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Debt with prestige, or full ride at good but not top-notch school?

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Hey everyone,


So I've narrowed my choices for prospective IR grad programs down to 2. I should say beforehand that I have 6 credits of transferable credit, so if I REALLY bust my butt, I could finish in 3 semesters. 


On the one hand, I've been accepted to The Elliott School (I was also accepted to LSE, but the cost of living in London is prohibitive, and I'm more interested more in practically oriented course work than in theory at this point.)  This is obviously a well known and prestigious program, whose graduates have a good track record in getting jobs. It is also hellishly expensive, even before DC living is factored in.


On the other hand, I have my safety school, Marquette University in Milwaukee. Still a well regarded school in general, but not particularly well known for their IR program. They have, however, offered me complete tuition coverage and nearly 20,000 in living stipends, which will let me live a pretty decent life in Milwaukee and cover a semester or summer in DC. 


I have a decent amount of professional experience, and spent awhile as a fellow in the US Dept of State. I also know that in this field, grad school is more about the networks you make than the actual degree you get. I have a network in DC, but I'm afraid that will weaken in my absence. 


Thoughts? Any advice would be greatly welcome. 





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I think it depends on how much you have in the bank, and how much debt you are willing to incur.  I have friends that will spend the rest of their lives paying off their student loan debt from UG and grad school.  They have told me that they will be in their 40's - 50's before it is paid off.  They are afraid that they will never own their own home or be able to provide themselves a significant retirement.  


Not in your field, but I've watched people dig themselves unbelieveable financial holes.  I would sit down and figure out what the acutal cost would be to attend Elliott and how long it would take to pay that off, underestimating the amount you would earn after...just to stay on the safe side.  If that make your stomach turn, then I would opt for Marquette and make the most of networking during the summers and at conferences.  If, on the other hand, you can manage the debt well then you should go for Elliott.  Is there any chance your current employer could adjust your schedule so that you could attend Elliott part time while still working?


Best of luck to you!

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my initial reaction would be to follow the funding!  and while your away, make a point of it to maintain your networks in DC.  If the program really only takes you three semesters, then your time away will not even be substantial.... debt avoidance FTW!!

Edited by PhDhopeful2013
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Do you already have debt from undergrad, etc?  Do you actually need an MA?  Are you in a position where you can't get a promotion or a raise or do the work you want to do because you don't have one?  


If your goal is a policy oriented position (think tank or gov) and you already have a "network" in DC, it might be worthwhile to take on debt for a two-year MA since you'll likely be able to find SOME job after finishing (and won't have to deal with relocating for a summer internship (which is annoying) and can actually search locally during your last semester (which has advantages)) .  Most of the wisdom on this part of the forum (poli sci) that discourages debt is directed at people who plan on becoming academics through PhD programs where the job market is less promising and it takes 5-7 years (rather than 1.5-2 years for an MA).  


If you are planning on doing a PhD program after finishing your MA, I would go with the debt avoidance route.  

GopherGrad is probably the best person to weigh in on this...

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