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Funding vs. Fit & Questions


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Hello all! I have two offers on the table at the moment (and the other schools I'm waiting on are not high up on my list, so they don't really factor into my decision at this point), and I am looking for some advice. Basically, it comes down to Money vs. Fit, which is exactly the choice I *didn't* want to have to make. Details are below. Despite the huge differences in funding, I'm still really struggling with this decision. What I'm wondering is: what types of questions should I be asking each program at this point to help me make this decision? I'm already going to ask about job placement, but is there anything else I should be asking? Thanks.


The breakdown:


School A:

-First choice

-Amazing program fit

-Perfect advisor who is well-experienced and well-known in my research focus

-TAship with so-so stipend

-Partial tuition waiver

-$1k fellowship


School B:

-2nd or 3rd choice

-Program is a good fit

-No advisor who knows my specific research focus

-Faculty seems great, but again, no one who has worked on my focus

-TAship with great stipend

-Full tuition waiver for at least four years

-$25k fellowship 

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Frankly, it's really hard to give feedback based on the vague info you're providing. For example, what does so-so funding mean?? Where are the schools located geographically? How do you know the advisor is amazing before you even start working w them? What do you consider a "great stipend" to be? Again, what part of the country are we talking about?

A phd is a 5-year commitment and a lot can change in your life over the next 5-years, ie marriage, divorce, burnout, excellent opportunities outside of school, family stuff, etc. so, the idea of going to grad school partially funded or on a really low stipend or paying partial tuition, at least for me, is out of the question.

Money, while not everything, is still a very important part of the decision process. I worked as a TA and outside of school to finance my MA and I can tell you that the last thing you need in a 5-year program is money issues.

Also, you say it's a "great" program but bear in mind that sometimes people accept an offer based on what they *think* will be awesome fit/advisor/departmental culture, only to find that things are actually not so great once they're in. I'm not saying this will be the case with you, but just something to consider.

As for questions for the programs, I would ask about TA/RA loads, what the teaching requirements will be 4th and 5th year, whether there are travel/conference grants available, whether grad students co-author papers, what the placement of the programs are, and maybe negotiate a higher stipend.

Edited by RiseofthePhoenix
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Money is a huge deal, but it is also important that your education sets you up for a successful future. Have you approached faculty at School B to see how they think your research interests would fit with yours? I would try to get explicit answers from them regarding what sort of research you will be doing in the next 5 years. It doesn't have to be a perfect match (you have the rest of your career for that), but it should probably relate in some way to your ultimate research goals, and at least set you up to be able to understand and conduct that future research. If you think School B will still be able to give you a good foundation from which you can follow your true research passions, then it might be a better option. Other than that, what RiseofthePhoenix said: ask about TA requirements for the course of your grad career, and what other funding options may be available.


Have you considered approaching the prof at School A and spelling out your dilemma? He/she may be able to try and negotiate better funding for you. Just a thought. 

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vicki- i'll probably end up in the same boat as you, but i do agree with what phoenix and linelei have said: money is a major issue, but not the only issue; you don't want to sacrifice fit, in the short and long term, both in and out of school. spend as much time as you can talking to your POIs at both schools, get in touch with some students, and talk to your POI and financial aid folks at school A. basically, double check to make sure that your sense of "fit" is 100% correct, see if school B could work for you, and see if school A can adjust your funding or offer more ideas.


besides those questions and job placement, i would also do some quick research (aka snooping around on google) about what kind of salary you can expect. personally, that's going to be a big factor in how i decide; for my top choice program, i'd be getting little to no help, and the maximum amount of loans i'd be taking out for the 2 years is equal to or greater than what i could expect to make in a year if i were hired right away, which kind of spells imminent financial doom. i'm not going directly into a PhD program, though, so i'm in a different situation. just something to consider!

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"Perfect advisor who is well-experienced and well-known in my research focus" - Did you meet this person face to face for an actual conversation lasting 20-30 minutes? What is there work style like? Demands? Working hours? Do they respect a work/life balance? How long do they want you to be in the program for?


If you did meet them then I apologize, but if not you NEED to meet this person and talk to them. I thought I found a couple great fits but when I met them in person I realized there was no way in hell I would work for them, just complete opposite fit. Don't pin all your hopes on a single person in one program, plenty of reasons why cited many times on these forums. 


I wouldn't take out loans for a Ph.D. program if a very good program is giving you a TA, tuition waiver, AND 25K fellowship?!? That's a pretty insane offer.

Edited by Deadmeat
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Is the money you'll get from school A enough to live off of? If not, it's a no brainer for me. Go with the offer that pays you enough to make ends meet. If it is enough to live a comfortable (student) life, the fit question comes into play; personally, when I was faced with a similar choice, I chose the fit over the money. However, if the two choices are very close in terms of fit, the ability to live more comfortably will make your life in the program much easier in future years, and it's worth serious consideration. Sounds to me like you need to learn more about program B; talk to potential advisors and find out whether or not you get along. To me, that should be the factor that determines your choice.

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Are you going to have a chance to visit the two schools? Even if they do not reimburse you for travel, I would bit the bullet and go anyway if you can (you'll be at the graduate institution for a minimum of 5 years so you want to make sure you'll be happy there). Then you can actually talk to current graduate students (the best source of information about a program including labs, coursework, advisors, funding, etc.) and see if School A is as good a fit as you think it is.

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