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Did I make a mistake with a top 40 funded PhD vs (maybe) unfunded top 15 MS?


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Just to clarify, I chose the funded PhD, and despite the opportunity to withdraw and take an unfunded MS offer or wait another year, I will absolutely still go to the PhD. I enjoyed the research my advisor was doing and the program gives me a lot of flexibility with research and coursework. I just want to know if I'm shooting for somewhere in academia, have I killed my chances by not going to one of the top 15 MS programs and then shooting for a high ranking PhD later? Looking back now, I messed up a lot in the application process (bad SOP, only had one research project that I had started a few months before applying, one good letter of rec). Enough that the 3 top 15 MS programs deferred me to their MS (I applied PhD but they offered me MS instead). I think I could have done incredibly well in their MS programs and I'll even have a paper published by the time I leave undergrad (didn't have it at application time). I will certainly go to the PhD program, but did I do myself a disservice by not taking a year off and reapplying?

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Rankings aren't everything - while program reputation does play a role in jobs in academia, they're not the end-all, be-all of getting an academic placement. Your field does indeed matter - it's more difficult to get placed in saturated fields. So going to a top 40 program may be more of a problem in English literature or history than in engineering or medical physics.

 

For an example, I'm looking at programs in the top 40 in my field (psychology) that are ranked around 30-40, and right away I recognize some great programs. Two of those programs each has someone very famous in my subfield, and another two have at least 4 people off the top of my head I can think of that are very famous in a related subfield - who would be excellent mentors. Even some programs outside the top 40 are pretty well-respected in my area. I will say that psychology is a relatively large field with over 100 programs in psychology, and virtually every college in the country has a psychology major. At the same time, psychology is a field in which (believe or not) a substantial number of PhD holders actually exit academia and go to work in industry. So even the small teaching colleges and regional comprehensive universities will need psychology professors with PhDs, and so students in the top 40 - which are great programs - can be well-placed at one of these programs.

 

So it really depends - what is the actual reputation of the program like in your field, aside from the absolute number of its ranking? When you look at the faculty listing of places that you'd like to teach, do they have faculty who have PhDs from programs that have a similar reputation to yours?

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