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Decision Anxiety: Faculty vs Funding vs Location vs Life


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I haven't seen many threads for people who are struggling making a decision so here's one now! 

Are you having trouble making a decision? .

Does faculty make you nervous? Does your cat like warm weather and not cold weather? 

Any reason...big or large is welcome.

If you don't have decision anxiety, how did you make your final decision? 

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I can go first! I am down to two offers and can't decide. 

UW-Madison is my dream school. Wonderful faculty and perfect for my interests and it suits my needs as an academic perfectly. But as a person...I'm not sure. It is a very far move, especially considering my other offer. 

SMU is geographically closer to my current location. The stipend is also significantly higher (31k vs 24k) and they provide a moving fee. My friend also lives nearby and owns property we could live on, which means I'd have no rent for at least the first year. I mention location and funding a lot because my mom is getting a heart transplant. It's a fairly long process and in all honesty, it's a gamble on whether we can survive the waiting list. And if we do, then things would move quickly. (As in an organ will be donated and the transplant would happen within the next couple of hours). And I know it sounds simple, but we're looking at 4-5 years of waiting, surgeries, and recoveries. So considering my finances and family, SMU would be better. And even though the faculty is great, incredible even, they aren't UW-Madison, my dream school. 

So like I guess I feel like I'm trying to pick between my dream school and my family. Like a dream school that's far away with a weaker stipend or a different school with an incredible stipend and more reasonable 'real life' compromises. 

And one of the worst parts is that I really don't have anyone to really talk about this with. Everyone who isn't an academic says "just go to SMU" like its a no brainer because its closer and pays more. But every tenured academic advisor is like "just go to UW" like its a no brainer because they don't have to worry about money as much as I do. 

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46 minutes ago, Oklash said:

And one of the worst parts is that I really don't have anyone to really talk about this with. Everyone who isn't an academic says "just go to SMU" like its a no brainer because its closer and pays more. But every tenured academic advisor is like "just go to UW" like its a no brainer because they don't have to worry about money as much as I do. 

I'd like to speak to some of your post as I was in a vaguely similar situation two years ago. I had worked full-time throughout undergrad as my family was very poor. I had been in an emotionally abusive relationship for four years, and I made the decision that if I got into one of my dream programs, I would go, and do something for myself. I had visited Portland State, and fell absolutely in love with it. Well, I got off the waitlist for funding. I then also got into Villanova with funding, and thought about attending there as well. Well, then on April 11th, in the eleventh hour, I got off the waitlist at UConn (which I had planned to just deny). That same week, my father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

I made the decision to attend UConn largely because of my dad. If I had attended another school, I probably wouldn't have been able to fly back or see my dad as much as I was able to. My dad passed away last April, and I don't regret my decision at all. I got to spend time with him every single week. It was a really, REALLY, difficult time for me, as it happened right after the start of lockdown, and smack dab in the middle of the spring semester. I truly believe this would've been miles worse if I had chosen a program farther away. 

You phrase it as picking between your dream school and your family, but it's a lot more complicated than that. I know it will be a heart-wrenching decision for you either way. However, I would really weigh the pros and cons, and consider what you would regret more. If you're able to travel and see your family and think you'll have the funds for it, I'd say pick the dream school and perhaps let the department know about your situation when you start the program. If it would hurt you more in the long run to not be able to spend as much time with your family, or be able to support them in a more direct way, so to speak, I'd say go with SMU. I personally know it's not even that straightforward, but that's just my personal take on it as someone who had to make a similar choice.

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5 hours ago, Oklash said:

I haven't seen many threads for people who are struggling making a decision so here's one now! 

Are you having trouble making a decision? .

Does faculty make you nervous? Does your cat like warm weather and not cold weather? 

Any reason...big or large is welcome.

If you don't have decision anxiety, how did you make your final decision? 

What I would do is this:  get as much information as you can.  BOTH of those stipends sound amazing (says the guy whose grad stipend was 18k, haha).  Email the departments.  Ask if they can send you academic and alt-ac job placement data for the last few years.  Wisconsin has that data on their site, but the last ~3 years are unaccounted for.  That will give you an idea as to job support.  Be open about your situation. Is there an option to defer admission for a year?  Would you be able to take a semester or a year in absentia or take a short leave when your mom gets her new heart so that you can be there for her?  Think of anything else that you want to know and ask them.  Preferably via email (because then you have their response--and anything they promise you in that response--in writing). They've already admitted you.  That means they want you and want to compete for you.

 

Once you have all the info you need, look at it objectively.  It's not about a difference of a few thousand dollars.  This is graduate school.  You're going to be poor at the end no matter what. :)  What matters are things like:  What is more likely to make you miserable--being further away from home or passing up the dream school?  Who has the best people in terms of helping you develop a project?  Who has the best resources for your field?  Finishing a PhD is difficult in an ideal scenario.  Doing it while being miserable about things you passed up, culture, location, etc can be almost impossible.  Ultimately, you're the only one who can answer those questions.  You know what kinds of things slow down your work and brain activity.  Get all the info, look at that info, and pick the school where you are most likely to be able to finish the degree.

 

 

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I'm having a hard time deciding, too! I definitely feel like I'd be happy at either program and I'm also just grateful to have gotten in. The two programs I'm considering are both fully funded, but one is offering significantly more of a stipend. The one with the better financial package is ranked a little lower than the other one (although obviously these 'official' rankings are usually out of date and not the end all be all). I'm really excited about the faculty at both schools, but in terms of my main subfields, they have different strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I've exhausted the list of questions to ask current students and faculty, I've made pro/con lists, talked to one of my former professors, and I'm still torn. What else are you all doing to help you make decisions? Does anyone have any less obvious questions that they asked students or faculty that they found particularly illuminating?

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I am having a hard time deciding as well; not between programs (I only got into one) but, rather, whether I take the offer I got this year or wait until next cycle and reapply. There are a variety of complicating factors to our situation that were not in play when I applied. I literally don't know what to do...

Here's my situation: I am older (36), with a spouse and two kids (6 and 3). I got into a funded six year program at UCDavis, which is only a few hours from my extended family, which is great. It does require relocation, but not so very far from where we are now. All good stuff.

Here is where things get tricky: My husband is up for a job in New York. He applied in October of 2019. When we didn't hear anything by October 2020, we figured his application was dead in the water so I applied to grad school. Then, in January 2021, the job reached out and he began the interview process. My program here is six years. I can't fathom us being on opposite coasts for SIX YEARS. But it is his dream job. And grad school is my dream that will lead to my dream job. Ugh.

The other factor is that he is getting deployed for literally my first whole year of school. (He is in the Navy reserves and got tagged for deployment at the end of December.) He will be gone from July 2020 to May 2021. I am certainly not the only solo parent to embark on a graduate education, but that plus the relocation is pretty overwhelming.

Lots of moving pieces and so much to consider here. So, do I:

- start the program here and consider trying to transfer later (which is no mean feat)?

- wait a year and reapply (most of my ideal programs, all of which are on the east coast, closed applications this year due to Covid), or am I too old?

- just do school here and we see each other over summer and when we have vacations?

I would love some objective advice from folks who are not emotionally invested in this situation. Any input would be massively appreciated.

 

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6 minutes ago, mashatheicebear said:

I am having a hard time deciding as well; not between programs (I only got into one) but, rather, whether I take the offer I got this year or wait until next cycle and reapply. There are a variety of complicating factors to our situation that were not in play when I applied. I literally don't know what to do...

Here's my situation: I am older (36), with a spouse and two kids (6 and 3). I got into a funded six year program at UCDavis, which is only a few hours from my extended family, which is great. It does require relocation, but not so very far from where we are now. All good stuff.

Here is where things get tricky: My husband is up for a job in New York. He applied in October of 2019. When we didn't hear anything by October 2020, we figured his application was dead in the water so I applied to grad school. Then, in January 2021, the job reached out and he began the interview process. My program here is six years. I can't fathom us being on opposite coasts for SIX YEARS. But it is his dream job. And grad school is my dream that will lead to my dream job. Ugh.

The other factor is that he is getting deployed for literally my first whole year of school. (He is in the Navy reserves and got tagged for deployment at the end of December.) He will be gone from July 2020 to May 2021. I am certainly not the only solo parent to embark on a graduate education, but that plus the relocation is pretty overwhelming.

Lots of moving pieces and so much to consider here. So, do I:

- start the program here and consider trying to transfer later (which is no mean feat)?

- wait a year and reapply (most of my ideal programs, all of which are on the east coast, closed applications this year due to Covid), or am I too old?

- just do school here and we see each other over summer and when we have vacations?

I would love some objective advice from folks who are not emotionally invested in this situation. Any input would be massively appreciated.

 

I would ask UCDavis if you'd be able to be long-distance/online once you finished coursework. If so (and you'd need to get this in writing) you could do your coursework, get to know the faculty, etc. while your partner is deployed, do one year of separation (in which you might be able to progressively relocate to NY so it's not so jarring for the kids), and then relocate to NY and do everything long-distance. Of course, the negative here is that you and the kids would have to relocate twice in a short amount of time.

If not, while there are no guarantees you'd get another offer in a new cycle (especially if you're limiting yourself to the NY area), I might relocate to NY. I did 2 years of separation from then-girlfriend now-wife while I did my MA and it was awful. I know some people do fine, and it was indeed fine, it was just noticeably worse than spending time together (I know of multiple couples who did a full PhD in different countries). But, the complicating factor here are the kids and I imagine it would be very difficult to basically raise your kids as faux-single parents for such a long time. I just don't think the PhD is worth it (especially given all the pre-existing negatives of the PhD).

Note that I am assuming here that the question is whether YOU should give up on UCDavis rather than whether it's a question of you doing it or your husband giving up on the job. You could have a whole debate on who should do what but that's a personal issue and not something anyone can (or should) comment on. (Also I am assuming your partner has the job, your post suggested they might still be in the process of it).

 

 

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17 hours ago, Oklash said:

I can go first! I am down to two offers and can't decide. 

UW-Madison is my dream school. Wonderful faculty and perfect for my interests and it suits my needs as an academic perfectly. But as a person...I'm not sure. It is a very far move, especially considering my other offer. 

SMU is geographically closer to my current location. The stipend is also significantly higher (31k vs 24k) and they provide a moving fee. My friend also lives nearby and owns property we could live on, which means I'd have no rent for at least the first year. I mention location and funding a lot because my mom is getting a heart transplant. It's a fairly long process and in all honesty, it's a gamble on whether we can survive the waiting list. And if we do, then things would move quickly. (As in an organ will be donated and the transplant would happen within the next couple of hours). And I know it sounds simple, but we're looking at 4-5 years of waiting, surgeries, and recoveries. So considering my finances and family, SMU would be better. And even though the faculty is great, incredible even, they aren't UW-Madison, my dream school. 

So like I guess I feel like I'm trying to pick between my dream school and my family. Like a dream school that's far away with a weaker stipend or a different school with an incredible stipend and more reasonable 'real life' compromises. 

And one of the worst parts is that I really don't have anyone to really talk about this with. Everyone who isn't an academic says "just go to SMU" like its a no brainer because its closer and pays more. But every tenured academic advisor is like "just go to UW" like its a no brainer because they don't have to worry about money as much as I do. 

I ended up attending an MA program within an hour of my family because the other programs to which I was accepted didn't offer sufficient funding. It worked out for the best on a personal level, because that meant I  got to spend a lot of time with my grandfather before his sudden passing over the summer right before my program started. I 100% would have gone to one of the other programs had they offered me full funding, but looking back I'm glad I was closer to home. If I had moved 5-8 hours away from home that summer, I probably would have regretted not being around when my grandfather passed or being with my family as we grieved.

There is no right answer. There is some level of personal or opportunity cost no matter what you do. Try to think about how you might feel about each decision 5 or 10 years from now. Either way, trust that your mom knows how much you love and support her. She wants you to be happy and to achieve your dreams. 

Good luck to you and to your mom.

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19 minutes ago, WildeThing said:

I would ask UCDavis if you'd be able to be long-distance/online once you finished coursework. If so (and you'd need to get this in writing) you could do your coursework, get to know the faculty, etc. while your partner is deployed, do one year of separation (in which you might be able to progressively relocate to NY so it's not so jarring for the kids), and then relocate to NY and do everything long-distance. Of course, the negative here is that you and the kids would have to relocate twice in a short amount of time.

If not, while there are no guarantees you'd get another offer in a new cycle (especially if you're limiting yourself to the NY area), I might relocate to NY. I did 2 years of separation from then-girlfriend now-wife while I did my MA and it was awful. I know some people do fine, and it was indeed fine, it was just noticeably worse than spending time together (I know of multiple couples who did a full PhD in different countries). But, the complicating factor here are the kids and I imagine it would be very difficult to basically raise your kids as faux-single parents for such a long time. I just don't think the PhD is worth it (especially given all the pre-existing negatives of the PhD).

Note that I am assuming here that the question is whether YOU should give up on UCDavis rather than whether it's a question of you doing it or your husband giving up on the job. You could have a whole debate on who should do what but that's a personal issue and not something anyone can (or should) comment on. (Also I am assuming your partner has the job, your post suggested they might still be in the process of it).

 

 

Thank you so much for weighing in. I really appreciate your willingness to share your personal experience. My husband is in-process with the job. The hiring process takes about a year and a half. So, it is not a done deal yet and wouldn't be official until after he returns from deployment anyway.

My funding at Davis is TA/teaching-dependent so, while I can apply for/take a total of a year (maybe two) of fellowship outside of that, I really have to be on-site. I could, theoretically, finish a bit faster since I already have my MA, but we are still looking at 4-5 years, if I bust my hump.

I would be limited to NY, CT, NJ and PA for next year. I feel like applying again has some advantages (I'm a Slavist and many programs closed applications this year so I would actually have a wider pool), but I also don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. I feel so fortunate that I got in to one of my programs this cycle, of all years. 

 

 

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I am also in this boat! I will say that I recently reached out to a lot of grad students at one of the programs (which is higher ranked, but I know I'm not supposed to read into that too much) and one student offered a SCATHING condemnation of the literature department... I wanted to take it with a grain of salt because it's a really cool opportunity with some very interesting scholars, but the fact that I couldn't seem to get a response from any other students made me a bit nervous. The other program, however, made it incredibly easy to reach out to professors and students for guidance and everyone seems relatively happy with their choice of program. Tell me if this is an unwise approach, but I feel like it's important to listen to current students when making the decision. The next 5-6 years of my life are going to be intense and I want to feel supported by my peers and the department.

So I think I'm going to go with the other program, but making a solid decision at this point is making me feel very uneasy. Have I done enough to ensure that one program is better for me than the other? Am I setting myself up for an uncertain future with a lower-ranked school?

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5 minutes ago, Lighthouse Lana said:

Tell me if this is an unwise approach, but I feel like it's important to listen to current students when making the decision. The next 5-6 years of my life are going to be intense and I want to feel supported by my peers and the department.

If you were accepted to both your probably a good fit for both, so I wouldn't worry about that, and it's ultimately your decision. But I think it's super important to include current students' thoughts in your decision making! I've basically decided on a program at this point, but am waiting until I get to talk to current students at a virtual visit this week to ensure there aren't any major red flags. Personally, even if the scholars and program itself are amazing, if students are less than enthusiastic or friendly, I don't think it's worth it. You'll be doing this for anywhere between 4-6 years and even with a supportive program, grad school is really stressful. If you add on top of the normal stress of teaching, classes, publishing, etc, that faculty don't want to support students or the stipend isn't livable, or there's no social aspect/unfriendly cohort, that seems like it's not worth it to me. 

But that's just my two cents. I think that the job market, as we all know, isn't great right now, and unless one is significantly a better school with significantly better placements, I'd say go where students are getting more than undue stress out of their experience.

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1 minute ago, Lighthouse Lana said:

I am also in this boat! I will say that I recently reached out to a lot of grad students at one of the programs (which is higher ranked, but I know I'm not supposed to read into that too much) and one student offered a SCATHING condemnation of the literature department... I wanted to take it with a grain of salt because it's a really cool opportunity with some very interesting scholars, but the fact that I couldn't seem to get a response from any other students made me a bit nervous. The other program, however, made it incredibly easy to reach out to professors and students for guidance and everyone seems relatively happy with their choice of program. Tell me if this is an unwise approach, but I feel like it's important to listen to current students when making the decision. The next 5-6 years of my life are going to be intense and I want to feel supported by my peers and the department.

So I think I'm going to go with the other program, but making a solid decision at this point is making me feel very uneasy. Have I done enough to ensure that one program is better for me than the other? Am I setting myself up for an uncertain future with a lower-ranked school?

This is just my two cents, but I think all of us are set up for an uncertain future, no matter what program, no matter the ranking. I'm thinking about how Columbia has had trouble placing any of their recent PhD grads in TT positions. If we put any credence in US News rankings (I don't really), we can solidly say that top 10 and even top 5 schools struggle to place their graduates. Adjuncting is profoundly precarious, and VAPs/postdocs are extremely competitive (and still precarious). 

In my opinion, I would go with the place where you believe you are most likely to thrive for the next 5-6 years. Not to be a downer, but there are no jobs in English on the other side of the PhD, and I think unfortunately the situation is more likely to get worse than it is to get better. So I would say, factors like a good funding package, health insurance, a strong grad student union, program culture, and other financial support (conference travel, emergency fund, additional fellowship, etc) should be weighed as more important than program ranking or reputation. If you haven't already, I'd ask these kinds of questions to make sure you're making the best decision. Is there a union? If so, how strong/active is it? Does the department or graduate school offer any relocation assistance? Does the department or graduate school have support in case of medical/personal emergencies? What does the health insurance, if offered, actually cover? Is there funding available beyond the 5th year, and how competitive is it? What is the most common time to degree? What are placement rates like, and where have graduates ended up if not in academia? What is your assigned advisor's mentorship style? How does the stipend scale to cost of living? Do students have to work other jobs outside the school to make rent? Is the social culture more collaborative or competitive? 

The one thing I would say is that I think it would be worth trying to get in touch with more students at the first program. I'd take the opinion of the student who had a bad experience seriously. But I think you need more data points before you take their opinion as your conclusion about the program. It might be worth re-upping your emails to students and faculty at that program. If no one responds again, that's more data too.

This got long, but hope it helps!

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9 minutes ago, kirbs005 said:

If you were accepted to both your probably a good fit for both, so I wouldn't worry about that, and it's ultimately your decision. But I think it's super important to include current students' thoughts in your decision making! I've basically decided on a program at this point, but am waiting until I get to talk to current students at a virtual visit this week to ensure there aren't any major red flags. Personally, even if the scholars and program itself are amazing, if students are less than enthusiastic or friendly, I don't think it's worth it. You'll be doing this for anywhere between 4-6 years and even with a supportive program, grad school is really stressful. If you add on top of the normal stress of teaching, classes, publishing, etc, that faculty don't want to support students or the stipend isn't livable, or there's no social aspect/unfriendly cohort, that seems like it's not worth it to me. 

But that's just my two cents. I think that the job market, as we all know, isn't great right now, and unless one is significantly a better school with significantly better placements, I'd say go where students are getting more than undue stress out of their experience.

 

7 minutes ago, Bopie5 said:

This is just my two cents, but I think all of us are set up for an uncertain future, no matter what program, no matter the ranking. I'm thinking about how Columbia has had trouble placing any of their recent PhD grads in TT positions. If we put any credence in US News rankings (I don't really), we can solidly say that top 10 and even top 5 schools struggle to place their graduates. Adjuncting is profoundly precarious, and VAPs/postdocs are extremely competitive (and still precarious). 

In my opinion, I would go with the place where you believe you are most likely to thrive for the next 5-6 years. Not to be a downer, but there are no jobs in English on the other side of the PhD, and I think unfortunately the situation is more likely to get worse than it is to get better. So I would say, factors like a good funding package, health insurance, a strong grad student union, program culture, and other financial support (conference travel, emergency fund, additional fellowship, etc) should be weighed as more important than program ranking or reputation. If you haven't already, I'd ask these kinds of questions to make sure you're making the best decision. Is there a union? If so, how strong/active is it? Does the department or graduate school offer any relocation assistance? Does the department or graduate school have support in case of medical/personal emergencies? What does the health insurance, if offered, actually cover? Is there funding available beyond the 5th year, and how competitive is it? What is the most common time to degree? What are placement rates like, and where have graduates ended up if not in academia? What is your assigned advisor's mentorship style? How does the stipend scale to cost of living? Do students have to work other jobs outside the school to make rent? Is the social culture more collaborative or competitive? 

The one thing I would say is that I think it would be worth trying to get in touch with more students at the first program. I'd take the opinion of the student who had a bad experience seriously. But I think you need more data points before you take their opinion as your conclusion about the program. It might be worth re-upping your emails to students and faculty at that program. If no one responds again, that's more data too.

This got long, but hope it helps!

This so helpful! Thank you both for your input :) 

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5 hours ago, mashatheicebear said:

I am having a hard time deciding as well; not between programs (I only got into one) but, rather, whether I take the offer I got this year or wait until next cycle and reapply. There are a variety of complicating factors to our situation that were not in play when I applied. I literally don't know what to do...

Here's my situation: I am older (36), with a spouse and two kids (6 and 3). I got into a funded six year program at UCDavis, which is only a few hours from my extended family, which is great. It does require relocation, but not so very far from where we are now. All good stuff.

Here is where things get tricky: My husband is up for a job in New York. He applied in October of 2019. When we didn't hear anything by October 2020, we figured his application was dead in the water so I applied to grad school. Then, in January 2021, the job reached out and he began the interview process. My program here is six years. I can't fathom us being on opposite coasts for SIX YEARS. But it is his dream job. And grad school is my dream that will lead to my dream job. Ugh.

The other factor is that he is getting deployed for literally my first whole year of school. (He is in the Navy reserves and got tagged for deployment at the end of December.) He will be gone from July 2020 to May 2021. I am certainly not the only solo parent to embark on a graduate education, but that plus the relocation is pretty overwhelming.

Lots of moving pieces and so much to consider here. So, do I:

- start the program here and consider trying to transfer later (which is no mean feat)?

- wait a year and reapply (most of my ideal programs, all of which are on the east coast, closed applications this year due to Covid), or am I too old?

- just do school here and we see each other over summer and when we have vacations?

I would love some objective advice from folks who are not emotionally invested in this situation. Any input would be massively appreciated.

 

I don't know if this helps but my brother was also deployed for a year in the navy reserves. It's tough but it is fairly silent as in there is not much communication from the deployed person. So if you start the program, by time your husband returns, you will have completed one whole year! If you defer admissions, that is also a whole year.

 So maybe, while he is gone, you don't fully relocate. And while the year passes, you will have more time to weigh your options. In the mean time, does your university have any plans in place for military/navy spouses? Child care? Etc...

Did he get the job in new york? 

Congrats to you both! 

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4 hours ago, Lighthouse Lana said:

I am also in this boat! I will say that I recently reached out to a lot of grad students at one of the programs (which is higher ranked, but I know I'm not supposed to read into that too much) and one student offered a SCATHING condemnation of the literature department... I wanted to take it with a grain of salt because it's a really cool opportunity with some very interesting scholars, but the fact that I couldn't seem to get a response from any other students made me a bit nervous. The other program, however, made it incredibly easy to reach out to professors and students for guidance and everyone seems relatively happy with their choice of program. Tell me if this is an unwise approach, but I feel like it's important to listen to current students when making the decision. The next 5-6 years of my life are going to be intense and I want to feel supported by my peers and the department.

So I think I'm going to go with the other program, but making a solid decision at this point is making me feel very uneasy. Have I done enough to ensure that one program is better for me than the other? Am I setting myself up for an uncertain future with a lower-ranked school?

This definitely. 

I finished a fairly intensive MA program and while there, the social environment was really made the grad school experience. Everything from faculty to students on a personal level. That support is really important. I had a pretty similar experience with a school's welcome days. I met one of the professors and he gave me some really bad vibes. And I've just made a mental note to maybe stay far away from him. So maybe we should make an "avoid at all costs" list. 

But I sympathize with your frustration since the other school is better "ranked." Overall, I hope you end up happy at whichever program you choose!

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This may seem random but I just realized one of my prospective schools does not have an MFA program. Only lit and rhetoric. It's not that serious, but in my experience an adjacent MFA program and classes with non "academic" students have been incredibly valuable. But maybe I'm just nitpicking 

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4 hours ago, Oklash said:

This definitely. 

I finished a fairly intensive MA program and while there, the social environment was really made the grad school experience. Everything from faculty to students on a personal level. That support is really important. I had a pretty similar experience with a school's welcome days. I met one of the professors and he gave me some really bad vibes. And I've just made a mental note to maybe stay far away from him. So maybe we should make an "avoid at all costs" list. 

But I sympathize with your frustration since the other school is better "ranked." Overall, I hope you end up happy at whichever program you choose!

Thank you!!!

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10 hours ago, mashatheicebear said:

- start the program here and consider trying to transfer later (which is no mean feat)?

I think it might be worth noting here that very few (if any) programs allow students to transfer in. In most cases, programs will place your application along with everyone else's. If accepted, there's a high probability that you'll be starting from scratch. If you pursue this option, you'll also have to explain why (academically) you're seeking admission to a new program. Programs can get really hesitant about people transferring because they fear the same reasons would repeat with the student at their institution.

 

5 hours ago, Oklash said:

This may seem random but I just realized one of my prospective schools does not have an MFA program. Only lit and rhetoric. It's not that serious, but in my experience an adjacent MFA program and classes with non "academic" students have been incredibly valuable. But maybe I'm just nitpicking 

All reasons for a program you select are valid. All programs might have their own reasons for their majors. Some colleges might not have an MFA but they could offer classes in creative writing.  They might also have special opportunities that students can participate such as internships or writing creatively as an option for part or all of a requirement. They might also offer other practicum-based majors. Whether it's a creative or writing community you seek, I think you'll be able to find it no matter where you go.

 

On 3/15/2021 at 5:23 PM, Oklash said:

The stipend is also significantly higher (31k vs 24k) and they provide a moving fee.

24k and 31k can be a lot or a little depending on the city. I'd see if you can find out how much the difference is by using a "Cost of Living Calculator". The numbers will only be able to provide a base. From there, I'd consider thinking about your living arrangements. You mention having a friend if you go to SMU. Are you comfortable living that far away from the University? Would you feel comfortable living that far away from the other university? It might be worth looking into the average price of rent based on how close (or far) you'd like to live with the understanding that rent tends to be pricier the closer it is to the university (especially in college towns).

 

On 3/15/2021 at 5:23 PM, Oklash said:

And one of the worst parts is that I really don't have anyone to really talk about this with. Everyone who isn't an academic says "just go to SMU" like its a no brainer because its closer and pays more. But every tenured academic advisor is like "just go to UW" like its a no brainer because they don't have to worry about money as much as I do. 

I agree; I think both of these simplify things way too much. Interests can change; a university can go broke at anytime. Do you know if Wisconsin regained its tenure system? Would you feel comfortable if Creative Writing or Rhetoric/Comp overtook a decision which impacted the English Department at Wisconsin? Placement is never guaranteed. Would you feel comfortable being placed in Texas or a nearby region if you chose SMU? Inversely, would you be okay with living in a colder climate if you chose Wisconsin? Would you prefer to teach at an undergraduate-focused institution or is your goal R1? Are there graduate certificates at either you would be interested in pursuing? How big are the classes? How close does the cohort appear to be? What happens if graduation takes longer than your funding offer? Do people generally get to work with the professor they want to work with?

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On 3/15/2021 at 11:23 PM, Oklash said:

I can go first! I am down to two offers and can't decide. 

UW-Madison is my dream school. Wonderful faculty and perfect for my interests and it suits my needs as an academic perfectly. But as a person...I'm not sure. It is a very far move, especially considering my other offer. 

SMU is geographically closer to my current location. The stipend is also significantly higher (31k vs 24k) and they provide a moving fee. My friend also lives nearby and owns property we could live on, which means I'd have no rent for at least the first year. I mention location and funding a lot because my mom is getting a heart transplant. It's a fairly long process and in all honesty, it's a gamble on whether we can survive the waiting list. And if we do, then things would move quickly. (As in an organ will be donated and the transplant would happen within the next couple of hours). And I know it sounds simple, but we're looking at 4-5 years of waiting, surgeries, and recoveries. So considering my finances and family, SMU would be better. And even though the faculty is great, incredible even, they aren't UW-Madison, my dream school. 

So like I guess I feel like I'm trying to pick between my dream school and my family. Like a dream school that's far away with a weaker stipend or a different school with an incredible stipend and more reasonable 'real life' compromises. 

And one of the worst parts is that I really don't have anyone to really talk about this with. Everyone who isn't an academic says "just go to SMU" like its a no brainer because its closer and pays more. But every tenured academic advisor is like "just go to UW" like its a no brainer because they don't have to worry about money as much as I do. 

There have been a ton of messages from people that know way better than me about a situation of this sort (and I am really happy for those who managed to be close to their dear ones who were ill/ended up passing away because they made the 'right choice'). However, I'd like to share something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Your dream school might not be the school for you. I don't say this regarding any characteristic of UW in particular — according to your first message, the program and faculty are great and two of the most important reasons why you want to go there. However, where do you feel you're supposed to be? I had to go through a process myself to be completely aware of the fact that one of the universities I have chosen to apply to was my top choice from the start. Main reasons it took me a while to be aware of it were the difficulty to determine if the faculty was a good match with the information available online and the program not being particularly highly ranked (although I don't care about the latter anymore); however, because of location, stipend, teaching experience and friends nearby who might help in case anything unexpected would happen, that institution should have been in the podium since the beginning. My point is that I feel you, but even after doing your research carefully regarding the departments and considering all the facts, you're going to have to follow your instincts to make this choice. If you think it's better to stay close to home because of your mother's condition, just do it. Perhaps, even if you consider UWisconsin your dreamplace now, you will feel happier in SMU in the future. You never know.

 

Edited by Kaharim
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I'm also having some anxiety deciding. Option 1 is an amazing university in a city I love and would be more prestigious and give me a hands up on the job market, good fit. Option 2 has a fantastic faculty with an even better fit that seems VERY supportive and really wants me...but isn't ranked as high and in a place I really don't want to live. Option 1 wants to know by Friday, but they appear to be a part of the council schools, but I don't know if they're on the April 15th agreement or not. 

Edited by senorbrightside
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I'm also feeling the anxiety! Have posted on the decision forum several days ago and there is no reply, so I was really desperate for advice from you all...I got admitted to 5, and I am currently hesitating between IU-Bloomington, Rutgers, and U of Toronto. U of T is a good fit intellectually and it ranks high which might matter when it comes to finding jobs, but I heard that their teachers might not be as supportive and reachable as the ones in the States and was wondering if anyone knows if that's true. I am also not sure about how people view Canadian schools in general in terms of the quality of academic works. I like IU for its extremely nice and supportive faculty, great sense of community, and also location---Bloomington seems a platonic place to live and do research! But on the other hand, their teaching load is intimidating and I am not sure if I can adjust myself to that as an international student whose first language is not English. Rutgers has great academic resources and the most generous funding (and, presumably, first-rate faculty and good reputation in the field?), but I am definitely no fan of living in New Brunswick.

I just cannot decide, so I would really appreciate any advice, general impression of these schools, etc., and I would also love to hear what influences you the most in your decision-making process!

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2 hours ago, alszd said:

I'm also feeling the anxiety! Have posted on the decision forum several days ago and there is no reply, so I was really desperate for advice from you all...I got admitted to 5, and I am currently hesitating between IU-Bloomington, Rutgers, and U of Toronto. U of T is a good fit intellectually and it ranks high which might matter when it comes to finding jobs, but I heard that their teachers might not be as supportive and reachable as the ones in the States and was wondering if anyone knows if that's true. I am also not sure about how people view Canadian schools in general in terms of the quality of academic works. I like IU for its extremely nice and supportive faculty, great sense of community, and also location---Bloomington seems a platonic place to live and do research! But on the other hand, their teaching load is intimidating and I am not sure if I can adjust myself to that as an international student whose first language is not English. Rutgers has great academic resources and the most generous funding (and, presumably, first-rate faculty and good reputation in the field?), but I am definitely no fan of living in New Brunswick.

I just cannot decide, so I would really appreciate any advice, general impression of these schools, etc., and I would also love to hear what influences you the most in your decision-making process!

Dear alszd,

I’m no expert, but since no one else has responded yet:

My sense is that Rutgers and the University of Toronto English program rankings are roughly the same (both quite high) with IU Bloomington being only slightly behind—but those published rankings list, as we all know, are not always hyper-updated and also leave plenty of things out, especially quality of life/pleasantness of experience type things. None of those schools are a slouch and you should be proud to have been accepted to any and all of them. I wouldn’t rule out any of them in terms of excellence of education and opportunity. Canadian academics are definitely taken seriously in the world, and the University of Toronto is by nearly all published rankings the "best" in Canada.

If funding/living expenses are a big concern, Toronto will probably be the hardest to swing unless you get bonus fellowships, as Toronto is an expensive place to live. Toronto has the pros and the cons of big city living. Rutgers is in New Brunswick, sure, but it’s also pretty close to NYC, if that matters to you. Bloomington is not terribly far from Chicago, though you are more likely to need/want a car there than you would in the other locations (speaking from my upbringing somewhat near there)—and you can probably afford to own and park a car there, which is also a perk!

Teaching load concerns are real! That would probably be worth speaking to current Bloomington students about, if you haven’t already. Sometimes (but definitely not always) the teaching obligations look worse on paper than they are in actuality (and sometimes they are worse—speaking from my MA program teaching experiences).

My general advice would be to see if there are any negatives to any of the programs/living areas that loom large enough to be likely to make you quite unhappy to handle for 5+ years. If there are no deal breakers, then try considering which professors and resources excite you the most.

I hope my random stranger advice was fun to read at least!

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15 hours ago, senorbrightside said:

Option 1 wants to know by Friday, but they appear to be a part of the council schools, but I don't know if they're on the April 15th agreement or not. 

The full list of schools is here: https://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/CGS_April15_Resolution_Oct2020Revision.pdf

They really shouldn't be pressuring you to make a decision before April 15th.

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5 hours ago, alszd said:

I'm also feeling the anxiety! Have posted on the decision forum several days ago and there is no reply, so I was really desperate for advice from you all...I got admitted to 5, and I am currently hesitating between IU-Bloomington, Rutgers, and U of Toronto. U of T is a good fit intellectually and it ranks high which might matter when it comes to finding jobs, but I heard that their teachers might not be as supportive and reachable as the ones in the States and was wondering if anyone knows if that's true. I am also not sure about how people view Canadian schools in general in terms of the quality of academic works. I like IU for its extremely nice and supportive faculty, great sense of community, and also location---Bloomington seems a platonic place to live and do research! But on the other hand, their teaching load is intimidating and I am not sure if I can adjust myself to that as an international student whose first language is not English. Rutgers has great academic resources and the most generous funding (and, presumably, first-rate faculty and good reputation in the field?), but I am definitely no fan of living in New Brunswick.

I just cannot decide, so I would really appreciate any advice, general impression of these schools, etc., and I would also love to hear what influences you the most in your decision-making process!

Hi @alszd

Speaking anecdotally (I did my undergrad at the University of Toronto), so take anything I write with a grain of salt.

I can’t speak to what your experience might be as a graduate student, but UofT is a big public research school with roughly the population of a satellite city—almost 63,000 students on the St. George campus, the last time I checked. Though the campus is sprawling and grand, St. George itself dissolves into the larger fabric of Toronto. It is easy to disappear in a place like that. The anonymity suited me (because I am a GRUMP), but it is not for everyone. I would characterize departmental culture as polite, but indifferent—it is simply too big an entity to pay close attention to all its constituent parts.

That said. U of T has departments for everything, which is good if your work is interdisciplinary. Diaspora & Transnational Studies? Slavic Literatures? Renaissance Culture? Literature and Critical Theory? Book History? Cinema Studies? UofT has a department for that.

The University has a GLORIOUS library system. 42 libraries, over 12 million print books, and an absolute knock-out of a library for incunabula: The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

The Department has terrific faculty, raided regularly by other schools—I think Deirdre Lynch is now at Harvard, Suzanne Akbari splits her time between Princeton and UofT’s Medieval Departments, and Andy Orchard left to assume a post as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford.

I think you have to consider carefully what you want out of the program and the timeline to completion of the PhD. In general, the normal funding window in Canada is 4 years (with a halved stipend for the 5th year) and is considerably less than what you will receive from American schools where tuition remission seems to be the norm and funding is guaranteed for 5 years. Again, your experience of the department *might* be radically different from mine as an undergrad. For me, UofT is an amazing place to learn so long as you understand that the environment is for self-starters.

Intangibles: Toronto is a fantastic city. It’s got something for everybody, whether that’s baseball, opera, a thriving comic books scene (don’t skip the annual TCAF at the Reference Library), absurdly good Thai food (skip the crowds at PAI on Duncan St. and go to its less hectic sister, Sabai Sabai on Bloor), thoughtfully-curated bookshops like TYPE Books, and independent movie theatres like the TIFF Lightbox (where they have talks and retrospectives on turgidly obscure directors like Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet and also play films people might actually enjoy).

Anyway, I hope that helps. Good luck with decisions! All of your potential schools sound terrific, so I think it's more about finding that balance between the kind of work you want to do and how a program might support that AND where you can imagine yourself living for the next 5-6 years.

Edited by Debord
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