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I  just got admission for CS PhD from both UIUC and Duke. A rising star I have collaborated before at UIUC is willing to continue our collaboration. And a very well-established professor at Duke expressed his strong interest in having me as his new student. 

I am having a lot of trouble deciding between the two. Would love some insights towards this decision. Thanks in advance!

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I would say Duke... I mean, I know very little about their CS program but I assume as you’ve applied to them both and there’s not a clear preference they must be similar? Either way, Southern Ivy over UIUC. 

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UIUC doesn't always get recognition, but when it does, it's for CS (and engineering and business). The Champaign-Urbana area is better than it seems. I wouldn't discount it. Cost of living is dirt cheap.

If both offers are equal in terms of funding (relative to cost of living in the area, of course), then you have a lot of questions to ask of the programs and yourself. I would consider the following as a starting point:

  • How were my previous collaboration with UIUC? Were my colleagues people I like working with? Were there any red flags?
  • Which school offers a better academic fit as well as social fit in terms of professors - this may take some talking to each university.
  • How supportive are the faculty? Are their advising styles going to match your needs?
  • What do current students have to say about the program? Are they miserable? Are they happy with their progress? 
  • What is the average time to finish the PhD? If one school seems to have a longer estimated PhD time, what's taking students so long to finish?
  • How much does location matter to me? Not at all? A lot?
  • Do you have to TA every semester or are there fellowships to give you a break? Or can you get an RA instead of TAing?
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