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First off, I am so sorry for how long this post is. I wanted to be as thorough as possible, and I hope this shows how frustrated I am.

I was accepted to five wonderful programs, and have ultimately narrowed it down to two programs, but I am struggling to determine which offer to accept. The first program (George Washington University) is the one my parents really want me to go to, as it's closer to home (Atlanta), and although this school was one of my top choices, I feel like if I chose to go there I would regret my decision. In the same vein, I feel like if I chose University of Washington, I would be missing out on some great opportunities. I made a huge spreadsheet comparing program costs and general stuff about each school, but I'm still stuck.

Like I said, my family (parents and grandparents [my grandma is a borderline narcissist, so take that as you will]) want me to stay closer to home and attend GWU, but for the past year or so I have been fantasizing about attending UW. UW comes out as more expensive than GWU, but my family has also told me that I am not just paying for a program, but for the experience as well. In short, money is a factor, but it is not the factor.

My main concern about GWU is the fact that I have to pass a foreign language proficiency exam in order to graduate, and if I fail it so many times (I think it's 2 or 3) I can get kicked from the program. I was fairly confident in my Japanese ability until I had to get a language evaluation from my professor, and he basically told me I suck but he knows I'm trying which is why I'm passing his class. I am worried that being a full-time student plus working will not allow me adequate time to improve my language ability enough to pass this exam (for reference—I have to be "intermediate-high" to pass the exam, and my professor rated me as "intermediate-low, but actually beginner-high but I know you are trying").

Additionally, UW is pretty much the school I have had my eyes on since I began my grad school search. My area concentration is Japan, and I love that they have a specific program for that, whereas GWU just has a generalized Asian Studies program. I have a friend who is a couple of years older than me who at one point considered pursuing a Japan-related degree, and she told me that she would choose UW due to the resources pertinent to my program (plus she thinks I would like UW better in general). Either way, no matter which program I choose, I will probably end up working in D.C., which is partially why I am drawn to UW—I might not get the chance to live in Seattle unless I decide to go to school there.

GWU

Pros

  • ~10 hours by car from home; <2 hours by plane

  • Received a small fellowship (a couple thousand a semester)

  • Program director personally emailed me to congratulate me on my acceptance

  • Wide variety of job opportunities available in this area—however, might not be what I want specifically

  • Parents have many friends who live in the area

  • Mildly familiar with the area (have visited D.C. a couple of times)

  • Semester system

Cons

  • Have to pass a foreign language exam

  • Program is more generalized

  • Will not have a car with me (very urban location, most apartments have $100+/month parking fee)

UW

Pros

  • Program is more concentrated

  • Do not have to pass a foreign language exam, but encouraged to take FL classes (which I plan on doing)

  • Can have my car with me (most of the apartments I have looked at have parking included)

  • Has a specific library for my concentration (Tateuchi East Asia Library)

  • Home of the Journal of Japanese Studies (I think it's super cool that this is the institution where this publication is published!)

  • I have one acquaintance who lives in the area

  • Several friends have encouraged me to choose UW

Cons

  • Far away from home (opposite side of the country, ~2 days by car, >5 hours by plane)

  • Didn't receive any fellowships

  • Really haven't heard much from the program other than the generic "congrats on your acceptance"

  • Completely unfamiliar with the area

  • Quarter system

Stuff both schools have in common

  • Accredited by the same organization (APSIA)

  • Selected as an alternate for a fellowship at both schools

  • Cost of living is roughly the same in both areas (slightly higher for GWU)

  • Both schools are prestigious

  • Both schools have hosted numerous conferences for my field

Unfortunately, UW is part of the April 15 cohort, while I have until May 1 to decide on GWU. I was selected as an alternate for a fellowship (tuition + living stipend) at each school, but I will not be notified if I become a recipient of either until after April 15, of course. I have also applied to several small scholarships at UW that are specific to my program, and plan to apply to as many external scholarships as I can no matter which school I end up choosing.

I am absolutely torn between both programs, and I would love some advice.

 
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First of all, congratulations on these acceptances!! I'm not in your field so I'm coming at this just based on the information you've provided and my experience applying to MAs last year + PhDs this year.

1) Funding/fellowship: The first thing I would recommend is trying to speak to both schools about the likelihood of being selected for the fellowship. Tell them how excited you are about the program but how important funding is. They may be able to give more insight into as April 15 gets closer and candidates accept/deny. This, I think, is the most important factor. If on April 15 you are still in the dark r.e. both places, I would accept the UW offer and not tell GWU anything. This will allow you to ride out both a bit longer -- but check on any penalties/fees for backing out at UW if GWU comes to you and says they have funding. Alternatively you could ask UW for a decision extension by telling them you are accepted at GW with a deadline of May 1 and need more time to decide. This could also show them they should compete and fund you. Last year I got an extension on an MA decision deadline just by asking.

 

2) Program choice: Based on your writing, I really think you should listen to your gut. If you see yourself living in DC and closer to home in the longterm, but have dreamed of going to UW and living in Seattle, do it. Don't postpone your dreams just because it will create an adjustment period for those who love you. In the end, your happiness and success in school will be far better for your relationships with family than staying close and wondering what if. Another way to think about it is that 5 hours by plane is less than 10 hours by car. Both are a flight away. I know the psychic difference can feel bigger than the geographic distance -- especially to family -- but in my experience this is also why it's so important, if you're curious about it, to try living far from home. It allows you to emerge in a new kind of independence and really feel like the author of your own life.

 

3) Other considerations: definitely, now that you are 'in' at both, reach out and ask questions of the department, peruse the courses, ask to be put in touch with current students and send them your questions or hop on a Zoom. Doing this is so, so important. No matter what 'read' you think you have on a place, you could be really surprised by how you 'gel' with people when you're actually chatting. Be honest with current students about your concerns, whether they are r.e. fluency, affordability, adapting to a new place. They are such a fantastic resource (or if they aren't .. that's good to know, too). I just recently did this and I learned a lot of sort of niche/surprising things about living in the city and affording life there and I also learned a lot about how well I might fit in with the community. Don't be discouraged by the fact that UW hasn't done much to recruit you. I've found this really varies program to program and doesn't necessarily indicate they don't care or aren't an exciting place. 

 

I hope some of this is helpful to you!

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