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UCSD (PhD) vs UW (MS), no funding; need help in deciding


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Hi there,

I am reaching out to seek advice on two offers I have. I am an international student and had applied for mechanical engineering grad programs. My options are: 1. UCSD PhD admit (unfunded).    2. UW Seattle, MS (No funding). I'm bit inclined towards working in Industry post-grad. I am weighing my options between schools as follows:

UCSD Pros:

1. Better located for jobs in Mechanical Engineering (not too sure about this)

2. Program is better ranked than UW (acc. US news, not much difference)

3. Might have better chances of getting funding though TA as it is a bigger school (from my little interation with students from the dept.)

UW Pros:

1. The PhD offer at UCSD is unfunded and it's risky to commit to the program without proper idea about funding. (graduating with MS is an option but not sure how that'll reflect. Also would it seem odd if a PhD student is seeking TA/RA with prof other than assigned faculty?). On the other hand, UW offer is MS, so in the worst case I'll have to fund myself for max 4-6 quarters and I would prefer doing an MS and then decide about continuing with the PhD.

2. Having spent some time at UW for an internship during undergrad, I know it'll be much easier to fit in. I liked the campus and vibe around the Seattle in general. UCSD is totally new to me. 

3. UCSD tuition and living might be a bit costlier than at UW.

4. From my interaction with a few students, UW has better flexibility of choosing electives from other departments like CS. (dont know how it is at UCSD)

Thanks for patiently reading my post. Please reply what is better in your opinion. Would like to know there is anything else I should consider.

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You need to carefully check what the terms of the unfunded PhD are at UCSD.  You should contact students at UCSD and ask them what kind of funding options are available.

1) Does UCSD offer a tuition waiver?  Even for a PhD without guaranteed funding, there should be a tuition waiver.

2) Are TA stipends easy to come by?  Are PhD students guaranteed a TA position, or is it basically guaranteed with a little bit of effort?

3) Have you been talking with professors in your department?  Are any willing, or interested in taking you on?  If it seems that several professors are interested in supporting you but are unwilling to commit until the year starts, you probably have a good chance at securing a position in one of their labs.

If you get positive answers to these questions, you should definitely go to UCSD.  The UC schools are great and a PhD (funded) is better than a masters in engineering by a lot.  You'll have a great time in UCSD, which I've heard is a very nice school to be at.

If you really have doubts about your ability to secure funding at the school, that's a big problem, and you should probably just do a masters in UW, provided that you are financially able to support yourself through the two years.


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Hi @benmaterials , thank you for your reply. 

1. Yes that a great suggestion. I should contact the department and get some clarity on tuition fees waiver. that will make a lot of things easier for me.

2.Through my little interaction, TAships are offered to PhD students in priority and majority of MS students are also funded through that. 

3. I was in contact with one of the faculty members and he has been assigned as a faculty adviser to me but there is no funding guaranteed from his side. So am I to work with him only or can I explore a bit more and see what other faculties are working on and approach them for projects (funding)?    


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In response to #3, are you sure that he hasn't guaranteed an RA position?  If he was assigned as your faculty adviser, then it seems likely that he can financially support you.

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