self-directed
enough right now for graduate study?
 Are my finances in reasonable order and/or am I
willing to take on more student loans?
 Do I want travel or work experience before
committing to grad school?
 Other family/personal issues.
Reasons to do an MA first, rather
than apply right to a PhD program
 I really like literature, I just want to learn more about it.
 I want to try the waters—I’m not sure if grad school in
English and/or a career in academia is what I want.
 My career aspirations (whether teaching or otherwise)
can be met with an MA.
 I don’t have an undergraduate major in English.
 I want to fill the gaps in my undergrad course coverage
before taking the GRE Subject Test and applying to PhD
 I want to improve my GPA before applying to PhD
Do MA vs. PhD programs in
English have different goals?
Most English MA programs:
 Aim to produce graduates with a
Generalist’s proficiency in the
 The MA graduate possesses
knowledge in the field.
Most English PhD programs:
 Aim to produce graduates,
who, in addition to possessing
a Generalist’s proficiency,
also are Specialists in one or
two areas.
 The PhD graduate both
possesses knowledge in the
field and has demonstrated
s/he can create new
knowledge, as a researcher.
Where can I teach with an MA vs.
PhD in English?
 Public or private High School,
 Community Colleges, full or
part-time (some CC have a
tenure system, some do not)
 College or University, as NonTenure-Track faculty. Mostly
part-time and rarely, full-time.
Mostly teaching freshman and
 Full-time, Tenure-Track faculty
at a College or University.
Undergrad and grad courses,
often in field related to
 Note: Being an active
researcher as well as a
teacher (writing books and
articles) is often required for
the kinds of teaching jobs held
by PhDs in English
OK, so I definitely want to go to
grad school….
Coursework in English MA vs. PhD
 1-2 yrs coursework
 2 years average time
to completion
(Ranges 1-3 yrs)
 About 2 yrs
coursework w/MA
 About 3-4 yrs
coursework w/o MA
 7 yrs national average
time to completion
(Ranges 3-10+ yrs)
Exams in English MA vs. PhD
 Proficiency in 0-1
foreign languages
 May or may not
 Proficiency in 1-3
foreign languages
 Comprehensive
(Qualifying) Exams
required; Field Exams
required (number
Capstone project in English MA vs.
PhD programs
 Thesis may or may not be
required (~50-125 pp)
 Oral defense of
prospectus may or may
not be required
 Oral defense of
completed thesis may or
may not be required
 (Product of Learning may
or may not substitute for
Thesis for Ed. students)
 Dissertation required
(~125-400 pp)
 Oral defense of
prospectus may or may
not be required
 Oral defense of
completed dissertation
TA Opportunities in Various
MA (in depts. w/o PhD)
 TAs may or may not teach
composition, and less often, lit
 Those programs that permit
TAs to teach, generally have
pedagogy classes w/practical
emphases and formal
mentoring programs
 Some TAs assist faculty rather
than have own courses
Note: MA student in depts. that
also offer the PhD, rarely get to
 TAs generally teach
composition and often, after
passing exams, lit surveys.
Amount of teaching varies.
 Pedagogy classes may be
more theory than practically
oriented; similarly, formal
mentoring for TAs really varies
from program to program
 Some TAs assist faculty rather
than have own courses (Or
begin by TA-ing for faculty)
Funding opportunities for MA vs.
PhD programs
MA (in depts. w/o PhD)
 Tuition remission
 TA position
 Federal student loans
(subsidized and unsubsidized)
 Note: MA students in programs
that also offer the PhD rarely
get tuition or TA positions
 Tuition remission
 Stipend/Fellowship
 TA position
 Federal student loans
(subsidized and unsubsidized)
 Note: Think very carefully
before attending a PhD
program if they don’t offer you
full tuition and preferably, a
stipend as well. Especially at
a private institution.
What do applications to English MA
vs. PhD programs require?
 Strong GPA in field
 Substantial coursework in
 Take the GRE General test
 Personal statement
 Writing sample
 Letters of recommendation
 Very strong GPA in field
 Substantial and varied
coursework in English
 Take the GRE General Test
 Take the GRE Subject Test in
Literature (may vary)
 Personal Statement
 Writing sample
 Letters of recommendation
 Proficiency in or potential to
demonstrate proficiency in
required foreign languages
Note: In addition to writing ability, course
grades and test scores, doctoral programs
look for evidence of the following:
That you’ll actually finish the coursework and,
importantly, the dissertation--tenacity and
That you have promise as a researcher-creativity and originality in thinking
That you can work in a self-directed manner–
emotionally mature, sane, not needy.
If you’ve decided to do the MA first,
some facts and trends…
If the department also offers a doctoral If the department does not offer the
program, MA students are little fish
PhD, MA students are big fish in
in a big pond. Often they:
a little pond. Often they:
 Rarely get to teach.
 Rarely get substantial financial aid.
 May feel invisible, not part of the group,
compared to the doctoral students.
 May feel the faculty is less interested in
them than in the doctoral students.
 May experience great intellectual
challenge and growth, since they are
taking classes with more advanced
doctoral students.
 Benefit from the name recognition of
being at more prestigious research
institutions, taking classes with, and
getting recommendations from “big
deal” scholars.
 May not be as challenged in
classes as they would be with
more advanced peers.
 Are treated as “top dog” and get
lots of attention and nurturing from
faculty (this can be good and bad)
 May teach, and get teachertraining.
 Get tuition remission and/or TA
Other kinds of grad school for
English majors:
Professional Writing
Women’s Studies
Comparative Literature
African American Studies
Film Studies
Law School
Journalism Programs
Library school
Good luck!
For more information:
Talk to your professors
Consult the other handouts
Use the web, especially go to and
click on “resources”, then “guide to
doctoral programs”
Contact the grad advisor at programs you
are interested in.
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