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[Also posted over in the govt affairs forum]

I was accepted to the Harvard Kennedy School for a Masters of Public Policy, but discounted it as a serious option almost immediately after receiving no financial aid. However, since then I've been talking to a number of older relatives, mentors and supervisors--really intelligent, accomplished, educated and non-crazy people--whose judgment I respect tremendously. And they've all urged me to consider going the Harvard route--particularly a few HKS alums who've told me that they still benefit a lot from their connections/experiences 15+ years after receiving their degrees, and that there's "no substitute" for the name recognition (though of course they'd say this, wouldn't they?)

Thing is, I also have two fairly great packages lined up--Duke has offered me about 70% tuition both years, and my state school (a well respected regional program) has given me more or less a full ride. When I've given the numbers to my mentors, the response has been, "These are all great options, BUT if you choose HKS it'll be SO worth it and you'll figure out how to make the money work even if you're not making bank right after your graduation." The fam is willing to help out but I would feel pretty bad taking a lot of their money since they already supported me through undergrad and aren't, you know, wealthy. HKS would almost certainly mean a six-figure loan and fairly substantial payments even if I take advantage of IBR/PSLF (Income Based Repayment/Public Service Loan Forgiveness), and yet my thoughts are drifting more and more towards Cambridge again as I've gotten all this assurance/encouragement.

Am I completely batsh*t insane for even considering HKS at this point? Anyone else thinking of biting a similar bullet?

(If it helps, my intended field is international economic development policy)

Thanks!

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This is a no-brainer...KSG. You are too worried about money right now. The money is out there in all kinds of forms. The right long-term decision is KSG. I have several friends who went to KSG for various programs and it pays dividends that you literally cannot imagine (and I am not exaggerating...you cannot imagine them unless you have been to Harvard). Whether people want to admit it or not, brand is everything. Trust me.

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I dont know much about your field, but I tend to agree with the previous poster about the importance of name recognition when it comes to making money in the real world. When I was considering med school programs, all the advisors told me not to worry about price, because once you become a full doctor you can pay off your loans in 5 years or so. If going to Harvard will significantly increase the amount of money you can demand in the long run, I would say go for it. Also if it would increase your chances of finding a job in this crazy job market.

I think doing some more research would be beneficial.

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Thanks, guys, for your responses. If it were Harvard Law, Business, or Medical, it would be a no-brainer for me--however, even with an HKS degree I can't count on making that much money right after I graduate. According to their Career Center's latest figures, median salaries for new MPPs range from around $60K (NGOs/federal government) to $100K (private sector), which is great, but at the lower end not enough to alleviate my debt anxiety. I don't think that an HKS degree will necessarily give me enough of an income boost to economically justify the huge loans; however, the network there might be able to fast-track me into the type of career or org that would be truly great for me--these are benefits that are less tangible. On the other hand, it is a scary, scary amount of debt for someone who's not going into business, law or medicine. So I'm trying to weigh it all out.

Again, thanks.

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I'm not knocking anyone who says HKS has value, but you have to be sure to make the decision that is best for you and your circumstances. You'll be the one paying the bill. I think you are right to consider the particular nature of your degree (which is not business, medicine, or law), and the nature of this program (something of a money-maker for the college). As others have said, what you are buying in this circumstance is the brand, and possibly a network and connections. You have to consider whether this is the right environment for you, whether this brand will have a higher resonance with the particular employers you are targeting, and where you want to live afterward. In some markets, or even with some organizations, Duke or a well-known regional could work in your favor. In general, if you expect you might be making $60k, you don't want to have more than that in total ed loans. I know some people trust strongly in the brand, and it does carry weight, but I think you have to carefully consider how important it is to you and your situation. You have to be the filter and the ultimate decision-maker about what is best for you.

Edited by ruralworks4me
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All of what these posters have said is good info to consider. But, just want to correct what is a rumor about KSG being "a money-maker for the college". This is not necessarily the case in the traditional sense. Let's face it, with a $30B endowment, Harvard doesn't need to money. It could easily survive without the KSG. The reason why Harvard started this program in the first place was to build a network, associated with the school, of the well-connected, and in some cases well-funded, current and future "leaders". They have grads working throughout the world in all kinds of influential positions, who are carrying the Harvard brand and (this is the part your cannot imagine) making deals with other Harvard grads to things accomplished. I know this sounds crazy and conspiratorial, but it is not meant that way. The networking you get from the Harvard brand is not something people can place a value on right now, but that is what you are buying, everybody wants it, and there is absolutely no other place on earth you can buy it. Trust me on this one.

BTW...all of this pays huge dividends financially for Harvard on the back end with government research grants, private and corporate donors, etc. That is why they have the KSG anyway. It helps the school be the hub of a vast network of the wealthy and influential and the school feeds off that.

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If your decision was only between HKS and the state school or perhaps another ranked outside the top 20 I might say just bite the bullet and take out the minimum amount of loans needed to attend Harvard. But from what I understand you also have a great offer from Duke's Sanford school which has one of the top public affairs programs in the nation. I do not foresee a substantial difference in post-graduation prospects, salaries, or networking opportunities (unless perhaps you are thinking international) that would warrant the extra debt of choosing the Kennedy School over Sanford. Harvard is of course the "top" school in the world but Duke itself is in a handful of elite schools, especially in the area of public affairs. You should also consider the very significant cost of living differences between Cambridge and Durham. You have a range of choices from wildly expensive Harvard to the fully funded state school option, Duke seems to be a reasonable middle ground that would be hard to go wrong with.

[Also posted over in the govt affairs forum]

I was accepted to the Harvard Kennedy School for a Masters of Public Policy, but discounted it as a serious option almost immediately after receiving no financial aid. However, since then I've been talking to a number of older relatives, mentors and supervisors--really intelligent, accomplished, educated and non-crazy people--whose judgment I respect tremendously. And they've all urged me to consider going the Harvard route--particularly a few HKS alums who've told me that they still benefit a lot from their connections/experiences 15+ years after receiving their degrees, and that there's "no substitute" for the name recognition (though of course they'd say this, wouldn't they?)

Thing is, I also have two fairly great packages lined up--Duke has offered me about 70% tuition both years, and my state school (a well respected regional program) has given me more or less a full ride. When I've given the numbers to my mentors, the response has been, "These are all great options, BUT if you choose HKS it'll be SO worth it and you'll figure out how to make the money work even if you're not making bank right after your graduation." The fam is willing to help out but I would feel pretty bad taking a lot of their money since they already supported me through undergrad and aren't, you know, wealthy. HKS would almost certainly mean a six-figure loan and fairly substantial payments even if I take advantage of IBR/PSLF (Income Based Repayment/Public Service Loan Forgiveness), and yet my thoughts are drifting more and more towards Cambridge again as I've gotten all this assurance/encouragement.

Am I completely batsh*t insane for even considering HKS at this point? Anyone else thinking of biting a similar bullet?

(If it helps, my intended field is international economic development policy)

Thanks!

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IMN22 makes a very good point. Do you see yourself working internationally or here in the US? My Harvard bias is due to the fact I have lived 10 years overseas in Cyprus, Japan, and Kuwait. Harvard very much transcends borders and is one of the few, if not the only, US school that is easily recognized internationally.

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Excellent point. This is very much in line with how I would approach this decision.

First and foremost, where do you see yourself working after grad school, in the US or abroad? IF you intend to stay in the US, I would doubt that your professional opportunities coming from Duke would be "70%" lower than those you might get coming from Harvard. However, if you intend to work abroad (I am international myself), then the "brand power" might be worth the extra debt (although it also means that you might have to pay off your loans first since working abroad might pay well in local terms but not necessarily in US dollars...).

In my case, for example, I intend to return to my country immediately after grad school and develop my career back home. If I were in a situation such as yours, I would be inclined to choose HKS over Duke IF, and only IF, the cost of attending Duke were significantly lower than the cost of attending HKS. The question that only you can answer is "how much lower would make it worth it?" From my professional experience in the public sector (WB and IMF), I would never borrow a cent more than one year's overall cost just because of the potential brand power (considering that I had an offer similar to yours at Duke). While coming from HKS might help getting you in the "short list" of institutions such as the WB and IMF, the degree by itself will rarely get you the job. Moreover, keep in mind that it might be easier for you to stand out at Duke (where the funding offer per se suggests that you are one of their top candidates) than at HKS...

To shed some light... I have been admitted without funding the the University of Chicago and waitlisted at HKS. I decided to defer the offer from Harris so that I can be reconsidered for funding next year because I do not think the degree will be worth the debt for me given my intentions (plus, having come so close, I would really like to give HKS another shoot before going anywhere else; it is. If I were offered a place a HKS, however, I would do all efforts to take it even this year regardless of how much debt it might be necessary (in which case I would postpone my plans of returning to my country until after I managed to pay the majority of whatever debt I undertake)...

I hope this helps...

If your decision was only between HKS and the state school or perhaps another ranked outside the top 20 I might say just bite the bullet and take out the minimum amount of loans needed to attend Harvard. But from what I understand you also have a great offer from Duke's Sanford school which has one of the top public affairs programs in the nation. I do not foresee a substantial difference in post-graduation prospects, salaries, or networking opportunities (unless perhaps you are thinking international) that would warrant the extra debt of choosing the Kennedy School over Sanford. Harvard is of course the "top" school in the world but Duke itself is in a handful of elite schools, especially in the area of public affairs. You should also consider the very significant cost of living differences between Cambridge and Durham. You have a range of choices from wildly expensive Harvard to the fully funded state school option, Duke seems to be a reasonable middle ground that would be hard to go wrong with.

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Many thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. As a last ditch, what-the-hell effort, I sent a polite email to my Harvard finaid counselor explaining my situation and mentioning that I had some very generous offers from other top programs. I've never heard of them matching bids, however, so...

At this point I'm leaning towards Duke. While being able to drop the H-bomb would undoubtedly open some doors for me, the Sanford School certainly won't close any. Although I would like to work in DC or overseas, I don't know what opportunities will come up in the future, and having comparatively little debt will give me more freedom to pursue work for NGOs or in developing countries where the pay is lower but the work is rewarding, if I so choose. I also have to be more confident, and trust that the strength of my work experience to date and my course work in grad school will speak for me, and not just the name on my diploma or alumni connections. I'm sure that I would have had an AMAZING time at Harvard, but I know that when I get to Durham and start taking classes and having fun, I won't be able to imagine being anywhere else (this would probably be true of anywhere I pick).

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Hi, Harvard alum here. Choosing Sanford over KSG is a big mistake. Even from a purely financial standpoint, KSG is the better long-term option (no contest). But when you also think of the name recognition and professional network at KSG, Sanford is a comparatively poor choice. There is no professional network more influential and important than Harvard's, and while Sanford might be close to KSG in the rankings, it is really a 2nd tier school in comparison. There is not a single person who would choose Sanford over KSG from a purely professional standpoint.

Of course, KSG is kind of a self-selecting environment. If you end up choosing Sanford, you probably aren't the kind of person who would leverage Harvard's resources anyway (and then, you really are better at Sanford). In any case, hate to say it but the decision is obvious. Listen to the people you respect and go to the best school in the nation. Equivocating because of a few years' tuition shows a lack of perspective.

Edited by kaza
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Hi, Harvard alum here. Choosing Sanford over KSG is a big mistake. Even from a purely financial standpoint, KSG is the better long-term option (no contest). But when you also think of the name recognition and professional network at KSG, Sanford is a comparatively poor choice. There is no professional network more influential and important than Harvard's, and while Sanford might be close to KSG in the rankings, it is really a 2nd tier school in comparison. There is not a single person who would choose Sanford over KSG from a purely professional standpoint.

Of course, KSG is kind of a self-selecting environment. If you end up choosing Sanford, you probably aren't the kind of person who would leverage Harvard's resources anyway (and then, you really are better at Sanford). In any case, hate to say it but the decision is obvious. Listen to the people you respect and go to the best school in the nation. Equivocating because of a few years' tuition shows a lack of perspective.

I appreciate your input; however, I don't think it's necessary to imply that I'm incapable of leveraging resources or that I "lack perspective." If I'm just misreading your tone and you didn't mean that personally, no worries.

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How humble...

Hi, Harvard alum here. Choosing Sanford over KSG is a big mistake. Even from a purely financial standpoint, KSG is the better long-term option (no contest). But when you also think of the name recognition and professional network at KSG, Sanford is a comparatively poor choice. There is no professional network more influential and important than Harvard's, and while Sanford might be close to KSG in the rankings, it is really a 2nd tier school in comparison. There is not a single person who would choose Sanford over KSG from a purely professional standpoint.

Of course, KSG is kind of a self-selecting environment. If you end up choosing Sanford, you probably aren't the kind of person who would leverage Harvard's resources anyway (and then, you really are better at Sanford). In any case, hate to say it but the decision is obvious. Listen to the people you respect and go to the best school in the nation. Equivocating because of a few years' tuition shows a lack of perspective.

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I didn't read the whole thread, but, my mom is a graduate of HKS and has been really supportive of me picking a school where I am happiest, and forgetting about prestige. She thought that graduating from Harvard would help her secure any job and it wasn't the case, even though she was a great student. She really struggled. And even after she got the ball rolling and had a successful business, she said many didn't care where she went to school. In short, follow your gut and do what makes you happy! That's some advice I need to listen to as well. Good luck!

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Thanks, guys, for your responses. If it were Harvard Law, Business, or Medical, it would be a no-brainer for me--however, even with an HKS degree I can't count on making that much money right after I graduate. According to their Career Center's latest figures, median salaries for new MPPs range from around $60K (NGOs/federal government) to $100K (private sector), which is great, but at the lower end not enough to alleviate my debt anxiety. I don't think that an HKS degree will necessarily give me enough of an income boost to economically justify the huge loans; however, the network there might be able to fast-track me into the type of career or org that would be truly great for me--these are benefits that are less tangible. On the other hand, it is a scary, scary amount of debt for someone who's not going into business, law or medicine. So I'm trying to weigh it all out.

Again, thanks.

I'm in a great position in that I got a scholarship for HKS, but before I knew that HKS was going to be financially viable, I wasn't even considering going. There are connections to be made anywhere, and you are right that with an MPP degree, it will take a loooong time to pay off the debt. If you go into all that debt, think about how annoyed you will be every time you have a mediocre professor (which I am sure there are at HKS just like everywhere else) or when you have to miss out on an event.

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I'm in a great position in that I got a scholarship for HKS, but before I knew that HKS was going to be financially viable, I wasn't even considering going. There are connections to be made anywhere, and you are right that with an MPP degree, it will take a loooong time to pay off the debt. If you go into all that debt, think about how annoyed you will be every time you have a mediocre professor (which I am sure there are at HKS just like everywhere else) or when you have to miss out on an event.

dude have you ever been to university?you don't pay for the coursework, you pay for everything else

otherwise you'd just buy a textbook and read it

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Siiigh, this probably does not warrant a response, but, I'm sorry that you had such a poor University experience that you found professors gave no added value over text books. All I was trying to say is that no school is going to be perfect all the time, and during all of those less-than perfect times (including outside the classroom), the original poster might not want to be beating herself up about all that debt for something that is not always going to be wonderful.

dude have you ever been to university?you don't pay for the coursework, you pay for everything else

otherwise you'd just buy a textbook and read it

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Siiigh, this probably does not warrant a response, but, I'm sorry that you had such a poor University experience that you found professors gave no added value over text books. All I was trying to say is that no school is going to be perfect all the time, and during all of those less-than perfect times (including outside the classroom), the original poster might not want to be beating herself up about all that debt for something that is not always going to be wonderful.

yeah it sucks but at real schools they hire professors for research and not teaching ability (although i'd love to hang out with your dope liberal arts faculty some day)

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I am so not getting into a prestige argument with you about what a "real university" is. I hope that you are less obnoxious in person than you are online, because your online persona does not bode well for success in real life.

yeah it sucks but at real schools they hire professors for research and not teaching ability (although i'd love to hang out with your dope liberal arts faculty some day)

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