Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

TheBeast
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Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby TheBeast » Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:03 pm

I know that this is PhysicsGre.com and thus the readers of this site have an interest towards schools that require the PGRE for admission. However, I would like to think that the general readership is interested, at least to a lesser extent, in great physics schools around the world. In this vein, I would like to present my selection dilemma.

I have a non-traditional background, so that's probably worth mentioning. I'm a Canadian, currently finishing off an MSc in hep-ex at a great Canadian school. I did my undergrad (didn't major in physics) years ago and worked for a few years in a lucrative career. Prior to starting my MSc, my current school made me do a qualifying year of grad and undergrad courses, which I did well in, and allowed me into their funded MSc program. I'm a pretty frugal person and have managed to save up a decent amount of money.

I applied to Oxford for my PhD and was invited for an interview this winter. I apparently did well enough that not only was I granted admission, but was nominated for a major scholarship. Ultimately, I didn't win the award. Although expensive, I figured that I would pay for the three year PhD with my savings. Oxford has always been one of these dream schools for me.

I recently found out that I won a major scholarship for admission to University College London (UCL) covering tuition and stipend. Now I'm torn between the two offers: an unfunded offer from Oxford or a (rare) funded offer from UCL.

Here's my decision breakdown thus far:

Department
Within hep-ex, Oxford and UCL are probably held in similar esteem. Oxford has a wider scope of research and might be thought of slightly better. That being said, I've heard from some profs that for my particular experiment of interest, UCL has a stronger group.

Research
When visiting Oxford, I was pretty much told that you can do whatever you want within their group as long as you can find someone willing to supervise you. UCL seems a lot more restrictive. I've already been assigned a supervisor (who admittedly seems cool from our communication) and project there. The project is definitely interesting, but wouldn't be my first choice for research.

Finances
The UCL stipend would mean that I would have to worry less about money. At Oxford, I would have to be super cheap and budget every dollar (or pound as the case would be).

Location
I've spent a few weeks in central London and am sure it would be an awesome place to live. That being said, I felt more at home with the classical architecture of Oxford and the fact that you could bike/walk anywhere in town.

Overall Reputation
There are more ex-hep PhD students than postdoc positions and definitely not enough faculty positions to go around, so even though I love research, I'm also thinking about the possibility of what to do if I don't stay in physics after I graduate. Especially if I come back to North America, the Oxford name probably goes a lot further than UCL's. My family didn't even know what UCL was until I told them that I got in.

At the moment, I'm leaning more towards paying for Oxford, despite the fact that it's a metric whack-tonne of money. I've spoken to friends, family and profs and have received a wide variety of responses ranging from, "Are you effin' crazy? Go to Oxford!" to "Are you effin' crazy? Go to UCL!" All that this has lead me to believe is that I may be effin' crazy.

I was wondering what you, the anonymous readers of PhysicsGre, would suggest.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby HappyQuark » Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:15 pm

Pay to go to school? I'll let you know when I make up my mind in the next week.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Mar 28, 2011 8:44 pm

Well, for most, paying to go is actually close to impossible which is why people don't generally do it. Still, if you can do it, and you want to do it, then do it. Screw what everybody tells you about this and that, Oxford is your dream school as you said, live the dream man. If you can make it happened why not. I would, if Oxford or Cambridge, or ETH Zurich offered and I could find a way to pay for it I would do it over pretty much any school here other than the tops like Pton etc. That would be one awesome ride and once in a lifetime experience, and I myself would regret not taking the chance.

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grae313
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby grae313 » Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:12 pm

Would your savings be able to cover your three years at Oxford and if not, how much would you be in debt? If you'll go into debt, take the salary of an average post doc in your field and ask yourself how many years it would take on that salary to pay off your debt. If it will take you more than four or five years I would be very hesitant. Just based on the numbers, finding a job is likely to be very difficult and being in debt really, really sucks. Life is long and the further you get down the road, the more people care about your work experience and the less people care about that name on your diploma (including you). If you have to struggle through years and years of debt, there's no way it's worth it in my mind.

axiomofchoice
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby axiomofchoice » Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:16 pm

If you have enough to pay for school and live a decent life, I'd say go for it. Money is just money, and you can't bring those cash with you to your grave anyways. But if it involves taking out any loans, never, never, never, never borrow to go to grad school. [Incidentally I actually did not follow my own advice :)]

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HappyQuark
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby HappyQuark » Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:20 pm

axiomofchoice wrote:If you have enough to pay for school and live a decent life, I'd say go for it. Money is just money, and you can't bring those cash with you to your grave anyways. But if it involves taking out any loans, never, never, never, never borrow to go to grad school. [Incidentally I actually did not follow my own advice :)]


You can't take that fancy education with you to the grave either.

michael
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby michael » Mon Mar 28, 2011 10:37 pm

I have a whole load of questions for you!

First of all, how much money are you talking about here? What is the tuition cost + your projected living cost per year? Are you sure you will be done in 3 years? phds in the UK often last 4 years nowadays (although sometimes the funding stops after 3).

Have you talked to the people in Oxford about the possibility of getting funding after finishing the first year of your PhD? Are there any other scholarships that you could apply for now or next year which will help you fund your way in Oxford?

Also, you will probably be able to give tutorials to undergraduates - and earn around £30/hour which may help you save up some beer money if you go to Oxford, ask the department (or the college which you would be in) if this will be possible.

Where do you think you will want to do your postdoc - UK, Europe or somewhere else? I think you should maybe ask some faculty member where you see yourself doing a postdoc to advise you on how much difference it would really make that you have your PhD from Oxford v.s. UCL.

uzbyte
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby uzbyte » Tue Mar 29, 2011 11:14 am

My opinion would be to go for Oxford. We've gotten used to the concept of getting paid to learn at the graduate level in the United States...but that is a really amazing setup we've got going. In undergraduate we paid for our education (usually), and our living expenses. If you were to go to medical school or law school you would end up paying no doubt, and come out of school with thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans. I would suggest doing whatever you can commit to without feeling regret--whether that be regret from spending the money or regret from giving up going to the school of your dreams. You can always earn money if you want to (although probably not if you want to stay in academia...ha).

Also I would throw out there the fact that you aren't SOL for scholarships entirely. I got into Oxford last year, and got the run down on college scholarships etc. You apply to those every year--who's to say you wouldn't be able to get a substantial scholarship your second or third year? With a good rec from someone you work with you would be much more likely to obtain one I would assume--especially considering you already seem qualified for one. I would do some research about which college you want to join (if you haven't commited to one already), some have a lot more cash to offer international students than others. Also keep in mind outside scholarships you could apply to, even a couple thousand could really drag down your overall debt--or increase your standard of living while there.

If you've got enough saved to do it right now, go for it--I think you'll find a lot more opportunities for alleviating cost once you're there. Good luck and CONGRATULATIONS either way! :D

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Mar 29, 2011 11:58 am

uzbyte wrote:My opinion would be to go for Oxford. We've gotten used to the concept of getting paid to learn at the graduate level in the United States...but that is a really amazing setup we've got going. In undergraduate we paid for our education (usually), and our living expenses. If you were to go to medical school or law school you would end up paying no doubt, and come out of school with thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans.


I wouldn't pay for graduate school at all in Physics. If I was going to medical school or law school, I would feel fine with paying. This is with no research, but I'm pretty sure the job security and pay is worth it for med/law school. However, I don't feel the same way about Physics. For example, If I had to pay even 30,000 a year to go to MIT, there is no way I'd do it. This is just my opinion. I don't think you should ever have to pay for graduate school IN physics.

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby grae313 » Tue Mar 29, 2011 12:27 pm

uzbyte wrote:If you were to go to medical school or law school you would end up paying no doubt, and come out of school with thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans.


I'm just going to let you think about that one a little bit longer and you can let me know if you care to revise your statement.

tady
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby tady » Tue Mar 29, 2011 12:29 pm

grae313 wrote:
uzbyte wrote:If you were to go to medical school or law school you would end up paying no doubt, and come out of school with thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans.


I'm just going to let you think about that one a little bit longer and you can let me know if you care to revise your statement.


Hahahaha.

TheBeast
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby TheBeast » Tue Mar 29, 2011 2:14 pm

grae313 wrote:Would your savings be able to cover your three years at Oxford and if not, how much would you be in debt? If you'll go into debt, take the salary of an average post doc in your field and ask yourself how many years it would take on that salary to pay off your debt. If it will take you more than four or five years I would be very hesitant. Just based on the numbers, finding a job is likely to be very difficult and being in debt really, really sucks. Life is long and the further you get down the road, the more people care about your work experience and the less people care about that name on your diploma (including you). If you have to struggle through years and years of debt, there's no way it's worth it in my mind.


Debt is definitely something that I've taken into consideration. I've been pretty much debt-free my whole life (I haven't gotten a mortgage or a car loan or anything). I figure that my savings plus a $30k loan from my parents should should be enough to cover the financial guarantee that Oxford is asking for. If I manage to find some funding later on down the road, I might not even need to borrow this much from them. This is much better than having to take out a government loan or a personal loan to finance the endeavour.

A friend of mine pointed out that he was $30k in debt from undergrad and all he had to show for it was a Physics bachelor's degree from an OK school. From that perspective, a $30k parental debt for a PhD probably isn't all that bad.

michael wrote:I have a whole load of questions for you!

First of all, how much money are you talking about here? What is the tuition cost + your projected living cost per year?

Oxford has asked for a financial guarantee of 96 000 GBP to cover tuition, college fees and living expenses for the 3 years. This isn't money that's paid to the university, but just needs to be shown as being available when you start. Projected total costs are 32 000 GBP per year, though I've spoken to some Oxford students who have told me this number includes an unrealistically high cost of living.

Are you sure you will be done in 3 years? phds in the UK often last 4 years nowadays (although sometimes the funding stops after 3).

I've asked the department about this and they've said that if a student is funded for 3 years, every effort will be made to get them finished in the 3 years. The fact that I'm working on a hep-ex Master's now and already have a lot of experience with a collaboration and have taken a bunch of grad classes should allow me to hit the ground running.

Have you talked to the people in Oxford about the possibility of getting funding after finishing the first year of your PhD? Are there any other scholarships that you could apply for now or next year which will help you fund your way in Oxford?

I've applied for a couple of awards here that would provide partial funding. However, these awards are super-competitive and sometimes against people from other disciplines, so the chances are slim. As uzbyte mentioned, there are possibilities for funding after a year in the program, but nothing is guaranteed. I've spoken to a couple of people who have self-funded PhDs at Oxford and they both managed to secure some money once they were there.

Also, you will probably be able to give tutorials to undergraduates - and earn around £30/hour which may help you save up some beer money if you go to Oxford, ask the department (or the college which you would be in) if this will be possible.

This is very good to know. I'll have to follow up on this.

Where do you think you will want to do your postdoc - UK, Europe or somewhere else? I think you should maybe ask some faculty member where you see yourself doing a postdoc to advise you on how much difference it would really make that you have your PhD from Oxford v.s. UCL.

I'm not too sure where I would want to do my postdoc. Maybe back in North America, maybe in Europe; it all depends where the jobs are. I've spoken to some faculty members in Canada and they all agree that both UCL and Oxford are excellent in my field and which one is "better" is largely a question of personal taste.

This is really divisive issue, even here on the boards. Thanks to everyone for their comments!
Last edited by TheBeast on Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

bfollinprm
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:10 pm

Just to add my 2 cents:

I'm admittedly not a reputation snob, so take this as you will, but I don't see a big fall-off between UCL and Oxford, even in general reputation. Certainly not much of one in the UK (it's like the difference between Princeton and U Chicago).

A funded offer is a BIG deal in the UK, I wouldn't say no to it. Of course Oxford is going to let you do whatever; you're paying. If someone is volunteering to pay for you up front, they must like you. You might show up to Oxford and find that professors are fairly ambivalent towards your existence--you're just a source of money until you prove otherwise. At University College, you'll have guaranteed interest; no one wants to see their one hundred thousand pound investment falter.

uzbyte
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby uzbyte » Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:22 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
uzbyte wrote:My opinion would be to go for Oxford. We've gotten used to the concept of getting paid to learn at the graduate level in the United States...but that is a really amazing setup we've got going. In undergraduate we paid for our education (usually), and our living expenses. If you were to go to medical school or law school you would end up paying no doubt, and come out of school with thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans.


I wouldn't pay for graduate school at all in Physics. If I was going to medical school or law school, I would feel fine with paying. This is with no research, but I'm pretty sure the job security and pay is worth it for med/law school. However, I don't feel the same way about Physics. For example, If I had to pay even 30,000 a year to go to MIT, there is no way I'd do it. This is just my opinion. I don't think you should ever have to pay for graduate school IN physics.

-Riley



I'm not saying we should be paying, but I guess a lot just depends on why you want to go to school. Physics has nothing to do with job security or high salaries, we know that going in--it's about being absolutely in love with the subject and not being able to be happy doing anything else (at least imo). Obviously earning potential cancels out the cost of most law/medical degrees...a statement so obvious I'm surprised anybody could attempt a sarcastic joke in reference to my point...Clearly physics grad students work their asses off and produce an immense amount of discovery during their time in school. However if you wanted to get a 6 figure salary after obtaining a PhD in physics you certainly could, you just couldn't do physics research. My point with bringing up other higher education was just to take an objective look at education as a whole, given that the post had an air of feeling 'stupid' for paying. I meant that being paid to do something you love is a new concept, however overdue, that should be appreciated first and foremost. The original post here stated that he already had the means to pay, so debt accretion wrt cost/long term benefit analysis didn't really seem applicable in this instance. All that said, it is very depressing that the world doesn't value--and consequently pay--physicists (and their grad students) as much as they deserve.

I love physics, but I'd never think of using that career as my main source of income... I ended up turning down Yale and Oxford (my dream schools) and opted to started my own business--solely so I can have enough financial security to travel and enjoy science. It's a *** system if you ask me. Which you didn't. :P Although now I'll probably end up at JHU...or perhaps maybe even Brown (to quote Lisa Simpson...NOT BROWN!) ;)

Completely off topic: Have to give a 'go huskers' to you Riley, one Nebraska native to another... heh. :)

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Mar 29, 2011 3:44 pm

uzbyte wrote:Completely off topic: Have to give a 'go huskers' to you Riley, one Nebraska native to another... heh. :)


Holy crap. I thought other people from Nebraska were a tall tale.

-Riley

TheBeast
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby TheBeast » Tue Mar 29, 2011 9:33 pm

bfollinprm wrote: At University College, you'll have guaranteed interest; no one wants to see their one hundred thousand pound investment falter.

This is an excellent point. I hadn't thought about it in quite that manner.

At any rate, I've arranged for a phone call with my potential supervisor at UCL just to see if we click. I've also advised Oxford of the other offer, just to keep them in the loop.

rolandgill
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby rolandgill » Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:04 am

I think its depends the colleges or school . In US most of them schools and college admission grants are taking place based on the admission test and academic performance. Students who perform well in their academic level and admission, they could get admission easily. You know i did not pay for going to college. I had best score in admission test and academic level.

TheBeast
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby TheBeast » Tue May 31, 2011 10:24 pm

I figured that I should update this thread for the sake of posterity. UK schools don't follow the American April 15th deadline, so my ultimate decision was only made quite recently. I flip-flopped quite a bit before finally coming to a decision.

In the end, I decided to bite the bullet and pay to go to Oxford. My financial situation is actually better than when I initially made the post because I managed to win a small scholarship, but I'm still paying for the majority of the costs via my savings.

The principal factors that weighed into the decision were as follows:
1) Despite the ridiculous generosity of the UCL scholarship, I just wasn't crazy about the research I was slated to work on. I was a bigger fan of the proposal in my Oxford application, and the fact that I wasn't committed to a topic/supervisor right out of the gates.
2) Location. Going to UCL effectively means having to commute via bus/tube to school, given the costs of rent in UCL's neighborhood. I currently do the big-city commute thing to attend my current institution, and I would much rather bike or walk through a small town.

I've made some controversial educational decisions before, so this is just one more to add to the list. At any rate, it should be an exciting 3 years!

michael
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Re: Would You Pay to Go to a Top School?

Postby michael » Wed Jun 01, 2011 1:16 pm

Cool, you are going to have a great time! Make sure that all the professors and other students know that you are keen on getting scholarships, and that your not Bill Gate's nephew with so much money that it doesn't matter. Hopefully any scholarships that come up will go your way. Also - try to start doing tutorials as soon as you can.

Good luck




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