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"Playing" departments against each other


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Below is a quote from the article "The Grad School Letter Arrives... Now What?", which is linked at the bottom of the page. 

 

"Before you decide, you should know that you can "play" the schools against each other. Maybe your top choice (let's say Stanford) has not offered you as good a package as your second choice (University of California, Berkeley). Call (don't e-mail) the graduate director of your prospective department at Stanford (or whoever signed your letter of acceptance) and tell her what Berkeley offered you. She'll call you back in a day or two and let you know what Stanford's counter-offer is. If Stanford decides to stick with the original offer, you will have lost nothing; since that offer will still stand you can nevertheless go to Stanford despite a less attractive funding package."

 
 
Has anyone had any success doing this? It sounds sort of audacious to me. I do not want to come off as if I am trying to squeeze pennies out of the department and I definitely don't want to make poeple dislike me before I even arrive. Then again, some extra funding would be nice.....
 
 
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I think it's totally ok, though I doubt it happens frequently.

Departments understand that funding can play a huge role in a decision. If you're number one choice hasn't made you a great offer then it's quite acceptable to say, "Listen, you are my number one choice. I would like to commit to you, but funding is a concern for me. School X has offered me $$. Can you match this offer?"

I don't think this will work well for all schools, but as long as it's polite the worst case scenario is that you attend your #1 choice with a bet less than you were hoping for. This approach certainly works better with programs that have (access to) money. Also, don't create a bidding war. Do this only for one school.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I noticed that this article (which I found at http://www.uni.edu/~gotera/gradapp/results.htm rather than the link in the first post) was written by a professor of English Language and Literature.  Could it be that this strategy works better in humanities fields where funding depends more on merit-based fellowships rather than in the physical sciences, where funding is based more on graduate research assistanceships?

 

I have been somewhat surprised by the range of the stipends I have been offered (17K at the low end to 30K at the high end, more than a 75% increase!).  To a certain extent, it seems the differences correspond somewhat to the cost of living in the area.  However, in one case, one of the more expensive locations has offered me one of the lowest stipends, but the graduate director sent me an email inviting me to discuss the offer with him ("if funding is an issue that will affect your ultimate decision of department, please let me know").

 

I'm just not quite sure how to comfortably breach the subject.  I know I am in a position of strength, having been already made a funding offer, but I still feel somewhat awkward talking about it.

 

Can anyone share any experiences of actually doing this, either successfully or unsuccessfully? 

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This strategy worked for me.  I got an extra $5000 offered to me when I said I had another offer with better funding.  My POI asked to see my offer letter from the other school that stipulated the funding amount, passed it on to the department, and then I was given a counteroffer that matched the funding amount.  

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  • 9 months later...

It sounds audacious, but I suspect it's rather standard practice. I actually got an email from one of my schools that urged me to "discuss possibilities" with them before making my final decision.

I have heard the same thing.  UW even has that on their site, that they send out letters as early as February, but that funding offers are not sent until as late as mid-April.  In light of that, they suggest contacting them if you are considering other schools.

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I think it is fine to do this if you go about it in a transparent, civil, and polite manner.  Students always undersell themselves - why not try to get the best deal you can get?

 

Of course, tread lightly and don't end up shooting yourself in the foot by being too aggressive about it.

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I noticed that this article (which I found at http://www.uni.edu/~gotera/gradapp/results.htm rather than the link in the first post) was written by a professor of English Language and Literature.  Could it be that this strategy works better in humanities fields where funding depends more on merit-based fellowships rather than in the physical sciences, where funding is based more on graduate research assistanceships?

 

I have been somewhat surprised by the range of the stipends I have been offered (17K at the low end to 30K at the high end, more than a 75% increase!).  To a certain extent, it seems the differences correspond somewhat to the cost of living in the area.  However, in one case, one of the more expensive locations has offered me one of the lowest stipends, but the graduate director sent me an email inviting me to discuss the offer with him ("if funding is an issue that will affect your ultimate decision of department, please let me know").

 

I'm just not quite sure how to comfortably breach the subject.  I know I am in a position of strength, having been already made a funding offer, but I still feel somewhat awkward talking about it.

 

Can anyone share any experiences of actually doing this, either successfully or unsuccessfully? 

I'd say that the bulk of assistantships in the arts and humanities are not just merit-based, because so many of them are TA-ships versus RA-ships.  They are often looking for applicants who express strong interest in teaching, or indeed have some experience teaching somewhere.  Even in Sociology, my chosen PhD field, I don't see a lot of funded research positions, but I see a lot of TA-ships.  Geography, my other field I'm applying to, seems to have quite a long list of RAships.  

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I voiced concerns over the huge disparity in health insurance costs between my two top schools and the POI at the institution with the higher cost was able to swing a few thousand extra bucks to even things out. And he did it in under 12 hours.  Needless to say, I was impressed. Not simply with the money, but that a POI was that on top of taking care of things and willing to invest in having me in his group. I committed (basically) immediately and he's been as effective, generous, and organized in our interactions since.  

 

I'm not someone to rock a boat needlessly; but if you have a concern about something which might be easily fixed, there is no harm in asking about it considerately and while it can still be easily fixed.

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I noticed that this article (which I found at http://www.uni.edu/~gotera/gradapp/results.htm rather than the link in the first post) was written by a professor of English Language and Literature.  Could it be that this strategy works better in humanities fields where funding depends more on merit-based fellowships rather than in the physical sciences, where funding is based more on graduate research assistanceships?

 

I have been somewhat surprised by the range of the stipends I have been offered (17K at the low end to 30K at the high end, more than a 75% increase!).  To a certain extent, it seems the differences correspond somewhat to the cost of living in the area.  However, in one case, one of the more expensive locations has offered me one of the lowest stipends, but the graduate director sent me an email inviting me to discuss the offer with him ("if funding is an issue that will affect your ultimate decision of department, please let me know").

 

I'm just not quite sure how to comfortably breach the subject.  I know I am in a position of strength, having been already made a funding offer, but I still feel somewhat awkward talking about it.

 

Can anyone share any experiences of actually doing this, either successfully or unsuccessfully? 

 

I don't have experience with this directly, but I have friends/family that are in graduate school in both humanities and science fields. Most of the time (from doing research, about 95%), Humanities students get offered 1 year of fellowship (so you just take courses), then 2 years of TA-ing Funding (teaching), then the rest is either fellowship or TA-ing. However, humanities students tend to get paid a lot less than science/engineering students because they have less grant money available. It is pretty much what is allotted to the departments. That is why at some schools humanities grad students get paid $14,000, but science grad students will get double that.

 

Again, this is based off of family/friends and my own research when looking at funding packages across different fields. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had a lot of success doing this for my doctoral program. The graduate director from School A made it very clear that they wanted me there, and so I laid out the offers I received from schools B and C, and asked if they could match them. I ended up getting an additional $15k a year in grants and fee waivers. 

 

A good script to use:

 

"Your program is my first choice/I am very excited about your program, BUT in comparison with the other offers I've received, the funding package just isn't feasible for me.  To make this work I would need [a guaranteed RAship/a tuition waiver/full health coverage/a stipend of $XXX]. Is there a way that we can make this work?"

 

Don't think of it as playing schools off each other, think of it as using the other offers as a jumping off point to articulate what you want.  Talk to whoever is your point person at the program. If it's a PI, talk to them, if it's the graduate director, talk to them. You may have better luck calling them rather than emailing them.

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I did this last year, and got offered 2 extra fellowships (departmental and summer research fellowships), and even got nominated for the university wide fellowship (I didn't get it though). I also got minimum teaching responsibilities. 

Of course, I sent my first choice school the official acceptance letters/ fellowship offers from other schools for that to happen. It never hurts to show some political intelligence, as long as you articulate it well :) Good luck!

Edited by heartshapedcookie
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