MA in English - UCL, Edinburgh, or Durham? Prestige vs. fitWatch
I've been offered places on MAs at the above three universities. However, the reason I'm doing the MA is that I'm interested in specialising in 18th century and Romantic literature, which I have little undergraduate background in. UCL only offers an MA on modernism, Edinburgh's is on Romantic/Enlightenment/victorian, and Durham offers some great modules in Romanticism. I'm also big on literary theory, which only Edinburgh offers modules in.
It's clear to me which programs are the better fit for me, but I'm wondering whether this matters less than prestige when it comes to PhD admissions. I am planning on attending a PhD program in the US afterward, so international prestige matters more to me than national reputation, and from what I understand, UCL is really the only UK university outside of Oxbridge (I didn't get in) that has international reputation generally and in English. I believe if I went to UCL, I would be able to tailor my dissertation to talk about modernist literature in conversation with the earlier areas I'm interested in.
I'm not sure whether it would be more favourable for me to attend an impressive-looking university with global connections and write a personal statement about a period of literature I didn't study (since I am not expected to be a specialist yet at the time of applications), or whether it would be better for me to attend a lesser-known university that might be assumed to be "the only one I could get into" that was actually a better fit for my research interests. Any ideas?
I want to preface my response by saying that I am a year behind you -- currently finishing up my second year in English Literature at a university in the UK. That said, I am originally from the US, and I spent two years studying at an American university when I first finished high school, so I think I might be able to offer some advice on perception and reputation in the US.
You are right to say that UCL has a larger international reputation in the US, but I think context is key here. The average person on the street in a major US city might be more familiar with UCL, but I strongly believe that any PhD program in literature worth its salt will recognize the names and reputations of all three of those universities. With this in mind, I would suggest that you pick the place that seems like the best fit for you, and where you can do the best work! What is going to matter most when you apply to US PhD programs is the work that you've done during your studies, the strength of your proposal, and the fit with the your future PhD supervisor.
Just as a very informal, unscientific experiment, I scrolled through the list of graduate students on Princeton's English departmental website (https://english.princeton.edu/people/graduate-students), and I found that there were students with masters from Bristol, York, and Queen Mary, as well as plenty from Cambridge and Oxford.
Hope this helps, and good luck with your decision!