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All things being equal... where would you go?


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I am beginning to cut down on my options and was hoping you guys could give me your opinions about a few schools.


Main Goals: to attend an MA program that will help me get into top PhD programs (of course, provided that I do my part), and will prepare me really well for doctoral work.


The following schools are offering full funding with stipend and health insurance:

1. UMass, Amherst

2. Wisconsin-Madison

3. UC Riverside

4. Penn State


So, in your opinion, which school(s) is (are) more likely to help me accomplish my goals? I want to become a professor and researcher one day.



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Isn't UMass Amherst part of a consortium? Does that extend to graduates and would you take advantage of that in any way?


All things being equal, I'd write out in no particular order:


  • affordability of the city vs the stipend amount (can I live comfortably/afford conference travel?)
  • local resources (museums, galleries, libraries, etc.)
  • university resources (research centers, libraries, galleries, museums, etc)
  • number of desirable faculty in each department
  • what's "nearby" but a day trip from each city? 
  • location pros and cons 
  • fit re: your area of focus 
  • program specific "bonuses" you liked for each school
  • misc "other" things you like about each school or location (not necessarily directly related to your studies, but hey -- you have to have some kind of hobbies outside of school, right?)

Then maybe go from there? 

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I would suggest either UMass or UCR.  The main reason is that both are terminal MAs at programs without the PhD (UCR did just start one this year, but I'm guessing they have few students yet). In a school with a PhD the terminal MA students will be much less of a priority for an advisor than their students taking exams, dissertating, defending. But UMass and UCR are also near lots of cultural resources.  Boston, New York, Williamstown, and New Haven are within driving/train/bus distance  from Amherst while the entire heaven that is Los Angeles awaits you 1.5 hours away (in good traffic, 2.5 in bad) from Riverside. 

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I will be eliminating UCR and Penn State from my list, because UMass and UW are offering much better funding.


While UMass is in a better location, UW is offering an outstanding funding package. Also, let's assume that I would get the same type of attention/care from faculty in both schools, and that both offer "similar" scholarly opportunities and are comparable in term of research/faculty fit. Cost of living is pretty much the same also.


So, in your opinion, which one has a better reputation and is likely to look better in my application to PhDs in two years from now: UMass or UW?


Thank you guys... You've all been very helpful! :D

Edited by BuddingScholar
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I can't necessarily say which will look better on an application (I think that would depend on where you want to potentially do PhD).

Having gone to UW for my undergrad in art history, I can safely say that the professors are great but that Madison and the surrounding areas aren't great in terms of art historical resources. While the Chazen Art Museum is nice (and mostly brand new!), you'd have to go to Chicago for the nearest major art museum (Milwaukee is small and so-so in terms of its collection). If seeing art up close and personal isn't necessary to your research/general needs, rest assured that the Kohler Art Library and general UW library system are amazing. If they don't have something, they'll figure out how to get it for you.

I think UW would be an excellent program to do your MA. I wouldn't recommend it for PhD just because I know that it generally takes a long time to complete and the fact that several professors there are likely to retire within the next 5-7 years. Being a state school, it's never clear if there will be funds allocated to re-hire for certain areas and specialties or if they will plug that money elsewhere. It's an unfortunate reality, but something you should be aware of in the long run.

Another thing I would consider is where you would like to do a PhD in the future. Creating a list of potential schools might make it easier to select an MA program. *Generally*, East Coast schools are likely to know more about Amherst's program than Madison's. Midwestern schools *generally* seem to have a nice camaraderie amongst one another. Also, maybe consider reaching out to potential advisors at UW and Amherst to see if they 1) have any friends at other at your potential PhD programs and 2) where their former MA students have been successful at PhD programs.

Having only a BA from Madison, I applied successfully to several PhD programs (mind you, I was also rejected from a fair few). I think part of my success was having professors and letter writers who knew professors at the schools I was interested in. That never hurts!

I love Madison, but maybe instead of looking at how UW and Amherst will look on a CV, it would probably be a good idea to look at the potential of both as a gateway to your preferred PhD programs (even though your list will invariably change over the next 2 years). Depending on where you're interested in going in the future, the university on your CV might depend on the people looking at it. It's all in the perspective of the reader.

How's that for a non-answer.

If you have any questions about the Madison Art History department feel free to message me! Mind you, I was only an undergrad there, but I spent most of my time lurking about the AH building. :)

Edited by Lindsayroseeliz
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Dr. Joe is back!

I can't tell you where to go without knowing more about your field. I will say that making a decision based on a few thousand more a year is insane. Better to go to the best program you can and tighten your belt if need be. Extra funding (extra being the operative word here - I would never suggest attending a non-funded grad program, not even an MA but that's for another post...) won't mean much if your PhD applications don't get the attention they deserve because of where you did your MA. If they're both livable options... don't make a choice based on money.

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You guys make wonderful points here. Thank you so much!


These are the people that I would like to work with: Robin Kelsey, Alex Nemerov, Carol Armstrong, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Anne McCauley, Hal Foster, Irene Small, Kaja Silverman and Ariella Azoulay--if you were to ask me this question today, of course.


I agree that I shouldn't make my decision based solely on money which is why I am finding this whole decision process so difficult. I think part of the problem also is that since I was not born or raised here, I don't really have a sense of which school/program is better regarded in the country. The whole politics and mechanics of American academia are still somewhat new to me. That's why I keep bugging you guys so much! :unsure:


UMass is offering full tuition, health insurance and some stipend (would still need to take out loans). UW is offering full tuition with a very nice stipend and health insurance for 5 years (in case I decide to stay there for my PhD). BUT, I am willing to take out a loan and work as many hours as necessary if UMass is more likely to help me achieve my goal (get into a TOP PhD and work with one of the aforementioned people).

Edited by BuddingScholar
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Given your future goals, I'd say you should make it a point of priority to pick the program that appears most strongly equipped to boost you into those places (Stanford, Princeton, etc.). Also, although Joselit recently moved on from Yale to CUNY, we'll likely not have that spot empty for too long. So there's probably another to add to your list! Carol Armstrong, of course, is already here. 


You might want to speak to graduates from the programs who are actually now at some of those PhD programs you have in mind. 

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