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Seeking Some Guidance In Selecting an I.R. Program


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Hello all,

 

I'm new to the boards, so hopefully posting something like this is not against etiquette. So, I'm looking into pursuing a Masters in International Relations, specifically dealing with the fields of conflict management and American foreign policy. but I'd love some input from those of you who have already gone through the process, plus I'd love to get some feedback on my chances.

 

I have 4 years of work experience in the non-profit sector, where I am now the director of our agency's energy services department, which specifies in doing energy retrofits for severely low income families, mixing aspects of humanitarian aid with green energy and business development. I'm a little worried that while I have work experience, it will be detrimental that it's not in the field I'm seeking to go into.

 

Additionally, a lot of the schools I'm looking at (SAIS at John's Hopkins, Stanford etc.) place a lot of importance on economics. I'm not opposed to that idea, but I have very little background in economics from my undergrad days (I think I took one macro course at Syracuse and got a B+). There also appears to be a language requirement in order to graduate, and while I was decent in Hebrew (studied Middle Eastern Affairs and Counter Terrorism in Tel Aviv for a semester), that isn't one of the languages that would count. Will not having a background in something like Arabic, French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian be significantly detrimental for my application? Obviously I'd pursue one of these languages if admitted.

 

In terms of LORs, I have two good professional LORs, and one LOR from a former US Congressman, however the one from the Congressman (from when I interned there) is from about a year or so ago. Is this letter still appropriate to use, since he's not in office anymore (retired in 2012)?

 

Lastly, my GRE scores (unofficially, I took them for the 2nd time yesterday) are 163V, 156M, writing TBD, but the first time I took the GREs, I got a 5.0. My undergrad GPA was a 3.34, with a major GPA of 3.56. 

 

So, any feedback on my "resume" or about I.R. programs would be terrific. My work schedule is pretty intensive so finding some time to seriously devote to research is a bit difficult, and few people I know have pursued something like this. I initially really wanted to be in D.C., but the more I'm looking into it, the more I'm worried it'll be a bit "rat race-esque", with a saturated market. Is that a fair assessment, or am I being too negative? 

 

Thanks in advance, and sorry for the novel.

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If conflict management/resolution is your thing, Columbia has the best program hands down. Look into their international conflict resolution specialization. The former head of UN peacekeeping directs it.

If Columbia interests you, they like people with work experience and are fine with career changers; that said, your GPA and quant score are low. Assuming your app is good they are fine with career changers... just make sure you apply for the MPA and not MIA.

Edited by NPRjunkie
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  • 3 weeks later...

SAIS is a two year program. It has a rigorous economic component and quite frankly, that is what separates it from the rest. I had a minimal economics background (Macro and Micro) and I'm doing quite well. Most students take preterm and the calculus refresher course in the summer and hit the ground running in the fall. Economics are an integral part of the tapestry of I/R. The language proficiency exam at SAIS is no where near as difficult as the OPI and your language grades aren't a part of your official GPA. I would suggest that you take a Middlebury summer program and upon the completion of one of their 6 week immersion programs, you'll be able to easily pass the proficiency test. You don't have to take further language courses after you pass the proficiency test. Most of us do. You can't take the proficiency test until your second semester. I could not recommend SAIS more. I/R in the states evolves around DC. I would recommend studying in DC if you want to be a serious player. I am not deprecating the quality of the other schools that have been mentioned on this post. I am simply pointing out that most of them aren't in DC.

Edited by riverguide
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Thanks for the replies, it is much appreciated. 

 

I got my office GRE scores back recently, and scored a 163V (91st percentile), 156Q (65th percentile), 5.0 writing (93rd percentile), which I think are pretty close to optimum level...I know I could do a bit better in writing and verbal, but the math is probably maxed out, so I'm not going to take it again.

 

That said, I decided not to apply for this round because when I dug deep into it, I felt that my desire to go to grad school was more a way to escape my current career (which I'm totally sick of in its current state), and my goals were far too broad to make an educated decision. 

 

My biggest conundrum now is...is grad school worth it? It's quite the investment, of course, and many of the recent grads from reputable institutions have struggled mightily in finding a job due to a pretty severe saturation of the market, coupled with government sequestration and general economic uncertainty throughout the country. I want to make a very educated decision here, and not pursue grad school strictly as an escape mechanism. For those of you who have pursued a master's in this field, did you have a "dream job" that you had identified, and therefore were pursuing credentials that could make that a reality, or was a broader range of interest? 

 

I'm confident that I can put forth a strong resume given my work experience and accomplishments in the working world, but I'm a bit concerned about my Q GRE score (156)...I've read mixed reviews, some saying that a lot of these universities hardly care about the Q score, while others may weigh these heavily, particularly those with a strong economic facet.

 

Sorry if this is scatterbrained, I guess I just have a lot of questions that I'm trying to find answers to before making a decision.

 

Thanks for any input.

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Hi everyone,

 

Just wanted to post a quick update and get some experienced responses. So far, the information I've received throughout this forum has been really helpful. 

 

I've decided that I'm going to pursue a masters that involves energy resources and international security, with the most appealing being the SAIS program's ERE tract. However, I have very little background in economics, so I'll certainly need to take a few courses over the next year prior to my applications going out.

 

My question is, are econ courses offered at community colleges (including online community courses) acceptable? My work schedule is pretty demanding during the week, and I won't be able to attend a brick and mortar session, as I don't get home until about 7pm from my job. Hopefully a community college option will be an acceptable option, but I want to make sure this is sufficient before getting too far along that path. I've reached out to a number of school's admissions departments, and am awaiting a reply.

 

With regards to my GPA of 3.38, there was a strong upward trend over the last 2 years of undergrad, where I think it ended up being around 3.65 (awaiting official transcript to come in and check). Is that taken into consideration, since my freshman and sophomore years were like 7 and 8 years ago?

 

Lastly, is it a stretch to say that my experience as the director of a non-profit energy program (where I literally have hands on control of the entire department including strategy, physical implementation of work etc) is "relevant" to energy policy? It's on a local level rather than federal, but my experience essentially represents the on the ground ramifications of federal policy.

 

Thanks again for any guidance, it is greatly appreciated. 

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 I/R in the states evolves around DC. I would recommend studying in DC if you want to be a serious player. I am not deprecating the quality of the other schools that have been mentioned on this post. I am simply pointing out that most of them aren't in DC.

 

This song is sung by everyone attending school in DC and while it's partially true that "IR in the states evolves [sic] around DC" (have you forgotten where the UN is, not to mention where countless NGO, MNC, and bank headquarters are?) you do not need to attend school in DC to be involved in IR. DC is filled to the brink with IR students. SAIS students do not stand out (even in DC) in job applications--there are just too many. The reputations of these schools in the job market itself is far less than what it is to the students who attend them, and your chances of landing an IR job/internship are not significantly enhanced by being in DC. It's not as though it is hard to get from Boston, NJ, or NYC to DC, or to get a summer internship there, and SAIS has definite drawbacks of its own (like every school). I felt like I was in a kiddie pool at many moments studying there with how little world/work experience my cohort had. And after all, IR isn't just about the United States... no one will care where you attend school if you are applying abroad for jobs/internships. Not to mention, if you get into WWS, HKS--all things being equal in terms of funding--you would be dumb to choose SAIS, most especially for the reason that it is located in DC.

 

Also, the quant/econ really isn't as hard or rigorous as people make it out to be so long as you go in with a basic familiarity, and I think all IR programs offer pre-term econ/math refreshers. The main drawback of SAIS is that it lacks the versatility of a better branded school if you want to work outside DC and IR. Try flaunting that SAIS degree in the Bay Area or NYC, as I tried to, and you'll end up with quizzical looks and a dearth of job responses. So many SAIS grads end up acting like a PR firm for their own school. Here's an insider insight: it's because they have to. Every time I read a SAISer's comments on these forums I'm sensing only insecurity about the value of the program, and it's because I went there and know the feeling/tendencies well. Who are the most satisfied people who went to IR/public policy programs? I would suggest they are largely the ones not spending time on these forums... 

 

If you're sure you want to be in DC and work in IR, though, yes: great program. Hardly as unimpeachably wonderful as it is constantly touted to be here, though. Really scrutinize what you want out of a program and get all perspectives. 

Edited by NPRjunkie
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My biggest conundrum now is...is grad school worth it? It's quite the investment, of course, and many of the recent grads from reputable institutions have struggled mightily in finding a job due to a pretty severe saturation of the market, coupled with government sequestration and general economic uncertainty throughout the country. I want to make a very educated decision here, and not pursue grad school strictly as an escape mechanism. For those of you who have pursued a master's in this field, did you have a "dream job" that you had identified, and therefore were pursuing credentials that could make that a reality, or was a broader range of interest? 

 

This is the right question. Grad. school will not get you a job; job experience will get you a job. Grad. school should be used to hone skills you already have, to achieve a necessary requirement in a career ladder you have already been climbing. Does your career trajectory really have that as a notch in the ladder as do many IR career trajectories? It may not.

 

If energy is really your business, though (as it became mine), SAIS will not serve you very well, possibly not at all compared to your existing work experience. Somewhere like Stanford is where you want to be, and this is probably obvious to you already. The location/network/brand versatility of a school will be of more value to you at this stage of your career than a cookie-cutter IR program like SAIS, if you feel you have to attend grad school at all.

Edited by NPRjunkie
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NPRjunkie:

 

I'm sorry that your experiences haven't been as positive and rewarding as mine have been at SAIS. Perhaps you should consider changing horses in mid stream. SAIS by its very name is focused on I/R careers. I turned down "better branded" (sic) names to attend SAIS and in my field, it is the name brand. I interviewed others in my field and visited and spoke with students at other schools. I spoke with professors at SAIS, Harvard and Georgetown BEFORE I made my decision -and I also traveled to DC and attended a day of classes at SAIS. There have been no surprises for me at SAIS. I agree with you that the art of preparation shouldn't be underrated, my friend. I'm curious as to how your preparation landed you at SAIS and  I'm sorry to hear that you've chosen to remain in what you describe as the "kiddie pool" (sic). It must be very frustrating for someone of your stature...

Edited by riverguide
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NPRjunkie:

 

I'm sorry that your experiences haven't been as positive and rewarding as mine have been at SAIS. Perhaps you should consider changing horses in mid stream. SAIS by its very name is focused on I/R careers. I turned down "better branded" (sic) names to attend SAIS and in my field, it is the name brand. I interviewed others in my field and visited and spoke with students at other schools. I spoke with professors at SAIS, Harvard and Georgetown BEFORE I made my decision -and I also traveled to DC and attended a day of classes at SAIS. There have been no surprises for me at SAIS. I agree with you that the art of preparation shouldn't be underrated, my friend. I'm curious as to how your preparation landed you at SAIS and  I'm sorry to hear that you've chosen to remain in what you describe as the "kiddie pool" (sic). It must be very frustrating for someone of your stature...

 

I'm a couple years out of SAIS. Whatever preparation you made, your analysis of DC in relation to IR is mostly inaccurate and should not have guided your decision making. 

 

In any case, good luck and enjoy your time there.

Edited by NPRjunkie
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Armadillo:

 

There's a few current SAIS students and SAIS grads who have NPRjunkie's attitude and opinion. Every school has them. They carry chronic dissatisfaction with them wherever they go. Some people really don't know what they want to do when they go to Grad School. NPRjunkie is sharing his experiences with you in that regard. When it doesn't work out, most switch to what does work out. You should visit SAIS and check it out. Its easy to do. Don't be dismayed by NPRjunkie's commentary or his attitude. When NPRjunkie started posting, his side bio said he was presently attending SAIS. Now he says he's a few years out. I don't know if he even went there. You have to have a thick skin in this business. You have to be flexible. Several of my friends in conflict management switched to other fields. Some of my friends in regional programs have switched fields, too. SAIS is an I/R school. Some people aren't cut out for it. If you want to develop your I/R skills set, go there. I had a regional background and strategic language skills before I applied. I'm developing a skill set, now. I'm not sure I'd go there for conflict management. I chose not to apply to Columbia because it has a reputation for being a  big and impersonal program. SAIS is a more intimate learning environment, although its individual programs are somewhat insular. I spoke with a lot of people in my field and a lot of potential employers before I made my decision. You should do the same. SAIS has been good to me. I could not recommend it enough.

 

And NPRjunkie: Its always good to hear from my fans! Good luck to you too! I sincerely hope things get better for you...

Edited by riverguide
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  • 1 month later...

Hi everyone,

 

Thank you for all of your responses, I just got back to the country and it's nice to see some feedback. I appreciate all of the information, both positive experience and negative. NPRjunkie, thanks for your perspective - as you suggested, Stanford is a program that I'm very interested in. My business is energy, on a local domestic scale, but I'm confident that my experience in energy as well as business development and strategic implementation could be parlayed into something reasonable on an international level, which is really my ultimate goal. 

 

With regards to a background in economics, while I have real work experience dealing with economics, I don't have a ton of course work dedicated to it, and I know that most schools want this. I've checked all of my options, and given my work schedule it looks like the only true option at this point is an online course. I'd really prefer not to take an online course as I like the idea of being in a class setting and have the ability of face-to-face interaction with the professors. With that in mind, if it's the only real option available, is it worth taking an online course from a local community college, or will this be looked at unfavorably?

 

Thanks again.

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  • 3 months later...

Armadillo:

 

There's a few current SAIS students and SAIS grads who have NPRjunkie's attitude and opinion. Every school has them. They carry chronic dissatisfaction with them wherever they go. Some people really don't know what they want to do when they go to Grad School. NPRjunkie is sharing his experiences with you in that regard. When it doesn't work out, most switch to what does work out. You should visit SAIS and check it out. Its easy to do. Don't be dismayed by NPRjunkie's commentary or his attitude. When NPRjunkie started posting, his side bio said he was presently attending SAIS. Now he says he's a few years out. I don't know if he even went there. You have to have a thick skin in this business. You have to be flexible. Several of my friends in conflict management switched to other fields. Some of my friends in regional programs have switched fields, too. SAIS is an I/R school. Some people aren't cut out for it. If you want to develop your I/R skills set, go there. I had a regional background and strategic language skills before I applied. I'm developing a skill set, now. I'm not sure I'd go there for conflict management. I chose not to apply to Columbia because it has a reputation for being a  big and impersonal program. SAIS is a more intimate learning environment, although its individual programs are somewhat insular. I spoke with a lot of people in my field and a lot of potential employers before I made my decision. You should do the same. SAIS has been good to me. I could not recommend it enough.

 

And NPRjunkie: Its always good to hear from my fans! Good luck to you too! I sincerely hope things get better for you...

 

Hey riverguide,

 

I noticed you applied for the Pickering Fellowship during the 2013 cycle. I know you were rejected by the selection committee, but did you at least make it to the finalist round? If so, do you have any tips on how to best prepare for the written exam and/or the interview? Also, in hindsight, what was your downfall?
 
Thanks
Edited by Ambesa87
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  • 2 weeks later...

 

Hey riverguide,

 

I noticed you applied for the Pickering Fellowship during the 2013 cycle. I know you were rejected by the selection committee, but did you at least make it to the finalist round? If so, do you have any tips on how to best prepare for the written exam and/or the interview? Also, in hindsight, what was your downfall?
 
Thanks

 

My downfall for the Pickering was not preparing for it several years in advance. I prepared for it several months before the deadline. If there's one consistent trait in the recipients, its that they started during their freshman or sophomore year to prepare for it. If you're starting now, I'd make sure you have back-up plans A, B, C & D prepared and don't hold your breath. I started preparing for the Boren two years before the application deadline and was fortunate to receive it.

Edited by riverguide
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  • 2 months later...

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