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Confused: hard to say no to a fully funded offer...


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Hi all

 

I've applied for an ARE master's degree at UC Davis, Univ of Wisconsin Madison, Michigan State University, UIUC and University of Maryland. So far I have received offers from the first four programs and I am yet to hear back from the Univ of Maryland.

I find it hard to choose a program and thought someone could help...here is what I've got.

1) UC Davis - I have received an offer with a tiny fellowship that is negligible when you calculate the costs of the entire program. Being an international student, the non-resident tuition at UC Davis is a killer and from my research, getting a relevant RA position at the master's level seems doubtful. UC Davis is actually my top choice but sadly it looks elusive to me.

2) Michigan State - This would be my second choice as they are strong in development and have interesting projects apart from teaching - the faculty seem quite interested in my profile and keen to have me join their master's program; however, there is nothing concrete on the funding yet; I received assurance on multiple occasions from the department that given my background and previous experience I would make a strong candidate for a research assistantship once I join the program. The question is whether I can rely on promises... what if nothing comes up ultimately?

3) Wisconsin-Madison - I've been told there is very little funding available and none for master's students at this time. The overall cost of the program is about 90k-95k for two years, really impossible for me to afford without getting a loan. Taking loans is not quite an option for me however. Hence I have written it off, WM is clearly out of my reach at this time.

4) UIUC - I have received full funding here that is nicely outlined in the offer letter - basically it contains details of the professor I will be supporting in research activities and it seems that this professor shares some of my research interests (to some extent) and has a PhD from ARE Berkeley (if that helps). My offer comes with a tuition waiver plus a generous monthly stipend. Even though I rank UIUC lower than Michigan State in terms of my research interests, I must say the offer does look amazing. The thought of doing a master's program (which is still close to my aspirations) debt-free in this troubled world makes me ecstatic and I feel very tempted to take it. However, I am not sure whether this degree will help advance my future goals...

Now, my goals--- I am looking to specialise in the economics of small farms and want to build a development-related career (financing of smallholder farmers, food security issues, etc). I am interested in development consulting or an IO- post graduation but if things go well during my master's, I will be looking to pursue an ARE PhD in the medium term. I plan to focus on building a strong profile to have a good shot at places like UC Davis, Berkeley, Maryland and Michigan State among others.

The main things I am looking for in a master's degree are 1) RA opportunities related to my field, 2) funding opportunities, 3)rigorous coursework,4)  strong PhD placement record (the above names in particular) and 5) good job prospects post graduation (keep in mind that I'm an international student and should I not get something in the US, I will either return to Europe or go elsewhere, thus my master's degree has to be marketable enough outside the US).

I do not really care about location...

What do you think, which program should I go for?

So far I have been leaning toward Michigan State on the basis of the promises made by the department but now, given UIUC's offer, I am wondering whether it is worth giving up this amazing opportunity in order to join Michigan...

What do you guys think? Any thoughts/opinions are welcome...thanks!

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My two cents. Fully funded is generally the way to go. UIUC is a good school with a good reputation.

I agree with you, the only thing that worries me is how this decision will affect my PhD prospects later on.. Even though UIUC still ranks high overall in agricultural economics, all the other programs that have accepted me seem to rank higher. Not sure how relevant this aspect is...

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I don't think it's that relevant.  You don't have to go to the highest high-ranked program to get into a PhD program; what you need is a good solid program at which you can get relevant research experience and good, solid recommendations from good, solid researchers in the field.  You don't need to do the exact research you plan to do in the PhD program - pretty close is good enough.

 

UIUC sounds like it fits your criteria.  It's a well-reputed program, by your own admission; your PI went to one of the doctoral programs to which you want to apply, so I'm sure his recommendation would carry a little extra weight there; you obviously have RA and funding opportunities there, and those are your top two criteria; and I'd be willing to bet that UIUC has a good PhD program placement record.  I checked out the ARE rankings at the NRC and it looks like UIUC is a top 15 program and Michigan State is not that much higher than it.  NRC gives Michigan State #8 and UIUC #11.  That is not enough to turn down full funding for, IMO.

 

I'd go with UIUC and not look back.  Follow the money.

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Did you ask UIUC about their placement rate in PhD programs? You identify that as something that you'd be looking for, but don't say whether folks with a masters from UIUC can get into the kinds of doc programs you want to go to. Email your contact there and ask what PhD programs their graduates matriculate to--they'll likely have this info on hand. 

 

Have you told Michigan State about your UIUC offer and shared you concerns about money with them? You might consider doing that. You might also consider asking to be put in contact with current Masters students there . It may be the case that the university can't make any promises to you before you accept, no matter what other offers you have in hand, but a current student might be able to give you an informal picture about how the funding shakes out--obviously they can't promise you anything, either, but they'd be able to tell you if there are lots of folks who show up with some vague promises of funding who end up with nothing. 

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A very American saying is "A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush." That is, take the guaranteed funding from UIUC. Just because they say there is a good  chance funding will be available once you come does not mean that there definitely will be. Also, as an international student, you have to show ability to pay for the program to get your visa. Go with UIUC.

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What do you guys think? Any thoughts/opinions are welcome...thanks!

Is it possible to defer entrance into UC Davis by one year?  Or 1/2 year?  That should give you plenty of time to secure funding of your own. 

 

Also, I know that at UC Davis you can TA for other departments, so that might be worth looking into.  

 

Personally, I would not give up on my top choice just yet.  If I were in your shoes I would hound everyone I can think of a UC Davis high and low looking for every penny I could get.  Perhaps you can email current students in the program and ask them about funding options?  

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Did you ask UIUC about their placement rate in PhD programs? You identify that as something that you'd be looking for, but don't say whether folks with a masters from UIUC can get into the kinds of doc programs you want to go to. Email your contact there and ask what PhD programs their graduates matriculate to--they'll likely have this info on hand. 

 

Have you told Michigan State about your UIUC offer and shared you concerns about money with them? You might consider doing that. You might also consider asking to be put in contact with current Masters students there . It may be the case that the university can't make any promises to you before you accept, no matter what other offers you have in hand, but a current student might be able to give you an informal picture about how the funding shakes out--obviously they can't promise you anything, either, but they'd be able to tell you if there are lots of folks who show up with some vague promises of funding who end up with nothing. 

 

I have thought of letting both uc davis and michigan state know about the UIUC  offer and see what they answer. Do you think it's okay to mention the name of the university that gave me the offer? Will it cause any issues? If I take UIUC, I will need to email the rest of the schools anyhow to decline their offers. At the same time I need to think of a positive way to put it across to them as I surely do not wish to burn any bridges. One day I may apply for a PhD at these same universities :)

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I am not in this field but my opinion is to take UIUC. I do not think it is worth $100,000 to slightly increase your probability of acceptance to a PhD program. Good luck and congrats on securing funding!

 

Thank you and I wish you too good luck! The irony here is that I was pretty confident I would get a fully funded offer from michigan state as my research interests were a perfect fit to the faculty there. but uiuc came from nowhere with this cheeky offer :) on the other hand I feel that michigan has let me down... unless a miracle happens, I will most likely accept the UIUC offer and try to make the best of it. thanks for your advice.

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Is it possible to defer entrance into UC Davis by one year?  Or 1/2 year?  That should give you plenty of time to secure funding of your own. 

 

Also, I know that at UC Davis you can TA for other departments, so that might be worth looking into.  

 

Personally, I would not give up on my top choice just yet.  If I were in your shoes I would hound everyone I can think of a UC Davis high and low looking for every penny I could get.  Perhaps you can email current students in the program and ask them about funding options?  

 

You've certainly made some valid points here. uc davis would make a great choice and obviously they are high in the agricultural economics rankings... it's just that I've got some concerns. First, getting TAs in other departments will release some of the financial burden but it will not provide me with the research experience I need to build my profile for a potential PhD. Second, even if I could defer for one year and get a job in a bank, I doubt I could save so much given that two years at uc davis for an international student would be somewhere around $95,000. I have already tried to find out more information about current MS students from davis but very few and I mean, very very few do seem to be in roles related to their fields of interest. These considerations have made me realise that uc davis might not be the best option for me at this time, unfortunately...

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A very American saying is "A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush." That is, take the guaranteed funding from UIUC. Just because they say there is a good  chance funding will be available once you come does not mean that there definitely will be. Also, as an international student, you have to show ability to pay for the program to get your visa. Go with UIUC.

 

well-said and very wise to view this issue from the international student's perspective. thanks for that :) you are right to say that promises are just promises at this time, and there is nothing concrete. In fact, my partner said yesterday that should michigan state have wanted me to join their program by all means, they could have given me a better offer, perhaps something more concrete than just assurances...however they did not. His statement makes sense in a way...oh well.

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