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A Rock and a Hard Place


shawnrtclf
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So I have come into a pretty stressful issue and wanted you all's take on it. 

 

I will finish my Undergrad this year, and have a few offers sitting on the table. As for right now, my undergrad institution admitted me into their MA program in Sociology along with an assistantship in a new research center that recently opened. It's a really great opportunity and offers me funding through my time in my MA. Although, one of the PhD programs (and one of my top choices) admitted me into their MS program, and assuming I complete my MS with proficiency then I will be grandfathered into the PhD program. With that being said, you would think that I would take the offer from the school that offered me a MS/PhD joint, but they did not offer me funding regarding my MS.

 

When I spoke with the Graduate Director, they told me that they cannot offer me funding right now for my MS because they do not have enough funding to do so, but there would be funding upon the completion of my MS for the last 3-4 years. 

 

Overall, here is my dilemma. My undergrad institution isn't exactly known for it's name but there are a few faculty members who are known in the field. I could work with them, gain experience, get more than one publication out of my Master's, and help to launch a project/center that aligns fairly well with my research interests. The negatives to that are that I will have to reapply to PhD programs, and hope that the institution won't carry too much credit. The other institution is offering me a PhD program upon completion of my Master's, a place to study under new minds and learn more than I already have, and a completely new atmosphere to think, grow, and learn. The negative to that is I finished my undergrad with no debt, and is something I was hoping to do with my the majority, preferably all, of my graduate education. The total will be about $56,000 if I were to attend this place, and that is not including housing. I'm out of state, which is the reason that the pricing is so high. 

 

What do you all think?

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I'll just offer my experience on student loans.  They are quite the burden... I've been paying $425/mo for the past 7 years, with 8 to go.  That's for my $50k private loans.  I have another $50k of federal loans, that I paid $200/mo on for a few years (30 year plan) and have been on income based repayment for the last 2 with payments of $0.  Luckily I'm a teacher, so in another 8 the balance will be forgiven for public service.  Otherwise my total would be $800/mo for 15 years.  I would love to buy a house right now, but can't.  It was a tight few years when I paid for daycare and then was a stay at home parent until my oldest went to public school.  Right now a full 50% of my paycheck goes to student loans and daycare.

 

I had no help paying for school, so my undergrad cost me 50k, and my masters/teaching license program was 40k.  I'm just now at the point in my salary where I have a bit of wiggle room, but will probably be going back for my doctoral degree beginning in June.  It will also be paid for in loans, but will be largely forgiven due to public service.  Even if it wasn't forgiven, the salary increase from my current to degree to a doctoral, in my exact same job, is enough to pay for the tuition within a few years.

 

Anyways, my point is to really consider realistic salary expectations upon graduation, combined with your hopes for family/house/etc.  Student loans are no joke...

Edited by misskira
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I think you should stay and do the Masters at your current institution. It sounds like it would really bolster your application and you would learn a lot that is relevant to your interests. It doesn't seem worth taking on tons of debt just because you don't feel like applying for PhD programs again! I get that feeling, but in this case I don't think it's a good reason.

 

I am not convinced that a mediocre school really holds you back in PhD applications, either. I think my school is ranked below 200 in my field (in international rankings, it is not a US institution. It's one of the better schools in my country, but nowhere near the best.), and I got accepted with funding to 3/5 of the PhD programs I applied to, all ranked top 30 internationally. If you have research experiences, good preparation and numbers (GPA and subject GRE if applicable), good SOP, and good LORs, I think you can stand out more than somebody who went to a top school without such things. If you get several publications, that would definitely stand out. I can't see how you'd be in a worse situation for your second round of PhD applications, and you'd be debt free still!

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I agree with what has been said already. I would also recommend staying at your current school. They seem to be able to provide you with not only financial but also professional support and that will help you a lot! Having a great working relationship with your professors will enable you to get strong LoRs and being familiar with the school's way of doing things might also make you more efficient and allow you to concentrate more on tasks such as publishing.

I also don't think that the name of your school will "worsen" your application. You managed to get into one of your top choice programs with "just" the BA - now imagine what the MA will do for you! You said that some of the faculty are very well regarded in the field - what you can learn from them (and those LoRs) will probably be a lot more important than simply the name of the school.

And really... you just don't want to have that much debt, especially if you know that you will be doing a PhD later on.. for all the reasons misskira mentioned...

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I think everyone here is in agreement that it would be best to stay at your undergrad institution. One of the most interesting pieces of advice that I ever received was to go with the institution that can offer you the best financial aid package. Anything that you can do to avoid student loan debt, in my opinion, is the best thing that you can do. 

 

If you also have the opportunity to assist in the initial development of the research center, then that will be an incredibly beneficial addition to your future applications and maybe even a great learning experience. Previous posters have given some excellent advice. Good luck!

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I think everyone here is in agreement that it would be best to stay at your undergrad institution. One of the most interesting pieces of advice that I ever received was to go with the institution that can offer you the best financial aid package. Anything that you can do to avoid student loan debt, in my opinion, is the best thing that you can do. 

 

If you also have the opportunity to assist in the initial development of the research center, then that will be an incredibly beneficial addition to your future applications and maybe even a great learning experience. Previous posters have given some excellent advice. Good luck!

I agree with the second point, but not the first. I think financial aid should be a minimum requirement check box: if it's enough to live on (to whatever standard you are comfortable with), that should be enough. Beyond that I don't think it should be the deciding factor.

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What do you all think?

Even though funded MS programs are not as common, if they don't have the money to fund you now who's to say they won't have the money to do so in the future, either.  I mean, there are more ways than one to get money to a student other than through a PIs pocket.

 

I agree with the others, get your MS at your current institution and then apply to Ph.D. programs later. 

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I doubt that the unknown name of your MS school will hold you back in PhD admissions. I went to a relatively unknown school for my MS (ranked between 100 and 200) and got an amazing education with brilliant researchers and was admitted to a couple top 10 PhD programs in my field and a lot of top 20 programs. Schools will care about what you do during your MS, not where you got it.

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