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I am thinking about returning to school to get an English degree. I’m looking for a 100% online program and would like to eventually end up with a master’s degree. I already have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, earned around 20 years ago (yep, feeling old...).
 

Do I need to start by getting a second bachelor’s in English? Or can I go straight into a master’s program? I have done a lot of self-study and have taught American and British Literature with a fair amount of success at co-ops and private schools. I have also taught argumentative writing and am helping to develop a 7-12 grade writing curriculum. But I don’t have much formal English education.

My goals would be to be able to teach writing and literature at the community college or high school level, as well as to hone my own fiction and non-fiction writing skills and hopefully publish some work someday.  I am really hoping for a high quality program with peers that care about learning and not just checking off requirements to earn a degree. I want deep discussions and lots of feedback. Most of the reviews and rankings I’m coming across are focused on affordability, flexibility, and speed with no mention of the quality of the instruction. Am I just out of luck finding an online program with the characteristics I am looking for?

So far I have found a few options that seem worth looking into. These are for bachelor’s degrees, but SNHU also has an online master’s degree.

University of Massachusetts Lowell

https://gps.uml.edu/degrees/undergrad/online-bachelors-english-degree.cfm

Southern New Hampshire University

https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/creative-writing

 

I have also looked at Harvard’s extension school and even the UK’s Open University. These programs look interesting also....
 

Any suggestions?

 

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Many masters programs have avenues for people who hold a bachelor's in a different field. Some may require 30 credit hours in that field, but not a full degree. I found several MFAs in Creative Writing that require only 30 hrs of undergrad English. (I started working on that and am 12 credits in lol)

Check the details of the individual program.

If you are looking for creative writing ( since you said you want to improve your own writing), admissions usually requires a writing sample.

You might want to look for low residency MFA programs that require only 2 short campus stays per year for intensive workshops.
(ETA so that this is not misunderstood: that's only the in-person component. You complete the bulk of the work on your own via distance learning. See Lori D.'s post below for more details)

Beware that a masters degree won't improve your chances for publication.

If deep discussion and extensive feedback are your top requirements,  I would think an online program will be inferior to an in-person one. 

From what I have seen, fully funded programs are typically in-person. 

Edited by regentrude
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4 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Many masters programs have avenues for people who hold a bachelor's in a different field. Some may require 30 credit hours in that field, but not a full degree.

Check the details of the individual program.

If you are looking for creative writing ( since you said you want to improve your own writing), admissions usually requires a writing sample.

You might want to look for low residence MFA programs that require only 2 short campus stays per year for intensive workshops.

Beware that a masters degree won't improve your chances for publication.

Re: credit hours, that is good to know. Some of the bachelor’s programs I looked at say they will transfer in up to 90 units of previous coursework, so the requirements might end up being similar to needing 30 credit hours in the field of study to apply for the master’s degree. But not needing a bachelor’s degree first might help simplify things. 
 

Hopefully within that preliminary coursework I will be able to produce some good writing samples, because I don’t have much to offer at the moment. 
 

I’ll try searching “low residence” and see what I come up with. That’s a great idea and I think a 2-3 week summer course would be doable, and it would be nice to have some sort of in-person aspect.

As for publication, I don’t expect the degree to help, but hopefully my skills and confidence will improve through the process! I have so many ideas but lack the needed execution skills. I am also highly analytical and can’t get past wanting to immediately edit my work. I need to develop my process and learn from experienced writers. And if all that comes from the degree is being able to feel good about what I have produced (whether it is published or not), I’d be content with that. 
 

Thank you for the reply.
 

 

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44 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Many masters programs have avenues for people who hold a bachelor's in a different field. Some may require 30 credit hours in that field, but not a full degree. I found several MFAs in Creative Writing that require only 30 hrs of undergrad English. (I started working on that and am 12 credits in lol).

If deep discussion and extensive feedback are your top requirements,  I would think an online program will be inferior to an in-person one. 

From what I have seen, fully funded programs are typically in-person. 

I saw you added to your response. 12 units is nearly halfway! I will probably only be able to take a max of 6 units per semester and maybe another 3-6 over the summer, so it will likely be a couple years before I start master’s level work. Are you taking classes at a school that you might stay at for the master’s? 
 

There are a few universities near me but they aren’t really highly ranked. But I could commute an hour (maybe more) each way to take classes during the summer at a good university. If I don’t need a bachelor’s degree, then maybe for my lower-level work I would be able to do a mix of in-person locally during the summer and online during the school year at a couple different schools...

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Posted (edited)

Honestly, I would really love to do this certificate program that is offered through Oxford’s continuing education school. 
 

https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/undergraduate-certificate-of-higher-education

I could do a mix of English literature and creative writing courses, either online or as 1-3 week summer classes at Oxford. 
 

There is also a Foundation Certificate in English Lit that is a set two-year program. It includes 4 live 3-hour sessions and two one-on-one tutorials per session. 
 

https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/foundation-certificate-in-english-literature

 

Do you think there is a chance a master’s program might accept one of these certificates (they amount to the first 1/3 of a bachelor’s degree, from what I can tell) to cover the requirement for previous work in the major? 

Edited by lovelearnandlive
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7 hours ago, lovelearnandlive said:

I saw you added to your response. 12 units is nearly halfway! ... Are you taking classes at a school that you might stay at for the master’s? 

Nope. I take classes at the college where I teach since I can't travel anywhere while working; we don't have a Masters program except for technical writing and I am absolutely not interested in that.  I chip away one class at a time. It's slow.

I took an online class at another school this semester. Before the pandemic, I was toying with the idea of doing an online MFA but I have seen how much online instruction lacks compared to face-to-face, so I probably won't do it at all. 

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

Nope. I take classes at the college where I teach since I can't travel anywhere while working; we don't have a Masters program except for technical writing and I am absolutely not interested in that.  I chip away one class at a time. It's slow.

I took an online class at another school this semester. Before the pandemic, I was toying with the idea of doing an online MFA but I have seen how much online instruction lacks compared to face-to-face, so I probably won't do it at all. 

That’s really too bad that the online instruction is lacking, especially since it seems that English and writing are areas where online instruction could actually work well.

I hope you find a solution and are able to keep going with your studies. 

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24 minutes ago, lovelearnandlive said:

That’s really too bad that the online instruction is lacking, especially since it seems that English and writing are areas where online instruction could actually work well.

It is not that the quality of instruction is lacking- it's that I don't think that writing works well online, once you go from instructor feedback on essays to workshopping creative writing as a group. Doing that on Zoom does not create the same close atmosphere. I just finished a workshop class; it was OK, but would have been so much better in person.

Ideally you want to spend 2-3 consecutive hours in workshop, and spending this much time on Zoom is hard and makes staying focused really, really difficult. I am considering signing up for another workshop class online next semester,  but the fact that it's 2.5 hours long is rather daunting. (this one was 75 minutes twice a week, and I sometimes struggled staying focused on my screen) Nope, online is definitely not equivalent,  especially when it comes to subjects that live through the interpersonal element. 

Edited by regentrude
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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, lovelearnandlive said:

...I’ll try searching “low residence” and see what I come up with. That’s a great idea and I think a 2-3 week summer course would be doable, and it would be nice to have some sort of in-person aspect.

That's not quite how a low residency Master's program works -- at least not the one my husband did through Seattle Pacific (which is known for being a high-rigor program).

Throughout the 4-quarter school year, he was reading a stack of books in his writing area (poetry), and writing analysis/responses and a few critical analysis papers to each book -- *in addition* to doing his own writing. He was turning in by email 3 "packets" per quarter. Each packet required having read 6 books, with 5 of the books having him write a shorter 3-4 page analysis/response paper, and 1 of the books requiring a 10-15 page critical analysis paper. By the end of the program, he had read 60 books, with 8 long critical analysis papers and 52 shorter response papers. AND you also have your own thesis (body of writing) that has been written, revised and worked over multiple times to have a finished volume (in his case, it was poetry, so 50+ completed poems).

That was the work done at home and turned in by email.

In ADDITION, 2x a year, he would travel to SPU for a 10-day residency, at which he had a series of lectures, and workshops with fellow students critiquing one another's work, being led by his mentor (who was responding to each of the packets by scoring the analysis papers, and providing feedback on DH's writing in-progress).

DH was retired when he went through the program and it was *intense*. I honestly don't know how anyone does it who is also working a job or raising a family.

17 hours ago, lovelearnandlive said:

... My goals would be to be able to teach writing and literature at the community college or high school level...

While it will not help you with publishing, I saw firsthand how the MFA degree from the Seattle Pacific low residency program helped with landing a job teaching writing at the college level -- at least 3 people who were in the program at the same time as my DH all landed great jobs teaching writing and literature -- 2 at universities, and 1 at a community college.

If wanting to teach writing and literature at the high school level, a Bachelor's degree of any type and a teaching certificate will get you in the door -- high schools are desperate for teachers right now.

Just from my own experience of teaching Lit. & Writing to homeschool high school students: I have had to learn how to teach writing through a lot of trial-and-error, constant researching for resources, and trying things out to see what actually works or doesn't work with real students who are of *widely* varying skill levels when it comes to reading, analysis, and writing. I don't think that kind of knowledge can be taught college courses; it comes through actual experience. JMO!

17 hours ago, lovelearnandlive said:

... My goals ... to hone my own fiction and non-fiction writing skills and hopefully publish some work someday.  I am really hoping for a high quality program with peers that care about learning and not just checking off requirements to earn a degree. I want deep discussions and lots of feedback...

I will say that you will get those deep discussions and lots of feedback with something like DH's Seattle Pacific MFA low residency program -- but it is expensive and very very VERY time consuming. But, DH also formed deep friendships with members of his "cohort", and I can absolutely see how that could continue to be an informal workshopping/support group for personal writing or writing towards publishing after earning the degree.

If just wanting some classes for yourself, and some workshopping / feedback on your own writing, plus real-life tips on getting published, check out the resources at Jane Friedman's website.

Also, check out this thread from earlier this year on this same topic: "Thoughts on MFA in Creative Writing?"

 

BEST of luck in your career change into writing and teaching writing/literature! 😄 Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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14 minutes ago, Lori D. said:

That's not quite how a low residency Master's program works -- at least not the one my husband did through Seattle Pacific (which is known for being a high-rigor program).

Throughout the 4-quarter school year, he was reading a stack of books in his writing area (poetry), and writing analysis/responses and a few critical analysis papers to each book -- *in addition* to doing his own writing. He was turning in by email 3 "packets" per quarter. Each packet required having read 6 books, with 5 of the books having him write a shorter 3-4 page analysis/response paper, and 1 of the books requiring a 10-15 page critical analysis paper. By the end of the program, he had read 60 books, with 8 long critical analysis papers and 52 shorter response papers. AND you also have your own thesis (body of writing) that has been written, revised and worked over multiple times to have a finished volume (in his case, it was poetry, so 50+ completed poems).

That was the work done at home and turned in by email.

In ADDITION, 2x a year, he would travel to SPU for a 10-day residency, at which he had a series of lectures, and workshops with fellow students critiquing one another's work, being led by his mentor (who was responding to each of the packets by scoring the analysis papers, and providing feedback on DH's writing in-progress).

@Lori D. Thank you for sharing your DH's experience. That's the kind of program I'm considering, because I don't think I can justify paying expensive tuition while at the same time quitting my job and losing my income. But I am hesitant about the distance learning aspect. Did your DH feel that he developed close relationships to his mentors? Did he find an advisor who was a good personal fit? I find that very important in writing, and especially in poetry.

Being a poet myself I am curious to read some of his work. Would you feel comfortable pm'ing me more info? If not, I completely understand.

ETA: The only reason I would want to do the MFA is for the sake of the program itself and the learning and mentoring that comes form it; I have zero desire to find employment as a college English instructor. If I want to teach college, I could stay right where I am 🙂

Edited by regentrude
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15 minutes ago, Lori D. said:

That's not quite how a low residency Master's program works -- at least not the one my husband did through Seattle Pacific (which is known for being a high-rigor program).

Throughout the 4-quarter school year, he was reading a stack of books in his writing area (poetry), and writing analysis/responses and a few critical analysis papers to each book -- *in addition* to doing his own writing. He was turning in by email 3 "packets" per quarter. Each packet required having read 6 books, with 5 of the books having him write a shorter 3-4 page analysis/response paper, and 1 of the books requiring a 10-15 page critical analysis paper. By the end of the program, he had read 60 books, with 8 long critical analysis papers and 52 shorter response papers. AND you also have your own thesis (body of writing) that has been written, revised and worked over multiple times to have a finished volume (in his case, it was poetry, so 50+ completed poems).

That was the work done at home and turned in by email.

In ADDITION, 2x a year, he would travel to SPU for a 10-day residency, at which he had a series of lectures, and workshops with fellow students critiquing one another's work, being led by his mentor (who was responding to each of the packets by scoring the analysis papers, and providing feedback on DH's writing in-progress).

DH was retired when he went through the program and it was *intense*. I honestly don't know how anyone does it who is also working a job or raising a family.

While it will not help you with publishing, I saw firsthand how the MFA degree from the Seattle Pacific low residency program helped with landing a job teaching writing at the college level -- at least 3 people who were in the program at the same time as my DH all landed great jobs teaching writing and literature -- 2 at universities, and 1 at a community college.

If wanting to teach writing and literature at the high school level, a Bachelor's degree of any type and a teaching certificate will get you in the door -- high schools are desperate for teachers right now.

Just from my own experience of teaching Lit. & Writing to homeschool high school students: I have had to learn how to teach writing through a lot of trial-and-error, constant researching for resources, and trying things out to see what actually works or doesn't work with real students who are of *widely* varying skill levels when it comes to reading, analysis, and writing. I don't think that kind of knowledge can be taught college courses; it comes through actual experience. JMO!

I will say that you will get those deep discussions and lots of feedback from the Seattle Pacific MFA low residency program -- but it is expensive and very very VERY time consuming. But, he also formed deep friendships with members of his "cohort", and I can absolutely see how that could continue to be an informal workshopping/support group for personal writing or writing towards publishing after earning the degree.

If just wanting some classes for yourself, and some workshopping / feedback on your own writing, plus real-life tips on getting published, check out the resources at Jane Friedman's website.

Also, check out this thread from earlier this year on this same topic: "Thoughts on MFA in Creative Writing?"

 

BEST of luck in your career change into writing and teaching writing/literature! 😄 Warmest regards, Lori D.

Thanks Lori. I didn’t mean that the instruction would only take place during a few weeks in the summer, just that being away from my family for 2-3 weeks at a time would probably be workable, with the rest of the work happening at home.
 

This program definitely sounds interesting. I am adding it to my list! I would want to take some more entry-level English and writing courses first before I’d be ready to apply to a program like this. 
 

Thanks for the other resources as well! I will look into them.

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36 minutes ago, regentrude said:

It is not that the quality of instruction is lacking- it's that I don't think that writing works well online, once you go from instructor feedback on essays to workshopping creative writing as a group. Doing that on Zoom does not create the same close atmosphere. I just finished a workshop class; it was OK, but would have been so much better in person.

Ideally you want to spend 2-3 consecutive hours in workshop, and spending this much time on Zoom is hard and makes staying focused really, really difficult. I am considering signing up for another workshop class online next semester,  but the fact that it's 2.5 hours long is rather daunting. (this one was 75 minutes twice a week, and I sometimes struggled staying focused on my screen) Nope, online is definitely not equivalent,  especially when it comes to subjects that live through the interpersonal element. 

I see; that is unfortunate but it makes sense. 

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

...ETA: The only reason I would want to do the MFA is for the sake of the program itself and the learning and mentoring that comes form it; I have zero desire to find employment as a college English instructor. If I want to teach college, I could stay right where I am 🙂

From other of your posts, I knew that was your goal. 😄  Similarly, that is why my DH did the program -- personal enrichment and growth. Absolutely no way he wanted to teach. 😉

The SPU program was wonderful for DH in that area. Part of what helped was that he already knew several of the mentors and people in the program, because the MFA program at that time was holding one of the residences per year in Santa Fe -- at the same time as the Image: Journal of Art, Faith, and Mystery's week-long Glen Workshops, which DH had been attending for about 10 years. 

DH recommended really researching MFA programs, because MANY are very focused on preparing the students for *teaching*. Since you are NOT looking at teaching writing, DH suggested you might find more support for what you do want -- developing your own writing, mentoring, and workshopping -- through local writing groups, and through weekend or week-long writing seminars and workshops.
 

3 hours ago, regentrude said:

...That's the kind of program I'm considering, because I don't think I can justify paying expensive tuition while at the same time quitting my job and losing my income...

One quick side note -- the SPU program allows for taking a hiatus quarter as needed. Several people in DH's cohort, including DH had to take a quarter off for various reasons. That extended the program from 2 years to 2.5 years. I would think if a person needed it, they could take a quarter off in each of the 2 years, and extend the program from 2 years to 3 years -- which would also give provide several short *financial* breaks.

So you might look for a program that allows for taking a break here and there to reduce the program workload while in the midst of teaching, and to also spread the cost out over a longer period of time to make it more manageable.

Also: DH suggested that you might want to spend more time developing your writing, and learning about the "craft" -- the technical aspects of writing -- (specifically in poetry writing) *before* getting into an MFA program, as that tends to be a heavy part of many programs -- developing "craft". And you get more out of an advanced program if you have been working on and developing aspects of poetry writing that will be focused on in an MFA.
 

3 hours ago, regentrude said:

...But I am hesitant about the distance learning aspect. Did your DH feel that he developed close relationships to his mentors? Did he find an advisor who was a good personal fit? I find that very important in writing, and especially in poetry...

I think every program will be different and you'll really want to do your research and talk to people who have gone through the program that you are interested in doing to find out what your experience is likely to be with that particular program.

For example: the SPU program has 2 mentors for each of the writing areas (poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction); you (and your same-year cohort members) have 1 mentor for the first year of the program, and then you have the 2nd mentor for the second year of the program. So there wasn't any choice. BUT, it is very intimate and personal.

DH said both of his mentors were very different and helped bring different things to light in his writing. He did say that even with poetry, which is so personal, that having a mentor who is very different from you in personality and in the type of poetry they write can be very good at the Master's level of writing, because it stretches and challenges you. The key is that even if that mentor is very different from you and your writing style, is that they *care* about you and nurture you as a person and as a *writer*. (Again, because the program is so small, and the poetry cohort is so small that the 2 mentors have the time to give you a significant amount of their time and focus.)

He said he definitely felt that he developed those relationships at the residencies, and that carried over through the "distance" portions of the program, in that he had very personalized and in-depth feedback on his packets and on his writing turned in while in process.

The SPU program also brings in guest lecturers for each of the residencies, and you get a wide variety of exposure to styles of writing, and to learning about the technical aspects of writing in the lectures on "craft". But you also get a lot of time to interact with the guest writers/lecturers, for wider exposure to different styles of poetry, and different approaches to writing.


Finally, DH wanted to encourage you in your journey by recommending some books that he has found very helpful. These are practical books, some with writing prompts, that provide specific information on technical aspects of poetry writing (the "craft" of poetry writing):

- How to Write a Poem (Runyan)
- The Poetry Home Repair Manual (Kooser)
These are two very specific, practical, and short (not overwhelming, lol) books that are great for poetry writers who are starting off, or have only been writing poetry informally for a few years. These provide a great foundation in the basics to then go and build on.

- The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach (Behn & Twichell)
The subtitle says it all. Very useful for self-teaching/developing your poetry through guided practice.

- Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry (Nims & Mason)
This is the book they actually used as the "textbook" for DH's MFA program. Very informative, practical, and specific about the "craft" of writing, with writing prompts and exercises. DH says this text is hugely helpful for developing in poetry writing for those beyond the beginning stages of poetry writing.


A few other resources that DH suggests you might eventually be interested in:
- Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (Koch) -- info on reading and writing poetry + short anthology of poems
- Poetry as Persuasion (Dennis) -- great thoughts and specifics on the "craft" aspect of poetry writing
- The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (Strand & Boland) -- if interested in writing in poetic forms
- The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (Hugo) -- slim volume that is a "classic"
- The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Cameron) -- a general guide to creating in whatever one's field is

And of course, DH recommended reading poetry frequently, from a wide variety of poets and styles.

I hope that helps! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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1 hour ago, Lori D. said:

DH recommended really researching MFA programs, because MANY are very focused on preparing the students for *teaching*. Since you are NOT looking at teaching writing, DH suggested you might find more support for what you do want -- developing your own writing, mentoring, and workshopping -- through local writing groups, and through weekend or week-long writing seminars and workshops.

Also: DH suggested that you might want to spend more time developing your writing, and learning about the "craft" -- the technical aspects of writing -- (specifically in poetry writing) *before* getting into an MFA program, as that tends to be a heavy part of many programs -- developing "craft". And you get more out of an advanced program if you have been working on and developing aspects of poetry writing that will be focused on in an MFA.
Finally, DH wanted to encourage you in your journey by recommending some books that he has found very helpful. These are practical books, some with writing prompts, that provide specific information on technical aspects of poetry writing (the "craft" of poetry writing):

Thank you for sharing your DH's experience and thank him from me for all his helpful suggestions. That's so kind.
Yes, I have lately been wondering whether I should not actually create my own "program" by taking classes and workshops with different poets since I don't actually need the piece of paper that says "MFA", and I also don't need the validation of the MFA to consider myself a "real" poet, since I no longer struggle with that.

He is right in what he says about craft. I'm working on that. This semester, I took the advanced poetry class at a university taught by our former state poet laureate (whom I greatly admire); I will take her graduate workshop next semester.

Great book recommendations. I have many of those books on my shelves. And yes to reading copious amounts of poetry.

Again, thank you for typing it all out, and thank him for sharing his insights.

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2 minutes ago, regentrude said:

Thank you for sharing your DH's experience and thank him from me for all his helpful suggestions. That's so kind.
Yes, I have lately been wondering whether I should not actually create my own "program" by taking classes and workshops with different poets... This semester, I took the advanced poetry class at a university taught by our former state poet laureate (whom I greatly admire); I will take her graduate workshop next semester...

Again, thank you for typing it all out, and thank him for sharing his insights.

What a terrific opportunity! -- And, that's a great idea. 😄

You are most welcome! He was happy to help. 😄And I will pass on your thanks.

Wishing you ALL the BEST in your writing journey! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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1 hour ago, Lawyer&Mom said:

https://london.ac.uk/courses/english
 

The University of London distance program has been around forever, is reasonably priced and very legit.  In the UK, college students have end of year examinations.  Distance students take the same exams.  It’s not watered down at all.  The course descriptions sound very meaty too. 

Thanks! I’m looking through the course descriptions.

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