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Debt vs. Reputation


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I thought I was sure where I was going to go, but now I have no idea. I have the following offers from MPP and MPA programs:

Big financial packages for the first year; unkown after that:

U. Washington

U. Minnesota

Funding packages less than the cost of tuition

CMU Heinz



For personal reasons USC is sorta out of the running. But other than that, I am still completely conflicted about whether it is worth the debt (60k-100k) for USC, CMU, or GPPI based on the strength of their programs over the relatively debt-free options of Washington and Minnesota. Any thoughts?

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Depends what your career goals are. If you want to go into non-profit work then a bunch of money at the UW Evans School is the best deal for you out of that group by far.

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i'm of the opinion that through extra work and resourcefulness one could offset the extra costs of attending a more prestigious institution. examples include applying to outside scholarships or finding some part time work. on the flip side, there is no amount of work one can do that can change the level of prestige or connections that a certain school has. so, my gut tells me to choose the school you feel is going to help your resume the most for the next 40 years or so.

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Hmmm, I think that everyone's answer would be a little different. I think that it does really depend on what you want to do. First, are any of those programs especially strong in what you want to do? Second, the big name will likely be more helpful in the private sector or in politics. If you're interested in working for the federal government or a non-profit, the name is less likely to help you and the extra debt will be more of an issue since your salary will likely be lower than in the private sector.

Finally, I disagree with Irishpg10 on the name factor. I don't think that the effect will last as long as irishpg10 implies. After your first job or two, hiring managers will be more concerned with what you've done in your previous jobs than where you got your degree. I think that that holds true in both the public and private sectors, although probably moreso in the public sector. I'm also skeptical that you could make up $60-100k in working and resourcefulness. You could certainly make up some of the difference, but $60-100k is a lot to make up, considering that you could also work while attending one of the less-expensive schools too.

Ultimately though, you have to weigh what's important to you. For some people the name or specific course offerings at a school are important enough to offset the additional cost. For others, it's not. It's up to you to decide what's most important to you.

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Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. Currently, I think I want to do public sector work, which would mean that a program like Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Washington would make the most sense. However, I am somewhat worried that the reputation of a school like CMU allows me to change my mind about my goals while some of the other schools may restrict my options directly out of grad school.

Another worry I had was that I had the impression that GPPI and CMU were far more rigorous than the other schools; however, posts here and visit days have led me to believe that anyone with a quantitative background like I have will be bored in the standard econ and quant classes in any of these programs and that if I want the type of rigor that I am capable of doing, I will basically be looking at taking classes in other departments. ( I really don't mean this to sound arrogant. But from everything I've seen, the econ courses are pretty much all somewhere between intro and intermediate level econ taught with only basic pre-calc and calculus assumed.)

Aside from my interest in local and state government, I have also been thinking about technology policy; which would make CMU's program great. However, after looking at the program, I'm not convinced that the courses offered in tech would actually add to my knowledge of tech related issues. I paid my way through college working in IT and fairly basic classes in databases and programming wouldn't be that informative. However, CMU is known for technology. So, in terms of getting a job in that sector, I would get a significant leg up.

At the end of the day, I don't know if I can really justify the amount of debt I would have to take on to go to CMU or GPPI when I can be making money at a few of these other schools. My experience in undergrad has been that it is worth it to go to the less expensive school if you know you can work hard and produce impressive work.

Any further comments are still appreciated. I just figured I would type my current thought process up in case it could help anyone else making a similar decision.

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Your current thought process appears sound to me. Washington and Minnesota are good programs within very good universities. Given this, I think there have to be very compelling reasons to assume substantial debt in another program. Based on what you have written about yourself and your objectives, I do not think the "case for debt" is at all compelling.

I think a number of people on this board are treating their choice as a very expensive lottery ticket - as in, if I attend super-prestigious school X over good school Y, there is a slightly higher chance that I might obtain my dream job. Perhaps so, but the difference in odds is likely quite small. If you go to any large government department or agency, you will find numerous graduates of both types of schools. Once your career is underway (in the public sector, at any rate), your superiors will judge you - and your career opportunities will be determined - almost exclusively on the basis of what you do, rather than where you went to school. School prestige is certainly a nice bonus, but for those determined on public service career, it won't likely do much for you financially. If you think you may end up in the private sector, the calculus may be different, but in this case an MBA and/or Law degree would generally make more financial sense than an MPP.

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