Monday, March 5, 2012

Grad school decisions

When I submitted my applications for grad school, I was nervous I would be rejected everywhere and have wasted an exorbitant amount of time, energy, and money for nothing. I didn't expect to win a prestigious Presidential Fellowship at one school and fairly nice stipends at two others, and be put in a position to make a hard decision on where the heck we will be living for the next 5 years. Here's the low-down:

1. Rutgers, in New Brunswick, NJ: Lower-ranked school, but their specialty is women and politics, which is exactly what I'd like to study. They have no fewer than 10 classes focusing on women and gender in their Poli Sci department, and I have had no fewer than 5 emails from professors convincing me that Rutgers is the choice for me. Apparently, I am the only Political Science applicant to receive the university-wide Presidential Fellowship, which includes full tuition, health care for me, and a $35,000 a year stipend for the first two years. The downside: we don't particularly want to live in New Jersey and the cost of living is quite high. Someone who loves NJ, convince us otherwise....

2. University of Wisconsin-Madision: Higher-ranked school who offered a decent stipend of $18,000. They have a great Women and Gender Studies department, and a few professors that are doing interesting research on women in IR and comparative politics. But, yeah, only a few. And I think they have 1 or 2 classes on women and gender in their Poli Sci department. Which wouldn't be that big of a deal because getting a PhD you don't take that many classes anyways, but I couldn't do an emphasis in Women and Politics like at Rutgers (which is the only school in the nation to offer such a thing), so I'd be sitting for my prelims in Comparative Politics. The upside: we really, really want to live in Madison. Low cost of living, sweet outdoors scene, Children's Museum and free zoo, Trader Joe's right by campus, etc, etc.

Both schools have a great Library and Information Science program for Tim, so that's not really a factor. We, of course, would like to be able to visit the schools since they will pay to fly me out, meet with professors, see the cities, but being 37 weeks pregnant kind of hampers our ability to book plane tickets as we have no idea when we can go. We have to go before mid-April, as decisions are expected by the 15th. But you know, she could be two weeks late and come the first week of April, then we wouldn't get to go at all....

PS, number 3. University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign: Not really in the running anymore, as the previous two schools have kind of trumped it. 


  1. It sounds like you want to go to New Jersey. Sorry, never been there so I can't convince. But your wording is very telling.

  2. These offers are a great compliment to you. No matter which you choose, you need to celebrate being in such a wonderful Congrats Caitlin!

    Aunt Carin

  3. So, I haven't spent much time in Jersey, but the few times I've been there it's seemed nice enough. My aunt grew up there and she's pretty awesome. Plus you don't have to pump your own gas, which is probably nice when it's snowing. Also, the program they offer seems perfect for you, and they seem to really want you there. The $35,000 wouldn't hurt too bad either.

  4. new jersey has a lot of natural beauty if you are the type to get out and find it--which you and tim fortunately are. a lot of the urban/suburban areas can look pretty junky, i'm not going to lie about that. but i agree, jut from the wording of this entry it sounds like you're a lot more excited about rutgers. the prime reason you're moving anywhere is for school. rutgers is way more invested in your area of study AND they're invested in YOU! money seriously talks when it comes to grad school. getting the degree you want and being debt free is priceless (hahahahahaha). no matter how cool madison is, the situation right now makes it so that you'd have to pay an awful lot of money to live in madison, instead of being paid to live in new jersey. anyway, those are my thoughts. congratulations on your awards and acceptances! it feels amazing to get that kind of recognition.

  5. bottom line: you are a rock star. My only advice is to go where you know you'll be supported and truly appreciated. 5 years seems like a long time to live anywhere but 5 years at an institution that doesn't support or fully understand what you passionate about may seem like a lifetime.

  6. If Rutgers wants you that bad, that is a serious consideration. Fit is more important than ranking. They will help you succeed, which will be important with two kids.

    Live in student family housing for a year. It's expensive (and possibly dumpy) but all the utilities, TV, and internet are included and it would be super convenient while you figure out if there's a better option. I wish we would have lived in the dumpy UVa family housing. I would have been a lot closer to my friends than way out in that beautiful but lonely townhouse.

  7. Hi Caitlin!

    Random comment from me, I know! My grandparents grew up and live in NJ up until they moved to VT 5 years ago. I, personally, give NJ a lot of guff because of the oil refineries and the Jersey shore, but it really is a beautiful and diverse state. The fact that you would be right down the road from Princeton, which offers you great research opportunities, would be a huge plus to me. I know that Rutgers and Princeton partner on a lot of things.
    You would be in between two huge cities that offer a lot of interesting history and culture. Philadelphia is a great place and cheap! My parents just moved from SC to outside of Philly.
    Like everyone has said - they want you! They will support your research and help you grow, instead of you having to carve out the niche that is right for you.
    There is a lot of history with NJ as well. There are revolutionary battle fields everywhere just outside of New Brunswick and especially North West of it. That is where my Grandparents lived. They basically lived in the woods surrounded by farms.
    Nj is known for their tomatoes too! Corn as well. Delicious.
    NJ you can't pump your own gas, but the gas tax is the lowest in the country, so whenever I drive through I make sure I stop because it's easily 75 cents cheaper than in NY state.
    The thing about living in a Mid- atlantic state is that it's just a few hours drive to the next state. You could be in NY for the Catskill mountains in one hour, you could be in Philly in another 2 hours, you could be in VT in three hours, You could be at the beach in an hour, you could be in the poconos in three...
    Just my two cents, but I may be biased as I love the Northeast and all the opportunities it has to offer!
    The schools for the kids are great too! My mom, aunt and uncle all graduated from highschool there in madison, NJ.
    Congratulations and hope all is well!

  8. Oh p.s. My Grandfather went to Rutgers after the war and played football for them :) Just a little more bias to consider.

  9. Hi Guys,

    I say Wisconsin. Wisconsin is far and away the better/more prestigious/better ranked school, and although Rutgers ain't no Snow College as far as research universities go, Madison has it beat across the board. The new rankings have Madison in the top ten/fifteen, and Rutgers at 48. Big difference overall. And although those rankings are arguable at best, Madison is one of the best placing programs in the country (considering the atrocious state of Higher Ed right now and forever). If you want to teach, I'd go Madison all the way. Rutgers sounds terrific as far as the program goes, but so much of the grad school experience depends on stuff outside your happiness in the program. Madison is apparently gorgeous, safer, and has a much better lit scene (I'm thinking of Tim here in particular). I'm sure there's more there to show--those are just the first things that came to my head. Congrats on your choice, but this won't be easy regardless if you had the chance to visit the schools. It's a wonderful/painful decision. I think for me a lot would depend on what I wanted future-wise, and what my family and I would end up preferring living-wise. Those are just some thoughts. Good luck! Wait until you absolutely have to (April 15). Make em sweat.
    PS $35,000? Seriously? What would a grad student do with that kind of money?