How unusual is it to choose a professional Master's program without having an assistantship secured for the fall?
I'm trying to figure out how typical my situation is.
I've applied and been accepted to a number of professional Master's programs for Fall 2012. I need to make a decision (send a deposit) within the week.
One of the programs - let's call it Orange University
- has shown a lot of interest in bringing me into a 20-hour research assistantship position, but can't guarantee it right now. It's a new position and a bit up in the air, depending on their funding stream. They "hypothetically" asked if I'd be open to doing a 10-hour assistantship for the fall of this year, with the possibility of having a 20-hour assistantship in my second year (I said yes). Any assistantship would come with a reduction in tuition rates (I'd pay an in-state rate instead of out-of-state) as well as some level of a tuition waiver and stipend. There are also other assistantships at the University, although few others specific to my department. If I had to pay the out-of-state rate, without any funding, my rough estimate including cost of living is $83K for 2 years.
The other program - let's call it Blue College
hasn't offered me any funding yet. They do offer both assistantships and merit scholarships. They say that no assistantships are offered as part of the admission process, and that openings become available closer to the fall. I applied to this program a few years ago when I had less work experience (didn't end up enrolling), and was awarded a $10K merit scholarship - optimistically, I might receive something equivalent or greater than this given additional work in the field. This program is expensive... the most costly so far (rough estimate, including cost of living, is $96K for 2 years).
Some background, if it matters:
- These are both MPH programs in an location with some of the highest cost of living expenses in the country
- Both programs have some wonderful strengths that make it clear these are excellent fits for where I'm headed in my career
- I currently work in the public health field and it's clear I need this degree to advance
- I feel strongly that my work experience and references make me a competitive assistantship candidate
- I currently make about $60K a year in salary (which I believe is high for someone without a Masters) and, if my current employer's positions are an indicator, I might be able to return to work here with a Masters and expect to earn in the $80K range
- I have about $20K in debt from undergrad loans
- Without an assistantship, it's likely I would continue to work at my current position 50% time and earn about $30K to pay towards living expenses etc. With an assistantship (particularly one that's 20 hours/week), I'd probably quit my job (my employers are very supportive of getting this degree, so they won't be surprised if I do)
- There's also a local, crappy program that I've been accepted to. It's a program that's really a bad fit for my skills / interests / career goals, but it would be very affordable to attend and I'd get the right credential at the end of 2 years.
It seems likely that I could find an assistantship at Orange U., but I'm wondering if this is too risky. The more I talk to people, though, the more I get the feeling that it's not unusual for people (in this field, at least) to accept a MPH offer in the spring and then work out an assistantship for the fall at some point in the months in between. Is this crazy? Would I be crazy to do this at Blue College? What if Blue C. offers me a scholarship (lets say of $40K)?
How common is it to accept an offer to a professional master's program without a firm assistantship offer, and then obtain one at some point between acceptance and enrollment?
Thank you in advance.