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PhD without first-year funding vs. partially-funded MA


tortola23

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I have admits at Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Claremont for partially-funded MA degrees, and an offer from UW-Seattle for a PhD program . . . with no funding for the first year. The UW program would be the obvious choice if it were fully funded. They're legally unable to guarantee second-year funding, but apparently only one student in their recent history has failed to secure it, and it was because he was failing his classes.

So WHAT am I supposed to do here?! My undergrad advisor thinks UW would be best because considering my academic interests, I could launch a pretty bad-ass career from that school. However, going into debt--even just a year's worth--for my PhD was not originally part of my plan.

I should add that I'm DEFINITELY waiting out two fully-funded PhD wait-lists UT-Austin and UF, since those schools are about equal to UW and they offer full funding.

But should neither of them accept me, what would be my best choice? Just looking for other folks' thoughts here; help me make a list of pros and cons!

Edited by tortola23
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The PhD Program seems like the much better choice to me- you might even be able to secure funding for the second semester while you are there.

If your eventual goal is to get a PhD anyways, then it's better not to waste time on an MA program. Can you imagine going through this whole process again? And you said the MA programs only offered partial funding- how partial? Without knowing the details, I would guess you would rack up just as much debt in two years of a partially funded MA, as you would in one year of unfunded PhD.

Student loans are not THAT bad, as long as you follow the rule of thumb and keep them under what you expect your one year salary to be when you are done and you don't have any major things planned- like having a massive wedding, or having kids, etc etc etc.

Seattle is by no means cheap to live in, but at least you can live there without buying a car (EASILY- everything you need is near UW, and the city wide bus system is excellent), and if you have a roommate for one year, housing won't get you too bad either.

So, of course wait to hear from the other schools, but I think that taking out some small loans and starting the perfect program is WAY better than doing this whole thing over again in two years in an equally insecure financial situation.

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I have admits at Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Claremont for partially-funded MA degrees, and an offer from UW-Seattle for a PhD program . . . with no funding for the first year. The UW program would be the obvious choice if it were fully funded. They're legally unable to guarantee second-year funding, but apparently only one student in their recent history has failed to secure it, and it was because he was failing his classes.

So WHAT am I supposed to do here?! My undergrad advisor thinks UW would be best because considering my academic interests, I could launch a pretty bad-ass career from that school. However, going into debt--even just a year's worth--for my PhD was not originally part of my plan.

I should add that I'm DEFINITELY waiting out two fully-funded PhD wait-lists UT-Austin and UF, since those schools are about equal to UW and they offer full funding.

But should neither of them accept me, what would be my best choice? Just looking for other folks' thoughts here; help me make a list of pros and cons!

I'm in a similar situation and don't know what I am going to do yet. Question, though, aren't you going to end up paying (at least in part) for the MA programs? Or am I not understanding somthing?

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equinox & truc: Good advice. I would end up paying for about 50% of any of the MA programs and for only about 20% (tops) of UW's PhD program, as long as they did come through on second-year funding, which I pretty much trust them to do. I have family in Seattle and I like it there, and I don't think I'd find it more expensive than Austin, where I live now.

Sad to say, I think the only reason I'm really considering the MA programs is that the prospect of moving away from my S.O. for 5 years is a lot more depressing than the prospect of moving away for 2 years. 5 years sounds more like a relationship-ender, and that's crappy. Which is why I'm really hoping for UT-Austin. Sometimes it's hard being an ambitious type, bleh.

The MA program I'd most consider would be Carnegie Mellon's because it's Professional Writing, a whole different career path. But in my heart of hearts, I think I'm an academic.

truc, what are your options?

Edited by tortola23
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One of my former co-workers went to UW's English program from 2009-2010 without funding and he seemed to have a pretty easy time of it, in that he was able to work full-time without really stressing about his classes, papers, etc. Just one individual's experience, but for what it's worth, he made it look reasonable.

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Seattle is quite a bit more expensive than Austin to live in. Do a cost of living comparison (free ones are online). Not saying don't do this or anything, just that the comparison of the two cities in terms of cost is off.

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I went to UW. You can find cheap places to live around here (i.e. ~$500/mo for rent + utilities/groceries) so long as you are willing to live with others or willing to bus into campus (great public transportation here).

If your ultimate goal is a PhD, then you should go for the PhD. A Masters degree won't help you get into a better PhD program, it seems, so you'd just be prolonging or elongating the time it takes to reach your ultimate goal.

One year unfunded isn't bad and I'm sure you'd be able to pick up some work here or there in the summer or even as a reader/grader or research assistant (I'm currently working as a research assistant for one of my former UW English profs, until I leave for grad school).

UW's program has been great to me, so I'm biased. From my view, then, at least I know the money would be worth it (though I'd jump ship if funded for a PhD elsewhere).

Edited by jprufrock
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equinox & truc: Good advice. I would end up paying for about 50% of any of the MA programs and for only about 20% (tops) of UW's PhD program, as long as they did come through on second-year funding, which I pretty much trust them to do. I have family in Seattle and I like it there, and I don't think I'd find it more expensive than Austin, where I live now.

Sad to say, I think the only reason I'm really considering the MA programs is that the prospect of moving away from my S.O. for 5 years is a lot more depressing than the prospect of moving away for 2 years. 5 years sounds more like a relationship-ender, and that's crappy. Which is why I'm really hoping for UT-Austin. Sometimes it's hard being an ambitious type, bleh.

The MA program I'd most consider would be Carnegie Mellon's because it's Professional Writing, a whole different career path. But in my heart of hearts, I think I'm an academic.

truc, what are your options?

Oh, I COMPLETELY understand that dilemma! I am choosing between a really good math department, and a quite good biology department at my undergrad institution where my SO is currently a graduate student. My SO and I talked about it a lot, and it IS hella depressing, but you know... at the end, I feel actually better and more confident that we will get through it- and if you two are serious and love each other, I bet you will. And if you (as a couple )are not serious, then ... well, you will find that out, right?

Why can't he/she join you? In a year or two? Thats what I am hoping for *sigh*

Also, if you change your career while knowing that you are an academic at heart because of your S.O., and then it doesn't work out with the two of you... you are sure to resent him/her forever.... :(

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Also, if you change your career while knowing that you are an academic at heart because of your S.O., and then it doesn't work out with the two of you... you are sure to resent him/her forever....

Exactly. I'm considering the Professional Writing mostly because it would mean getting hired fairly easily and starting to make money very quickly. I wonder if I'd be happier in the long-run if I didn't need to worry about my career all of the time...

Hopefully my visit to Pittsburgh will help me decide. It might sound weird to some people to have to choose between "struggling academic" and "successful businessperson", but it's difficult for me.

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truc, what are your options?

Similar, but also different. I've been accepted to a 50% funded MA program in New York City for anthro and a PhD program in anthro (also in New York City) where funding won't happen until the second year, or so I am told. While I'd love to jump into the open arms of my dream PhD program, the possibility of having to fund myself (read - take on vast amounts of debt) for five-plus years is daunting.

I'm just finishing my undergrad where I have been lucky enough to be on scholarship and avoid taking out loans. For this reason, I'm leaning towards the MA program. I think it will give me time to network and improve my cv a bit before applying again to PhD programs in two years. EDIT - and hopefully be funded at that point!

Also - I have a SO who is applying to grad schools (in clinical psych) this coming fall. We are beginning to realize how inconvenient being in a two grad student (and potentially academic) relationship is.

Edited by truc
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That's my thing, too. I have zero debt right now and I'm very wary of accumulating any.

I still have no idea what I'll choose. I'm really hoping that one of my full-funding wait-lists comes through so that the decision will be made for me, haha.

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