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Is More Prestige Worth More Expense?


KatieC
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Hey everyone!

 

I've been accepted into Harvard Divinity School for a MTS, and into University of Groningen (in the Netherlands) for an MA in the same field. Harvard is giving me a 75% tuition grant, but it's still quite expensive, obviously, so I would be going into quite a bit of debt. The Dutch school is a third of the cost, with much cheaper tuition, lower cost of living, and  the fact that it's a shorter program. (My girlfriend lives in the Netherlands, as well, which is an added pull for going there!) 

 

Several people have told me that Harvard is worth the significantly higher debt because the prestige will help me to get a job. I'm hoping to go into the nonprofit sector, probably political advocacy of some kind specifically. What do you voices of experience think? Will the prestige of Harvard really help my future career so much that it's worth 40k extra? 

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I would probably say no, it is not worth it, but of course it's a very personal decision.  If the difference was a small difference in stipend, I might say the prestige is more important, but this sounds like a significant difference, and I wouldn't want to go into debt if I had an option not too.

 

When looking for jobs, the name-brand of Harvard will be important to some people, but most will look at what you've done.  ESPECIALLY in the nonprofit sector, university prestige isn't as important.  If you were going for an MBA and looking to go into the private sector, it would be a different story, but not in the nonprofit sector.  And for me, the added of incentive of my significant other would be extremely important to my decision, but of course that would depend on how long you have been together, how committed you guys are, etc.  If it's really new or casual, it might not be a big deal, but if you really think this could be a long-term relationship, I would absolutely take the option to avoid a long-distance relationship since it's both possible AND a better choice financially.

When you add up the cost of living, tuition, and especially shortness of program (starting a "real" job one year early will make a big difference in your income), I doubt the prestige of the Harvard name will make you enough extra money to account for that in the long run.  That's just a guess of course, and obviously you need to decide what's best for you.

Are the programs similarly interesting to you, both a good fit, or are there other factors weighing in on this?

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The programs are both similarly interesting and a good fit, though to be honest the Groningen one is much more tailored to my research interests. 

 

You kind of said what I've been thinking, so thanks so much :D It's good to hear that my reasoning makes sense.

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I don't mean to be a downer, but I figured you wanted multiple opinions.  I think prestige, in general, is not always worth the money.  However, I think Ivy League degrees are sort of the gamechanger for that rule.  There's really no question that people outside of your field will be more impressed with a degree from Harvard than a degree from a school that people are less familiar with.  Since you want to go into political advocacy, you will probably be talking to people on a regular basis who are not familiar with the programs in your field, or academia at all.  It's silly, but people give a lot of automatic credibility to people who attend Ivies, especially Harvard.  They will know the Harvard name, everyone does.  You will also have the opportunity to network with their ridiculous list of alumni, in every field and tax bracket ($$$ for your causes).  I have heard that things are expensive in the Netherlands from several friends who lived there for a year or two, and you could definitely live in or near Boston/Cambridge reasonably if you try (many do it with roommates or live slightly outside of the city). I am not starving and I live alone in Boston (and used to in Cambridge).  Incurring debt is not good, but with a 75% tuition waiver, it doesn't sound like it will be insane debt.

 

BUT!  It sounds like you really would rather go to the program in the Netherlands, and it could be a more enriching life experience, and it's your life so you shouldn't have to justify that choice to anyone.  You should choose what feels right to you and where you think you'll be happiest.  I think you could get to wherever you wanted to go based on your reputation alone if you are highly motivated.  I would just consider all of the factors before making your final choice to avoid regrets later.

Edited by JungWild&Free
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I think the question before you ask is more money worth it is if you can afford the higher price.

 

Affordability comes first.  None of that is going to pay your bills.  Let's say that Harvard is going to give you a 75% tuition grant and tuition there is $40,000 a year; that leaves tuition as $10,000 per year.  Let's also say that living expenses for 12 months at Harvard will necessitate a $25,000 loan per year.  That's $20,000 in loans + $50,000 in living expenses for two years = $70,000 in debt.  That is just at the limit of what I would be willing to borrow for a masters, and that's because I have very little undergrad debt.  If you have undergrad debt, Harvard may put you over the limit of affordability wrt paying off student loans in addition to living.

 

Groningen is a third of the cost of Harvard, so let's say that the tuition is $13,000 a year instead of $40,000.  Let's say that you only need $20,000 to live there instead of $25,000 in Boston.  That's $33,000 of debt for just one year.  That is a pretty big difference.

 

I agree that people in general will be far more impressed with a Harvard degree than one from Groningen, and that will help.  It's easier to get into the big-name nonprofits and NGOs, as well as the for-profits, with the Ivy League name.  (I disagree that name doesn't matter in nonprofits.  I have some friends who consult or intern for big name NGOs and nonprofits as PhD students, and almost all of them are at higher-prestige PhD programs.)   I'm not saying it's fair or right, but I've noticed that people (inside and outside of academia - you would think academics would be immune to this but they aren't) react to me a bit differently when they hear where I go to school.

 

Typically, I would say that the pedigree of one school is not going to nab you a higher starting salary in your field - at least not higher enough to justify astronomical raises in debt - it just may help you get a job more easily.  But in the nonprofit sector, there's a little more flex in that.  Less well-known nonprofits often have abysmal salaries, whereas people working for better-known ones tend to make more money.  The location in Boston means that you may be able to start interning at a nonprofit while you are in the MTS, which can turn into a job; Groningen is a smaller city, and interning for a nonprofit there may require knowledge of Dutch (I know everyone in the Netherlands speaks English, but actually working there may necessitate speaking Dutch).  There may also be work visa issues.

 

I also agree with Jung…if you want to go to Groningen really badly, and that's where your heart is, then go there and don't look back.  But if you are really torn, I would consider Harvard more heavily.

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Thanks. I'm visiting Harvard tomorrow, so I'm hoping that helps me make a decision and doesn't just make me more conflicted.

 

One thing I've been wondering about is how the country I'm in will affect my job hunt. If I decide I want to stay in the Netherlands, it seems like having a Dutch degree might be a plus, but then again, Harvard is famous enough that the reputation will probably still be useful. But I wouldn't have the language experience or the student visa to job hunt on... 

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I do not envy your decision. One thing to consider - Harvard will offer amazing alumni connections etc., but you do not want to be in a situation where you have to turn down a great job because you can't afford to pay your student loans on the salary you would get. I ran into this problem when looking for public interest legal jobs with 80k in law school loans. Though I did eventually manage to make it work, and now I am switching careers, so I think that if you just follow your instinct things have a way of sorting themselves out. Good luck!!!

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