Today I have a guest blog post by Nicole, who is about to start her DPhil In Philosophy and Sociology. Here's an insight into her experience of the application process:
“Dear Nicole, I am delighted to inform you that your application for admission to the University of Oxford as a graduate student has been successful. We would like to offer you a place for the Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology beginning 2 October 2017. Our admissions round is extremely competitive, and we would like to congratulate you most warmly on your success.
It is also my pleasure to let you know that, given the quality of your application, Nuffield College has generously offered to underwrite the full costs for your course…”
And then the page begins to swim. It is 4:00am. None of my family members, friends, or fellow graduate students at the University of British Columbia, where I am completing my Masters degree in the faculty of sociology, is yet awake. I have no one to call. I must process this alone; sit with the excitement, the disbelief, the complete and utter terror that these few sentences evoke.
Nearly seven months later, I still have a visceral reaction to the words, “Nuffield College has generously offered to underwrite the full costs for your course…” Getting into Oxford is one thing – a very, very important thing – but graduating debt-free with a DPhil from one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions in the world is something I hadn’t dared hope for.
I’ve chosen to open this post by frankly discussing the topic of money. It is a difficult conversation, but finances (or lack thereof) often dictate which school we attend, or whether we attend school at all. I applied to five UK-based DPhil programs, and, although I was accepted by all of them, Oxford was the only institution at which I was given full funding. Two weeks after hearing that Nuffield had agreed to underwrite the costs of my course, including college fees and living expenses, I was also awarded a Clarendon scholarship. I will thus be jointly funded. But, as I waited to hear about the results of my application, I had to carefully consider whether taking out an enormous student loan would provide a longer-term return on investment.
For those of you who are in a similar situation, I gently urge you to reflect on your motivations. Like most students who have made it to the DPhil level, I am tremendously passionate about academia. That said, my research interests are rather niche: I study medicalization (that is, the social, cultural, political, and economic processes through which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as illnesses) and, more specifically, the medicalization of disordered eating among homeless youth. I knew when applying to Oxford that the school would offer a powerful platform from which to present my work whereas a smaller, lesser-known institution may not. I certainly intend to enjoy the journey, but ultimately, my research – and the youth I work with – is a priority. If finances are troubling you, I suggest that you speak to former students, open an honest dialogue with your families, and do a written cost-benefit analysis about what the implications of a student loan may be.