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AMA: Current SAIS Europe Student


kb6
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Hi all - I'm a current SAIS Europe (i.e. Bologna) student who was active on these boards last year under another username (I'm attempting to retain a little anonymity). I know that decisions should be coming soon (no, don't have any insider info on dates), so I figured I'd open myself up to questions. This board helped me a lot last year with applications and ultimately making a decision, so now I'd like to pay it forward. AMA!

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For those of us who get accepted but don't receive any funding, do you feel that the degree is worth the debt?  I already know it's a great program..but I'm worried about the price tag...

 

Also, what's your weekly schedule like?  Do you have classes every day?  Are the classes as quant heavy like everyone says?

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For those of us who get accepted but don't receive any funding, do you feel that the degree is worth the debt?  I already know it's a great program..but I'm worried about the price tag...

 

Also, what's your weekly schedule like?  Do you have classes every day?  Are the classes as quant heavy like everyone says?

 

Your first question would probably better be answered by someone who is a few years out, but in general I would say that going 120k in the hole for an MA in international relations is a bit foolish...especially if you have a better funding option at an equivalent(ish) school, and especially if you think you're going to want to go into idev or non-profit-type work. I am going into some debt, but nothing close to that...I do know people here who are going for it, but in my personal opinion that's only wise if you know for sure that you're going to qualify for something like Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Otherwise it's $1,200/month for the next decade of your life. There are also a lot of people whose families are clearly footing the entire bill. So you're eventually going to be competing for that 50k/year impact investment job with some girl who has been living in a 1-bedroom apartment in Logan Circle while a grad student, whereas you'll be living with roommates in Bethesda until your 35th birthday...Perhaps a little dramatic, but something to consider for sure.

 

Last semester I had class Monday-Friday, and this semester I have class every day but Thursday. One peculiarity of Bologna is that a number of professors fly in from the UK and Germany (and a few other countries), so many classes are Friday/Saturday every other week. So while I have no Thursday class, I have Saturday morning class twice/month. Each course is about 2.5 hrs long (four/semester) + languages which are three 1.5 hr sessions/week (so a total of five courses). Then a lot of students will audit a class in preparation for a core exam, or just out of general interest in the subject. There's a lot of reading, and the econ classes will have weekly or bi-weekly problem sets that can be quite lengthy and involved. I would say that the econ classes are legitimately challenging...a few people have failed them, although the vast majority just stress out to incredible degrees but then end up getting curved into a B or so. So challenging but manageable, in my opinion (although it comes to me a little more easily than some of my friends here). A lot of us have part-time jobs as well, but nothing like the 30 hr/week legit internships that DC students have. It's more like sitting at circulation in the library 10 hrs/week, or doing some research for a professor. So in a way it's nice be able to focus more on school, and then next year we'll get all the crazy interning/DC networking as well.

 

Outside of class and work, there are outside speakers at least twice/week, and academic conferences maybe once/month. A lot of concentrations will arrange teleconferences with DC for speakers that they have there if the time difference works out. There's also a really tight-knit social community here, so there are a lot of student-run events, like career clubs, language clubs, student publications, fundraisers... 

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Hi kb6,

 

Thanks for the helpful post.  I'm wondering what an acceptable amount of debt for this program would be.  I am interested in the DC program only and I have relatives near the area, so I wouldn't have to pay rent.  So between that and what I have saved, I could probably get out with roughly 60k in loans.  Would you still consider that amount of debt to be foolish?

 

With the class schedules, do you think it would be difficult to work twice per week (9-5)?

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Housing is by far the biggest expense in DC, so if you have somewhere to live for free, that's an incredible gift. The debt thing is personal, but in my calculus, 60k is reasonable. I'll be clocking in a bit below that, so obviously I'm a little biased! But again it depends on your age, your lifestyle requirements, your 5-year-plan, what specific field you're looking to enter... 

 

In terms of it being 'worth it' in general, in DC a master's degree is basically a requirement to move up, as you may know. So if you want to go into IR, you're almost certainly going to have to pay for a master's eventually. The SAIS network has been great so far, although of course I have only done information-gathering and internship-hunting at this point. I haven't had one alum I've contacted fail to get back to me and offer to at least answer my questions via email. The help you get from SAIS in terms of career services varies based on your needs and your concentration - my concentration has been great about helping us find internships and giving us summer funding, but some students have complained about lack of help in theirs. I think a lot of it is about a willingness to take advantage of the resources being offered, but that's just a personal philosophy/personality thing I suppose. Also it really does help if you have (preferably relevant) work experience, even if it's only a year at a local non-profit.  

 

Regarding working while in school - are you talking about DC or Bologna? At both campuses, courses only meet once/week, so you could try to arrange your schedule to have some free days. In DC, I know that many students have internships or jobs (full or part-time), and there are a good number of classes offered at night as well, although I'm not sure if that holds for language classes. If you can pass proficiency upon matriculation, you won't actually need to take a language. In Bologna, there aren't as many night-time classes, and languages are only offered during the day (but just on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - so I suppose you could work on Mondays and Thursdays). But I don't know any students who have non-campus jobs (other than working remotely for former employers), but it's possible I suppose, assuming you have work authorization in Italy.

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To clarify, I do know students who work off campus in Bologna doing babysitting/tutoring type stuff, but nobody I'm aware of has a 9-5 office job or even a waitressing gig off-campus.

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I applied for the DC only option.  So if accepted, I'd like to work two days per week 9-5 (this would GREATLY reduce the amount of debt that I incur).  I'm hoping this is possible, given both the difficulty of the coursework and the class times/scheduling.  I actually may be able to pass proficiency upon matriculation (which would be a huge help I suppose). 

 

((All of this is assuming that I'm even accepted haha))

Edited by hedong123
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Thanks for your offer to answer questions! I really appreciate it. Can I ask - what other schools were you deciding between? Why did you choose SAIS Europe, and are you happy with your choice?

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Thanks for answering our questions! 

 

Compared to other schools, it seems like both SAIS DC and Bologna students get many opportunities to travel to other countries related to their concentrations or for service work, events, etc. Have you been able to travel outside of Italy through SAIS, or do you anticipate traveling anywhere next year with your concentration? Does SAIS pay for these expenses? Any commentary would be helpful, thank you!

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Thanks for your offer to answer questions! I really appreciate it. Can I ask - what other schools were you deciding between? Why did you choose SAIS Europe, and are you happy with your choice?

 

I was deciding between SIPA, Fletcher, SFS, and a regional school which shall remain nameless lest I be too easily identified. ;) The regional school offered me a lot of money, but after visiting it, consulting mentors in the field, and putting in a lot of thought, I decided that the lesser debt wouldn't be worth the dimmed career prospects. SIPA was out b/c I just didn't get a good vibe when I was there (although I have a good friend at SIPA and he loves it), plus they offered me 0 dollaz. Fletcher just never intrigued me (although I never visited), and they offered me the same amount of $ as SAIS, so it was easy to cut. SFS offered me a token amount of money, but the program felt too small when I visited...

 

I chose the 'Europe' part of SAIS Europe b/c they assigned me to Bologna, haha. But I did see it as an incredible opportunity to spend a year in Europe while working towards a substantive degree, and to have access to my professors in a way that just wouldn't be possible in DC. It's not uncommon to eat lunch with your professor in the campus cafe, or for him/her to show up to a party or host a movie night...It's also been great to be able to bond with my classmates on a deeper level. Our community here is pretty isolated (for better and sometimes worse), but that means that we all really get to know each other. Of course if you don't find your people, it could be a bit stifling...

 

And yes, I am happy with my choice. There are definitely downsides, as there would be to any program, but I think whether the positive or negative wins out depends largely on your goals, personality, and adaptability. For example if you're easily frustrated by stores not being open on Sundays, then the year here is going to feel a lot longer! Or, on a more serious note, if you're feeling super career-go-go-go at the moment, then maybe you'd rather get to DC right away. But if you're willing to focus more on academics for a year, and are excited about the side-benefit of more social bonding and travel opportunities, then Bologna is a great option.  

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Thanks for answering our questions! 

 

Compared to other schools, it seems like both SAIS DC and Bologna students get many opportunities to travel to other countries related to their concentrations or for service work, events, etc. Have you been able to travel outside of Italy through SAIS, or do you anticipate traveling anywhere next year with your concentration? Does SAIS pay for these expenses? Any commentary would be helpful, thank you!

 

I haven't personally taken advantage of a trip yet, but there is one I'm angling for next year. Wish me luck!

 

There are basically three categories of trips: 1) career, 2) departmental, and 3) individual professor/research center-initiated. The career trips you have to pay for yourself. From Europe, students headed to Geneva, Brussels, and twice to London. The departmental trips are generally free (maybe you have to cover some personal expenses). For example, a group of European Studies concentrators are going to China over the spring break. The individual professor/research center ones can be partially covered, or not. There is a trip to Berlin in May that is being largely subsidized, whereas there was a trip to Bosnia over the winter break that students had to pay for themselves. There's also a trip to Israel over the spring break, but I'm not sure about its funding status. So in short, there are definitely a lot of opportunities to travel!

 

Generally you have to apply for the trips, and of course the expenses-paid ones tend to be more competitive. I know in career services, they try to make it so that everyone who applies gets on at least one trip. On the departmental or course-based trips, they prioritize people in the concentration of course.

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Kb6, thanks again for answering questions. I was wonder, could you speak to the quality and/or difficulty of the online economics course and the economics courses taught during pre-term. I am very interested in SAIS, and was fortunate enough to get accepted (to theBologna program), but the heavy focus on economics gives me pause. The admitted students page mentions TAs will be present to assist students during economics courses during pre-term. Is that accurate or is it more of a selling point? Above, you mention the economics courses seem pretty difficult for some students. How helpful are the professors and are the classes big enough or small enough to ensure those that struggle get enough attention? Thanks again for taking the time to answer questions. 

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@Kb6, I'd also like to thank you for answering our questions.  I'm looking forward to the open house because I have a million other questions.  I like your comment about passing the language proficiency upon matriculation.  That'll give me a reason to study hard over the summer.

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Kb6, thanks again for answering questions. I was wonder, could you speak to the quality and/or difficulty of the online economics course and the economics courses taught during pre-term. I am very interested in SAIS, and was fortunate enough to get accepted (to theBologna program), but the heavy focus on economics gives me pause. The admitted students page mentions TAs will be present to assist students during economics courses during pre-term. Is that accurate or is it more of a selling point? Above, you mention the economics courses seem pretty difficult for some students. How helpful are the professors and are the classes big enough or small enough to ensure those that struggle get enough attention? Thanks again for taking the time to answer questions. 

 

I didn't have to take the online econ courses, but I did take micro during preterm along with survival Italian (which is the most common pre-term choice). The thing that makes preterm difficult is how fast it goes, but it is also pass/fail, graded on a curve, so you have to screw up pretty badly not to get through it. There were TAs during preterm - one was a PhD econ student at the University of Bologna, and the other was a young Stats professor at SAIS who I believe has a PhD in math or is working on one...There are also TAs during the regular year, although they are often fellow master's students who did well in the course the previous semester (or who waved out of the course). The TAs have weekly review sessions and office hours. The professors have weekly office hours, and occasional review sessions. Like any university, some professors are known as being better teachers than others, but all (in my experience) have been very accessible. While the econ courses are challenging, I personally think they're worth it because they really help you understand the rationale behind so much policy-making at the international level.

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@Kb6, I'd also like to thank you for answering our questions.  I'm looking forward to the open house because I have a million other questions.  I like your comment about passing the language proficiency upon matriculation.  That'll give me a reason to study hard over the summer.

 

Yeah, I think the open house was really what pushed it over the edge for me. Last year the different concentrations had break-out lunch sessions, which I highly recommend attending if they happen again this year. Your experience at SAIS can vary greatly based on which concentration you choose, so getting a sense of how strong yours is (do they have a formal internship program, do they provide funding, do they maintain an active alumni network, do the department heads seem engaged with students...) might help you decide if going to SAIS is worth the cost. 

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Thanks for answering all these questions! I was also accepted to SAIS with zero funding for 1 yr Bologna, 1 yr DC. Do you feel the Bologna students were able to integrate with the DC students? Also on the subject of funding, you mentioned that you felt that the SAIS degree wasn't worth the full freight price. Do you feel it's uncommon for students to receive funding in their second year?

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Thanks for answering all these questions! I was also accepted to SAIS with zero funding for 1 yr Bologna, 1 yr DC. Do you feel the Bologna students were able to integrate with the DC students? Also on the subject of funding, you mentioned that you felt that the SAIS degree wasn't worth the full freight price. Do you feel it's uncommon for students to receive funding in their second year?

 

To clarify, I don't think it's worth it to go 120k into debt (or more if you have undergrad loans), just based on the salary prospects post-graduation. But if your parents can pay for it or you have such significant savings (or your fiance is currently doing a neurosurgery residency...), that's a different story. I absolutely think going to SAIS gives you a great education and greatly elevates your career prospects.

 

Some students do get additional funding in the second year. Are you American or not? The non-Americans all apply for funding for the second year in DC separately, and have already gone through that process and found out whether or not they got any extra money. I think more than half did. As an American, I think you can apply for funding through your concentration or through the general SAIS pool, but they haven't given us (Americans) info about that yet. But if you calculate that you can only afford SAIS if you get funding in the second year, I would say that that is a risky proposition. 

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Thanks for the info, @kb6. And yes, I am American. I have a decent amount saved up, but certainly not enough to cover the entire cost. In terms of being able to afford SAIS only if I receive funding in the second year, I will have to take out loans regardless, unfortunately. I recognize that as the reality of my situation, but I'm trying to make as informed a decision as possible, especially given that I haven't received funding from what I would consider to be slightly lower ranked schools. So any additional info you have would be great!

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Thanks for answering questions- I've got a couple...

 

1) As far as the social environment goes, most or all people going over to the Bologna campus don't know a single person.  How did this work out for you? Is it the kind of place where people grab beers after class or more a neurotic grouping of introverts that never talk to each other?

 

2) Do you know any Security Studies concentration students in your class? Have you heard any positives/negatives from those people on courses offered or being so far away from the flagpole? 

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Thanks for the info, @kb6. And yes, I am American. I have a decent amount saved up, but certainly not enough to cover the entire cost. In terms of being able to afford SAIS only if I receive funding in the second year, I will have to take out loans regardless, unfortunately. I recognize that as the reality of my situation, but I'm trying to make as informed a decision as possible, especially given that I haven't received funding from what I would consider to be slightly lower ranked schools. So any additional info you have would be great!

The timing of my previous response is funny, because we just got a reminder to fill out our FAFSA forms and apply for aid for next year. I can't comment for sure, but I've heard that they doll out aid mostly based on first-year GPA, with some attention paid to overall level of funding/need. But can't comment on what GPA would cut it.

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Thanks for answering questions- I've got a couple...

 

1) As far as the social environment goes, most or all people going over to the Bologna campus don't know a single person.  How did this work out for you? Is it the kind of place where people grab beers after class or more a neurotic grouping of introverts that never talk to each other?

 

2) Do you know any Security Studies concentration students in your class? Have you heard any positives/negatives from those people on courses offered or being so far away from the flagpole? 

 

People here are very, very social on the whole. It's one of the defining characteristics of the Bologna campus, for better or worse. A lot of friendship forming happens during preterm, when there are lots of parties, during weekend trips, via the many happy hours and events we have around campus, and of course via classes/concentrations. The fact that we are somewhat socially isolated here in Bologna (few of us speak much Italian) only increases the social cohesion. 

 

Here at SAIS, security studies is called Strategic Studies (or "strat"), and it's one of the strongest concentrations at the school. The Bologna strat professor is kind of a legend around campus, and the course offerings are quite solid. I know of a number of strat people doing internships with the Defense Dept., State, various security contractors, etc. all obtained from Bologna. The advantage with federal jobs is that they expect to be hiring from all over the country, so it doesn't make much of a difference to them if you're in Italy or Arizona. Overall, people seem to love it - I know a number of people who have switched into strat from various other concentrations here because it is considered so solid. 

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In your opinion, what are the strong and weak concentrations at SAIS and SAIS Europe? I'm most leaning toward SAIS for next year, but am a bit concerned that my intended concentration (international law and organizations) is one of the weaker ones. On the other hand, I'm also wondering about approaching my main interest (democratization and human rights) from one of the regional concentrations, either European studies or Latin American studies, which I've heard are both strong. I'm also early in my IR career so probably only 80-90% sure of what I want to go into anyway. Just wondering what your thoughts are on the relative strength of each concentration so I know what I'm getting myself into.

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Thank you soooooooo much for answering the questions. I'm now choosing between SAIS DC and IHEID, both no funding. I'm leaning toward SAIS but it could be $70-80k more expensive. Do you think it's worth it, to spend that amount of money for its uncertain advantage over IHEID? My mom is willing to help me out but still....

 

BTW spending the first year in Europe sounds really attractive. All that bonding with classmates and focusing on study...I'm not really an internship/job-hunting type of person.   

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Thank you soooooooo much for answering the questions. I'm now choosing between SAIS DC and IHEID, both no funding. I'm leaning toward SAIS but it could be $70-80k more expensive. Do you think it's worth it, to spend that amount of money for its uncertain advantage over IHEID? My mom is willing to help me out but still....

 

BTW spending the first year in Europe sounds really attractive. All that bonding with classmates and focusing on study...I'm not really an internship/job-hunting type of person.   

 

I think is pretty much a no brainer. IHEID has a great reputation, living in Geneva offers plenty of opportunities for professional development and you can even learn/improve your French, all while saving $70-80k (imagine what you could otherwise do with this money and how much freedom of choice regarding your job search it is gonna award you!).

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