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San Francisco, Philadelphia, or Baltimore?


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Stuck choosing between my top 3 picks UCSF, UPenn, and Johns Hopkins for a PhD in Cellular/Molecular/Developmental Biology (varies by school/program). From what I've seen, heard, and read, all three schools have amazing programs, I think my decision will more likely come down to quality of life in those three places. My research interests are super broad so I'm not particularly worried about labs, I'm sure I will find PIs and labs at each program that I will love to work with.

San Francisco - I'm from the Bay Area, so family is nearby, easiest move and probably safest of the three cities. BUT expensive af and I don't get the experience of moving to a new place.

Philadelphia - Had great interviews with faculty members there, but didn't think the grad students I met were as outgoing or fun. Cheaper than SF for sure, but more expensive than Baltimore. Safer than Baltimore, but still more crime than SF.

Baltimore - I really loved the city and students that I met here. In terms of cost-of-living, in Baltimore you get the most for what you pay. However, everyone keeps warning me about the crime rate in the city. 

Any advice is welcome, especially from current students at any of these schools or students who considered these places.

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Baltimore is not as dangerous as its reputation leads people to believe. I have lived here for the majority of my life (I did not grow up in a super wealthy neighborhood) and believe that, like any city, you just have to be aware of your surroundings and make smart choices. Additionally, I currently live close to the Hopkins campus and see their security guards walking around constantly, so if you live on or near the campus I can't imagine you would have many issues. I know nothing about your program but just wanted to throw in my two cents about Baltimore! 

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If you're very certain that all 3 schools are a great scientific fit for you, then I would personally recommend Baltimore. I think the experience of moving out is invaluable, which eliminates SF. I think your interactions with other graduate students and how you fit in the cohort is important, so if the community at UPenn is not the right fit for you, I would eliminate UPenn. Baltimore is probably not as dangerous as people think it is; I also interviewed at Hopkins and all the students over there were very happy and seemed to not think that safety is a huge concern. 

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As someone who has spent significant time in all 3 cities and knows people in all three, I would say just go with the program you feel the best about and don't worry about safety or crime.

I have a friend doing his MD/PhD at Hopkins and has been there for 7 years at this point. He has not had any experiences with crime, loves the city, and wishes more people saw it for its positives. As another person stated above, Baltimore's reputation proceeds it. Like living in any city, there will be neighborhoods with higher crime and lower crime. Baltimore is patchier and less segregated with its no-go areas but with living in all populated areas, the main rule is to just be mindful of yourself and where you are. I have a friend who has lived in a few different areas of San Francisco and felt unsafe sometimes in her neighborhood, even though SF is generally considered a pretty safe city.

Baltimore is the cheapest of the 3 cities to live in so with your stipend, you'll be able to get a pretty good apartment in a nice area. The Hopkins area especially is very safe and there are plenty of things to do and see in the area.

Since I grew up around Philadelphia, went to Penn for my master's, and lived in the city for a period, I have a soft spot for Philly. The University City and Center City areas are perfectly safe to live in. There is crime, but the same crime you get on any campus in a major city. People stealing bikes. Some robberies outside of subway stations. Etc... But the campus is very responsible about alerting people the moment it happens and there are Penn security personnel all over the area. When you're not in Penn, you're in Drexel territory and the same goes for them. You won't have any problems unless you decide to live past 50th street. Philly has a lot of stuff to do as well and is small and manageable, much like Baltimore. If you're looking for a change of scenery, you can't go wrong with either, although I prefer Philly myself. The only thing you might hate is the snow and cold winters.

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