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Hi everyone,

I’m hoping you all could give me some advice. I’m deciding between two unfunded MA programs for English, BU and UIC. (I know how financially irresponsible this is, for all you in that camp.) BU is a 1 year program, and UIC is a 2 year program. They actually run about the same in tuition costs. BU has offered me a $5,000 scholarship, but compared to the total cost of tuition, it is a drop in the bucket.

Does anyone have some sort of formula to weigh pros and cons of schools? I attended BU’s open house, and I really love the feel of the campus, and I think I would be happy there – but the cost of living in Boston is higher than Chicago. Also, Chicago is closer to my home – I could take a train home easily if I needed to.

Right now, my gut is telling me BU, but the other part of me is saying UIC, (less distance, less expensive, I’m familiar with the city.)

Thank you for any advice you can give. 

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It sounds like there are some definite pros and cons to each. Does either program have a mechanism for assistantships or teaching options? Basically, are there any avenues for funding that aren't provided up front?

For cost reasons, BU sounds like the more logical choice, but if you are planning on pursuing a Ph.D. immediately afterward, bear in mind that by the time you send off Ph.D. application materials in a year, you might not have enough graduate experience (and might not have made enough potential LOR connections) to appeal to an adcom. In other words, you would have one graduate semester on your transcript, whereas most applicants (coming from M.A.) will have three. This might not be an issue for you, but it's worth pointing out.

If you're not planning on going straight to a Ph.D. (or even going the Ph.D. route at all), BU strikes me as the winner. Great reputation, scholarship money, a one-year commitment etc. -- all of these things, plus your gut instinct sound pretty compelling.

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Hi @Wyatt's Terps and @ProfLorax - BU has a faculty assistantship option in the second semester, but that isn't guaranteed. It is based on the need of the faculty, and if they have more students interested than spots available, it is possible I could not be selected.

UIC does not have TA positions available for MA students, I'm not sure about additional teaching options, I will be inquiring about that this week.

I am concerned about the whole applying to my PhD after having only been at BU for a few months. My goal is to continue on for my PhD. I discussed this with faculty at BU, and they had students go straight into their PhD, and others took a year off to polish up their material, then applied the next fall. The idea of taking a year off, isn't ideal to me - which is another + for UIC, I think.

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Alright. Based on what you've said, I think it would be wise to let UIC know that you have a competitive offer on the table from BU, who has offered you a scholarship etc. You might be able to use this as leverage into any assistantship options they may have. While the one-year aspect of BU's program gives me pause (and the notion of a gap year gives you pause as well), it's worth remembering that if a second year at UIC is going to cost you a lot of money, it might make more sense to take the gap year to make some money and broaden your scholarship on your own time -- perhaps take the GRE subject test, maintain strong ties with BU faculty etc.... The other advantage to the one-year program is that if you realize that graduate study isn't for you, or you don't do as well as you need to, you'll still come out of it with an advanced degree in a single year, and can focus on alt-ac options etc. if need be.

The long and the short of it is that if UIC can find you partial funding for your whole time there, that's probably a great option. But if that's not the case (and it sounds like it's not), then getting the $5000 scholarship from BU, and getting through the program in a year might be ideal...with the caveat that you likely won't want to / won't be able to apply to Ph.D. programs until the year afterward (necessitating a "gap year" for you).

Good luck either way!

Edited by Wyatt's Terps
Typo

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Hmmm. Yeah, if applying to PhD's, I think a two-year program would be best overall. That said, given the high price tag, perhaps you could go to BU and take a gap year to polish your materials. In that gap year, make and save money (because even funded PhD's don't pay all that way). That said (again!), I'm really grateful I did a two year masters: I explored different topics, got to really know the professors, served on some leadership positions in my second year, and discovered my current field in the very last semester. 

Here's some other questions to consider:

  • Which program has the most exciting and relevant coursework offered in the Fall? An MA is almost completely coursework, so look to future and past course schedules and see which program excites you the most. Also, if you're interested in interdisciplinary work, which program supports those interests? Is it easier to take courses outside of the department in one program as opposed to another? 
  • How do students wrap up their degrees? An exam, a capstone, or a thesis? In terms of PhD program, there's really no difference, but you may have more interest in a program that ends with a thesis than exams (or vice versa) for personal reasons.
  • What kind of applicable professional development activities and events does each program offer? Some MA programs offer a 1 unit course in the Fall to prep for PhD applications. Are there writing groups, grad student conferences, a grad student journal? 
  • How do current MA students feel about the program? Are they getting the attention and support they need from faculty? Are they happy there? Do they feel like they are being prepared for their next stage? 

My other advice: start looking for graduate assistantships NOW. I wish I had known this for my unfunded MA: there are often assistantships, in English or other departments, that offer a stipend and tuition remissions. You could be an admin assistant for the Econ Department, for example, and you won't have to pay fees. You have to apply for these positions, so they aren't a sure thing. But they offer the opportunity to graduate with little to no debt. Which is key! Because, like I said before, you won't be living large on a PhD stipend. So try to save what you can now. 

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Also -- and bringing this up goes against my love for Chicago, where I recently moved away from -- you really want to consider the status of public universities in Chicago. Lots of state universities in the US have systemic funding issues, but Illinois is in an especially bad place, with the state having just cut all public funding to universities. Thus, even beyond the individual issue of whether or not you'll get funding, there's the larger issue of whether or not Illinois universities will be able to operate in a normal way at all. That alone would be enough to sway me to BU in your situation, although Chicago is a tough place to turn down. 

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First off, thank you so much for all your suggestions. I feel like I've been talking over the same points with my girlfriend (she is moving with me as well) and my parents, but I still feel stuck. So I appreciate all the help!

I heard back from UIC, (that was timely!) and I was told, "Many of our students do work inside and outside the university.  You might be able to find work as a Research Assistant for some professor on campus who would need editing or research skills. But we can't guarantee any of that. If you do have a financial offer from one of your top schools, do let us know."

Didn't seem overly helpful, but I will definitely let them know about my scholarship offer from BU.

I am interested in coursework at both places, their ties with the Women and Gender Studies departments at both universities are strong. UIC wraps up the degree with a MA Qualifying Paper, BU does not. Although, I was told at BU that professors will work with you throughout the year to help you develop your writing sample. Also, BU requires "demonstration of a reading knowledge of one foreign language" for MA students, which isn't a deal-breaker but my Spanish is sub-par to say the least!

You've given me a lot to think, about. For now, I'll wait and hear if UIC is able to give me a sort of counter-offer. But I do have concerns about the funding cuts in Illinois, like you mentioned @silenus_thescribe

 

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59 minutes ago, kjgv22 said:

their ties with the Women and Gender Studies departments at both universities are strong

This is a small note (which you may already be aware of!) but BU participates in the Graduate Consortium of Women's Studies, which allows you to enroll in women's studies seminars at many universities in Boston (BU, BC, Brandeis, Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Northeastern, Simmons, and UMass Boston). It also runs different conferences, lectures, and events.

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