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Get a Master's before PhD?

tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
edited May 2006 in Graduate School
I go to a big-name school (Top 12) and I was curious to know whether or not I need to pursue a Master's before applying to PhD programs. I won't have any "summer research" experience. My resume consists of the following: two undergrad research/fellowship conferences, three internships (marketing research, working with at-risk youth in high schools, and public policy), and two work/study jobs working as a research aide in education and as a clerical aide in the ethnic studies departments. I also plan to do a senior honors thesis too -- I'm still deciding on a topic. Unfortunately, my overall GPA would probably be around a 3.4-3.5 (I have 3 Cs on my transcript which hurt my cum GPA -- 2 of those Cs occurred when I was hospitalized). Letter of recommendations will not be a problem at all. My goal is to get into a top 10 university in the fields of education, american and ethnic studies, and american history for my PhD.

My primary research interests are: 20th Century American and African American History with a focus on urban history and theory (incorporating political economy and sociology), educational foundations/policy, and social movements. My secondary interests are law and social policy, black intellectual history, and black women's history. Do I have too many?

So, should I apply to Master's programs to make myself more competitive or do I stand a chance by applying straight to PhD programs?
Post edited by tenisghs on
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Replies to: Get a Master's before PhD?

  • DespSeekPhdDespSeekPhd Posts: 991Registered User Member
    It has nothing to do with being "competitive" per se, but you would probably benefit from an MA program to narrow your focus and decide what you really want to do. Your research interests are far too broad to attract a top PhD program. A PhD is all about narrow specialization, esp. in history.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    I know schools, such as Penn, have a Joint PhD in History and Education program. They also offer certificates such as urban studies, world history, etc. I didn't think my interests were too broad at all since I want to study African American history (which is a part of American history). I probably won't study law, but I am definitely interested in urban, afro-american, and education history. I prefer 20th century for a reason too.
  • DespSeekPhdDespSeekPhd Posts: 991Registered User Member
    I realize you prefer these things for a reason. I also realize there are joint degree programs. The point is that PhD program will have you take some classes to make sure you have the necessary scholarship and background, and then will have you research a fairly narrow topic. PhD programs, particularly the top ones, expect you to have a pretty finessed and narrow dissertation topic in mind before you apply. Not necessarily the exact title and sources, but far narower than what you are proposing. They do not want to hear that you are going to pursue 2 relatively unrelated PhDs plus a few certificates.

    Generally people who pursue joint PhDs do so because their research interests are narrow but overlap a couple areas. For example, I am interested in ecclesiastical medieval history, so a joint PhD in history and religion would be simply different aspects of the same research focus. If you want to study African American history, great. What specifically within AA history do you want to research? If your idea doesn't begin to approach what could be a rough outline or starting point for a paper, then it's too broad.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    Well I'm very much interested in the history of urban education, particularly dealing with African American youth and how black scholars and communities responded to the racist practices of legislators and educators who were designing the school curriculum, such as school tracking. I presented a paper at an undergraduate conference dealing with this topic. I feel as though this topic (urban education and black youth in the early 20th century) is not explored in larger scholarship.

    Another area I am very much interested in is the history of black social movements and black women. One movement that I did very well was the effort against discriminatory hiring practices in white businesses during the 1930s. I looked at class, labor, gender (especially black women) involvement and community coalition-building. This local and national effort channeled a wave of success to build on future movements, such as the civil rights movement. There is not much scholarship (there are some books, but not extensive in volume like the Civil Rights movement). I also used some of the same black intellectuals in this paper in my black education papers. There is a lot of correlation between my areas of interest.

    Finally, I have extensive background in social policy issues because it tends to be covered in urban/social history as well as afro-american history. I took a lot of sociology classes that dealt with poverty, occupations, family, education, and urban sociology. I always analyze public policy issues.

    I understand that the dissertation itself has to be narrow. In my original post, I was speaking more of a broader spectrum (areas that I knew I would like to teach in the future). When I figure out my senior thesis topic, that is what I will probably use to expand on my dissertation research. I do believe however that my interests intersect one another.
  • DespSeekPhdDespSeekPhd Posts: 991Registered User Member
    Whatever - good luck with whatever you do. I just wonder why you ask a question when you've already made a decision. There seems to be an abundance of that on these boards at times.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    My original question was whether or not I should pursue a Master's degree first because of my academic background.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    After doing much thinking, I decided I should narrow down my interests:

    Modern American and African American History
    Interests: Urban, Social Movements, Education, Social Policy

    Is that still too broad for a dissertation idea?
  • josephinejosephine Posts: 226Registered User Junior Member
    It depends where you want to go. Often top schools do not offer a masters in history. Sometimes you can transfer in with a masters but you usually have to repeat some classes. However, if you don't think you can get into the program of your choice for a Ph.D right away (and I can tell you from experience it is VERY, VERY difficult) then doing a masters first might help.
    Also, while you should be specific as to what you want to study, you don't need to know now what your dissertation will be about. A Ph.D is a long process and your interests may evolve in that time. You are in a pretty good position though with regard to your interests, while there are lots of people in American history applying, your focuses are very desirable for many schools right now.

    Good luck
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    Thank you Josephine. I know the History field is extremely competitive. That's why I wonder if I'm better off pursuing a professional Master's (i'm not kidding!). I know that many people pursue MA Liberal Arts degrees en route to a PhD at a top-ranked school.

    How do you my focuses are very desirable now?
  • josephinejosephine Posts: 226Registered User Junior Member
    I don't really have any data but my impression is that African American history, urban history, etc. are more in vogue now than they used to be. Universities seem to be looking for more unusual, less studied, underrepresented perhaps, areas and I think your interests would fit. Certainly that kind of concentration is more desirable than plain American (there are tons of people applying for that so you will be distinguished more from them) or, god forbid, my concentration, Modern European. It is possible that I'm wrong or out of date though.
  • UCLAriUCLAri Posts: 14,728Super Moderator Senior Member
    If you can get into PhD programs right away, I'd recommend it. My main reason is purely money. MA programs tend to be fairly pricey, whereas many PhD programs are going to offer you at least decent financial aid.

    BTW, josephine, I think you're right.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    Thanks guys. I think I'm gonna apply to a PhD program for the Fall of 2008 (rather than for the Fall of 2007) so that I have a year to build upon my resume (do volunteer work, Teach for America, work for a museum, something) and convince top graduate school adcoms why they should accept me. My overall GPA is low (3.5) because I have a few Cs on my transcript. This is the weakest part about me. I can cite health problems, but adcoms might see me as too risky to gamble. I will only attend a top 15 school in the field of african american history.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    So yeah, I'm basically screwed for grad school. :(
  • UCLAriUCLAri Posts: 14,728Super Moderator Senior Member
    What? No way. How so?

    A 3.5 is by no means a bad GPA.
  • josephinejosephine Posts: 226Registered User Junior Member
    I don't think you're screwed but proceed understanding that what you are attempting is very difficult. I just got rejected from all eight history Ph.D programs I applied to and all of my professors are shocked. You have a good chance and the advantage of a more desirable program and I hope you'll get in.
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