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Stanford Unfunded MS vs deferring


compscian
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Hello everyone, I would really like a few comments and opinions from you all. Especially from those who have been or in a similar situation.

 

The scenario is this: I applied to 6 programs, mostly in PhD apart from one in MS, in Engineering (mech, aero) and computational science. My interests are primarily CFD and controls, and I am sure that I want to get into academia. I am primarily considering three options.

 

1. Stanford unfunded MS (2nd choice originally for PhD)

2. UIUC PhD

3. Defer Stanford

 

My superviser from undergrad college (reasonably reputed, top 25 school) is willing to give me a project assistant position for a year, so I am considering deferring Stanford. My reasoning is that if I work as PA for a year, I can publish my final year project in a good journal (already presented in a highly reputed conference) and also get another one or two conference papers. This will hopefully increase my chances of funding at Stanford and converting to the PhD program. Additionally, I can also try my luck with a few other PhD programs which I couldn't get into this year (MIT, UCB, and maybe Princeton).

 

Since its an unfunded offer, I am assuming Stanford won't have a problem in deferring it. If they don't agree, what would you suggest - take one of the offers (which one?), or apply next year without a backup option? Please share your thoughts.

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Is UIUC's offer funded? Is the cost of Stanford an issue (it certainly would be for me!)?

 

Yes, UIUC is a funded PhD offer. However, I feel that Stanford is a better fit for me - both in terms of research as well as location. I definitely like the research at UIUC (wouldn't have applied otherwise) but it is certainly a notch below Stanford. In terms of fit and my overall inclination, I would rate programs as: MIT>Stan>UCB>GATech>UIUC>UCSD.

 

I would have already accepted a funded MS or PhD offer from Stan already. Unfortunately, the lack of funding is a concern. If push comes to shove, I can afford it - but the least I would expect in such a scenario is to continue on for a PhD at Stan/MIT/UCB. If I have to go to UIUC or GATech for my PhD, it would be an utter waste of money.

Edited by compscian
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I would personally never take an unfunded Masters in the hope it will lead to better PhD prospects after. UIUC is a good school in general, although I can't comment on your field specifically (I'm just assuming it's good), and so I would take the funded offer there. It seems that many unfunded Masters programs at prestigious universities are not actually prestigious programs, more of money grabs than anything. Have you asked how many students successfully transition to the PhD program? In another thread, people were discussing NYU's unfunded Masters programs, and it was something like a 40% acceptance rate to that program with almost nobody transitioning to PhD, and almost no support for the Masters students (maybe no advisor or lab!)

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From what I have gathered based on talking to current students, grad coordinator, and historical data, the Stanford program in question is quite selective. Typical expected class size is 20-25, so I would assume they give no more than 50 offers. Number of applicants would certainly be close to 500, so the acceptance rate would be no more than 10% IMO. 

 

Also, from what I gathered, about 4-5 students routinely make it to the PhD program at Stan and another 4-5 end up with offers from other similarly reputed places. But I understand what you are getting at. The program doesn't require a thesis, though I can do research if I wish (which I certainly will). If funding was out of the picture, I would certainly choose Stan MS and take my chances at PhD. 

 

My gut feeling is that the best course of action would be to defer Stan. Hopefully, I can find funding next year if I contact profs early enough and show them some papers I have written. UIUC is certainly a great place and I would have gone there had I not got this offer from Stan. Its just hard to let go of such an awesome university, and I feel the least I should do is put in my best efforts to secure funding for either this fall or the next.

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I should have been more clear: the quoted acceptance rate (i.e. people getting offers) at NYU was around 40%, but not many people actually enroll in the unfunded Masters programs.

 

I honestly think you should just accept UIUC's offer. Do you have anyone who knows you that can give advice (e.g. profs that wrote LORs, advisors)?

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Thats another big issue. One of my letter writers (the professor with whom I worked for the longest) encouraged me to take up Stanford since he also feels I would fit better there (the number of people working in my area at Stan is about 5-6 as opposed to 3 at UIUC). He may be a bit biased since he is a Stan alumnus though. The other two letter writers say its better to take UIUC's offer, so if I decide to defer, I may have trouble getting LORs for applying to other programs. I am really confused :unsure:

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So, from your signature I gather that you are in mechanical engineering. UIUC is a top 10 school in mechanical engineering. Sure, Stanford is a great school, but UIUC is also an engineering powerhouse. Three people is plenty who do research in your area.

 

This is a classic bird in the hand, two in the bush situation, with the additional factor that the bird that you have in your hand is like a peacock or something. UIUC is a great department, and you'd get a great research and engineering education there. There's no guarantee that you'd get into Stanford with one additional year of PA work - obviously the department is very competitive and many of the other applicants will have similar levels of work. Obviously there's no reason to pay $120,000 to go to Stanford when you're funded at another top 10 program. So even if you fit better there, financially, it's not feasible.

 

You say that you would've gone to UIUC if you hadn't gotten the offer from Stanford. But the thing is, you didn't get a good offer. You got an unfunded one to their MS program, not the PhD. There's no guarantee that you'll get funding, and even if you do, there's no guarantee that you'll get into their PhD program after you finish the MS. For me, that's too much uncertainty, and I would take the UIUC offer and not look back. But maybe you should contact some POIs at Stanford and ask what the probability of you securing funding for next year is if you were to defer the offer. (You already know that programs like NSF, NDSEG, and Hertz are competitive and not to be relied on.)

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juilletmercredi, Thank you for your inputs.

 

I guess I should first talk to the admissions people at Stanford about funding prospects, and also contact professors citing my interest in their research. Lets see what happens, I am hopeful that I will find *some* funding this year. Also the admissions people were quite positive that most students who indicate an interest in research early on, do end up transferring to the PhD program. To quote the reply: "Almost a good fourth of our masters students transfer into the PhD program, and a few other graduates take up offers from other top schools." I don't know how much I should read into these things though. As you said, there is a lot of uncertainty involved, but the payoff is also very big.

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As for the 1/4th...you don't know if, say, 75% went for the PhD transfer and only 25% got it.  The "a few other graduates [who] take up offers from other top schools" is not of interest to you b/c you're already in that category with the funded, PhD offer from UIUC.  Obviously, you really want Stanford.  So, I would find out as much as possible about the "25%".  How many students attempted to transfer to Stan's PhD?  Also, find out if the 25% had anything in common (e.g. all successful transfers had 2 pubs in top journals and 2 conference presentations).  You want to minimize as much uncertainty as possible.

Edited by Chai_latte
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