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Cambridge vs. UCL vs. LSE

Hi. I am looking to start my PhD in Sociology next fall and as an American I cannot visit the campuses, so I was lookin for some help deciding between Cambridge, LSE, and UCL. I have the following questions:

1. How do the welfare services compare? Which has the best mental health support?

2. How does the work/life balance compare?

3. Which is the most flexible?

I know so much of this comes down to my supervisors, but it my previous academic experiences the general campus atmosphere is crucial as well, so I would love to hear your thoughts!
Original post by Imjusthereidk
Hi. I am looking to start my PhD in Sociology next fall and as an American I cannot visit the campuses, so I was lookin for some help deciding between Cambridge, LSE, and UCL. I have the following questions:

1. How do the welfare services compare? Which has the best mental health support?

2. How does the work/life balance compare?

3. Which is the most flexible?

I know so much of this comes down to my supervisors, but it my previous academic experiences the general campus atmosphere is crucial as well, so I would love to hear your thoughts!


None of them has a campus of any sort. LSE and UCL are embedded in the middle of a very large city, Cambridge is in a very small city and makes up about 50% of the city centre.

How are you measuring 'best mental health support'? The collegiate structure at Cambridge usually means that it has a double layer of everything academic support, pastoral and welfare support, and clubs and societies. But you are only likely to get personal experiences of one or other, and no-one with your specific needs and preferences.

Work life balance is entirely within your control, save any influence the specific Supervisor has. You manage your PhD.

Flexibility of what? If you are doing a PhD, then what's to be flexible about, you control almost every aspect, save those bits your Supervisor insists on.
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Original post by threeportdrift
None of them has a campus of any sort. LSE and UCL are embedded in the middle of a very large city, Cambridge is in a very small city and makes up about 50% of the city centre.

How are you measuring 'best mental health support'? The collegiate structure at Cambridge usually means that it has a double layer of everything academic support, pastoral and welfare support, and clubs and societies. But you are only likely to get personal experiences of one or other, and no-one with your specific needs and preferences.

Work life balance is entirely within your control, save any influence the specific Supervisor has. You manage your PhD.

Flexibility of what? If you are doing a PhD, then what's to be flexible about you control almost every aspect, save those bits your Supervisor insists on.

Thank you for your reply! I should have specified that mental health support falls under welfare, it’s a slightly different system in the US. And by flexibility I meant encouragement of interdisciplinary research and whether the university pushes hard and fast completion dates or do PhD students sometimes extend their research.
I also want to add that I am curious about socioeconomic diversity at these schools. My undergrad was prestigious but the school was mostly upper class, and as someone not from that background, I *personally* felt out of place. I would hope to be in an atmosphere where I can relate to fellow faculty and students.
Original post by Imjusthereidk
Thank you for your reply! I should have specified that mental health support falls under welfare, it’s a slightly different system in the US. And by flexibility I meant encouragement of interdisciplinary research and whether the university pushes hard and fast completion dates or do PhD students sometimes extend their research.


Bear in mind that in the UK a PhD is (normally) purely research and you are applying either for a specific pre-existing project, or you will be proposing your own project at application. Therefore, if you want to do interdisciplinary research, as above it's wholly within your control based on your project proposal. There is a lot of inter and multidisciplinary research ongoing at Cambridge, and I believe a lot of sociology staff are based in CRASH which is a multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary "department" for research between various arts, social sciences, and humanities areas.

In terms of diversity at Cambridge while at undergrad level there tends to be a slightly higher proportion of private school students, and a reasonable proportion of middle class students, they tend to be somewhat more sensitive to issues of class and so on. At the postgrad level Cambridge very diverse with students from a huge range of countries and backgrounds represented. LSE is pretty well known to have a very high proportion of international students, more than most other UK unis. However I gather a lot of these are very wealthy international students so while it is diverse culturally, economically it may not be so diverse. UCL I don't really know much about in that regard.
Original post by Imjusthereidk
Hi. I am looking to start my PhD in Sociology next fall and as an American I cannot visit the campuses, so I was lookin for some help deciding between Cambridge, LSE, and UCL. I have the following questions:

1. How do the welfare services compare? Which has the best mental health support?

2. How does the work/life balance compare?

3. Which is the most flexible?

I know so much of this comes down to my supervisors, but it my previous academic experiences the general campus atmosphere is crucial as well, so I would love to hear your thoughts!

Why those three universities - none have a 'proper' campus and they aren't that well known for Sociology ...

Btw - we call it Autumn - saying 'fall' marks you as American.
UCL were (are?) awful when it came to mental health.
Original post by Muttley79
Why those three universities - none have a 'proper' campus and they aren't that well known for Sociology ...

Btw - we call it Autumn - saying 'fall' marks you as American.

I said in my original post I was American, not really a hot take.

Also my Master’s supervisor recommended them due to the location of the population I will be studying. The Cambridge Sociology department has some academics who specialize in the sociology of media. LSE has good crossover between the media and sociology departments. Cambridge is ranked 2nd in the CUG and LSE 4th.
(edited 2 years ago)
Original post by Imjusthereidk
I said in my original post I was American, not really a hot take.

Also my Master’s supervisor recommended them due to the location of the population I will be studying. The Cambridge Sociology department has some academics who specialize in the sociology of media. LSE has good crossover between the media and sociology departments. Cambridge is ranked 2nd in the CUG and LSE 4th.

Rankings mean nothing ... what 'population' does not exist elsewhere in the UK? Cambridge is not a typical place at all ...
Original post by Muttley79
Rankings mean nothing ...

Perhaps for an “average” student doing and “average” undergrad degree, but for an overseas PG looking to invest the time and money to take a PhD in the UK that’s not good advice. Having an internationally well recognised university on the CV will be of significant value when they head back home to look for their next position in the US, particularly if they want to move into academia. In that case there is simply no comparison between Cambridge and a minor league UK university that might be fine for undergrad satisfaction, but is completely unknown internationally.
Original post by Mr Wednesday
Perhaps for an “average” student doing and “average” undergrad degree, but for an overseas PG looking to invest the time and money to take a PhD in the UK that’s not good advice. Having an internationally well recognised university on the CV will be of significant value when they head back home to look for their next position in the US, particularly if they want to move into academia. In that case there is simply no comparison between Cambridge and a minor league UK university that might be fine for undergrad satisfaction, but is completely unknown internationally.

Sorry I disagree - look at what they want to do research in and the reason - you totall ignored the SECOND part of my sentence!!!!!
Original post by Muttley79
Sorry I disagree - look at what they want to do research in and the reason - you totall ignored the SECOND part of my sentence!!!!!

Pretty sure your research subjects don't need to live next door. Yes, Cambridge itself has an unusual social mix, but you don’t have to go far to find some rather different communities.
Original post by Imjusthereidk
Hi. I am looking to start my PhD in Sociology next fall and as an American I cannot visit the campuses, so I was lookin for some help deciding between Cambridge, LSE, and UCL. I have the following questions:

1. How do the welfare services compare? Which has the best mental health support?

2. How does the work/life balance compare?

3. Which is the most flexible?

I know so much of this comes down to my supervisors, but it my previous academic experiences the general campus atmosphere is crucial as well, so I would love to hear your thoughts!

Find a good experienced supervisor, and discuss your research expectations & make sure they align with the supervisors goals before signing on.
Original post by Imjusthereidk
I said in my original post I was American, not really a hot take.

Also my Master’s supervisor recommended them due to the location of the population I will be studying. The Cambridge Sociology department has some academics who specialize in the sociology of media. LSE has good crossover between the media and sociology departments. Cambridge is ranked 2nd in the CUG and LSE 4th.

Depending which aspects of the sociology/social science of the media you are interested in, you may also want to look at Oxford who through their internet institute have an entire dedicated PhD programme in the social science if the internet. So if that is specifically your area of interest definitely worth taking a look.

Also depending on the exact approach(es) you want to take you may want to consider some anthropology departments in which to do your PhD as I think there are several in the UK which do work on the anthropology of media and related topics (UCL I think does a lot of work in this vein if I recall correctly). So a similar object of study but perhaps some methodological differences. Most anthropology departments in the UK focus primarily or exclusively on social anthropology, unlike the US (biological anthropology tends to be rarer and often tied to archaeology departments, which are usually while separate from the anthropology departments here).
Original post by Mr Wednesday
Pretty sure your research subjects don't need to live next door. Yes, Cambridge itself has an unusual social mix, but you don’t have to go far to find some rather different communities.


None of the areas around Cambridge are representative of the UK population


Mod edit ~ Please keep this thread on topic and relevant to the OP

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Original post by Imjusthereidk
I also want to add that I am curious about socioeconomic diversity at these schools. My undergrad was prestigious but the school was mostly upper class, and as someone not from that background, I *personally* felt out of place. I would hope to be in an atmosphere where I can relate to fellow faculty and students.

We don't have that class system in the UK: 'upper class' is a tiny fraction of the population comprising old, entitled families which you are clearly not part of. I suspect your 'upper class' is actually more like our old 'middle middle class', or Mosaic Groups A or B.

What do you mean by 'upper class'? What background are you from, in terms of your family?
Original post by Reality Check
We don't have that class system in the UK: 'upper class' is a tiny fraction of the population comprising old, entitled families which you are clearly not part of. I suspect your 'upper class' is actually more like our old 'middle middle class', or Mosaic Groups A or B.

What do you mean by 'upper class'? What background are you from, in terms of your family?

Thank you for your reply! Here in the US we do have a distinction between “old money” and “new money”, but in general class is associated with wealth. My family is doing better now, however growing up I would’ve been considered what is probably your working class. I qualified for free school lunches. My grandparents were wealthy, but My mom was a single mom and we were not. At my undergraduate school I had a full ride, but the cost was 60 K a year, meaning hi did not fit in with most people and could not afford most activities. My grad school was much more social economically diverse and I found it much easier to communicate and relate to colleagues and friends.

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