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Advice on School vs. Location


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So, I applied to PhD programs in English Lit this past fall after graduating from an MA program in June. I told myself that I would go anywhere as long as they have a school that I feel is a good fit, but at the end of the day I ended up with one acceptance: IU-Bloomington. The program so far feels like it will be a pretty good fit, but the location is what I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around. I hear that lots of people love Bloomington, but I’m starting to have some serious second thoughts about relocating from Chicago. I can’t tell if this is just a freaked out reaction to moving or if I didn’t give enough consideration to place when I chose to what programs to apply to. I don’t want to complain because I know I’m lucky to get in somewhere, but I also don’t want to end up somewhere that I really don’t want to be for six years. Thoughts? Is anyone experiencing a similar sort of issue?

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You'll be busy enough with work (and lacking in money) that you might not notice that you've moved to a substantially smaller town!  

Bloomington is a substantial sized university and a substantial sized college town though, and it's a 90 minute drive from Indianapolis which gets major concerts and shows and has a wonderful art museum. I'm from a medium-large city and now doing grad school in a medium-large city and have always been impressed with Bloomington when I've had occasion to visit.

My fiancé has a saying, she says, "Bloom where you're planted."  It's pretty good advice for this profession, because you might end up on the market and only get interviews in Topeka, Tucumcari, and Tallahassee. You generally get fewer options as you move up the professional pyramid.

Edited by jrockford27
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I'd ask yourself if there is REALLY anything about Chicago that you wouldn't be able to find in Bloomington, that you need access to on a weekly basis. Like, yes, Chicago has great museums, but how often do you go? If it's only a few times a year, there's plenty of other opportunities for getting your museums in besides living in a city with them. 

Living somewhere like Bloomington wouldn't be my first choice, but I will say that I live in a major city, and many people in my cohort who moved here still--midway through our second semester-- have barely gotten a chance to know it. You really won't have a ton of time to think much about your location (and, as Chicago and Bloomington are both cold places, it's not the sun you'll be giving up). As long as you are happy with the program, and there's a few good restaurants/coffee shops/bars, you'll likely be fine. 

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It's perhaps worth mentioning that having lots control over where one lives is not exactly a typical feature of academic life. Chances are that when applying for jobs, you'll have even less control over where you end up than when applying for graduate school. So, if you're serious about pursuing a life in the academia, don't do so on the assumption that you'll end up in a major metropolitan area.

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FWIW, I've heard that people really like Bloomington. I had a friend who'd lived in some of the world's premiere cities--Montreal, Tokyo, San Francisco, London--and she loved Bloomington so much she never wanted to leave.

From personal experience, I faced a similar problem, and I have to say I agree with @jrockford27. Before grad school I'd only lived in big cities, and I really wanted to get into a Boston-area school for my grad work. Instead I ended up in a small town (much smaller than Bloomington). There was some culture shock at first, but after a few months I was so busy I rarely thought about the big city anymore. And my program was really tight and friendly, so my social life actually improved. If everything else in your life is going okay--like if you enjoy your program and get along with your cohort and feel challenged and adequately mentored--then you will probably be happy regardless of location.

And trying to survive in an expensive city like Chicago or San Francisco on a grad student stipend can be an added stressor that makes things a lot less fun.

Edited by Bumblebea
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I'll be honest, this conversation really becomes: attend a Phd program this year vs wait and reapply. 

I'm the odd one out in that I think where you live can have a huge impact on your happiness and productivity levels. I know I'm currently in a medium size city (Lansing, MI) and I hate the town- there's nothing to do and other than the college not a lot of people our age. I went to college near a large metroplex (DFW area in Texas) and loved being close to everything. I could drive 40 minutes and be in a big city or hangout in my college town and still have plenty to do. My husband and I love going to concerts, theater, galleries, eating out- which Lansing has very few of. Now if we want to go to an event it's a 1.5 hr drive to detroit. We've managed and at the end of the day it's the quality of the degree that matters, but when it came to the PhD we seriously considered whether we would like where we live. We're moving back home to Fort Worth. Our campus is next to a zoo, lots of arts and music venues, and in an area where a lot of young people/families live. Those things don't matter to everyone, but for us we wanted to find a balance of affordability and amenities because 5 years is a long time (also not every urban area is as expensive as Chicago or NY, in Ft Worth you can rent a 2 bedroom apartment for $900, which our stipends can handle). 

However, those are things to really consider when you're choosing schools to apply to. I agree wholeheartedly with everyone here- choose a program that feels right to you and you will (probably?) be happy, but if you only have one option it's not about whether you'll be happy moving, but whether you'll be happy if you don't attend graduate school right now. Also, just curious, why 6 years? Most programs are only 4 years (5 max), if you're coming in with an MA you shouldn't need the extra coursework. Maybe if the time committment wasn't as long, it wouldn't be as scary to make the move. One of the biggest motivators for me living somewhere I didn't like was that it was a short amount of time (2 years). If you don't love Bloomington, just try to finish up in 4 years and move on. 

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45 minutes ago, renea said:

I'm the odd one out in that I think where you live can have a huge impact on your happiness and productivity levels.

I wholeheartedly agree with this! My partner and I were definitely dissatisfied with the area we did our Master's at and we know for sure that this affected our happiness and productivity. Once we realized this though we did our best to do things that made us happier and more productive. So there is a component of making your own happiness if the area isn't ideal, but if you don't actively try to do this it is easy to get really dissatisfied with your life because of the area. Also we worked really hard on our PhD applications to ensure that we would get out of our current area. And in looking for schools for PhD we factored location in pretty heavily and it was pretty influential in our decision of where we are attending this fall.

But ultimately if you recognize that the area may be a bit of an adjustment, start early in your time there if you choose to attend IU-Bloomington to make sure you find things to do in the area to make you happy and I think you'll be able to stave off those feelings of dissatisfaction.

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1 hour ago, renea said:

I'm the odd one out in that I think where you live can have a huge impact on your happiness and productivity levels.

@FishNerd already beat me to the punch, but you're not the only one in that boat. Our MA institution (a relatively small state school) has been a good educational experience, but the town is an absolute nightmare. I think it's weighed more on me than on her, but I've been so desperate to move, and knowing that we're finally leaving soon has been a huge relief.

That said, we're also not living in a college town, but a town with a college in it, if that makes sense. The local culture isn't at all geared towards the usual things that students and academics gravitate towards -- no local bookstores, no coffee shops, no museums, very little in the way of the arts. Even the area immediately surrounding the university doesn't seem to really notice it.

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Thanks everyone for all your replies to this post; it's been helpful seeing other perspectives. After a lot of thought I'm going to turn down Bloomington's offer and reapply to programs next year. Unfortunately once I got to campus days I learned some things about the program that I didn't feel great about. So, beyond just not being happy with the location, I'm not totally convinced I would be happy with the program either. 

I have definitely learned that location is a more important factor to me than I originally thought. It's not necessarily that I don't want to leave Chicago, but I realized that I do need to live in a town that's probably bigger than Bloomington. I talked with multiple professors and grad students in the English department, and they said that the usual time to completion (even for someone with an MA) in their program is eight years, and I wasn't willing to be somewhere I hated for eight years. I know I might not get to stay in Chicago for the next decade, but living in a small town and starting a program that I have some major concerns about does not feel right to me at the moment.

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14 hours ago, agunns said:

After a lot of thought I'm going to turn down Bloomington's offer and reapply to programs next year.

Best of luck in the next season! I hope you find somewhere you can really call home (at least for a few years) =)

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16 hours ago, agunns said:

they said that the usual time to completion (even for someone with an MA) in their program is eight years, and I wasn't willing to be somewhere I hated for eight years.

damn. I don't think I could ever commit to eight years unless it was a tenure track job....

I hope that you find somewhere you love! I know I felt instant bliss once I realized I'd be moving somewhere that would make me personally and professionally happy. I think making the decision to wait to go somewhere that's right can be a difficult, but very brave. My husband took a two year gap to reapply after having a single acceptance his first round and had a much better application season this time. Better offer, better fit, and overall in a place where we can both be productive. I wish you all the luck!

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Eight years?  Whoo.  Indentured servitude/Stockholm Syndrome.  

That said, IU has a fantastic music school, so there will be a lot of that kind of culture around if that is what you like.  Whether it's enough to make up for Bloomington, I couldn't say, having never seen the place.  Perhaps a viewing of Breaking Away might make the choice feel easier?  :)

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1 hour ago, renea said:

damn. I don't think I could ever commit to eight years unless it was a tenure track job....

I hope that you find somewhere you love! I know I felt instant bliss once I realized I'd be moving somewhere that would make me personally and professionally happy. I think making the decision to wait to go somewhere that's right can be a difficult, but very brave. My husband took a two year gap to reapply after having a single acceptance his first round and had a much better application season this time. Better offer, better fit, and overall in a place where we can both be productive. I wish you all the luck!

That's actually really nice to hear that it worked out for your husband! Gives me some hope for this next application round. :) I've already been doing some research into programs for this coming fall's cycle and I'm feeling confident that I've found some places that will be a much better fit for me!

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Best of luck in the next application season! Odds are, next round will be much more fruitful.

I had a friend who applied last round and got into one program, ended up being a bad fit, so he did not accept.

This round he was only outright rejected by 2 of 9 or 10 programs, waitlisted  at others, and had offers of admission at a couple of different programs.

 

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