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Is "imagined prestige" a thing? I can't choose!

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Help!! I'm a poet with an MFA and I've been admitted to the PhD at SUNY Buffalo Poetics and UMass Amherst's MA/PhD in English, most likely with an American Studies concentration. Both have provided funding and both feel like relatively good fits--Buffalo's poetics program is ideal, and the proximity to Amherst's Writing Program and its faculty also feels great. Amherst just offered me an extra 3 years of summer support (on top of a slightly higher stipend than Buffalo) as well to "make the offer more attractive" (their words!) but I haven't felt any personal connection with the program, while a first year at Buffalo and the head of Poetics both sent me personalized emails and invited me to the April 2-3 reception (which I'm going to--so excited!). I haven't figured out when I can possibly visit Amherst since I live across the country, adjunct at two colleges, and can't fly during Spring Break because of the price gouging, but they haven't really reached out to me about a visit other than telling me I can possibly have lunch with some current students if I visit. No pre-arranged reception. I used to have a close friend in the UMass MFA so I spent a lot of time there from 2012-2015 so I don't really feel like I need to visit as far as to suss out what it's like to live there, etc, so it would be more about questions about what my fit in the program is, but since no one has reached out to me personally, I don't know how to advocate for myself. 

I keep imagining that one school has a better "name" than the other in different scenarios––technically Buffalo is ranked "higher" by USNews or whatever, but different colleagues at the schools where I adjunct have had different reactions to UMass vs. Buffalo. I wonder if the MFA at UMass's reputation precedes its PhD rep and that's coloring my opinion and imagining prestige, or if my knowledge of Buffalo (one of my recommenders did his PhD there, my writing sample was on Juliana Spahr & Charles Bernstein, etc.) is making me imagine its prestige. 

Job placement statistics are equally opaque...UMass claims 80% of graduates find full time positions (55% TT) and Buffalo has a variety of stats, ranging from 50 to 78% placement in full time positions, but 44% TT placement. I'm not sure I even care about chasing tenure in 6-7 years, since it feels like a fool's pursuit, but UMass feels more like a "normal" grad experience where I feel I might be exposed to a wider variety of options or creative interests with Buffalo, since I still hold onto my dream of making this poetry/writing thing work as well (my MFA is not prestigious but I've started to make some headway in publications and awards). 

I don't know if anyone will respond or help with this but even just your general opinion/reaction to these two schools would be helpful. I feel like I can't make a bad decision! Which is somehow worse!

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i admire how much you're carefully considering your options :) i think these thoughts and feelings are normal for those of us who are attempting to choose between two programs that both feel like they could be good for us. at some point, it is splitting hairs. i hope someone can offer you more insight into these particular programs though!

however, i did want to comment on you feeling like you don't know how to advocate for yourself. i feel strongly that - especially in grad school - it's an important asset to know you're fighting for yourself and no one is going to do that for you. if you feel like visiting would help clarify, reach out to the DGS and explain that you're attempting to make a decision between them and another program and that you've been offered to visit there. what can they do to help you visit? since finances is a barrier, can they reimburse you for part of the flight? can they put you up? some things you have to ask for, which shouldn't have to be the standard practice, but you get nothing if you ask for nothing.

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