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CU Boulder vs. UCI?


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Greetings all,

I'm finishing up my undergraduate career at UC Irvine as a History and Classics double major. My acceptances this year were rather modest as I aimed far too ambitiously with my applications, but at the end of the day I was admitted to the UCI Tri-Campus program and guaranteed a year of waived tuition and a regent's stipend of 16,000 on top of that. I was also accepted to CU Boulder's MA program, though waitlisted for funding. I sat on my hands till the 15th waiting for my status to change.

Then, on the morning of the 16th, Boulder gave me an offer of 6 units waived tuition per semester for both years, as well as a stipend of 9,400 and another fellowship of 1,500 on top of that.

I've been struggling with this decision for the past week, and my time is winding down to make a call. I'm quite enamored with the prospects of going to Boulder as I was born in Orange County and have been living here in Irvine for the past three years (I was in Northern California for some time), but my family also lives in Irvine so if I were to attend UCI my cost of living would be essentially zero. Money isn't a critical issue, however.

What is a critical issue is which school would be best to position myself for another attempt at applying to Ivies and big name schools. Boulder has done some pretty excellent placement in the last couple of years, but the number of students who actually make it to these schools is decidedly few compared to the number of their applicants. To further complicate things, staying at UCI would ensure that I am at least locked into a Ph.D. program- if it all goes to hell in a hand basket I can at least stay put and play it safe.

I guess what I'm asking my fellow classicists on the board is, what would you do in my position? I should mention that my primary focus is Roman Imperial History and that I'd be trying to apply to Michigan, Chicago, Chapel Hill, and the like of the excellent history programs in two years, and that I planned (with my professors' blessings) to use UCI as an MA springboard even before the whole Boulder event happened. I've already made a positive contact with Noel Lenski in Boulder and he was quite interested in me- when I visited their campus two weeks ago he recalled several items from my application, something that really struck me. I don't know if UCI itself has strictly historians in its immediate campus, though it certainly has historians in SD and Riverside, which makes Boulder a more attractive option, but is the risk of Boulder worth the reward? Does the issue of remaining in my home campus set me at a disadvantage? Or should I be content with the fact that I have a pretty generous offer from UCI?

Edited by APHistorian
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I doubt name cachet matters as much as some people suppose. I would encourage you to think about this not as a comparison between two universities, or even two programs, but between two research supervisors. To get into a competitive PhD program, you will need a superior MA thesis and strong recommendations from specialists in your area. Neither of these are likely to emerge if the program does not have a scholar well fitted to supervise your particular research interests (and take an interest in you). I hope this helps, and wish you the best of luck on your journey!


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I'm just finishing my MA at CU, and I can say that I'm really pleased with my experience here. I had a great round of PhD acceptances (got in at UNC-CH, Berkeley, CU, and UVa, which is where I opted to go, someone else got in at Brown and UCLA, and someone last year went to Michigan) I agree with the above comment that going where the faculty fits your research is really important, with the slight caveat that you only have two years to get to know people when doing a terminal MA. Also, most MAs at CU don't write a thesis, but you definitely can if you want to. I did, and I am really pleased with my experience. In fact, I would say that working with my (amazing!) thesis supervisor has really made my experience at CU. Also, I think you can apply to get your funding bumped up to 45% in your second year, but you'd want to double check that. Noel Lenski is great, too. I think he's a good reason to come to CU. Boulder's expensive to live in (though nothing like Irvine!)

One piece of advice that I got a lot when considering whether or not to stay at CU for my PhD was that down the road on the job market, people like to see that you've got experience with more than one department. They told me at UNC when I visited that they have a policy against accepting their own undergrads for this very reason; they think it hurts in the long run to stay in one place. Also, you just build another network of professional relationships when you get to know another department, which they say is really useful in the long run, too. Though would you really be locked into the PhD at UCI? Couldn't you reapply for the year after you finished the MA?

I'm sure I didn't meet you when you visited, but I hope you enjoyed Boulder and congrats on your acceptances!

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Thank you for your responses, Westcott and cafe americano. I was thinking in a similar way as the both of you were, though I was concerned that that track was not the appropriate one- I am relieved to see that it most certainly is the appropriate one!

I've made my decision (after talking with my parents much more on the subject today) to attend CU Boulder, and I'm quite pleased to have done so. I congratulate you on your acceptances, cafe, and I hope I can repeat your feats in the next two years! Thanks once again for your help!

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