Unorthodox decision: Master in Development Studies, or Master in Public Administration (MPA)? Canada (Queen's) - Decisions, Decisions - The GradCafe Forums
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Unorthodox decision: Master in Development Studies, or Master in Public Administration (MPA)? Canada (Queen's)


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I am looking for help in deciding between a Master in Development Studies, and a Master in Public Administration (through a Policy Studies program) at a Canadian university. If it seems like an odd tradeoff, it is. I don't intend either to be my terminal degree as I have decided to postpone my initial study plan (Master Economics) to the following year for personal and financial reasons. These are the relative tradeoffs to the program:

Development Studies:


- Small cohort (<15 students)

- Close interaction with professors (two supervisors, one main one)

- More than fully funded (tuition and living costs will be <$20,000 total for the year and I have been offered $13,000 more than that) so I would have less than 0 debt and in fact some extra income

- Lighter courseload, though significant amount of work in readings and writing (which I don't mind)

- Interesting classes, though not particularly well suited to my interests though I can take 2/6 courses in other departments if I so wish

- A graduate program (as opposed to a professional program) so it leaves the door open for further academic study

- Progressive ideology (which I do value)

- Leaves the door most open for further graduate study (either at a Public Policy program which interests me more, or for law school or Economics grad school)

- Get the chance to do an independent research topic over the summer

- Get the chance to work as a TA (great because teaching is something I love doing)

- Very good complement to my intended econ program (development economics)

- Gives me a bit more time to do training/personal preparation for the MA Economics




- The courses are not particularly useful/interesting to me judging by what I have seen. I could do the readings and the work but I think I would struggle with the idea of "why am I learning this when I could just read about it on my spare time?"
- Three of the professors who are generally regarded as the best in the faculty/superstars in the field will be gone next year (though a few good profs do remain)

- If this is my terminal degree, it does not give me much to go with in terms of employability. Doesn't have very many "useful" skills aside from critical analysis, unless I stay within the field

- No professor specializes in my area of interest (economics) in particular

- Worry that it may be seen as a "But why?" degree

- May make me specialize too much into a particular area (development) compared to a more general policy program



MPA/Public Administration: 

- Much more useful and employable, especially if this is my terminal degree

- Get to take some courses that really interest me (public policy analysis, health policy analysis, economic policy analysis)

- If I decide not to continue with my studies after this degree, it offers the opportunity to take on a paid work placement (internship) for some students

- Might give me a chance to keep using my quantitative analysis skills so they don't get rusty

- Chance to attend professional conferences and networking events

- Diverse topics and core course areas that could bring a practical/applied focus to my more theoretical econ degree



- More expensive (would cost $24,000 and i would have $20,000 funding, so $4000 out of pocket), which is not that bad unless i decide to continue with my plan of doing my MA Economics abroad in which case it would be comparatively $17,000 less to work with (because the Dev Studies would offer me $13,000 surplus)

- I've heard that the quant/economic content of the program isn't that strong so I might not be challenged in those areas/have the preparation I think I might

- a professional program rather than a graduate program---doesn't leave any doors open for future research or studies within the field itself directly as it is not an academic program

- a bit too many courses focusing on management and administration (which doesn't interest me in the slightest)

- If I did this and decided not to pursue the Econ graduate degree, then my backup option (an MPP at a school which interests me a bit more) would not be possible as it would be too similar of a degree

- Heavy workload (12 courses vs 6+ dissertation for the other program)

- No direct professorial supervision, from what I have heard.




So basically I am trying to reconcile the benefits and costs of the programs, which becomes a bit difficult because my end goal is a bit unclear. Right now the intent is to go on to an Econ graduate degree (at a University which will cost me a LOT of money which I do not currently have). If I go that route, then the relatively $17,000 additional funding of the Dev Studies program makes a lot of sense and it would be the natural option. The problem is that I am not 100% sure I will want to continue with that...part of this year is the chance to be able to see whether I can handle full time study (i have some health issues that worry me). If I decide that it is enough schooling after this year, then the MPA is the far superior investment because of its employability. 

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I see your first option as an alternative to working for a year. You have no interest in it. But the "salary" of $33,000 (if I understood your post correctly) would be comparable to the salary of an entry level office admin position, after tax deductions. It would also help you accumulate savings to fund your future econ degree, which is ultimately what you want to be doing. The question is, would you be motivated and interested enough in the course content and research to work hard at this program? This is important to ask yourself, as you will need to submit transcripts for all of your studies.


The second option seemed like the best one because it is a professional degree. In case research or academia doesn't work out for you right away (something to be prepared for as jobs have become more scarce over the years or temporary and contract-based), you could work in this field and earn a good living until you find something more closely aligned with your interests later on.


But then you bring up two other important considerations: health problems and similarities between this program and an MPP. Is your health condition stable in the sense that over the course of the year you should get a good sense of what you can and cannot handle? Or does it fluctuate so that you will not nor ever be able to predict when your health will get in the way of your studies?


If it is unpredictable, I would decline both offers and get a job and once you have the money saved up go into the program you like the most. If your academic performance isn't at optimal levels in the upcoming year because of your health, your grades and the possibility of getting strong references from your grad program could jeopardize your chances of getting into your dream program later on. In your dream program, you can register for accessible learning services which would make it easier for you to reduce your course load, drop down to part time or take a medical leave of absence if needed. So I wouldn't worry about this at all.


Have you inquired to find out if you could get course exemptions in econ by taking the Public Admin degree? (Sorry if this is an obvious question. I am not in any of your fields). If you could and if this might reduce the length of time your next degree takes to complete, this could give you an added incentive.


All in all, when all things are considered, I would personally decline the first offer and ask for a one year deferral to the second one for health reasons IF you could find a job in the upcoming year that would allow you to save the money you need to attend your dream program. If you get too sick to work in the upcoming year, you can take a break from work, reassess your interest in Pub Admin next year, delay completing your dream degree and not worry about burning bridges, tarnishing your record or reducing your chances of acceptance into your dream program.


If you know now that you will not be able to find a job with a good salary that will allow you to save money, this is where it becomes tricky. Not knowing about your health situation makes this tricky to give my opinion on. I think I might learn towards option 2 because if this is all you can handle due to being unable to predict the future of your health (or if you know your health condition will slowly deteriorate over time) then delaying might not be an option and at least you could walk away in a good position to start a new career whereas option one is simply the equivalent of a one year job with few benefits for your future.


Congrats and good luck with your decisions.

Edited by jenste
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