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Hi everyone,

I was hoping to get some advice on the degree that prestige should shape my grad school decision. I’m lucky enough to be choosing between the biomedical science PhD programs at Columbia vs Harvard. I’ve been working at Columbia as a tech for the last few years, and while I don’t “love” Columbia, I like the labs a lot and absolutely love New York City/my social circles here. Also, I have a good relationship with the program directors and many of the PIs in the department. I enjoyed my Harvard recruitment weekend, but I’ve never really liked Boston that much. Both universities definitely have PIs doing work that interests me, and I’ve applied to the umbrella programs so I have a wide variety of choices. 

Basically, I’m stuck deciding between these two because I think I would enjoy my time at Columbia / in NYC more than at Harvard / in Boston, but I can’t tell if the difference in prestige between the universities makes Harvard the better choice. I am open to staying in academia if my PhD is successful, but can really see myself moving into industry after finishing my studies, if that helps. Anyone have any insight? Would I be dumb for choosing Columbia over Harvard? 

Thanks a lot!

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I just faced a similar dilemma of choosing between a top program in a less-than-ideal location vs. a less highly-ranked (but still very good) program in a city I liked better. I ended up going with the less prestigious option because all my advisors that I talked to said that once you get to this level of institution, it just comes down to individual fit and where you feel you'd be the most successful. How well you think you'd get along with the PIs and the students at a school is the most important thing (and is why I ultimately chose the lower-ranked school), but location also plays a big part. I really didn't want to be stuck somewhere I wouldn't like for 5+ years, especially since that'd pretty much take up the rest of my twenties. 

I don't think you'd go wrong with Columbia if you really feel like you'd be happier there. Even if Harvard is slightly more highly-ranked, both institutions are still very well-known and well-funded, so I don't think there'd be a huge difference in your experiences just based on prestige. I also interviewed at CUMC and got the impression that the program had a good relationship with industry, since a good chunk of their alumni ended up there. You may have a better idea about this since you actually work there, though, and I don't know much about Harvard's connections other than they're probably very good as well.

Just my 2 cents. Good luck with your decision!

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My two cents is that you should go where you think you will be happiest.  I think it's important to love the place you are living in and that you can build or have a good rapport with the faculty, the department, and fellow students.  When you're thinking about schools like Columbia and Harvard, the difference in prestige here is negligible, so I wouldn't think about prestige as a factor in this scenario.  You can't go wrong with either program, but it sounds like you enjoy the program and location for Columbia over Harvard, which I think are important factors to consider when making your decision.

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The work you do during your degree will be much more of a factor in your career development than the prestige difference between Columbia and Harvard. Go wherever you will be happier, because happy students make successful ones. 

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Ditto on Columbia!

Once you're in those type of programs, the difference between their prestige is small.

Your well-being and overall happiness will be the deciding factor!

P.S - NewYorker who lived in Boston :D

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