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My priorities (ranked from most to less important):
1. Funding. I'd like to be in a program with tuition that can be managed. This means fellowships, TAing etc.
2. Size. I'd really like to be able to work with the professors on a regular basis rather than just a few times a semester. I think a smaller program would make this easier.
3. Reputation. To be frank, I think a lot of academia centers around prestige. It might not be the right way to do things, but it is the way they are done. That in mind, I'd like a school that has a well regarded graduate program. I'm not opposed to an up and coming school, but I'm not interested in a school that nobody's heard of or one that has a reputation for being less than rigorous.
Thanks for the help!
Also, look up the scholars that you're reading. See what institutions they teach at and contact them. Let them know that you've found their work useful in your own research and that you're interested in applying to their program.
Along with that, when you're scoping out schools, look up their faculty members' publications (listed in faculty bios). Read journal articles or skim books they've published.
To find out about funding, start contacting schools. Ask what they offer their master's students and the percentage of grad students who receive assistantships. Some programs (especially in the humanities) offer very little to master's students, instead favoring their PhD candidates. Others don't distinguish between the two when it comes to appointments.
Good luck with your applications!
At the (small) state university where I attended, Master's was the highest degree. The GAs were limited to an non-instructional role. (Union stuff was involved)
Check out US News & World Report's annual Graduate Schools guide or visit their website.
Every program has their own way of doing things, so you should always ask.
Two other things about applying to school which doesn't immediately seem obvious are the city that the school is in, and the weather. I took language training this summer at a school that I had applied to once upon a time, and realized that I was very glad not to have went there. The school was great, but the surrounding area was miserable. As for the weather, having never seen snow before in my whole life (well maybe once when I was like 8, but it was only an inch or so) and then moving to a place where snow in winter is a common theme I have found out that as trivial as it seems the weather is an important factor in picking a graduate school.
My last bit of advice is that if there is a professor that you really like and think you want to work with, find out every bit of information about this person as you can. Read his/her latest books, poetry, articles or whatever. Maybe it is a bit different in English, but in Anthropology many professors change their interest area around quite often, so just because they were studying something five years ago doesn't mean that when you go to that school the professor will be interested in the same subject. I found this out the hard way, but it ended up being, in a very roundabout way, a good thing.
Actually, one last last thing. Email the professor's graduate students, but also students in the whole department. Find out what the atmosphere is like, what the students are like, basically anything that other graduate students there have learned the hard way.
Keep in mind that an increasing number of community colleges want PhDs. If this is really what you want and you don't find much funding for an MA, why not consider applying to an MA/PhD or PhD program?
Also, if you are going to a school because of a particular prof or group of profs, make sure they aren't planning on retiring before you will finish. Mine all have and it is a BIG problem for me right now. (Three new committees in three years.)
If your goal is to teach English lit at the community college level, I would suggest an MFA, not an MA. MFAs are more prestigous, harder to get into, and they are on the track to getting you published which is pretty much a prerequisite for teaching at the community college level. You are going to have a LOT of competition for positions from English PhDs and MFAs which are both terminal degrees: and MA is not. An MFA also prepares you for teaching: an MA does not.
Just suggestions! If your heart is set on an MA then go for it.
Since I posted the initial question I have begun grad school and in my department both the MFA and MA students can take a pedagogy class if they like.
Perhaps an MFA can teach creative writing better than an MA, but at the same time I've met MFA students who are clueless about literary theory, criticism, and history.
Also, an MFA is a terminal degree but I'm not so sure that people value it more highly than an MA. It seems there's at least the same amount of effort and rigor in most MA programs compared to their MFA counterparts, it's just that when you get your MFA in creative writing there's nowhere else to go.
It is always expected that the MFA will be supplemented with the appropriate professional experience (creative publications, exhibition history, etc.) for your particular teaching position. Conversely, because the MA is preparation for a PhD, your research is not considered "finished" yet, and it's unlikely that you have sufficient publications for a research-oriented position.
You have to remember that an MFA and an MA are just different kinds of training for different career paths. Does a novelist need the same grounding in theory and history that a literary scholar needs? Not in most cases.
So it's not about whether you got that pedagogy class in, but about what credentials and experience hiring committees expect for different kinds of positions.
(By the way, I say all this as someone with an MFA, but who's currently working on a PhD, so I've had the view from both sides.)