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Application decision: adding an MBA to SAIS MA


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I'm headed to SAIS in the fall and am very excited about the program. However, some posts on this forum, have me scared about what my job prospects will look like afterwards, and so I am considering whether or not to apply to the dual-degree programs with Wharton/Tuck/Darden that SAIS offers during the 1st year of the program. Writing to get anyone's thoughts on these programs, where people generally land after them, and whether applying one would make sense given circumstances and interests.

In terms of background, I did a dual-degree program at a Top 10 university in International Studies & Business. I was more interested in an IR-focused career at the time, but I ended up at a big consulting firm instead, where I've spent the past 5 years and am at the post-MBA level now. I am going back to SAIS with the intention of exploring the alternative career paths I was originally interested in: government service (e.g., Foreign Service), or at a multilateral organization (e.g., World Bank/IMF). If neither of these works out, I would also be OK with ending up back in consulting, ideally in a more policy-focused firm/practice than I'm in at present.

As I see it, pros/cons of pursuing an MBA are as follows:

Pros:

1) Job prospects / salary potential, should I want to go back to the private sector.

2) That's really the main pro. I would probably find some of the courses at an MBA in leadership / organizational behavior to be interesting, but these are things that I think would be learnable without paying MBA prices.

Cons:

1) Cost: I have a $35K/year scholarship from SAIS and some external funding worth $20K/year; I therefore expect that SAIS will cost me ~50-60K out-of-pocket over the course of 2 years. If I were to take away one semester of SAIS and add 3 semesters for an MBA, that figure likely jumps to ~$200K total, assuming no additional scholarship money. This is the biggest con.

2) I currently have an UG degree from Wharton + 5 years and a post-MBA title in consulting, so I'm not sure how much value an MBA would add in the private sector, assuming that employers post-SAIS look at prior experience in addition to the SAIS degree.

3) Level of interest: I am significantly more interested in the IR content/program experience of SAIS than the business content of an MBA.

The above probably makes it clear that I am leaning towards not doing a dual-degree, but I appreciate any thoughts as to whether there's something I'm not thinking about / not thinking about clearly here. I recognize that this is an incredibly fortunate position for me to be in, and thanks in advance!

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I am actually in a VERY similar position to you. I did a UG undergrad at a top b school with 5 years experience & post-MBA title. I'm happy to see someone like me in these threads because you're right...some of these threads freak me out here, but then I step away from gradcafe world and feel content with my decision! Happy to chat more offline if you'd like!

I've gone back and forth significantly on whether to apply to mba programs//dual degrees. In most cases, this felt very redunant in light of my personal UG business background. I think because of your experience and UG business background, it will be fine. I'm sure MOST of your colleagues aren't going back to b-school, and I'm sure you know that most of them are quite successful without ever getting an MBA. My thought process is...no one can take your past 5 years career away from you. You have that on your resume and are already very marketable with or without this next degree. If you're like me, you're probably going back to this type of a program given your personal passions and interest. You're going to specialize, and I think that is a talk-track in itself. I'm not sure the 200K cost and time investment really makes sense for your background because you already have your private sector experience to rely on. 

Where I think people sometimes struggle here and leave some negative feedback is because of a) not having a plan b) not having sufficient marketable experience c) accepting lower paying jobs with significant debt -- those things leave anyone with negative thoughts on any program. Don't let that happen to you. Go prepared because nothing anywhere is handed to you (no matter what degree you pursue). Coming out of Wharton, I'm sure you know that!

 

Edited by worldleader2018
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The fears over getting a job on this forum are a bit overstated - the difficulty highlighted here really applies to international students and people who are unemployable because of some exogenous factor, like being really picky or being unable to hold eye contact with anyone but their mother - and your consulting experience will be a definite plus on the job market. That said, a lot of people who go into international development drop out the moment they understand what these career paths are actually like. The downside risk here is that you will realize by the end of your first semester (at which point applications are probably past due) that the jobs you can get in this sector aren't worth your effort. Further, I wouldn't waste your 2 years on learning IR - it's not useful in international development, and in diplomacy only nominally so. The useful classes at SAIS and such will be roughly the same as offered at an MBA program.

If you can be bothered to, I'd apply and see how much funding you get. You have good experience so I don't think you'll strike out (also, I'd investigate whether SAIS allows you to dual-degree with a program outside of those three on a case to case basis, as many schools do).

Edited by ExponentialDecay
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Thanks, both. I mean, that's part of the reason that I'm doing the degree--I think I'm interested in these career paths, but it's impossible to know that unless you've done them. I see this as an opportunity to intern in 1-2 organizations of interest, and if I don't like either of them as much as I think I would, hopefully the same private sector recruiting opportunities would be open to me post-SAIS as now (I'm also trying to negotiate a return offer with my current company; we'll see how that goes).

However, when you say "the useful classes at SAIS will be roughly the same as offered at an MBA program," which "useful classes" at an MBA program are you referring to? From all of my interactions with people who did MBA's, the general sentiment I hear is that the classes aren't the useful part of an MBA, but rather the recruiting opportunities (and, frankly, the signalling value to employers of having a top-tier MBA). I imagine this would be doubly true for me given that my academic and professional background is much stronger on the business/finance side than it is in anything related to IR or international development. I guess the questions for me, then, are a) whether the private sector opportunities with 5 years consulting + SAIS + MBA are much better than 5 years consulting + SAIS, and b) whether that's enough to be worth the additional 1 year opportunity cost + 3 semesters MBA tuition.

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I also second applying and seeing what funding packages are offered your way. MBA programs generally have a LOT more funding available than MPP/MPA programs. 

I am going the dual MBA/MPP route and have a similar background to you (4 years healthcare consulting, 1.5 years at a Fortune 7 company). I chose to add the MBA for similar concerns about job security/selection and for “insurance”. Many of the roles I’m currently interested in specify they prefer MBA, MPH, or MHA candidates—even those within the government and public sector space. My MBA program is unfunded at the moment but I plan on applying to various scholarship programs to lower the cost. I’m doing the MPP because it interests me and will help me get my foot in the door in the public sector space, while the MBA is more insurance for longer term career prospects. 

In terms of the courses being the same - I can see what the previous poster was getting at. A lot of the skills and management emphasis will be similar—both MBA and MPP will teach you financial skills (eg Econ, statistics, finance) and management skills (leadership, ethics, how to work in a team,  communications, etc). The key difference is the setting in which the above is applied (largely private sector orientation in MBA vs public sector services in MPP). 

Either way, I do not think you can go wrong! Happy to chat more offline if needed. 

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  • 1 month later...
On 6/26/2019 at 2:57 AM, JustOneQuickQ said:

In terms of background, I did a dual-degree program at a Top 10 university in International Studies & Business. I was more interested in an IR-focused career at the time, but I ended up at a big consulting firm instead, where I've spent the past 5 years and am at the post-MBA level now. I am going back to SAIS with the intention of exploring the alternative career paths I was originally interested in: government service (e.g., Foreign Service), or at a multilateral organization (e.g., World Bank/IMF). If neither of these works out, I would also be OK with ending up back in consulting, ideally in a more policy-focused firm/practice than I'm in at present.

 

I'm a SAISer (went to Bologna), went into government service, and worked at the World Bank for a short stint. First of all, you can and should apply to jobs in all of those areas of interest right now. I can tell you if you want to be a US Foreign Service Officer, apply for the next window, because the process is long. You'd be fine for the econ track and, depending on your background, the others. I've never gone through the process, but I imagine the same for the UN and the World Bank. 

What specific outcomes are you interested in? I highly doubt you would get nothing, especially with your background, but things may just take some time. 

Edited by dft309
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