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Last minute funding offer, need help with decision

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Hello! I'm an international student applying to MA programs in rhetoric and composition. I got 2 MA-only offers (which I've declined), and 2 MA --> PhD offers, from Penn State and UW. The MA-PhD offers are the ones I am still considering.

This morning I woke up to an e-mail from the DGS of the University of Washington saying that they can now offer me funding for 5 years. I was originally on the waitlist for funding, with only a "small chance" of getting it. Now the funding comes in the form of a fellowship for the spring quarter of my first year, and TAship for the rest. It's upwards of 20,000 for 9-month academic year and includes health insurance. I'll be teaching 1 class per quarter.

The problem is, I had just decided on accepting Penn State's offer before this happened. I was just about to formally accept, but this sudden funding offer from UW just threw me off-balance and now I don't know what to do. Penn State doesn't offer me funding for the MA, but I have funding from my government for the 2-year MA. It's USD 1,500 per month (a total of USD 18,000 per calendar year), though it will only kick in next year, so I've deferred my Penn State offer to 2019. And Penn State told that if I'm allowed to proceed to their PhD program, there will be funding for 4 years, though I'm not told how much that's gonna be for me. Meanwhile, admission 

Previously, I decided against UW because of some concerns I had after talking to some of their grad students. A student said that the course offering for rhet/comp was kind of limited, and that there had been cases of students having difficulties with finding dissertation committee or getting time for advising because the professors were overwhelmed. I've also heard tales about the competitive and sometimes toxic atmosphere of the cohort/program. Penn State, on the other hand, has a stellar reputation for rhet/comp, offers really interesting and varied coursework, and has this mentoring program where I'll be matched up with 2 more senior grad students and a faculty member. The program also seems to have a more supportive and friendly culture.

The good thing about UW is their location. As an international student, I feel like I'll be more comfortable in a big city with good public transportation system, more diversity, and what I hear is a more progressive political view. Not to mention its natural beauty! Besides that, their funding offer allows me to start school this year, while going to Penn State means I will have to wait for my government funding next year. However, though it's good to start as soon as possible, accepting their funding offer might mean that I'll have to give up my government fellowship, which is a prestigious program that offers quite a good networking opportunity with the people that matter in my country. Moreover, I've personally gotten so used to thinking that I'll leave next year that the prospect of leaving this year scares me a bit. My boyfriend was planning on resigning next year so that he can come and stay with me for a month or so as I adjust to my new life, but going this year will be difficult if not impossible for him. I'm afraid that leaving so soon will strain my relationship with him, something that I don't want because he's an important support system for me.

Both schools fit reasonably well with my research interest, though I suspect that Penn State will have more support for me if I do decide to be in the rhet/comp path as planned.

I realize that I'm very fortunate to be having this problem, but still, it's literally 3 days before April 15. UW has given me more time until April 23 to accept or decline, but that's still so soon. Any advice will be much appreciated! If you have more info about the two programs that I should consider, please also feel free to share it. I didn't get a chance to visit either school, so any info will be very useful to me.

Sorry if this is long, and thanks for reading!

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Hey @bigfluffybearcat! Nothing like making a major life decision right at the wire, eh? 

From what I can tell from your post, Penn still seems like the best option for you. The biggest indicator to me has less to do with timing and money then it does with your feelings about the program. It sounds like UW doesn't offer the classes, support, and environment you need. And those are the most crucial deciding factors. Like, hands down. Plus, Penn allows you to keep the prestigious government-aided funding and take the year to transition. 

It seems like all UW has to offer is the same amount(ish) of funding and its Seattle location. Personally, I am leaving the Pacific Northwest and also moving to Pennsylvania for my program. The change of landscapes will be so, so hard. But I assume I'll hardly notice with how busy I am.

Those are just my thoughts. You do you, and best of luck deciding!

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A couple of things to consider:

1. It sounds like Penn State is not promising you admission to their PhD program (you said "if I'm allowed to proceed..."). Is UW offering you a direct-entry PhD (since it's a 5 year funding offer).

2. Can you stack/combine both the UW offer and your government's funding? $20k in Seattle is not a lot, and when I was applying to PhD programs, UW's offer was the only one I rejected primarily because of their low funding offer (mine was slightly less at $18k/year and no fellowship: TAing the entire degree). I personally would not want to live in Seattle for less than $25k per year. Penn State is in a lower cost of living place, so that offer might go a lot further. (But you should get some number for the PhD funding too).

3. If you end up preferring UW, can you ask to defer the start date by 1 year (especially if this will allow your government funding to supplement your UW funding). This way, you can still take your time.

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I think there are benefits and drawbacks to both scenarios you've presented. I'm going to try to remain unbiased based on the two schools you've mentioned.

Penn State:

Pros: Would allow you to start next year. Small Rhet-Comp program. Funding for 4 years if accepted into PHD program. Interesting and varied coursework. Mentoring program.
Cons: Admission into PHD program isn't guaranteed. There is a possibility that you won't get into a PHD program after applying. (Note: This is true for any MA program that doesn't automatically enroll you into a PHD program).

University of Washington:
Pros: Location (You indicate that you'd prefer to be in an urban environment). Great transportation system. More diversity. More progressive political view.
Cons: Expensive city. Limited coursework?

As a result of this, I have some questions. Are you 100 percent sure that you're interested in Rhet/Comp? Do you have previous experience in taking rhet comp courses outside of Freshman Writing? Have you looked at the courses both universities offer? Are there courses at both universities that you'd be interested in taking? If you decide you're not interested in Rhet Comp, would both schools be open to allowing you to change your concentration area? Seattle is generally more expensive to live in, but it might be easier to find a roommate/ live outside the city. Are you open to either? Penn State is expensive since it is one of the biggest state colleges. A lot of apartments tend to not have washer/dryers in units and you might have to drive to a laundromat if there isn't one on site. Are you okay with that? How important is it for everyone to live near by? How important is being able to live without a car? How important is it for you to have opportunities outside of academia? What other opportunities to both colleges provide for earning additional income?

Note: @TakeruK beat me on asking whether you'd be able to combine UW's funding offer with your Government's offer.

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Thanks for the input @Pezpoet @TakeruK @Warelin !!! I really do appreciate it.

 I’ll try answer your questions below:

9 hours ago, Pezpoet said:

The biggest indicator to me has less to do with timing and money then it does with your feelings about the program. It sounds like UW doesn't offer the classes, support, and environment you need. And those are the most crucial deciding factors.

@Pezpoet You’re right about this. I do have less reservations about going to Penn State. My gut says it’s the safer bet, both academically and socially. I guess I’m just having some denial because UW’s offer isn’t bad either. Thanks for spelling it out for me! (Isn’t it weird how sometimes you only know what you feel when others point it out to you? Lol.)

Still, @TakeruK raised a good point about PhD prospects at Penn State. The way it works at Penn State is that you’ll have to submit a new SoP and writing sample in the fall semester of your MA for internal recruitment into the PhD. A student told me that although it’s a “recruitment” and there is still some sort of selection process involved, it’s really hard to NOT be approved to continue to the PhD program. Like, you’ll have to fail multiple classes and be entirely unknown to the professors. So I’m pretty confident about the prospects, as confident as I can be without having the actual contract in my hands. Meanwhile, UW already guarantees place and funding in the PhD program, so the whole bird-in-the-bag logic applies here. This security is important to me too, and if I had no doubt whatsoever about other things that UW offers (or if Penn State’s PhD prospect is less certain), UW would be the obvious choice for me. 

I’m not sure I can stack both UW and govt funding, since the govt fellowship agreement has a clause forbidding double funding. However, I know of a case where an awardee is allowed to keep the fellowship/stipend and tuition remission offered by their university, and the govt covers everything else that the university doesn’t offer (plane tickets, settlement allowance, emergency funds, research and publication funding, etc.). This means the govt won’t add additional funding for daily living allowance (they assume the university stipend/fellowship covers that), so it won’t make me rich, but it’s still a nice deal if I can negotiate it. Negotiation takes months, though, this being the government itself. I only have a week to decide, so I’m not counting on this dual funding possibility and am trying not to give it too much weight in my deliberation.

8 hours ago, TakeruK said:

Penn State is in a lower cost of living place, so that offer might go a lot further.

Could you confirm which number you meant? If I go to Penn State I’ll only receive $18,000 per year from the govt. Is that a better deal than $23,850 per year for Seattle?

8 hours ago, TakeruK said:

If you end up preferring UW, can you ask to defer the start date by 1 year

They have previously allowed me to start next year, but that was before they were able to offer me funding. I’m not sure if I can “defer” the funding offer to next year too. That seems like a lot to ask, but now that you’ve pointed that out, I guess I’ll at least try and find out how they feel about this. Thanks!

@Warelin You asked some very good and very helpful questions there! Thanks :D 

8 hours ago, Warelin said:

Are you 100 percent sure that you're interested in Rhet/Comp? Do you have previous experience in taking rhet comp courses outside of Freshman Writing?

I am interested in it right now, but you’re right, I don’t have any experience taking rhet/comp courses (the field practically doesn’t exist in my country). I have way more experience with literature, and I’m not planning to totally leave literature in favor of rhet/comp anyway. When I looked at the coursework offered by both programs, I mainly only considered the rhet/comp courses, but now I think maybe I should go through their course offerings again and also consider the literature courses. Especially since both programs have confirmed that they can be flexible on which track the student chooses eventually, even if it’s not in line with what the student is recruited for. Thanks for pointing this out!

8 hours ago, Warelin said:

Seattle is generally more expensive to live in, but it might be easier to find a roommate/ live outside the city. Are you open to either?

I’m fine with roommates and living outside the city, if that means I can save money. Driving is out of the question, though, since there’s no way I’ll have enough money to support owning a car, and if I do, I’d much rather use it for other needs. I’ve heard only good things about public transport in Seattle, but I’m not so sure about State College. Some people say living without a car is doable; some say it’s definitely not doable. I couldn’t visit, so I can’t know for sure. What’s your personal take?

8 hours ago, Warelin said:

What other opportunities to both colleges provide for earning additional income?

 UW has the TAship offer. I haven’t looked into what else they offer, since I’m already afraid that I’ll have difficulties doing the TA lol. This is actually another important deciding factor; I’m not sure I’m ready to start TAship right away, in a few months, without any previous background in teaching composition, or even in rhet/comp. English is also not my first language, so that can be another barrier. Though I’m honored to get UW’s funding offer (I know not everyone gets that kind of full funding there), I’m also afraid that the TAship responsibility will only drag me down because I’m not ready or well-equipped for it enough.

If I choose Penn State, however, they don’t offer me TAship (at least not for the MA), and the govt funding contract forbids me to work jobs other than TAships or RAships, so I’ll say there’s almost zero opportunity for additional funding if I choose Penn State. The $18,000/year govt funding will have to be enough. I suspect it’s a rather tight budget, no?

Once again, thanks so much for all your help! Whatever decision I’ll eventually make, I’ll owe it to you. Hell, I may even owe my whole academic future to you! :D 

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@bigfluffybearcat: Getting everything sorted during application season is complicated, isn't it? There are so many factors to consider that we might not pay much attention to at first.

In an earlier e-mail correspondence I've had with PSU, I was told that the majority of students get accepted from the MA to PHD but that it isn't a guarantee. The odds are better than not but I think it is important to note that people who have done well may have been passed on by Penn State and gone elsewhere. You might also find that interests change and that Penn State might no longer be where you want to be either due to academics or socially. This could happen anywhere, but it might also be good to consider how much easy access you have to an airport if you decide to go elsewhere after earning your master's.

According to Numbeo:  "You would need around 23,894.69$ in Seattle, WA to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 18,000.00 in State College, PA"   With that in mind, $45 over the course of a year isn't that much of a purchasing power in difference. I'd imagine that your purchasing power in Seattle would increase if you have no hesitations in sharing an apartment with other graduate students.

Penn State does provide a RIDEpass (for $15 per month) program to graduate students living more than .75  miles from the campus Blue Loop or Red Link.  That does mean you'd be expected to walk at least 15 minutes to get home though. If eligible and approved, you would have to pay for the entire year (July 1st to June 31) which would equal $180.  If you live closer than .75 miles away from campus, the monthly cost for the pass is $79 per month. It seems like it would take 38 minutes to get from Penn State to Target via Bus. State College is a lovely town and strikes me as a nice place to walk. It may or may not be fully covered by the bus. Having only one form of public transportation available though could result in certain buses not showing and causing significant delays and overcrowded buses though. Another concern might be that there might not be as many options available to leave town if you were to present at a conference or wanted to go to a concert. I've had friends who went to Penn State for undergrad and they've said that the buses in State College can be hit or miss. I've heard more positive than negative, but the negative feedback I've heard seems to mostly occur when there is snow.

It's good to hear that both programs are flexible in allowing you to switch. Most programs are flexible but there are some that have their English program and Rhetoric program as distinct programs so switching between the two might be harder to do if not impossible.

From my experience, programs want students to succeed when they're teaching undergrads. Programs will do everything they can in order to make it less stressful for you by providing  as much support as they can to make you feel more comfortable inside the classroom. Alternatively, you could always ask if they'd consider letting you be a TA in a large lecture or be a writing center consultant during your first year. It may or may not be an option they'd be able to offer depending on the university's structure. Some universities start you off in the writing center or classroom while others consider one or the other only at later stages. Some universities want you to have teaching experience before allowing you the option to be in the writing center whereas some expect you to have writing center experience before you earn teaching experience. Sometimes, the structure is more flexible at some universities.

If you can manage to cover those additional expenses you've listed with the grant, it could put you in a really nice position and allow you to cover things like the cost of conferences, housing deposits, and travel. There are also some schools which provide a 'bonus' to your stipend if you bring in outside fellowships. It might be worthwhile to explore this option but I'm not sure what the restrictions are.

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2 hours ago, bigfluffybearcat said:

Could you confirm which number you meant? If I go to Penn State I’ll only receive $18,000 per year from the govt. Is that a better deal than $23,850 per year for Seattle?

Ah, I misunderstood. When you said your UW funding was "upwards of 20,000", I thought you meant like 20,500 or something like that. Almost $24k in Seattle is pretty much the same as $18k in State College (as @Warelin also pointed out). 

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