How to decide between 2 Grad Programs: Chicago vs Boston
April 30, 2013 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Hey All, I would love some advice. I am not sure what to do. So I am going to grad school in health policy. Option A is to attend a University in Boston. I have applied and been accepted. Now Boston is twice as expensive as the local university in Chicago. However, I plan to apply for a scholarship to attend Boston. I will not find out if I am awarded this scholarship until the summer. If I am a recipient of the scholarship it comes with a 50% tuition waiver. One of the benefits of the scholarship is that there is a leadership development component and you are assigned a mentor, who is a leader in the field, in the Boston area. To apply for the scholarship, I have to commit and accept the offer to attend the school. However, if I do not get the scholarship, I would financially not be able to attend the school. So you might be able to see where this is going. On the one hand, I would like to start looking for housing and a roommate in Boston (I understand cost of living is much higher than Chicago, so I am a little freaked about that) right now, but how can I do this if I do not know if I will be attending the program?

On the other hand, it might also be wise to register for courses at Chicago in case that is where I go. I hate to play both sides here but this is a challenge. I am also not sure if I can register at both schools and how this will play out with my federal loans and everything.Any advice on figuring this out? Can I commit to both schools until I know about the scholarship?

Some background. I have been in Chicago for some time and I feel that I could hit the ground running, so to speak. I think that one of the most important things about getting a professional degree is to get a job when you graduate. Therefore, I am drawn to the mentorship component at BU and they seem to do an excellent job with career prep- seminars, workshops. I really appreciate that emphasis. Even though I have never been to Boston and have no idea where I would work there, I am hopeful that a mentor would be very helpful in navigating the job search in Boston. In addition, a chair of my department both emailed and called me to talk about the program. What I have constantly heard from students at UIC is that professors are not going to tell you what you need to do when you need to do it. Ok, the first time you hear that it is not a big deal. But the third time, it might be a red flag- is this a polite way of saying that professors are inaccessible? I emailed three students from a student panel and only one responded to my email. Here is what I wrote and here is her response:

I am curious, how do you find the professors at X? Do they seem to be welcoming with an open door policy and student friendly? Or closed off? X is the only school where I have had a professor not email me back, and I met her in person too, so I am not sure if this is a random fluke or indicative of the profs at X. how do you find X in terms of leadership development and mentorship?

If I attend Boston, it will be as a X Scholar where they have a strong emphasis on both. I have been really impressed with X in Career Services so I am wondering if I might find these opportunities at X. Lastly, what is your workload like? How many hours do you need to study a week?

Her response (summarized)

I had an awesome experience at X I'm not sure if all of my classmates would feel the same way. With that being said, I think the best advice I can give you at this point is to pray about which university is the best opportunity for you. Consider your short and long term career objectives.

Also, consider the support systems you have outside of the university setting. Lastly, I would suggest that you consider the financial obligations you'll have to take on in completing the degree. Taking all of these things into consideration should leave you with a clear cut decisionon which opportunity is the best one for you.

I am a little worried about Chicago-will I have the leadership development and mentor opportunities there? And, am I make this a bigger issue than it really is?

posted by TRUELOTUS to Education (8 answers total)
Ok, not sure if I'm understanding this correctly, but your options are:

(1) Accept admission to a program that has not yet offered you financial aid
(2) Register for continuing education classes at a local university.

If these are your choices, than there is technically nothing to prevent you from enrolling in both, for now, as far as I can tell. If you had already been offered financial aid from either institution, you would have been required to accept by April 15 and that acceptance would also require you to decline all other offers. As it is, if you accept both and later withdraw from one, you will simply lose (at least part of) whatever money you've deposited.
posted by munyeca at 11:45 AM on April 30, 2013

Have you explained your situation to either school? It's not unusual for grad students to be juggling multiple offers with various levels of funding. They might not need a definite answer from you yet. Are you dealing with a FAFSA deadline?

My next question would be: do you know how competitive this scholarship is? I went through a similar thing with an expensive Ivy in Boston. Tuition was outrageous unless you could get one of these magical unicorn scholarships. Guess how many unicorns there actually were, out of hundreds of people. Also, is a 50% tuition waiver still going to be pricier than the school in Chicago?
posted by pourtant at 11:49 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on what you've written I'd say stay in Chicago and start actively looking for a mentor now.

Husbunny was in a doctoral program and he was working with one of his professors. Husbunny is an Acutary and they're not really known for their outstanding relational skills. So he had a "mentor" but didn't get the real "mentor" relationship.

I wouldn't put so much emphasis on having a "mentor" assigned to you in Boston. Other than that, if the programs are equal, other than this "mentor" thing, stay put.

Who needs to move, establish a new community, figure out a whole new city, get a job all while trying to deal with Grad School?

Chicago may have just as stellar a placement program or some awesome professors, but because they're not making a BFD about it, it's not forefront in their advertising.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on April 30, 2013

Look, the last time I knew of a department where everyone I spoke to had complaints about it, it really was a red flag-- I warned someone away from the department for that very reason, he didn't listen, and then after a year he left the department.

In any program you're going to have to pay for, the key thing is having a job in your field after you complete the program. It sounds like BU has a path of mentorship that makes that possible, which will set you up with internships and point you in the directions of professional opportunities.

To apply for the scholarship, I have to commit and accept the offer to attend the school.

If you don't get the scholarship, you can always renege on your commitment. At most, you'll be out the deposit.

Honestly, you don't sound very confident in your ability to build a future for yourself out of a program where you don't have a lot of mentorship and supervision, and it sounds like the program at UIC doesn't provide much of it, so it doesn't sound like the program would be worth much to you even if it were free.
posted by deanc at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2013

I feel like you are not giving enough information for us to provide informed advice. You mention that job availability after graduation is important to you -- have you asked your prospective programs for statistics re: what percentage of their recent graduates have jobs in the field? I also don't have a good sense of which city you think you would rather settle in; you say you have no experience with Boston, but what about Chicago? Do you love it there? Hate it? Take-it-or-leave-it? To me that would be a major deciding factor, since it sounds like you're expecting to settle down in the area where you get your degree. Boston and Chicago are both major cities, but they are quite different.

My suggestion: pretend the scholarship doesn't exist. You don't want to base a decision to go to Boston on something that may never materialize. Look at the two programs on their own terms, without that distraction, and weigh out the pros and cons of both (and consider whether it would be feasible for you to go to Boston at all without the scholarship). If on balance you still think it's worth it to go to Boston even with double tuition, then go -- and if you get the scholarship, then great! (And if you don't get it you'll hopefully still feel like you made the right call.) If you don't think it's worth it, then stay in Chicago.
posted by Scientist at 11:57 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not either/or. You can simply not go to grad school if Boston doesn't work out, strengthen your applications and apply again, change focus and try a different field...

Going to a grad program that won't be useful and that has lots of red flags just because you got into it and aren't sure what else to do would be a mistake.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2013

The first, middle, and last question you should consider when pondering graduate school choices is whether this has the best chance to lead to the job/career you want. There is not really enough information here to judge, but that is the criteria that should direct your research into these options and your choice.
posted by Tallguy at 12:28 PM on April 30, 2013

It's unclear which school / program you're considering at BU. From what you describe, SPH and SMG are both possibilities, and the payoff matrices for each are vastly different. "Health policy" is really too broad of a term to judge which school better aligns with your career goals. The question that should, I think, drive the analysis is "what, exactly, do you want to do with the degree you attain?" Neither SPH nor SMG are cheap. In fact, even with a 50% scholarship, two years at BU are _incredibly expensive_ especially if you're looking at the sort of entry level $30k jobs some HPM grads are getting.... maybe not so expensive if you're looking at a program designed to get you in the door of PhRMA.
posted by mattbcoset at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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