Jump to content

Deciding among lower tier schools


Recommended Posts

I'm amazed to see the number of people on this forum who have several offers from top tier and even Ivy League schools. Congrats to you!

I applied last year and was not admitted anywhere with funding, so I purposefully applied to a broader range and larger number of programs this year to improve my odds of getting in. Granted, I'm still waiting to hear from 5 schools and 2 waitlisted schools, but so far I have only been accepted into two of my "safety" schools, which is to say that they are lower tier and do not have the reputations of schools that many of you seem to be choosing between. This presents a different kind of difficult decision for me. Is anyone in a similar situation or do you have thoughts on choosing between safety schools? I'm happy to be admitted to two programs with funding and nicely matched faculty, but how to choose between them if the remaining schools and waitlists do not work out?

I would say that declining both and reapplying next year is not an option for me. I'm very eager to return to school and do not want to repeat the application process for a third year. And who knows whether I would even be admitted anywhere next year?

Thanks, and good luck with your remaining schools and decisions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, I don't blame you for not wanting to repeat the process a third time. I admire you for even doing it twice :shock:

I would think that deciding among safety schools would be the same as deciding among schools in general. Visit, talk to as many current students as you can, get a feel for the faculty you are thinking of working with. Go with whichever one is the most exciting to you!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you like prospective advisors at both places--which should really be the #1 factor--I would say to consider the following:

1) Location. If you're a city person & the school is way out in the boonies, for example, go to the other place.

2) Location. How close are you to family? You will want to visit, and traveling long distances is more expensive than traveling short distances.

3) Location. Do you like the atmosphere of the city/town surrounding the campus?

4) Climate. I do not like hot/dry, for example; I'd rather live in Minnesota than Arizona.

5) Funding. If one pays more than another...well, why turn down extra money? :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Congratulations on gaining admissions to two schools and having the funding to boot! I would say that you are in a great situation, better than the one I am presently in I might add (because I'm still waiting to hear on funding and from 7 schools). Let me start off by saying that you should in no way feel that you have not accomplished something because you haven't gained admission to a top tiered school. While that may have been your goal at first, if you really assess the situation, you are sitting on TWO offers from two schools that match your interests. Not many people can say that in this admissions process, given the current economic situation. Many of us are currently aching over the fact that we haven't been admitted anywhere and wondering if we will be and whether or not we'll get the funding to go. I just wanted to reassure you of that fact that you should be proud of what you have acheived thus far. (Sorry, I am an educator--enough of the pat on the back) :D

I would not base my decision or how I feel about my program on those rankings alone. You can't go by that alone because it only presents PART of a very complicated puzzle. I think many people would agree with what I'm saying. I would actually recommend that you read how they rank the programs and it will really enlighten you and make you feel better. Are there excellent institutions with superb faculty at the top of those ranks? Most definately and no one is going to dispute that. But that certainly doesn't mean that you can't find excellent programs at the lower tier or even not ranked at all, in fact, I know you can. I researched this on my own. I, too, have been accepted to a lower tier school. The faculty at this particular program have their degrees from the highest ranked institutions in my field--History (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, NYU, etc). I began to wonder why this program had the ranking it did so I began to compare this program to other programs that were lower tier or not ranked in the system. Do you want to know what I found? I found faculty with similiar outstanding training from "top" schools, numerous publications, identical program requirements for the PhD, archives, etc. If you have found a program (or in your fortunate case, two) that hosts decent faculty that match your interests, you will most likely receive excellent training from that program.

Like you, I can't wait to return to school to begin my doctoral work. For one, I'm not getting any younger, and second, well, I just can't wait. For the past two years, I have been teaching adjunct at a small, private liberal arts college. (I taught secondary ed for four years before that.) Some semesters I even teach full-time. I find that my teaching career is very rewarding. I don't teach at a big name school, but I am very happy with what I do from day to day. I have fulfillment in going to work two days a week(!) and prepping for my courses the other days. Just keep those things in mind.

Here's how I would base my decision (I only applied to programs in my geographical area because I am fortunate enough to have a steady part-time teaching job, a husband who supports me, and a home that I don't plan to sell--very "un-academic" I know, but whatever :) ):

-FUNDING (how far will your money go given the area in which you are going to live)

-PROGRAM FIT (definataly talk to grad students--see how miserable vs. happy they are--if you can go out for a drink or four :D )

-FACULTY (equal with program fit because you need to like these people and work with them)

-LOCATION (You can always move after you complete your coursework and then fly in for comps, thesis work, etc., if you hate the location)

Best of luck and success to you! Let us know what you end up deciding.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to second what others have said:

money and locale are everything! If you're broke in Chicago, you're going to be miserable and your scholarship will certainly suffer. Rolling in dough in Alabama might be nicer, but only if you're okay with the climate and don't mind the lack of a nearby Ikea.

There was a program in NYC that someone suggested I look at...and I was in love. But I ended up not applying because I realized that being a grad student in what is arguably one of the coolest/busiest/priciest cities in the nation would not be conducive to my personal happiness or my work ethic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I imagine that you'll probably have more choices to consider as well when you hear back about your other applications. I applied to schools that many on this forum might consider 'low tier', 'low rank' programs; however, I searched programs based on shared faculty interests. The programs I've gotten into are perfect fits for me professionally and personally, even though they many not be among the better known programs in the field. If I went by the many threads I've read on grad cafe, I'd say that it seems like many on here place way too much emphasis on rank. I think faculty fit and research compatibility are so much more important. After that - funding and location.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. I guess academia is so competitive, and the people on this forum so well qualified and accomplished, that I do sometimes wonder if I am crazy to "settle" for lower tier schools. I have read posts from people on here who got into their safety schools but are holding off to apply next year in hopes of a dream program. Maybe my goal is just a little lower and more realistic, as I know that I won't be getting into any Ivy League programs or even top 20 programs in English--it's just too competitive and my application, while very strong in some areas, does not hold up as whole to some of the most qualified applicants. Given my goals of teaching at a smaller arts college or community college, I think a PhD program from an unranked school will do, and I think a lot of it has to do with what you make of the experience and how productive you are while there.

I will continue to consider the points you have made as I decide between the two choices. Each has strengths, but I am already leaning towards one of the programs. Thanks again for indulging me and I wish each of you the best of luck as things are finalized in the coming weeks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I suppose I am in the same situation to some people (Although, I think both schools that I am choosing from are great--the one with the "lower rank" especially). But the way I look at it is that 10 years from now, its the research that I do and the work I put into it, the articles that I publish, the people that I meet at conferences/presentations, that will dictate how far I go after grad school. Honestly, if you produce truly novel and groundbreaking research, no one will care what school you came from when you are giving speeches about it in a hall of scholars/professionals/politicians and the like. That's really what motivates me. What I make of what I am given. I probably won't be doing something on the level of a cure for cancer, but I'll enjoy doing the research and teaching (which I've loved doing since I was a child with stuffed animals). I'm sure that if I wanted to do post-doc research, its my research proposal that will get me the grant, not the school typed on my resume.

And in the meantime, I'd rather go to a school where the thick tension of competition and prestige wasn't surrounding me. These schools tend to have the same types of students (they get more WASPy, unisex, uni-class the more "prestigious" they are) and I'd rather be among a diverse group of students with a more laid back, exploratory, familial culture.

Here is a good read about rankings:


Given that companies use SAT scores, Alumni donations, GPA, faculty funding, google-factor, etc., these variables seem to be VERY cyclical and play on each other, as an increase in these variables don't necessarily mean a better program, but the school name automatically attracts higher scores. Its a chicken and egg argument. How do you filter out a long-established, prestigious NAME in the analysis of these schools/programs? Apparently, they haven't figured out how to do that yet if they are still using these measures.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use