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I would like to do a second masters, because I would like to change focus to a certain subfield within my field (not changing fields) and have the best shot of getting into my favourite program. I also had some personal problems both during my BA and my first MA, and think I could do much better.

I am worried though that having 2 masters will set the bars slightly higher for me in the application process. Is this true? Phrased differently: are admissions people more likely to look at the my CV in a 'absolute' way, or do they judge it 'relative' to the amount of time spent in academia maybe?

  • If your second degree would be in the same subject as your first degree, as in they are both an "M.A. in X" for the same X, it's unlikely that you can even get admitted to the second program. – user37208 Mar 28 '16 at 19:14
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In the parts of academia I'm most familiar with (mathematics, US), even one master's degree is not a necessary prerequisite for a PhD program. Some students do improve their application and chances by doing a separate master's degree, but (when a master's degree is not a necessary prerequisite) I would advise any student to also apply for PhD programs and see what they get into.

In your case, having completed one master's degree in your field and having the desire to go on to a PhD program, I think you should certainly apply to PhD programs. If there is a second master's program that you are extremely excited about -- in particular that you think is prestigious, would improve your academic record and offer you critical new skills that you would not necessarily pick up in the PhD program -- then you should apply to it as well.

If you get into a solid PhD program with funding, I advise you to take that over any master's program. This is your life, and at some point you will want to have your student days behind you while you are still somewhat spry. However, if you get in only to PhD programs that are substandard and you get into a very good master's program, then yes, taking that is probably a good investment for the future.

All this is definitely something to discuss with your current thesis advisor, by the way.

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I would echo Pete Clark's answer and also add, succinctly: it won't necessarily hurt, and it won't necessarily help. Depending on your field and the program, admissions committees are far more likely to put stock in exam scores and samples of prior work before anything else. Whether or not additional accolades give you that precious edge over some other candidate will really depend on the attitudes of the admissions committee members, which are impossible to know in advance. You could certainly approach people in the department you want to get into and ask, but it's always a bit of a mystery (and a bit political) how individual opinions and preferences are transmuted into a collective decision. It may make a difference if you're working on something relevant to the interests of the department's research activities. It may not. In any case, the better programs are not necessarily going to give you "credit" for your masters work anyway, which is something you may want to look into before you end up doing a whole bunch of redundant course work.

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