So, some of you may have missed the comments on the post responding to a correspondent. What was supposed to be a completely minor point in my post ended up sticking in a lot of people's craws. But what got to me was that some people seemed to think that I was disparaging the M.A., when nothing could be further from the truth. So, rather than trying to write tidy prose, I'm going to present my encomium in bullet points. Perhaps some of you can add to them?
- For several years, I was a faculty presenter at my department's "So you want to go to grad school?" talk for undergraduates. At one of these, a colleague in another field told the students that the separate M.A. (as opposed to the one that's folded into Ph.D. programs here) was only for people not intending to go on to the Ph.D., and that if they were serious, they'd just apply to Ph.D. programs. I disagreed with him right away, but the main point is that this may vary by field. For subfields where you don't need extensive technical or linguistic preparation, jumping right into the Ph.D. might be feasible. For the rest of us, it's a ticket to almost certain failure.
- Time to consider is important. As at least one of my commenters pointed out, a couple more years makes for a more emotionally mature grad student. It also generally means that the person in question has really given some thought as to what they want out of grad school, why they want it, and what they're going to do to get it. The M.A. might also be a way to "try on" grad school, to make sure that you really want this. One to three years is a small investment to make in this regard. And if you can take a year off before the M.A., even, all the better.
- Ah, redemption. This was the main concern of my correspondent, and one that I can identify with. Maybe you want to get a Ph.D., but your undergraduate record isn't going to get you into the program you want. Maybe you had a degree in one discipline, but only discovered your true passion in your final year, when it was too late to change majors. Maybe, like me, you slacked off, and realized too late what you should have been doing all along. The M.A., for me, gave me the opportunity to rehabilitate my grades and reputation.***
There ya' go.
**Or possibly just the lens cover on my trusty point-and-shoot finally giving up the ghost.
***You know, I had to do the same thing just to get into a four-year college, too. Hm. Makes me wonder what hole I'm digging for myself now....