Frequently Asked Questions: Graduate School and the SIS BA/MA Program
Graduate School: Is It Right For You?
Q: Do I need a Masters degree to get started in my career?
A: While there are some jobs that will require a Master of Arts degree for entry-level positions, you can begin your professional career before acquiring an MA. Many professionals will choose to return to school after working for a few years—or even several years—to complete a graduate program as a means of advancing along their chosen career paths or acquiring the skills necessary to take their careers in new directions. While the BA/MA program allows you the opportunity to attain the professional credentials that may give you a competitive edge in the job market and provide you with a valuable steppingstone for professional growth, it is not a prerequisite for beginning a career in international affairs.
When considering the BA/MA program it is important for you to understand that acquiring a Masters degree is only one step in a long path toward your ideal career and an advanced degree is only one qualification that prospective employers consider when evaluating a job candidate. For example, professionals first entering the United Nations or the US Foreign Service are typically in their late 20s or early 30s and have acquired significant professional experience. You should, therefore, consider the Masters degree as part of a career path that will also include the Bachelors degree, internships, developing multiple language proficiencies, first and second jobs, as well as the creation of a professional network.
Q: How is earning a graduate degree different from earning an undergraduate degree?
A: Graduate school is the beginning of your training as an expert in a specific field. Whether your future career is as an academic or a practitioner your graduate degree is a targeted professional credential. The MA program at SIS is designed to give you a deep expertise in a narrow area. Therefore, unlike your undergraduate degree program, there are few opportunities to take classes outside of your primary area of interest. As you prepare for graduate study, it is important to think carefully in advance about what you hope to gain from graduate school so that you can be sure to select a graduate program and a plan of study that will help you achieve your academic and professional goals.
Q: What can I expect from graduate courses?
A: Your undergraduate education at AU has helped prepared you to begin your graduate study. However, graduate coursework is at least as demanding as your most difficult undergraduate work. Graduate students are not only required to complete a greater quantity or work than undergraduates but are also expected to submit work of a higher quality. Graduate students commonly read hundreds of pages each week and write papers that are at least 20-30 pages in length. At the graduate level, professors do not assign extra credit or make-up work, and extensions on assignments are uncommon. In general, there are only a few graded assignments each semester and it is imperative that you earn good grades on each assignment. Exceptional time management skills, the ability and desire to be a self-directed learner, strong personal motivation, an understanding of your own learning style and the ability to adapt to new challenges are keys to success in a graduate program.
The graduate school classroom climate is also different than the classes with which you may be familiar from your undergraduate experience. Graduate students undertake programs of study at many different times in their personal and professional lives. Some of your classmates may have jobs or families. Other students will have left jobs to return to graduate school and bring extensive career experience into the classroom. As a graduate student, your professors and your classmates will be your colleagues and a part of your career network. While you will certainly make friends in graduate school, social activities are not as much of a focus as they were in college and networking and professional development events will become increasingly important.
Your professors will also expect more from you as a graduate student. They will assume that you have done the reading and are prepared to offer insightful comments that will contribute to the classroom discussion. Additionally, you will be expected to analyze the assigned texts by drawing comparisons, formulating critiques, and developing original arguments in response to the reading. Ultimately your professors are training you to contribute unique works of scholarship that will advance the debates of your field.
Q: How do I know I am ready for graduate school?
A: Students who are ready for graduate school have considered their academic and professional goals carefully and are prepared to undertake a focused program of study that will put them on a path to achieving those objectives. You are most likely ready for graduate school if:
You are excited about the opportunity to do independent research
You can identify at least one research topic that you would like to pursue
You have spoken with faculty mentors about their research interests and professional experiences
You have done research about the career paths that interest you in order to determine whether a graduate degree would help you advance your professional goals
You understand that having a graduate degree does not necessarily mean you will make more money or have a specific job
You can write a strong personal statement that concisely explains your academic interests and professional goals, why a particular program is a is a good fit for your goals and interests, and what you will bring to a graduate program
You have considered what is happening in your personal and professional life and believe a graduate program is compatible with your other obligations
You have considered how you will finance your graduate program
Q: How do I know which graduate program is right for me?
A: Applying to a graduate program is different from applying to college and requires that you ask yourself different types of questions. In particular you want to ensure that you have selected the graduate program that best reflects your academic interests and professional goals. It is difficult and uncommon to transfer to a between graduate programs and it is important to identify the schools and programs that will be a good fit for you before you apply. In the field of international studies, The Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA), of which SIS is a founding member, is a great place to begin researching graduate programs.
When you are considering graduate programs it is important to learn as much as you can about prerequisites, the way which the program is structured, the courses that are offered in your field of interest, the characteristics that make the program unique and the research interests of the full-time faculty. Since original research is a central feature of most graduate programs, your graduate school experience will be more fulfilling if the focus of the program and the expertise of the faculty closely match your own interests. Some programs may offer internship opportunities, study abroad options and campus jobs, but these features are less common in a graduate school than they are in undergraduate programs.
Understanding the BA/MA Program
Q: What are the advantages of the BA/MA program?
A: The BA/MA program is an opportunity for advanced undergraduate students to begin a Masters degree program before completing the Bachelors degree. Beginning the MA before completing the BA allows students to take courses that can be used to fulfill both undergraduate and graduate degree requirements, saving students both time and money. Courses that are taken to fulfill both graduate and undergraduate degree requirements are called double-counted credits.
Q: Is the BA/MA a 5 year program?
A: The BA/MA program is an accelerated course of study that may allow some students to complete a Master of Arts degree within one year of full-time study after the completion of their Bachelors degrees. However, for many students, completing the MA program will require more than one year of study beyond the BA. The length of time required to complete the MA will depend upon each student’s individual program. Additionally, the time required to complete the degree will depend upon the opportunities that you choose to pursue as a MA student. Many MA students choose to pursue professional development and research opportunities, such as the Boren Fellowship or the Critical Language Fellowship, that enrich their educational experience but may delay the completion of their academic programs.
Q: As a BA/MA student, will I be eligible to receive a merit award to finance my Masters degree?
A: SIS merit awards for graduate students are very competitive. Only a small number of incoming graduate students receive merit-based aid from SIS. BA/MA students are considered for merit awards on a funds-available basis after the established awards have been distributed to incoming graduate students.
While most BA/MA students will not receive merit awards, the BA/MA program does entail substantial financial benefits. By double-counting courses and bundling the cost of graduate coursework in the undergraduate bulk tuition rate, students can save on the overall cost of their graduate degrees. For example, based on the graduate tuition rate for the 2011-2012 academic year, a BA/MA student double-counting 12 credits between his or her undergraduate and graduate degrees will save approximately $16,176 on the cost of their graduate education by participating in the BA/MA program.
Q: How will my financial aid change after I complete my BA and begin full-time graduate study?
A: There are two important differences between graduate and undergraduate financial aid. First, need-based grants and scholarships are not available to graduate students. Students who received need-based aid or federal grants as an undergraduate will not be able to extend their aid or grants into their graduate programs after they complete their Bachelors degrees. Graduate students are, however, permitted to borrow more funds each semester than undergraduates through federal financial aid to cover the costs of their educations. The second important difference between undergraduate and graduate financial aid is the number of credits for which students are required to be registered in order to maintain federal financial aid eligibility. While undergraduate students must maintain at least 12 credits per semester to retain their financial aid eligibility, graduate students must only be registered as at least part-time students at 6 credits each semester to qualify for new student loans and to continue their student loan deferment.
Preparing to Apply
Q: I’m interested in learning more about the BA/MA program. What should I do?
A: Make sure you meet the requirements: Students interested in applying for the BA/MA program in SIS must have at least a 3.5 GPA and must be SIS majors to receive consideration (for students with double majors, SIS must be your "home" school, and SIS minors are not eligible). If you don’t meet these criteria, you are still welcome to apply to an SIS graduate program, but you will need to go through the standard application process.
Plan ahead and ask questions: Review the degree requirements for the MA program(s) in which you are interested by exploring the SIS website or reading the University Catalog. Program worksheets outlining the requirements for each of the MA programs are also available on the SIS Graduate Advising Office website. If you are unsure of which program you would like to pursue, you are welcome to contact the SIS Graduate Admissions Office (SIS 112, x1646, firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule an appointment with an admissions advisor. You are also encouraged to discuss you plans with your undergraduate advisor who may be able to provide some guidance based on your policy and regional specialization as well as your remaining undergraduate requirements.
Consider the coursework that you’ve already completed: What upper-level (300-, 400-, and/or 500-level) courses have you already taken or would you like to take? Upper-level undergraduate classes are great opportunities to begin working with faculty who may share your academic and research interests. They are also an excellent source of strong letters of recommendation. (Make sure you consult with you undergraduate advisor before taking higher-level courses to ensure that they fulfill your undergraduate degree requirements.)
How to Apply
Q: When do I apply? How do I apply?
A: Information on when and how to apply is available here.
Q: I’ve applied to the BA/MA program. Can I take 600-level courses?
A: As a BA student, you may register for 500-level courses. However, 600-level courses are reserved for current graduate students. If you are admitted to the BA/MA program, you will be authorized to take 600-level courses during your transitional year. Please note: BA/MA students may not pursue internships for graduate credit until they have completed the BA program.
Next Steps for New BA/MA Students
Q: I’ve been admitted to the BA/MA program. What do I do next?
A: Upon admission to the BA/MA program you will need to confirm that you accept the offer of admission by contacting the Graduate Admissions Office. You do not need to pay a deposit, but you do need to submit your confirmation of acceptance in writing.
After you have received your letter of admission and confirmed that you accept the offer of admission with the Graduate Admissions Office, you should contact the Undergraduate Advising Office (x1639) to schedule an initial joint-advising appointment with both your undergraduate and graduate advisor. In this meeting you will have the opportunity to discuss your academic and professional goals with both advisors and begin planning the courses that you will take as you complete your BA and begin your MA.
Q: Which advisor should I see during the first year of the BA/MA program?
A: Prior to admission to the BA/MA program, you should work exclusively with your undergraduate advisor. Once you have been admitted to the program, you will continue working with your undergraduate advisor but you will also begin working with your graduate advisor. During this first year of the BA/MA program you will work with both of your advisors to select courses that satisfy the requirements of both of your undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Once you have completed your BA you will work exclusively with your graduate advisor.
Q: Can I defer my BA/MA admission or take a temporary leave from the MA program during the semester after I graduate from the BA?
A: BA/MA students must be registered for at least 1 credit during their first MA-only semesters. BA/MA students are, therefore, not permitted to defer their admission or take a temporary leave during the semester after graduating from the BA. While BA/MA students cannot take a leave during their first MA-only semester, they are permitted to request a leave later in their programs.
If you are admitted to the BA/MA program but decide not to pursue graduate study in the semester following the completion of your BA, you will forfeit the benefits of the BA/MA program. If you decide to pursue graduate work through an SIS Masters degree program at a later date, you will be required to apply as a regular graduate student and you will not be eligible to double-count any credits from your undergraduate studies.
Q: I’ve been admitted to the BA/MA program but I’ve changed my mind about which program I want to pursue. Am I allowed to transfer to a different graduate program at SIS?
A: It is extremely important to make sure that you know which MA program you want to pursue before you submit your application. Once you’ve been accepted to a MA program, it is possible to transfer programs, but program transfers are neither automatic nor guaranteed. Additionally, credits double-counted or reserved for the program to which you were initially admitted may not apply to your new graduate program.
BA/MA students are only eligible to apply to transfer programs after completing at least 9 credits of graduate-level coursework after being admitted to the BA/MA program. Students interested in applying for a program transfer should consult their graduate academic advisor to review their options and discuss the program transfer application.