Prologue: Part I

A prologue, from πρόλογος prologos, or literally before-word is defined as the opening of story that establishes the setting and gives background details–often in the form of an earlier story that ties into the main one.  This blog will–hopefully–be the story of one person’s attempts to suck all the marrow from the bone that is University of Chicago’s Masters of Humanities Program (MAPH).  However, that story begins with this story.

I was an (almost) 4.0 student at a small liberal arts school nestled firmly in the heart of fly over country.  I completed my double major in theology and philosophy in just three years by taking 21 to 24 hours a semester and filling my summers with extra courses.  When the time came to apply for PhD programs I sent two or three solid letters of recommendation, a (local college) award-winning writing sample, and nearly $1000 worth of GRE scores and application fees to eight schools’ philosophy departments.  Despite the honest convictions held by many of my profs that I would have no problems getting into a great program, I received just three acceptance letters.  One was from my most posterior backup school’s PhD program with no funding to speak of.  Another acceptance came from a middle tier school’s Master’s program–where I later discovered a friend’s admission to the PhD had kept me from getting in (as the school didn’t want to take two graduates from the same small college).  The third was from Chicago.

Initially I speed-read through the letter shocked that one of my first choice schools, U of C, had picked me for their Philosophy PhD program.  Then I slowed down and read that first sentence again, “Congratulations, you have been accepted into the University of Chicago Masters of Humanities program.”  Wait, Masters of What?  If it had read Master’s of Philosophy I would have still been elated, but what is a Masters of Humanities?  After attending U of C’s MAPH visit weekend, my wife and I had mixed feelings.  On the downside: 1) many of our fellow MAPH candidates seemed to have found themselves as candidates for the MAPH because either their interests were very broad–too broad for the narrower niches of the traditional academic disciplines–or were too unfocused.  In contrast I knew exactly what I wanted to study and had crafted–what I felt to be–a solid research proposal that seemed to fit perfectly into U of C philosophy’s strengths.  2)  The program is pricey.  Very, very few half-tuition fellowships are granted to exceptionally well qualified candidates and the program’s costs–without living expenses factored in–are in excess of $50k.  On the upside: 1) meeting with the professors seemed to suggest scholarship at the highest levels and 2) a genuinely congenial and supportive relationship between most professors and students.

(Cue melodramatic music) Would I take U of C’s offer despite the cost or try a re-roll next admissions season putting my academics plans on hold for another year?

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