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El Horrifico

University of Kentucky vs Purdue (final decision)

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Hey all, 

I've been accepted to the PhD programs in lit at both the University of Kentucky (UK) and Purdue. It's getting down to the wire now, and I'm having significant trouble choosing between them. Any advice is welcome.

Both schools are strong fits for my research interests. My POI at UK is one of the closest scholars I've found to my niche little area of research, and I've found 8 different scholars at the university I would like to work with. Purdue does not have an individual POI as interesting to me as the one at UK, but I have found 10 scholars there, in various departments, whose work appeals to me. 

Both schools have offered generous funding in excess of their typical packages. UK's funding would vary by the year, and is a bit top-heavy, with additional funding in the first two years and less in the subsequent years. Purdue's funding is guaranteed at a single rate for five years and includes a first-year fellowship whereby I would not have to teach and could get a head start on my coursework.  I would have to teach all five years at UK. I have sat down and done the math on these offers, and the gap is pretty narrow. Cost of living is lower around UK than around Purdue, and I would have a much shorter commute to UK from home, which would mean much lower moving and travel costs both for the initial move-in and any trips home, such as for holidays. 

This brings me to the location. I visited Purdue's campus briefly, and I was disappointed. For context, I'm from the southern Appalachians and got my BA and MA in the south as well. Going off this, I did not find Indiana to be a pretty state. And I thought West Lafayette looked a bit rundown, though I admit I did not see all the town had to offer. I was not there for long. Meanwhile, I did not see UK's campus directly, but I have passed through Lexington. In general, I was impressed with Kentucky's natural beauty, and I think I would more at home there than in Indiana, as Kentucky more closely mirrors the geography I'm used to and enjoy. None of this is to deride anyone from the mid-west, of course. I merely mean that, personally, I preferred what I saw of Kentucky to what I saw of Indiana. 

The only factor that could tip the question of location in Purdue's favor is that of town size. I got my MA from a school in a college town, and I loved the atmosphere, enough so that I would love to return to teach there someday. That said, I've never really lived in a big city before, so Lexington would be a change-up for me. I guess what I'd really like, in addition to natural beauty, is somewhere where I'd feel safe walking around, even at night. I typically felt safe doing this at both my previous universities. 

Also, as stated previously, UK is much closer to home for me than Purdue. Going to Purdue would mean being very far from my family, friends, and support network. I know no one at either school, but it's not out of the question for family and friends to come visit over the weekend at UK; it would be at Purdue. So, location wise, UK is the clear choice for me. I feel like I would be happier there than at Purdue.

I get hung up, however, when comparing the schools' relative resources and rankings. I've been told that resources at UK are a bit scarce, and my impression has been that this is, indeed, the case. I've gotten the impression, for instance, that conference funding is only really available once you're ABD at UK. Purdue appears to offer more conference funding and also has various journals and centers that align with my research interests. Thus, I've gotten the sense that Purdue has more resources as well as more opportunities for me to get involved than UK would provide. I also know that Purdue is typically higher ranked than UK, though I have been told that gap is narrower than US News would have one believe, and that it is pretty narrow in my area of interest. 

Of course, resources and rankings only matter insofar as they help you with job placement, and on that front, if I am to believe what the schools have told me, UK and Purdue are fairly even with one another. Based off the statistics they've provided me, both have solid placement rates. UK provided ten years' worth of data, whereas Purdue provided 2012-2016. I am not sure what to make of that. And UK's TT placements also include a few community college positions, though I suppose job security is job security. Overall, I was impressed with the rates at both schools.

I've been considering my choice for over a week now, since I got off the wait list at UK, and I keep wavering between the two. Both have been very kind, and both have worked to try to recruit me, which is very flattering. I do not want to say "no" to either program, even though I know I'll have to, and soon. I've realized lately that I kind of want to go to UK but feel as if I should go to Purdue. UK puts me closer to home, in a beautiful and still fairly familiar area. Purdue puts me in a more prestigious university with more opportunities. Though the difference does not appear to be reflected in their placement rates, I fear that Purdue has more to offer and that turning them down would be a mistake that could cost me down the line. I also wonder whether I should not get used to moving to far-off places now, since if I'm lucky enough to get a TT offer at a school on the other side of the country 5 years from now, I'll probably have to take it.

Sorry for the long post. There are a lot of factors to this decision, and I want to be sure I make the right one. I welcome any and all advice. Thanks for reading this far! 

 

 

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1 hour ago, El Horrifico said:

. I've realized lately that I kind of want to go to UK but feel as if I should go to Purdue.

 

 

This is the sentence that sticks out to me most. Indeed, as I was reading your post, it sounds like UK has more going for it, especially given that there is a scholar there who is working on your interests. Some of the "cons" for UK seem to me very minor. I know that sometimes when I'm making a difficult decision I'll try to consider every single variable and end up looking at things that don't ultimately matter that much in an attempt to make a rational decision. However, for these big decisions, some of it ends up being irrational or coming from your gut. It seems like on every variable that really matters, the two offers are nearly equivalent, but you find yourself leaning to UK. I think this is what you should go with, because it's what you want. 

You said UK is closer to where you live now, but you have not visited the campus. Is it close enough that you could visit before April 15th? That may help with your decision-making.

(I don't really know anything about these two programs, nor have I visited the cities, so I'm basing this advice purely on the descriptions you gave.)

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35 minutes ago, heysickah said:

 I know that sometimes when I'm making a difficult decision I'll try to consider every single variable and end up looking at things that don't ultimately matter that much in an attempt to make a rational decision.

You may have hit the nail on the head right there! I definitely feel like I do this as well and am doing it now. 

I don't think I'll be able to visit before the deadline, unfortunately. UK is still far enough away that a trip there would be an all-day sort of thing. 

Were there any cons that I listed for UK that stick out as particularly minor? 

Thanks for the reply! It's some solid advice, and I appreciate your taking the time to give it. 

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Hello, fellow Appalachian! I'm from Kentucky and know Lexington and the surrounding area really well, and my partner and I both looked at Purdue and UK during our own school searches, so hopefully I can be of some help!

I'll say up front, I'm absolutely Team UK here. Their program is solid, they've got fantastic special collections in their library (at least for my research interests; you don't mention your own, so I don't know how much their Appalachian specialties would matter to you), and the area is great. Lexington is a wonderful city -- great restaurants, plenty of theaters and shops for fun stuff -- and it's located within a short driving distance of so much fun stuff (Red River Gorge, Kentucky Horse Park, all the bourbon distilleries, etc. etc.). UK's campus is quite nice, if infamous for its sprawl, but I imagine as a graduate student you'll probably be spending most of your time in one or two buildings, so that probably won't be much of an issue.

The only reservation I would have about going to UK isn't even directly related to the university, but to state politics. I don't know how much you know about Kentucky's state government, but the current governor, Matt Bevin, has made his political career with attacks on the education system. Right now, he's been gutting public school retirement funds, but back when we he was first sworn in at the end of 2015, one of the first things he did was illegally cut the state higher education budget. The motion was shot down, and neither Bevin nor the state legislature have really gone after the colleges since, but it left some marks on the collective education psyche. You mentioned that folks there seem a bit worried about the availability of conference funding, and while I'm sure there might some real funding concerns there (especially if they tend to be stingy with non-ABD students), I wouldn't rule out that some of that anxiety is related to lingering concerns about the government. As the flagship state university, UK is likely going to better weather any weird legislative actions that could impact the higher education system, but the worry is still there.

I don't bring all that up to frighten you away from UK -- I really hope I didn't! -- but just to let you know a little bit about the local academic climate. Like I said, Bevin didn't get his way when he went after the universities the first time, and at this point he's become so wildly unpopular that re-election next year seems incredibly unlikely (although, you know...don't count your votes before they're cast). Even with that concern, I think you'd be really well served by the faculty and resources at UK, and have a wonderful time with all that Kentucky has to offer =)

If you have any other questions about the area, shoot me a PM! I'd be happy to plug some specific restaurants, shops, nearby small towns worth exploring, or talk about anything else!

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I'm currently a graduate student at UK. Lexington is a great city with a small town feel. Tons to do, great food scene, and phenomenal hiking at the Gorge. I'm from a tiny town and Lexington was a bit of an adjustment at first, but I love living here. 

Conference funding is competitive, but they do try to spread the money around. I got a travel grant last semester, and I am not anywhere close to abd. Some of the abd students have also been awarded money for archival research. So there are some opportunities, but not as great as at other programs. And if you have a 2/2 teaching load (I think everyone does, unless you negotiated a different offer), you will be teaching two sections of first year composition classes for the WRD department every semester for at least the first two years, if not longer. They try to make sure everyone gets to teach literature courses at least once or twice, but there are limited teaching opportunities in the English department. There also aren't very many opportunities for summer teaching, if that's important to you.  

I will say, though, that UK is incredibly supportive when it comes to professionalization and pedagogical training. All first year students take a course on pedagogy their first semester, we are required to participate in pedagogy and professionalization workshops each semester, and they have a great mentoring program. We have a lot of excellent and supportive faculty, and our graduate community is fantastic. I've enjoyed my time here immensely. 

I hope that helps! 

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It sounds like, all things being equal, you should probably go to Kentucky. Place matters a lot, especially during a PhD. You're continuing to grow during this time, and you need to make sure you're in a supportive environment to do that, and that looks different for everyone. Just because you go to a "lower rank" program doesn't mean you won't end up with a good job. A lot of it has to do with what you do while you're there (like getting teaching experience, publishing, conferences, etc.). BUT the most important thing is finishing. There's a reason why 50% of grad students don't finish PhDs--it's because it's really tough. So, do your future self a favor and go where your heart tells you and where you will be able to live your best life.  And, to me, that sounds like Kentucky. Just make the decision--and soon--so that whoever is on the waiting list below you gets a chance to consider the program you decline. Not as many people are lucky enough to be able to choose between two great programs, and by making your decision, you'll be able to give someone else a long-hoped-for admission. 

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Hey there! My heart goes out to you, as I am also struggling with my final decision (which also includes Purdue, and also includes a first-year fellowship, and also includes me feeling as though I'd be missing out on such a good opportunity). 

Here's what I've been doing, and it's been miserable: think about what you're most sad about giving up. For me, I'd be giving up a great support system at the school I'm currently at, as well as incredible administrative opportunities available to me right away since I'm already here and I've already proven myself. I'd also be giving up a future adviser I really want to work with. At Purdue (I'm in comp/rhet), I'd be giving up a (the?) leading program in my field with the resources, connections, coursework, and opportunities I might not be able to get anywhere else. 

What is most important to you? Is it the locale, is it being near your family, is it space with a fellowship to learn, is it a 1-1 teaching load at Purdue? 

It's impossible to really fully know, but think about it, and think about it, and then make a decision and sleep on it. See how you feel. I went to bed deciding on Purdue, and woke up feeling upset... At disappointing people where I'm currently at. And that tells me a lot. 

I know this is really hard. Hang in there! And I'm happy to PM and chat about the department at Purdue if you'd like, as I visited and met a lot of people and got a good sense of things (though I am in comp/rhet). 

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Thank you for everyone who weighed in here! I got a lot of great advice that helped me out while I was making my final decision. 

I have accepted my offer from the University of Kentucky and am now enrolled there. I'm looking forward to starting the program!

And I emailed Purdue to let them know I'm not coming. I felt terrible doing it--they were so nice--but I hope my doing so can help out someone else. And I had to do what was right for me. 

Thanks again, everyone! You were all lifesavers! 

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11 hours ago, El Horrifico said:

Thank you for everyone who weighed in here! I got a lot of great advice that helped me out while I was making my final decision. 

I have accepted my offer from the University of Kentucky and am now enrolled there. I'm looking forward to starting the program!

And I emailed Purdue to let them know I'm not coming. I felt terrible doing it--they were so nice--but I hope my doing so can help out someone else. And I had to do what was right for me. 

Thanks again, everyone! You were all lifesavers! 

Congratulations on your decision!! Doesn't it feel good to finally be decided? It really sounds like UK is a great fit for you. I'm excited for you! 

I turned Purdue down, too, and it was also hard because they were indeed so nice!! But I'm sure they understand that we have to do what's best for us in the end, and no one wants a student in their program who yearns to be somewhere else. 

Onward to the PhD now! Yay! 

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