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Hello all,

I need your help!

I am an applicant to Master's programs in Middle East Studies. I have been accepted to my top 3 programs - Georgetown's Master's in Arab Studies (MAAS), Harvard's Center for Middle East Studies (Harvard CMES), and the University of Chicago's Center for Middle East Studies (Chicago CMES). In addition, I am currently waiting on the second round decision for a Fulbright full grant to Jordan.

My research interests lie mostly in modern Middle Eastern politics. The majority of my undergraduate work has centered on Syria and Lebanon in particular. I am in my fourth year of college level Arabic study, and have traveled extensively in the region. I anticipate pursuing a career in government (foreign service, intelligence, etc.), but academia remains an option.

The various offers look like this:

Harvard: No funding. Will not allow deferral for Fulbright. Deadline (04/16).

University of Chicago: 1/2 tuition funding. No deferral. Deadline (05/01).

Georgetown: Waitlisted for a tuition scholarship. Likely deferrable. No information on deadline yet.

Fulbright: No decision yet. However, my university has an excellent track record with the program, and the primary advisor seems to think that my chances are good. Will hear back anywhere from late April to mid May. Note that I need to decide which university I am attending before I hear about Fulbright.

Here's the rub:

I need to decide between these three programs.

Georgetown has a net benefit over Harvard and UChicago in that it would likely allow for deferral if I received a Fulbright. The extra year would allow me time to apply for external sources of funding. Since I am on the waitlist for a tuition scholarship, there is some chance of funding right now.

UChicago is clearly the best option if I'm looking to avoid debt. According to the website, second years in the program frequently receive full tuition funding. My impression is that UChicago's program is not geared towards the modern Middle East, but instead to the ancient Near East.

Harvard is my first choice, but is accompanied by serious disadvantages. First, if I accepted their offer (on their rather early deadline), I would have to turn down Fulbright if I got it. Second, since they do not fund A.M. students, I would need to go into >50k dollars in debt to attend the program in the first year. With this said, it is a top notch program, and its branding may be important in the long run. This is especially true in the Middle East, where Harvard has made an excellent name for itself.

Finally, Fulbright is very important to me. In this field, experience and language proficiency is critical. My grant would give me an opportunity to accelerate my language ability while making connections in the region. In other words, I would be heartbroken if I received the grant and was obligated to decline it.

Summary: What would you do if you were in my position? Would you take Harvard, forgetting about the Fulbright and going into debt? Or Georgetown, hoping for the Fulbright and funding, but missing out on Harvard? Or finally, would you "follow the money" to UChicago, passing up on Harvard and Fulbright?

Thank you all in advance for your opinions!

Edited by Guicciardi18
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Hi there,

Crazy to see someone in such a similar position! I've also been admitted into the CMES program at Harvard, but didn't realize that they would not be amenable to deferring in favor of Fulbright (something I was hoping to do). Who have you spoken to, and what have they said exactly? This worries me tremendously :-(

As to your question: I've been in DC for a while now, and the Georgetown Arab Studies produces excellent graduates that are primed for government service. If you have the opportunity to do the Fulbright and come back to Georgetown, you'd also have time to apply for fellowships like the Pickering, funding your M.A. degree and basically promising you a career at State. My two cents!

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@Tristram- thanks for the advice. I will consider contacting someone from the Georgetown program.

Thanks also, Dushtu- I sent you a message with the specifics of my conversation with the program director.

I've been poking around the Georgetown website and what not- I actually think it has an edge over the Harvard program. For me, the fact that Harvard doesn't allow a deferral for a major national grant in their field of research shows that they care little about my personal and professional future. In a program that gives no funding to AM students (and costs ~60k a year), one would think that a more reasonable stance would be necessary to attract high caliber students.

That speaks to a different issue, a fear that I've been having- that Harvard's programs looks a lot like a cash cow, having AM students fund the PhDs who are really the focus of teaching efforts. This idea has been corroborated by the opinion of one graduate of that program, who found the program to be disorganized, the director difficult to deal with, etc. She said she wished she had gone elsewhere.

Conversely, Georgetown's program gives me the impression that Master's students are not only a priority but a high one. That's the kind of program I want to attend, especially if I'm paying top dollar.

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I would highly consider Georgetown, especially since you're looking at government service. Georgetown's programs sometimes get a bad rap in the academic world as being too "policy" (I'm political science now but serious considered MES). It would give you a lot of flexibility and if you can defer, you have the opportunity to do Fulbright AND look for outside grants to get you a bit of funding.

Chicago's Near East Studies department is very much NOT modern, but there Mid East Center definitely has more of a modern feel. (And Lisa Wedeen does a TON of work on Syria so that might really be of interest to you.)

As for Harvard, I think you should talk to some students in the master's program. Sometimes PhD students have a hard time getting prof time (so I've heard...may be untrue). Getting some perspective from current students would probably help your decision.

Good luck! (I lived in Jordan for awhile, and ABSOLUTELY loved it.)

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Adblanche- thanks so much. A very informative post.

I had heard that about Georgetown's programs. Seems like I need to narrow down my career aspirations once and for all. I think Georgetown probably has *enough* flexibility so that, even if I have a change of heart towards academia, I can still pivot.

As for UChicago, you hit the nail on the head. I mentioned Lisa Wedeen in my application, and used her "Ambiguities of Domination" extensively in my undergrad thesis. I would love to work with her so maybe I'll shoot her an e-mail.

I know a student or two in the A.M. program at Harvard. I'll take your advice and talk to them.

Here's hoping for the Fulbright though- it would be excellent experience.

Thanks again

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Congratulations Guicciardi18! All of these three MA programs are really great. This year I applied to Middle East MA programs at Harvard, Princeton and UT Austin, and got rejections from all of them unfortunately. :( Now I am asking myself why I didn't consider University of Chicago too. In my university there is a professor, who did her PhD at Harvard, and told me that Chicago has the best Middle East department in the United States. After researching into the curriculum and faculty members there, I got angry with myself that I fell for Harvard's name and not applied to Chicago. Also I think that if one of your concerns is money, then you should definitely choose Chicago over Harvard.

However, after hearing your career goals in government, I think that Fulbright scholarship is the most valuable opportunity for you right now. Your having experience in the region is much more important than getting your masters degree in an Ivy League school. Moreover, Georgetown is a top-notch school for studying the Middle East. For instance, as far as I know, they have special agreements and organize various programs in Turkey. Georgetown seems to be the most reasonable choice for you if you compare it with Harvard and Chicago in every respect. I wish you best of luck with the decision! :)

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