Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grad School Dilemma

For once, I'm having a major major internal conflict about something totally unrelated to food, weight, body image, bodily health, eating disorderedness, treatment of said eating disorderedness, or any other iterations of eating disorderedness. It's this damn graduate school decision. Basically, I have offers from my two dream schools and have zero concept of how to make a decision that will determine my academic/professional/personal future. I never expected to get into either program, and therefore never expected being faced with this kind of dilemma.

School #1: Big name, highly prestigious university located in Big City about an hour from my parents' house. Same Big City where my brother lives, my dad works, and my mom visits at least once or twice a week. I should also add that my dad (who is helping me fund this venture, and therefore should probably get some input into the decision...) very much wants me to go here. Because of the school's reputation, this would probably open a ton of doors for me, and would give my daddy something to brag about at the water cooler. Plus, Big City has every possible type of opportunity imaginable in terms of research, internship, and job opportunities. That being said, I'm a little iffy on how the school's curriculum is set up. When I visited last week, I didn't get the impression that the faculty and administration were super approachable, and I feel like it might be an uphill battle to get the kind of education I want.

School #2: This is actually my undergraduate university. While the university itself is not as well-known as the first school, the graduate program I'd be attending is actually ranked first in the country. So while School #1 has the name/prestige factor, School #2 has a more prestigious position in my particular field of study. In addition, School #2 has a whole research center devoted to the kind of work I want to do, and there would be several formal opportunities for me to work in both labs and clinical settings. I would have more control over my own curriculum. Plus I'd be staying in College City (which I adore), so the living arrangements would be much simpler (and cheaper!). Big City intimidates me a little, but College City feels super manageable and comfortable. Also, my eye doctor is here.

If this weren't obvious, I have a gut feeling about School #2. I love this university, this city, this part of the country. A lot of things about the program seem pretty perfect. BUT. I hate living a thousand miles from home, and I hate knowing that my dad would be disappointed. School #1 is a prestigious, fancy, globally recognized institution and there are a lot of advantages that come with that.

And to be perfectly honest, my health needs to enter the equation. While I'd like to be optimistic, I have no way of knowing what sort of shape I'll be in six months or a year from now. I feel like a pathetic little kid admitting this, but having so many health problems makes it really hard to be fully independent and hard to be so far from my parents. After four years of living out here in College City, the prospect of being able to hop on a train and head home for the night or weekend when things get rough is hugely appealing.

I talked Dr. P's ear off today in my appointment and she definitely helped me isolate some of the major factors affecting my decision, but I'm still totally floundering here.



  1. In my field, people kinda disapprove of doing your grad work at your undergrad alma mater. Not sure if that is true for your field or not, but it will def give you a larger alum network to have two schools.

    Also, I feel like where you go to school, especially if it's for a long time, is at least as much about geography as it is about anything else. I'm at ridic prestigious school in a part of the country I hate and 5 years on I still wish I'd have gone to place in area I preferred. Can you talk to unbiased people in your field? In mine, prestige of one of my terminal degrees mattered more than the other terminal degree I'm getting, so that factored in

    1. I hadn't even thought of the double alum network issue, that's a great point. In terms of the prestige, my general understanding is that the program at my undergrad university (School #2) is super prestigious within the field, but that School #1 is super prestigious in every other regard, albeit a teeny less so in my particular field. Basically they are pretty comparable, both great schools with great reputations, but School #1 is one of those fancy schmancy ones that everyone knows. I'm guess I'm still trying to decide how much the idiosyncrasies of what the "name" means professionally and culturally matter compared to practical everyday life things like being close to home, liking the city, liking the curriculum, my professors, etc. I'm only going for a 2-year master's program for now, although I'm definitely open to the possibility of staying/applying elsewhere for the long haul (aka Ph.D.) afterwards.

      Thanks as always for chiming in!

  2. Tough decision! First off, I think you can't go wrong with either school. They both have a lot of excellent qualities. That being said, I think you could make sort of pro/con lists about each, but ultimately it will need to be whichever one FEELS right for you. I have a hunch that after really comparing all of the factors: location, prestige, the academic program, the network, professors, proximity to family and medical professionals; you'll be drawn to one or the other. In weighing the options, would your current comfort level with the city you're in be more important than being near family? Or vice versa? Does the big-name attraction of School 1 have more clout than the prestige of the program in School 2? Which one do you feel particularly more drawn to?

    I know it's a really difficult decision, but I really believe you'll make the right choice for you--and it really is which one is best for YOU. This is your education, your living situation, and I think everyone in your life just wants the absolute best for you :)

    Feel free to hash it out more via e-mail with me if you'd like! I'd be happy to be a sounding board. I've had to make this grad school choice a few times now, so I definitely know where you're coming from. Good luck!

    1. you're right—at some point I need to step back and say whoa, there's no real wrong decision here. I do have a pros/cons spreadsheet filled out, which has helped to really pinpoint the major differences. Also just shot off a lengthy e-mail to mama and papa asking for input, and have a phone call scheduled with a professor from School #1 on Monday. So, hopefully things will become clearer soon.

      I do feel drawn to School #2 in the way you describe, but part of me wonders if that's simply because I'm here now, I'm comfortable with the city, my undergraduate academic experience has been excellent, I'm a baby and hate change, and I'm not ready to let it go.