Choosing Between Two Good Things
March 10, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decide between two MA programs I was admitted to (Political Science).

Hi. I'm going to try to keep this brief.

I am a Junior at NYU who is graduating a year early. Politics major, chem minor. I was admitted to both NYU Grad and UCSB (UC Santa Barbara) for an MA in Political Science for this fall. 20 year old female. These were my top two choices. This might be a no-brainer for some people but I have been beating myself up about this all week. Here are my particular factors/preferences:

- have a nice apt/job in new york. Am on a team I like. However, I do not like the new york lifestyle and while I have made it work for me, it is really difficult for me and I've wanted to leave for a while. I like the outdoors and a lot of sun. When I'm in NY, I just feel like I'm waiting for the next phase of my life to start.
- I have never been to any part of california but I am interested in living there long term, would not live in NY beyond the one year for this MA. I think the environment in SB would suit me better.
- I like the Politics department here at NYU and I am on good terms with some of the faculty, who I also like. But I'm not in love with the program. The program at NYU is much higher ranked than at USCB. It is #17 usnews while SB is around #50. I believe that this is a significant difference. It also appears more cohesive and put together.
- My long term boyfriend lives in CA. Not in SB but close enough that I could visit on weekends/ go to parties with him, etc. I know I would have a lot of fun/memorable times. I love him, it is a great relationship and I really dislike only seeing him during school breaks. This is an important factor in my life. It's probable that I would more to CA after another year in NY if I stayed for grad this fall.
- Assume cost is not an issue/the same.
- My parents want me to stay on the basis that it is (only?) one year and I would not have to move. They would be supportive regardless.
- I do not want to apply for a PHD, might look into law school, however. I want to be in the public service.
- Finally, I fluctuate in how I feel. Sometimes I feel OK about staying in new york (I'm doing well in my classes and it's nice to be accepted by the department) but other times I feel really down about the thought of inertly staying.

I know that no one can make this choice for me, but any insight you want to give me is appreciated. What do you wish you knew when you were in a situation like mine? I feel incredibly thankful and grateful to be in this position and I want to make the best choice in order to be happy and to eventually give back to the community.

Thank you everyone!
posted by afterdark to Education (13 answers total)
I suspect the sorts of connections for future jobs/ research positions/ what have you that you can make via NYU will be far greater and higher-quality than the ones you could make at UCSB.

Your long-term options are likely better-served by the higher-ranked program; you can live anywhere you want using a degree that opens up more possibilities for you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:22 PM on March 10, 2011

I don't know anything about the merits of the various programs, but if you applied to the UCSB program on purpose because you were interested in it, and it's the program that you'd prefer regardless of external factors, and you want to leave New York, and you'd be closer to your boyfriend, and you're specifically interested in relocating to California.... Then it sounds like you want to be at UCSB.

Considering your only point against is that your parents think it would be inconvenient for you to move, I think this is a no-brainer.
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Think about why you're getting the degree in the first place. What specific goals will it advance, what doors will it open? I realize you may not know for sure but really - sit down and make a list of, say, five specific paths this will help you with.

Once you know this, you can evaluate which school will do a better job of advancing those goals/opening those doors.

Talk to profs and grad students at both departments - what does their program focus on, and what do people do after graduating? Maybe one program is oriented more toward research/academics, and the other is more oriented to practical/public service stuff. Maybe the SB program has better connections to local governments in California (if that's where you want to end up)? Maybe the higher-ranked program will be nationally recognizable and so it will open doors for you in a much wider area. Take a look at the rankings - what does it mean for one program to be ranked high and the other low - what factors go into their analysis?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, are you me? I am also choosing between two good programs in two different cities that both have positives and negatives.

What I get from your post is that you want to move to UCSB. Your boyfriend is there, you don't like New York's atmosphere, you want a change, cost is the same. If you don't want to get a PhD, it is not as big a deal regarding the ranking of your MA school. Also, it looks good to have variation on your academic resume. Also, you already have the cachet of NYU on your transcript.

Now, moving is a hassle. But it is totally worth it! Especially if you were planning on moving there anyway after the MA program, and your parents are supportive. Sounds like you should go to UCSB.
posted by hepta at 7:54 PM on March 10, 2011

Another thing to think about, what's your support network like in NYC vs in what it will be in SB? If you have good friends in NYC but don't know anybody in California except your bf, that is something to consider. It's tough to move across the country and not know anybody, especially when starting a new program. (Though you'll know your fellow students.) I wonder if this might be part of what your parents have in mind when they say it's hard to move, beyond just the logistics hassle.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:03 PM on March 10, 2011

Questions you might ask yourself:
- If your boyfriend were willing and able to move to NYC for the next year, which school would you lean toward picking?
- If for some unforseen reason, you and your boyfriend broke up, which school would you lean toward picking?
- If 10 years go by, and you and your boyfriend are still merrily in love, which school would you want to have gone to?
- Could your relationship handle another year of long distance? Would you want to?
- What law school would you most want to attend?

If you want to be in California in the long term (where "want to be in California" is defined as "want to be in California even if something goes horribly wrong with the boyfriend")*, then get your Master's in California. Don't keep yourself in a holding pattern in NYC for another year; start working toward becoming a part of the community in SB.

If you're the career-driven type, maybe NYU.

However, you're saying you want the choice that will make you happy. Based on the information you've given us, NYU will make your parents happier. UCSB will make your boyfriend happier. It sounds like UCSB will make you happier. Their opinions matter, sure. But you're the one who will be living there. If I were you, I would definitely pick UCSB, because it is the option that would make you happier. You can help make it a better program by being a happy and healthy student while you're there.

Keep in mind that there may be a third option. You could take a gap year and apply for a California program that would feel more cohesive and put-together.

*Your parents are probably worried that you're prioritizing your boyfriend over a fancier school. It's their job to look out for you. But ain't no fun living in one place emotionally and another place physically. It's also not all that healthy. Be where you are. You're biased to California because your boyfriend is there. So go live there, and be a kickass Master's student. Work hard to make a few friends and hobbies outside your boyfriend and you'll be fine.

Congratulations on getting into your two top schools!
posted by aniola at 8:06 PM on March 10, 2011

A one year MA will fly by.

I would only feel safe assuming that the cost is the same for both if you have funding for both. If you have funding for one and not the other, take the one with funding. Don't pay for an MA, even if you are planning to go to law school, if you can possibly not pay for it.

It is definitely good to have more than one institution on your CV, and letters of rec from more than one institution.

Be very, very sure that it is the program at UCSB that drives you. I had to struggle with a similar decision a couple of years ago. It was very, very hard not to convince myself that everything about the other program -- the one near my boyfriend -- was perfect, and everything about the program at my undergrad institution was not. I did convince myself for a few weeks that the other program was what I wanted to do. I somehow managed to rationally pick the program at my undergrad institution, which in my case was exactly the right thing to do.

Two years later I am finishing an MS instead of an MEd, have not accumulated another $20k in debt, and have moved in with the boyfriend. We are both blissed out of our minds. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that I thought that spending that much money on an MEd made any sense in the world, but I really really wanted to be with my guy.

Seek some clarity. It may actually help you to speak, very delicately and mindfully of course, with the faculty who would be your advisors at both institutions. Let them know that you're having a hard time deciding, and see what they say. You might get good information from that.

Do what is right for your career, and if that means moving to CA now, then that's bloody awesome, because you get career *and* boy. But you'll probably get career and boy in a year, too, if the relationship is solid.

"I just feel like I'm waiting for the next phase of my life to start."
God, I know exactly what you mean here. So I'll reiterate what I said at the top of the post: One year will fly by.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2011

NYU, no contest. If your boyfriend sticks it out without fucking up, move out and offer to marry him. It's just such a better degree, especially in California. With UCSB you might as well be a Communications major.
posted by rhizome at 9:10 PM on March 10, 2011

First, why a PS MA? What does it do for you? Rankings mean little. Does the program give you what you want? Generally, I'd not recommend doing an MA program. You'll aquire a lot of debt but not be much more employable than you were with a BA.

Second, as a SB grad student, I want to help you understand that SB is horribly expensive (as is NYC) but without the infrastructure and benefits of NYC.

And knowing the PS dept here, don't be betting on seeing your boyfriend a lot. Weekends are full of reading and writing. This is grad school, not undergrad. Plus on the quarter system, everything goes faster.
posted by k8t at 2:31 AM on March 11, 2011

FWIW, the MA program at UCSB is in no way a terminal MA. The goal is to go to a PhD program. Most everyone stays at UCSB and a few go to other programs.

The coursework is theoretical and methodological in a research-y way. You do a thesis that should be publishable (lots of work) and comprehensive exams.

If you just want an MA terminally, I would not recommend UCSB.
posted by k8t at 2:39 AM on March 11, 2011

Everything in your question points to UCSB. Go there.

Ranking, I think, is irrelevant. Law schools you're applying to aren't going to know the ranking of the political science program at either school, but they will know that NYU and all of the UC schools are good schools generally. If you wanted to pursue a PhD, the quality of the program would matter. But you don't, so no one will ever know (and it's not like we're talking about that Phoenix online thing).

Look, you obviously want to go to California. Go! Keep in mind, also, that it will be easier to network and find a job in California if you're already there, if you wind up going that route after your master's.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:03 AM on March 11, 2011

First, why a PS MA? What does it do for you? Rankings mean little. Does the program give you what you want? Generally, I'd not recommend doing an MA program. You'll aquire a lot of debt but not be much more employable than you were with a BA.

You'll be able to advance much farther in the federal civil service. Seriously. If you're planning on working for the government an MA totally makes sense. (Though how much sense it makes will depend on what your paying...)
posted by Jahaza at 8:05 AM on March 11, 2011

Law schools you're applying to aren't going to know the ranking of the political science program at either school, but they will know that NYU and all of the UC schools are good schools generally.

I don't think it's safe to assume either of these things. Law schools are likely to be familiar with the top programs in Poli Sci since that is a common background for people applying to law schools. And depending on where in the country you are applying, UC schools other than UCBerkeley and maybe UCLA will not be as prestigious as NYU (at least, for many purposes). (But law schools in California might have a more positive view, and professors at UCSB are likely to have more connections with law schools in California if that's what you're thinking of.) If you're serious about law school, talk to the pre-law advisor at your undergrad school about this question.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:21 PM on March 11, 2011

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