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Everything You Wanted to Know About Graduate Gender Studies Programs

written by: •edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 6/30/2011

One of the first questions people have when considering gender studies programs is what the difference is between a gender studies program and a women's studies program. The answer is that the gender studies programs tend to cover more ground and students often study the relations between the sexes.

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    What Does the Field Cover?

    Is gender studies the right discipline for you? The field of gender studies covers a broad range of topics. A gender studies graduate degree will require interdisciplinary work in a multitude of fields. You may take history, philosophy, sociology, English, political science and more. Generally, most people working in gender studies at the graduate level tend to specialize in a few small areas. Gender studies involves the distinction between sex (what you're born with) and gender (the roles society teaches you that you should take on because of what you were born with). What makes a gender studies program distinct from a women's studies program is that men are also studied, as are the relationships between men and women. You'll find those specializing in this field believe gender to be a social construct while sex is a biological description.

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    What Schools Lead the Field?

    At the top of the list of gender studies graduate school programs, Brandies University, Arizona State University, Tempe and University of Minnesota all boast healthy departments. When searching for a place to complete a gender studies degree at the graduate level, it's important to consider several things:

    • Does the department offer the area of specialization you're interested in? Even at the best university, if you're interested in a historical approach, but there are no courses, it will be difficult for you to make progress.
    • Is the weather in the area of the university something you can handle? I know this sounds like an odd question, but you'd be surprised how many graduate students experience difficulties adjusting to a new climate.
    • Consider the academic climate. Email students who are currently attending the school you want to attend. Are they happy with the program? Do students get along or are they competitive? Are professors accessible to students?
    • What is the department known for? Most departments have a strength in focus. Are you comfortable with people knowing you as the person who went to x program where y is really great — even if you don't focus on y?
    • What are your chances of getting into the university? You should aim at applying to around 10 schools. Two schools can be dream schools, two schools can be safety schools and the rest should fall in between.

    Do your research when it comes to determining which school will work best for you and your situation. The top schools for you will be different from the top schools for another person because students have different abilities and interests. If you're more interested in LGBT studies, then you want to make sure you're applying to a school with strengths in that area. Take time to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each program and critically evaluate each in terms of your needs and goals.

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    How Much Will Your Degree Cost?

    This can vary by state and by whether your degree-granting institution is public or private. If you're attending graduate school in-state, your MA bill may be as low as $12,000 and your PhD bill as low as $60,000. If you're an out of state student or if you're attending a private university, those amounts may double or triple. It's important to realize the following:

    • Never take out more in student loans than you can reasonably expect to earn in the first year of employment following graduation. If you have to take out student loans to go to graduate school to fund the entirety of your education, seriously reconsider whether now is the best time to return to school.
    • Private universities often have better financial aid packages than public universities. If you can get in, then most likely you will be set in the way of fellowships and teaching assistantships.
    • Teaching assistantships considerably offset the price of attending a school. Seriously reconsider any school that does not offer an assistantship to you. You'll need the teaching experience when you get ready to go on the job market if you wish to remain in academia.
    • If money is an issue, consider attending an in-state school as opposed to a prestigious out of state school. Even if you have to take out mountains of loans to attend, your cost will be a fraction of what it would have been otherwise. For an out of state school you were accepted to, find out the residency requirements of that state. Consider meeting them in order to save money on graduate school costs. Some schools will allow you to defer enrollment for a year pending legitimate reasons.
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    How Long Will It Take to Complete Your Degree?

    For a master's degree, you can reasonably expect to take two to three years. If you're also working full time or you have a family, this may take longer. Check with your school to find out degree completion deadlines. Many schools will allow you to extend the time it takes to graduate if you show good cause as to why they should do so.

    For a PhD program, most programs are set up to take four to six years. However, many students take longer than this for a variety of reasons. Students often get stuck in the dissertation stage. Women tend to finish graduate school faster than men, but it should be noted that family and work obligations outside of the program will slow progress down. In order to stay on track to finish quickly, it is important for students to be completely focused on the goal of finishing the program.

    Typically, a student will go on the job market the year before graduation. This means that a significant portion of the dissertation will need to be completed that fall so that when job applications are submitted, you can show satisfactory progress toward that goal. Just because you get a job early doesn't mean you should neglect finishing your program. In fact, in academic circles, you may be hired provisionally — meaning if you do not complete your dissertation, you risk losing the job offer.

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    What Kinds of Theses Are Produced?

    Because gender studies is an interdisciplinary field, the thesis or dissertation an individual will produce in this field will synthesize information from a variety of academic disciplines. You may be using information from biological research, psychology, history and philosophy when creating this academic work. The neat thing about this sort of thesis or dissertation project is you really can follow your interests when writing. However, there is a word to the wise: Be very specific about what you hope to accomplish in your work. One of the main reasons for a crawl to the finish line on a PhD or master's degree is having a dissertation or thesis that experiences scope creep. Scope creep happens when the original purpose of the project continues to grow. It's easy to have this happen in gender studies because there is so much information available when you open your research to interdisciplinary pursuits.

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    References

    National Women's Studies Guide to Women's and Gender Studies Programs, http://www.nwsa.org/research/theguide/index.php

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