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Great fit + limited funding vs. limited fit + great funding?


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Hmm.

So, I've applied to six programs, and so far I've been accepted to two of them (rejected at one, wait-listed at two, and still waiting to hear from another). Right now, both of the schools to which I've been accepted are putting some serious pressure on me to accept their offers. While I do plan to wait a little longer, to hear back from some of the other programs, before I make a final decision, I'm torn when it comes to deciding between the two schools to which I have been accepted. You know, just so I can tell them something in the meantime, or start making preparations early in case I don't get any good news back from any of the other programs. Perhaps some of you guys might give me some advice?

The program at School X is a really great fit and matches up very well with most of my research interests. One of my interests is Native American linguistics, and the location is perfect for studying Native American languages, since it's really close to several communities where these languages are spoken frequently. The faculty here is very impressive, and I'd enjoy and be honored to work with them. They've offered me a four year waiver of tuition and fees, in addition to health insurance. They're also offering two semesters of assistantship with a fair stipend.

The program at School Y isn't as good of a fit, but I think I could make it work. The big things at this school are computational linguistics (which isn't really my thing) and African linguistics, which could be interesting, but it's not one of my major research interests. Sure, I think I could make it work, but if I end up choosing this school over the other, I have a feeling I'd regret passing up the opportunity to go to the school where I could focus on what I'm really interested in. Now, the catch with this school is that they're offering me a very impressive five year fellowship, including health insurance, tuition/fee waivers, and a very comfortable stipend.

If the two schools were offering nearly-identical funding, I'd definitely choose X over Y. But I don't want to have to take out a bunch of extra loans to afford living costs at X... and I'm not just supporting myself - I've got kids. Ha, if it were just me, I'd be happy to scrape by in a studio apartment to make it work, or live in a box under the overpass, or something, if I had to. Choosing Y, I wouldn't have the same opportunity to work on what I'm really interested in (although again, I could travel for field work, but none of the faculty there are really focused on Native American linguistics). On the other hand, the fellowship is prestigious, and would provide an okay living for five years.

Thoughts?

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As I was reading I was thinking that you should just go to School X until I saw that you had kids. Yeah, it is much better to accept a better financial offer when they are involved, because there really is no way you could count on, say, occasional tutoring gigs off Craigslist to make up the difference.

That said, someone (newms?) posted a link on one of the relationship threads about the two-body problem, and I think your kids are basically equivalent to a partner with a job (though they are really your extra-curricular "job"). So you could present your case to School X and say, honestly, "I have to be able to provide for my kids, and I'd take this offer if it was just me." See what they say - you've got nothing to lose, and it sounds like they really want you! So ask first before you accept School Y (or even one of the others).

And congratulations!

Edited by qbtacoma
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yep, if you are attached to kids/family, then more funding is the way to go. one of my friends got multiple offers from schools mediocre to great, but he settled with a mediocre school that offered the highest amount of money because he had a wife + 2 kids. so if you think that graduating from school Y won't put a damper on your career endeavors, then by all means choose Y.

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My 2 cents. Go with School X regardless. It's where you need to be to pursue your research interests. Explore other funding options, grants, scholarships *cough* loans if you have to. taking a roll of the dice on a program that might not be the right fit just for a more generous stipend/fellowship whatever is a recipe for trouble. I have a wife and child by the way and will be starting my PhD in August so I understand the importance of this decision.

Good Luck!

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Just a note: You have the names of the two schools that you have been accepted to listed in your signature, and the context provided by your post (i.e. that X is near lots of Native American communities) makes it pretty easy to tell which of these is X and which is Y. I don't know whether you actually care about keeping the info secret, but I thought I should mention it in case you do.

I would say, negotiate with X for more funding. Tell them that you'd like to accept their offer, but unless they can raise the funding you'll have to go with Y. If they really want you, they may be able to come up with more money. If there's a specific prof at X who wants you in their lab, and who has influence in the department, they may be able to pull strings on your behalf.

If X can't raise the funding to something that you're happy with...ultimately it is up to you to decide what trade-offs to make, but in your place I'd go with Y. Then again, I have relatively broad tastes in study. You might not.

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Thanks for the replies, everyone!

I'm going to try to secure more funding from X. The cost of living in the two different locations is practically identical. I'm waiting on hearing back about a fellowship from X which would even the playing field some. We'll see what happens from there, but if I can manage, say, 80% of what I'm being offered at Y, I'll probably go with X.

Now, I'm not hating on Y. It's a good school, and I'd be able to find a niche there, for sure. I wouldn't have applied to the program if it was without its merits, or if I'd be unhappy going there. It's just that between the two, X would be closer to the top of my list than Y if I were designating my "dream schools" or whatever.

Anyway, any new opinions or thoughts are still welcome.

Thanks again!

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Just my advice as a current PhD student. Unless your situation is really no funding vs. great funding, the question of "fit" is the MOST important thing. If your interests don't fit in well with your department, your chances of getting a job will drop significantly unless you are a truly amazing scholar (meaning you have already published,etc.). That being said, it is only your relationship with your adviser/chair that needs to be really close. Departmental orientations are always in flux, even if it doesn't really seem that way from the outside. You need to have a sense of who specifically you want to work with at each university, communicate with them by phone or e-mail, and then make your decision. Congratulations on your acceptances!

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In general, I would say that fit trumps all else. BUT, we are in extraordinary budgetary times. Are either of those schools state universities? If so, I would seriously look into what's happening with their university's funding and what will be happening in the future budget-wise. And, if the one year funding may not be followed by other years of funding, then school Y is the obvious choice.

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You sound like you're the type of person that makes things work. I know money matters, but happiness matters more. Choose the school with the better fit and your kids will be happier because you'll be following something that fulfills you beyond anything money can provide.

What do you want your kids to remember when you have a bad day?:

"What's the matter, [daddy or mommy]?" --- "Well kids, money is kind of tight this month"

"What's the matter, [daddy or mommy]?" --- "Well kids, I feel like I didn't follow my passion"

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Heh... funny story, actually. Kind of embarrassing, too. I completely misread the letter I got from school X. After asking for clarification, it turns out that the funding there isn't so bad after all. In fact, the offer is better than Y's, overall. Looks like X is where I'll probably be going then. Haha. Anyway, good advice from everyone!

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