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fletcher_grad93

Going to one of these "Government Affairs" programs has ruined my life. Do not make my mistake

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I remember being you, eager public service hopeful, reading TheGradCafe some two years ago after having been accepted to Fletcher. I was blind with the supposed prestige of the degree and all the great experiences I was sure to have in the program. Now, two years later, I can honestly say attending Fletcher was the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life. I am $100k+ in debt, have learned nothing that couldn't be learned for free on the Internet, and am about to graduate with no job; this outcome is common among my cohort. I have no one to blame but myself, I was warned about the worthlessness of these sorts of "policy" degrees, but I chose to ignore the warnings to chase some silly phantom ideal of prestige. Icing on the cake?: almost nobody even knows what a Fletcher is outside of IR.

I cannot stress this enough: if you are not independently wealthy, these degrees are not for you. They will not open doors. They will not allow you to put food on the table or provide for your family. They will certainly allow you to obtain a pittance-paying job at a non-profit, or, in the absolute best case scenario, a somewhat dull but steady government job, but that's it. You will not be more competitive than a garden variety MBA, no matter what any admissions officer tells you. 

I cannot even begin to tell you the farce that is the Fletcher Office of Career Services. I've been told to apply to dozens of jobs on Indeed.com by the career counselors; that is the sum total of their advice, the so-called "Fletcher Advantage." These degrees do not attract top tier companies and only rarely do organizations come to campus to recruit. Most of the internships available are unpaid. These schools do not have special connections or networking cachet. They will not get your foot in the door somewhere doing some unicorn analysis work or the like. Nobody will respect you for having a policy/international relations grad degree. You will be outclassed in the private and public sector by MBAs, JDs, and people with certifications like CFA and PMP.

I know many of you will write me off as one bitter voice of gloom and doom. To be fair, I am quite bitter. I had a good job, no debt, and a generally decent standard of living before I came to Fletcher. I selfishly traded all that away to chase prestige, to open doors to a brilliant career of international relations, or so I thought. These careers largely do not exist and/or are incredibly hard to get. There is no career path that is magically unlocked with a policy/IR degree. None. You want to be a Foreign Service Officer? You don't need a graduate degree, and even if you feel you do, you certainly don't need an expensive private one.

The real world simply doesn't care that you can write a dozen page paper on the status of country X in an evening. The real world doesn't want to appreciate the nuance of your supposed interdisciplinary education. The real world wants you to fit into a nice little box like "MBA-haver" or "lawyer." I know, I know, you love IR, you feel you're too cerebral for an MBA, you don't want to go to law school. I totally get it. I was there, and not all that long ago. But life isn't fair, and, I'll say this again: unless you are not independently wealthy, these degrees are not for you.

 I hope at least one person reads this and heeds my warning. Do not go to these schools unless you can get a heavy discount. Please don't end up like me with no job and huge debt. It isn't worth it at all. I wish I had never gone to Fletcher and regret my decision to do so daily.

Please learn from my mistake.

Signed, 
A Fletcher grad

Edited by fletcher_grad93

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Well, I'll bite. It would help this discussion if you got some things out of the way, for the sake of honesty. Did you perform well at Fletcher? Would your professors speak well of you? Were any of the unpaid internships at prestigious organizations or agencies? Did you take any (Why not)? You only mention the State Department, what type of work were you expecting to walk into? What kind of money were you expecting to make and exactly how were you expecting your MA to impact your salary? How quickly are you expecting to get some of the higher paying jobs in the IR industry (intelligence, private intelligence, or various language related analytical work)?

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I don't have the time or energy to properly engage with this post at the moment, but there is nothing to prevent an IR grad from getting the PMP. In fact it's a great complement to an MA in International Affairs; I'm studying for it right now. MA in International Affairs + security clearance (which you can get from one of those unpaid internships at State Dept.) + a bit of international development experience + PMP can = a very nice career. 

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ayyyyyy naming names! Spicy! Srsly tho I like this new development. I hope future don't-go ranters take up this tradition instead of vaguebooking about "a top IR school".

I wouldn't dismiss OP out of hand. I have no experience with Fletcher (to add salt to the wound, I haven't even heard of it until I started reading this board), but speaking to top IR schools generally, they do provide a very general education that's not worth the sticker price. I wouldn't say these degrees are only for the wealthy - there is a non-trivial number of people on full scholarships, whether from the government, an employer, or the school itself, getting them - but there's definitely a lot of considerations for anyone thinking of getting one, some of which OP touches on. Firstly, if your first response to breaking into the field is to get a graduate degree, that's probably a bad start. Getting your foot in the door doesn't mean you'll easily get a job. Secondly, taking on large debt often contradicts the goals for which you'd be getting the degree. If you want to work in development, you need field experience. That usually means doing twoish years at some shitty NGO in sub-Saharan Africa making shit money (it's not the 70s, nobody's gonna pay you an expat salary unless you're ridiculously skilled). You can't do that with any kind of USD-denominated loans. Thirdly, it's finishing school. People who get the best outcomes from IR grad school are like investment bankers transitioning into impact investment. I see the utility for humanities majors looking for an analytical skillset: the better option is a specialized analytical masters, but those are taught for the benefit of people who like math, whereas policy math is taught for humanities majors. You can get a decent skillset especially if you select based on quantitative exposure and apply yourself, but the transition will be easier, I think. For everyone else, eh. Apply for jobs.

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The idea "I went to X school means I will graduate with Y job at Z pay once I graduate" is silly.  No one if any professional career cares where you went or who you know. It's all about the bottom line, what can you do that others cannot.  Employers, especially within international relations, only care about one's abilities and degree of expertise in your chosen field. Those at the highest end of that field will have opportunities simply because they have abilities/experiences others do not.  The name of the school is not a factor in their evaluation.  The school and one's cohort are simply a network to seek out those opportunities.  Don't put these schools on a pestle. Grad school is an investment for access to those networks and resources.  What you do with those resources is on you as a student. 

Prime example:DC schools. They are valuable because of proximity to opportunity and that is reflected in the premium students pay in their tuition. You're living, working and studying with lots of individuals interested in getting their start in the same general field - foreign relations/politics. Obviously top tier schools have been at this game for a long time and have developed relationships within this community (private/public/whatever) for their students to pursue. Use the schools as a tool to get the skills you want/access to those opportunities. That does not mean it's worth going into debt just for name brand sticker.  If some school is offering huge financial aid or a full ride, then take the free money!  Even if you're comfortable going into some degree of debt for your education, take the money a school is offering and use your cash for additional training/certifications/whatever.  

Bottom line: grad school is an investment and we, as prospective students, need to assess these schools on that merit.  How long will in take to get a return on our investment.  

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