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Affordable Quality Programs for Defense/Intelligence/Security Studies


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It's worth applying to the top schools just to see if you can get in, but once you've been accepted and have options you move from thinking about prestige and start thinking about whether or not you want to spend the next ten years of your life in debt. I had a hard time finding schools that offered programs specifically geared toward defense, intelligence, counterterrorism, and security instead of just generic IR. I found enough to apply to and was accepted into four out of five. But I only had one school that was affordable. I'll tell you about my experience and if you know about other schools that offer quality education for a reasonable price please add to the discussion. Hopefully this will help save some prospective students from getting starry eyed about the big programs and ending up drowning in debt.


I applied to the Monterey Institute, Georgetown, George Washington, Institute of World Politics, and Missouri State University Defense and Strategic Studies-in Fairfax VA. All of the schools except Monterey are in the DC area. I didn't get into Georgetown but got in everywhere else.  I ended up selecting Missouri State Defense and Strategic Studies. It is a small school that I just stumbled across on gradschools.com, but it fit my field of interests and is in the DC area. Most importantly it's affordable. The program is directed by a former Georgetown professor who decided he wanted to see a program that offered the same level of education as the big expensive schools while still being affordable. MSU DSS also offered me the most financial aid. I pay about a tenth of what Monterey would have cost and about a fifth of what the other schools cost. If you somehow don't get any financial aid, DSS (Defense and Strategic Studies) is still only half as much as the top ranked schools in DC.


I've enjoyed classes so far. I'm in my second semester. The faculty are on par with the best of any other program. The professors are still working professionals and range in experience from ambassadors, retired general, CIA, and other government positions. The program also hosts students from the National Defense University. I've had the privilege of taking classes with army majors and captains who bring years of experience to the classroom discussions. Basically, you don't have to go to a big expensive school with name recognition to get the real deal. http://dss.missouristate.edu/default.htm

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I feel like it could be a dangerous game though if you don't already have a background in defense/intelligence. These jobs are extremely competitive and you'll be competing against others who also have masters but from GW, Georgetown, Columbia, SAIS, Fletcher, and HKS. The alumni networks for these schools are also extensive. There is certainly a breaking point on debt, but I'd want to know a lot more about employment statistics before jumping into a little known program. Not to say its impossible, your professors or other contacts may be able to help you out with a job/internship, but it just seems like a much larger pool to utilize if you go to one of the top tier schools.

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It depends on what kind of jobs you're going for. The big schools make a big deal about their network, but if you're applying for government jobs that doesn't matter. When I was visiting MSU DSS before making my decision I asked a professor about this. He used to work for the CIA and is now with Booz Allen. He pointed out that government jobs are all merit based, it doesn't really matter who you know, everyone has to apply the same way. He did say that for analytic positions, big names might carry some weight, but it varies with who's looking at the application. When I went to GW's open house I talked to an alum. He said he had to do something completely different to get a job when he graduated in the late 90's. After Sept. 11th there was a hiring rush and he got a job with the GAO, but he said he was still paying off his student loans, and he graduated while I was still in elementary school. When I mentioned the financial assistance DSS was offering he basically told me GW wasn't worth it. It all comes down to finances. If GW or the other schools are offering a lot of aid or somebody else is paying for you of course it's worth it. It's definitely important to look into a smaller program like DSS to see what the job and internship opportunities look like. DSS has its own network and connections offering internships, and the whole DC area has lots of opportunities. Half of it is just gaining student status so that you can apply to them and live in the right area.

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