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Top10 IR Schools:Splitting hairs , or is there a difference?


IRGrrrrad
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Hey everyone,

I have been silently benefiting from your many interesting threads all during this application, waiting, and decision-making process. Now that the time to choose which institution to attend this Fall has arrived, I wanted to ask the forum whether or not the many differences we point to when differentiating one program from another really translates into any noticeable difference professionally after graduation? I have heard people trash quality programs and wax philosophical about over-rated brands-name schools. I was accepted at KSG, denied at AU SIS. :?: Waitlisted at Fletcher, Accepted at Elliott. Accepted at Georgetown, rejected at SIPA :?: . I'm wondering if we are giving this stuff just a little too much thought. Once you nail a top 10 IR program, does it really matter what's on your degree?

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Some might argue, and I believe already have, that schools heavier on quantitative studies like SAIS, WWS, and SFS are significantly different from schools identified as having deeper liberal arts resources like Fletcher and Yale.This may help us organize the programs, but does that ensure the graduate with one school's name will get the job over another? Harvard's niche is thier development focus, but Fletcher and AU SIS's track record in that area has been long-established and beat-out HKS hands down. My original post asks the question, does the name matter if the school has already established itself in the eyes of professionals within the IR community as being reputable?

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All the top 10 programs are respected in the IR community. But in terms of quality and prestige, the is generally a huge separation between the "big six" (or "big four," if you exclude more public policy-oriented schools like KSG and WWS) and the rest of the top 10. At least in perception

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I think there are some great points made in this thread, but I'd like to add that it's important to understand that the professional field of IR is really diverse and there are lots and lots of factors that go into decisions made by potential employers. You could be hired because of some unique experience you've had, or because you speak a rare language, or because you just seemed to "fit" into the mold of the company really well, or because you happen to mention a unique project you completed in some class, and those are all really subjective things that employers don't actually advertise in vacancy announcements. There are grads from every school struggling to find work, and it's tough to say whether they're struggling because of the school they went to or because of one of those (often intangible) "other factors". I think that a degree from the top 5 of the "top 10" won't necessarily guarantee you your dream job, whereas a degree from the bottom 5 of the "top 10" won't necessarily exclude you from it. There's also the issue of certain places basing their hiring decisions on their past experiences with grads from certain schools - for instance, if some place has had a string of consistently excellent interns or employees from School X. And yes, there will be people who might prefer a WWS grad to a GW grad based on the name alone, just as there will probably be people who might prefer the GW grad because they: a) went there themselves; B) are friends with their advisor, professor, etc; c) think WWS is "overrated"; d) the GW grad speaks fluent Pashto and so on.

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Thanks for all of the great responses everyone.

In trying to write my Fletcher wait list acceptance letter, I have again stumbled into the question surrounding the value of "prestige" vs. solid professional preparation. I have seen on many occasions two separate lists of schools sorted into "academic" and "professional" categories. The "prestigious" schools (WWS,SAIS,HKS,Fletcher, SFS) all make the "academic" list, and schools such as Elliott,Denver,AU SIS, and Pitt are placed on the "professional". Is there a clear division between "theory and practice" when it comes to these schools? Are the Think Tankers and PhD's going to one set with the FSO'S and USAID workers going to another? Keep the responses coming, we only have a few more days to decide. :)

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Thanks for all of the great responses everyone.

In trying to write my Fletcher wait list acceptance letter, I have again stumbled into the question surrounding the value of "prestige" vs. solid professional preparation. I have seen on many occasions two separate lists of schools sorted into "academic" and "professional" categories. The "prestigious" schools (WWS,SAIS,HKS,Fletcher, SFS) all make the "academic" list, and schools such as Elliott,Denver,AU SIS, and Pitt are placed on the "professional". Is there a clear division between "theory and practice" when it comes to these schools? Are the Think Tankers and PhD's going to one set with the FSO'S and USAID workers going to another? Keep the responses coming, we only have a few more days to decide. :)

To answer your last question: no, I don't think so. I also think that "academic" vs. "professional" list is questionable at best - if anything, I've always thought of programs like Yale and Chicago as having more of an academic bend, whereas I'd squarely place schools like SAIS and SFS into the "professional" category. I don't think this difference is as pronounced as some make it out to be, though.

Based on everything I've seen, experienced and read (including here), I think it should ultimately come down to the school you're most comfortable at - for some people, that's going to be SAIS, for others, it'll be Denver. I'm really happy at AU and I can't imagine myself anywhere else, primarily because I'm given the freedom to mold my own degree and develop my own academic and practical pursuits.

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Ultimately, I think people are correct to say that you should go where you're most comfortable and will learn the most. People are also correct to say that there is a fairly large perception gap between the "big six" as someone called them and the rest. But, I think there is another point that is often lost in this discussion - the actual training provided at these different places.

I think we can all agree that there are extremely smart students and profs at every one of these schools. But, the lower-ranked simply don't require as many classes or exams as the "big six." GW, for instance, requires the credit-hour equivalent of 12 full-time classes, and 3 one-credit "skills courses" (like public speaking, etc.), and a final one credit captstone class. That simply isn't the same as 16 non-language classes, plus possible language classes on top of those, plus 2 core exams, and an oral exam at SAIS for instance. Now, that doesn't mean one is necessarily better than the other. To answer that, you have to know what you want to get out of the program.

This ties into another issue: the fact that many of the non-"big six" offer their classes predominantly at night tells you something - they're focused toward people who are either working or who will have significant internships during their grad school careers. Not a bad thing in the least (many would argue it's better - you get practical experience that will launch your career), but the emphasis is clearly different from the other schools like Fletcher and SIPA which require more classes.

So, at the end of the day, I guess the question for you to answer is which kind of environment would you be most comfortable with?

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