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Please help! Stupid idea to go to a low ranked school?

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Hi everyone,


After agonizing about decisions for weeks now, I'm turning to you for help. I'm applying for programs in educational psychology, and got to three of them. The programs are equal in funding packages (I would be funded through research asssitantship); I like the potential advisors at all of them (as in, all are very friendly, interested in working with me; related research interests etc.), and each also has multiple faculty I could work with. Further, all of the universities can provide good opportunities for doing research that I want and I quite like their geographical areas.


* University X and Y are about equal in prestige (about Top 15-30 but probably near the best in terms of my specialty). University X is a bit more well-established but the potential advisor at university Y is more powerful (and well-known) and each of his last four students got a tenure-track faculty position right after graduating. As opposed to advisor at university X, however, his research is less related to my interests.


* University Z has a program that is very low ranked (below 100), and its graduate student culture is rather lacking -- many of the graduate students are not really interested in doing research, and the most productive faculty have left the university. The potential advisor I would be working with does solid, interesting research and is rather new (started as a faculty two years ago).


My main problem is that I currently work in my family's business (that does business related to my research) and would probably be able to keep doing so at university Z much more than at universities X and Y. From personal as well as geographical reasons, my parents would not allow me to continue working with them if I went elsewhere than at university Z. Continuing to be a part of the business would carry large financial incentives (large house, six-figure salary etc.) which I would have to give up on (at least temporarily) if I decided for university X or Y.


I am not 100% sure yet if after PhD I wish to continue in the industry or academia, and would like to keep my options open. Do you think that going to university Z would be a problem in terms of getting academic (or industry?) jobs later on simply because its program and the people I would be working with are less well-known and don't do as highly impactful research? Is it realistic to expect to be able to develop strong network with experts outside of my university, so that where I actually get my PhD matters less? And ultimately, where would you recommend me going?


Thak you very much for any advice! This decision-making process has me paralyzed.


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I would think, that it depends on your long term goals. IF you would use the degree to do research for the benefit of your family firm and maybe someday head it, University Z would be the best option. BUT if you want to have an option to quit your family business and go ahead on your own, University X & Y makes sense. But for that you would maybe lose 2 years of money. 


That said, it depends on how badly you want to have that OPTION to quit family business. If you like what you do with your business and you really have grand plans ahead, University Z is a no brainer.

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I don't really have an opinion on the situation but I will add that University Z might not allow you to have an outside job if they are funding you, even if it is a family business. School's give stipends on the expectation that you are working for them and not spending time you should be researching, working for someone else. You may be allowed to hold an outside job with your funding offer but you may not, or may only be able to work a certain number of hours. (some stipulate no more than 10 hrs a week, for example). Definitely check whether there are any rules on your assistantship before you commit to school Z. I know for my funded MA program we were not allowed to hold another job. 

Edited by RomulusAugustulus
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Yep, the University Z might not allow you to have an outside job.


As others have said, if you want the option to go into academia, you've got to go with either X or Y. Presitge, fame and impact factor are the things that the acadame runs on. You won't be able to make up that difference from a less respected program by developing an outside network (part of what going into a well-respected, highly-ranked program means is that you have an advantage in building a good network, through your advisor's contacts and through the other graduate students that you work with). You'll be more likely to do better work and develop a stronger network at a place where all the faculty is research active, the students are interested in research, and the university makes it a priotity to support research. Also, did your potential advisor at University Z come in with tenure? It might be likely that that person (like the rest of the productive faculty) might leave University Z, possibly sometime in your tenure as a student. Were that to happen, what would that mean for you?


You, or your family, probably have more information about how much prestige matters in industry. I've got no information for you on that.

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