Less money, mo' problems?
June 11, 2015 9:57 AM   Subscribe

In the bigger picture, which masters program will I benefit from most?

I am having a really hard time making a decision about which masters program to attend. Posting in work & money instead of education because I want to get feedback from people who are working and can give me a bigger picture view of how their education decisions affected them later on in life.

In actuality, I made a decision already and put down a deposit for School A. However, School B just contacted me and asked me if I was still interested. There are a great variety of differences between the two schools and I'm feeling anxious. Here's the breakdown:

School A
* Ivy, top-ranked in just about every program
* located in exciting big city, where it is diverse and I have more friends
* no tuition assistance, except for the possibility of a $10k fellowship, renewable
* orientation is more applied
* so far, faculty/admin have been non-responsive or sent short/curt responses

School A
* Private school, ranked 40-75 in most programs
* located in small town, where there is heavy racial segregation and I have 2 friends
* 1/2 tuition assistance, plus the possibility of the rest of tuition covered by a grad assistantship
* orientation is balanced: applied/scientific
* So far, faculty/admin have been very responsive to emails

Although one program emphasizes practice and the other one is applied/scientific, coursework and requirements appear nearly identical in masters program handbooks.

I am not sure whether I will apply to doctoral programs, and want to keep that option open.

I can expect to have a starting salary of $40-60k. The starting salary is $60-70k with a phd.

The only other major factor is that School A is located in a place where I can really connect with people that share Major Life Interest/Hobby.

Please, please help! I have to make a decision by Monday.
posted by mild deer to Work & Money (14 answers total)
What field is this in?
posted by wyzewoman at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

While School A sounds like a great program, the lack of tuition support is very worrying. Even a more applied masters is something I would be wary about paying for, especially if I have the option of support. Unless the calibre of School B in your exact field (overall reputation is irrelevant) is dire, I would go where you have at least some funding.

I speak from experience: I have a masters from a top program. Thankfully, it was fully funded, or I would be in insane debt that I could never pay back.

Alternatively: a lot of PhD programs in Ivy League schools accept direct entry and they are almost always fully funded. You could always reapply for PhD and drop out with a masters (though this masters wouldn't be applied).

The social factors are not important. You'll a) make new friends in grad school and b) won't have much time or money to do anything other than grad school. If the small town is also cheaper, all the better.
posted by jb at 10:05 AM on June 11, 2015

I second exploring the option to enter as a phd candidate (with full funding). How long will it take you to pay off your master's with a 40-60k salary? You can always drop out of your Phd with the master's.

What city do you actually want to work in? People benefit greatly from the networking they do in school to find jobs in the area. For instance, you run into a lot of UC Berkeley and Stanford grads in the bay area.

Option A sounds like the one you want to do, but your only worry is financial assistance. Can you try to apply to the phd program still? How much was the deposit? If it's something like $4k out of $60k in tuition, then consider that it's a smaller price to pay than the full 60k.

Last, what is each school ranked in the field you're studying? That matters more than the ranking of the whole school.
posted by just.good.enough at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2015

Response by poster: Field: clinical psychology

Phd: I'm 50% sure I want to continue on to this afterwards because I enjoy research a lot

City: I want to end up in the city where School A is located

Reapplication: I doubt I will get into any program (already tried) and my main deficit is that I don't have an undergrad degree in a related field, and a masters was recommended by the programs I applied to

Sidenote: I am turning 30 soon
posted by mild deer at 10:20 AM on June 11, 2015

Do clinical psych master's programs provide rotations or placements in local clinical settings? That for me would be the big draw to the first program, since you'd be making connections with the organizations that might employ you when you get out. But since you say you want to leave the door open to a research career, perhaps that's less relevant.

I might try calling the program admin at school A to get some details on the fellowship possibility, and (depending on how the conversation went) even let slip that you've been contacted about a funded offer late in the game but still want to attend School A, so you're trying to find out more about whether/how you can be competitive for the funding available.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:32 AM on June 11, 2015

Response by poster: Do clinical psych master's programs provide rotations or placements in local clinical settings?

Yes, both provide/require internships at local clinics and hospitals.

I've had several conversations w/ school A about funding. It is a larger program and they have exhausted all funding for other students who were admitted ahead of me already.
posted by mild deer at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely do School A. It's a slam dunk.

For a field like clinical psychology, the Ivy name will go far with both patients and employers. It's not fair, doesn't represent the caliber of the education, etc. etc... but it's true. That name on your resume will open a LOT of doors. This isn't some obscure area of quantum physics that five people study in which everyone knows that Podunk U. is the leading program because of Dr. Whazzit.

The name will also be helpful if you decide to go into a different field. And the big city will offer a lot of connections to future employers, instead of being stuck in a small town waiting to get out. That sounds terrible.

You're going to have a great time when you're there at School A, because of its location, so no matter what happens career-wise, you won't have wasted the time.

Also, the funding doesn't sound great for School B. Only paying half tuition is really chintzy. It's not like you're going to be their star student with full funding and a stipend and special access to the best internships. They are just calling you back because no one is accepting their offer and they are trying to see if they can convert their best applicants to admits with another phone call.

I think you made the right choice, by far.
posted by 3491again at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing that you'd be looking at something like $100k if you go to School A? I'd think that would be crippling on a $60k salary, especially if you're living in an expensive city. If Option A is really a lot better for your long-term career prospects, then consider it, but also consider the level of lifestyle sacrifice you're willing to make to pay your loans-- i.e. living with roommates, forgoing vacations for several years post-school.
posted by Asparagus at 12:31 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Practicing with a masters degree in psychology can be tough as most states require 2+ years after school of supervised service provision for licensure as a counselor. While you're working towards licensure, it's highly unlikely that you'll be making $40k. Those jobs are few and far between. I know lots of smart, amazing people with a masters in counseling, mental health, or psychology who have $10/hr jobs and are paying a lot of money for the supervision hours (think ~$100/hr) needed to apply for licensure. Please, for the love of cats, do not go into debt for this degree. Also, the prestige of your school matters very little in this field.

The market is a less tough for PhD level psychologists, but the range of salaries may be different than what you think. You have to spend a year as a postdoc before licensure and will make $30-$50k at that time. The higher end of that range is for those who work in federal prisons or some other setting that is considered more hazardous.

If you're interested in practicing and not being a researcher, look into PhD programs in Counseling Psychology. They're generally a little easier to get into than Clinical Psych and are fully funded. There are some PsyD programs that are well funded, too, such as Baylor and University of Denver.
posted by batbat at 2:00 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Strongly urge you to consider which program will do a better job of getting you in a PhD program? You will permanently make more money for each hour you work for the rest of your career if you have a Phd (or PsyD, I believe) compared to MA. (This is assuming you are either employed or getting paid by insurance companies, less true if you are in private practice with private pay clients - a diminishing market) Furthermore, if you want to be licensed to do clinical work, I think you can more of your experience while still in the program so it isn't THAT much longer.
posted by metahawk at 5:42 PM on June 11, 2015

Are you eligible for graduate student housing at school A? If the fabulously exciting city is NYC or Boston (I assume it must be the former since I don't think anyone has described Boston as fabulously exciting ever) you are looking at not just tuition but crazy high rent. And if school A is Columbia, well, let's just say your relationships with faculty aren't likely to improve.

I don't know; if you want to get a doctorate, I'd think less about the prestige of the MA program and more about the debt and the accessibility of faculty. To the extent that prestige matters in clinical psychology, it will matter far more when it comes to your PhD. Your MA granting institution isn't going to impress anyone.

Ask for the phone numbers of current MA students, and try and assess the extent to which they hate their lives / regret their decisions.
posted by girl flaneur at 6:40 PM on June 11, 2015

Response by poster: paying a lot of money for the supervision hours (think ~$100/hr) needed to apply for licensure

I'm not sure I understand this part. I thought students find an internship and the deal is that they work and are supervised in exchange/as a part of this work. Will you please elaborate?

Strongly urge you to consider which program will do a better job of getting you in a PhD program?

I have. They seem to prepare students to get into phd programs at an equal level, sort of. Generally, students from School A get into the more top-ranked programs.

Are you eligible for graduate student housing at school A?

I am not quite sure what you are asking, but I will assume it on the most general level. Yes, I am eligible for GS housing and will be hearing back about my housing placement at the end of this month.
posted by mild deer at 8:37 PM on June 11, 2015

I had a not identical, but similar, decision to make once. I went with School A. It was a fine experience and I wouldn't say I regret it, but I keep finding myself working with people who went to my School B, which for me would have been a lot cheaper. As in, these people have the same job I do. Some of my classmates who went to School A have fancy fancy fancy fancy jobs they obtained partially through the superior networking of School A. Ask yourself if you're likely to take advantage of that sort of thing. That's really what School A offers.
posted by millipede at 6:54 AM on June 12, 2015

Well, I'm not sure there are very, very, fancy jobs one is eligible for with an MA in clinical psychology, so I wouldn't see that as a reason to spend lots of money on school A. I also doubt you will be able to go into private practice immediately, so the points above about prospective clients and prestige are moot. Agencies like the VA don't care that much about prestige.

But I did want to make one last point about prestige: keep in mind that some colleges associated with universities may confer less prestige on their students than others. If you know you want to work in an educational setting, then a degree from a teacher's college (which will be an Education degree) may make good sense, but if you want to eventuly go into private practice or work for another kind of agency, an education degree may be a liability.
posted by girl flaneur at 8:32 AM on June 12, 2015

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