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Help! Oxford vs UBC vs Queen's vs Toronto for Master's in Economics!


blueivy
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Hello everyone,

I'm having a really impossible time deciding between my different graduate offers and I'd really appreciate insight or advice or guidance from anyone. I've received acceptances to most of the schools to which I've applied, but i'm down to 4 schools now and I can't narrow them down any further (I have decided to turn down Cambridge for their MPhil Development Studies). I am waiting on one more program still but the deadlines for accepting three of them are this week, with the earliest being March 31st (Tuesday!!)

Right now the offers I'm considering: 

1) Oxford MSc Economics for Development

- No funding, quite pricey
- Structure: courses in economic theory (micro/macro split) and econometrics, tutorials in related areas like poverty, development, inequality, etc. with a final 10,000 page extended essay

2) UBC MA Economics

- moderate funding in the form of combined TAship and fellowship/RA

- Structure: first semester of intense core theory (micro, macro, metrics, mathematics), second semester electives (e.g. labour, environment, etc.). Third semester of research seminar (project for a class rather than independent research, no individual supervision). Probably the most intense program of the 4

 

3) UofT MA Economics
- Regular (non-doctoral) stream, some funding as a TA plus a moderate award

- Structure: 8 months of courses, 3 core (micro, macro, metrics) and 5 electives. No research option

4) Queen's MA Economics
- some funding as a TA plus a moderate award, been advised that my SSHRC application will likely be approved (in that case I would have to turn down the award)

- Structure: first semester micro, metrics, and two others, second semester macro and three others. Option to take a spring course instead of 4 in first term. Summer research essay, supervision by professor
- Problem: Does not offer courses in my fields of interest (development, labour, environment, health)

My details: 

- North American undergrad from a good school
- Good GRE scores, above 85th percentile

- Interest in development economics and looking at the labour, environment, health, gender, technology side of economic analysis (not interested in finance, banking, etc.)
- Unsure about pursuing a PhD in Economics but definitely want to keep it in the cards. Possiblity that this might be a terminal degree, however, and I have to account for that.
- Might need to take a reduced course load (2 or 3 classes/term rather than 4) due to medical issues


Oxford's program had until now been my top choice for its blending of economics and development, connections with development institutions, and Oxford's good name (which would be more important if this will be my terminal degree, which might be the case). My main concerns with the program is that 1) it might not be considered rigorous enough for an Econ PhD in Canada if it only covers micro/macro/metrics and the rest is more political economy rather than economic analysis, and 2) the price, of course. I would have to entirely self-fund through savings, loans, lines of credit, etc. 

In Canada, UBC and UofT seem to be the most reputable in economics (Queens in third), though all three seem to focus very little on applied econ and focus almost entirely on core theory. This would be great for PhD programs (though i have been advised that the non-doctoral stream at Toronto is not considered rigorous enough), but for a terminal degree I wonder if a more applied one from a bigger name school (Oxford) would be more valuable, especially if i intend to work or study internationally. 

I've been told varying advice on which program is considered better/the best. UofT Doctoral stream gets high praise but its regular stream doesn't (though the only difference would be two courses out of eight). UBC's program is generally well regarded, but the course structure is so rigid that if i were to take extra time (e.g. reduce my courseload) it would take me 24 months to complete (compared with Queens' 12 months, Oxford's 9 months, UofT's 16 months). I've also been told it is very theoretical and wouldn't be the most useful for an applied degree. Queen's would be great in terms of its flexibility, its funding, the research grant, the individual supervision, etc. but it is the least reputable school out of all of these (Oxford obviously a top 3 international school and Toronto and UBC top 30. Queen's is in the top 300) which wouldn't matter as much in Canada but might make a difference internationally, I worry. I would have selected it normally but i found out that they won't even offer electives in the areas i am interested in and so potential connections to development work (JPAL, development placements, etc.) would be quite low. I also don't know how many of their faculty are research faculty, which could make a big difference for PhD placements. 

If you were in my shoes, which option would you pick? I'm inclined towards the Oxford MSc but I'm worrying that because it is a more applied degree rather than a core theory degree it may jeopardize my PhD options. But having the Oxford name would only help, I imagine, in pursuing work if that is what I choose to do. 

Thank you

 

Edited by fuzzylogician
Edited for privacy at OP's request
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I guess my biggest worry is whether the Oxford MSc would be considered rigorous enough for admission to a PhD program in Economics in Canada. they only offer micro, macro, and metrics and the rest are more political economy courses. i wonder if that is enough for a canadian phd admission

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I am not in your field so I cannot comment on the career benefits of each program. But from a financial point of view, if you do not want to use your own savings or take out a loan to pay for food and rent, UofT and Queens are the only options that give you enough to live off of on a decent student budget. Vancouver is one of the most expensive places to live in Canada and $13,000 is quite tight. Oxford will put you into a lot of debt, but that goes without saying.

 

Based on all the info you've shared here, I would be inclined to lean towards UofT (assuming you did not do your bachelors at UofT, since planning to get a bachelor's, master's and PhD all from the same school university isn't advisable, unless your field is different). Good luck with your choice!

Edited by jenste
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I am not in your field so I cannot comment on the career benefits of each program. But from a financial point of view, if you do not want to use your own savings or take out a loan to pay for food and rent, UofT and Queens are the only options that give you enough to live off of on a decent student budget. Vancouver is one of the most expensive places to live in Canada and $13,000 is quite tight. Oxford will put you into a lot of debt, but that goes without saying.

 

Based on all the info you've shared here, I would be inclined to lean towards UofT (assuming you did not do your bachelors at UofT, since planning to get a bachelor's, master's and PhD all from the same school university isn't advisable, unless your field is different). Good luck with your choice!

Thank you for the reply. Yes the financial aspect is a big deal. I calculated my costs (projecting that i may need to take an extra semester due to health issues) and UBC would end up around $36,000, and oxford around $70,000. UofT and Queen's seem to be much more manageable, but I wonder if the projected earnings from Oxford (better placements/connections with my field) might make up for that. 

And no I didn't do my bachelor's at Toronto, though I might consider doing my PhD there. 

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I was also just offered a SSHRC grant to UBC, so it would be less expensive now. This makes it harder. The two schools I am now considering (Toronto and Oxford) are the two with the least funding now and so i'm starting to reconsider the others :S

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Can you talk to a prof in your department that you respect and ask for their opinion? Sometimes having the opinion of someone in your field and geographic location (if you plan to work there later on) can help make the decision clearer. Also, if you're still looking for advice here it would be easier for people to comment on your options if you could share your new funding amount at UBC, IMO. Best of luck!

Edited by jenste
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Can you talk to a prof in your department that you respect and ask for their opinion? Sometimes having the opinion of someone in your field and geographic location (if you plan to work there later on) can help make the decision clearer. Also, if you're still looking for advice here it would be easier for people to comment on your options if you could share your new funding amount at UBC, IMO. Best of luck!

I've spoken with a lot of my profs actually, and get widely varying answers! All of them say that none of these are bad choices, but some prefer UBC (known for better math training), others say toronto is better (more central location), whereas queen's is also recommended (small faculty, good chance for interaction, good training in macro and econometrics). I've also been told that Oxford is a good signal, so basically everyone has told me great things but no one has given me a firm answer on which to not consider. 

my new funding amount at UBC would be $17,500 award, and I think i'd still be eligible to TA ($12,000). But, UBC has the least flexible program structure which might not work with my needs so I am still waiting to hear back from them on that matter.

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If you're getting mixed opinions from your profs you may just have to go with your gut on this one. Where do you see yourself being the happiest and which school will best prepare you for your particular career goals? How much debt are you comfortable carrying?

 

It sounds like there is no real "best answer" to your options because all options are good ones. So you can't go wrong no matter what you pick. If more than one school (within your budget) will equally help you reach your career goals, then pick the school/location you will be happiest at. ie: location, proximity to family/friends, climate, city life/amenities, access to nature, etc 

 

(Personally, I would pick a high ranking program with funding over a high ranking program without funding. I think it will look better on your resume to have a nice scholarship rather than no scholarship at all, imo. But you need to do what is right for you. I'd also find out if the extra $12,00 for a TA position at UBC is a sure thing before making your decision).

Edited by jenste
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That's what i'm struggling with...would it look better to accept UBC/Queen's because they gave me a formal government research grant (the SSHRC), than to accept Oxford with no funding? Or Toronto with only a departmental scholarship? Oxford I think is where I would be happiest, but it would also be considerably more expensive.The difference in cost (with tuition, living expenses, flights, etc.) is considerable. With Oxford I'd finish in 9 months, but it would cost $65,000 out of pocket/loans. UBC I'd finish in two years with $28,000 out of pocket (but the SSHRC on my resume). Toronto I'd finish in 1.5 years (but graduate in 2) with $15,000 out of pocket, but no SSHRC. Queen's I'd finish in 1 year with 0$ loans, but they don't offer many courses I am interested in.

I think if Queen's had offered the courses I wanted (Development, Environment, Labour, Natural Resources, Health, etc.) I would take them since they're the second shortest in terms of time (Oxford beats them by a couple of months since it's a 9 month program), and by far the cheapest option---if I could keep my living costs low I might even finish with a little extra money in my pocket, especially if I took up a TAship. BUT I found out that they really aren't offering many/any of the electives I'd want so I'd be stuck in courses which don't interest me too much. I think public economics, cost-benefit analysis, and economic analysis of law might be somewhat interesting, but aside from public econ none of those really "inspire" me, and my other elective would have to be something i have absolutely no interest in (finance, for example). But I would be able to finish in a year, with $65,000 more than I would from Oxford, and I could start more schooling straight away or start work straight away with a degree under my belt. Toronto is second cheapest and would be closest to home with a nice balance of courses I'm interested in, but I would still only get my degree two years later (though I could work for a couple of those semesters off I suppose). UBC should have been my natural choice---a prestigious well known department, excellent in my field (Development), a prestigious award (SSHRC), great city, and a lot more affordable than Oxford, but the program structure is so inflexible that I don't think I can actually do the program. So it might be off the list. 

And then there's Oxford. Really interesting courses, highly prestigious school, but incredibly expensive. $37,000 more than UBC, $50,000 more than Toronto, $65,000 more than Queen's. It would be the shortest program so i could conceivably start work or further schooling straight away, but the debt I would incur would mean that I would be really restricted in what I could possibly do---i'd have to live at home (in Canada) and work for a year at a sub-optimal job most likely to be able to afford further schooling, so i'd probably be held back by a year again. 

Agh. I'm sorry, i'm rambling. It's just so hard for me to pass up on Oxford, but I know that is the smartest thing to do---I could get a degree from a good Canadian school for free, or from a great Canadian school (that is recognizable worldwide) for about 50K less so really i have no reason to feel bad about that. But I worry that fifteen years down the road when 50K may not seem like so much (hopefully...) I might still kick myself for never having gone to Oxford.

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I hear a lot of people here say that if a school doesn't offer you funding then they don't really want you. Now they are referring mostly to PhD programs. But I still think there is some merit to this comment regarding master's programs as well. They like you and the fact you will be paying international fees, but not enough to give you any money to entice you to come.

 

I think the funding offered at the other schools will look impressive on a resume. Not to mention the debt acquired from Oxford is about the same as 3 brand new cars. I am personally not comfortable with that much debt because it takes a really long time to pay off. Borrowing money is a breeze and paying it back takes a really long time. But I am most likely older than you with different goals and timelines in mind after graduation, so that may impact my perspective to a degree.

 

I'd personally go with UofT. Queens doesn't have any courses you want so why is it on your list? UBC is inflexible and you mention that you aren't even sure why it's still on your list so why not take it off? I think UofT and Oxford are the ones that speak to you the most and the choice really comes down to those 2 schools.

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