The Student Room Group

Should I self-fund a prestigious PhD or take a fully funded offer elsewhere?

To begin with some context: I am first-gen university student and Canadian. I do not have British citizenship (yay international fees). I do not come from wealth and actually self-funded both of my previous degrees and have nearly paid off my student debt from my BA (my MA was fully funded as is usual in Canada). Keeping my debt low included working 2 jobs while in my undergrad. This is all to say that if anyone understands the value of money and the expense of education it's me.

For my doctorate, I applied to three institutions and was accepted to all three. I have already turned down my offer to McGill in Montreal (supervisory relationship wasn't a great fit), so I will definitely be coming to the UK for my doctorate.I have been accepted to Oxford for a DPhil in History. I have also been awarded a fully funded AHRC scholarship to a smaller university in London for a PhD in Humanities (I wish it was history instead, but it is what it is). As an international student that is a huge amount of money. I like the supervisors at both schools and I think they will both be helpful in establishing a network in my research area. I applied to the smaller university *because* of the supervisor and I do really like working with them. In terms of access to sources, I also believe both schools will be comparable (I do early nineteenth-century military history, which London is perfect for).

I am conflicted as to which offer to accept. I'd like to continue in academia and teach, which means that I know the prestige of an Oxbridge education is hard to match outside of American Ivy Leagues, but is it really worth $200k (CAD) in debt? I have not heard anything about funding from Oxford, so I need to work under the assumption I have none. I know I can apply for Canadian scholarships SSHRC and CCSF for 2023, but I'm not sure if I feel comfortable making a decision for first year with the hope that I get funding for my second and third year when that's not guaranteed.

So that's my question. Is the prestige of Oxford (and on a personal level going to my childhood dream school) worth the cost? Or would it be foolish to give up a Techne Studentship?
(edited 1 year ago)
I'd probably say go for the funded PhD, particularly if you are keen on the supervisor. The only thing that might be a concern is if the project isn't what you want to do, as you say it's in "humanities" rather than history, but it sounds like you're interested in the supervisors' work and hence presumably would be able to develop a project of interest to you anyway.

How far the smaller option will get you in your field probably depends on your supervisor's standing within the field - you should be concerned about the "general" prestige/reputation of the university for PhD studies, but the specific strength(s) of your supervisor and/or research group/department. Remember in the UK PhDs are normally all research, without any taught elements (unlike in the US for example) so it really does hinge completely on the supervisor.
Original post by kiwi9417
To begin with some context: I am first-gen university student and Canadian. I do not have British citizenship (yay international fees). I do not come from wealth and actually self-funded both of my previous degrees and have nearly paid off my student debt from my BA (my MA was fully funded as is usual in Canada). Keeping my debt low included working 2 jobs while in my undergrad. This is all to say that if anyone understands the value of money and the expense of education it's me.

For my doctorate, I applied to three institutions and was accepted to all three. I have already turned down my offer to McGill in Montreal (supervisory relationship wasn't a great fit), so I will definitely be coming to the UK for my doctorate.I have been accepted to Oxford for a DPhil in History. I have also been awarded a fully funded AHRC scholarship to a smaller university in London for a PhD in Humanities (I wish it was history instead, but it is what it is). As an international student that is a huge amount of money. I like the supervisors at both schools and I think they will both be helpful in establishing a network in my research area. I applied to the smaller university *because* of the supervisor and I do really like working with them. In terms of access to sources, I also believe both schools will be comparable (I do early nineteenth-century military history, which London is perfect for).

I am conflicted as to which offer to accept. I'd like to continue in academia and teach, which means that I know the prestige of an Oxbridge education is hard to match outside of American Ivy Leagues, but is it really worth $200k (CAD) in debt? I have not heard anything about funding from Oxford, so I need to work under the assumption I have none. I know I can apply for Canadian scholarships SSHRC and CCSF for 2023, but I'm not sure if I feel comfortable making a decision for first year with the hope that I get funding for my second and third year when that's not guaranteed.

So that's my question. Is the prestige of Oxford (and on a personal level going to my childhood dream school) worth the cost? Or would it be foolish to give up a Techne Studentship?


A fully funded AHRC scholarship has more future 'prestige' than self-funding at Oxford. No way you should turn that down for any name without money.
Reply 3
Original post by artful_lounger
I'd probably say go for the funded PhD, particularly if you are keen on the supervisor. The only thing that might be a concern is if the project isn't what you want to do, as you say it's in "humanities" rather than history, but it sounds like you're interested in the supervisors' work and hence presumably would be able to develop a project of interest to you anyway.

How far the smaller option will get you in your field probably depends on your supervisor's standing within the field - you should be concerned about the "general" prestige/reputation of the university for PhD studies, but the specific strength(s) of your supervisor and/or research group/department. Remember in the UK PhDs are normally all research, without any taught elements (unlike in the US for example) so it really does hinge completely on the supervisor.

This is the direction I'm leaning. I think my parents understand the name power behind Oxford without all of the external considerations and want to push me in that direction. It's good to hear someone else confirm my suspicions though, so thank you!
Always trust your gut instinct and listen to what your common sense is telling you.
I've done self-funded and sponsored postgrad courses while living alone in London.

Personally I'd always give preference to the fully funded place if there was a tie between the courses, campus culture and lecturers.
I'm an english home student and have never studied overseas.
Nor applied for any scholarships.
Good luck!
(edited 1 year ago)
Reply 5
Original post by threeportdrift
A fully funded AHRC scholarship has more future 'prestige' than self-funding at Oxford. No way you should turn that down for any name without money.

Yeah, I think that's great advice thank you! It's hard for me to see a separation in funding from the school as a Canadian because our graduate programs are (almost always) automatically funded by the university. I'm glad to get a different perspective than the ones I'm hearing on this side of the Atlantic :smile:
How would you self fund the Oxford phd? It doesn't seem the sort of expenditure which would ever show a return on investment - but I appreciate there is more to life sometimes.

How much is the living allowance with the AHRC scholarship?

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