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Harvard / Vanderbilt / Penn: International Education


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Hi! I feel like I'm in a tight spot and I'd love yall's help as we get down to the wire here!

  • Vanderbilt International Education Policy & Management
    • Best scholarship & work-study offer
    • 2 year program -- thus total loans I will need to take out end up being about the same as the other schools, but I can use the fed unsubsidized alone each year w/o need for higher interest loans; think I would prefer this program length / depth for my Master's!
    • Best education policy program, but not the greatest international resources & network or regional & topical coursework (I'm interested in South & Southeast Asia)
    • Small cohort, chance to shine; solid connection to a difficult-to-access region already offered for the customizable international summer practicum
    • Nashville is cheap, seems like a cool place to live, very close to my family but very far from my significant other, who will be at Cornell for the next 2 years
  • Harvard International Education Policy
    • Barely any funding, ultimately will need ~$60,000 in some combination of the fed unsubsidized, Grad PLUS and/or higher interest loans
    • 9 month program -- not sure how much this will prepare me to really understand the field or gain the quantitative/policy analysis skills I want, but from the employers' perspective I will have the same degree + the Harvard brand behind me
    • No built-in practical experience or opportunity to work during the program (except for unpaid, non-credit internships), and the expense of the program + living in Boston seems to be accented by other "add on" necessities not included in the tuition (prep courses, international study excursions during spring break etc... mostly it's this culture of HARVARD FOR ONE YEAR ONLY! SACRIFICE EVERYTHING FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY! that kinda makes me uncomfortable)
    • Some professors with regional & topical courses that appeal to me, and of the total 8 courses you can enroll in 3 across campus... could utilize Kennedy School or South Asia Institute resources. For that very limited time.
  • Penn International Education Development
    • This had been off my radar until Friday, when I was told I would be the GA for the program, receive some additional funding on top of my $10000 first year scholarship ($5000/semester... so almost one course free for the Fall and Spring yay?) and be a ~leader~ of the program. It's now on par with the other two in terms of financial feasibility, but like Harvard I would need a combo of loans to tackle the ~$60000 ticket price for 1 year.
    • Not explicitly the same policy spin (although they do squeeze a Policy Brief thesis-esque paper -- which I heard students describe as a "lit review" -- into the short program); more focused on placing you with large international development organizations like UNESCO (the director of the program is a chair)
    • 1.5 year program *allegedly*... They recommend you take classes over 3 semesters, with a summer spent at your international internship placement -- which you have limited control over, because the professors place you with just your general regional input on the front end -- but I have yet to talk to a single student who chooses to finish the program this way. They instead cram their courses into 2 semesters (because scholarships generally do not renew) and finish the program abroad, on their internship, hoping that they will either be hired from that or return to the US to start the job search.
    • Also a really strong South Asia Center at Penn. They even offer Tibetan, which I would absolutely take advantage of if I were somehow able to be on campus longer than 2 semesters.


I have nooo idea what option is best for me I had been leaning heavily towards Vanderbilt -- a lot of emotional factors, and 2 years just sounds like a much better learning experience -- but it's hard enough to turn down Harvard, and now I've got new information & considerations for the Penn program. I may try to pull off a last minute visit there and see if it really should be back on the table, but in the meantime does anybody out there have any thoughts??

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So I originally looked at all these programs and know alums for all but Vandy! But I spoke to some alums there when I was searching. I got the sense it was academically stronger, but they were also less experienced going in. So the program helped them get into the sector as professionals. 


The HGSE alums I know like the name but one said she'd have considered doing a more traditional two year MPP if she could do it again. The other was at Harvard a second year working so had more time to build a network. They also had experience going in and could use the Harvard name/credential and existing connections to get their next job I think.


The Penn students I've spoken to have been really happy with it but they only recently graduated so it seems too soon to tell their long term opinion. This seems kind of like the best of both worlds given you get time for an internship too. It's a newer program though. 


I guess for me it would depend on how much you think you need to learn, and how much you need a degree to check the box. If it's the later, do the one year, get in and get out, and network the hell out of Harvard while you're there. If you're in it for the content, Vandy would probably be stronger. Maybe you can defer a year and save more money to offset the cost of Harvard if that's your choice? If you're not getting a scholarship anyway they may let you do that. 

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Thanks, @chelaylay! This is really insightful, I appreciate it. I am kinda on the side of just beginning in the field -- I've studied and worked abroad in South & Southeast Asia a considerable bit, but never with large development organizations or beyond the classroom-level. I think this is why the longer programs appeal to me more.


Ahh and I am definitely having that last-minute "is this even the right time?!" panic! I would like for these programs to be more financially feasible, but I don't know if another year would make a drastic difference in terms of the funding I might qualify for + the savings I could accrue to meet the massive gaps. I would say Harvard is actually my least preferred option at this point (even though I feel crazy saying that!). I'm just not really in it for the branding. The content and practical aspects of Vandy and Penn are really speaking to me, and now it's just a matter of seeing which I can make work best.


Thank you again for your help and input!

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