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somewhatslightlydazed

Small vs. Large Program (Princeton vs. Harvard for MPP)

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Hi all! Hoping to hear any thoughts you have on the two programs I'm deciding between:

I've been accepted to Master of Public Policy/Public Affairs programs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and Harvard's Kennedy School. Princeton offered me full tuition and a $29k/year stipend, while Harvard offered me full tuition and a $10k/year stipend. So Princeton would be free, and Harvard would cost about $18k/year (which I can cover with savings).

So I'm leaning Princeton because it's free, but I'm still slightly conflicted because the vibes and opportunities are so different. Though some things are program-specific, I think it mostly comes down to the benefits of a smaller program (Princeton) vs a larger one (Harvard).

Pros for Princeton: There are only 60-70 MPA students entering each year, so the class sizes are super small and it's easy to get into any classes of interest and connect with professors. Because the program is so intimate, the school is able to devote a lot of time to each student in terms of academic and professional advising and connecting students to interesting research/internship opportunities.

Pros for Harvard: Because there are 200+ MPP students entering each year, the class sizes are bigger in general but the course selection is much broader. Specifically of interest to me, there are 10+ courses on human rights policy vs. only one at Princeton. They also have the Carr Center for Human Rights, which does a lot of research that I'd be interested in supporting (but if any positions open up, I'd be competing with a much larger group of people with them). Basically with Harvard, the number of academic and professional opportunities is larger, but each specific opportunity may be harder to access because there are so many other students.

What do you all think about the merits of a small, intimate program where you don't have as many classes/professors/research projects of interest but you have a lot more community support vs a larger program where there are a lot more opportunities but it's easier to get lost in the crowd? 

Thanks for sharing any thoughts you have! ūüėɬ†

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First of all, congrats! Just my two cents here, I think it depends on 2 things: 1) your financial situation and 2) your personality.

1) Both are great programs. Even though you can afford the $18k, it doesn't always mean you should. $18k is on the lower end of graduate school price tags, but that's still a good chunk of money. Long-term, how will this affect you/your financial stability? I reckon that either way you will have a great return on investment but just keep that in mind. 

2) Are you a go-getter/competitive individual or do you prefer a more collegial environment? It sounds like there is more opportunity to do what you would like to do at Harvard, but you would need to be actively seeking and pursuing those opportunities the whole time. Perhaps reflect on the size of the college you attended and how you felt about that. On the flip-side, there are more people at Harvard, but there are also more opportunities to go around (I doubt *everyone* in the program is interested in human rights policy). Plus, you have the chance to study alongside people who are interested in the same thing and learn from them--that's pretty awesome.

 

Personally, especially if you are not planning to do any further schooling, I would lean towards Harvard for the opportunities and the alignment of interests. It sounds like an awesome chance to get your foot in the door of whatever it is that you want to do. Good luck!

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Look at the curriculum and required course sequences. There may be 10+ courses in human rights at Harvard, but how many of them will you actually be able to take, after you factor in required courses and any divisional or special requirements?

However, I will also say that I wouldn't take size as a sole determination of how personalized your experience will be, especially at well-resourced universities like Harvard and Princeton. Harvard may have more students, but they may also have more faculty members, greater personnel numbers in the career center, bigger spaces, etc. You may get just as much or even more personal attention at Harvard as you would at Princeton as long as they have the resources for that. I also wouldn't assume that accessing things may be harder, because your classmates' interests may be much more diverse. For example, Harvard may have 200 MPP students but they may make up their class so that you've got 50 interested in human rights, 30 interested in public finance, 70 interested in development, etc. So for the human rights-related stuff, you may be competing with the same amount or fewer students as you would at Princeton - but for more resources. Also, 200 is still a small enough number that I don't think you'll get "lost in the crowd" unless you are an especially timid, shy person.

If you're not going into any debt I'd say it's really up to you and your preferences. Both are competitive and excellent programs. $18K is quite a bit to leave in your savings, but it could be worth it for you. Personally, I know that for a master's program I would prefer a bigger program with more opportunities - more networking, and more chances to really personalize my experience.

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First off, congratulations you have made it into 2 of the best policy programs in the world with considerable funding. At this point you are well ahead of almost anyone in terms of getting policy(gov), NGO, private sector jobs, or even a future PHD. While you obviously cant go wrong with either school, I do think it depends on what you want to do in the future. For a PHD it might not matter as much because both schools are such top ranked programs. For other jobs, the Harvard MPP, probably has the edge because of its slighty better reputation and bigger alumni network that will connect you with more jobs. Harvard MPP graduates, for example, are some of the few  MPP graduates who consistently place at top consulting firms like Bain, Mckinsey, and BCG.I think the type of experience you have going in plays a small part as well. For program size, like you said, Princeton is a little more intimate, but Harvard classes will probably still be pretty small. I would try to look up class descriptions and past syllabi to see what program is more interesting. At this point your basically splitting hairs.

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Hey all! I’m bumping this topic because I am in the same situation as @somewhatslightlydazed this year. I’m having trouble deciding between these two schools since the in-person admitted student day events have been cancelled.

If anyone else has more insight on these schools (e.g. vibes/culture, student life, opportunities), I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts!

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@limeorange, international development with a focus on democracy and governance! Based on that, it seems like HKS would make the most sense, but I love what I've read about WWS's community. I know I should wait until the virtual admitted student day events for more information, but I feel that April 15th is going to come real fast, especially with everything that's happening right now.

What about you? Which program are you leaning towards more?

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@pillow I'm also leaning towards WWS. The characteristics of the two programs are so different and that makes it extra difficult (although I have no doubt that I'll be happy in different ways regardless of where I end up!).

I know many consider the geographic location of the two schools (and some people seem to have qualms about Princeton's relatively quieter vibe) but I actually like that I'll have closer access to New York and DC. Also, the tight-knit and smaller community at WWS is probably what makes it possible for the advisors and professors to give more attention to individual student (although this is what I've read up from forums -- would greatly appreciate if anyone can share what they know/have heard from past/current students!). 

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Posted (edited)
On 3/29/2019 at 2:23 PM, somewhatslightlydazed said:

Hi all! Hoping to hear any thoughts you have on the two programs I'm deciding between:

I've been accepted to Master of Public Policy/Public Affairs programs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and Harvard's Kennedy School. Princeton offered me full tuition and a $29k/year stipend, while Harvard offered me full tuition and a $10k/year stipend. So Princeton would be free, and Harvard would cost about $18k/year (which I can cover with savings).

So I'm leaning Princeton because it's free, but I'm still slightly conflicted because the vibes and opportunities are so different. Though some things are program-specific, I think it mostly comes down to the benefits of a smaller program (Princeton) vs a larger one (Harvard).

Pros for Princeton: There are only 60-70 MPA students entering each year, so the class sizes are super small and it's easy to get into any classes of interest and connect with professors. Because the program is so intimate, the school is able to devote a lot of time to each student in terms of academic and professional advising and connecting students to interesting research/internship opportunities.

Pros for Harvard: Because there are 200+ MPP students entering each year, the class sizes are bigger in general but the course selection is much broader. Specifically of interest to me, there are 10+ courses on human rights policy vs. only one at Princeton. They also have the Carr Center for Human Rights, which does a lot of research that I'd be interested in supporting (but if any positions open up, I'd be competing with a much larger group of people with them). Basically with Harvard, the number of academic and professional opportunities is larger, but each specific opportunity may be harder to access because there are so many other students.

What do you all think about the merits of a small, intimate program where you don't have as many classes/professors/research projects of interest but you have a lot more community support vs a larger program where there are a lot more opportunities but it's easier to get lost in the crowd? 

Thanks for sharing any thoughts you have! ūüėɬ†

I want to highlight something that more people should focus on considering MPP programs, but for some reason not enough talk is about it. That is the flexibility to change how you want to apply your policy interests and the associated job that might come with it. (Background, I went to MPP in Georgetown and my sister did HKS MPP). Nearly everyone (emphasis on everyone) I know who did MPP had some level of change (sometimes multiple times) of what they were interested in doing career wise going in vs. what they were shooting for career wise on their way out.

Three examples of how I see this manifest.
A: Unexpectedly liking a policy topic area: My sister's best friend at HKS ended up doing Nuclear energy policy. Didn't care for it going in, but somehow just fell on it, and got a job in it afterwards.

B: Same social impact goals, different policy area: One of my friends from MPP went in interested in Ed Policy, but then changed to housing. 

C : Same policy area - different ways of achieving it: I knew people who were once interested in international development at NGO or research institute, who realized they enjoyed approaching it from a technology solutions perspective 

Why do I paint these examples? The benefit with HKS, is a strong level of career flexibility via your graduate school experience. You have Boston (internship / project opportunities, a wider ranger of available professors, lots of other professional schools to collaborate with (public health, design, law, business, med, and etc.). If you think you are open to exploring new career opportunities, then HKS is the right answer for you. 

If you know 100% what you want to do post grad school and it is traditional policy school job + don't think you will change, then take the money at WWS and be awesome. 

Edited by GradSchoolGrad

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