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Hi guys,

I am fortunate to be accepted to these two programs but I have a hard time deciding. 

How does MPA/ID and SAIS IDEV compare in terms of quality, alumni network, and career prospects?  I want to work in development consulting or IFIs after graduation.  

At SAIS, I received 35k funding/year.  I have some savings so I can graduate with relatively little debt.  I plan on taking the development economics track (which seems to be quant-heavy, but likely not as rigorous as the MPA/ID program). 

I know MPA/ID is a great program but the problem is the lack of funding (around 10k/year, I tried negotiating already but to no avail). However, the Harvard brand might open more doors for me if I decide to work in Asia later on.  I guess my question is:  Is MPA/ID worth the extra $$?  I am interested to hear what you guys think, thanks!  



Edited by John Sebastian
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MPAID is far better respected at IFIs. In terms of curriculum, SAIS offers undergraduate-level economics and methods courses without much exposure to the theory behind what you're doing (which leads to people not understanding what they're doing), there's no opportunity to take math and econ department courses because it's a separate campus, so if you're aiming to do serious quantitative work you'll struggle there and afterwards. I know that at least a few of the alums from the most quanty specialization within IDEV get jobs that a good economics major can get out of undergrad. But if you don't want to do quantitative work, SAIS is fine. In terms of cohort they're very different but imo this is a matter of preference. The MPAID intake is highly constrained, it's mostly people who have some to substantial work experience in development (that isn't teaching English), and the alumni network is smaller (it's also a younger program) but they're all mostly well-positioned. SAIS is very mixed. Even in IDEV there's a lot of undergrads and people with 0 quantitative background. It's a huge cohort (IDEV is ~100 people and the whole class is ~500, afaik) and most of them will be doing things that are totally irrelevant to your interests whereas at MPAID, everyone is interested in evidence-based development policy.

MPAID will funnel you into the optimal formative path for an evidence-based development policy professional; you can accomplish something similar at SAIS, the opportunities are out there, but you have to find them yourself. Don't get me wrong, SAIS will get you an interview for a technical position - but a lot of the time you'll have to prove that you're not a monkey. As an illustrative example, this subject came up in conversation with a friend who is a hiring manager at one of the Fed economics agencies, and (surprisingly) he said he does interview SAIS grads for analyst roles, but apparently a lot of them can't pass the interview because they don't know what domain is. At IFIs, there's more MPAID grads going through the prestigious hiring pipelines than SAIS, but there's a simultaneity problem between Harvard and the background/experiences they had going into Harvard (given there's also a lot of MPAID grads stuck in eternal consultant limbo, you guess where that leans). Ultimately, either one is a Name, either one will funnel you into IFIs - and once you're there it really depends on what you do rather than your resume.

Regarding the million dollar question, I don't know, dude. The MPAID is the only program I would personally even consider taking loans for, but I have my biases and I'm not sure they're rational. On the other hand, 35k at SAIS is an okay deal (ask for more money!!!) assuming you can finance the living expenses, and if your profile is strong enough for MPAID, I think the kids-who-get-into-Harvard-do-just-as-well-if-they-go-to-Podunk adage applies. It's an agonizing but a good choice to have. GL.

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Hi John,

I am in a very similar situation, choosing between my MPA/ID offer with 0 aid (with 10k of external scholarship) and the MPP at Harris with 20k (+10k again).

I considered many things, but after speking with several people (current students at both schools, alumni, other people in development) I've chosen to go on the expensive route. I think the rigour and uniqueness of the MPA/ID really swayed me towards this decision, I would have probably not chosen Harvard if it was for their MPP. I am happy to discuss this further with you if you want to DM me.


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