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Thread: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

  1. #11
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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

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    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    I guess I was wondering more anecdotally what is common in econ PhD's. Nevertheless appreciate you Googling this for me and I'll give it a read!

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    I grew up in east Lansing, so this is going to be very hard for me to say. However, if I were in your shoes, I would go to Michigan, hands down. Michigan is a solid school where you can get a solid education and placement. I would not pay 20-30K more even to go to Harvard or MIT, let alone Berkeley, over a fully funded offer from somewhere like Michigan.

    The reason why is that many unexpected things can happen that might leave you stuck with 20-30K debt. Here is a list.

    1) You might fail comps. it happens. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes tragic events happen.
    2) You might realize somewhere along the line that you hate this and quit. This is actually pretty common.
    3) You might fail your 2nd year exams. It happens. Sometimes life just gets in the way.
    4) You might not be the best student, in which case it doesn't really matter which school you go to.
    5) Something might happen with your adviser.
    6) Job market might be so bad, or so good, that doesn't matter which school you go to
    7) You might realize that you want to work somewhere where the slight edge in pedigree doesn't matter, or worse, where it might actually hurt you.

    These aren't pleasant things to think about, but they happen, even to exceptionally smart and talented people. That is why most people take fully funded offers. I was actually in a much worse situation than you. I got accepted to both Harvard and MIT with weak funding, and my best fully funded offer was from a top 20-30. I took the fully funded offer and never regretted it. Of course, I am risk averse.

  3. #13
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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    We’re talking about a few months pay for a PhD economist. Compared to a lifetime of beneo. The financial risk is trivial

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    We’re talking about a few months pay for a PhD economist. Compared to a lifetime of beneo. The financial risk is trivial
    A few months? I started with an excellent job after my PhD and am quite frugal. Even with my nice salary and frugal living it would have taken me 1.5 years to pay off that debt once you factor in interest rates, taxes, rent, and other living expenses. My colleagues that went a similar path to jjrou took a couple years to pay off their respective debts as well, and they are financially responsible individuals who landed excellent jobs.

    Either way, my point stands that a Berkeley PhD is not that much better than a U of M PhD, so why bother incurring an unnecessary risk.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaysa View Post
    I grew up in east Lansing, so this is going to be very hard for me to say. However, if I were in your shoes, I would go to Michigan, hands down. Michigan is a solid school where you can get a solid education and placement. I would not pay 20-30K more even to go to Harvard or MIT, let alone Berkeley, over a fully funded offer from somewhere like Michigan.

    The reason why is that many unexpected things can happen that might leave you stuck with 20-30K debt. Here is a list.

    1) You might fail comps. it happens. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes tragic events happen.
    2) You might realize somewhere along the line that you hate this and quit. This is actually pretty common.
    3) You might fail your 2nd year exams. It happens. Sometimes life just gets in the way.
    4) You might not be the best student, in which case it doesn't really matter which school you go to.
    5) Something might happen with your adviser.
    6) Job market might be so bad, or so good, that doesn't matter which school you go to
    7) You might realize that you want to work somewhere where the slight edge in pedigree doesn't matter, or worse, where it might actually hurt you.

    These aren't pleasant things to think about, but they happen, even to exceptionally smart and talented people. That is why most people take fully funded offers. I was actually in a much worse situation than you. I got accepted to both Harvard and MIT with weak funding, and my best fully funded offer was from a top 20-30. I took the fully funded offer and never regretted it. Of course, I am risk averse.
    I have to say I really wasn't expecting this viewpoint. @Kaysa, while your selection of a top 20-30 over Harvard/MIT has worked out well for you, this sounds like you are the exception, not the rule. And while I am sympathetic to risk aversion, it seems to me this focuses too much on the tails, and largely ignores what I think is still a considerable difference in expected PhD experience and outcome. "Job market may be so good/bad that it won't matter" - while possible - has to be overly concerned with the error term.

    There's also reason to not be so concerned with many of these, and if anything they tilt in Berkeley's favor. Berkeley doesn't have first year comps, UM does. Both are supportive programs, so the prior likelihood of failing out at either is low as well. I've spent 4 years full-time RA-ing, so I have a decent sense this is what I'd like to continue doing, and probably won't drop out midway through. If something happens with my adviser, frankly Berkeley has a larger pool of backups I'd be excited to work with. I'm interested in labor and political economy; these fields are both deep at Berkeley, while UM has no political econ and - while of course their labor is a historical strength - I think UM labor would take some rebuilding if Bound and/or Brown were to retire, which they might well do before I'd get to work with them.

    In addition, I do have some savings, so I'm not dipping into debt immediately. Though the net difference to me would likely be near 30k.

    I don't think I'm going to change my mind about which program to attend. Nevertheless, @Kaysa I certainly respect your opinions on this forum, and I'd be curious to know if your position still holds.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    I am not trying to discourage you, just to ensure that you have thought this through and know what you are getting yourself into. I would recommend estimating the time it would take to pay off your debt, and to also consider what you will have to give up and delay to do so. If you are comfortable with these sacrifices than there are no regrets.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by Kaysa View Post
    I am not trying to discourage you, just to ensure that you have thought this through and know what you are getting yourself into. I would recommend estimating the time it would take to pay off your debt, and to also consider what you will have to give up and delay to do so. If you are comfortable with these sacrifices than there are no regrets.
    Understood. Thank you!

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    No problem. Hope it helps

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    To get back to the original question- I had FAFSA offer about 20k / year despite me having good funding. I used it in year one to refinance some undergrad loans at a better rate.

    i don’t know how it works, but fill out the form and see what you get.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by YaSvoboden View Post
    To get back to the original question- I had FAFSA offer about 20k / year despite me having good funding. I used it in year one to refinance some undergrad loans at a better rate.

    i don’t know how it works, but fill out the form and see what you get.
    Thanks, I'll definitely do that. Does this mean FAFSA paid you 20k in your first year and you could use that toward living expenses if you wanted?

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