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GWU MA - Deferral?

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I applied to several top schools of International Affairs, and I accepted an offer from Elliott. Tuition is $28,000/yr, and they offered me $35000 toward the program (65% tuition reduction). I would still have to pay $22,000 for tuition, plus supplies and living expenses in D.C for two years.

I have $43,000 in debt from undergrad, and I'm looking at accruing another $22,000 for tuition, and at least $10,000/yr for living expenses... so under the best circumstances, I could possibly end up with $85,000 in debt, but likely closer to $95,000... This is with working at a restaurant job initially while looking for a job more in line with my career... Lots of debt and lots of stress.

There is always the possibility of getting funding in the second year, and I've located potential sources of $54,000... but again these are competitive and there is no guarantee...

I had applied for the Rangel and Pickering Fellowships, either of which would have covered all, or a substantial portion of tuition for any grad school, a living stipend, two generously-paid internships, and the guarantee of a job in the Foreign Service after graduation. I'm planning a career in government, and the Foreign Service is my "dream career." I was selected as a finalist for both fellowships, meaning I had a 50% chance of getting one of them.. After the interview and testing process, I learned that I was not selected for either of them... Of course I was extremely discouraged, but glad that I was selected as a finalist for both, and that I at least received some funding for grad school.

I want to reapply for the Pickering and Rangel Fellowships, defer admission to GW, and also reapply to a wider variety of schools in the hopes of getting funding.

Pickering and Rangel are not guaranteed, but I think my chances would be better the second time around... meaning no additional student debt, and a gateway to my dream career.

If I defer admission to GW, there is no guarantee that they will offer me the same financial package. And of course there is no guarantee that I would get a better deal from any other school.

So here's my dilemma: Deferring grad school for a year means risking a financial aid package that some people would be extremely happy to get. But it also offers the possibility of getting it completely paid for with two paid internships and a direct route to my dream career.

I know exactly what I want to do, but I'm not sure being saddled with that much debt is the way to do it... What to do?

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I, too, spent a lot of time considering deferral if my financials didn't work out. I set a maximum grad school debt I was comfortable with ($40-50,000) and decided that I was going to defer unless I could make that happen. I was fortunate, and my worst-case scenario (ie: applying all of my savings, no assistantships, and little/no income) falls squarely in the middle of that range.

One thing you didn't mention above is whether you know how you'd use your year off. Do you have a job you would continue working in, or something else you know you'd be doing? If you can use that extra year to further bolster your profile (and save money!), then I think it's a pretty solid, rational choice. Just make sure you know GWU's deferral policy inside and out, and you'll want to verify that re-application for the fellowships is permitted. I would email someone to confirm so you have it in writing, just in case anyone were to question it in the future.

Best of luck with your decision!

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