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Should I Accept an Offer or Take a Year Off?


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I am having a dilemma on what to do. I can't decide if I'm just panicked and overwhelmed because the decision deadline is so soon, but I would really appreciate anyone's insights.

So I'm an undergraduate, and I've been accepted with full funding to University of Alabama for an MA. I've been accepted but waitlisted for funding at Syracuse for an MA. I've been accepted to Rochester's MA and given their highest funding offer (50% tuition). I've also been waitlisted at LSU's PhD program. 

I recently visited both UA and Syracuse. I really liked UA's program when I visited. The professors I met with were very intelligent and helpful, I really liked Tuscaloosa, and I generally got good vibes from everyone there. Everyone was really kind and genuinely seemed like they wanted me to do well and make the right decision for me. However, I am a 19th centuryist, and they don't have a huge amount of people in my field. They have two professors I really like and would enjoy working with, and they apparently have just hired Dan Novak, a Victorianist from Ole Miss, so there will be three. However, their Victorianist, who I would like to be my advisor if I attend is going on sabbatical in the Spring. The teaching load is also intense, being 2/2. I am also wary about Southern politics and its defunding of education (though UA seems to me like they have a lot of money, based on conference funding, grants, etc.). Also, I am inclined not to be swayed by ranking, which I do think is arbitrary, they are a lower ranked program and have lower placement rates. My overall goal is to go on to PhD programs and go into academia, and I know that the job market is really competitive, so I don't wanna shoot myself in the foot early on.

I loved Syracuse's program. They have so many professors in my field, and my top three interests (19th century British, gender and sexuality, and genre/pop fiction) are big in their program. I liked the location, and I would like to move to the Northeast because I am very liberal and there's a lot more there. I connected really well with their professors and students, and I really think I could do really awesome work there and the program would give me a lot of resources to grow academically. Also, their placement rate is AWESOME, and the program sometimes accepts their MAs into their PhD program, which is nice.

I should say that I initially applied for Rochester's PhD program and got deferred to their MA program, which I was accepted to. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed Rochester's DGS and let her know I would not be attending the program because of funding. Today, I got a response from her, saying she was sorry for the lateness of her reply, and that she hopes I will reapply to Rochester for their PhD program, because my application was "among the stronger applications that just barely missed this year’s cohort." Now I'm wondering if I took a year off and worked on my application if I would be able to strengthen it and get into programs that meet my interests more fully and have better placement. I also wonder if I could get accepted into a PhD program instead of an MA (which is what I ultimately want to do).

Bottom line, if I get funding at Syracuse, I will definitely accept. But if I don't, I'm not sure if UA is the best offer for me, and I wonder if I should take a year off and reapply. But I'm also wondering if I'm just being snobby and ungrateful and I should accept UA's offer, especially because there's no guarantee I'll get an acceptance next year. What are your all's thoughts?

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I'm at work and I don't have time for a long, detailed response, but there is absolutely no shame in taking a year (or two) off to get your bearings--especially if you're not fully sold on any of your options. Many people take a bit of time to figure out what they'd like to do, and it seems like an especially appealing idea considering the fact that you were given positive feedback on your Ph.D. application. With a year's worth of polishing and updating, you'd probably have a good chance at acceptance the next time around.

If I were in your position the main question I'd be asking myself is "if I don't accept an offer, what am I going to do for the next year?" Everybody's situation is different, but it's important to really flesh out what a year off looks like. Working full time? Do you have any job prospects? Are you financially stable? Can you more or less relax and focus on refining your application for the next cycle? Is Starbucks or McDonald's employment in your future? Is that a problem if it is? Do you have some good leads on a career-building job opportunity? Internship?

If you think you can take a year off and come out feeling stronger, more energized, and better prepared, by all means--do it! If not, then maybe taking a position that you're not 100% happy about will be the best move. If you accept one of your offers (especially the fully funded Alabama offer), a year from now you'll be one year away from finishing your M.A., and it's much easier to successfully apply to a Ph.D. program with progress towards a M.A. (both because it looks good on paper and because you'll theoretically have more experience and aim academically).

At the end of the day, avoiding paying anything is my #1 priority. I'm in a similar situation to you, but I've made up my mind that I'm going back to school in the fall no matter what happens. I did take a year off (last year) and rather than apply to 8-12 schools this time around, I applied to three. I got accepted (full funding) to my undergraduate alma mater for an M.A., and I'm sitting on a waitlist for my dream school's Ph.D. program. I figure that regardless of how this waitlist shakes out, I'm not sitting around for another year; I don't regret taking the year off--I accepted a really lucrative position as a technical writer/illustrator and had a great experience, but my passion is academia, teaching, and rhet/comp, and I'm not going to let another year pass without pursuing it.

This might be one of those rare situations where you should give yourself the green light to go with your gut.

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Out of your options, your best two options seem to be to accept the UA full-funding offer or to take a year off, with a slight preference towards the latter. Getting an MA doesn't preclude you from applying to a PhD, and it might even make you a stronger applicant. Plus, like Kilos, I am of the very strong opinion that graduate study in the humanities at any level must be fully funded for it to be worth it, so UA's funding sounds great.

That being said, you don't sound excited by UA, and I agree a 2/2 teaching load for MA students is intense. If you're financially stable now and can solicit feedback from an adcomm member or recommender about how to better your application, then taking the year off to fix your shortcomings might be the perfect solution. Rochester sounds promising for such critique since they've already been so forthcoming about your space in the admissions process. You might want to ask them what the committee's hesitations were, so that you can address them for future admission cycles. As long as you strike the right tone of "this is to better my application," it shouldn't hurt to ask and the worst they do is say no! (If anecdotes are worth anything, I've done this and received a pleasant and constructive response that I think helped me this season.)

Edited by bpilgrim89
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20 hours ago, Kilos said:

absolutely no shame in taking a year (or two) off to get your bearings--especially if you're not fully sold on any of your options. 

Thank you so much for saying this. I really appreciate being validated because I know my family will think I'm totally crazy if I don't accept this offer (which I have been thinking myself to be honest). The more I've been thinking about it, the more appealing a year off sounds (though obviously there are cons). Your personal experience also is helpful in weighing my decision, because like you I would prefer to go straight back in to academics.

28 minutes ago, bpilgrim89 said:

You might want to ask them what the committee's hesitations were, so that you can address them for future admission cycles.

Wow, that's a really great idea! I hadn't though of that, but I will definitely do so regardless of if I take a year off or accept UA's offer. Do you know who the best person to contact about that would be? Should I ask the DGS to point me in the right direction?

9 minutes ago, Warelin said:

I've spent some time in Alabama. I can offer this: The professors I interacted with were incredibly nice, thoughtful and wanted to do what was right for their students.I know several students from the MA program who have gone to Ohio State, Yale,. Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis, Emory University, Duke University, Rutgers University, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. Tuscaloosa is more liberal than one would think. Students were celebrating when Obama won his second term.

That definitely eases my worries. I've been going back and forth a lot on whether or not I think it would be "prudent" (whatever that means) to accept, and I definitely change my mind because I feel like I know little about grad programs. Your insight is very valuable, thank you!

Thank you so much to everyone who has responded. I will say, I do really like UA's program and all the people I've met. My biggest hesitation is just that I like Syracuse's program better and I think it fits better with my interests. That being said, I do think I would be happy and successful at UA. I have talked with the DGS at Syracuse this morning, and I am currently first on the list (there is at least one person who has yet to commit, but I'm not sure if there are other available spots). I'm really hoping I'll be funded there and be able to avoid this dilemma. But regardless, thank you to each of you who helped me work through my thoughts and gave me more info! I really appreciate it.

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9 hours ago, Cassifrassidy said:

Do you know who the best person to contact about that would be? Should I ask the DGS to point me in the right direction?

For something like this, it's hard to say. I think it should be the person you've had the most contact with. When I did it, it wasn't the DGS I had the most contact with, but a professor in my field who was on the adcom. Because it sounds like you've had the most contact with the DGS, you might want to try them; however, they might feel like they can't give you feedback because of their role as DGS. It might be better to ask whoever seems like your biggest POI at the university. No harm in sending two emails to two separate people, so long as you're always polite, concise, and deferential.

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18 hours ago, bpilgrim89 said:

For something like this, it's hard to say. I think it should be the person you've had the most contact with. When I did it, it wasn't the DGS I had the most contact with, but a professor in my field who was on the adcom. Because it sounds like you've had the most contact with the DGS, you might want to try them; however, they might feel like they can't give you feedback because of their role as DGS. It might be better to ask whoever seems like your biggest POI at the university. No harm in sending two emails to two separate people, so long as you're always polite, concise, and deferential.

Thank you! That's very helpful.I'll reach out to a prof that I have had contact with.

Also, thank you all for your help again, but just to update: I got funding at Syracuse! Also in an unexpected plot twist, I got off the waitlist at LSU's PhD program! So will not be taking a year off :D

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18 hours ago, Cassifrassidy said:

Thank you! That's very helpful.I'll reach out to a prof that I have had contact with.

Also, thank you all for your help again, but just to update: I got funding at Syracuse! Also in an unexpected plot twist, I got off the waitlist at LSU's PhD program! So will not be taking a year off :D

Congrats! Where did you decide? Syracuse? LSU?? 

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