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Why choose Duke over Chicago for Political Theory?


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Hi everyone,

I'm trying very hard to decide which program to attend right now. At this point, I've become more and more convinced that I ultimately want to focus on continental philosophy and 20th century political theory. Could anyone give me an idea of whether this is doable at Duke? Let me add that I am also waitlisted a Chicago, which would seem to be a better fit. Nevertheless, I'm still leaning toward Duke because the cost of living is so low. I have a family and we would be able to buy a home and maintain our investments fairly well there, while at Chicago, its much more likely that the cost of living would drain our savings. Thus, when it comes time to find work, we'll be able to potentially look longer and even do a solid post-doc if we go to Duke. Chicago would probably require taking on some debt and definitely not let us live as well. Is there really enough of a difference in terms of the brand name and placement possibilities between Duke and Chicago to warrant taking on the financial hit and lower quality of living for my family and me to go to Chicago? Thanks.

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Since we both visited Duke last week, there's little I can add that you wouldn't already know. But since you mentioned name rec and placement as concerns, I'll direct you to a study (link below) which found that, contra the disparity implied by the NRC rankings, Duke ranks #7 in PhD placement success for Political Science, to Chicago's #5. I don't know what kind of stock the USNWR rankings deserve, but they place Chicago at #3 for political theory and Duke at #6. Conclusion: they are programs that appear to be similar in quality, though it seems pretty well-recognized that Chicago is a better program.

I also share your impression that Chicago has a deeper bench for 20th century / contemporary theory. I think that if you can say, identify two or more faculty at Chicago who'd you like to work with than at Duke, it might be a compelling reason to go for it. What matters more for placement than #5 vs. #7 by who-knows-what methodology is the quality of your work and the strength of recommendations you get from your faculty. So which has a better rate of faculty who you could see yourself working closely with? I'd make that the deciding factor, along with the cost of living stuff you've mentioned, rather than name rec or placement rates.

Good luck with your decision!

Placement study: http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/se ... 21/ranking

US News: http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandr ... tical_thry

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Since we both visited Duke last week, there's little I can add that you wouldn't already know. But since you mentioned name rec and placement as concerns, I'll direct you to a study (link below) which found that, contra the disparity implied by the NRC rankings, Duke ranks #7 in PhD placement success for Political Science, to Chicago's #5. I don't know what kind of stock the USNWR rankings deserve, but they place Chicago at #3 for political theory and Duke at #6. Conclusion: they are programs that appear to be similar in quality, though it seems pretty well-recognized that Chicago is a better program.

I also share your impression that Chicago has a deeper bench for 20th century / contemporary theory. I think that if you can say, identify two or more faculty at Chicago who'd you like to work with than at Duke, it might be a compelling reason to go for it. What matters more for placement than #5 vs. #7 by who-knows-what methodology is the quality of your work and the strength of recommendations you get from your faculty. So which has a better rate of faculty who you could see yourself working closely with? I'd make that the deciding factor, along with the cost of living stuff you've mentioned, rather than name rec or placement rates.

Good luck with your decision!

Placement study: http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/se ... 21/ranking

US News: http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandr ... tical_thry

Greetings, Oscarwildebeest. Those rankings are compelling, but I'm still a little worried. What really bugs me is that those USNWR rankings were done before Coles left Duke. I'd feel a lot better if I knew they had plans to replace him with another theorist who was strong on 20th century stuff. And the other thing is the pedigree factor, which appears to hold a tremendous amount of prestiage in our particular subfield. I don't want to spend a decade or more laboring to make up for the fact that I didn't come from Harvard, Princeton, or Chicago.

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Keep in mind that the cost of living is lower in Hyde Park than in the rest of Chicago. Condos are more affordable in Hyde Park than in, say, Lincoln Park, and it is possible to live without a car in Chicago, which can reduce one major source of expense.

You've probably already done this, but . . . if you haven't done so already, you might want to sit down and crunch the numbers to figure out *exactly* how much more expensive U of C would be than Duke. If the difference is relatively small, it may be worth it to attend Chicago. But if Duke is the better value by far, or if a spot doesn't open up for you at Chicago, then at least you have the comfort of knowing that Duke is an excellent school, has some faculty with whom you can work (or else you wouldn't have applied there), and should be able to get you a good job.

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