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Thread: RA vs Masters for improving admissions chances

  1. #1
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    RA vs Masters for improving admissions chances

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    Sorry if this has been asked before, but which option would be better for someone looking to bolster their chances of admission to a decent program?

    For some background, I struggled with personal issues my sophomore year which resulted in me getting a few bad grades in calculus that are really hurting my chances. I've since turned things around and have gotten A's in all of my upper level math and econ courses and should have a GPA of about a 3.6 by graduation in the spring. I'll be doing a guided research project next semester and will try to really improve my skills with things like STATA and SAS in order to be competitive for RA spots.

    I don't have any previous research experience (I contacted basically every professor in the department but they were either not accepting student assistants or just weren't interested), which I realize is another strike against my chances of getting into a PhD program. I realize that an RA job would really help boost my profile in this respect, but would it actually make up for the damage done by my one bad year?

    As for the masters, I've heard conflicting things. Some say it's a great way of making up for blemishes in an undergrad record while others have said that an MA in econ is basically worthless. I've even heard that admissions committees look down on them.

    Basically, given my personal situation, which path would you recommend I take? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated

  2. #2
    Within my grasp!
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    Re: RA vs Masters for improving admissions chances

    I personally would go (and have gone) the RA route. The short is that an MA is going to be much more expensive (net out the tuition you'd pay against the salary you'd earn as an RA), while the outcomes are likely to be similar; if anything, an RA job may be more beneficial for you given you don't have research experience so far. Sort of a side note, but some RA jobs will allow you to take courses while working - either through tuition reimbursement for a nearby school or online course, or at the school you might be affiliated with in your position. If you're concerned about your Calc grades, you might consider taking a course in Calc or Analysis while working as an RA and aiming for a better grade.

    One tricky thing with RA jobs is that a huge selling point in applications is previous RA work - it's sort of a catch 22. Prior RA work shows that you can do the work at the job you're applying for. If there's any way you can get some sort of research work going over the winter or spring, that would help RA applications quite a bit. If you really can't get in with the professors at your school, perhaps you can take a course that will have a required research paper assignment. Or, if all else fails, spend a little time drafting a brief research memo on something you're interested in - e.g. download some CPS data, play around with it, run a few regressions and write about what you find. Having some small empirical work you can point to will help in RA applications. If you can't RA with anyone, I'd make a point to list any research projects (in courses or even a short independent project) on your CV when applying to RA jobs. In their quick first round screening of applications, reviewers will want to see that you have some/any level of experience.

    All this said, you should make your decision based on your own profile and goals. I saw your other post that mentioned you're interested in programs such as NC State and Clemson. I'm not as familiar with these programs, and it's possible that the MA might make more sense in light of this. For example, it might be that these programs are willing to forgive lack of research experience but do want to be certain you can handle the course material. You might spend some time looking over the CV's of current students at the programs you hope to attend, and getting a sense for the typical profile of a student in these programs. This can help clarify whether you stand to benefit more by focusing on addressing grades or research experience.

  3. #3
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    Re: RA vs Masters for improving admissions chances

    Here is a fact that may help some. In the top 50 PhD programs, 40 percent of students from American colleges had RA experience between undergrad and grad school. Only 10 percent had master's.
    http://www.accessecon.com/Pubs/EB/20...38-I4-P173.pdf

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