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Last fall I submitted applications to 5 PhD programs and 3 master's programs. This sounds strange, but I made mistakes in which schools I chose because of personal reasons and did not choose schools by research fit as I should have. The three master's programs I applied to were done in haste to schools with late deadlines when I realized I had made a mistake in the 5 phd programs I applied to.

I thought going through the application process was just about the most omfg-im-going-to-shoot-myself process I've been through, but now it's time to choose a place to go and I'm reconsidering that view.

I got rejected from my top four choices, haven't heard back from two (one makes decisions late, the other f'd up my application but it's too late to consider them now since it would be unfunded).

I got accepted to my bottom choice safety school for a fully funded PhD (I won't name the school but it ranks in the 50s). This school is great in a secondary interest of mine and good in my primary interest, but if I decide to change my interests I would be in a bad situation - their impact in other areas is not nearly as good. On the plus side, its location is wonderful and I would have good research freedom, as well as an enthusiastic advisor to mentor me.

I got accepted for a 3/4 funded master's at a respected ivy league. Only problem is, the guy who offered to fund me does work in the area that I'm currently doing research in, but I want to move to a different area, and he's my only ticket to funding and would expect me to switch straight to the PhD program under him.

I got rejected from the funded PhD program at UMich Ann Arbor but was accepted to their master's program with no funding. I really like their program and could use it as a way to refine my research interests, not to mention get into the right PhD program for me in the 2010-2011 application season (I would do the applications right this time). I have not visited the campus itself because I only found out about the admission three weeks ago, but from what I have heard from friends it's a great place. But do I seriously want to go $100k into debt?

It's pretty ridiculous what happened to me this application season - 3/6 admits, each of which has their own positives and negatives but none of which are good enough for me to be sure I'm making the right choice. I had stellar grades upon applying, decent gre (80s%), and even published a paper (but in a different area of CS than I was appyling for).

Sorry if that sounded a little ranty, but now it's time for me to make a decision and I'm freaking out a little bit :D. If anyone out there feels my pain, feel free to post here ;). Any advice would be appreciated too!

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I would go for the funded phd with a good advisor and nice location. It seems like you have issues with ranking, but I don't think top 50 or so is terrible. Plus, you said they are good in two of your areas of interest, which allows you to switch which is your primary, should you desire. You can't pick a phd program on the assumption it will be equal in all areas, because every program has weaknesses.

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Did you extend your decision deadline or something? I would have thought you would have had to get back to some of these folks by April 15th.

Anyways, I just thought I'd chime in because I recently chose to attend a school ranked in the 50s (I'm in CS too, so I understand what you mean by that...) over some others for some of the same reasons you mentioned. An enthusiastic advisor, funding, a solid group, good location and I felt I'd be able to have the freedom to do whacky things there. I'm pretty happy about my choice.

I think there's actually an advantage in taking a position at a lower ranked program in that people are going to likely give you a lot more leeway there. If you're good, you'll be one of their top researchers and that means you'll be able to get what you need without issue. The downside is you're going to have to push yourself because the environment will be less competitive, but if you're self-motivated then maybe this will be fine.

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