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Getting geared up but I have a few questions


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I am getting geared up for grad school. I'm a 2009 graduate from a prestigious New England liberal arts school and I studied abroad at very prestigious institutions as well. I graduated at an especially bad time and really struggled professionally. I did manage to establish a decent resume, but I'm to the point of being limited by my lack of a graduate degree. I have a family to support and I'm looking to at least get on track to do a much better job of providing. I have determined that an MPA would be the best fit for me in terms of my interests and background. As a result, I have some questions about selecting and comparing programs as well as choosing a concentration.


1. Because of my family needs, I am looking at local programs in the Atlanta area. I have the pedigree to go into a top tier program, but I don't think my wife and I would be able to support ourselves in those locales without family support. I have a lot of relatives in the area here who can help with childcare while I'm getting my degree. I don't have that in other places. As a result, I wonder about how the prestige and reputation of MPA programs affects career prospects. Obviously, there is some impact, but I a unsure of its extent or nature. Would going to a locally respected school leave me with limited geographic options? Would that dissipate over time with real life experience? Obviously, I want to get the best education I can so that I can be the best candidate and worker but I wonder how much name recognition plays into the former. I would say that the prestige of my undergraduate education did little to nothing to help me in my job search and I also found that the name recognition was non-existent out of the Northeast to the extent that it was there in the first place. The content of my education was immensely helpful and I wouldn't trade it for anything. What I suppose I really want to know is if name recognition is worth sacrificing for or if I should prioritize programs that offer the most productive rigor given that ranking systems can be gamed.


2. What is the most lucrative concentration for an MPA? What is the most in-demand field within public service and non-profits? What kind of options are there in the private sector for an MPA holder and what do companies look for? My career has been almost entirely in the non-profit world, and I found that I didn't make much in the way of profits (har har har). I do however appreciate that the picture gets a lot better as you work your way up. I'd rather have consistent access to numerous secure jobs that pay 40-45k than the off-chance of snagging a handful of 90k jobs because it's difficult to support a family on hypothetical income. I am definitely interested in working my way up wherever I go, I just want to get the chance to do that, to make sure I get the right tools to make that journey, and to make sure my family is taken care of throughout that process. As I tell my wife, "we don't need a Benz, we just need to pay bills."

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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't think I can say anything on #2, but in terms of where to apply, I'd shoot for everything.  Even if you don't plan on going to Harvard, but think you can get in and possibly get funding, apply to Harvard.  That way you can use Harvard (or whatever school) as leverage with other schools.  I don't think prestige is a big deal unless you want to be in the upper echelons of some of the most powerful institutions in the world, but even then it's more about performance and network.  If you want to be a local city/state worker, prestige will matter much less.

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  • 4 weeks later...

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I think it'd be useful to hear more about your professional background/ career and where you want to go. Without knowing what you've been up to and what kind of positions you are aiming for, it's hard to say how you're being limited by the lack of a graduate degree or what the best degree/ concentration for you would be. I hope that makes sense. I've heard before that graduate school can be kind of a springboard; it will launch you far, but in a certain direction, and you want to be sure that's the right direction. 


Some quick thoughts on your questions: as someone who is in a similar situation (graduated in 2010 from a nationally prestigious university), I believe name recognition is a tool best utilized with good networking. I don't know how you've been utilizing the network that came with your undergraduate degree, but I feel less like I've gotten a job because they were impressed with where I went and more because I knew alumni who knew people at said organization. Also, it sounds like you're already planning to stay in areas where your family can help out, so even if going to a locally respected school left you with limited geographic options for a new job or career, it sounds like that won't be much of an issue? Hope that makes sense. I think eventually, real life experience makes up for any of that. Especially if you're going for a professional degree like an MPA, internships and everything will count a lot more.


After all, "I'll take that guy who studied X instead of the guy who did X for a year," said no employer ever. 


Finally, I think development is one of the most in-demand fields for non-profits, obviously, and from my experience, there's not much you can get for that line of work from a degree. Only good fashioned experience and networking can help you be an effective fundraiser. Good luck with no matter what you choose, and I do think more thinking about WHAT you want to do in the future will help you figure out if the MPA can get you there.

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