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Duke MPP vs Michigan MPP

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Sanford vs. Ford

Senator vs The only president never to be elected to office.

I'm deciding between the two and would be curious to hear thoughts. Below is a very general breakdown of the two that can maybe start conversation:


Small program- 55-60 admits each year

Practical training

Geneva summer program

Strengths in global policy and social policy

Relatively new health policy program, but growing

Excellent career services dept.

Durham nice in some regards, not nice in other regards (though I think its more on the nice end)


Larger program- approx. 100 admits a year

Strong quantitative training

Various internship opportunities

Big alumni network (especially in DC)

More focus areas (options in Econ and Politics)

Unsure about career services (not that its bad, just dont know)

Ann Arbor. I hear its nice but no hiding the cold temps

I visited Duke last week and will visit Michigan this week, which is why I have a bit more info about Duke. Let me know. Thanks.

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Wow, I seem to be in almost the exact same situation. It is going to come down to these two programs for me as well. Like you, I was also at Duke last Friday and will be in Ann Arbor this weekend.

The quant training at Michigan is very appealing, but Duke is certainly no slouch in that department either. I'm really looking forward to seeing Michigan, and even though I got a slightly better funding package from UMich, Duke made a very strong case last Friday.

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I agree NebBronco. Duke has made a solid pitch. I've been impressed by how personal the admitted student process has been. We have tons of access and have had questions answered promptly. Not quite the same with Michigan (maybe a difference between big and small policy schools). I'm looking forward to Michigan's Spring Preview too, but I'm also leaning pretty heavily Duke's way.

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For whatever it is worth, when I was deciding last year I ran into several students who were deciding between Duke and Michigan. After visiting both schools, the prevailing view seemed to be "too close to call." The two schools seem to have quite similar strengths, and neither have any glaring weaknesses - with the possible exception of location. After the decisions had been made, the students I talked with tended to cite "intangibles" in explaining their choices. I doubt any of you would regret choosing either school, irrespective of your area of focus. Of the two, I visited only Michigan, and I was very impressed (I ended up going elsewhere, but not due to any shortcoming of Ford or Michigan).

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Just one postscript to my previous comment. One area where I think Ford has the upper hand over Duke is the breadth and quality of course offerings outside the policy school proper. This is not to denigrate Duke in any way, but the graduate offerings at MIchigan are incredibly extensive and of uniformly high quality. Michigan may not be the "absolute best" in that many fields, but it never less than very, very good, and you can find almost any course that suits your fancy at UM. This is a real strength that is worth considering, imo.

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Hey All,

I'm leaning heavily to the Ford School for a number of reasons. Here are some of them:

1) Strong Quant/Econ Focus - While I'm sure Duke will give you the basic skills, the fact that the Ford school teaches you calculus will allow you to explore economics at a deeper level. They also have many other econ courses, and for me, that is a plus. I don't want to crunch numbers for a living but I think a solid understanding of econ and quant methods is essential.

2) Size - While Duke isn't tiny, I like the approximately 100 student size of each cohort. It helps to give you a broader network and just keeps things interesting so you are not in the same classes with the same people all the time. I obviously have not gone to school at Duke so I can't say what it's like, but I would worry that having such a small class size could be either really awesome or absolutely annoying depending on your classmates. I'm sure everyone will be bright and nice, but if you just don't click with people, that could be a bad experience...who knows though, maybe I'm worrying about nothing.

3) Electives - Ford school has amazing electives, especially in social policy. The problem with having a smaller program like Duke is that they cannot offer lots of electives because they aren't enough students to fill them. While this may have changed, I have heard from a Duke alum and a current student that many of the electives are open to upperclass undergrads and that it is possible to have an elective with a few or even a majority of undergrads depending on how many grad students sign up. That is very unappealing to me, as I think that having grad students with a wider range of experiences to contribute to discussions is something I am really looking forward to. Plus, you can easily take classes at other schools, like business or law. Also, at U-M most electives are offered pretty regularly each year whereas at Duke its hard to tell if a class will be offered again.

4) Age - The Ford school is more developed and probably has a wider network, not to mention the benefit of having the wider U-M network, though I cannot say whether people often find jobs by using the broader network.

5) Building - Weill Hall where the policy school is housed is a beautiful building. I couldn't make it to Duke and hear that they have an amazing building, so I won't say that Ford takes this category outright.

6) Location - I've never been to Durham, but I think that Ann Arbor is probably more happening. Coming from a big city, that is something that is important to me, and I just don't think I'd be as happy in Durham.

7) Dual Degrees- Nearly 30% of MPP students pursue dual degrees and you can apply for a dual degree even during your first year. They are very accomodating and even allow you to develop your own dual degree. For example, you could pursue a dual degree in policy and political science even though they don't even offer a poli sci masters degree.

That's it for now. But in the interest of full disclosure, I'll mention that I got a very generous funding package from the Ford School and grew up in Michigan so I do have family nearby. I think both schools are really good with strong faculties, but some of those "intangibles" seem to tip the scale for me. Like someone else said, I don't think you'll go wrong professionally speaking, but you need to think about where you'll be happy. And for me, I think that the Ford School is it. Hope that was helpful. Feel free to react or clear up any inaccuracies. Hope to see some of you on Friday at U-M!

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I am also looking into Ford (although debating between Ford and Harris). I am bummed I cant make the visit day so for those who go if you could post your thoughts after event that would be great. Also Stepehen33 gave some great comments on the

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Here's part of a correspondence I had with a current Ford MPP student:

I'd highlight two things about the Ford School that I think sets it apart. One is the opportunity to take classes at the other UM grad programs. In addition to the wide curriculum at Ford, you can take classes at the Law School, Business School, Health, Higher Ed, Social Work, Natural Resources...these are all great places to pick up a new focus or hone one you've already decided on. I started taking classes at the School of Public Health this year and I'm signed up to take more next year, because they have been terrific. I didn't even realize when I came here that they're the top rated Health Management program in the country--in fact, at that point I didn't have a health focus in mind.

The other great thing about the Ford School (and you hit on this in your questions) is the friendliness of the community. Hopefully you'll have an opportunity to come visit and see for yourself--many of my classmates say that was a big factor in their decision too. We're definitely a cooperative group, and also very social and inclusive. The core class sizes are large (seminars are much smaller), but it feels quite small because you know almost everyone after your first year. My undergrad was in a smaller school, and I don't sense a big difference between the two experiences--professors and staff are very accessable and friendly. Some professors have a more academic focus while others are former practitioners, so although you can talk with both, you'll likely find the practitioners are better networkers.

The other resource we have at Ford for job searches is a highly organized and aggressive Career Services Office. They'll truly go out of their way to help you (even if, like me, you didn't come looking for help!) They make sure there are lots of on-campus visits from alumni and recruiters to help you find a position.

I hope you find this useful.

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I'd like to be able to consider both, but as expensive as Michigan is for non-residents with no fellowship money, Duke is the only school of the two that I'm financially able to consider. :(

If everything else were equal I'd lean Michigan for the larger alum network, the awesome dual degree options, and Ann Arbor. Duke still seems pretty awesome though, it's really down to Duke and UCLA for me.

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I think that any of the schools you are choosing between will end up giving you an excellent experience. Even though I grew up in Michigan, I'm not sure that I will qualify for in-state tuition, so without the fellowship funding I received, it would be a difficult gamble.

However, I forgot to mention that U-M has a number of Graduate Student Instructor positions who help teach classes and run discussion sessions (they say about 20 hours of work per week). While these positions are probably tough to get, if you land one, you get full tuition coverage for the semester AND healthcare. If you are out of state, even landing a position for one semester could cut your costs down by about 16K. It seems that these positions mostly go to 2nd years, but keep in mind that the University needs GSI's for undergrad classes, too. So if you have a strong background in some area, you could try to land one of those positions your first year and definitely try to get a GSI position for Ford School classes if you do well during your first year.

Just a thought. I like all the schools I applied to, and I was pretty excited about UChicago, but my decision was made a little easier by the funding I received from UM and the intangibles I mentioned earlier (type of community at Ford School, family nearby, etc.). However, it still bothers me that such a big consideration is finances. If you really like UM, try to talk to them and current students and see how likely it is that you could obtain a GSI position, although I realize that's a big gamble when you have guaranteed money elsewhere.

Best of luck and I'm sure everything will work out!

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As someone who visited both schools last year and chose Duke, I can perhaps lend a bit of counter perspective.

There's been a lot said about the quantitative focus of Michigan. Having had 4 semesters of quant now, and taken the advanced set of courses that Duke offers, I can only say that Duke definitely has a strong quantitative approach as well. Beyond this, students often take courses in the econ and business schools as well, depending on their mathematic flair.

Michigan's out of program course offerings were and are quite impressive. Duke doesn't market their other programs as much to MPP admits, but having taken classes in other programs, like the Nicholas School of the Environment, I can attest that there's few limitations at Duke as well. Combined with the ability to take courses at UNC-Chapel Hill (there's a bus that connects the two universities all day every day) and NC State, and the breadth of course differential is more myth than fact.

The main difference for me is the focus of the programs and the location. Duke is very career-focused. Practical skills are emphasized. You will work with a real-life client on a real-life policy project in your first year. You will have time-limited assignments that force you to work in groups under stress. You will complete a Master's Project that requires you to design and execute a study of your own design. Michigan has a policy exercise that they tout heavily, but do not require a client project of a capstone work. Both programs have international opportunities (Michigan's changes each year, I believe, and Duke has the Geneva program). Michigan focuses more on strict academics and the study of policy. Accordingly, and in part due to their unparalleled alumni base, Michigan has more highly reputed teachers. Due to their class size, they have more classes.

As for location, I suppose it's subjective. Ann Arbor is a very large college town. Durham is in a region heavily influenced by multiple universities. Going to Durham means you get to live near Chapel Hill (they are literally 20 minutes from each other), etc. What sealed the deal for me was that I wanted to work in DC, and Duke's presence there is astounding. Also, the distance to DC meant that I had the ability to go up multiple times to do interviews.

It's important to parse the marketing from the reality. I'll be interested to hear how the Michigan weekend goes, as I was nearly certain of where I was going after last year's weekend.

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Thanks so much for the advice goodlife and Paradoxex22!

I think I'm just gonna lay it out that they're my first choice but I have a FAFSA EFC of 1069 and without some guaranteed financial aid (or a guaranteed work-study position) I simply can't attend. I feel like I've got nothing to lose since Michigan is simply not an option for me money-wise right now. If they say no I'm almost certainly on my way to Duke.

Paradox, I am in NO WAY denigrating Duke and Sanford. It looks like a hell of a program and you're not the only current student or alum saying so. I don't doubt the rigor, quantitative or otherwise of either school. Having to make a choice between Duke and another great school is one of those "problems" you want to have! But I do have some concerns with Duke that put Michigan in the top spot for me personally, and they appear to be backed up by your experiences.

First, I really want a PhD at some point in the future. Maybe sooner, maybe later, I haven't decided when yet - but I do know I want one. Michigan is a little more academic focused while Duke is more professionally focused, so that leads me slightly towards Michigan. Also, while I realize that the breadth of class opportunities is probably equal between the two, Michigan has a much better dual degree program for someone like me who is looking for a Chinese Studies or Political Science MA to complement my MPP rather than the MBA, JD, or MEM, which are pretty much the only options offered by Duke.

Second, Duke's location advantage isn't as important to me because I DON'T want to live and work in DC unless I absolutely HAVE to, and only then just to get my career going. I've lived and worked out there before and I hated it. I absolutely will not settle down there. I feel like Justice Souter ;) I don't ever care to live east of Colorado again if I don't have to. There are some Duke alums in CA, but there are more Michigan connections out West. I realize UCLA may be the best bet for an alumni network in the western half of the country, but the cost of living is outrageous compared to Durham and Ann Arbor and I'm not completely sold on the quality of the program, nor do I care for the 500-student size - that's too big IMO.

I like the size of Duke the best. I went to a small liberal arts school for undergrad and loved it, and Sanford seems a lot closer to that than Ford. But the downside is alumni network after you graduate. And Ann Arbor is a lot more like my beloved undergrad college town than Durham (I've been to both, though I wasn't looking at either school at the time).

So that's my thought process. Please let me know if anybody sees anything glaringly wrong or omitted! Either one would be great, but I really want to make the best decision I can. I think I'll give Michigan a shot for funding and see what happens.

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I've decided that I will be attending the Ford School. I agree with all the merits of the Sanford School and it was ultimately a very difficult choice.

I loved the atmosphere at Duke, the professors, and the small cohort size. I really got the sense they take care of their students. In addition, their capstone provides a great opportunity to do real life work.

However, one of the deciding factors for me was the ability to really shape my courses at Michigan. I will be able to take 9 electives at the Ford School as opposed to just 3 or 4 at Sanford. While I like to think that I have a clear career goal, I like the ability to take a wide variety of courses to better determine what I'd like to do. In addition, I think the alumni network will be incredibly useful, but I do think that Duke's is just as passionate about helping each other, despite their number limitations.

One limitation I found at the Ford School was the lack of a capstone course. I think their curriculum may be more theoretical/academic as opposed to practical like at Duke. However, the Ford School offers two to three practicum courses per semester. While I was discouraged by the lack of a practical capstone, I found their practicum courses align well to what I'm looking to do as a career (education, local policy, etc). It may not be as good of a fit for others.

Just my thoughts and I hope that the decision making process is going well for you all too.

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Hi All,

I just got back from Michigan's accepted students weekend and I was very impressed. Coming from a small liberal arts school, I was really surprised by the strong community at the Ford school and the U of M in general--I hadn't expected to find this at such a large institution. Every student, faculty, and staff member who I met at the Ford school was extremely warm and welcoming...and very happy to be at the Ford school.

Regarding a previous comment, I was also really impressed by the career services department. The Ford school has two full time employees who's role is to support the students in obtaining jobs and internships. All of the students and alumni who I spoke with this weekend and who spoke during the panels were positively glowing about career services.

Full disclosure: I didn't look at Duke and know very little about the program. For me, the choice came down to Chicago, Michigan, and Georgetown. At this point I'm pretty much sold on Michigan.

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I attended UMich spring preview and was really impressed by the faculty and students as well. It appears everyone is always willing to assist each other in the Ford School. I enjoy the rigor of the program as well, and the opportunity to take elective courses from other departments. On the sad part, I noticed everyone had a strong sense of humor :) , so I'm getting ready for that. I'm pretty much decided I'll be attending Ford...

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