Questions about Terminal MAs at PhD-Granting Programs


A philosophy professor advising an undergraduate, who did not major in philosophy, about her options for graduate school quite reasonably suggested she first pursue a Master’s degree. He let her know about a number of well known terminal MA programs (most of which are on Geoff Pynn’s list, discussed here). She had found out a little about some MA programs that mostly do not appear on the list, though: ones at PhD-granting programs. 

Examples include a course of study at Columbia University “intended both for students who are seeking a free-standing MA in philosophy, and for students interested in receiving further training in philosophy before applying to Ph.D. programs in philosophy,” an MA program at NYU, and the general MA program at Stanford. There are more at various other PhD-granting programs. (If you’re at one that is actively accepting applications but is not on Pynn’s list, feel free to mention it in the comments here.)

My corresponding professor had some questions about these programs:

  • Are most of the students at these programs students who applied to the PhD program at the same school but were not admitted?
  • Does the profile of students accepted to these programs tend to differ from those of students in terminal MA programs in departments that lack PhD programs?
  • Are MA students at these programs provided with any funding or tuition waivers?
  • Do the MA students get as much attention, or adequate attention, from the faculty?
  • Do these programs tend to get involved in placing students in PhD programs, and if so, do they have publicly accessible placement records?
  • If you have been a student in one of these programs, what should an applicant or new student know about them?

Thanks for helping with this.

Carmen Herrera, "Alpes"

Carmen Herrera, “Alpes”

 

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Brandon
Brandon
4 years ago

I can’t speak to US programmes, but in Canada, should the student wish to consider coming here, the answers to some of the questions are:

Are most of the students at these programs students who applied to the PhD program at the same school but were not admitted?
— Generally, no. Though a few universities may do this occasionally, the MA programmes are mostly constituted by students who applied directly to the MA program and got in.

Are MA students at these programs provided with any funding or tuition waivers?
— MA students are funded through department and university funding as well as teaching and research assistantships. Canadian students can apply for government scholarships. Though non-Canadians cannot get these, it can free up money for departmental and university funding for non-Canadian students.

Do the MA students get as much attention, or adequate attention, from the faculty?
— In my experience, and anecdotally, yes.

Do these programs tend to get involved in placing students in PhD programs, and if so, do they have publicly accessible placement records?
— Yes.

Canada has a well-developed academic MA tradition, so it functions largely like a mini-PhD in most cases, in terms of funding, workload, status in the department, teaching opportunities, and so on. As far as I know, they are akin to US terminal MA programmes, but just happen to be in a department that also offers the PhD.Report

Ben Serber
Ben Serber
4 years ago

I’m a PhD student at Florida State. About half my entering cohort is terminal MA students. I’ll answer all of these that I can.

1) To my knowledge, none of the MA students here originally applied to the PhD. Similarly, to my knowledge, we rarely if ever offer MA admission to applicants rejected for the PhD.
2) The MA program admits students with a broader range of post-grad school interests, e.g. multiple MA students are planning to go to law school rather than PhD programs. I can’t speak to the breadth of the admissions profiles of MA versus PhD students.
3) MA students receive the same funding package as PhD students, including full tuition remission and a $16,000 stipend. So if you want to eat while you do your MA, consider FSU!
4) Yes. I think some second-year MA students have better relationships with faculty than I do as a first-year PhD, which is what you’d want to see.
5) I don’t know about involvement. I don’t think we have a publicly posted PhD placement record.
6) This is not something I know from being a student in FSU’s MA, but it’s good to know. If you are admitted for an MA, you can choose to take qualifying exams and continue into the PhD program without having to reapply or do anything else a direct PhD admit wouldn’t have to do. This means if you attend for the MA with the intention of applying to other PhD programs, you have a pretty good safety net.Report

Ben Serber
Ben Serber
Reply to  Ben Serber
4 years ago

I should clarify that on 6 I meant FSU’s PhD program specifically, not that it was true of any programReport

Ashli Anda
Ashli Anda
4 years ago

I previously attended Boston College for an MA but now I’m a PhD student at a different institution.
1. Are most of the students at this program students who applied to the PhD program at the same school but were not admitted?
– I applied specifically for the terminal MA; my cohort members did the same (so we were not students that applied for the PhD and were instead offered an MA spot).
2. Are MA students at this program provided with any funding or tuition waivers?
– No funding or waivers
3. Do the MA students get as much attention, or adequate attention, from the faculty?
– I got the attention I worked for and wanted; other MA students got more or less based on their efforts. If students’ interests were serious and their work was (near) publishable, the professors at BC recognized that and gave us the attention we needed.
4. Does this program tend to get involved in placing students in PhD programs, and if so, do they have publicly accessible placement records?
-They offered basic help (e.g. identifying institutions that were good fits, reviewing app materials). There are no publicly accessible records for MA placement.
5. If you have been a student in one of these programs, what should an applicant or new student know about them?
– On the one hand, it is probably great to use a terminal MA program as a test run if you’re not sure where you’re headed or you just really love school and would be happy completing the degree whether or not it lends itself to a job or PhD spot. On the other hand, if you know that you want to move on and get a PhD, then use the time wisely to make the connections you need, and don’t waste extra time on research you wouldn’t want to continue or that isn’t actually representative of your interests. It was extremely important to me that I treated the terminal MA as a “professional pit stop” before the PhD. While my interests ultimately didn’t fit in at BC the way that I thought they would I still got what I needed from my time there (and what I’m hinting at is that any terminal MA can, for some, end up being a huge waste of time and money if you’re not funded or genuinely interested in the program). Finally, unlike what Ben mentioned above, MA students at BC must apply for the Phd (there is not a pathway for continuation).Report

Rob Rupert
Rob Rupert
4 years ago

Hello. I’m the Director of Graduate Studies in Philosophy at the U. of Colorado at Boulder. We have a free-standing M.A. program, alongside our Ph.D. program. Here is some information that might be helpful to those considering applying to M.A. programs at schools that also offer the Ph.D. (but this info is mostly about CU-Boulder, in particular).

Q: Are most of the students at these programs students who applied to the PhD program at the same school but were not admitted?

A: Yes, typically they are students who narrowly missed admission to the Ph.D. program at Colorado (and whose credentials are almost indistinguishable from those who were admitted to our Ph.D. program).

Q: Does the profile of students accepted to these programs tend to differ from those of students in terminal MA programs in departments that lack PhD programs?

A: I would say it does somewhat, based on my experience at my prior institution, Texas Tech, which has a successful M.A. program but does not offer the Ph.D. The typical M.A. student at Colorado is more confident and prepared in academic philosophy proper, whereas many of the students who applied to the M.A. program at Texas Tech, though they had solid credentials, had something unusual in their background. Perhaps they went to a not-very-well-known school or didn’t major in philosophy or had been out of the academic world for a while, so they were self-consciously applying to a master’s-only program to come up to speed. This seems less common at Colorado; our M.A. students tend to conceive of themselves (usually quite rightly) as prepared for Ph.D.-level work.

Q: Are MA students at these programs provided with any funding or tuition waivers?

A: Here’s our funding situation for M.A. students at Colorado: We offer a 10k scholarship to one first-year M.A. student. We occasionally offer one (or even) two semesters of guaranteed T.A.-ship to incoming M.A. students (as a recruitment tool). Though other T.A. work is not guaranteed, we typically have 3-5 uncommitted T.A.-ships per semester (depending on undergrad enrollments and other factors), and these go to M.A. students. I would say that the average M.A. student gets 2 semesters of work as a T.A. during his/her time in the program. Some students are in the 3-4 semester range. These are standard T.A.-ships; they come with a tuition waiver and pay the same stipend as is paid to Ph.D. students who T.A. There are other opportunities for funding as well, including assistant in the philosophy library, assistant to the committee on the history and philosophy of science, one-off hourly grading positions, and more — though these do not come with a tuition waiver. We also fund professional travel for M.A. students who are giving papers at professional conferences; one of our master’s students recently had a paper accepted for the APA, and that student’s travel will be paid at the going grad student rate, but the event needn’t as high-profile as that for the student to be reimbursed at the same level at which a Ph.D. student would be reimbursed.

Q: Do the MA students get as much attention, or adequate attention, from the faculty?

A: Yes, our M.A. students get a lot of attention. We have a dedicated M.A. advisor (a tenured faculty member who acts as a sort of assistant DGS, for M.A. students only), to ensure that we attend specifically to M.A. students’ needs. But, in general, M.A. students get the same sort of education and attention that Ph.D. students get. They take the same courses as our Ph.D. students, and many of my colleagues have remarked that, in their seminar populations, they can’t tell which students are in the Ph.D. program and which are in the M.A. program. I myself run three reading/research groups — one a works-in-progress group for my advisees and two topical reading groups — and M.A. students participate in all of them side-by-side with Ph.D. students and are treated equally. And, I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard.

Q: Do these programs tend to get involved in placing students in PhD programs, and if so, do they have publicly accessible placement records?

A: Colorado has a master’s placement page: http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/graduate/ma-placement
As you’ll see, many of our M.A. students end up entering the Ph.D. program at Colorado. This reinforces some of the points made above. The students come in with strong credentials and professors pay careful attention to them. This prepares them for entry to outside Ph.D. programs in philosophy (often very strong ones, including Chapel Hill, Michigan, Texas, and Wash U., among others, in recent years) as well as for doctoral programs in other areas (e.g., Law, Theology, Geography, and Computer Science). But, our faculty have a completely open mind about the potential of our M.A. students and typically expect a lot from them; the faculty are then prepared to support our M.A. students’ applications to our own Ph.D. program when they do well.Report

Kenny Easwaran
4 years ago

At Texas A&M we have both an MA program and a PhD program. We do appear on Geoff Pynn’s list, but it’s probably worth answering the questions here in any case.

> Are most of the students at these programs students who applied to the PhD program at the same school but were not admitted?

I’ve been on graduate admissions twice. We generally have completely separate pools of students applying to the two programs, and most students in each program are people who initially applied to that program.

> Does the profile of students accepted to these programs tend to differ from those of students in terminal MA programs in departments that lack PhD programs?

I haven’t spent time at any other department with a terminal MA program, so I can’t compare the profile of the students. But because of the particular combination of interests and strengths among the faculty in our department, we tend to have fairly different pools of students applying to our MA and PhD programs. Our PhD program includes many students working in Continental, American, Latin American, and Africana traditions as well as a few working in the Analytic tradition, while our MA program tends to have a higher percentage of students interested in the Analytic tradition. Our PhD program requires students to complete a supplemental MA in another field (or be in the interdisciplinary early modern studies program), while our MA program functions as a preparation for PhD programs elsewhere, so they attract students with somewhat different skill sets and interests, though of course there is a lot of cross-pollination of ideas.

> Are MA students at these programs provided with any funding or tuition waivers?

Yes. Despite the pride the state of Texas takes in the low cost per student for their huge research universities, we are able to provide MA students with the same sort of tuition and funding coverage that they can get at PhD programs anywhere (including our own). However, the amount of take-home pay that our students get is substantially lower than that at many other universities (low teens of thousands), in a way that is only partly made up for by the low cost of housing in a smaller city in Texas.

> Do the MA students get as much attention, or adequate attention, from the faculty?

Students in the MA program and students in the early years of the PhD program are basically treated as a single cohort, so most faculty are interacting with them in the same sorts of ways. Not having been a student in this program, I can’t personally say whether the attention is “adequate”.

> Do these programs tend to get involved in placing students in PhD programs, and if so, do they have publicly accessible placement records?

Yes, and yes (though it appears that our placement page is currently slightly out of date).

http://philosophy.tamu.edu/html/graduate-placement.htmlReport