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MA in Education: Harvard vs Stanford vs Columbia vs Berkeley vs UT Austin

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I hope everyone is doing well in these strange times. I found this site quite useful when I was applying to programs, so I thought I would ask everyone's advice now that I've heard back. I would appreciate feedback from people in education, but I'm open to any constructive feedback.

I am an educator looking to get my Master's in Education so I can teach Secondary Social Studies, so I applied all around the country. I got accepted to Harvard, Stanford, Teacher's College, UC Berkeley, and UT Austin (I got rejected from UCLA). I honestly didn't think I would have so many options, so it's difficult for me to settle on one program -- each one has something unique I like about it. I want the program to have similar values as me and emphasize social justice / equity in education. But also the name/prestige does matter a little bit -- one of the reasons I am applying for a MA in education instead of just doing ARL is the hope that I will get a better salary / job options. Given my concerns, here is a breakdown of the schools I am considering to help give a sense of my thought process/priorities:

  • Harvard: #1 Education School according to US News. The program has a new director that prioritizes social justice, so that puts me at ease a bit. Not a huge fan of Boston, but the summer semester has been moved onlin,e and it's only a year-long program so it's not a huge issue. The main draw here is the name and the opportunity to work with scholars like Howard Gardner, who developed Mutliple Intelligence Theory. Never been to the campus though and won't have the chance to visit.
  • Stanford: #3 Education School according to US News. I like California (close to home and my partner), but Palo Alto is one of the most expensive places in world... I'm OK with staying on campus, and it's only a year as well, but I am a bit worried about the lack of diversity in the students I will be working with as part of my school placement (they even mentioned that this was increasingly a problem in the video information session). It's a well renowned program though, and I like being close to the Bay and other nature areas. They've already given me a $5000 fellowship too.
  • Teacher's College (Columbia): #8 Education School according to US News. Columbia is my Alma Mater so it was a natural choice to apply here. The main advantage would be that I'm already familiar with the campus, the city, and have even met some of the professors during undergraduate. However, I'd also like to try something new; New York can be exhausting, and I'm not sure how confident I am moving there now with it being the center of the epidemic in the U.S.
  • UC Berkeley: #20 Education School according to US News. I think I share the most values with the folks at Berkeley, I have friends there, and I love the city of Berkeley and the Bay. However, it's the lowest "ranked" program of all the ones that I got into, so I'm hesitant to commit fully yet. They also don't guarantee housing, so it'll be difficult to find housing in the Bay on my own, and worry about whether or not I'll need a car.
  • UT Austin: #15 Education School according to US News. This was kind of a backup/safety for me, but I actually do love Austin and have family nearby. I went to their campus visit day, and liked their campus and faculty, but their program seemed like it might not have as many resources as some of the other schools. Austin's also expensive, and they don't really offer MA students housing, and apparently public transit is not great. Right now it's low on my list of likely choices.

I tried to give a brief rundown about what excites/worries me about each option without keeping it too long. If y'all are interested, I can provide some more info. I know this is a pretty personal decision, but it would be helpful to get some unbiased advice as each program is throwing their propoganda at me. Any guidance would be apprecaited! Thanks!

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Sounds like you're between Harvard and Stanford, from what you've written! Both are fantastic schools, and it seems like it's down to, East Coast/West Coast, being close to your partner or not, and how invested the program is in social justice/diversity.

I've lived in the Austin area my whole life, and can confirm-- you will not have a great time of things if you don't have a car, or can't afford to Uber everywhere. Very fun and exciting city, but we're fairly spread out and the bus system (while improving) isn't where it needs to be. Caveat being, if you live in West Campus/Hyde Park, there's a few very centralized bus lines that will get you to campus and back, but actually exploring the city isn't as feasible.

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hello! same thought processes here. i’m currently debating between harvard, brown, and berkeley. I live in the bay so my experience will be a bit different but it’s hard because berkeley (and oakland and sf) has super radical and liberal folks in a way that I think massachusetts does too but you have to find those pockets of people out in cambridge if that’s what you’re looking for. re: housing in the bay - honestly you’ll probably have an easier time finding something nowadays. there have been a lot of people subletting for like $800 on facebook but it’s kind of sketchy/gentrify-like so that’s up to your jurisdiction. there’s also a berkeley housing google sheet going around that was emailed to us from the dept lol.

have you been able to take the HGSE virtual tour? maybe that’ll help in terms of never having been there. and while prestige is helpful, perhaps it’s good to think about future career paths too - which school will help you down the line when you may want a career switch, where do you want to grow and learn as a person, what will help you be the best educator you can be while offering you an experience to broaden your worldview. 

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Hi! I've narrowed it down to Stanford vs. Berkeley and would love to chat with you more - PM me. At this point I'm leaning 60-40 towards STEP. Let us know which you choose! For me, it comes down to these considerations:


PROS: better courses, program, syllabi. higher level of support. thoughtful, intentional teacher placement. one full-year student teaching placement. better financial aid. high level of communication and transparency. feels more welcoming. more resources.

CONS: younger, less diverse cohort. having to live in Palo Alto, fewer living options. possibly less diverse teacher placements, although I think you can advocate for a placement with more ELL students or a Title 1 school. more recent adoption of social justice lens.


PROS: more radical and progressive. history of social justice advocacy. more diverse cohort, more diverse faculty. more invigorating location and campus, less sterile than Stanford/Palo Alto. lower cost of living. arts integration and restorative justice courses.

CONS: stingy and not up-front about financial aid (how is this social justice/equity?!). two separate student teaching placements. less supportive, flexible, communicative. less thoughtful teacher placements. more disorganized. overemphasis on the Identity Statement. lacking in methods courses. less welcoming, more aggressive.

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I attended Berkeley for my MA/credential but also was admitted to STEP. I know the struggle of choosing between them, as well as the experience of navigating Berkeley's organization and funding situation. Happy to talk about my experience evaluating pros/cons of the programs.

I also taught for several years in Redwood City area afterwards, working in a school with many STEP graduates and STEP student teachers. I'd be happy to share a little about the student diversity within the schools those STEP student teachers worked in and how it compared to my experience in Berkeley/Oakland student teaching placements. Feel free to reach out if there are specific questions on your mind that I might be able to speak to.

One thing I am wondering about is the idea that Stanford is more "new to social justice" lens, which doesn't match my experience. Stanford's credential program had a longstanding and explicit social justice orientation when I applied in 2009. One of my PhD-student friends at Berkeley had taught the methods course at STEP prior to starting her doctorate, and we talked a lot about the credentialing experience I was having at Berkeley vs what she had seen and done with STEP students. Equity definitely seemed central to her work in Stanford's credential program. Berkeley's 3E program is only a couple years old (so my experience at Berkeley pre-dated their current credential program design). In my time at Berkeley, the equity/social justice lens was something I needed to seek out myself and wasn't shared as a priority or even value of everyone in my cohort, nor did it feel central to the program design (although I will say: the faculty are amazing, and I did find community in this work - it just took searching on my part and wasn't baked into the experience). However, I know the new B3E program has made intentional shifts to put equity at the center in the program design -- and I am hopeful that this new program design foregrounds equity in a more powerful and coherent way.

Both programs (and their locations) have considerable strengths and overall the Bay Area is an amazing place to live, learn, and teach. I think you can have an powerful experience that will push your growth and capacity to enact change as a teacher in either program. Congrats! 

Edited by iheartscience
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Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful responses!

I'm making my last minute decisions now. I think I've narrowed my list down to Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard and will make a final decision in the next couple days.

My current thought process:

  • Berkeley seems to center social justice the most in their messaging, but I've heard from several people that the bureaucracy can make you feel anonymous and unheard. I like the faculty whom I've met though and think the opportunity to teach in Oakland and the Bay would be a really valuable experience as someone who wants to make a difference teaching in public, urban schools. They've also offered me a $10,000 fellowship and a computer science authorization fellowship which would allow me to learn and teach CS (seems like an important skill that could give me more career opportunities). However, I'm still worried about housing, especially given the COVID situation, but breadislife's comment has made me feel a bit better about finding housing in the Bay. I was surprised to learn from iheartscience that the BE3 program is so new, and it might be better to go with a program with more resources. I don't want to regret my choice though if I end up having better job prospects and career opportunities by going to Stanford/Harvard.
  • Stanford is appealing because it's still in the Bay area, and it has a good reputation. It's kind of a medium between my other options, because it rivals Harvard's resources and status, but it's still close to Berkeley. It seems like they do have a long history of prioritizing social justice, but I am still a bit worried about the diversity in the program and the placements. I'm sure I would recieve a good education at STEP, but I'm still deciding whether it's a good fit or not.
  • Harvard seems like the obvious choice on paper, and it's the place where most of my family are encouraging me to go. My main hesitation is the location: I've never really been attracted to Boston, but I'm sure I could learn to live there for a year. I've taken the virtual tour, but it doesn't really give me a good sense of the culture or what life is like off-campus. After talking with a current student, it seems like Boston actually offers some pretty diverse placement options, and to my surprise, it's a majority non-white city. It does seem like social justice is an emphasis of the program, but I don't know how much it is incorporated in their praxis. The resources and opportunities are alluring, but they haven't offered me any fellowships like the other 2 schools. I think I'm leaning towards Harvard, but I'm still a bit conflicted.

I've arranged to speak with people from each school in the next few days, so I think I'll make my call based on how I feel after that. I appreciate everyone's feedback; it's really helped me move my decision making forward. Please feel free to offer additional insights as I know myself and others reading along find any advice useful at this point!

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hello! i’m back with hopefully more insight, as i’m still thinking. i’m personally leaning towards harvard because 1) I don’t plan on getting a masters degree again and I will regret not going and 2) I know I plan on teaching and doing equity and inclusion consulting after. if anything changes, I would hope to do DEI work for a company or even policy work, and I know I’ll be able to take policy classes with some of the best people in education. my only hesitation is having to transfer everything back to california and maybe feeling bitter that I could’ve easily completed it here... but I haven’t left the bay in years and this might be my only chance since I plan to come back lol. 

I agree with being nervous about equity being the center of praxis, but I think there is relief in knowing that TEP itself is about equity. the school probably not so much? but I don’t think that should be a detractor; I think it’s an opportunity to potentially learn from people with other viewpoints. even the most radical folks don’t always agree, and even radical programs may not be as intentional about equity praxis. 

re: boston being white. it’s WASP-y but there are lots of pocs there; we only see the gentrified parts or that’s the narrative they have. JP and roxbury and somerville have a lot of pocs! do you think you would like to teach in the bay? or where would you re-locate to after? I also think “urban education” is super subjective wherever you go because every city and neighborhood has a different story behind it that has made it the way it is. 

don’t know if that’s helpful but I hope you’re having good convos with everyone! they all seem great and willing to chat. 

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Hi everyone! It's April 15, and I made my decision. I figured I'd share with y'all since y'all helped me out and maybe this will help future applicants.

After a lot of research, soul searching, and talking with professors, students, administrators, and other applicants, I decided to go with Harvard's Teacher Education Program.

It was a really tough decision, especially with the health crisis looming over the summer semester and potentially affecting the fall semester, too. In the end, I narrowed it down to Harvard and Berkeley. While Stanford offered me a decent fellowship and has credible social justice credentials, I liked the faculty at Harvard/Berkeley better and would prefer to teach in the Berkeley/Oakland//Cambridge/Boston areas. I applied to all out-of-state schools (grad schools aren't very good where I'm from) so I would be stepping into a new environment wherever I go, but I think Harvard/Berkeley have placements in diverse areas with students whom I'd want to work with.

While I really liked Berkeley's social justice focus and curriculum, I was worried I would be dissapointed if their praxis didn't live up to their rhetoric. They also seemed more disorganized than Harvard -- Harvard was the first of my schools to come out with a plan for an online summer semester, but Berkeley was still deciding how to conduct their courses when I talked to them a couple days ago. Also, when I asked to see the syllabus for the history methods course at Berkeley, they only had a course proposal since they hadn't hired an instructor yet. With everything so uncertain, Harvard definitely stood out as a more organized program with more resources.

As someone dedicated to critical pedagogy, I definitely had serious reservations about committing to an elite institution like Harvard. I actually contacted the new director of the Harvard program about my concerns and tried to determine how committed they are to equity in education. The new director has only been there a year, and she was very honest about Harvard's problems with race and its entrenched oppressive attitudes/ideas/institutions. However, it seemed like she genuinely viewed her role as the new director as fighting against those oppressive aspects of the education program and bringing faculty and students who reflected those values. While it wasn't exactly comforting to hear that the director herself was having issues with the environment at Harvard, it was reassuring to hear that I would have an ally in the program and hopefully with my peers.

Comparing the syllabus of the history methods course to the course proposal from Berkeley, it was definitely not as radical or progressive, but it still incorporated elements of critical pedagogy and focused much more on the mechanics of teaching than the framework. Since I know that I already have a commitment to social justice, I feel like it would be better to learn and practice the actual logistics of teaching.

Overall, I decided that Harvard seemed like it was the most organized, had the most resources, and best practical teacher preparation, and I was willing to put my hopes in the new director and cohort that they will provide me the community and support I need to become a skilled educator with radical praxis.

Thanks again everyone for talking me through this, and best of luck to you if you are attending a different program. Feel free to hit me up if you are also going to HGSE or are considering it!

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