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All Topsy Turvy


1Q84

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blog-0139900001365726353.jpgSo, a lot has changed since I last posted. I received two offers in quick succession and now I'm currently in LA and have visited both schools and talked to the graduate advisers.

What a whirlwind!

I came to LA intent on attending the public school because I thought that their tuition waiver would be the most beneficial and I had heard better things about their reputation and connections, professionally speaking. Now that I've talked to both schools, things seem to have completely flipped on their heads.

Unfortunately, $$$ seems to be the only thing on my mind these days. The reputable state school has informed me that I'm 4th on the list for tuition waivers (when they usually only distribute to two students), which had me feeling crestfallen for a whole day. How could I possibly attend that school having to possibly pay 1 year of international student tuition? Prohibitive to say the least. It didn't help that all the faculty were very complimentary and kind to me during my visit.

I visited the private school today and they seem to be awash in funding. I had already been offered a Teaching Fellow position but was worried about how it might only just cover my tuition and leave me with very little beyond that. I was shocked, then, to find that the graduate director began very strongly attempting to "poach" me, after I mentioned I was waiting on final financial information from the state school. What followed was basically a sales pitch, which just by the nature of being a pitch, made me hesitate. But the additional offer of funding above and beyond the Teaching Fellowship pay blew my mind. It was like comparing apples and oranges when I put the funding situation of the state and private schools side by side.

So now the question roiling in my mind is this: is it reprehensible to choose a school purely based on money? I mean I think that may be the case for Ph.D programs but I've heard again and again that paying a single penny for a humanities MA is a death wish and I would be a fool to consider it. The private school's offer addresses this concern (and then some) but I wouldn't feel totally comfortable on an intellectual level if that were the only thing to inform my decision.

I have a lot of thinking to do.

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I think finances is a GREAT reason to make one choice over the other; it may not have been my only consideration (I ended up not choosing the highest offer), but I had made the decision long before starting on the application process that I would not even consider offers unless they came with sufficient funding to cover my expenses and allow me to live (reasonably) well. This is 5-6 years of your life we're talking about, and going into debt for a humanities degree just doesn't make sense when it's not clear that at the end of the day there will be a job waiting for you to cover the costs.

 

There are also other funding-related reasons to prefer a better endowed school - for example, there will likely be more resources, possibly more visiting faculty, more travel funding, better library subscriptions. I have friends at a large public LA school who teach at their university during the summer for some extra money, but that option is only available to citizens, not to international students (it's part of the reason I decided not to attend that school). In fact, there were several resources at that public school that are only accessible to citizens, whereas at a private school your nationality is never an issue.

 

That said, I don't think funding needs to be the only factor your consider. Did you enjoy your visit? Was the fit with the advisors/department/current students good? You don't want to choose a place where you'll suffer socially or academically; but your post didn't sound like there was anything wrong with the private school on any of those fronts. Just that for some reason considering funding is a major factor in the decision doesn't feel right...but I think it totally should!

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Congrats on the good news! Here's some thoughts!

 

1. I don't think pitches are bad by nature. Obviously, pitches with empty promises or unsubstantiated claims are bad. However, while this may be different for the humanities, I think half of a scientist's job is pitching and the other half doing research. When you write a grant, you're making a pitch. When you are defending your thesis proposal to the committee, you are making a pitch. When you are giving a conference talk, you are making a pitch. I think our job as a researcher is to not only do great research work, but to sell it to others and make people care. I would even say it's one's responsibility to make sure the audience of their talk or paper is convinced/"sold" that their idea is correct/worth funding/worth thinking about it. 

 

2. I'm sorry to say that I forgot whether or not you are talking about MA or PhD programs. I actually think you should consider finances even more strongly for a MA program than a PhD. MA programs are short and, in my opinion, not worth an investment of $10,000-$50,000 (based on the numbers I've seen on gradcafe), unless it's a professional type program where you can get a job right after the MA. But you're in English Lit programs right? I'm also assuming that you are considering a PhD after your MA? At that point, your MA program won't even matter. So, for a masters, I would probably follow the money even if the higher paying school isn't quite as good as the school I'd have to go in debt for.

 

3. In the end, everything has a value. Some people want to turn everything into dollar amounts. So, you could turn the intellectual value of a degree at each school, how happy you feel there, etc into some dollar amount and basically ask how much are you willing to pay for certain things. I am a hedonist, so I prefer to turn everything into some nebulous units of "happiness". Contrary to the proverb, money does convert to happiness in my scheme (although it's more like negative money is a huge unhappy factor, but additional money beyond what we need to live won't add much more). In the end, I picked the place that had the most happiness (being in California was a huge happiness value). Like fuzzylogician, I also did not end up choosing my highest offer but I definitely did reject schools based solely on money because some offers were just too low to live on. 

 

Like fuzzy, I also interpreted your post as saying nothing bad about the private school. It does sound like perhaps the public school is slightly better than the private school. But you should also consider the resources available to you at a private school. This year is my first year at a private school, and I feel completely spoiled in terms of resources available to me. Last week, our prof commented that our classroom needed twice as many whiteboards and that some cabinets and tables needed to be removed. When we went into class yesterday, bam! it was done. At UBC or Queen's, my old public Canadian schools, this would have been a process that would have taken weeks -- with debates during department meetings on how to find the budget etc. By the time it's done, our class would have been long over.

 

Basically, even if the public school might be slightly better, is it $X better where X is the difference between the cost (to you) of each school? I mean, I wouldn't choose a higher paying school for differences less than $5-10k/year. But this sounds like a case where X is much much larger!

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Thank you both for the extensive feedback! You guys are right. I think I've been socially conditioned to abhor the thought of money factoring into any decision in my life... maybe that's why I'm a broke student! It makes me a little sad because I was looking forward to working with a couple faculty members at the state school and no such people really popped out at me at the private school; that being said, I think I'll have a lot more opportunities for that at the PhD level. I have asked the grad director to try and hook me up with some current graduate students so I can pick their brains about more grad life there.

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I don't know if this will be useful, but I am going through the similar stress of worrying about factoring money into my decision.  I'm deciding between two schools, and while the offer at one is enough to get by, the offer at the other is double.  I don't want to focus on it but I can't help but keep thinking about how it will be good to have a cushion when I graduate if the job market is rough.

 

I think I would like more sales pitches in my decision, to be honest.  I think people are trying not to sell me either way out of respect (they don't want me to feel bad if I do go with their advice) but, as long as the claims are honest, it can help you feel secure and excited about your decision.

 

I don't know your situation, but I have never had a real job; I've gone straight through school.  Going somewhere where you don't have to take out loans to get through is a great opportunity.

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Hey there,

It seems like we've come to the same place but in radically different ways. I've been out of school for a good 5-6 yearsand worked in mind-numbing jobs for quite a few of those years. I've tasted being an independent adult and it can be scary!

Now just recently having paid off my B.Ed, I'm not eager to be getting back into debt for an MA.

I think he "if" in the "if the job market is rough" is a pretty certain if. Unfortunately, that's the way it seems nowadays, at least in North America.

I'm planning to take my Ph.D to Asia, but who knows what'll happen in 6 years.

Anyway, good luck on your decision! It won't be easy, but I'm sure you'll get it right!

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I agree with the above commentators. It makes no sense to take out loans for an MA program. 

 

Besides, it's the prestige of the PhD Program and school that matters in the job market, not so much of the Masters. If you are getting funding at a private school for a Masters program, I'd take it if I were you and then go to a more prestigious school for PhD.

 

Private schools in LA are not so bad, so I don't see any reason to feel a discomfort on the intellectual level.

 

Be aware - with an Asian PhD it may be difficult (read "next to impossible") for you to find a job in the North America - even if it's in an Asian area of study in your own native culture.

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Hi Seeking! I actually meant that I will hopefully be taking an American PhD to Asia.... it's very high in demand and they are very impressed by degrees from most high ranking American schools.

 

The only problem is that I've heard that it's very hard to get back into the American system once you leave it. So that would definitely limit future job prospects or attempts to move back to America (or even Canada).

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Thanks for making that clear.

 

Yes, you'll get a high-profile job in Asia with an American PhD and it may be difficult to get back to North America once you leave it.

 

But if your PhD is from a Top-10 school and if you keep your contacts in the North America alive, you may be able to come back.

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