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To what degree is prestige/school name factoring into your decision?

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I was set on a SAIS- Georgetown decision until today, as upon reviewing the GW Elliott curriculum I realized how ideal it is to the skills I want to gain from graduate school.

I'll be honest, the prestige that comes along with SAIS and Georgetown are major draws for me. It probably would not be much of a factor if I had attended an undergraduate institution with name recognition. I attended a Top 10 LAC, which, while prestigious among academic circles, is unrecognizable to the layperson. I have been intent on attending a top IR school for graduate studies to have one program with significant name recognition on my resume. I feel rather shallow admitting this, but it's true. While GW is an outstanding school, SAIS and Georgetown carry higher name recognition and a bit more prestige.

While GW would be considerably more affordable, I can handle the cost of SAIS and Georgetown, whose prices are roughly the same.

Am I being absurd to turn down a great fit with a smaller price tag just for a bit more prestige? Who else is facing a similar situation?

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I think this is a great question that a lot of people struggle with. The first iteration of the problem is, as you said, fit vs. name. Another iteration is "overall" layperson reputation vs. reputation in your field of study. That's what I think attract a lot of people to SIPA is the Columbia name, even if SIPA itself is not as selective (and possibly not as well-regarded by IR professionals) as some of its peer institutions.

I think name always does matter, not in and of itself but for what it represents. Life-long connections, good alumni, attraction of high-caliber students and professors. But ultimately if you can build a good network of resources for yourself, make lasting relationships with professors, and access resources in a great city (like DC), you can build the equivalent experience for yourself at a second or third-tier school and possibly even stand out more. I agree that where you went to undergrad is a consideration. For me, having gone to a very well-known school, I don't feel like I need another Ivy on my resume to stand out -- I feel like I need the best program in my actual field of study, and I would like it to ideally have both a good reputation and give me the relevant skills. (If you haven't guessed, for me this is the choice of Princeton/Yale Ivy vs. Georgetown, which I think is probably THE top name in international affairs but may not be as "worldwide famous" as the former). And in this case I got even more money from the Ivies, but I think I want to go to the school that is known best and most relevant for my field of study.

In conclusion, I think you need to go visit campus if you can (I know you're prob far) and see what your gut says. See if the caliber or common interests of students is better for you at one place more than another. See if Gtown or SAIS really can't offer you the same range of relevant courses as GW (I would find this a little surprising). See if you feel like you're not missing anything at GW you can get elsewhere, and would be able to buy yourself a nice car with the $20k you save. These are all great schools, I don't really feel you can go wrong. :)

Edited by piquant777

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I'm having the same problem.. I was so set for SAIS until SIPA admitted me. I dont know wht Columbia and NY make this decision making harder.

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I'm having the same issue. I feel that Fletcher is probably the best fit for me, substantially more affordable, and possibly even a better program than SIPA overall, but I'm having trouble letting go of my fantasy of walking around in a Columbia sweatshirt. Please tell me I'm an idiot.

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I'm having the same issue. I feel that Fletcher is probably the best fit for me, substantially more affordable, and possibly even a better program than SIPA overall, but I'm having trouble letting go of my fantasy of walking around in a Columbia sweatshirt. Please tell me I'm an idiot.

I'll tell you that youre an idiot, if you would tell me that I'm an idiot too.. We're on the same boat! Damn you Columbia and the city of New York

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I'm having the same issue. I feel that Fletcher is probably the best fit for me, substantially more affordable, and possibly even a better program than SIPA overall, but I'm having trouble letting go of my fantasy of walking around in a Columbia sweatshirt. Please tell me I'm an idiot.

IMHO Fletcher is by far the better program. SIPA is huge, impersonal, and kind of has a cash cow reputation (maybe bc they give no aid!). I talked to multiple grads from both places when applying and Fletcher grads always raved, whereas SIPA grads always were lukewarm, gave caveats or were even downright out to warn me. My impression was so strong that I didn't even end up applying in the end, despite having submitted recs. Don't get sucked in, esp. when as I said before in SIPA's case, reputation in your field of study is NOT better. More people get into the program than don't, for heaven's sake. When you finish with that much less debt and a stronger campus and alum network, you will indeed think back to this moment and tell yourself you were being an idiot. :P

Edited by piquant777

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I'm in a similar situation! My admissions process turned out FAR better than I expected. I've narrowed it down to the choice between SIPA (with no $) and a full ride to UT-LBJ. I also got into Chicago, Wagner, and Sanford but have pretty much nixed those. I am from Texas, so always envisioned myself moving to Austin (I'm on the East Coast now), but I did not expect to get into Columbia and now I am also thinking about that ivy-brand.

I'm visiting a class at SIPA (and Wagner) next week, but am still leaning toward LBJ. Eeek, decisions!

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I've e-mailed admissions offices asking to be put in contact with current students. I think speaking to people in each program will be extremely helpful in getting over the branding illusion

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IMHO Fletcher is by far the better program. SIPA is huge, impersonal, and kind of has a cash cow reputation (maybe bc they give no aid!). I talked to multiple grads from both places when applying and Fletcher grads always raved, whereas SIPA grads always were lukewarm, gave caveats or were even downright out to warn me. My impression was so strong that I didn't even end up applying in the end, despite having submitted recs. Don't get sucked in, esp. when as I said before in SIPA's case, reputation in your field of study is NOT better. More people get into the program than don't, for heaven's sake. When you finish with that much less debt and a stronger campus and alum network, you will indeed think back to this moment and tell yourself you were being an idiot. :P

Agreed with piquant777, nearly every single SIPA grad I know (and I lived in NYC for over five years, so it's a fairly large number) expressed disappointment with SIPA. I would second going to Fletcher, which has a stronger brand name in the field and a stronger alumni network, for less money.

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I'm having the same issue. I feel that Fletcher is probably the best fit for me, substantially more affordable, and possibly even a better program than SIPA overall, but I'm having trouble letting go of my fantasy of walking around in a Columbia sweatshirt. Please tell me I'm an idiot.

You're not. I'm struggling with the same thing. I keep fantasizing myself with a NYU sweatshirt walking around NYC. lol

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I am glad to hear others are facing similar decisions. I'm glad I'm not crazy for taking on more debt for just a bit more name recognition. Well... maybe I am crazy for doing that, but at least I am in good company.

I think you need to go visit campus if you can (I know you're prob far) and see what your gut says. See if the caliber or common interests of students is better for you at one place more than another. See if Gtown or SAIS really can't offer you the same range of relevant courses as GW (I would find this a little surprising).

I think visiting campus would make my decision much easier. Unfortunately I won't be back in the States until I move permanently back in July. I am having to rely on the opinions of current and former students, and a few former bosses who adjunct at one or both of the programs. It's useful, but I would rather get a feel for the campuses themselves.

That said, having gleaned more information about the curriculum from correspondences with current students at Georgetown, I feel much more at ease with the comparability between GW and GU. You're correct in that there probably isn't anything I can get at GW I cannot get at Georgetown. Barring, that is, a bit more pocket money...

I'm having trouble letting go of my fantasy of walking around in a Columbia sweatshirt.

One of the first things my mother said when I got into Georgetown was "[insert squeal] I get to go buy Georgetown sweatshirts now!." That has rung in my head in the weeks since. Thanks, Mom.

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I don't think it's crazy to factor in prestige into your decision-making process, as long as you have a sound reason for doing it. If it's vital to your career path, then by all means do it. But just to throw some cold water on this, consider that:

- for many of the schools people are referencing, the difference in prestige is so minute as to be meaningless. Which is more prestigious, Fletcher or Elliott? SAIS or Georgetown? Depends on who you ask, and what field you're in, and even then you won't get a consensus. Prestige is a major factor only if the difference is very large (ex: TAMU Bush vs. Georgetown). If you're comparing two top programs, it's not worth worrying about.

- Piquant already touched on this, but prestige in the average Joe's eyes =/= prestige in your field. For example, take security studies (my field), and compare Yale to Georgetown. For people who don't actually work in the field, they are going to be majorly impressed by the Ivy League name. Your mom will be way happier bragging to her friends about her child at Yale. But for actual security policy professionals, it's not even a comparison - Georgetown is clearly superior, more prestigious, whatever. So if you are going to make prestige a selection heuristic, make sure you have a good handle on a program's "actual" prestige in your desired community.

- if you plan on working for the US government, prestige does not seem to matter much in hiring decisions (compared to the private sector).

- think about what would make you feel better, landing a dream job or having a dream school name on your sweatshirt? Because for a lot of us, our dream jobs are just not that high-paying. How much would it suck to have to turn down an opportunity because you have to find a higher paying job to service student debt? Now, you could argue that going to a super prestigious school gives you a higher chance of even landing a job, and that's probably true. But how big is the difference, especially if we're talking about essentially peer schools? Is a 2% (just making that up) increase in degree marketability worth 60k to you?

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MYRNIST, why would you disrupt our mindless outerwear apparel chatter with logic and reason?

Kidding. Your points are sound and appreciated. I see from your signature you made an admissions decision, which is terrific. I wish I had a school that financially made this decision a lot easier. Congratulations!!

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When I was deciding on schools for undergrad, my counsellor told me that the difference is that if you go to a brand name school then employers will come looking for you, but if you go to a less well known school then you'll have to go look for jobs. I chose the less known school (though not a bad one my any means...top 30 liberal arts...rejected the offer from Amherst), took on no debt vs around 60k debt, and am much happier for it.

I don't know if others are doing this, but I've started to quantify how much more I would pay for different programmes. It's a useful exercise, and I think it's best to do it before you have all the financial offers.

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When I was deciding on schools for undergrad, my counsellor told me that the difference is that if you go to a brand name school then employers will come looking for you, but if you go to a less well known school then you'll have to go look for jobs.

I would disagree a bit with this on a few levels. I think the concept of a school chasing you is only limited to the most elite of elite programs, not just name brand schools, of which GW, American, LBJ, etc are all among. Even for MA candidates at the very top schools, I think the idea that jobs would chase us only applies to student with significant promise in some of the most competitive fields (security studies, energy policy, Chinese/Middle East experts, etc). My area of expertise- democracy and governance- is never going to make me highly sought after at this level of my career.

I have no illusions that simply enrolling in SAIS or Georgetown is going to have employers knocking on my door. For those of us who are not trilingual Parsi, Arabic, and Urdu and who have expertise in security and military sectors, I think networking plays a greater role in job prospects (and all of the schools we have mentioned on this thread have outstanding networks).

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I would contend that at the undergraduate level, the brand name of a school is extremely important because it will significantly help you landing that FIRST job but for those of us who have had time to prove ourselves and accumulated 5-7 years of experience after college, the name of the MA program matters less than the experience we got before the MA especially if we're discussing programs in the Top schools which all have a minute % difference in degree marketaility as MYRNIST put it. That's why at this stage, I've narrowed down my choices to GWU IDS, and Fletcher MALD which are the only 2 schools which offered me scholarships and for which I will be paying the exact amount: $16,000/year

So now, folks are telling me that for the same cost of attendance, I will be an idiot to knock off Fletcher (Rose1, yes I'm with you on that) But hold on, I need a sound justification to do so. MALD is more generalist + has smaller class sizes + amazing campus feel + networking among students BUT forget about internships during school year. Elliot IDS is in the heart of DC + great 2nd year capstone project + more focused on IDEV BUT Classes at night (tell me I'm an idiot) absolutely no campus and NO sense of community + students just bounce off to their respective gigs when class is over (tell me I'm an idiot).

Voila, still undecided but at least I know that my decision will not rely at all on the school prestige !

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Let me just chime in for my undergrad alma mater, GWU.

I grant you, I was both in the Honors program and in greek life, which definitely gave me more of a sense of community in terms of being around a smaller group of people very frequently, but I have no idea why GW has such a bad rap that way. I interned nearly every semester I was at GW, but I never felt like GW was just "the place I took classes." I always felt a strong sense of GW community and loyalty (there are tons of events on campus, like concerts and fairs, and little nooks and crannies where people study and hang out, including restaurants and bars that GWers frequent). And in my opinion you could always "feel" the moment you stepped onto GW's campus...it's not closed off like Georgetown's, but you could always sense the bustling momentum of university life. I felt like I had the best of both worlds - I truly loved that I felt completely integrated into DC (way more than Georgetowners could, as it's quite literally a city on a hill) though when I graduated I realized how much I was a part of the GW community and still had so much more to learn about the city itself.

I'm happy to answer any questions about GW's community and the Elliott school through my undergrad perspective if it is at all helpful!

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You're not. I'm struggling with the same thing. I keep fantasizing myself with a NYU sweatshirt walking around NYC. lol

same here. I am in the same boat as many here. I am trying to decide between SIPA (huge loan/debt) and others. SIPA is definitely making this process much more difficult for me (and many here) to choose!

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Think of this: when Sallie Mae, or whomever you owe the bulk of your loans to, comes calling and asks where your $1,000 a month is, they will not be sated if you say, "but I incurred this debt at an Ivy!"

"but my debt... it's so fancy!"

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