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Janie M.

Prestige vs. Happiness? Still can't decide...

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As April 15th looms just days away now, I still can't decide between the two M.A. programs I was accepted to (please ignore my earlier posts, as I resolved a previous dilemma that I wrote about there).

 

School #1 is a very selective, somewhat specialty college in New England. It is known for the field in which I would be receiving a degree. This school would provide me with unparalleled hands-on experience in which to apply in the field I wish to eventually pursue. #1 would also give me amazing connections in this area. The name of the school on this degree could open many doors for me, as well as provide me with practical skills in which to score an actual job, but something's telling me it's just not the right fit.

 

I visited campus, met with faculty and attended a get-together for prospective students at #1, and everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful, but I just don't know if it's the right choice for several reasons: I really don't like the city it's in (I consider it to be a very boring city full of annoying twenty-something sports enthusiasts and severely lacking in single people in their thirties), the majority of students in my program seemed like they were fresh out of undergrad (I'm a little bit older than the traditional college age), the program of study may be a bit overly specific and I may be able to attain similar skills from some sort of certification program that is considerably less expensive. Oh, I forgot to mention that I did not receive any funding from this school. My only "aid" is about $45,000 in loans (I know that's nowhere near what some people pay, but it's a consideration). One more thing: This city itself is also insanely expensive to live in.

 

School #2 is a much larger university in the Midwest. I visited a few weeks ago and absolutely LOVED this city. The school is not nearly as respected as #1, but it still has a decent reputation. I met the head of the faculty and felt like I would get along and work well with her, but I didn't get to meet others of the program. I did like the general vibe of the students around campus though. I also like the fact that it is both an incredibly diverse city and university (I'm from New England, so this change is nice). The program is a little more broad than #1, which is good in some ways, but it wouldn't give me nearly as many practical skills as the latter's. However, since it is located in a much larger city, I could always try to attain these skills from internships. Also, if I graduate from here and still feel I have attained the tools I need for this industry, there are certification courses I can take at a school like NYU (I want to end up in NYC anyway) that would enable me to get a job in this field.

 

#2 is also significantly cheaper than #1 (about $13,000 cheaper to begin with). I am on the waiting list for a fellowship here and I can also apply for tuition reimbursement scholarships for the entire two years if I maintain a certain GPA. This city is also considerably cheaper than where #1 is located.

 

Sorry this is so long-winded. My question is: Is it incredibly foolish to pass up the prestige of #1 for the reasons I listed? Some people would kill to get into this school, but I just don't know if it's right for me. I am honored to have even gotten in here, but I just am not thrilled about it. Any thoughts? I feel like #2 would be better for me personally, but should I focus on practical issues here?

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IMHO, if you think you want to end up in NYC, you will likely make more Northeast contacts/network if you're attending a university in that region.

 

Plus the prestige is huge!  2 years of your M.A. will go by very fast.  The pedigree will last you a lifetime...

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Iowaguy,

 

Thanks! I suspected this may be true. You think I should go for the prestige even though I will pay for this only through loans? I guess if the degree enabled me to get a decent job, I would have the means to eventually pay it off.

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How much would the total difference in cost be between the two (including cost of living), and how much higher would your earning potential be if you had a M.A. from #1 vs from #2?  That should answer your cost question...

 

I also like to think bigger picture:  assuming the cost/benefit is equal (#1 costs more but more earning potential), would #1 allow you to achieve your life goals/dreams moreso than #2?

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Yeah, I've considered these issues. #1 would definitely give me the basis for a much higher earning potential. I know that I would be skilled in this latter field, but I don't know if I would 100% enjoy it.

 

I really can't elaborate without providing too much info on the programs (I'm paranoid because it's a very unique degree name and only 5-6 schools in the country even have this program). #1 would allow me to achieve my career goals, while #2 would allow me to explore a talent (writing). I guess I need to figure out what it is I would really like to do after graduation. I just feel so pressured because I'm not that young anymore and feel I don't have a lot of time to make the wrong decision.

 

Thanks for your help!

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If you can earn a significant amount more, it might be worth it to go with A and stick it out.  But if you aren't going to get a job that will easily allow you to repay the loans, then it may not be worth it to have a tense experience at a school just because it is prestigious.  How important is prestige to you?  Ask people in your specific field how much utility it will have in getting you jobs.  I asked several people about prestige in my field and the answer was generally that prestige helps you 5%.  It will get you in the door, it will get your application read, but it isn't necessarily going to get you jobs just by virtue of your degree.  I don't know your field, but if it only helped you 5%, would it be worth it?  If so, go with A. 

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Jung,

 

Thanks! I hear what you are saying. If only I could insert School #1 into the city of #2 (and attain some funding as well). I think the earning rate may be considerably higher if I were to attend #1. People at this school have tried to tell me that the name has opened many doors for them (and others), but, of course, they are biased sources.

 

Prestige isn't that personally important to me and if I hadn't even gotten accepted to #1, I would be totally fine with just going to #2. My real issue is severe indecision. As soon as another factor is thrown into the mix, I obsess about making the absolute right choice so I don't wonder down the road "what could have been."

 

I am going to look at some hiring sites for my field (writing/publishing) to see what credentials the firms actually require. I will be sure to look at salaries as well, to determine whether the investment at #1 would be worth it in the first place. Thanks!

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You labeled this post as prestige vs. happiness.  I'd pick happiness every time and sounds like your gut is telling you to go with school #2.  I'm a firm believer that if you are truly happy at what you're doing, success will follow in the long-run.  Also, a school's name and network will only get you so far... Even without knowing all the specifics, my vote is for school #2 where you have more potential for happiness and success at a lower price tag.  

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If you aren't happy on your program then your productivity will go down, your relationships with faculty/colleagues will be put under strain and your interest in the field as a whole will be dented. In short, the career-boosting prestige you get from School 1 will most likely be negated.

I say go to the place where you will be happy & productive, and don't fret about "prestige".

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Thank you to those who wrote the last three responses! I'm still deciding. My gut is telling me #2, but the practical side of myself keeps nagging me to go with #1.

 

Also, how much is considered a lot to pay for grad school? I honestly don't know. Since I didn't get any funding at #1, I'll be taking out $40 to $45,000 in loans. Is this a large sum in comparison to what most pay for an M.A.?

 

@Asleepawake, love your "Heathers" picture ;)

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I turned down a funded PhD offer at MIT in engineering for a program that I felt would make me happier. I definitely agree with St. Andrews. If you are happy, then everything else will go better. Going with your gut is more important than people give it credit. I did an internship at a very prestigious company in my field. It is very selective and very hard to get a job there. I hated it, and was miserable for 5 months. When I left, they told me that I was "not fit" for their company (they have really high standards), and I think the main reason they didn't like my quality of work was because I was so unhappy I wasn't doing my best.

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Get used to being happy anywhere you go because you will have very limited options for tenure track or post doc after you graduate. I.e., you will have to take what you can get.

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What is that supposed to mean, Selecttext? There isn't even a PhD option for my field. A master's is the terminal degree for it. Why would I have limited options, anyway?

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Prestige will just make it a little easier, if you are going academic then your own accomplishments will matter much MUCH more than the name on your degree.  Just might have to work a little harder at networking and interesting research is all.  Which will be a lot easier because you will be a lot happier(plus no funding? fuck that)

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Thanks for all the input, everyone. I guess maybe a more appropriate title would've been "Prestige vs. Fit." See, even though the program at the prestigious school is a stellar one with amazing connections and opportunities, I'm afraid it may be too limited for me. It is a highly specific program. This concern all goes back to my initial dilemma of which program is right for me. I just wish School #2 in general was a little more well respected since I feel the program here would fit my goals better. However, it doesn't have anywhere near the connections as School #1.

 

I guess if I went to #2 I could just try harder on my own to network and find internships outside of the school, as someone suggested. It is one of the largest cities in the country, so there are opportunities. If #1 just wasn't as expensive as it is, I wouldn't be so obsessed with the fact that it might not be the right fit for me. I don't know if I mentioned that I am on the waiting list at school #2 for a fellowship that would cover 100% of tuition; I know it would be very unlikely that someone else would turn this down, but there is the possibility. If only I had just gotten the fellowship in the first place, my choice would've been made for me...

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Oh, I forgot to mention that I am already $35,000 in debt from undergrad and also have about $10,000 in credit card debt. Is it worth it to accumulate another $43,000 in debt (School 1) in order to have the potential of getting a really great job afterwards? My total debt will be considerable at that point. Thanks!

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What is that supposed to mean, Selecttext? There isn't even a PhD option for my field. A master's is the terminal degree for it. Why would I have limited options, anyway?

 

I thought it was for a PhD and I was referring to academic positions afterwards.

 

I think that it is a bad idea to accumulate another 43 000 in debt for a masters. The bottom line is you can't afford it. You can thank me in 10 yrs. This laissez-faire, at any cost attitude towards education is bankrupting americans left and right. Meanwhile these prestigious universities are pumping out graduates and devaluing their degrees. Graduate school applicants are too fatalistic to consult on these decisions - you really need a financial planner to spell out what $80 000 in debt actually means. It's one thing if the end game is to become a doctor or a lawyer, but if you are going to have to grind and toil your way to the top and compete with other graduates, the 43 000 is nothing more than a notch on the belt. Maybe you will have to work a bit harder when you graduate from a less prestigious university or maybe not, but surely that is better than a crippling debt that will probably follow you for at least a decade if not more.

Edited by selecttext

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I know finances are very personal and everyone has different values systems etc. but I have to agree with selecttext that that is an insane amount of debt to accumulate unless you are guaranteed a very high paying job afterwards.  

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Okay, thanks, Selectext and Anxious. I see what you are saying. I needed to actually have someone confirm my fears regarding the debt issue. I think maybe I have no choice but to go with the less prestigious school. The elite school's program may be too specialized anyway for my not-so-defined goals. I guess over 40 grand is an insane amount to pay for something I'm not 100% sure of. Thanks!

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