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SAIS v GWU v Grad School Abroad? Question of reputation or my own ego? Halp!


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Okay, so let me start by saying I have a very clear idea of the field I want to go into. My specific interests are global gender issues within a development context. I have gotten into a number of good programs, but I am currently agonizing over what would be a good fit, especially because I have not ruled out later getting a PhD.

 

I've been accepted into SAIS, one year in bologna, one year in DC for their IR program, with a concentration in International Law and Organizations. I really love the academic feel of it, and of course, the reputation. However, it is pretty quant. heavy, and I want more of a balance. Also it seems a very rigid program, and I would like to incorporate more of a gender aspect than the program seems to allow, despite having a heavy human rights focus. The biggest issue is of course money. I did not receive funding, and this is mad expensive. I am still not convinced that it is worth the money, though we'll see if the accepted students day wins me over.

 

I have also been accepted to Elliott for the IDEV program, and it seems to be a good fit. There seems to be a lot of flexibility and opportunity to focus on gender development issues. They also have the Global Gender Program, which seems to be very plugged in to the issues I want to look at. I have no received word on funding yet, but the opportunity to work while in the program could potentially counter balance it. However, it is so professionally focused. Would I be shooting myself in the foot if I wanted to pursue a PhD? It doesn't have a dissertation component, just a capstone project. If any current students could chime in on the ability to find a professor to sponsor a dissertation project, that would be great. And while GW is a strong school, it does not pull the same reputation as SAIS. Would this hurt me down the line if I applied to a PhD program? Or am I letting my own ego affect my ability to look at this objectively? Not to mention I am dubious about the professors in the program. Most don't seem to publish very prolifically and don't seem to necessarily have a lot of connections with the big development organizations in DC, but I'm only going off the faculty profiles, so it's hard to say.

 

And finally I got into both LSE and Sciences Po for international development. LSE is a one year program, and I am unsure of its ability to fit with what I'm looking to achieve, and Sciences Po, while very well regarded in France, may ultimately limit me back in the US.

 

Sorry for the wall of text. Is anyone else dealing with a similar conundrum? Thoughts?

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Hey I'm in a similar situation as you! I didn't apply to SAIS but I'm going back and forth between Elliott and SIPA for a lot of the same reasons. I like Elliott for the more affordable price and I think having the opportunity to work during the day is a huge advantage. However, the Columbia name does pull more weight and I'm a little concerned about the extreme professional focus at GW (I also want to keep the door to PhD open).

 

I'd love to hear more thoughts on this

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I'm in a pretty similar situation as well.

I got into Columbia GSAPP, LSE, GWU, IHEID Geneva and New School Milano.

New School I'm ruling out b/c they only offered me partial funding, and the program's reputation is not that great and student feedback seems mixed.

 

It's coming down to choosing btw Columbia, LSE, GWU and IHEID.

Just like you have reservations about SAIS, I'm also wary of some negative aspects of Columbia GSAPP, despite its prestige. 

 

Elliott seems great to me as well, tho I feel like it's a bit too general for my career goals.

It's def a very professional program, but I know that their community is great, and judging from all these invites to open house and meet the almuni sessions and their pretty transparent employment data seem to show that they actually do care about their students and care about whether they're equipped succeed after graduation or not. And just talking to couple of their students and researching about the school gives me the impression that it is very well functioning, well maintained school.

 

Idk in which subject you intend to do ur PhD, but whether you go to SAIS or GWU, you'll have trouble getting advanced standing in a traditional PhD program (i.e. poli sci, sociology, and etc), b/c it's considered a policy degree not an academic degree like terminal masters offered by such departments. They'll likely to ask you to repeat at least some part of the master level study before they let you go on to do a PhD.

I'm sure GWU will let you do a dissertation, but prob not in lieu of a capstone project. Having an academic work is obv very important for applying for a PhD. And just b/c you went to GWU doesn't mean you'll be at massive disadvantage in ur PhD application. Research plan, LORs, SOP, and past academic work are much more important than simple "reputation" of your school, and GWU is obv a good enough school.

 

In terms of reputation outside of academia, SAIS is better than GWU, but betting on reputation alone will be dangerous.

I've been able to interact with many SAIS students last year due to my DC internship, and many have said they have friends who are still looking for gainful employment after graduation (some also complained about quant and econ courses taking up nearly half of curriculm in some cases)

Whether reputation will make or break your chances of getting hired will most likely depend on specific employer's perception of each program. 

Reputation is important but it shouldn't be everything. Also, you should know that SAIS outside of DC is not as widely recognized as it is in DC

 

 

For me, LSE is looking like the best bet.

It's short, and that could be problematic, but it also makes my life easier if and when i apply for a PhD.

And b/c it's short if I wanted to pursue further masters level studies, like do a 1 year degree or get a certificate etc while i work, it'd be better if i spent one yr in a masters program than two.

It also gets shit sometimes for using its masters students like cash cows. Big classes, nonexistent student support etc.

It's in London, which is good a city as NYC or DC in my opinion to gain internship and part time WE. 

It has a superb academic reputation in addition to having prestige (tho that's not my biggest concern).

It's cheaper than all US schools, esp. Columbia which was my first choice but cost about 52k a year just in tuition. 

GWU is actually quite a bit cheaper than SAIS or Columbia, so that may be a factor for you, tho I don't think that should be the determining factor 

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LSE is a great school, Science Po is as well but their program is very academic a close friend of mine dropped out as his public policy and economics masters resembled more the first year of an econ PhD than its American equivalent. Not sure what program you are looking into but France does have a different educational system, I did my term abroad there and although excelnt it is not for everyone (very large classes, very theoretically based, etc). I fyou are considering it talk to students there about it.

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I think for me, I've narrowed it down to GWU Elliott or SAIS. Professionally, LSE would not be as useful. Sciences Po is a great school, but its usefulness is pretty much limited to France. I would like to move back to France eventually, but I don't think it's worth going to a school that would essentially limit my options. It's not completely off the table, but in terms of price and return on investment, it's not worth it.

 

So that brings us to Elliott or SAIS. @TheWoodsman, what are your feelings about Elliott? I appreciate how transparent they are about their employment numbers. They seem to be far more open than SAIS is (SAIS's lack of details kind of throws up red flags for me). What are your thoughts on SIPA?

At the end of the day, it really comes down to money for me. I would rather SAIS, definitely, for it's reputation. But is it worth the money? I'm beginning to think no. Had I received aid from them, I would almost certainly go there. In any program rankings, Elliott and SAIS are both top 10. I would rather go to number 1 than number 8, but when we're looking at schools at this level, I don't think it makes a considerable difference in salary or employment options (unless you're in SAIS for IDEV and want to work at the world bank). As someone who applied to SAIS for IR, I can't really see it being worth it. Yet, I'm still hesitant. Right now, I'm considering deferring with GW, retaking my GRE and seeing what shakes out that way. If upping my GRE and re-applying would get me more aid from SAIS, then I would probably end up going there.

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I really don't know too much about Elliott as of now, but everything I hear seems really positive. I'm trying to get in touch with current and former students and will definitely be attending their open house on the 11th. As far as SIPA goes, I have several friends there currently, and the reviews are mixed. One person (MIA) complains about feeling overwhelmed by the number of people in the program and doesn't feel like there's enough attention or guidance from professors. Then I have another friend who's just finishing up the one year MPA-ESP and he loves it, so I think it really depends on the individual and the specific program. I was accepted to the MIA as well as MPA-DP, and am leaning strongly towards MPA-DP because of the smaller class size. But then of course there's the cost, which is several thousand more than any other IR program out there.

 

These forums seem to have an obsession with SAIS in general, which really made me hesitate about GW initially, but I think everything you read here should be taken with a grain of salt. Of course SAIS is a great program, but GW is right up there as well. I don't believe that GW grads have a serious disadvantage compared to SAIS graduates when looking for jobs. They're both excellent programs and I think the decision should come down to whether you want the rigorous academic quant focus from SAIS or the professional skills focus at GW.

 

As of now though I still haven't made any decisions. Still driving myself crazy going back and forth btw. GW and SIPA. Aaagh!

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I think for me, I've narrowed it down to GWU Elliott or SAIS. Professionally, LSE would not be as useful. Sciences Po is a great school, but its usefulness is pretty much limited to France. I would like to move back to France eventually, but I don't think it's worth going to a school that would essentially limit my options. It's not completely off the table, but in terms of price and return on investment, it's not worth it.

 

So that brings us to Elliott or SAIS. @TheWoodsman, what are your feelings about Elliott? I appreciate how transparent they are about their employment numbers. They seem to be far more open than SAIS is (SAIS's lack of details kind of throws up red flags for me). What are your thoughts on SIPA?

At the end of the day, it really comes down to money for me. I would rather SAIS, definitely, for it's reputation. But is it worth the money? I'm beginning to think no. Had I received aid from them, I would almost certainly go there. In any program rankings, Elliott and SAIS are both top 10. I would rather go to number 1 than number 8, but when we're looking at schools at this level, I don't think it makes a considerable difference in salary or employment options (unless you're in SAIS for IDEV and want to work at the world bank). As someone who applied to SAIS for IR, I can't really see it being worth it. Yet, I'm still hesitant. Right now, I'm considering deferring with GW, retaking my GRE and seeing what shakes out that way. If upping my GRE and re-applying would get me more aid from SAIS, then I would probably end up going there.

 

I don't have any extra insight to offer on SAIS vs GWU (I'm going through the same process right now, and am still not very close to a decision). But I did just want to say that I think you've narrowed it down to the right schools, and agree with your decision to rule out Sciences Po. I live in Paris right now and for a while dreamed of staying here and doing my IR master's at Sciences Po. But after talking to quite a few students studying abroad there from American universities (both in IR and outside of it) I realized that for Americans the French approach to education is really difficult to adjust to. Very academic as you said, without nearly as many 'extras'--extracurriculars, career services, ability to build relationships with profs outside of class--even the facilities leave something to be desired (i.e. it's difficult to even find space to study at a library). Sciences Po is a bit more forward-thinking than other French universities but like most things in France, it seems like it still suffers from a lot of bureaucracy and resistance to change. I think you're right that it would help you get a job in France due to its reputation. But French schools in general seem to have a problem with preparing their students for the 'real world': the French put a lot of cultural value on academics and intellectualism--hence the push for that within the education system--without thinking of how any of that ties to practical value within the professional world. These are of course my distant observations and generalizations based on my own biases, so take it with a grain of salt.

 

If you want to still maintain some connection to France and Paris, keep in mind that GWU has the opportunity to study abroad at Sciences Po for a semester. I don't know anything about how that works or how useful it is but that's something you could investigate. Other than that, I'm afraid that both SAIS and GWU suffer from an undeserved lack of name recognition in Europe. (That isn't based at all on the value of those schools, it's just that most Europeans have only heard of Harvard and Columbia which is really unfortunate). I have no idea how much this matters. These are things I'm wondering about for myself as well.

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@Ruella, I agree with all your thoughts on France. When I lived in France, I didn't really have a problem with how the education system was run, but I think you're right in that it would limit me professionally. I do like the GWU has an opportunity for study abroad. That's one major downside that I see with SAIS. It is pretty rigidly structured, and given I know I want to focus on gender and development, going to SAIS seems a little limiting.

 

@The Woodsman, On the subject of SAIS, I agree that this board seems to be rabid for it. And I mean, I get it. It's up there, but you're also right that at this level, going to SAIS or GWU isn't really going to fundamentally change your career prospects. I think by this point, the experience on your resume is probably going to be a bigger factor, and the fact that GWU puts so much of an emphasis on professional experience might be a plus in this instance.  But at the same time, I wonder if the quality of education would be better at SAIS. I'm still pretty torn. 

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