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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?


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Old April 11th, 2016, 09:44 AM   #11

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Originally Posted by Hessian Historian View Post
I'm not dead set on Iowa State University necessarily. I have been favoring it because I love spending time in the Des Moines/Ames area (my genealogy business requires a lot of visits to the State Historical Society Library in Des Moines, so it would be really convenient to live 20 minutes away), it would only be a couple hours away from family (as opposed to 4+ hours if I went to University of Iowa), and my family has a bit of loyalty to ISU as my grandpa was a prof there for many years.

That being said, University of Iowa is on my radar, and you make a good case for it. I will give it serious thought. Thanks!
You also need to consider what historical resources will be available for you to do your MA or PhD. I don't know what Iowa State's library is like, but the UI's library is top-notch, especially for history. Even if you enroll in Iowa State's graduate program, you may very well ending up having to go to Iowa City to get historical sources, or requesting their delivery through interlibrary loan.

I can relate to the problem of distance. My professional field is Law, and although Des Moines, where I live, has a law school (Drake University), I ended up choosing the UI simply because the UI law school is far superior to Drake. Even if it meant being 2 hours away from my old home and having to find new accommodation, I felt that the trade-off was worth it. If you want to aim for professorship in a university (any university), your choice of graduate school will certainly play an important part, and based on my experience, the UI would be better launching pad into a historical career than ISU.

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Old April 11th, 2016, 05:16 PM   #12

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You have to include your first BA. As someone already mentioned, having the 2 BAs is a plus.

Question for you - Have you already reached out to the professor(s) that you would like to study under? That is the most critical part of the process. Get on their radar, make sure they are willing to take on a student.

The area you want to specialize in is good because nearly every school offers it. That being said, really research the History department at the schools you are interested in. Find out how many professors are on staff that are specialists in your area of interest.

Another question - What is your second language? Nearly every History graduate program requires a language proficiency (at least they did when I was applying a few years back.) If you don't have a proficiency in one, you may want to include an action plan on how you will learn one while studying at that institution in your introductory letter.

So, that was a lot of wind to tell you not to sweep the first BA under the rug. Again, in my experience, actual GPA was not really as important as you'd think it would be. More importantly you should: A) Build a relationship with the department and professor at the school you are applying to. B) Submit your absolute best History paper. Maybe even have it professionally edited for any errors you may have missed. C) Write a very thorough, but still brief Introductory letter. Be sure to be very specific with your study interests and how you plan to achieve your goal of an MA. D) GRE score. I found that more schools placed an emphasis on your GRE rather than your GPA, Especially your GPA of you earlier college years.

Also, make sure you get everything in on time......

Last edited by leakbrewergator; April 11th, 2016 at 05:18 PM.
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Old April 11th, 2016, 05:19 PM   #13

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Question for you - Have you already reached out to the professor(s) that you would like to study under? That is the most critical part of the process. Get on their radar, make sure they are willing to take on a student.
This is super-important. It's probably no coincidence that of the three post-doc degrees I've done/am doing, all three have involved good communication with the professor prior to applying. I don't know if it's a coincidence that I ended up studying under three people who wrote me enthusiastic and encouraging emails back, but probably not.
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Old April 12th, 2016, 09:53 PM   #14

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Generally, my impression is that it's easier to get admission to a postgrad program in Oxbridge than it is to get an Ivy offer. I did a BA in history at a mid-tier Canadian public university and have been admitted to Oxbridge no less than three times now. I've just always turned them down because the funding was pathetic and the overseas fees are outrageous. When a funded PhD offer came through at my dream Ivy last year I immediately took it. That said, I get the impression that for MA programs at least, Oxbridge isn't all that discriminating when it comes to foreigners if they've got okay language skills and can demonstrate some competence in historical thinking. They really need the money these days. If you can afford an Oxbridge MA, I'd suggest that you apply. It's a great environment and you'll get important skills and contacts. But don't pay 20,000 pounds a year for a PhD from them. An Oxbridge MA is also a great step to getting into a top-tier program in the US or Canada.

I don't think the first BA will count against you at all. In fact, I think it'll count for you, in regards to showing dedication and a willingness to keep going. Doing history professionally is tedious and grueling, and I would think that showing some grit will help you out, actually. But don't panic about the grades, or about the GRE. It's the writing sample that will show your mettle, so put your heart and soul into that. The people on application committees know all about the problems of grade inflation: that 2.3 would hurt you if it's all you had, but a 4.0 isn't necessarily going to get you anywhere, either, since there's no shortage of people with 4.0s applying to Ivies.

You are, unfortunately, correct in your belief that a majority of tenure-track jobs go to the graduates of a tiny cluster of schools. Shoot for the top in your applications.
Funded Ph.D. for liberal arts is quite rare; you must have some pretty amazing credentials.
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Old April 12th, 2016, 09:58 PM   #15

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This is super-important. It's probably no coincidence that of the three post-doc degrees I've done/am doing, all three have involved good communication with the professor prior to applying. I don't know if it's a coincidence that I ended up studying under three people who wrote me enthusiastic and encouraging emails back, but probably not.
Yes, I think having the inside track can help a lot. I suspect liberal arts programs are not as strict on numbers say like law school (which depend on them for ranking). I think good GRE General and History scores may help convince the Admissions Committee members. Admission essays are not always entirely written by the applicant. And interviews, not sure if certain programs require them.
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Old August 5th, 2016, 06:31 AM   #16

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B) Submit your absolute best History paper. Maybe even have it professionally edited for any errors you may have missed.... D) GRE score. I found that more schools placed an emphasis on your GRE rather than your GPA, Especially your GPA of you earlier college years.

Also, make sure you get everything in on time......
Well for each of those rules there is an exception.

When applying to grad school in Public History, I wasn't asked for any writing sample which kind of surprised me. I was all ready to submit my undergraduate Senior Thesis but they didn't ask for it.

As for the GRE, I'll confess that I didn't make any effort whatsoever on the Quantitative Reasoning section. I just went through and randomly filled in answers just to be done with it. Math is my weak subject, and I didn't get a B.A. in History so that I'd have to sit for an exam in math - EVER. For the Verbal Reasoning/Writing section of the exam, I didn't study or prepare for it at all. If you've earned an undergraduate degree in the Humanities then you are already proficient in this area (and if you're not, you might want to rethink grad school!)

So with no writing sample, and the equivalent of a 25th percentile on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE I was accepted into both the grad programs I applied to.

OH, and the program I really wanted to get into (and the one I chose), I applied to six weeks after the deadline; I didn't get my application in on time at all! I emailed to ask if they would accept a late application, and they did. Here's the thing - it never hurts to ask because sometimes they still have empty seats or someone they accepted has declined. You never know...

PS, I did have 4.0 for my Bachelors degree

Last edited by Lisalu; August 5th, 2016 at 06:36 AM.
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Old August 5th, 2016, 07:00 AM   #17

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I'm not dead set on Iowa State University necessarily. I have been favoring it because I love spending time in the Des Moines/Ames area (my genealogy business requires a lot of visits to the State Historical Society Library in Des Moines, so it would be really convenient to live 20 minutes away), it would only be a couple hours away from family (as opposed to 4+ hours if I went to University of Iowa), and my family has a bit of loyalty to ISU as my grandpa was a prof there for many years.

That being said, University of Iowa is on my radar, and you make a good case for it. I will give it serious thought. Thanks!
Iowa is definitely a better choice when it comes to history. Northern Iowa isn't too bad either (I am biased )


Depending on what you want to study, the University of Illinois has an excellent program; particularly in medieval studies. Might be worth the look
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Old August 5th, 2016, 07:04 AM   #18

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Well for each of those rules there is an exception.

When applying to grad school in Public History, I wasn't asked for any writing sample which kind of surprised me. I was all ready to submit my undergraduate Senior Thesis but they didn't ask for it.

As for the GRE, I'll confess that I didn't make any effort whatsoever on the Quantitative Reasoning section. I just went through and randomly filled in answers just to be done with it. Math is my weak subject, and I didn't get a B.A. in History so that I'd have to sit for an exam in math - EVER. For the Verbal Reasoning/Writing section of the exam, I didn't study or prepare for it at all. If you've earned an undergraduate degree in the Humanities then you are already proficient in this area (and if you're not, you might want to rethink grad school!)

So with no writing sample, and the equivalent of a 25th percentile on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE I was accepted into both the grad programs I applied to.

OH, and the program I really wanted to get into (and the one I chose), I applied to six weeks after the deadline; I didn't get my application in on time at all! I emailed to ask if they would accept a late application, and they did. Here's the thing - it never hurts to ask because sometimes they still have empty seats or someone they accepted has declined. You never know...

PS, I did have 4.0 for my Bachelors degree
Did you get your BA degree at the same university you applied for grad school? I know that they require less stuff when applying at the same university
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Old August 5th, 2016, 08:16 AM   #19

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Did you get your BA degree at the same university you applied for grad school? I know that they require less stuff when applying at the same university
Yes, that is a good point. I should clarify that one program was at my same university and they did ask for a writing sample. The one I enrolled in, though, was at another school (a much better program, actually) and they didn't require one. Just the opposite of what you'd expect!

I don't know how much GPA matters to every admissions committee, but in my experience a 4.0 can't hurt - and I think it can open doors. For example, when I inquired about making a late application, and I included a brief academic summary in the email, I got a call from the program director who was like, "yes, absolutely, we will extend the deadline for you." Maybe they were desperate to fill seats, or maybe they wanted a student with my credentials. But either way, it worked to my advantage.

Last edited by Lisalu; August 5th, 2016 at 08:23 AM.
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Old August 5th, 2016, 08:40 AM   #20

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To the OP: I'm not a faculty member in a university (I'm a grad student myself) but my guess would be that the two records combined would work to your advantage. They show personal growth and maturity. It also shows that you are someone who is willing to put in the extra effort to succeed - you didn't just accept the bad record from your younger days, but you applied your new skills, knowledge, and maturity level to improve your education. That, IMO, would make you an excellent candidate for any graduate program.

As an aside, I feel that more mature (read OLDER) students are often in a better position to excel academically. I earned my B.A. in middle-age and I easily excelled at my studies. I didn't have the issues you encountered as an undergrad right out of high school - a heady, newfound sense of freedom and a youthful desire to party rather than study. As a more settled person, I was better able to settle down and study. My classmates, however, would often show up for an exam bleary-eyed, having spent all night covering the material for the first time (while I'd been hitting the books for weeks.) You're still young - compared to me - but you are obviously past the party-hearty college days and ready to show what you can do.

Good luck to you, its great to have young people like yourself in this field!
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