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So let's talk prestige.


dancedementia

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I know, I know. This isn't SDN. But these thoughts have been swirling around in my mind for a bit and I figured, who better to ask than like-minded, high-achieving individuals?

I'm currently in a masters program at one of the top schools for mental health counseling and doing really well; it's my second semester (of four). I specifically chose the institution for its faculty, geographic location, practicum sites, and "name brand" - it's easily recognizable and respected. I have clinical placements and part-time jobs at some of the top hospitals in the nation (I'm in Boston - we've got MGH, McLean, B&W, Children's, you name it). I'm doing research with very prominent individuals (does "Gunderson" or "Linehan" ring a bell?)

And yet, I'm constantly second-guessing myself. The biggest issue is that this program costs an INSANE amount of money. We're talking Harvard-with-no-financial-aid insane. I have a lot of debt from a past life where I may have binge-shopped too much and lived a little too grandly, plus undergraduate student loans. I've been a walking zombie the past few weeks since I'm working a full time job, another per diem job, going to school full time, and trying to deal with a minor medical issue (nothing debilitating or serious enough that would take me out of school/work, but still irritating). I need to work these jobs in order to have enough money to pay rent (insanely high), but working the jobs is severely limiting my ability to do research and perform well in classes.

I have severely considered moving back to my home state (Texas) with a much lower cost of living and finishing my masters degree at a lesser-known university. It is by no means terrible, but just think of it as the difference between, say, Harvard University vs. University of Massachusetts. There is a significant decrease in "prestige" there.

I am attending a masters program in order to bump up my GPA and get research experience for a PhD. Do you think that transferring to a lesser-known university, with not-as-well-known faculty, would severely jeopardize my chances of getting into one of my PhD programs of choice (see signature)? Or do you think the significant decrease in student loan debt is justified and worth it?

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Hi,

I just want to ask you two questions. 

What do you want to get your PhD in? 

Besides the name, do you think you could get a good enough education at a university at home (Practicum placement, research experience and so on) 

Mental health field isn't really looking at prestige in my opinion. I feel like prestige pertains more to law, business and other fields that you're only chance of getting an excellent job is the prestige of your schools or the connections you have. I think whoever will be hiring you as a mental health counselor will be more concerned with the quality of training and material you learned. I asked about your end goal because some psychology careers such as academia or hospital settings may be concerned with the prestige of schools. 

Also I'm a firm believer of living within your means. As a mental health counselor, you'll only be making $40,000 a year, right? So basically once you graduate with this prestigious (expensive) degree, it'll take years to pay off all of your debt. 

A couple of years ago I applied to PhD programs, I was accepted into one school but as a master's student instead. The school was excellent but I'd have a couple hundred thousands dollars in student loans with aid. It just didn't seem worth it since I still knew I would go back to school for my PhD and school psychologist don't have very high salaries. 

I think it just comes down to your end goal and if you think this prestigious degree will be worth it or even make difference when it's time to start looking for jobs/applying to PhD programs. 

Good luck with your decision.

Edited by Love3
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I think another question to consider is if you can actually transfer and finish your Master's elsewhere.  Not all graduate programs will take credits from other programs and let you pick up where you left off.  If that is the case then you may have to start all over or repeat a portion of your training and would that added time in a lower cost area outweigh staying put and finishing on time?

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I got my masters at a 'prestigious' research institution in the Boston area and I don't think it has done anything for my chances of getting my foot through the door for PhD programs. Infact, my undergraduate degree from UMass Amherst opened more doors for my follow up research experiences and networking opportunities at martinos center, brown, beth Israel etc.

I think it has less to do with prestige and more with what you can accomplish in your time at the program. With that being said, transferring to another masters program at this point may reflect poorly in terms of your commitment to graduate level work. I declined BU for my masters because of how much it cost so I completely empathize but I would stick it out at this point. You'll almost certainly be making up credits, so i think after the fact, it'll be lost time. If you want to discuss options for paying down student loans in a timely fashion I have plenty of advice and would be happy to chat! Good luck.

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20 hours ago, Love3 said:

What do you want to get your PhD in? 

Also I'm a firm believer of living within your means. As a mental health counselor, you'll only be making $40,000 a year, right? So basically once you graduate with this prestigious (expensive) degree, it'll take years to pay off all of your debt.

Counseling Psychology. I'd actually like to work in higher education (college counseling centers, etc). Your second point is the biggest motivator for this decision - I've become extremely frugal over the years, but old debt is haunting me and I feel immense guilt over the cost of this program. Tuition alone is 50k/yr, and I feel my stomach get queasy every time I think about how rough paying that off is going to be. To put it in comparison, the 5-6 options in my home state are about 9k/yr, not to mention cost of living is much cheaper (rent alone is twice as cheap and the buildings are twice as new). 

19 hours ago, MarineBluePsy said:

I think another question to consider is if you can actually transfer and finish your Master's elsewhere.  Not all graduate programs will take credits from other programs and let you pick up where you left off.  If that is the case then you may have to start all over or repeat a portion of your training and would that added time in a lower cost area outweigh staying put and finishing on time?

Most of the programs will allow approx 9 hrs of transfer credit, so I would probably need to retake 3-4 classes. The Texas programs allow summer courses though, while my current one doesn't, so I wouldn't be losing too much time. At most, an extra semester. 

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I definitely empathize with the immense-student-debt situation. To give some background, I'm in my second year as a research assistant/lab manager at an Ivy (and though I'm not paying tuition because I'm not a student, the cost of living is pretty absurd here, and I acquired quite a bit of debt from undergrad). 

One question that might be helpful to ask is whether you've already gained most of what you were going to gain from being affiliated with such a "prestigious" program. One year of research experience is a good amount, and it seems like you've already forged relatively close connections with the "big name" scholars in your department/field. Assuming that these influential folks already know you well enough to be recommenders on your behalf, that might be enough of a take-away from your program. That is, transferring now might save you a lot of money, and even if you wouldn't have the name of this institution on your degree, you would have letters of recommendation from these big name scholars, and that might be more important than having the institution's name on your degree. 

I'm happy to PM if you'd like to talk more/in more detail. FWIW, I'm also applying to clinical/counseling programs (I applied to one of the schools in your signature and have an interview with them upcoming in the next couple weeks). 

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