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About kb6

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    Espresso Shot

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  • Location
    Washington, DC
  • Application Season
    2013 Fall
  • Program
    SAIS graduate

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  1. Taking a course sounds like a great idea if you're trying to get into grad school. I did something similar for what I thought was a middling GPA. And the fact that you're a few years removed, did very well on the GRE and have pretty great work experience puts you in a good position. You're still going to have to explain that 2.41 GPA at some point, though. Was there some kind of family or mental health crisis? Did your grades improve throughout your years there? Were you just really immature and partying all the time? There should be a section in each application for "additional information," so you should think about how you're going to frame it so that they don't think that this is something that's going to happen again. But my bigger question is this - why are you trying to get into grad school right now if you're just starting a GS-11 position? That's about the max level you can get straight out of a master's degree, and I know a few people who started at GS-9 after SAIS. You might find you need the master's eventually to advance, but if this is the kind of field you're hoping to go into, I don't think it would be worth it to quit your HUD position less than a year in to go to a full-time master's. Something part-time at night would be more reasonable, although again you will want to be super-certain that the degree is vital for you to move up because these programs are very expensive.
  2. Don't get an MPA to work on the Hill, unless you have money to burn and just want the education. Have you looked at the backgrounds of people who are currently in positions you might want? I deal with a lot of Congressional staffers for work. Those in the 22-35 range typically have no more than a bachelor's degree. If they have an advanced degree, it's usually a JD. And no matter what, the salary is pretty terrible.
  3. My GPA wasn't much better than yours, and my work experience was decent but less international than yours. I rocked the GREs and ended up at SAIS with a significant scholarship. These programs aren't as competitive as you think. Also, for what it's worth, Peace Corps gives you a huge advantage because you get preferential hiring for the federal government. This significantly boosts your chances of prestigious employment post-grad school, which admissions committee members know and see as a major asset.
  4. Of course the director of a program told you the degree is useful. How old are you, and what is your current job? What kind of program do you think you could get into? These are important factors. There are certain career paths where a master's (any master's, an MPA will do) is really important to moving up. The problem is the price tag of the degree in relation to its potential to boost your earning potential. If you're already working at a low level in the nonprofit or gov sectors, and have been explicitly told you need a master's to move up, then I would go for the degree as cheaply as you possibly can. But if you go straight from undergrad with no real work experience, you will probably find yourself starting off at an entry-level position once you graduate regardless, only now you'll have a big debt load to pay off and way less flexibility in terms of career paths than you did two years earlier.
  5. This part could not be more true. It's important to remember that this isn't law school or med school where the degree is going to give you a credential that opens up previously inaccessible employment options. Nor is it like an elite MBA where the job market assigns it a very high value, whatever the merits of that may be. In my current office, I'd say 2/3 of people under 35 have master's (that figure drops to about 1/4 for people over 35, by the way, which says a lot about the contemporary US job market), but only about half are in public policy or IR. Most people I know who went straight through from undergrad are now in positions they could have gotten without the master's, with a salary to match. Maybe that makes sense if money isn't a concern, or if the person was unable to get a full-time job after undergrad. But it sounds like OP is in a good position to get an entry-level gig somewhere and then work his or her way up. The grad programs will always be there to apply to later if desired. And what @mapiau said about softer skills one learns on the job is also spot on. Again, an internship is just not comparable (spoken as someone who always excelled in internships but still had a lot to learn at my first full-time job).
  6. Unless you can get a full ride, don't go. You may think you know what you want, but even the best internships do not adequately prepare you for what it's like to have a full-time office job where you're doing the same thing for years on end. It sounds like you'd be in a great position to get a job with a non-profit or local government agency after you graduate. Do this for a year or three and you'll have a much better idea of whether that kind of career suits you. You'll also have a stronger application and a better shot at getting $$$. You don't to plunge yourself 50k or - god for bid - 100k+ into debt only to discover that you really don't like the career path you chose at age 21.
  7. Damn, sounds like that author had an axe to grind. I have plenty of criticisms of policy programs and I thought the article brought up some interesting points, like the trend of policy students preferring the private sector, and the perhaps too-cozy relationship between HKS and some powerful people (I witnessed this to a degree at SAIS). But the tone was really over-the-top, and some of the logical leaps were a bit specious. The article argued that HKS has somehow lost its way, but it never really defined what this superior prior era was, other than suggesting there might have been fewer econ courses back then - which is not a good thing, IMHO. It's not an indictment of HKS that a few of its students later went on to do bad things. The author specifically mentioned Donald Heathfield, the Russian spy - well he fooled the US government into giving him citizenship while posing as a native-born Canadian who mysteriously happened to have a slight slavic accident (and the citizenship process involves in-person interviews, for the record), and Harvard revoked his degree after the arrest. Mentioning Heathfield twice as some kind of black mark against HKS just seems like mudslinging. I'm also not sure how the traditional MPP program having a 20% acceptance rate versus the law school's 16% somehow means that HKS has "abandoned America." The one-year mid-career program that the author speculates may have an acceptance rate closer to 50% probably is a prestige vehicle/cash cow, but that's true of a lot of similar one-year professional programs (see: the executive MBA). Not great, but not damning evidence that HKS has lost its way, in my view. I think the article actually missed an opportunity to delve into how HKS and other policy programs have changed over time without all the cheap shots. The degree's price tag could have been discussed in more depth, as @MaxwellAlum mentioned, as well as the slow, arduous federal hiring process. Those two things combined are what drove me to the private sector - I have friends who got Presidential Management Fellowships who still weren't placed in full-time fed roles a year after graduation because of bureaucracy and security clearance BS. It could have also discussed the proliferation of government contractors in greater depth - many of my friends work in the "private sector" but spend all their time on government contracts. In the case of development contractors, they're often making less money than they would be if they were working directly for USAID, so the decision to go private is hardly one motivated by greed. And unless I missed it, I didn't see comparisons of enrollment figures between now and 20, 30, 40 years ago. I would bet that HKS has expanded pretty rapidly since then, and this I could see as a real criticism of the school, as well as other policy programs. By the end of my time at SAIS, I felt that the bottom 10-20% of the class could have easily been cut without any negative effects on classroom discussion (in some cases, there might have been an improvement), and watching many people struggle to find employment after we graduated only underscored that belief. Even at a relatively elite master's program, there was still a fair amount of dead weight, but the school probably needed those students' tuition dollars, which often come via loans. I think it's ethically dubious to take advantage of young people's idealism in this way. These schools admit so many students who will spend the rest of their lives drowning in debt for degrees that get then mid-5-figure salaries in one of the highest cost of living cities in the country.
  8. A lot of topics have been covered here, and I'll add one more to consider. I think you're vastly overestimating the prestige of Cornell CIPA's program. Yes, Cornell is a well-known school generally speaking. But in US policy circles, CIPA is a decidedly second tier program in an oversaturated field. At the risk of causing offense, that's probably why they gave such a hefty scholarship to a candidate with one year of work experience, a below-average GPA, and an unspectacular GRE score. If you were just trying to get a US brand name school on you resume to go back to Pakistan, it might work out (lots of Chinese students do something similar at various non-elite programs). Or if you were already working in the US and needed a master's just to check a box for a very specific career goal, it could be worth it. But given your stated goals (finding a job that will allow you to stay in the US long-term) and your lack of practical experience, I think you should proceed very cautiously. There won't be that many US employers who are going to be thirsty enough for CIPA grads that they're willing to sponsor you for an H1b visa, unless you have a really unique skillset (usually something quanty). That leaves you with international multilaterals where you can get a diplomatic visa, but those organizations tend to recruit from schools like Harvard, SAIS, SIPA, etc. and/or are extremely hard to break into even for people with elite degrees and incredible work experience (I'm thinking of the UN here). And finally, it's a major uphill battle to get into any US doctorate program with policy or IR master's, as @ExponentialDecay suggests. This transition would only be made harder by coming from a lower-ranked program.
  9. Of course. I think most people going for MPP/IR degrees are looking to find meaning and impact in their work. But some do so at their long-term financial peril. Take it from someone who's on the other side. Most of my SAIS friends who have debt routinely talk about the financial stress they're under. In many cases, that debt has prevented them from taking the exact kind of jobs that they supposedly got the degree for (i.e. non-profit and/or public service-type jobs). It's really easy to think you'll just "figure it out" after graduation, but if you take out 120k in loans for a degree with an average income of 65k/yr or so in the private sector, any way out besides marrying rich or winning the lottery is going to be pretty painful. Let me put it another way re: the joint-MBA discussion. Would you rather work for a development consulting firm and earn $45-50k/yr while paying down grad school debt, or do development work for a bigger consulting firm in their federal or government relations practices, earning $100k+ for the exact same work? Development consulting firms like Ashoka and Chemonics (which pay $45-55k starting salaries) are for-profit businesses, by the way. That's where most MA-only SAIS grads go to work, while those with dual degrees transition seamlessly into bigger consultancies with development arms.
  10. Yeah. I also think it's really easy to dismiss money concerns when you're applying for these programs in your early-to-mid-20s. $60k/yr sounded like a ton of money to me when I decided to go to SAIS. At that point, I was happy to be living with roommates in a cheaper city in a building with no laundry facilities. Socializing usually meant going to friends' houses or a dive bar. I actually started closer to 70k after SAIS, but it didn't really feel like that much after higher rent in DC, loan payments, having to buy a fancier work wardrobe, increased "adult" expenditures (like my parents no longer occasionally paying for stuff, getting half a dozen wedding invitations every year, and socializing becoming more expensive now that the default is dinner/drinks at nicer restaurants), etc. And now that I'm pushing 30, I'm starting to have thoughts like - will I ever be able to afford a condo, let alone a house? Will I ever be able to have kids, and if so, will I be able to help them with college considering I'll be paying off my own loans until my late 30s? (Now imagine that question for people who go on 25-year repayment plans)....
  11. I think this is a great choice - I sort of wish I had done the dual degree. Without exception, my friends who did the joint MA/MBA at SAIS have the highest salaries, usually for pretty interesting rolls. Unfortunately, there are very few jobs where an MPA/MA-IR/MPP is preferred over an MBA, but many jobs where the MBA is preferred over an MPA/MA-IR/MPP.
  12. I explain the differences between DC and Bologna on the first page of this thread. When I was in Bologna, the IDev concentration there seemed to be quite strong, but not sure if that's changed over the past 3-4 years. On the whole, Bologna felt more like a residential academic grad school experience, whereas DC felt more like a professional program where everyone was rushing off to internships. If you're interested in taking classes or languages related to Asia, or if you want to focus on econ/finance, DC is probably the better choice.
  13. Yes, I definitely know people taking advantage of IBR to make their day-to-day lives manageable - as far as I'm aware, there are no SAIS grads sleeping under a bridge! But with the exception of those who qualify for PSLF, I think a lot of them are going to feel pretty bitter when that massive tax bill comes due in 20-25 years. Depending on the loan amount, IBR might not even cover the interest payment, allowing the total amount owed to actually increase over time... Again, my intention is not to make people feel bad about the debt they've already taken out, but more to warn prospective students who haven't yet signed the dotted line.
  14. I'm from the US and don't work for the World Bank, so this is not personal bitterness. I'm just repeating what friends have said after a beer or three. Perhaps I've gotten a bit carried away, but I think it doesn't hurt to counter the narrative a lot of these schools push that signing away your life to Navient is no big deal because you're going to be changing the future of the world with your prestigious and deeply meaningful multilateral job. I came out of SAIS with a relatively low level of debt and on the whole think it was worth it - I would not have my current job or salary without it. But I don't think I'd feel the same if i had 120k in debt, and could never in good faith tell someone to pay sticker unless he/she's independently wealthy.
  15. Very quanty undergrad and native-level fluency in three in-demand languages. ETA: also the kind of person who doesn't mine occasionally staying at the office until 11 p.m. to help the boss
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