Help with deciding on further education: undergraduate edition, part 1

At this time of year, undergrad and MA students are starting to wonder whether they should go on with their studies (and if so, where). There’s a lot of advice on this topic floating around on the internet, for the most part negative (for example: here, here, here, here, and here — and it’s no coincidence that the positive example comes from the sciences). So it might seem like overkill to offer still more advice. But graduate school in classics is rather different from graduate school in English, US history, anthropology, etc.; it deserves its own discussion.

Spoiler alert: there is no official answer on this blog. Instead, there are some questions you should ask yourself, some truths you should be aware of, and an invitation to ask us questions (we will answer honestly!). We don’t know you, and we don’t deal in universal answers. But we do believe that it’s important to make an informed decision. Our questions and explanations are intended to help you gather the necessary information to help you make the best decision for you. In this post, we address current undergraduates (or someone who’s completed a BA and thinking about going back to school) who are looking at MA programs. The week after that, we’ll look at direct-entry MA/PhD programs. In a final post, we’ll address current MA students who are looking at PhD programs (both at their current institution and elsewhere).

For an undergrad looking at MA programs:

  • Why do you want to go on with school?

There are a lot of good reasons to go on with schooling. Maybe you want to become a teacher (many institutions offer a combined MA in Latin with a teaching degree, called an MAT). Maybe you truly love your subject or discipline. Maybe you’re concerned that you lack an essential skill (such as long report writing) that you think graduate school can give you. Those are logical reasons to consider an MA.

There are also several bad reasons to go to graduate school. My top three reasons to not apply to an MA program? You need a job and didn’t get one; it will delay loan payments; and you’re not really sure what you want to do, but this is what you majored in so you must like it and be good at it, right? Notice what all three of these things don’t have: a solid, positive, planned and intentional reason to continue your schooling.

Yes, you can succeed in a graduate program without a plan. And if you’re good at school, you can probably write a proposal that will get you in. But you need to start your program with at least some idea of what you want to get out of it — at least one goal that you’re working towards.

That brings us to question #2!

  • What are you hoping to learn or to achieve?

This question is very closely tied to the first. If you want to be a teacher, maybe you want to solidify your Latin knowledge and read the entire Aeneid. If you want to improve your research skills, maybe you want to write an MA thesis. Look closely at what’s driving you towards graduate school and pick a few concrete achievements (or goals) to work towards.

Why? A few things: because you can’t actually achieve something if you haven’t identified it as a goal. You can accomplish it, but you can’t achieve it. This is an important distinction. Graduate school can be a hard slog, and you’ll want to remind yourself of why you’re there and what you’re working towards. Also, if you are planning to receive a terminal MA, identifying these skills early on can help you communicate your goals not only to your professors, but also to future employers. When someone asks you “why did you decide to get an MA in Latin poetry?”, you’ll be able to say “I’m glad you asked. It was because….”

And just to reiterate, it’s best that your program also knows what you hope to achieve, because otherwise they can’t help you achieve it. What if you go to school to learn about numismatics, don’t tell anyone, and there are no numismatics seminars offered? If you never said “I really love coins and I hope to work at Sotheby’s one day,” you can’t really blame the program. (If you did, you can be bitter and grouchy.)

  • How much are you able and/or willing to spend on further education?

This is an important one. MA programs, unlike PhD programs, are not always fully funded. They should be at least partially funded. You’ll need to decide whether your finances and future plans allow you to spend 1-2 years on a second degree. If you live in Ontario and want to be a Latin teacher, for example, that additional degree may never translate into a salary. That’s not to say that you won’t get job, but that there are so very few Latin teaching jobs available that you’re unlikely to get one — and so it’s unlikely that you’ll receive an earnings premium for an MA in Latin.

Next week we’ll take a look at combined MA/PhD programs.


Creative Commons License
Help with deciding on further education: undergraduate edition, part 1 by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


3 thoughts on “Help with deciding on further education: undergraduate edition, part 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s