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When does prestige matter?

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I'm trying to gauge this, because from my understanding of the government and nonprofit sector, it doesn't too much. Do the larger NGOs care? Do think tanks? The development banks? Consulting firms?


I am interested in int'l development and I know people who have gone to schools ranging from Minnesota to SIPA to random British programs I've never heard of, and they all are doing well professionally. If you already have several years experience going into a program, that seems to count significantly more than any degree when you come out. 


When I ask older professionals mid or late career, they basically say everything in that range would be good, just make sure you get a internship, learn an extra language, and master the quantitative skills available and you'll be fine. 


Who and where are the employers who will for example, pass over the Ford grad in favor of a SAIS grad, assuming they have similar professional backgrounds? 

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"Prestige" is a pretty subjective concept, and varies from person to person and place to place. It sometimes matters and never does at once.


Will coming from a better-known program help you get an internship or interview more readily? That's probably the case. Will it get you the position? Not if you don't interview well and seem like a good fit for the organization. It's a very regional thing, as well. SAIS is probably likely to count for more on the East Coast of the U.S. or in Western Europe, while places like Berkeley would count for more in California. As you and beefmaster noted, experience counts for a lot more. "Prestige" is useful insofar as it helps you get experience. It may give you a slight leg up in an application for an internship or entry-level position, but that's probably about it. More important is probably the size and helpfulness of the alumni network, career services support, and connections of the faculty. Which correlate with prestige, but aren't necessarily exclusive to the "top" schools.

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Some hiring managers will care and others won't.  It often depends on who you're competing against.  If resumes show similar experience, they might choose to interview the candidate who attended the more prestigious program.  In other cases, they might care more about the cover letter.  Working in local government, I've seen a hiring manager put the resume of someone who did not stand out otherwise but went to an Ivy League school for undergrad in the list of people who might get an interview (this candidate ultimately was not interviewed).  I've also noticed that a lot of folks with high-profile political appointments (department directors) happen to have attended prestigious schools (they are also politically savvy people).  And I've seen people who attended non-prestigious state schools get good, high-paying jobs on the basis of their experience.

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I guess I should get more specific - what about reputation and name recognition of European vs American schools? I'm accepted at Harvard, Gtown, Fletcher and SAIS, but Fletcher and Gtown are the only ones that are even close to financially feasible w/the aid packages. 


On the other hand I could go to the Graduate Institute in Geneva, which is well respected (to my knowledge) in Europe but I don't think most people have heard of here. That would be free. No question the alumni network and career services are not comparable to the US  programs though, putting aside the differences in the educational approach at the school.


I would have no problem turning down Harvard or Georgetown for example to go to Fletcher or SAIS because I think they're pretty comparable programs. But I am leary of going to the "no name" that's unknown on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps wouldn't matter for field positions like beefmaster said, but I don't want to be in the field forever. 


More broadly, I'm hoping to make a lateral move within the sector after graduation, away from the fundraising/ops side of things and more towards programs/ops. So I have experience in the sector, but not all of it will be applicable to future roles.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Agree with a lot of what's said here.  There is no universal value of policy school prestige, everything depends.  I think someone's best bet is to narrow down the type of work they want to do, and then backwards plan.  If you research organizations that you want to work at someday, you should see a clear answer.  For example, if I really wanted to work at McKinsey, then my research tells me prestige matters a lot, so I would head to Harvard.  If I really wanted to be a PMF someday, then my research tells me that super elite prestige doesn't matter so much, but my chances are better at a top 15 policy school, so I would pick any one of those that is giving me great funding.

Edited by method
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