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2nd thoughts about PhD acceptance

8 posts in this topic

I accepted an offer for a Clinical Psychology PhD program to start this fall 2017.  The program is one of the few with a neuropsychology concentration in my area.  Unfortunately, I didn't receive the best financial package-- though it's doable.  The faculty at the R1 university where I currently work urged me to accept the offer because nonetheless it's a good program and they know my future advisors (research fit is good).  So I accepted because it was the best offer I got all-around, and also at this rate I'll be almost mid-30s if I graduate on time. I had limited my apps locally for my fiancé, who was planning to buy a house around here.  

My fiancé will have to help me with finances and he doesn't mind at all.  However, I'm having second thoughts now for a few reasons.  The housing market in our expensive locale recently rose to where you have to pay half a mil for a crappy house.  So now he wants to hold off, which means I'd have to commute ~1.5 hours for school while living with my parents a bit longer.  Fiancé has had to commute 1.5-2 hr for full-time work and says it's do-able.  BUT is it really possible as a FT student who will also have research and externship responsibilities??? The major downers I'm looking at are:

  • horrible commute through a major metropolitan area, not an easy highway drive; if it were I think I'd be fine but the traffic, various bridges, and through city streets will be stressful 
  • living with parents (which is a cramped house; I wouldn't have sufficient space to sprawl out and work as I do best, and our sleep schedules are very different, meaning I might be driving extremely tired [dangerous] and be a zombie in classes..) 
  • cost (partial tuition, lost wages by not working)-- again, fiancé doesn't mind paying, but his money is basically my money (as he says) and we could be using that $$ for other things 
  1. Should I suck up this imperfect situation and plunge ahead with what I already committed to do anyway?  Also, of course I wouldn't be happy about telling everyone I changed my mind, but I'm also not so concerned with my potential advisor- the program allows students to choose labs during the 1st couple months and I know other students will be picking his lab.  (He also didn't email me back when I told him I was accepting! Strange, though I know he's not great w email in general)  And there are ~15 incoming students.. which confirms the program being more like a PsyD model. 
  2. Alternatively, now that I know I won't even live with my fiancé, should I try a second round and include programs around the country with solid, better funding?  I don't mind being long-distance for a few years.. though that might be weird because we'll be married next year.  That's also like spitting my fiance's generous offer back in his face, and I know he wouldn't want me to move.  Additionally, if I apply again, who knows whether I'll even get any offers. 

1 or 2?  Any thoughts appreciated :(.  I'm most likely going to stick with the program, but if anyone has any wisdom, feel free.  I hate to be so conflicted before even registering for classes! 

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Wow.  Ok so I have a few thoughts here, hopefully I can express them in an organized fashion.

First your fiance........

I understand deciding against buying an overpriced house especially when it is unclear how long the market will be stable, but telling you that commuting over an hour to school while living apart is "totally doable" is not a generous offer.  You don't need to discuss all the details of your relationship, but if you 2 are open to living together prior to the wedding then it seems odd that he wouldn't be interested in renting a place with you that reduces the commute burden (potentially for both of you).  If he's willing to help you with expenses then it seems like living together is an easier way to do that especially if you're getting married next year.  

Commuting to school........

I commuted over an hour for my unfunded Master's program and it worked out well.  I was able to keep my job and health benefits while adjusting my work schedule so that I could time my drive so I didn't sit in traffic.  However, all of those hours on the road were still lost and the extra wear on my car lead to increased maintenance costs.  

Now that I'm in a PhD program I realized immediately that a commute that far would not work with all of the skills and training I wanted to gain.  There are students in my program who live 30+ minutes away (by freeway) and the hassle is evident on their faces.  Sometimes traffic and/or parking is horrendous so they're late.  Sometimes they have to drive to campus for only their lab meeting that ends after 15 minutes or for one client who no shows.  Or something gets left at home or on campus and another trip has to be made.  Other times they have to be in the lab late or see clients late and if their day has already been 10+ hours long a lengthy drive on top of that sucks and could be dangerous.  If their car breaks down and there's no public transit where they live then they're screwed.  

You don't have to live in walking distance of campus, but it is advantageous to be within 10-15 minutes on city streets or have the option of taking public transit quickly.  This is precisely my situation now and its fabulous.  I have more time for studying, seeing clients on or offsite, and lab work.  I don't have to get up very early if I don't want to and even after long days on campus I don't get home so late that I'm too tired to do anything else.  

Living at home.......

I too am an older student and the best decision I made was spending a little bit more to live all by myself in a bigger place.  This way I have a whole room that is an office with plenty of room to brainstorm, cartwheel, or lay on the floor and vent Mindy Lahiri style.  If your parents are familiar with the life of a grad student and a dedicated quiet space can be created for you then that might be different.  But if that isn't an option and their place is too far then do not do this to yourself.  If you and your fiance find a way to live together I highly suggest making sure the place can accommodate your having a dedicated office.  Being able to shut the door on all your school stuff will give you a sense of separation when you take breaks and allow you to immerse yourself in a task while he's home doing something else.

Sticking with your chosen program.......

Ultimately this is going to be your call.  I think your current advisors make a good point that it is very difficult to get into any program with some funding, especially a neuropsych program.  If the faculty you'll have access to are well known in their field and their former students have gone on to successful careers then that is definitely something to keep in mind.  You say the funding package isn't great, but is doable.  You don't have to provide details, but really think about what that means.  Does doable mean only with your fiance's help?  If so that's a big risk if something were to happen with your relationship or his financial situation.  Does doable mean with a few student loans?  If you're still eligible for the federal ones then this isn't a terrible option in my opinion.  If doable means sacrificing your health or safety in some way then its not worth it.

Also think about how challenging application cycles are.  You got into a program for this season, but if you reapply next year that doesn't mean you will.  Programs able to take (and fund) students change, advisors may seek a different fit, other applicants may stand out more than you, and my understanding is professors talk and may find it odd that you rejected a perfectly good offer.  Or you might get several offers and still be unhappy with the funding.  So maybe a good way to look at it is if you reject your current offer and reapply next year, will you be willing to reapply the following year if for some reason you don't get in or find your funded offers lacking?

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I agree with MarineBlue on most of their thoughts, especially the one where you and your fiancé rent an apartment together. You will save the cost of gas and wear/tear on both vehicles. You seem to be late 20s/early 30s, unless there is some problem barring living together before marriage and that doesn't seem likely since you were going to live with him if he bought a house, why haven't you two looked at the possibility of renting a place closer? You didn't mention if you were going to receive a stipend, just that partial tuition would be covered. You also mention working as an RA in a lab. Hopefully, you will be getting some sort of stipend for that work. It's getting very late in the season to not have registered for classes as you have indicated. In my case, the DGS shot me an email about a good time to talk over the phone about classes. After we spoke about classes and requirements, I registered for the classes she advised me to take. Even in April, the choice was limited because it was after all of the existing grad students had registered. Anyway, good luck on your decision!

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Posted (edited)

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts!

@MarineBluePsy  To expand just a bit, we haven't been renting because we save a ton of money with our currently fabulous commutes.  We have rented a place together before, when we lived in a different city and needed to.  He actually works in finance and his firm belief is that renting is a waste of money if you don't "need" to.  Rent money could instead be mortgage money, put towards owning your own property.  I appreciate all the advice about the commute and having office space.  I will try to get him to better understand what being a PhD student will really be like.. I think he's just clueless about this world!  Well, he has said that if we don't get a house in a year or so (after we actually marry and being w/ our parents will then be weird), then we can settle with renting.  Of course, that will still be one year as a miserable 1st year, but maybe I can suck it up.  There's an older student in the program who commuted 1.5 hours a few days a week for three years.  She said it was awful but doable.  So with that in mind, one year is fine..  

@cowgirlsdontcry I'm supposed to have registered, but I actually missed the first orientation because half a year ago I planned a vacation for that very week.  Then I took my time because of these second thoughts.. Also, I'm not sure if it's different for English PhD?  But in CP most/all of the classes for 1st years are the same and there's no issue with classes being filled up. 

Again, thanks much! 

Edited by anon143

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It's good that everyone has the same classes so they won't be filled. In English, we are more divided according to track (i.e. literature, linguistics, writing, etc.) and then in literature according to our area of specialty. There are 500 level classes, but those really are for the master's students. The Ph.D. students take 600-700 level classes and by the time I was registering in April, there were only 3 literature classes left. So, a great deal of difference.

 I do hope you are able to work things out. During my undergrad and MA I had a 45 minute drive each way. It gets very old, especially when you have been on campus all day and need to work more once you get home. The drive drained any energy I had left, leaving me like mush. Good luck!

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@anon143  At the start of my first year I didn't register for classes until August and it was perfectly fine lol.  Even if a class was technically full my advisor had the ability to make it work because apparently there is a form for everything and first years are usually given some flexibility because they have no idea what they're supposed to be doing.  

And I do understand your fiance's thoughts on renting vs owning, but he has to be willing to make some compromises if he wants to be with his wife after the wedding.  I know there's all kinds of modern twists on marriage, but I don't get the sense that you 2 actually want to live apart.  Plus you 2 will have to deal with this issue again when you apply for internships (and maybe post doc and your job after that) because limiting yourself geographically can make it harder to be placed.  There are lots of threads on this forum about going through this process with a spouse that might help you begin some discussions with him about what grad school is like.  

Now this year up until the wedding if living apart makes the most sense then there is nothing wrong with that, however you're saying your only option is to deal with a long commute when it isn't.  You can't change what your fiance chooses to do, but you can change your situation anyway you want.  You could look into renting a place (solo or shared) closer to campus and reduce your commute, your University might have grad student housing that is nice and affordable, or you might be able to find a commuter room closer where you just rent it during the week and go back to your parents place on weekends.  Regardless of what you decide, be certain that it is truly what is best for you and you're not just settling for an awful situation because you feel obligated to.

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@MarineBluePsy I thought about finding a roommate, but even then it's definitely a pricey area for a PhD student.  I'm keeping my options open.. maybe even making a deal with classmates to use a couch a few nights a week; potentially a mutually beneficial arrangement where they get a little bit of "rent" and I don't have to make the drive! No uni housing unfortunately (just for undergrads). Thanks again for the two cents. 

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