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The title says it all. One thing to mention though, is that I am not too bad - I have B+ marks. Another thing to mention is that a lot of my doing bad had to do with mental health and family in war.

I am not sure what to do now, I wanted to apply to top universities, but fear I am not competitive anymore, and explaining the circumstances also won't make my marks better, so I am still a less attractive candidate than others who have better grades and no such history.

What do you think about doing a second master in this situation? (I know this is not possible in the US, but would be possible for me in the UK)?

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    Have the circumstances that affected your grades previously changed significantly? If not, your grades in a second masters probably won't be any better. – ff524 May 18 '16 at 17:54
  • circumstances have changed, yes. – Jo McBride May 18 '16 at 22:37
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Your explanation of being in the humanities with no 'industry' for you begs the question... why are you pursuing advanced degrees or maybe asked another way... what do you hope to do with your life once all degrees have been attained? If you can focus on that instead of focusing on attaining the grades to get into the prestigious university vs. a lesser known one; and how it will be perceived by the respective schools you may come up with the answer on your own. A PhD at any respectable university is an accomplishment in and of itself, and one that you would/should be proud of. Inevitably, whether you get into a top tier university or a lower tier one, what you get out of it depends on what YOU put into it. Whether it is an 'industry' or a career or a profession or a job, that is what will await you when schooling is done. Try to focus on what you want to be doing after school then pursue any school that can give you a credible education towards that end, and then move forward and don't look back! So in answer to your original question... don't waste another two or three years on an additional Masters degree, move forward, and take what is available to you. Good luck!

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The decision of what to do with your life is ultimately yours to make, but I can outline the opportunities in front of you.

You can go for another Master's. If you know some area of knowledge you've always wanted to learn but never had time, this can turn into a decent option. However, as ff524 noted, if your life and family circumstances remain the same, you're unlikely to get a better grade.

As I understand from your question, you've planned to go for a PhD in a top university. Option 2 is to go for a PhD to a lesser university, work hard on your research for a year (aim to have a paper published by the end of the year) and apply to the major university. You'll have research experience and a better understanding of what you want to research, which can compensate for your lower-than-perfect grades.

Actually, in the process, you might realize that a lesser university also suits you, be it a good relationship in a research group, a convenient location, or something I can't even think of.

It also goes without saying that you should try and apply to the top university this year as well. It can't hurt to try and get some admission experience.

Finally, if you are extremely concerned with your grades being less than a perfect A, some good news for you. Industry cares little of the grades you had in your Master's as long as you perform well in your job. So, finding a job can be an option, more viable if you need higher income, less viable if you aim to become a professor.

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    Starting a PhD with the intent to transfer to a better university may not be a good plan; the "better" PhD program is likely to be very wary of students attempting this. – ff524 May 18 '16 at 18:51
  • I thought some research papers written in university A could be an advantage while applying to university B. The OP might want to explain that he applied to A originally, and went to B to get more experience. Would you (as an admission committee member) be wary of a student with these motivations? – svavil May 18 '16 at 18:57
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    "Industry cares little of the grades you had in your Master's as long as you perform well in your job." that can't be overstated. – Jim B May 18 '16 at 19:55
  • thanks. i would like to point out that i am in the humanities, so there is no 'industry' really for me. what about doing a second masters, instead of a phd at a lesser known university, and trying to apply then after the masters? will this look worse than starting a phd at a lesser known uni with the goal to transfer? – Jo McBride May 18 '16 at 22:38

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