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I was just recently accepted into one school. I also recently spoke with a professor at a second school who said my acceptance is very likely. It seems as though in my field (or at least with these two schools) you need to accept “unofficially” directly with the professor with whom you would work before you can get the official acceptance letter from the Dean. I don't want to "count my chickens before they hatch" with school #2, but I need to make the decision soon so I can let the professors know. (I know I officially have until April 15, but I am not going to drag it out that long because of the other person waiting if I decline. Plus I cannot endure this stress for that long!)

Allow me say that if I had been accepted to just one of the four schools I applied to, I would have been thrilled. I am now beyond thrilled! I honestly did not expect to get accepted anywhere, least of all my top two. I am not complaining. I realize that I am in an extremely fortunate situation – that is, of agonizing over which school to choose.

So here’s the deal:

School #1: Great advisor, great school, wonderful reputation. My absolute dream project – only a handful of students across the country (or less) will be working on a similar project. This school is part of a larger school, but is on a completely separate campus, and is in the middle of nowhere.

School #2: Also great advisor, great school, wonderful reputation. This school is more well-known, which is mainly a factor of its’ size. The project is very interesting to me, but not nearly as unique as the project at School #1. Due to the size of School #2, there would be a lot more academic opportunities and resources here. Also, this school is in a city I have been dreaming of living in ever since I spent 3 weeks there two years ago. (Although it is completely on the other side of the country from my family, which is a slight negative).

So my question is, just how important is location? Should I give up on my dream project to live in a location I know would make me happy, knowing that the other project interests me, too? Or should I suck it up to work on my dream project even thought I know I won’t particularly enjoy living there? (I have never lived in this small town, but have spent enough time in the area to know that there is nothing there.)

Another factor to consider is that I am in my 30’s. I am certainly not ready to run out and get married immediately, but the way I have lived my life for the past 12 years has made it difficult to have much of a social life, or any type of lasting relationship. (I’ve been constantly on the move, working tons of jobs, and living at sea.) I think this is the main reason I’m worried about committing 3 years to living in a place with almost no opportunities for social interaction beyond the small group of students with whom I would be going to school.

Any opinions/insights would be greatly appreciated!

Edited by Lantern
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I am in a similar situation--I chose my first job with little regard to location and having been in this job for the past couple of years I realized the very limited pool of dateable guys in my rural location and will def. be choosing my grad school or next job (if funding does not work out) based on location since I would like to marry in the near future:)

I say go with School #2

I was just recently accepted into one school. I also recently spoke with a professor at a second school who said my acceptance is very likely. It seems as though in my field (or at least with these two schools) you need to accept “unofficially” directly with the professor with whom you would work before you can get the official acceptance letter from the Dean. I don't want to "count my chickens before they hatch" with school #2, but I need to make the decision soon so I can let the professors know. (I know I officially have until April 15, but I am not going to drag it out that long because of the other person waiting if I decline. Plus I cannot endure this stress for that long!)

Allow me say that if I had been accepted to just one of the four schools I applied to, I would have been thrilled. I am now beyond thrilled! I honestly did not expect to get accepted anywhere, least of all my top two. I am not complaining. I realize that I am in an extremely fortunate situation – that is, of agonizing over which school to choose.

So here’s the deal:

School #1: Great advisor, great school, wonderful reputation. My absolute dream project – only a handful of students across the country (or less) will be working on a similar project. This school is part of a larger school, but is on a completely separate campus, and is in the middle of nowhere.

School #2: Also great advisor, great school, wonderful reputation. This school is more well-known, which is mainly a factor of its’ size. The project is very interesting to me, but not nearly as unique as the project at School #1. Due to the size of School #2, there would be a lot more academic opportunities and resources here. Also, this school is in a city I have been dreaming of living in ever since I spent 3 weeks there two years ago. (Although it is completely on the other side of the country from my family, which is a slight negative).

So my question is, just how important is location? Should I give up on my dream project to live in a location I know would make me happy, knowing that the other project interests me, too? Or should I suck it up to work on my dream project even thought I know I won’t particularly enjoy living there? (I have never lived in this small town, but have spent enough time in the area to know that there is nothing there.)

Another factor to consider is that I am in my 30’s. I am certainly not ready to run out and get married immediately, but the way I have lived my life for the past 12 years has made it difficult to have much of a social life, or any type of lasting relationship. (I’ve been constantly on the move, working tons of jobs, and living at sea.) I think this is the main reason I’m worried about committing 3 years to living in a place with almost no opportunities for social interaction beyond the small group of students with whom I would be going to school.

Any opinions/insights would be greatly appreciated!

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Location! Location! Location! That's what we say from where I'm from. I think location can make or break you. I suppose if you are really passionate, so passionate about that topic but the location sucks, go to that place anyways because then you can just drown yourself in your work and not give a hoot from where you are. But, you seem smart, ya want balance. What I would do and what I think you should do is go to the school in the location you like. It sounds like you also have a research project there that you could happily work on so you've got balance now and you are all set.

I went to a dream program from my masters in a bad location and hated it. Hannah Montana got it right when she said she wanted "the best of both worlds". Do a project you like (you'll eventually grow passionate about it probably anyways" and live in the awesom locale so you can have fun in class and out.

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You can see how stressed I am about this decision - I forgot to mention one of the most important things: funding. It's pretty much equal at either school. (Incase anyone needed that info to "decide".) Has anyone out there gone to grad school in a teeny little town? If so, was it as bad as I suspect?

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I'd go with school #2. Location is very important(!), as are academic resources and funding. You can't really know how you'll get along with the professor and students who work on your dream project; or if the professor won't move to another school within the next 5 years and leave you behind. You also don't know if your own interests won't shift. It's better to have backup options available, like several potential advisors, more diverse work being done, etc.

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Location is definitely an important thing to take into consideration. I have been living in a rural area for the last three years without a car, and my social life at this point is totally inexistent. Apart from undergrads (too young for me), there are only deer and squirrels where I live. And without car, well, my life is basically work, and getting bored at home the weekends. So, definitely, location is going to be a key factor when choosing my destination.

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I believe you have to take into careful consideration both the advisor and location. Maybe a personal visit could help you to see if you like the area and you find yourself comfortable talking with your future advisor and members of your research group(you have to spend several years working together!). In my opinion the choice of the advisor is fundamental, in particular if you are going for a PhD.

If both potential advisors and groups are great, I would pick the bigger city, where there are more things to do in your free time. But don't discard the smaller immediately, maybe it has a great campus housing where you can meet a lot of people.

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Why don't you ask some current students? If they've already been there for a couple of years, they should be able to tell if you if it's manageably rural or completely isolated.

You could also balance how excited you are about the program against how unhappy you think you'd be there. See which wins. If you're worried about a social life, what about the fact that grad school is meant to take ALL of your time. I've already braced myself to be a library hermit!

And a final thought- maybe being away from distractions will turn you into the best grad student ever!

Edited by Venetia
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As others have said, it sounds like you have already made your decision and are leaning towards the second program. I'll probably be facing a similar choice, except with MA programs. I'm leaning towards the better fit program in the less desirable location, but I think that that's a decision more appropriate for deciding on MA programs, as they are so much shorter. You're going to be living in this place for a long time, so if you can't see yourself living there I'd be wary of attending the university. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you're wishing away your youth, waiting for the years to pass so you can finish up and move somewhere better! Like you, I have also moved around quite a bit and look forward to my future PhD experience as a chance to finally settle down in an environment I like.

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Thanks to everyone for your opinions so far, and keep them coming! This is exactly what I need, and why I love Grad Cafe so much - lots of opinions, open minds, and thoughtful advice.

One clarification - I am going for my MS, so it would be three years in either place. I'm not sure where people got the idea that it was a Ph D, unless it was due to my age!

Also, a note: when I posted this, I think several of you were correct in thinking that I was leaning toward #2. However, despite the opinions above (NOT in spite!) , I feel as though I am leaning toward #1. I suppose it is the natural process of deciding when you sway back and forth.

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Since you're single, I'd go with School 2, you'll be much happier. Hanging out with undergraduates when you're in your thirties is no fun. Plus it sounds like you'll enjoy being in one place cool for a couple of years with all of your moving. How big is the city School 1 is in? "Small" is a relative term, for some, a town of 20,000 is small, for others a town of 100,000 is small. Small towns (if it's a progressive, college town or academic community) can actually be a better place to meet people, big cities can be isolating.

But this is only true to a point. If there's really nothing going on in that area, then you could be really unhappy.

Which one will further your career more? If the difference isn't too dramatic, definitely go with 2. I'm 31 and have lived in a wide range of places in the past 10 years. I have some friends my age stuck in pretty isolating places and it can be really tough. Three years is a long time.

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I guess I am going to be the odd one out here, saying program #1 would be my choice, for me. I am not saying it is what you should choose. My reasons: I am excited about the program, advisor, project and even if the campus is in the middle of nowhere, it is still part of a bigger campus, so perhaps opportunities for socializing exist? One thing, I would think about is - transportation - do/will I have a car, if I wanted to escape into the big city and newer friends? The fact that it is a unique project, makes it more engaging for me, so I am more invested in it.

I would check out the resources and potential academic pitfalls to make a decision. I would also check out the students presently at School #1 to see if I can "stand" them or they make me run screaming up the hills ;).

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How big is the city School 1 is in? "Small" is a relative term, for some, a town of 20,000 is small, for others a town of 100,000 is small. Small towns (if it's a progressive, college town or academic community) can actually be a better place to meet people, big cities can be isolating.

Good point about size being relative. I knew from visiting that it was small, but I had no idea how small so I looked it up: 10,000. Also, it's one of those small towns that is just kind of spread out. No "downtown" whatsoever.

Here are some demographics for the sake of having well-informed opinion givers:

High school or higher: 82%

Bachelor's degree or higher: 20%

Graduate or professional degree: 8%

I'm guessing the 8% w/ a grad degree make up the faculty here. This is not what I would consider an "academic community" nor is it a "college town".

In my opinion, this is an amazing school in a somewhat unfortunate location.

I have spoken with current grad students about the location issue, and they all agree that it is an issue, but say they don't regret their choice due to the quality of the school and their academic experience there.

And in reference to Sassytune, yes, there is a larger campus, but it is 30 minutes away, and unlikely that I would ever go there for classes or any other practical reason.

Keep the opinions coming, it's giving me lots to contemplate!

Edited by Lantern
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If it were me, I'd go with Option 1. As I've grown up a bit from when I graduated college, I find myself enjoying cooking, reading, and playing various sports, instruments, board games, etc. I live on the 14th floor of a condo building at the moment, and I'd kill to have a yard and a fireplace. I'm not really interested (and I haven't really ever been, to be honest) in "going out," nor am I so much into the "attractions" that a big city has to offer that I would want to live on top of them.

Of course, I can't really tell from your post what you're looking for. It seems everyone else who has replied to this so far has thought "ugh!" about your description of Option 1's location, though, so I must be in the extreme minority in this regard. You can have a small garden, some peace and quiet, and be in close proximity to your work. Sounds ideal to me! I also bet the cost of living is extremely low.

You have to listen to your gut on this one, I think, but please don't assume the urban environment is paradise and the small town is the gutter! Everywhere has redeemable qualities, so make sure you really know what you want before you pick one based on what you want. I grew up in a real "small town" (fewer than 1,000 people), so I'm sure that skews my perspective to a point. I was, admittedly, often really bored growing up; but, now that I'm a bit older, I can see some real value in the opportunities and experiences it provides.

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As someone who attended a small university town for an MA program, I have to chime in and agree with those who say LOCATION MATTERS. Honestly, I was so fortunate that it was only an MA program and not a PhD.

Where you live does matter. When you don't want to do research or do not feel like being absorbed in school work, but you want to go out and have fun - location plays a key role. I guess I like urban centers where you can experience cultural life like museums, the symphony orchestra, concerts, etc. rather than relying on what types of things come through campus every once in awhile.

I would visit the smaller school, choice #1, if you have not already and really assess whether you could be happy living there. If not, don't bother being somewhere you'll hate. If you are miserable where you are, your best work won't come through.

I am not sure about the experience of others, but every single graduate student I came across in my program (and those I met from various departments) have stated that they absolutely loathed the university.

I would e-mail current graduate students (most schools have a list of students posted online). See what those students have to say and ask more than a couple of people to get a better idea of how people feel about their university life.

Best of luck!

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I would say that location does matter, especially if you grew up in a big city and are thinking of moving into the country for your grad school (or vice versa). I knew of friends who used to travel great distances to the "city" every weekend to get their "fix", which I do not think is ideal for grad school.

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Lantern - I'm in your field, so I'm racking my brain to try to figure out what "small town" you're talking about :)

(I'm marine ecology/biological oceanography)

I was gonna guess Bodega Marine Lab because that's REALLY in the middle of nowhere but that marine campus is about two-plus hours away from the main campus, so when I saw your last post, I crossed it off my list!

Haha, well, i'm not going to be able to get it, so I'll just quit trying.

So here's my serious answer. I'm was in the same situation - trying to decide between two schools, one with a better advisor/probably better project but not in the location i want, and second with a still good advisor but probably not as great of a project, in a far better location. And I ended up going with the first choice. In our field - biology/ecology/etc - the advisor makes SUCH a big difference. I've noticed a bit of a difference in the relative importance people place on their advisors depending on field (science vs humanities), and I'm not sure exactly why it is. but regardless, in the life sciences, the advisor-advisee relationship is really important and central to your grad experience (and how long it takes for you to graduate). so my advise is to go with the advisor you want, rather than the location you prefer. plus, 30 minutes is not all that far away. it's like a regular commute!

good luck! PM me if you want to chat offline.

Edited by jrisingsun
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good luck! PM me if you want to chat offline.

jrisingsun, I would like to PM you, but I don't know how. (How did I get into grad school when I can't figure this out?!) Can someone help me, please?

-------------

Never mind, I found it. Maybe I'm not quite as stupid as I thought!

Edited by Lantern
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  • 2 weeks later...

I am in a similar situation for a PhD program (Chemistry)!

Trying to decide between Boston College and Johns Hopkins.

I'm originally from Rhode Island, so I'm really familiar with the Greater Boston area. I have lots of family and friends around the area, not to mention lots of Biotech/Pharma companies that I could see myself working at after graduation. But, the chemistry program at BC is definitely less "regarded" than JHU (not to say that the BC program is bad by any means). There's a few professors I could definitely see myself working with, but 2 of them are still assistant professors (i.e no tenure yet). The TA requirements also seem to be a little more extensive.

JHU is more of a "name-brand" and probably has the better dept. of the two. But, Baltimore is defintely a rougher place with less to do than Boston. The professors there have been there a little longer, so almost all of the ones I want to work for have tenure (or most certainly will get it in a year or so). I'd say the facilities are fairly comparable.

So, I guess what I'm trying to decide is if I am willing to give up what Boston has to offer as a city for a "name-brand".

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Hi Chemie2000, I thought I'd comment since I received so many helpful replies to my issue. I'm not all that familiar with your field, but I would say you should choose the place that has more attributes in your mind, over the big name. It's not like one is the best in the country and the other one is completely unknown. I can see how having lots of family and friends, not to mention lots of options for jobs after graduation would sway you toward Boston. However, I just have to say that I have always loved Baltimore. As lots of people told me, I don't think you can make a bad decision (but I know that thought doesn't make you feel any better). Good luck!

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