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Fully Funded/Stipend Or More recognizable school?


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After trying to hedge my bets and applying to two different kinds of programs two unexpected things happened:

1) I was accepted to my first choice school for an MA in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University

2) I was accepted by my second-ish choice school for an MA in English at Northern Michigan University, but also funded basically full tuition and offered a teaching assistantship with an additional $8,000 stipend

Carnegie Mellon offers help as well, by waiving about 45% of the tuition, but that would still leave me with approx. $10,000 to pay each semester. And there are also a lot of things influencing this decision:

- It's a more "respected" program

- It's a professional program, and after admission I'll have an idea of what I'm up against as far as debt is concerned.

- From what I've read the pay is better for technical writers than it is for professors.

- I have friends in Pittsburgh, most notably a girlfriend of two years (I actually moved here to be with her for a while after the long distance relationship of undergrad.)

- I'm from the South, and from what I hear Michigan's Upper Peninsula gets very cold.

- I wonder if MBA's even get fully funded, and that's just how it is for professional degrees.

- I have this weird hangup about higher-tiered schools since graduating from a small regional college in GA (my GPA was 3.6, if that plays any role whatsoever--I saw it asked for in another forum.

- I will feel I will not be too overspecialized in one field, and can develop my nascent interest in science through the familiar field of writing.

- There is no guarantee that after NMU, when applying for a PhD, that I will not have to amass a ton of debt.


- NMU is covering 16 credits per semester and giving me $8,000 to live there. Which sounds like an amazing offer.

- I come from not the best financial situation, family-wise, and the thought of taking on debt scares me.

- Not to mention $30,000 seems like an insane amount of money to me.

- I have no idea how students apply and take on loans without the guarantee of a job at the end of the tunnel.

- I graduated from a small school, and worked during undergrad to pay for it, which balanced, where this is not a debt I can pay by working a semester and break to pay off.

- I have no idea of how much time I'll have for a job while studying at CMU (but will desperately need one to pay for rent and food)

- I love both types of programs equally, almost all I know is academia, coming from an English undergrad, but I also feel the allure of professional writing.

- I feel the isolation may help me study better.

I think that is fairly thorough, ANY information is appreciated. My professors tell me go the funded route, my friends/the one family member who volunteered info said go the reputable route (but then again, said family member is not afraid of raking up debt). I honestly kind of dreamed of CMU since graduating, and not that it is a prospect, the amount of money seems daunting. Yet I also feel I have a talent and passion for academia related to NMU (there's a professor there who I feel contributes well to the field of contemporary literature).

Once again, thanks in advance for any advice. I feel at the end of my wits.

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In short: I think I would love to go to CMU, in order to fully indulge the path I feel I want right now. But the cost and uncertainty loom large over the fact that I am good at academia, and they are apparently very good back to me.

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Have you asked CM specifically if there is any funding available? Perhaps outside the department? I know a lot of schools have graduate assistantships offered through the university--such as the registrar's office, for example--that can sometimes offer a tuition waiver and stipend. They are usually positions that one would apply for on a semester-by-semester (or yearly) basis, but can definitely take the pressure off in terms of money and loans. From what I understand, you would be working about 20 hours per week, but the students I know who have done it have found it very manageable.

I would call them and tell them your dilemma up front. Say, "I really want to come here, it's my dream school, but I'm worried about the money. Are there any opportunities, anywhere in the University, to get some sort of funding?" I've found that most schools are pretty understanding when it comes to economics.

Hope this helps, and good luck with your decision B)

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I wouldn't go into debt for a master's degree, particularly one that may not lead to you making the big bucks. It's not as if the NMU degree would somehow prevent you from becoming a technical writer.

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In my opinion, follow the money. Unless the funded offer is coming from Jim Bob's House of Degrees I Make On My Computer, a funded offer is always better than a very, very expensive one.

For what it's worth, my husband grew up in Alabama and Mississippi and went to Ole Miss as an undergrad. His first job out of college was in Ann Arbor. It was a shock, but it didn't kill him, and 20 years later he's still never lived any farther south than PA. (We live in eastern NY now.) You can do it!

Edited by MediaMom
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Agree -- go with the fully funded offer. You can try CMU again for the PhD. 10K a semester is a lot of debt, and you'd need to take out even more than that to cover living expenses. I suppose you could work, as you mentioned, but that would cut into your studies. If you could get a TA, which might help you find jobs in the future,if you were interested in teaching, that would be a different matter.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I went to nmu for undergrad, and yes it does get super cold! However, there's plenty to do up there to get your mind off of it. In regards to it being a less recognized university, nmu is definitely underrated. There are some wonderful professors and a strong sense of academia if you show that you are committed to their field....but it is definitely less casual and probably a lot smaller of a community than cm. The plus side of this is that it gives you a lot of room to grow and sets you up for success...there's more opportunities to take on more, and that never hurts your resume! It may be a good investment towards your ph d in the future. If you have anymore q's about the campus or whatever, holler at me!

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Go for the fully funded offer. I know a couple of technical writers who only got their BA in writing so I would avoid large sums of debt for writing if that is the route you are going to go (they are at very large national companies!). I also know someone who got their MA in writing and racked up thousands of dollars in debt. She had to get an entry level job in marketing and that was a struggle for her. In short, if you can find a funded MA program, that is amazing! The body of work that you publish will mean much more than which university you went to.

Edited by NeuroGal
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