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Thread: Attending a school Without Funding

  1. #1
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    Attending a school Without Funding

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    What do y'all think about going somewhere without funding?

    One one hand, if you go to a more prestigious school, or one which fits your interests better, but without funding, certainly the discounted present value in the advantage of going to a higher ranked school could easily surpass $40-50k, especially if that means you will one day land a research position.

    But it also seems like money isn't the only consideration. If you're american, and you are admitted without funding, it seems probable that your profile is demonstrably inferior than, say, the average funded chinese applicant at the same school. That might make the first year a rough experience if there are only a fixed # of people who make it to year 2... In addition, I'd imagine there's something to be said for being one of the better students in your class vs. closer to the bottom of the distribution.

    What do others think?

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    I don't think that rankings signaled by funding are that "sticky." In other words, there may be a lot of people who are very close in profile, so it is hard to say that the ones with the money are all better than those that don't. Also, I doubt the profs will ultimately form their impressions based on the funding status. So if you think your profile underrepresents you, and you think you are really better than the funded people, go for it.

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    In my opinion, the most important thing really is to go to the school where you're more likely to be "a star". For this reason, it is important to consider your own capabilities, student-to-faculty ratio (which may sound a cliche but still very important), and "faculty friendliness". As far as being "a star" - you're more likely to be one at the school you got funding than at a school that you barely got in (for whatever reason). That doesn't mean, however, that it's not possible!!!

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    I think an important thing to consider about not having funding is you'll probably spend a good chunk of your time in your first two years either working or worrying about money. Which means you might have less time to absorb your course material and thus might have a weaker foundation for doing the best research possible.

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    DismalScientist,

    Can you elaborate as to why you think the most important thing is to attend a school where you're the "star"?

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    I'm going to put my conclusion first: go to the school that is the best match for you, regardless of funding. Funding makes a big difference first year and virtually none whatsoever after that.

    I'm not going to give you platitudes about how the departments expect everyone they admitted to succeed. That's obviously false -- no school has a 100% completion rate. But schools also know that they can't perfectly predict who will finish, which is why they admit more students than their ideal graduating class size.

    Schools don't withhold funding as a way of signaling that they don't have faith in some admitted students. If they had the resources, I think econ departments would fund all incoming students. That would be better for the students and the department. Schools that do have those sorts of resources (Princeton, Stanford, etc.) do fund all incoming students! But most schools have to make choices.

    Who gets funding is not a perfect signal of where you were ranked on the list of admitted students, though. Certainly, schools offer funding to the people they most want to enroll. But there are other considerations. For example, Michigan has some funding that is tied to specific research agendas, like work on aging/retirement. Some university-wide fellowships are designated for students from specific backgrounds (women, minorities, etc.). And second-round funding offers are even harder to interpret, because they are functions of both how much the school wants a particular student to enroll, and how likely the school believes that person is to go elsewhere.

    Stock et. al. have a recent AER P&P article on the determinants of attrition in graduate school. About funding, they say "Raw attrition was lower for students who were awarded fellowship aid, and higher for students who received no financial aid in their first year of Ph.D. study. Our probit estimates, however, reveal that once other factors are controlled, only research assistant status relates to attrition, reducing it, as is found commonly in research on Ph.D. attrition (Smallwood, 2004)."

    The message there is twofold. First, the relationship between funding and attrition is weak, and goes away when controlling for other factors. Second, the authors find a correlation -- it is not necessarily causal. It may be that higher ability students are more likely to get funding and also to stay in the programs. It may be that getting funding frees up time and energy for studying and actually has a causal impact on staying in grad school. Note that if schools could really rank students perfectly by their chances of success, attrition would be zero among funded students. This is clearly NOT what the study finds.

    The message about students with RA jobs being more likely to stay in school is important -- to me, it suggests something I've observed to be true. That is that getting involved in research early is key to succeeding, and that the best way to learn to do research is to just do it, and learning good habits from a professor you respect by working as an RA helps tremendously.

    I've said these things before but they bear repeating: your classmates will not know whether or not you have funding (unless you tell them). Your professors will not know whether or not you have funding. You will not be treated any differently whether or not you have funding. Your success in the first (and later) years of the program is up to you; it is not predetermined by whether or not the admissions committee sees fit (or has the resources) to offer you funding your first year.

    If you weren't offered funding at your first choice school, you do have some tough choices to make. You have to decide whether or not you can take on the loans associated with financing the first year of school -- and if you can, whether the difference between your funded and unfunded offers is big enough to warrant paying out of pocket. But in the end, I don't think you should use different criteria than anyone else choosing between two or more schools. You should visit if at all possible, talk to the professors and current students, and get a sense of how and where you would fit into the department. Are there professors you want to work with? Do they have good reputations as advisors/mentors? Do current students say that they have access to faculty? How do students at the median fare in the program? On this board and in other conversations, there is a lot of emphasis on a school's best placements, but while those matter, the median is probably more relevant You will get much better information from conversations with faculty and professors than from over-interpreting your funding offer, I promise.

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    i think the "star" idea is relevant. when you think of attrition rates you have to figure that on average, the best players in the class survive the most frequently. When you are going to a school w/o funding, you're most likely going end up drowning in the competition. I'm not sure if and how different schools grade students like with a curve, but if they do, do you want to face harder or weaker students?

    Secondly, an example from UVA's open house, i believe the DGS said 65% of funded students pass the comps and make it to year 2, and 30% of non-funded students make it to year 2. I would imagine that this pattern could be seen everywhere.

    Logically at the extremes it makes sense that the best student at School #100 probably wont make it at School #1. It gets fuzzy when you get schools ranked closer to each other, so you're basically taking a fifty thousand dollar bet on whether you can sink or swim in a pool you've never jumped into before.
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    yeah, lots of good points. Borrowing $30K itself could (would!) be a source of stress for a lot of people when the first year of coursework would itself likely be a source of stress... Gotta imagine that the MU of increasing the stress load would turn negative at some point...

    Interesting study Asquare. I think probably the result is b/c the adcoms have more info about applicants than what would be included in a regression. I.e, the study probably didn't account for the fact that a 3.6 at the University of Chicago doesn't equate w/ a 3.6 at the U of Illinois Chicago...

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    My two cents: While it can be stressful to take on debt, a lot of other grad students do it (Med students, Law students, B-school students, etc). And, for us, it seems like we'd be able to get some $ even if we don't during the first year...
    It's also important to consider undergrad debt. If you have none, you're ahead of most college grads so it won't kill you to take on some now...

    So, if you love a certain program but don't have $ from them, don't eliminate that option. You may regret it down the road (long after the bills are paid).

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DismalScientist View Post
    In my opinion, the most important thing really is to go to the school where you're more likely to be "a star".
    This is true UNLESS your other option is an elite program.

    The lowest "ranked" (I use this term loosely, this isn't law school) student from MIT will likely have better placement options than the "star" from UIUC or Ohio State, or any of large number of very good US programs.

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