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Hi all,

Congrats to everyone who has heard positive news, especially if from multiple schools. Through sheer luck, I have received more than 1 acceptance letter, and I had a few questions for gradcafe'ers from application years past and present about the criteria one should consider when choosing which school to go to. How much weightage should be given to which factor? Fit with PI? Overall strength of department? Resources/labs in the department? Location of the school? Funding package/years of funding/prospect of extra years?

Lastly, is it okay to leave schools dangling till the April 15 deadline if one is really unsure and still weighing their options? I have no idea how any of this works (I'm an international applicant) so really looking to make sure I'm not pissing anyone off!

I wanted to ask this specifically in the Anthro group because there are some considerations that are specific to our field, I think. For instance, how important is it to consider anthropologists not in your stream? Does it matter that the school isn't a four-field anthro program?

Any advice you may have is greatly appreciated!

Edited by sawdust&diamonds
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TL:DR - Look at the fit w/ the PI, then the stipend (and location of school/cost of living), and what you want in a program. Also, it is very acceptable to give your decision on 15 April - they hold your place in the program until then unless otherwise stated.

For me, the biggest factour was the fit with the PI. Since you’re going to be in the program for at least 4 years, this is a huge commitment to study with someone so if you fit better with one over another PI then put it at the top of your list (or at least I did). Overall, you will be forever connected to the person (unless you switch subdiscipline or projector schools) so you should think how their tutelage is going to help you post-PhD. For example, if you got into a program for anthropological archaeology in Africa and your PI did work there once or works in Middle East area whereas another program your PI actively does research in Kenya and has other students doing research throughout East Africa, then that might influence your decision. For me, I’m an Andeanist so ultimately I decided on a PI that does work in the Andes in a program with a specific research focus in the Andes as opposed to a program where I was told doing Andean is fine but I would have to figure everything out on my own and they would be there to “loosely guide” me which did not sound appealing. 

The next thing I would consider would be the stipend, how much they are going to ask in fees (some school tariff international students more than domestic so be sure to get an idea of what you are expected to pay), and where the school is. Some schools have higher stipends and are located in the city whereas schools located in rural areas have somewhat lower stipends. I don’t see this as ‘better’ schools having more money for students, but that the cost of living is higher in NYC than say Binghamton, NY. I’m not sure of the specific stipends for different programs but they seem to vary starting around 17K to 36k at some of the Ivys. Additionally, some schools do not let you work outside of the PhD program so you are only getting the stipend with no additional income. I marked this second on my list last year because I was between moving to Chicago, rural Connecticut, staying in Atlanta, or moving back to Western Massachusetts. Each school offered different stipends but I had to factour the cost of living. I think it would be worth asking the current graduate students about this becuase they are actually living with this reality as opposed to the professors who are actually salaried.

Every school is going to have pro’s and con’s and the strength in my opinion is debatable becuase everyone values something different. I study Biologial Anthropology and so the programs that have 1 Bioanth or none - to me - are not strong becuase I would not apply or get accepted. That doesn’t mean that they are strong in sociocultural theory or linguistics, just that the department is not really applicable to me. So for this, I would think about what is important in the program, the school, and they types of support you can receive from them. Plus, theoretically, every anthropology program in the United States (with a few exceptions) are 4-field but if they are absent on one of the 4, it’s not necessarily a disadvantage - just a different organization of the program/school/department. I would also look at nearby universities with Anthro departments or similar depts. to your research. Usually they will have an agreement for you to be able to take courses and maybe use lab facilities once you’ve developed a rapport with other Anthros. 

Hope this helps. 

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Look at fit but most importantly look at job placement. The whole point of school is getting a good job. A R2 school with a perfect fit would be way below an R1 school with a good fit. Yes the R1 matters because of funding and you have to provide evidence you can get your own funding for most jobs

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I'm also trying to decide between offers. I feel like the POI/fit question is really essential. This is, as mentioned, someone who will have a huge impact on your intellectual, research, teaching and - basically - life development. You'll also be tied to them in some way permanently. If you have any misgivings about a potential POI, heed that. Funding is important, as is location. Is the funding enough to actually survive where the university is located? I was discouraged from applying to a couple of places because the answer to that question was "nope." You won't be able to invest yourswlf fully in your program/research if you have to work 2 jobs just to get by. Grad student culture in the department is important - and grad student culture at that university. You'll need a supportive environment from time to time. Some people do thrive on competition, though, so if that's you then that should also be a consideration. 

For me, this will come down to POI fit. The other factors are mostly equal. Still going to be a tough decision and I'm trying to take my time making it. 

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On 2/18/2019 at 1:17 AM, Bschaefer said:

TL:DR - Look at the fit w/ the PI, then the stipend (and location of school/cost of living), and what you want in a program. Also, it is very acceptable to give your decision on 15 April - they hold your place in the program until then unless otherwise stated.

For me, the biggest factour was the fit with the PI. Since you’re going to be in the program for at least 4 years, this is a huge commitment to study with someone so if you fit better with one over another PI then put it at the top of your list (or at least I did). Overall, you will be forever connected to the person (unless you switch subdiscipline or projector schools) so you should think how their tutelage is going to help you post-PhD. For example, if you got into a program for anthropological archaeology in Africa and your PI did work there once or works in Middle East area whereas another program your PI actively does research in Kenya and has other students doing research throughout East Africa, then that might influence your decision. For me, I’m an Andeanist so ultimately I decided on a PI that does work in the Andes in a program with a specific research focus in the Andes as opposed to a program where I was told doing Andean is fine but I would have to figure everything out on my own and they would be there to “loosely guide” me which did not sound appealing. 

The next thing I would consider would be the stipend, how much they are going to ask in fees (some school tariff international students more than domestic so be sure to get an idea of what you are expected to pay), and where the school is. Some schools have higher stipends and are located in the city whereas schools located in rural areas have somewhat lower stipends. I don’t see this as ‘better’ schools having more money for students, but that the cost of living is higher in NYC than say Binghamton, NY. I’m not sure of the specific stipends for different programs but they seem to vary starting around 17K to 36k at some of the Ivys. Additionally, some schools do not let you work outside of the PhD program so you are only getting the stipend with no additional income. I marked this second on my list last year because I was between moving to Chicago, rural Connecticut, staying in Atlanta, or moving back to Western Massachusetts. Each school offered different stipends but I had to factour the cost of living. I think it would be worth asking the current graduate students about this becuase they are actually living with this reality as opposed to the professors who are actually salaried.

Every school is going to have pro’s and con’s and the strength in my opinion is debatable becuase everyone values something different. I study Biologial Anthropology and so the programs that have 1 Bioanth or none - to me - are not strong becuase I would not apply or get accepted. That doesn’t mean that they are strong in sociocultural theory or linguistics, just that the department is not really applicable to me. So for this, I would think about what is important in the program, the school, and they types of support you can receive from them. Plus, theoretically, every anthropology program in the United States (with a few exceptions) are 4-field but if they are absent on one of the 4, it’s not necessarily a disadvantage - just a different organization of the program/school/department. I would also look at nearby universities with Anthro departments or similar depts. to your research. Usually they will have an agreement for you to be able to take courses and maybe use lab facilities once you’ve developed a rapport with other Anthros. 

Hope this helps. 

Thank you so, so much for taking the time to write this detailed, thoughtful response. You've given me a lot to think about, and honestly I have to say, simply reading through your post clarified for me which school I will be likely be choosing. So really, thank you!

 

On 2/18/2019 at 7:05 AM, anthropologygeek said:

Look at fit but most importantly look at job placement. The whole point of school is getting a good job. A R2 school with a perfect fit would be way below an R1 school with a good fit. Yes the R1 matters because of funding and you have to provide evidence you can get your own funding for most jobs

Thanks so much! So because I am an international student, I feel like for me job placement is slightly less of a concern. I am somewhat certain that I would like to return to my country after my PhD and try and teach here, but you're definitely right that it should still be a factor worth considering. All the schools I've applied to are R1, what does that mean exactly? I'm not too familiar with this ranking system.

 

On 2/19/2019 at 6:29 AM, synthema said:

I'm also trying to decide between offers. I feel like the POI/fit question is really essential. This is, as mentioned, someone who will have a huge impact on your intellectual, research, teaching and - basically - life development. You'll also be tied to them in some way permanently. If you have any misgivings about a potential POI, heed that. Funding is important, as is location. Is the funding enough to actually survive where the university is located? I was discouraged from applying to a couple of places because the answer to that question was "nope." You won't be able to invest yourswlf fully in your program/research if you have to work 2 jobs just to get by. Grad student culture in the department is important - and grad student culture at that university. You'll need a supportive environment from time to time. Some people do thrive on competition, though, so if that's you then that should also be a consideration. 

For me, this will come down to POI fit. The other factors are mostly equal. Still going to be a tough decision and I'm trying to take my time making it. 

Thanks so much for your input. Both from yours and Bschaefer's post really reminded how excited I was initially by a couple of schools because of the POIs, and how that should continue to be a factor in my decision. 

Cost of living is tricky, I feel, and something I am now doing deep-dive research in. In a sense, all the universities seem to be funding commensurate to the cost of living in their town/city, from what I can tell, but some universities have more information up about the cost of food, transport etc, which are important to consider. And the one Ivy I have been accepted in seems to have more discretionary funds than other schools, which is also worth considering.

Thank you all again for your comments!

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On 2/19/2019 at 10:11 PM, HealthyAnthro said:

Hey all,

Between Stanford University, University of Chicago and the University of Toronto, where do you folks think I should attend for a PhD in Socio-cultural Anthropology / Medical Anthropology.

 

First of all, congrats on the acceptances!

Generally, I would say that you couldn't really go wrong with any of those choices, though of course research overlap is an important factor, and that's something you'll want to figure out just by digging deeper into the specific work being put out by your potential committee members. Without considering your situation in that regard, though, I would go with Stanford. Personally, I think Tanya Luhrmann is one of the best in the business, and it would be massively cool to work with her. You'd also be in good hands med anth-wise with Angela Garcia. I am not very familiar with the med anth folks at UofT and Chicago (though you might want to check out faculty in Chicago's Comparative Human Develoment program, with whom you could potentially work). The Bay Area, while expensive, is generally a really pleasant place to be, so quality of life wouldn't be a problem (I am a Californian, and have reservations of relocating to a bitterly cold part of the continent - a decision that I myself may have to consider). Good luck with your decision!

And while I'm here, I'll throw out a question of my own to the thread: how dissuaded should I be by a program/university that is not very well-represented at all in terms of work being done in my geographic target area? A potential university is -really- strong when it comes to one of my main research areas, but not country-specific scholarship in the place where I would likely be carrying out fieldwork. I am open to potentially pivoting to another country, but this still is a little concerning. What do people think? 

 

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Congrats to everyone!!! Especially for being accepted into multiple programs, job well done!

I spent about a year researching programs and got in contact with prospective advisers as soon as a program made it on my list. I have been ranking programs based off my interactions with POI, interests, funding package, department size and region. 

For me personally fit was more important than research interests (I feel comfortable saying this because I spent so much time selecting each program I could not go wrong with any of my POIs).  Based of my past research experience I have learned that I have a pretty big umbrella of interests (my interests even within my concentration are so niche having a big umbrella does not necessarily mean much). I hate the idea of being stuck with an adviser that I cannot get along with. It is something I had to deal with as an undergrad, academia is so difficult and stressful as it is I don't want to be in a situation where I am constantly second guessing every interaction. Under fit I would also include age. I spoke to a handful of grad students whose advisors were retirement age or close to and they felt like the advisor was a bit checked out and not as invested. I did not apply to work with anyone that was within a few years of retirement age.

Department size is probably the next thing I am most concerned about. I was able to interact with a decent amount of grad students leading up to applications. Some of these students were from big schools with big departments (I can tell you that these are schools a lot of people in the Anthropology forum have applied to) and most of them felt like they were on their own in the process. Advisers just do not have the time or head-space to prioritize students at any point in the year. The nice (kinda) thing about it is that students tend to band together and really help each other make it through but this also made the departments sound very clique-ish, a lot more room for politics. 

As I am typing this I realize politics is not something I have considered but may be important for others to think about. If you know anyone that may have insight they feel comfortable sharing you may be able to avoid an uncomfortable, drama riddle department.

I considered funding packages and region about equally. Because my interests are so specific I knew I would have less options than I already did if I spent a lot of time worrying about being in a "cool" city or town. I was more concerned about the funding package being enough to cover my expenses without having 3 roommates. I have struggled a lot  financially through out undergrad (and life in general), I wanted to make sure I did not need a part time job or to take on more of a teaching load than required to survive. I know I am a grad student and I will be broke anyways but I have a good idea of what level of broke I am okay with. 

If you have been accepted into multiple programs it means something. I know its a crapshoot but that it makes it more meaningful. Regardless of politics and funding constraints multiple programs chose you, do not be afraid to negotiate your funding package, you are worth it. 

@sawdust&diamonds aside from what I have mentioned lab resources are extremely important to me, departments that did not have access to the kind of resources I want and will need for my dissertation did not even make it on my list. I don't know exactly what you mean by strength of the department but I did look into what previous students of  POIs were doing. I did not look at the placement rates of the department as whole. Depending on your research interest a particular POI may have a lot of successful students because the POI has a lot of access to resources and a big network, this may not be reflected in the overall placement rate of the department. I did not consider faculty members that were not in my stream even if the department was great as a whole. I did not care if it was four field program, I actually prefer if it isn't (again because of the niche). I hope to have my mind made up two to three weeks before April 15th, I think that maybe just enough time for the department to offer my slot to someone else. Even if department does not have an official waitlist, I know some put aside applicants they won't reject until the last minute. I have been encouraged by both POIs of the institutions I have been accepted to and by one that has not made their decision but it is looking good to take as much time as I need. All three have encouraged me to visit other campuses, ask a lot of questions and take my time making my decision. Do not let anyone pressure you into making your decision earlier than you have to (https://cgsnet.org/april-15-resolution) from my conversations with POIs there are some programs that are notorious for pressuring students and it is highly frowned upon and seen as unethical. 

Edited by Jenny01
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Hi there @Sawdust&&Diamonds! It looks like you've gotten some great feedback. I actually just wrote a post about how to choose a graduate school, and though most of the stuff has been covered by the comments, you might find it helpful to look at! 

https://anthroacademic.wordpress.com/2019/03/01/how-to-choose-between-graduate-schools/

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On 2/27/2019 at 7:29 AM, Jenny01 said:

Congrats to everyone!!! Especially for being accepted into multiple programs, job well done!

I spent about a year researching programs and got in contact with prospective advisers as soon as a program made it on my list. I have been ranking programs based off my interactions with POI, interests, funding package, department size and region. 

For me personally fit was more important than research interests (I feel comfortable saying this because I spent so much time selecting each program I could not go wrong with any of my POIs).  Based of my past research experience I have learned that I have a pretty big umbrella of interests (my interests even within my concentration are so niche having a big umbrella does not necessarily mean much). I hate the idea of being stuck with an adviser that I cannot get along with. It is something I had to deal with as an undergrad, academia is so difficult and stressful as it is I don't want to be in a situation where I am constantly second guessing every interaction. Under fit I would also include age. I spoke to a handful of grad students whose advisors were retirement age or close to and they felt like the advisor was a bit checked out and not as invested. I did not apply to work with anyone that was within a few years of retirement age.

Department size is probably the next thing I am most concerned about. I was able to interact with a decent amount of grad students leading up to applications. Some of these students were from big schools with big departments (I can tell you that these are schools a lot of people in the Anthropology forum have applied to) and most of them felt like they were on their own in the process. Advisers just do not have the time or head-space to prioritize students at any point in the year. The nice (kinda) thing about it is that students tend to band together and really help each other make it through but this also made the departments sound very clique-ish, a lot more room for politics. 

As I am typing this I realize politics is not something I have considered but may be important for others to think about. If you know anyone that may have insight they feel comfortable sharing you may be able to avoid an uncomfortable, drama riddle department.

I considered funding packages and region about equally. Because my interests are so specific I knew I would have less options than I already did if I spent a lot of time worrying about being in a "cool" city or town. I was more concerned about the funding package being enough to cover my expenses without having 3 roommates. I have struggled a lot  financially through out undergrad (and life in general), I wanted to make sure I did not need a part time job or to take on more of a teaching load than required to survive. I know I am a grad student and I will be broke anyways but I have a good idea of what level of broke I am okay with. 

If you have been accepted into multiple programs it means something. I know its a crapshoot but that it makes it more meaningful. Regardless of politics and funding constraints multiple programs chose you, do not be afraid to negotiate your funding package, you are worth it. 

@sawdust&diamonds aside from what I have mentioned lab resources are extremely important to me, departments that did not have access to the kind of resources I want and will need for my dissertation did not even make it on my list. I don't know exactly what you mean by strength of the department but I did look into what previous students of  POIs were doing. I did not look at the placement rates of the department as whole. Depending on your research interest a particular POI may have a lot of successful students because the POI has a lot of access to resources and a big network, this may not be reflected in the overall placement rate of the department. I did not consider faculty members that were not in my stream even if the department was great as a whole. I did not care if it was four field program, I actually prefer if it isn't (again because of the niche). I hope to have my mind made up two to three weeks before April 15th, I think that maybe just enough time for the department to offer my slot to someone else. Even if department does not have an official waitlist, I know some put aside applicants they won't reject until the last minute. I have been encouraged by both POIs of the institutions I have been accepted to and by one that has not made their decision but it is looking good to take as much time as I need. All three have encouraged me to visit other campuses, ask a lot of questions and take my time making my decision. Do not let anyone pressure you into making your decision earlier than you have to (https://cgsnet.org/april-15-resolution) from my conversations with POIs there are some programs that are notorious for pressuring students and it is highly frowned upon and seen as unethical. 

Jenny, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my queries. I read it the day you posted it, but I have been dealing with a debilitating migraine this whole week, and could not get on my computer to respond until just now.

All the points you made resonated with me so much, especially regarding POI and lab resources. In fact, I just recently spoke to the POI of the school I was all but sure I would accept, and when I told them that I almost certainly will be choosing that school, they were genuinely thrilled. Their research interests intersect with mine so closely, and they vocalized all the avenues for us to collaborate. It was so gratifying to hear from them the very reasons I wanted to work with them in the first place, and that they were enthusiastic about me. So yes, I will now second everyone that says that fit with advisor is absolutely key to my decision. [Or, I mean, I guess I'll let you know in a couple of years lol]

While I am still waiting to hear on funding from one school, as I keep joking with friends, unless they offer me some insane amount, little will keep me from this school.

But anyway, I just wanted to say that all the posts here really helped me, and reminded me of my priorities going into graduate school. Thank you all so much!! I hope current/future applicants who come across this thread find it useful too.

Bon courage to everyone! ❤️

 

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