lingg

fully funded master VS partially funded PhD?

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I'm an international undergrad applying for graduate programs in linguistics. I've been accepted into a fully funded (tuition + stipend) master's program in Europe, and a partially funded (tuition waiver, RA for the first year but not really enough for living) PhD in the States; now I'm in a serious dilemma on which one to choose, and I'd appreciate any advice from you all!

 

Pros for the Europe master's:

1. Funding is very sufficient

2. Might get into great PhD programs with full funding when I apply again with a stronger profile

3. It's going to be a wonderful experience studying in multiple countries - it's a consortium kind of program

Cons:

1. No guarantee that I'd get in anywhere (especially with funding) if I reapply; and this program is probably not very well-known in the States, which might put me in disadvantage (anyways my undergrad school is not famous either though)

 

Pros for the US PhD:

1. No need to apply again to PhD - and it's in the US; most schools in the US are thought as more prestigious than most schools in other countries, at least in my field

2. Professors there are great

3. The city the school locates in is wonderful

Cons:

1. The funding situation seems very difficult, and workload of teaching and research part-time jobs is very heavy. Also, conference travelling funds, research funds and dissertation funds are all competitive - correct me if I'm wrong, but I assume some schools include all those as guaranteed in their full funding packages? Plus, international students are not allowed to work off-campus, so I have to solely rely on on-campus jobs to survive. :(

 

Both curriculums are great - they are roughly in the same subfield, so I don't have a preference on this between the two.

I'd like to know what would you suggest. In fact, how common it is for PhD programs to give not-fully-funded offers? And if I choose the Europe master's, am I taking too much risk - as things will probably only get more competitive after two years?

Thank you so much in advance!!

Edited by lingg

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I am in a very similar situation as you! Except Canada instead of Europe. Having a ridiculously hard time coming to a conclusion, so anyone's input on this would be greatly appreciated! Additionally, my biggest fear is the additional years means being older when graduating from a PhD as well as asking my references to be my reference again in 6 months. However, barely surviving and depleting all my savings + possible debt is a very hard pill to swallow. 

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12 minutes ago, RBspkRuP said:

I am in a very similar situation as you! Except Canada instead of Europe. Having a ridiculously hard time coming to a conclusion, so anyone's input on this would be greatly appreciated! Additionally, my biggest fear is the additional years means being older when graduating from a PhD as well as asking my references to be my reference again in 6 months. However, barely surviving and depleting all my savings + possible debt is a very hard pill to swallow. 

Definitely understand how you feel! Is your Canadian master's program one year long? My Europe program is two years - which means I'll need to keep the relationship with my undergrad profs and ask them again after more than a year. So your PhD offer also came with an insufficient financial package??

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48 minutes ago, lingg said:

Definitely understand how you feel! Is your Canadian master's program one year long? My Europe program is two years - which means I'll need to keep the relationship with my undergrad profs and ask them again after more than a year. So your PhD offer also came with an insufficient financial package??

I have 2 masters offers, a 1 year and a 2 year and debating between both. That is what is making me debate between the two offers is that in the 1 year my application doesn't change when I re-apply but the 2 year just feels like such a long addition to my education. Yeah, my PhD is quite underfunded compared to the cost of living in my opinion. I actually got equal to more funding for my masters offers and they are in a cheaper location. However, the offer I received seems like the standard offer for that school but I don't have another PhD offer to negotiate the amount :( 

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Lingg,

I think the full funded master's is a better offer than the partially funded PhD. There is no guarantee you will complete the program on time (sometimes the thesis can take longer to prepare than originally expected for various reasons) thus adding more time and more accrued debt.

If you make it a goal to publish as much as you can in the next 2 years, to network, and attend conferences, then you will have ample opportunity to build relationships with others in the field and to increase your chances of getting a better PhD offer in the US. That's what I would do anyway.

Is your ultimate goal to work in the US and to become a permanent resident/citizen? If this is the case, I can see where the difficulty arises in making this decision. But given the current political climate in the US, as a foreigner I would also be a little concerned about your ability to enter and leave the country. Right now, lots of people from other countries are being denied access (even Canadians) for not having a visa, even when the embassy specifically states that none is required. Some of these workers at the border and airport are making up their own rules and breaking the law. Maybe in a couple of years things will settle down.

Good luck in making this difficult decision.

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If you're already getting on to PhD programs now fresh from undergrad, your resume must be pretty strong already, so an MA will only improve that. A fully funded MA with a stipend is a pretty great deal. Don't get me wrong, so is the PhD offer, but it sounds like you could hold out for something better. I'd take the MA if I were you and see where you stand in two years time.

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10 hours ago, RBspkRuP said:

I have 2 masters offers, a 1 year and a 2 year and debating between both. That is what is making me debate between the two offers is that in the 1 year my application doesn't change when I re-apply but the 2 year just feels like such a long addition to my education. Yeah, my PhD is quite underfunded compared to the cost of living in my opinion. I actually got equal to more funding for my masters offers and they are in a cheaper location. However, the offer I received seems like the standard offer for that school but I don't have another PhD offer to negotiate the amount :( 

My situation is so similar to you in this regard (except that I only have the 2-year master's offer) - I personally would prefer the 2-year program over the 1-year one, as it's a bit hard to largely improve your profile within around 9 months from now; and I personally think the master's study will never go wasted - later in the PhD you might graduate sooner than your counterparts directly coming from bachelor's! And the experiences at another institution could be valuable in the long run. And concerning the PhD offer, yes, the school I got in is in a super expensive area, and it's also the only PhD program I got in so I don't really have anything to negotiate with them; plus, there has been rumors saying that school is always short of funding so there's no guarantee that I'll be able to survive on my own. Such a hard decision to make!

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8 hours ago, thelionking said:

Lingg,

I think the full funded master's is a better offer than the partially funded PhD. There is no guarantee you will complete the program on time (sometimes the thesis can take longer to prepare than originally expected for various reasons) thus adding more time and more accrued debt.

If you make it a goal to publish as much as you can in the next 2 years, to network, and attend conferences, then you will have ample opportunity to build relationships with others in the field and to increase your chances of getting a better PhD offer in the US. That's what I would do anyway.

Is your ultimate goal to work in the US and to become a permanent resident/citizen? If this is the case, I can see where the difficulty arises in making this decision. But given the current political climate in the US, as a foreigner I would also be a little concerned about your ability to enter and leave the country. Right now, lots of people from other countries are being denied access (even Canadians) for not having a visa, even when the embassy specifically states that none is required. Some of these workers at the border and airport are making up their own rules and breaking the law. Maybe in a couple of years things will settle down.

Good luck in making this difficult decision.

Thank you thelionking for your insights! Actually I personally lean towards the master's program, but the majority of my professors said I should go for the PhD - and they told me a lot of "horror stories" on how a student got 4.0 in an MA but ended up being rejected by PhD at the same school. It seems that US PhD programs are getting more and more competitive each year, and the whole process as what I've experienced has a lot of unpredictable factors (whether your subfield's too popular, whether you know someone at a school, etc) - so my professors have been saying that you should grab this opportunity since it might never come back to you. I'll definitely work hard if I'm going for the master's, though I'm just not sure whether things will come out in the ideal way :/

I'm not actually thinking about migrating to the US - I'm totally fine with returning to my home country; the problem is that, where I'm from is somewhere that values US degrees to a great extent. If you hold a PhD from the US, you'll immediately get more popular on the academic job market than others (given that you have roughly the same amount of publications etc as others). After this master's it's totally possible that I'll do a PhD in Europe, which will generally make things harder when I seek an academic job back home. Another thing is really, probably things will get more difficult for international students during this administration, so some have suggested me to "enter the US before the government comes up with other horrible policies". So yeah, I really need to think hard about everything!

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7 hours ago, qkhitai said:

If you're already getting on to PhD programs now fresh from undergrad, your resume must be pretty strong already, so an MA will only improve that. A fully funded MA with a stipend is a pretty great deal. Don't get me wrong, so is the PhD offer, but it sounds like you could hold out for something better. I'd take the MA if I were you and see where you stand in two years time.

Thank you! Yeah this is the risk of choosing that - I can either get something better afterwards, or I can get worse or nothing at all. The PhD program is also full of risk - I might need to take loans (which I don't want at all) and I'm already nervous about competing with my master degree holder classmates on fellowships and everything. (sigh)

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I don't know your financial situation, but I wanted to know if you've actually calculated the amount of money you will need to borrow in order to live in the US. I think it's important to find out exactly how much of your own money in savings and loans you will require outside of the scholarship and to also consider the salary you expect to receive after graduation and during your career in order to determine if the cost is worth it. How long do you expect it will take you to pay back the money that you need to borrow? Are you sure that your lender will loan you the full amount that you require? How much will it cost you for your education when you consider the interest rate you pay on the loan as well? If for some unforeseeable reason your research takes longer than expected (sometimes experiments do not yield the results you hope to find and you need to try a new idea, for instance), then will you be able to secure more money to stay longer if needed? The last thing you'd want to happen is to leave the program early if you run out of money.

Because an American degree is so highly valued in your country, I wonder if deferring for one year is an option at all. If this is a possibility, I would take it and try again next year for something that is better funded. If you don't get anything better next year, then take the offer for the PhD (as long as all of the other financial questions I asked earlier have favourable answers).  

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3 hours ago, thelionking said:

I don't know your financial situation, but I wanted to know if you've actually calculated the amount of money you will need to borrow in order to live in the US. I think it's important to find out exactly how much of your own money in savings and loans you will require outside of the scholarship and to also consider the salary you expect to receive after graduation and during your career in order to determine if the cost is worth it. How long do you expect it will take you to pay back the money that you need to borrow? Are you sure that your lender will loan you the full amount that you require? How much will it cost you for your education when you consider the interest rate you pay on the loan as well? If for some unforeseeable reason your research takes longer than expected (sometimes experiments do not yield the results you hope to find and you need to try a new idea, for instance), then will you be able to secure more money to stay longer if needed? The last thing you'd want to happen is to leave the program early if you run out of money.

Because an American degree is so highly valued in your country, I wonder if deferring for one year is an option at all. If this is a possibility, I would take it and try again next year for something that is better funded. If you don't get anything better next year, then take the offer for the PhD (as long as all of the other financial questions I asked earlier have favourable answers).  

I calculated and it's huge really - I heard from current students that paying the living expenses by teaching and research is possible, but the workload is really heavy and the opportunities are not guaranteed - and faculty jobs are just so hard to find now. I guess it might be better for me to imagine the worst-case scenario instead of having too much expectation on the funding that might arrive later - and deferral is not permitted so it's either to take it this year or apply again. Yeah indeed, I need to check the loan details, and I'm going to talk to a prof in the program to find out more about things :/

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I think that's a good strategy. You need to make sure you can pay for the entire program because it would be sad if you had to drop out of the program due to money problems and not end up with a PhD. Another thing to consider, if you are still paying back the debt 20+ years later when your own children are old enough to go to university (If you end up having children, that is) you need to ask yourself is the high cost worth the career benefits?

 

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1 hour ago, thelionking said:

I think that's a good strategy. You need to make sure you can pay for the entire program because it would be sad if you had to drop out of the program due to money problems and not end up with a PhD. Another thing to consider, if you are still paying back the debt 20+ years later when your own children are old enough to go to university (If you end up having children, that is) you need to ask yourself is the high cost worth the career benefits?

 

In my case I am wondering what reasonable debt would be. I luckily do not have any undergrad debt. However, I believe to sustain myself I would need to add an additional 5k per year with my PhD offer so that would likely end up being $25K over the course of the program. I am having a hard time justifying this much debt since you never know what the job market will be like once graduating...though I realize it may not seem like a lot to some, especially those who took out undergrad loans, given that I worked hard to have no debt in my undergrad it is extremely hard for me to consider the idea of taking on debt. 

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7 hours ago, RBspkRuP said:

In my case I am wondering what reasonable debt would be. I luckily do not have any undergrad debt. However, I believe to sustain myself I would need to add an additional 5k per year with my PhD offer so that would likely end up being $25K over the course of the program. I am having a hard time justifying this much debt since you never know what the job market will be like once graduating...though I realize it may not seem like a lot to some, especially those who took out undergrad loans, given that I worked hard to have no debt in my undergrad it is extremely hard for me to consider the idea of taking on debt. 

As a good rule of thumb, many people on this website say you should not acquire more debt that you expect to earn in your annual salary after you graduate. So if you go by those guidelines, you'd be well under that amount.

But everyone else's standards don't need to be the same as your own. There are other factors to consider like your age, profession, your goals post graduation, your field of study (some fields offer more funding than others - is this considered a strong offer compared to other schools?), your level of comfort in acquiring debt (which seems to be quite low), your applicant profile, etc... If you don't want debt and if that is your bottom line then just don't do it! Accept a different offer or try again next year. This is why it's important to know what is typically offered in your field at other schools. If other programs generally offer better funding  and you think you could get into one of those programs next year, then it might be worth trying again. If your offer is fairly standard or quite strong, or if you don't believe you have realistic chance of receiving a stronger offer next year due to your profile, then you need to decide if going back to school is worth the price of getting into debt.  

It really depends on your personal circumstances. If you currently have a well paid job, maybe you'd feel more comfortable trying to defer for one year (if it's an option) to save up more money towards the cost of school. Or maybe if you only work part time, have a low paying job, or want to start your career as soon as possible, you might find it more worthwhile to enter the PhD job market as soon as you can. 

Edited by thelionking

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4 hours ago, thelionking said:

As a good rule of thumb, many people on this website say you should not acquire more debt that you expect to earn in your annual salary after you graduate. So if you go by those guidelines, you'd be well under that amount.

But everyone else's standards don't need to be the same as your own. There are other factors to consider like your age, profession, your goals post graduation, your field of study (some fields offer more funding than others - is this considered a strong offer compared to other schools?), your level of comfort in acquiring debt (which seems to be quite low), your applicant profile, etc... If you don't want debt and if that is your bottom line then just don't do it! Accept a different offer or try again next year. This is why it's important to know what is typically offered in your field at other schools. If other programs generally offer better funding  and you think you could get into one of those programs next year, then it might be worth trying again. If your offer is fairly standard or quite strong, or if you don't believe you have realistic chance of receiving a stronger offer next year due to your profile, then you need to decide if going back to school is worth the price of getting into debt.  

It really depends on your personal circumstances. If you currently have a well paid job, maybe you'd feel more comfortable trying to defer for one year (if it's an option) to save up more money towards the cost of school. Or maybe if you only work part time, have a low paying job, or want to start your career as soon as possible, you might find it more worthwhile to enter the PhD job market as soon as you can. 

hmmmm yeah it sounds good to think along this line! I think I'll get a more realistic idea on how much debt I should expect for this PhD program after talking to some profs there soon!

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