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rose1

Open House Impressions: SAIS, SIPA, Fletcher, SFS, etc.

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I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Boston and DC attending open houses. I thought it might be helpful for those that couldn't attend to hear impressions from people who did. I personally attended Fletcher, SAIS, and SFS, but feel free to post your impressions of other open houses as well. Obviously these are my own opinions, so please chime in if you disagree! I underlined where each school review starts so you can just read the ones applicable to you.

Obviously these schools are all amazing. I am going to focus on new information I learned from the open houses, which might end up sounding negative since the promotional materials did a pretty good job of highlighting the positives of each school before I got there. That doesn't mean I didn't love each and every school. I still don't know where I'm going to go!

***Edit: Writing this post turned out to be very helpful for me to organize my thoughts. I’m sorry it got SO long!!!!

Fletcher

Fletcher was first on Sunday and Monday. My best friend lives in Boston, but I decided to take Fletcher up on their offer to stay with a current student so that I could get a real feel for the place. This was the only school that offered this, and I took it as a testament to the Fletcher community. I have to say that I actually came to regret this decision. I stayed in a house with some second year students who were incredibly stressed out trying to finish their theses, study for finals, and find jobs after graduation. None of them were in particularly good moods, they were very busy, and they did not seem to even have time to say hello. I felt like a pretty big inconvenience, which is strange because I assume these students volunteered to house prospective students. To be fair, this was NOT everyone's experience, just mine.

The thesis seems like a pretty big disadvantage to me. It's SIXTY FIVE PAGES long and you either have to do it on top of your classes, or use one or two of your 16 total grad school classes writing it. It seems like if you actually want it to be substantive, you have to balance your one and only summer internship with research. Also, career services mentioned that their numbers are skewed compared to other IR schools because the thesis in your last semester means that a lot of Fletcher students don't start looking for jobs until close to or after graduation. Ouch.

The actual open house was pretty nice. The facilities are old but good. The afternoon was MUCH better. Career services really sold me, the current student panel was fun, I was impressed by the student organization fair, and the development roundtable felt like it was tailored to specifically my interests. I liked the campus and I walked around for a while. It's only a few miles from Cambridge and downtown Boston. Fletcher seemed like my best bet for getting a Research Assistantship with a professor. I also found out that your concentrations don't appear on your transcript, so you can really tailor your resume to prospective employers. Fletcher's course catalog is my favorite of any school. I want to take EVERY CLASS. I also think it's really cool that you can cross register at Harvard and MIT. Fletcher is the only school that doesn't cap classes so you can pretty much take whatever you want.

While Fletcher said over and over that their main advantage is their sense of community, I really felt like every school I visited had a pretty great community of students so I wished they didn't rely so heavily on that selling point. Not being able to intern during the semesters is a big minus for me since I'm a total career changer and I want to make sure I like what I'm doing before I spend two years studying it and then get stuck with whatever job I get after graduation thanks to a ton of debt. This school has the most international students and I think it's because a lot of them are going back to their countries and don't care about being in DC.

SAIS

My head said no. My heart said yes. If any school really stood out to me, it was SAIS. It mostly stood out in good ways that sometimes approached borderline obnoxious (for example, Wolf Blitzer was a surprise guest speaker, and they were the only school that introduced speakers, alumni and professors with their full array of titles and accomplishments). You could tell they went all out to impress prospective students. I love their building(s) in Dupont. The thought of living in Columbia Heights, a ten minute bike ride from school and internships, is pretty exciting. Where the atmosphere at Fletcher was extremely casual, everybody dressed up for SAIS.

I saw a couple of BIG differences between SAIS and the other schools that I would not have known without the open house. Because SAIS is so big, the main way they reach their students is through concentrations. It seems that MOST resources (funding, list-servs, organizations, events, trips, capstone project, access to professors) are funneled through concentration. Since I didn't get into IDEV, this was awkward for me because it seemed that most of my time could revolve around a concentration I didn’t care that much about if I matriculated at SAIS. Despite this drawback, SAIS is still currently at the top of my list.

This school seemed to be the least academic and most professionally focused of all. Their career services offer mini classes to give you tools you can put on your resume. They have A LOT more career trips all over the world. Students seemed really into networking. A lot more people go into the private sector from SAIS and it didn't seem as focused on public service as the other schools. SAIS has by far the best language program out of the IR schools but I wasn't as impressed with their student organizations or their course catalog. While other schools were represented by their academic journal and student organizations with names like "diplomacy club," SAIS student organizations seemed to be made up more of recreational sports teams and cultural activities. Due to the sheer number of students, it seemed like it could be a lot more impersonal than the other schools, although they cap most classes at 18 and I did NOT get the impression that there isn't a cohesive community. I did get the impression that SAIS was somewhat more of a party school than the others, maybe because of the happy hour culture in DC.

I see their econ focus as a huge plus. I spoke to so many students who were able to get a quant internship in their second semester with no previous quant experience before SAIS. SAIS has worked hard to build a reputation for students that know their econ, and it seems like it really works with prospective employers. I also love the idea of pre-term. This way I could get some of these basic classes out of the way in the summer and really get the most out of my 2 years. The intensive July classes also seem like they do a good job of bringing people together before the semester starts so you can go into grad school with some friends.

Students at SAIS seem to be better able to articulate what they’re learning, perhaps because SAIS isn’t as interdisciplinary or academic as Fletcher and SFS. I felt that students at Fletcher and SFS struggle in this area and even alumni of these schools commented that having to explain the degree was sometimes an issue with employers. Also, the idea that you have to bid on some classes to get into them was a big turn off before the open house, but I realized it's not that big a deal. Not that many classes even ever go to bid, and sometimes just a section of a class will go to bid if it's held at a very convenient time, so you would still have the option of taking it at a different time slot.

I went to a big university and I LIKED the big class size. There was more diversity. There were more opportunities, more faculty, more money, more organizations, more alumni, more choice. To me, this is a plus.

SFS

My head said yes. My heart said no. The program itself seems AMAZING. The professors are infinitely accessible, the name is impeccable, career services is dedicated, the course catalog is perfect for my interests. Georgetown said and did all the right things, but I honestly think it's too small a program for me. Because the program is so small, it has virtually no space of its own. It's housed in the Intercultural Center, a huge building in the middle of a campus overrun with undergrads. The same few people talked to us all day because they just don't have that many people working in the program. I really liked the atmosphere of the other two schools better because they at least had their own building.

To be honest, I didn’t love Georgetown, but my reason is not applicable to anyone but me. I spent all four years of undergrad and now work for my alma mater on a campus that is almost identical to Georgetown. I’ve been looking forward to making a change and I’m NOT willing to give that up – even for an amazing school!! For anyone else, this might be a plus instead of a minus. The campus is gorgeous and the small program obviously translates into more individual attention – even at open house. They were able to pair us up with current students for lunch, and I had several chances to speak with faculty members. I also like how they have oral exams instead of a thesis.

I didn't like how far it was from DC. I need to be able to live close enough to campus that I can come and go throughout the day (I have a dog) and I don't think I can afford to live IN Georgetown, which would mean a commute. I also don’t particularly want to live in Rosslyn.

They also GRADE ON A CURVE which I hate because it seems like it fosters a competitive rather than collegial environment.

Decision

If I can make the SAIS curriculum work for me without IDEV, I will probably go there. Otherwise, I will probably go to Fletcher. If I had any sense at all, I’d go to Georgetown, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

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Hey rose1 - I'm making the decision between SAIS and Fletcher, and am ultimately deciding on SAIS. I had a lot of the same impressions you had, which is nice to have reinforced, but here are a few other things I noticed. By the way, I went to Fletcher's admit day too, but could only visit SAIS on a random day.

Fletcher: I had a great time talking to my host. I feel like they must have paired us up for a reason, because she's doing the same things I would want to do. Sure, she was busy studying and working on her thesis (very practical topic), but I didn't get the impression that she was all too busy or freaked out, but maybe that's because she already had a job lined up? I really loved the way they ran the open house, and every communication I've had with this school has told me it's very open and everybody is super willing to help you out, more so than the other schools. I also sat in on a number of classes (didn't go to the career services talk) and felt comfortable with the level of the material being covered.

vs. SAIS: Everybody has been telling me to go here since I want to concentrate in economics. I was offered more money to go to other schools, but after seeing both, talking to plenty of students, attending lectures, and pretty much memorizing the admissions sites, I feel confident that it's worth it for me to invest in going to SAIS. Academically, they delve deeper into the subjects, including the quantitative aspect you mentioned. They're known for this, and students are hired more easily as a result. There's also less "explaining" of your degree and what it means, which you also mentioned. Sure, there are more prerequisites for courses, and that's why there's pre-term, but I think it's fair if you're expecting to really master the topics you're studying. Fletcher classes ultimately seemed to lack that depth. SAIS is relatively much more structured, which, having had a very flexible (almost too much so) undergrad major, is something I can appreciate. I, too, am concerned about the concentration and finding a good fit, but I would encourage you to reach out to admissions to put you in touch with an academic advisor. I did that and now feel so much more confident that I can do what I want there, and that there is more flexibility than I thought. Language-wise, Fletcher doesn't expect students to continue language study, but at SAIS, it seems very well supported and covers more languages. I know I can't pass my language test right now, so it's definitely a factor for me. The way it was described to me, in one semester it's reasonable to take 4 classes at SAIS, and either take a language, do an internship, or take a 5th class. It turns out it'll be the perfect fit for me and I can't wait to start.

Edited by cali

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Rose, thank you for sharing all of these insights! I just decided this weekend I'm heading to SAIS and I'm really happy to hear my impressions of SAIS reinforced by what you and cali experienced during visits. I am overseas so I could not attend the Open Houses and have had to rely on thoughts of former/current students, and Open House attendees.

My decision was a bit different from yours. I was accepted to Fletcher but ruled it out because my fiance will be in DC and splitting up during our first year of marriage + taking on additional costs for living/housing would not have made it worthwhile. I was deciding between Georgetown Government, not SFS, and SAIS. I have continued to be impressed with SAIS's rigorous curriculum, its dedicated faculty, and the attention it has given to me as an admitted student. I think quality of student life at SAIS is high and the value of the degree is high as well.

I will be like you and cali- my interests do not fit neatly into one concentration. I will be taking classes in IDEV, Am Foreign Policy, and International Law. I'll have to figure out my first semester which makes the most sense for me to concentrate in (probably American Foreign Policy). I have been told by others on this forum and via email correspondence with students that this is okay.... so hopefully they are right :). I don't know what your specific field of interest is with IDEV, but I am looking forward to studying mine outside of a development focus- taking into account the political, economic, and security issues related to it. That's why I specifically did not apply to IDEV (and explained that in my SOP). Just a thought.

Cali, great to hear that 4 classes + language or internship is reasonable. I just assumed I could only take 4 classes a semester! I suppose though the 5th class would be an additional cost? I am at a low-intermediate level of Spanish, which I hope to get to a solid intermediate level by the time I begin in the fall. Hope to take at least 1-2 language classes while I'm there, but I also don't want to eat away at my options to take IR classes, you know? If I can take a 5th class without an additional charge, that would be amazing.

Good luck on your decision, rose! And Cali, see you in the fall!

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charlotte_asia - Actually, I'm not sure if they'll charge more for the additional class, that's a good point. I guess we'll find out soon enough. See you in the fall!

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According to a formers student, there's no surcharge for taking additional classes. He cut his tuition for the last semester by taking 5 classes in two prior semesters and thus being enrolled part-time in semester 4 and doing an internship.

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According to a formers student, there's no surcharge for taking additional classes. He cut his tuition for the last semester by taking 5 classes in two prior semesters and thus being enrolled part-time in semester 4 and doing an internship.

Smart idea!! Another former student and friend of mine advised taking 3 classes the last semester to ensure ample time for job searching, but I like the idea of taking 2 and saving on tuition. It takes a lot of work the prior semesters but could be worth it.Thanks for sharing IRToni.

Edited by charlotte_asia

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According to a formers student, there's no surcharge for taking additional classes. He cut his tuition for the last semester by taking 5 classes in two prior semesters and thus being enrolled part-time in semester 4 and doing an internship.

Thank you IRToni! This is a brilliant idea. Considering the potential 9,000 USD that I can save, my grad school balance sheet can finally break even. This really means a lot for someone who is scratching her head for the past two weeks, thinking about every penny that she can potentially squeeze/save.

This forum has been so helpful! Thanks again.

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I returned yesterday from a trip out to DC for The Elliott School's open house and thought others might want to hear some input. I'd also love to hear anyone else's impressions as well.

The overall feeling I got from the entire day was that the Elliott School intentionally casts itself as professional program. With that focus in mind, the day's events all seemed to reinforce the idea that the location, class times, and administration are all centered around allowing students to experience what it means to actually experience and begin/continue a career in foreign affairs.

I must admit that I was thorougly unimpressed by most of the open house. Beginning with the tour and continuing into the general information sessions, I felt herded around and recruited at. The speakers (including the dean) were uninspiring and lack the intensity or show I had expected. I didn't expect a preformance, but I had hoped that GWU recognized the schools against which they were contending and would aim to place themselves right in the running. The only highlight of the early sessions was Dr. Inder Sud (Director of MAIA) who seems awesome.

My feelings shifted as the day went on, and the turning point for me was the student panel. A collection of current and former students fielded questions about the program and each one seemed to emphasize the importance of being able to work while attaining their degree. The schedule allowed students without a laser focus to try different fields to discover exactly what they wanted to pursue. Some students had 3 or more different positions before they even graduated. More focused students were able to graduate with a wealth of experience and they felt it put them a few steps ahead of other students who were exiting their programs at the same time but with only a summer's worth of work. There was even a questions about do you feel not going to MSFS/SAIS has been a detriment and they all answered an emphatic 'No'. Not all that surprising considering they were on a recruitment panel.

Although I could have used more enthusiasm, overall the experience was a plus for Elliott in my book. It made me reconsider my priorities and what I truly want to get out of the experience. I e-mailed MSFS today asking about the waitlist and if they respond with 'no hope' I'll likely be enrolling in the Fall.

I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts who was there.

Edited by Coloradical

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I didn't go to the admitted students open house but I've been to other open house sessions and that's always the impression I've gotten from them. They definitely play up the fact their course schedules are all for the evening and that it allows them to bring in a lot of current practitioners. The open house I went to had a networking session w/ current students and alumni, and everyone I talked to definitely said that they appreciated being able to take those skills development courses and not have to schedule an internship around their courseload. It was definitely my first choice, and if I'd gotten in I'd have accepted because of that focus on professional skills (also, it was pretty much the most affordable school I applied to).

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charlotte_asia - Actually, I'm not sure if they'll charge more for the additional class, that's a good point. I guess we'll find out soon enough. See you in the fall!

They don't! In my second semester I took 5 classes, audited one and took 2 languages. I almost died... but it didn't cost any more than had I just taken 4.

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Rose1, cali and Coloradical - thanks for sharing your Open House experiences, I wasn't able to make it to any of them and your posts are very insightful.

SAIS2013 - how difficult are the language requirement tests? I took four years of Spanish in high school and undergrad however my ultimate goal is to learn a new language - either Chinese or Modern Arabic. I am considering taking a semester of Spanish to restrengthen my skills and testing out as early as possible in order to work on the new language for the remainder of my time. Thoughts?

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Rose1, cali and Coloradical - thanks for sharing your Open House experiences, I wasn't able to make it to any of them and your posts are very insightful.

SAIS2013 - how difficult are the language requirement tests? I took four years of Spanish in high school and undergrad however my ultimate goal is to learn a new language - either Chinese or Modern Arabic. I am considering taking a semester of Spanish to restrengthen my skills and testing out as early as possible in order to work on the new language for the remainder of my time. Thoughts?

I can't judge how strong your spanish is, but it sounds like a good plan - whether it takes you 1 or 2 semesters to pass out of Spanish, you'll still have time to study a new language. If you've never taken Chinese or Arabic, you might struggle to get proficiency in 3 semesters - unless you do some in country study - but then to be honest there's no real benefit to proficiency in a second language. You will still learn a lot. I'm yet to meet an employer who bases my language ability solely on what is written on my CV.

The language requirements vary from language to language - I think the idea is that you should be able to start from scratch and become proficient by the time you graduate. For that reason, proficiency for Chinese is not as high a standard as Spanish (due to the reading issue).

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Hello. I've been accepted at SAIS, SIPA, GWU and am waitlisted at Georgetown SFS for a MA in Latin American Studies. I am leaning towards SAIS, as I have heard mediocre reviews of the SIPA program and GWU isn't as highly ranked as the others. However, does anyone have any input on the Georgetown program? May 1 is the deadline for deposits and I am still waiting on Georgetown, and if accepted, will have to make a last minute decision. I am living overseas and was unable to attend any open houses. Thanks!

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You probably saw this, but the very first post on this thread lists my impressions of the open houses of both SAIS and Georgetown. As it relates to you personally, I believe the regional concentrations are stronger at SAIS, and particularly the LASP program at SAIS is a very well funded and well connected concentration.

In the end, they're both amazing schools and the two differ most in the type of atmosphere they offer students, which comes down entirely to personal preference. Do you prefer a smaller, more intimate program, slightly removed from the city, on a traditional college campus with an academic atmosphere? If so, choose Georgetown hands down. Do you prefer a larger, more autonomous program in the middle of a city with a more professional atmosphere? Then go to SAIS.

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Hi guys,

First time posting, longtime reader. I was admitted into Fletcher/SAIS/SIPA and have been struggling with my decision. With the deadline only a day away, I guess I was hoping to hear your thoughts. I currently work in finance, went to a business school so kind of have a quant background - but not very good at it now, haven't looked at math/econ since freshman year almost 8 years ago - but want to transition into development and media.

So. I like that SIPA has a specific media concentration and the director of the program seemed pretty helpful to her students for school year internships and networking. The reasons holding me back from going to SIPA have been pretty well-articulated on this forum, but my main issue with it is that because I am looking to change careers, I feel I may get lost/not know my way around when looking for jobs/internships. On the plus side, there is the opportunity to intern during the year which is important for me.

Bringing me to Fletcher - I wasn't a huge fan of the open house, tbh. Been in new york for a very long time and while everyone was exceedingly nice and helpful, and the flexibility of the program is ideal for me, I don't like how isolated it is. I am wavering between wanting to accept for the purely academic focus given my lack of background and nixing it due to the lack of academic year internship opportunities. Thoughts?

Finally, SAIS. To be pretty frank, I am scared of the econ reqs and have a few friends there who have described many of their colleagues as pretty type A/hyper competitive. The other major negative - I don't have a writing background and there are no linked schools to explore that part of my interest at SAIS. I learned a lot of the departments are able to offer their own funding, but for me, looking at the course offerings, I am not 100% sure I'd fit into a single department other than AFP, possibly. But, I loved it when I was there. I agree with everyone who's said they really tried to make an impression and I left with a very positive one.

I guess if anyone is able to help me with insight into my desired concentrations, SIPA/Fletcher/SAIS curriculum thoughts, please PLEASE let me know! I'm leaving it to the wire and it is totally stressing me out!

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Thanks a lot for sharing your impressions, Rose1. I have been traveling abroad for the last month so I couldn't attend any open houses. I was choosing between SAIS and SFS and your thoughts on their open houses reconfirmed my decision to go with SAIS.

ms1211, you have a tough choice to make and only a couple days to make it. Yikes! If NYC is a big draw for you, if you can tailor SIPA's broad course offerings to fit your interests, if you can find a niche within a concentration and if you can do internships in the area you're interested in (there are lots of media and foreign policy orgs in NYC), then I'd say SIPA looks like a great fit for you.

I got into SIPA but preferred the DC schools over NYC because I want to intern and later work in federal government. I hope you can figure out which school is the best fit given your academic and career interests. Best of luck!

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Thanks gomer for your quick response. Still plugging away, trying to figure out if I can get the experience I need via internships in the media area. I really loved SAIS when I visited and the program gives me a degree of comfort that I won't drown in options. Congratulations on your decision!

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