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So after this whole slogging process, I find myself with two acceptances, one to the sociology PhD program at University of Maryland-College park, and one to the MAPSS program at University of Chicago. For various reasons, I find myself going back and forth a bit.

UMD is offering me full funding for five years, tuition remission, $15,500 yearly stipend, health insurance. It's a very good program and there are some neat faculty. Maryland would be fairly close to home and to the families of both me and my fiance, which would make our planned marriage next spring possibly easier to wrangle (he's moving with me wherever I go and we want to get married here in Pennsylvania). I've found an area I think we could enjoy living in, and DC is a great city to be near. However: UMD was not my first choice, and Chicago was frankly higher on the list.

Chicago is offering me 2/3rds tuition remission and no living stipend, so I would definitely have to go into debt if I wanted to go that route. In addition, I've read some bad things about MAPSS in other places on this forum--hard to get an advisor, lots of people don't finish on time, etc. However, my thesis advisor has been asking around and apparently it's not uncommon for people in MAPSS to move on into the soc PhD program, which would be great--it's one of the best sociology programs in the country and there would be some advantages inherent in that. But on the other hand, it's very far to move, there's the debt, I think it would be a rough year or couple of years, and I do have my fiance to think about.

I just don't know. Can anyone tell me anything more about MAPSS? Should I just stick with the safer and more convenient thing in this case? :?

I'm visiting UMD soon in any case so I'm not looking to make a decision now, but I think I should be thinking about this stuff pretty seriously all the same.

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Here's the info I have from my adviser, who used to be a preceptor (adviser) with MAPSS:

MAPSS never offers a stipend. 2/3 of tuition is the most they generally offer. MAPSS being, after all, an MA program, they do want to make some money for the school.

MAPSS is a program intended to connect people with the credentials and skills necessary to get fully funded offers from top programs. Think of it as a prep school. The idea is to give you a (relatively) cheap year to take a whole lot of courses with the top people in the Chicago school of whatever it is you're studying. The reason most people don't finish the masters within a year is because you are encouraged to spend the first year just taking courses and making connections. Then your second year, when you're no longer paying tuition, you spend up to the first 6 months working on your applications to PhD programs, using the fact that you have taken classes with, and can get recommendations from, the very best faculty at Chicago. After that you can get back to your thesis and finish it in your own time.

By the end of year one you will know some of the top people in your field, and be able to write like someone out of the Chicago school (for better or worse). My adviser said that his students in MAPSS who wanted to go on to PhDs at top programs did so without exception, and most went to their first choices with full funding. Those are the benefits you get for your money.

Now, my opinion:

Now, I don't know just where UMD stands in Sociology (ok, USNews lists it as "top 25", but those rankings mean little), but it is hardly a safety. It sounds like you have already gotten exactly what MAPSS would help get you, i.e. a fully-funded offer from a top program. If you think you will be a competitive job candidate after taking your PhD there, then for goodness sake, go there!

There doesn't seem to be much benefit to going into debt and taking 2 years to maybe bump yourself 5 or 10 fictitious places up the ranking ladder. Let me also point out that the economy is likely to get worse. I know a lot of people (myself included) who would kill (possibly literally) to have an acceptance with promised funding right now. Is it really smart to gamble yours?

Outside of your personal interests, I'm also sure those of us who have no acceptances this year, who know we will be applying again and that school budgets may keep shrinking, would be happy to see you settled in a nice program with your generous slice of the funding pie, instead of trying to compete with us for a bigger, shinier slice in a year or two.

My suggestion, fwiw, is to take the funded acceptance and get on with your academic and personal life.

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Anthcat, thank you for your informative and thoughtful reply. You're kind of articulating a lot of what I've been thinking anyway--There are so many things, on paper and off, that make UMD seem like the best choice, and at the same time I'm going through that awful WHAT IF I MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE phase, not really having as much info as I'd like on MAPSS (though you've helped with that a great deal) and CHICAGO is lighting up in neon in my head a bit. But as you say, it probably isn't worth it, and what I have now may serve me very well.

So I will probably not be in the competition in a year or so. :)

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Good choice.

I was at a visit weekend at UNC for sociology and spoke to someone who completed the MAPSS at chicago and was nearly promised a spot in chicago soc PhD with funding...and was waitlisted. There are no guarantees.

maryland is great.

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I agree that you shouldn't pass up a fully funded PhD offer unless you really, really, really want to go to the MAPSS...because you have a sure thing now, and you can't be positive what you'll be offered two years down the road.

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