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Deciding between two schools on (what I believe to be) equal footing


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I received admissions to two graduate programs that I'm currently viewing as relatively equal, and I was wondering if I could enlist your/someone's help in choosing! The pros/cons are not ranked despite the numbering.

School 1: 


  1. Prestigious school US school in my field
  2. Closer to relatives and family
  3. Weather is great and proximity to nature is excellent.
  4. Focus on scientific outreach into communities
  5. Beautiful campus
  6. Well-established POI with a currently small lab
  7. Fully funded with tuition remission and 18k stipend;Assistantship
  8. New environment
  9. Excellent course offerings for my interests/needs
  10. Strong field work culture
  11. I can actually apply to government scholarships here.


  1. POI doesn't work on what I want to work on exactly, but is in the same field and seems willing to cater to my specific interests... I really don't know how much they will, though.
  2. Lack of modelling work done at this Uni, which is basically half of what I want to do.

School 2: 


  1. Also a prestigious school in my field (but less)
  2. Alma mater/I wouldn't have to move
  3. Established rapport with POI 
  4. POI has been clear that they'll facilitate my research interests to a T.
  5. Other faculty who I can really learn from on my committee
  6. Strong modeling culture
  7. Cheaper overall tuition
  8. Fully funded
  9. I know people here.
  10. In a city


  1. Community here. I don't really feel like I fit in.
  2. Weather. 
  3. Far from family... very far.
  4. POI is relatively new (3 years)
  5. Lack of scholarship/grant opportunities (specifically for me, because I'm considered int'l)
  6. Same environment 
  7. Lack of courses that I would want to take to facilitate my research/profs for that part of my committee.
  8. I know people here.

All else aside, cost of living is about the same between the two places. 

If you guys could give me a hand, I would really appreciate it!

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Based on your con list, I'd say option 1. It seems like you're leaning towards that as well. I'm in a similar situation, and for once I'm going to use the "good vibe" approach-- and money, of course. It might be good to have a change of pace, too. A new environment for grad school is something to look forward to. It seems option 2 is fully funded, but as is option 1. If you get remove finances from your worries, then just go forth with the environment/community/area. I'd vote option 1!

Edited by Herringk
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Some of the cons at School 2 make it sound like not a great choice at all.

Here's the question: What are some things you can do to mitigate the cons at School 1? It sounds like a great choice and, quite frankly, it sounds like you prefer it.

Your PI doesn't have to work on what you want to work on exactly. In fact, if he does, that's not a great thing since it means someone is already filling the niche you aim to occupy with your research agenda. The important part is the second part of your statement - they seem willing to work with you and help you realize what you want to do. How much does your research differ from your PI's? Is it close enough that they could adequately advise you? Do they have connections and networks to scholars at other schools who you may co-author papers with, or who may serve on your dissertation committee? Or more importantly, do you have the kind of personality that would seek out those kinds of connections if need be?

Same kinds of questions for con #2. It sounds like School 2 is maybe where you went to undergrad or an MS program. If so, that means you have relationships with those professors, presumably some of the ones who do the modeling you want to do. Can you maintain professional relationships with them and potentially co-author in the future on modeling projects/papers? You could even maintain a relationship with your current PI and continue to work on papers together. There's no reason you can't collaborate just because you're not at the same university.

One question, though - is $18,000 enough to live on in Location 1? That seems like a quite low stipend, and in the U.S. it would be taxed.

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@Herringk Thanks for the reply! I guess my biggest concern is the research part of it and whether or not I'll be able to accomplish my research goals at school 1 (otherwise I would have chosen school 1 right off the bat). 

@juilletmercredi Thank you, as well, for your reply! Sorry, I should have made it clear that none of my POI's work on exactly what I want to do; it's just that the one at school 2 has outlined a clear plan as to how we could do what I want to do, whereas, at school 1, the POI has only discussed that we could try to do what I want, and I'm less sure of their capacity to help fulfill that. 

My research differs from both POIs in that my research is integrative between two fairly separated topics in oceanography (chemical oceanography and macroecology). In either case, I would have to do some independent stuff or have someone on my committee that does ecology instead of chemical oceanography. At school 2, I've already discussed who we could wrangle at other universities and how we would do it (to get the ecology portion done). I've spoken less about this with the POI at school one, but, as this POI is established, I'm fairly certain that they know individuals in other places I could get in touch with. Regardless, I'd probably push ideas about how to get it done too.

RE: stipend, School 2 offered me ~10K for my stipend, which doesn't include being a TA, which I plan to do, earning me a max total of ~16k per year. Based on that, I would think that School 1 would be better. I am still waiting to hear back about extra fellowships from school 2, though, which would tack on an extra 10k. 

I probably can maintain professional relationships with them even if I moved, but I'm sure that my POI at school 2 has been gunning to have me as their student for awhile, and I'm worried that they'll be pretty miffed about it. Perhaps I'm being overly paranoid about it. 

Either way, these questions are really helpful and are good for me to think about some more. Thank you again.


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  • 2 weeks later...

@DBear Yeah. I ended up choosing school 1! I don't know if this is the best choice, but I just have to stick with it. Telling my supervisor about it was really hard though. 

Thanks for checking in on my decision! I appreciate your concern!

Edited by I_mix
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14 hours ago, I_mix said:

@DBear Yeah. I ended up choosing school 1! I don't know if this is the best choice, but I just have to stick with it. Telling my supervisor about it was really hard though. 

Thanks for checking in on my decision! I appreciate your concern!

I can imagine it was absolutely terrible telling your supervisor, but congratulations on the decision and YAY for new adventures!

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3 hours ago, dumbunny said:

Why was "far from family" a con for the second option? Just curious. For me it's a major pro.

School 1 is also far enough away that I don't have to see my family if I don't want to, but close enough that I can see them if I do. LOL I definitely can't be that close to my family for the entirety of my grad career, otherwise I'd never be able to get work done. School 2, on the other hand is just as far from my close friends as it is from my family. Holidays are also different here than they are at home and the time difference makes phone correspondence in general difficult. Also, as @thelionking mentioned, I'm close enough with my family that I at least like seeing them more than once or twice a year.

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