Skip to Main Content

What’s next after the MA?

Have a look at what exciting things our UMBC alumni are doing in the field or consider pursuing a Ph.D. by reading further.


By Veena Namboodri, M.A. in Intercultural Communication, UMBC

All doctoral programs require a strong sense of commitment towards hard work, exceptional focus, and enormous self-discipline. Your independence is a prerequisite from the very starting point with the process of application. The challenge about a PhD within the academic scope of language, culture and communications is that they are extremely broad and interdisciplinary fields and, hence, require extraordinary motivation, self-direction and self-reliance. Your area of focus and specialization will be determined by your past research experience, your interests and a combination of your previous undergraduate and graduate coursework. However, this does not imply that the importance of academic connections and networks isn’t crucial. Throughout your research and study you will be provided with an academic advisor who will act as your supervisor. Later into your program, you will additionally have to pick a supervisory committee of five members comprising of scholars at your university to present and defend your research thesis/ dissertation.


Keep in mind the application deadlines for the schools you have chosen to apply to. Preferably, communicate with the Graduate coordinator for any specific questions you may have regarding application procedures and the Director of the department regarding program specifics. Additionally, read through the FAQs section on the program’s website

  1. Most schools require the GRE General Test scores.
  2. Transcripts:

Arrange for transcripts from each institution attended (college/ university.) Contact the Graduate Admissions departments at schools you are applying to know about the available alternative possibilities of sending them both, your undergraduate and graduate (Masters) transcripts. Often, a certified copy of the transcript in a signed and sealed envelope will suffice.

Be sure to check the minimum GPA requirements of the school you aspire to study at. Check with the department director of the program you’re applying to regarding their policy on requirement of a Master’s thesis.

  1. Obtain 3 Letters of Recommendation from teachers/ scholars at previously attended schools who can assess your ability to perform research. Check with individual schools if they’d like an electronic or a hard copy of the recommendation letters. Contact your references well in advance to discuss your plans (a month or two), follow up (remind them regularly) and keep them in the loop about your progress.
  2. Statement of Purpose Target one or two professors at that program; typically your interests must match a professor’s interests to be seriously considered for admission. Indicating a fit between you and the program and the professors at the school. In your SOP, you can also explain any shortcomings or issues that cannot be dealt with in rest of the application. Note that the SOP can be 2-3 pages long.

Some online resources to look at before writing up your SOP draft

Lastly, Use a Calendar program and a spreadsheet to keep track of what documents are needed, which ones of them have been sent and which ones are pending. Also keep a list of the tracking numbers, date of posting and the contents of every packet that you send to universities.


Although the mechanics of each program is designed to be unique, there is a predetermined standard structure when it comes to a doctoral program. Doctoral students generally spend roughly their first two to three years taking coursework and begin research by their second year if not before. In the second and third years of study, doctoral programs often require students to pass more examinations. Programs often require a Qualifying Examination/ PhD Candidacy Examination (“Candidacy”), or a General Examination, designed to ensure students have a grasp of a broad sample of their discipline, and/or one or several Special Field Examinations which test students in their narrower selected areas of specialty within the discipline. Some of these exams may even be held orally. For some social science and many humanities disciplines, where graduate students may or may not have studied the discipline at the undergraduate level, these exams will be the first set and be based either on graduate coursework or specific preparatory reading (sometimes up to a year’s work in reading).

In all cases, comprehensive exams are normally both stressful and time consuming and must be passed for the student to be allowed to proceed on to the dissertation. Passing such examinations allows the student to stay, begin doctoral research, and rise to the status of a doctoral candidate, while failing usually results in the student leaving the program or re-taking the test after some time has passed (usually a semester or a year). Some schools have an intermediate category, passing at the master’s level, which allows the student to leave with a master’s without having completed a master’s dissertation.

For the next several years the doctoral candidate primarily performs his or her research. Usually this lasts three to eight years, though a few finish more quickly, and some take substantially longer. In total, the typical doctoral degree takes between four and eight years from entering the program to completion, though this time varies depending upon


It’s important to assess your overall chances of getting into a school of your interest and one of the most important factors that you’d need to take into account is that of funding and financial aid. The good news is that a lot of schools out there only admit doctoral student that they can financially support through institutional funding so you can concentrate on developing your research study without worrying about money. When it comes to funding your doctoral study, there are two main sources of funding options that you may want to consider, namely:

  1. Institutional Financial Support:
    When you apply to graduate school, as part of your Graduate Admissions Application, you will also be applying for financial support that the institution will take into account to offer you a financial package. Be sure to fill out the Financial Support form on the universities’ websites. [FAFSA in particular for American citizens and residents] When you apply, the institution will also consider you for financial support through i) Teaching (Graduate student Instructorship), ii) Research Assistantship (Research as part of another scholar’s grant that is of interest to you) and iii) Institutional Fellowship (Indicate your interest to be considered for this source of funding in your application). Additional opportunities for funding at the institutional level include tutoring, reading and grading assistantships, and other academic administrative functions. Try to apply for a combination of these sources. Be sure also to check all of the boxes on the Financial support form where it asks you what types of funding you would like t be considered for.
  1. Extramural Fellowship support:
    This type of financial support is derived externally i.e. applied and received separately. They are awarded by, i) Federal Agencies, ii) Philanthropic Societies, iii) Philanthropic Associations. You apply for these fellowships online around the same time as you apply for graduate school and this requires the same documents as those that are required for graduate application; however, it is important to note that the deadlines for these applications are oftentimes earlier than graduate application deadlines. One other important aspect to understand about this type of funding is that it doesn’t require any type of work done in return of the funding received. Furthermore, an additional benefit of receiving this source of funding is that this may reflect on your résumé/ curriculum vitae as a prize or an honor that you were chosen to receive by the institution granting it. While your fees and tuition will be covered, you will also be awarded a stipend of $12,000 to $35,000 a year to support you through graduate study.

Time-bound: Pre-Doctoral Fellowships/ Dissertation Fellowships (1-3 years of PhD)

Fellowships by Discipline: Fellowship for students in sociology, fellowship for students in social sciences

Specific Area of Work or Subfield Fellowships (need to learn a foreign language to complete research)


Here’s a helpful link that lists some of the fully institutionally funded PhD programs in Communications:


A useful source to look at while determining your school and program of choice would be “NRC rankings”

Additionally, you may also look at for international graduate programs.

Some possible options to look at:

University of Maryland, Baltimore County
PhD in Language, Literacy and Culture

University of Limerick, Ireland
PhD in Language, Literature, Culture and Communication

Indiana University Bloomington
PhD in Communication and Culture

Michigan Tech University
PhD Rhetoric, Theory and Culture

University of Vaasa, Finland
PhD in Languages and Communication

New York University Steinhardt
PhD in Media, Culture and Communications

University of California San Diego
PhD in Communication

Cardiff University, United Kingdom
PhD in Language and Communication

University of Surrey
PhD in Intercultural Communications

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
PhD in Intercultural Communication

University of Southern California in Los Angeles
PhD in Communication