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History PhD Ohio State vs. MA University of Chicago

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Hello fellow applicants,


I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida and expect to be awarded my BA in May.  My area of research is the Soviet Union in the 1920s.  I applied to quite the slew of PhD programs and was rejected from most of them; however, I did receive three offers which I would like you to help weigh for me:


1) Ohio State University, PhD

  • Full tuition waiver and subsidized (80%) health insurance.  $15,880 stipend for five years as part of a graduate teaching assistantship.

2) University of Chicago, MAPSS

  • No aid.  Was admitted in lieu of a PhD acceptance.

3) American University, MA

  • No aid.  Was admitted in lieu of a PhD acceptance.


At this point, I have all but declined the possibility of American University for reasons I think are obvious.  So my struggle is between Ohio State and University of Chicago.  They both seem to me to have their advantages and disadvantages, which I'll try to list here so you all may know my situation:


Advantages for Ohio State

  • Guaranteed funding for five years (I don't mind at all the GTA; in fact, I would really love and welcome the experience)
  • Avoiding another round of PhD applications
  • Much more stable for myself and my committed partner (in fact, Ohio boasts a MA program in her discipline as well; but, we are not sure of its credentials at this time)
  • My POI, Professor David Hoffmann, seems like a pretty nice fit for my interests.  In the OSU handbook, apparently an adviser from the department must affirm that he's willing to take a BA student as his mentee as a prerequisite for that BA student to even be admitted.

Disadvantages for Ohio State

  • Prospects of future employment are not as bright as they maybe could be.  My end goal would to be to work at a university with its own PhD program so I may eventually mentor my own students once I secure a tenure track position and I am worried that OSU will peg me in a middle-tier school.
  • The funding package at a different university may be more generous (I am especially worried about having to serve as a GTA during my dissertation writing years)
  • Entering a PhD program immediately may be difficult because of my current language skills.  I, of course, will do everything I can to get them to a working level but Russian is not easy.


Advantages for University of Chicago

  • Possibility of getting a funded PhD offer from a highly prestigious university in my field
  • Additional time to hone my Russian language skills which are not at the point I am comfortable with (the equivalent to three years of formal study)
  • My Chicago POI, Eleonor Gilburd, also seems very nice and helpful when we briefly talked a few months prior to application season
  • MAPSS boasts an extremely impressive record for funded PhD offers at top universities.

Disadvantages for University of Chicago

  • The program is not specifically an MA for history.  It is a general program for social sciences.  I do not know to what extent this matters; I am in the process of asking a few faculty members for their opinions.
  • The program is only one year long.  That in itself is a disadvantage; however, it also would then require me to have a gap year to wait before applying to PhD programs again.  I figure during this year, I would focus on language acquisition and maybe apply to programs like Fulbright and the like.
  • It would delay my entry into a PhD program a full two years.  I do not mind waiting this time (I am set to graduate with my BA one year early; I am 21 years old) but I am reluctant to take extra time.
  • Would be a significant hardship for my committed partner.  She is very supportive but I am unsure how much strain I ought to put on her if I can avoid it.
  • It is extremely expensive to live.  MAPSS' website estimated approximately $75,000 for my time there (including cost of living).  I can afford to take on this debt with private funds but I am worried that...
  • ...there is no guarantee of getting into a more prestigious PhD program.  Or even Ohio State again, for that matter.  It would be a monstrous gamble.


What do you all think about this?  Do you have any inside knowledge into either OSU's PhD program or UChicago's MAPSS program that could be helpful?  Do you think it would be a good idea to email the MAPSS coordinator and see if I can ask for more aid by playing OSU off him?  I am extremely grateful to have both these offers on the table.  At this time, I am leaning towards OSU's program for the stability and for the fact that funded PhD offers of any sort seem to be fairly rare these days.


Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

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MAPSS is really expensive. If you think it's your language skills that are holding you back, then you should do defer the OSU acceptance and do everything you can to improve your language skills in the interim. Would you and your partner be willing to move to Russia so that you could teach English there and strengthen your Russian language skills? Or, are you willing to sacrifice and do a summer intensive program in Russian this summer, combined with additional language courses during the upcoming academic year to strengthen our skills? Both of those seems like better options than taking on $75K in debt for a one year program. 


I don't know OSU's ranking in history so I can't comment on the prospects. What I do know is that academic jobs in Russian history have been extremely scarce the past several years. I have several friends who are Russian historians and they often talk about how there might only be 6-8 job ads in their field for tenure-track positions in any given application year. And that's ignoring the location of those programs or the type of institution. If you look at h-net, you'll see what I mean. There were a few more posted in the fall but, this will give you a good sense of what I mean. If your goal is any sort of academic job in Soviet/Russian history, you need to go to a top 10 program in that subfield for sure. Before deciding on OSU, check on the recent placement record, not of the program, but of the specific person you would be working with. Check to see if their recent graduates are even employed, first and foremost. Then, you can consider whether those jobs are the jobs that you would want. 


Good luck!

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If I were making this decision, I would take the OSU offer - you can always apply for fellowships and other awards to cover more language study (such as a summer FLAS, etc.), and dissertation awards later down the line. To be perfectly honest, it's very competitive right now, there's no guarantee that after MAPSS you'll get a funded offer elsewhere. While Chicago is certainly more prestigious, OSU isn't so lowly ranked that you will be without job prospects when you graduate, and you'll be finished earlier with a PhD than if you go to MAPSS, so less years until you can get into the workforce. 

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Thank you very much for your insight.


At rising_star,


According to the US News and World Report at least (which I know is generally very bad to go by and thus the amount of salt I'm taking its recommendations with could fill a small swimming pool) ranks OSU in the mid-20s for history departments, while UChicago ranks among some of the giants like Harvard and Columbia.


I will most certainly ask Professor Hoffmann at OSU about his recent job placements when I travel for the visitation day later this month, but what you brought up is certainly my fear.  I've been told that Russian history as a practice in the US has been in a decline since the fall of the Soviet Union; however, I think that I might be lucky enough to get my education at an opportune time (with the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution coming around and the current political situation with Russia).  Regardless of that, I thought that UChicago might be more poised to help me get into a better PhD program and thus increase my chances of being one of those lucky 6-8 people who can get a job.


In reference to my willingness to teach English in Russia for a year, it is not completely off the table, but it would be a pretty hard thing to pitch to my partner.  If I decide to go to OSU in the Fall, I would without a doubt take an intensive language course in the summer.  My train of thought leads me to believe that if I'm going to not attend OSU in the Fall, however, then I ought to attend Chicago.  It would give me the opportunity to study Russian and possibly address the top-10 department problem in the future.  I'm also unsure of OSU's policy on deferment.


If I could ask again, what do you think the chances of MAPSS' being willing to negotiate financial aid if I were to initiate that talk?  Is it entirely unprofessional to do so?




That is kind of where I am leaning.  A few professors have told me that a PhD at OSU would be enough to secure a job, but I am looking at the climate of job availability and it seems pretty sparse.  I would definitely apply to any and all awards I could win to support both language study and dissertation writing time.


Thank you both again.

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My pleasure, it's hard to make these decisions... My other thought would be to do Russian and _________ at OSU (pick a highly marketable PhD minor and do a few papers and publications in it)... I don't know OSU well enough to know if that's a possibility, but it could be worth researching! Of course, I have three degrees (2 BA and 1 MA) in 3 different subjects so I'm a bit biased about having multiple concentrations!

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In my humble opinion, since you already know there are scarce job prospects in any industry for a Russian History PhD. I would urge you to consider that you must attend to a top-10 program PhD if you want to pursue a career in academia. 


Even better: move to Russia and do a masters over there. Once you are back you will be in a pretty good position since your Russian skills would be top and you would have a Master in the country of your specialization. I am pretty sure if you play your cards right, this might even be more valuable for good PhD's than a generic Master in a good university like Chicago.

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In my humble opinion, since you already know there are scarce job prospects in any industry for a Russian History PhD. I would urge you to consider that you must attend to a top-10 program PhD if you want to pursue a career in academia. 


This is my thinking as well. Academia is, unfortunately, a snobby field. A PhD from a top-tier place will not guarantee you jobs, but it seems to make you more likely to get them (take a look at the CVs of history profs in your field at various institutions and see where they went to school, and you'll probably find a lot of top-10 schools.) Of course, this isn't just name recognition - it's also easier to do well if you're in a place where you are highly stimulated, have a cohort of brilliant scholars who push your boundaries, generous funding and departmental support, professors with extensive networks of connections they can set you up with, and a location and resources that supplement your research interests. This isn't to say you can't be successful at a place like OSU, but if your goal is to be a tenure track professor in a grad program, I think getting an MA from a more prestigious place and reapplying for top-tier PhDs is a more likely track.

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I know several people who declined the MAPSS and went to lesser ranked programs because they were funded.  They all are really happy with their decisions.  Prestige is obviously an advantage, but not a guarantee.  I would also caution thinking that MAPSS is in anyway going to shorten your time in a PhD program.  As it is not a field based masters, you are still going to have to take a number of courses wherever you end up.  Streamlined programs, such as OSU, will ultimately take less time because you know what you want to focus on.  So while you do have to take a broader number of courses for the MA portion at OSU, you can plan it so when you go to finish the PhD courses portion it takes as little time as possible and you can get on to researching that dissertation. 


Additionally, you also need to evaluate where you want to end up teaching. If you do go to OSU understand that it is unlikely you will teach at an institution perceived to be higher ranking.  That being said, OSU is great public university.  There are many options beyond the "top ten" for mentoring graduate students, and not everyone can teach at the top.  I am weighing a similar decision, but the unfunded MA is at UTAustin (UChicago is actually not a very good fit for me even though the program is amazing and I would have gone if offered a PhD spot).  I am deciding to go a decent program who is likely to have a TA position for me with an amazing advisor.  The climate of the department is super supportive.  This is all more important to me than prestige.  I've met plenty of people from the Ivy League who can't find their way out of a paper bag, and met some of the most amazingly intelligent people from state schools.  


Just my two (or three or four) cents on the matter.  But I completely understand your dilemma.  

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Thank you all so much for your advice.


At Hobson-Jobson,


My plan was most certainly to focus on my language acquisition for the gap year after MAPSS.  I heard from quite a few sources that the program is too rigorous to take on anything else at the same time.


If I may ask, how much off tuition did Chicago offer you when you went?  And what were your living arrangements?  $700 a month in rent seems very affordable, especially for a big city like Chicago.


The ultimate cause of my considering MAPSS when to some OSU would be the obvious choice is that I am afraid of job prospects after I graduate.  Truly everybody in the field (and in all academia) stress just how difficult it is to get a job.  So I wish to do what you say — to line myself optimally — but I am just unsure which path will do that for me.


I have also emailed Chicago about possibly increasing my tuition award; I will update you all once I hear.


At Karoku_valentine,


That is my thinking.  I have been told by a few of my professors that getting a job from a pretty good school like OSU should not be a problem; however, I have heard from many others that you really need to be in a top-10 in order to feel comfortable about it (insofar as anybody can ever feel comfortable in this field).


Concerning getting a Masters in Russia, it is kind of off the table.  I have missed the application cycle and a professor of mine advised against getting a higher education degree in Russia.  I feel inclined to follow his advice as he received his equivalent to a PhD in Russia, himself.


At brown_eyed_girl,


I have done what you said in the past — check the CV of a few prominent professors — and they definitely all came from some name schools.  I think a lot of my questions will be answered when I go to the visitation days (March 27th for Ohio and April 8th for Chicago).  The placement records of individual professors’ students would be nice to know as well.


At terralily,


As mean as it sounds, I am actually kind of happy somebody else is in the same position haha.  I should be clear that I have no expectation that MAPSS credits would count towards my PhD.  I really do not mind taking extra time to do things (especially since I am going to graduate a year early from my BA) but it is really more the money and the fear of not getting back into a funded PhD program that keeps me from hopping aboard MAPSS.


I do not really reasonably expect to see myself teaching at one of these top schools in the future; but, my ultimate goal is to get a job at a place like OSU where the departmental funding is adequate and the student potential is nice.


Once again, thank you all.  I welcome any more opinions! 

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Have you considered elsewhere in Europe? Germany and the Scandinavian countries pretty much all have free or very low tuition and host some top-quality institutions. They also tend to have relatively late application deadlines. I am in a similar situation to you (all my phd applications got rejected but I got an offer with a 50% scholarship for MAPSS) and I'm currently considering applying for an MA in transcultural studies at the University of Heidelberg, which has a deadline in June (plus you don't even need recommendation letters for your application!) and tuition is about 0.5% of what you would pay at UChicago. I'm not sure about Russian programs in these countries but it could be something to look in to!

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Even the UK could be an option - quite a bit more expensive, but still much much cheaper than Chicago. Check out this one at UCL.


The Netherlands also has some good programmes - Leiden, for example, is quite prestigious in languages and history - but international student fees are quite a bit higher than those for EU students, around 16.000 euros compared to 2000, so I feel like you might just as well try a more famous school in the UK then.

Edited by soppie
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Thank you, soppie!  What is interesting is that yesterday I was contacted by the University of Columbia and they asked if I would like to be considered for their shared MA/MSc program with the London School of Economics.  I emailed them back, so now I suppose I have yet one more decision to be anxious to hear back about.


An update otherwise, I talked with the MAPSS faculty at University of Chicago and they agreed to raise my financial award to 1/3 tuition with the possibility of that being raised again to 1/2 if I appeal their committee.  What do you guys think about that?  Does it make Chicago more viable or attractive?

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To me, no, that doesn't make it more viable. You'd still need loans/saving to cover 1/2 to 2/3 of your tuition, plus there's also the living expenses to pay for. It just seems like a lot of debt to take on for a one year degree that may or may not make you a stronger candidate in the long run.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was told that they would not be able to make a decision until after their Campus Days (April 8th to the 10th).  I assume they're expecting people to accept/reject their offers shortly thereafter.  I'll update you all when I hear back from them!


In the meantime, Columbia offered to forward my application from their PhD to a joint MA/MSc program with the London School of Economics.  It looks like it's going to be very expensive if I get in, but the program looks really nice for my interests.  Does anybody have any information about this program?  The director promised to get back to me on my decision sometime between April 3rd and 7th.

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