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English PhD: Illinois Urbana-Champaign vs. Illinois at Chicago


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I’m interested in hearing feedback from the board as to which school has a stronger English literature PhD program: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) or the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)?

According to U.S. News, it’s Urbana; however, the NRC rankings suggest that there are big things going on at UIC.

My sense is the Urbana may be the better program because it is part of the flagship university with a more substantial funding package, a lower cost of living and a slightly higher placement rate. I’m also attracted to it because of the number of faculty members in my immediate area (4 versus 1) and it’s proximity to my significant other (2 hours as opposed to 5). In short, I think I could afford to live in Urbana, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and end up with a worthwhile degree.

But then again, UIC has several rock-star professors (Walter Benn Michaels, Gerald Graff, etc.), a slightly lower teaching load, and access to the cultural resources of Chicago (lecture series, libraries, etc.). I have always wanted to return to a big city like the one where I earned my undergraduate degree. At the same time, with my limited means (I have savings but not a trust fund), I’m not sure if “big city living” is the best path to a PhD.

Is there a way to look at this objectively?

I should mention that I am working on Victorian & modernist literature. In addition to the Illinois schools, I am close to moving off of Notre Dame’s waitlist and may potentially receive an offer from Indiana as well. I have also received admission to Purdue and waitlist status at Ohio State, UC Riverside and Missouri, but I don't have plans to attend any of those schools.

Thanks for your help.

Edited by stillthisappeal
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Hey, I'm in a somewhat similar quandry, stillthisappeal! I've had my heart set for years on living in a big city during grad school (preferably Chicago), but now have what is perhaps my best offer is from a school in a less-than-metropolis northwestern city. The past few days I've been reflecting and trying to prioritize: am I willing to give up the diversity and mobility and cultural riches of a city for perhaps a quieter existence? After all, maybe grad school isn't the best time to try to take in a city, anyways. What kind of a life do I want to live for the next 6 years?

But besides my story, I know everyone always emphasizes FIT, FIT, FIT, as both the key for getting into a program and for deciding where to go. And it seems to me that the vague things like "culture," personality," and "atmosphere" may be just as important for measuring "fit" as the typical criteria such as course offerings or POIs. I know, stillthisappeal, that you said you're trying to look at this objectively, but my train of thought recently has been more towards the OPPOSITE side of things: realizing that my relationships and lifestyle goals and finances are totally mixed up in my consideration of a department's ranking or assistantship program or potential advisers.

Will you have the chance to visit both or either of these programs? Of course, the "objective" factors matter, but if you can't engage and thrive in the program, it's strengths will do you little good. Having to teach more than you're able to handle might not be worth whatever extra stipend you receive, or on the other hand, not having teaching opportunities could be even worse for your personal and professional growth. Having to choose between a program and a significant other can likewise set you off on a bad foot, whether Chicago or anywhere else!

Just my two cents...

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