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I'm in the lucky position of having been accepted to both "School A" and "School B"'s policy programs with funding, and am now having a very hard time making a decision. My situation is unique at both programs so to avoid outing myself I'm not going to name them but they're both reputable US schools.
School A's offer is generous, but I'd still need to take out about $32,000 in loans (2 year total).
B offered $10K, renewable, with a research assistantship and some required classes. But I'm also nominated for a FLAS at B, which would be a holy grail of full tuition + $15000 stipend - as long as they get their federal grant. If I get the FLAS, I have to take one language and one area studies course each term. It's not a particularly useful language but language study is fun so that's fine. 
The FLAS is a one-year award so I'd want to keep the RA as a back-up for year 2. But then to meet all these requirements, my schedule will be almost all required coursework (not in my focus areas), really no flexibility in electives, etc, and the ability to cross register at other programs at this university was a big draw. So alternately I could drop RA and class requirements, but then I drop that award too, and could end up with no funding in year 2 since I have to reapply.
If I keep that award and at least have the FLAS one year, school B will be cheaper than school A by about $10k. If I drop that award and don't get the FLAS twice, than it'll be the same cost as A.
Seems like I should choose B as a result, but I'm leaning towards A. I liked the cohort size, close engagement with professors, opportunities in the city where it's located, career services (really impressed by that), and the fact it's focused specifically on my interest area. I felt a little lost in undergrad and really want a program where I'm in small classes and have a lot of close interactions with professors. It feels almost like a PhD program in that way.
But B has a bigger name. Both are considered "prestigious" but B would be better known internationally. It's a larger program, with a wider network. When I mention both schools, people are wowed by the idea of B, even though they're equally selective.
So even though I think A would be a better personal fit and allow me to explore my interests better, I wonder if I should choose B because of the value of the name and the potentially lower cost. I'm trying to negotiate with A but I don't know how much more funding, if any, they'll be able to offer. Am I crazy to pay more for fit, even if the other school would be considered a better brand?
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My opinion is that $10,000 is not a small amount of money, but it might not be worth saving that money for a school that you truly believe is a better fit. This really sounds like a difficult personal choice to make, but I don't think you can go wrong either way. I wish I could be of more help! Don't count on having the FLAS for a second year (not that you are).

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Do you want to work internationally? I feel like international reputation is only important if working internationally is a goal or priority for you.

I'm having a hard time understanding the particulars of the funding, but it sounds like School A costs $32K a year and School B costs $22K a year, but with less flexibility of scheduling and more required coursework plus an RA. For me, I guess it would depend a lot on what my post-graduation goal was. If you want to go to a PhD program next, School A's flexibility and the ability to specialize in what you want might be a better fit. School B might be better if your goal is work right after, but you say they are both prestigiou schools. If this is a situation where you're comparing - say - Harvard to Stanford or something like that (or maybe Stanford to Northwestern) then I think professionally it doesn't matter unless you know you want to work abroad.

So either way it sounds like School A is a good fit for you, and you want to go somewhere you'll be comfortable and can get what you came for.

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I definitely want to work again afterwards - there are a few different types of organizations that appeal to me, but there are a handful of think tanks that are interesting, maybe a development bank, but most likely a NGO. I expect I'll work abroad again but on and off and for US orgs or UN, which are US based connections that I'd make anyway. I am sure I could show up in rural Tajikistan or whatever and people would know the name and reputation of school B, but I don't know how much that matters, honestly, even in international development, other than being a way to establish you're a smart and legitimate professional by proxy.


I'm trying to iron out the financial details at both schools so I know more black and white what's available. I guess I'm just having a hard time letting go of the fear that turning down an Ivy League grad degree at B that's financially feasible (even though the other program is also considered as good or better in this field) is going to come back to bite me some day when I'll wish I could tap that network, or make a lateral move to domestic work. I guess I'm still a bit starry eyed by the idea of that name on my resume.


I feel like networking and making connections with professors and going to all the events and workshops, etc, plus having strong professional experiences in a capstone and internship are all really important. I know I can get this at A. At B it's available, but I think I might be so overloaded on classes, and in a larger program, that this becomes more difficult. My path will also be laid out from day one, and I'd like to leave some flexibility to take other courses and explore what interests me. I have clear goals for post-grad school, but I don't want to completely limit all opportunity to change and explore new ideas. On the other hand, I'd have an RA and fellowship which is a nice thing to be able to say you did. 


That being said, I don't think a hiring manager particularly cares what classes I took, just if it was a well regarded program and if I have applicable skills as a result. I don't want to discount the education and I value that in and of itself personally, but I have also talked to a lot of (maybe slightly jaded) alums from B who said the only thing that matters are connections you make and the brand you buy, basically, and I think there's some truth to that too. 


Kind of just thinking out loud here...thanks for the words of advice!

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