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AMA: Recent SAIS grad

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On 3/10/2016 at 9:21 PM, ellenel said:

Thanks again for doing this! 

I was wondering if you could comment on the intensity of language classes, especially if you've ever taken summer classes!  I'm thinking of SAIS in the not-so-distant future and have been interested in the possibility of taking a summer language class in the evenings while continuing with my full-time job now to improve my language skills for career and grad school purposes.  How intense is the workload?  Is it worth the hefty price tag?

I never took summer classes, but I did take language courses during the school year. The overall quality of instruction is high -- I loved both of my professors -- but some students will treat language courses as their last priority, especially if they have already passed SAIS's language requirement (a good chunk of incoming students have already reached "proficiency" in a foreign language upon enrollment and then will take another language that they don't need to meet graduation requirements). 

If your question about workload is in reference to language classes, I would say it's totally manageable for most languages, and a lot of it will be determined by the amount of effort you want to put in. I have heard that courses like Chinese and Arabic can be quite intense, and require more classroom hours in addition to assignments. 

 

 

 

 

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On 3/11/2016 at 0:35 PM, 6speed! said:

I appreciate the response! 

I have another query for you if you don't mind. I got into SAIS but I'm thinking of switching my concentration from General International Relations to either Strategic Studies or American Foreign Policy. I have concerns that General IR is decentralized, low on resources and group cohesion and basically lacks an identity, despite offering flexibility regarding your course selection. I've read that Strategic Studies is a strong concentration regarding both resources, cohort strength and networking, but I know little about the American Foreign Policy concentration and its dynamics. I'd appreciate any perspective or insight you have on these concentrations and their general strengths/weaknesses. Thanks a lot!

I only knew one person who did general IR, but she was very focused on finance (and may have done a specialization or two in that arena), so I think she wanted more flexibility in her courses in order to be able to really go deep on fin classes. To most people, I would strongly recommend a concentration, because as you suggest, I do think it helps with access to resources (even just in terms of faculty support, not to mention funding/research opportunities/study trips).

Strat is definitely one of SAIS's strongest concentrations, and has a LOT of funding and trips. One potential downside is that you could get lost in the crowd as you'll have so many other people in your cohort. 

AFP is up there as well in terms of SAIS concentrations, but a little smaller and my friends who did that seemed to form pretty close bonds with the professors, some of whom are quite impressive.

Of my friends who did strat, many are now doing jobs in defense-related fields (contractors, consulting, federal agencies, etc.), whereas my AFP classmates are doing more broader federal policy and diplomacy jobs. 

 

 

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Just now, kb6 said:

I only knew one person who did general IR, but she was very focused on finance (and may have done a specialization or two in that arena), so I think she wanted more flexibility in her courses in order to be able to really go deep on fin classes. To most people, I would strongly recommend a concentration, because as you suggest, I do think it helps with access to resources (even just in terms of faculty support, not to mention funding/research opportunities/study trips).

Strat is definitely one of SAIS's strongest concentrations, and has a LOT of funding and trips. One potential downside is that you could get lost in the crowd as you'll have so many other people in your cohort. 

AFP is up there as well in terms of SAIS concentrations, but a little smaller and my friends who did that seemed to form pretty close bonds with the professors, some of whom are quite impressive.

Of my friends who did strat, many are now doing jobs in defense-related fields (contractors, consulting, federal agencies, etc.), whereas my AFP classmates are doing more broader federal policy and diplomacy jobs. 

 

 

Thanks for the input, it's appreciated and helpful! 

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On 3/12/2016 at 9:33 PM, SenNoodles said:

Thanks for doing this! I'm very interested in SAIS so this is super helpful. A couple questions I've posted elsewhere as well but to which I'd love your thoughts:

I'm curious about how much work experience most of your peers have - the average number of years worked for the incoming class is listed as about 2-3 but the average age is 26, which doesn't seem to match up. I've worked for 4 years now and am interested in a program where my classmates have some (not necessarily significant but a decent amount) of real world experience.

Also, where do most people tend to live? Dupont Circle/downtown is so expensive but I also wouldn't want much of a commute. Do people live in Shaw/Bloomingdale/Columbia Heights?  Do they actually live near SAIS?

Thanks again!

Interesting, not sure why that discrepancy exists. There are a fair number of non-American students who have done some kind of master's before SAIS (a lot of European undergrad programs are 5-year master's degrees), so it's possible that has skewed the numbers somewhat. Also, a lot of SAISers did Fubrights, Peace Corps, or military service before enrolling, so I don't know how those would be considered in terms of counting years of "work experience." But overall I think with 4 years of work experience, you'll fit right in. There are definitely some 23-year-olds who worked for one year before enrolling or came straight from undergrad, but there are also a lot of 30-somethings who have very impressive backgrounds --- and most people fall in between these two extremes.

In terms of housing location, a lot of SAISers live in Dupont Circle, but they often tend to be non-American or quite wealthy. A lot of students live in Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mt. Pleasant, and to a lesser degree, Shaw, Bloomingdale/Eckington, and Woodley Park. All of these neighborhoods are bikeable/transit-able to SAIS, and you can generally get there by foot in 30-40 minutes. Some people lived a bit further up the red line as well, like in Cleveland Park or Tenleytown, or further out in Eastern Market or Petworth. And of course there are those who commute from suburbs (Arlington, Alexandria, Chevy Chase, and Bethesda primarily).  

 

 

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Thank you for sharing all of these info!

I am accepted to MA in international political economics. It seems to be a young program. Would you like to give some comments on this program? Thanks!

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On 2016年1月25日 at 1:44 AM, kb6 said:

Hi! 

I'll start with Bologna vs. DC.

 

Bologna vs. DC/DC vibe

Bologna pros: more academic (b/c fewer "practioner" professors and few people are doing internships/working); much more tight-knit student body (because everyone lives close to each other and typically knows no one in Bologna upon arrival, whereas in DC people live throughout the city/suburbs and many have their own pre-established social lives); European perspective on international affairs; better language instruction; opportunity to travel in Europe for both academic purposes and pleasure, as well as career trips; cost-of-living significantly lower than DC so even including extra traveling you might want to do/flights to and from the US, I easily spent 10-20% less money during my year in BO

Bologna cons: less class selection, especially in areas like finance/quant and Asia-focused courses, etc.; fewer internship opportunities (which again can be viewed as a positive if you want to focus on academics for a year); a slightly more "immature" feel to it (younger student body, a lot of partying on weekends)

DC pros: more class selection, especially in terms of quant; more internship opportunities; more "big name" faculty (although I find this better for bragging purposes rather than actual quality of instruction - I actually typically found "practioners" to run the WORST classes by far for so many reasons...); more speakers/conferences; more opportunities to network in field; more "mature" feel to it (student body is a bit older)

DC cons: I found non-quant DC courses to be less academically rigorous than Bologna; if you don't go to Bologna first and aren't super social/involved on campus it's quite a bit harder to make friends in DC; very expensive to live in DC which can be demoralizing; American-style language instruction (read: low standards)

In terms of the DC vibe, I think it's overall quite collegial and people can make friends if that's what they want, but much less of a bubble than Bologna was as people often have their own lives in the District and some students just come in for class and then leave. But it's definitely not a commuter vibe like GW or AU where most students are working full-time and then cramming in night classes. And if you want to be involved, however, there are a million student groups, publications, clubs, etc. and some departments are very tight-knit

SAIS community/job prospects

The SAIS community is second-to-none in that the school fosters a lot of SAIS pride/community spirit on a level I never experienced in my somewhat larger undergrad institution. The SAIS network is real and helped me to get a pretty prestigious internship while in DC, which was very useful when applying for jobs (where I also work with a few SAISers, although they weren't hiring managers).

Job prospects are good overall, but your mileage may vary depending on your background and what you're looking for. I found my full-time job in late summer, and it's a position that I truly love and that pays slightly above the average salary that SAIS published in its career outcomes, so I'm certainly happy and feel it was 100% worth it!

The vast majority of my friends had full-time gigs by early fall. The ones who have struggled a bit more typically fall into one or more of the following categories: non-Americans who had trouble finding employers to sponsor them (although many of these people end up going for jobs at World Bank/IMF/IDB etc. where they can get diplomatic visas); people with little-to-no work experience (some of them have to take slightly lower-level or lower-paid gigs than they had envisioned); people with unrealistic expectations of what they can reasonably get based on their academic backgrounds/previous work experience (numbers 2 and 3 overlap a lot). 

I think it's also important to think about the kind of job you want, the potential salary, and what kind of loan burden you may have. For example, I have some friends who work in development and haven't cracked 50k, which is extremely hard to live on in DC if you have any kind of debt and don't want to live with 5 roommates into your 30s. But I have friends who've gone into consulting or done more quant-y jobs making in the 80s and 90s, which obviously is more than comfortable. So I guess what I'm saying is that average outcomes/salaries can be misleading.

 

I'm working from home today so I'll save my response for loveglove for a little bit later!

 

 

Thanks for your input! If you don't mind, may I ask what you mean by "some more tight-knit" departments? (smaller class size, more RA opportunities?) And what're some examples of these departments? I saw you put up America Foreign Policy as one of them though... Thanks!  

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On 3/17/2016 at 0:35 PM, newsais said:

Thank you for sharing all of these info!

I am accepted to MA in international political economics. It seems to be a young program. Would you like to give some comments on this program? Thanks!

Hi there! I assume you're talking about the MIEF program?

I believe the program only started last year, so this year's cohort will be the second class. The MIEF students struck me as very international, and perhaps a bit younger than the MA students. These are all vague impressions, however, as I had no involvement with the program itself and my interactions with MIEF students were superficial. I got the sense that MIEF students really develop an identity as a cohort  b/c a lot of their courses are in half-semester blocks, which is different than the MA/MIPP traditional-semester schedule. But there is some crossover between students (one MA friend of mine who was super into finance classes took two MIEF courses, I believe). The MIEF program pulls from some of the best SAIS faculty as well. 

I wish I could have been of more help, but I did just find this interview with Prof. Bodnar, who founded the program, that might give you some more details: https://goo.gl/oUU0jQ

And here you can see employment outcomes for MIEF (as well as MA students): https://goo.gl/XCJp5a

 

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On 3/18/2016 at 5:22 AM, rrrruoyao said:

Thanks for your input! If you don't mind, may I ask what you mean by "some more tight-knit" departments? (smaller class size, more RA opportunities?) And what're some examples of these departments? I saw you put up America Foreign Policy as one of them though... Thanks!  

Yeah, I think smaller class sizes (both in terms of the cohort and individual courses) can make a difference, as does the department's staff's administrative/organizational capabilities (are there lots of talks/panels by outside experts, brown bags with faculty, organized study trips, etc.). For example, Energy Resources and Environment (ERE) is the biggest concentration I believe, and they have some amazing classes and professors, but i think it can also be easier to get lost in a crowd, and some ERE students complained about certain classes being oversubscribed. 

Contrast that with European studies or Latin American studies where core classes can have 12-15 people in them, not to mention electives -- almost all concentrators are on a first-name basis with the department heads, which is probably only true for a handful of ERE students. Smaller cohort size means you are competing with fewer people for (partially- or wholly-funded) study trips.

But I don't think the the only reason you should pursue a concentration are the "perks." Some of my friends who are happiest with their concentration are Strat concentrators. Strat is one of the biggest concentrations at SAIS, and some classes are hard t to get into and competition for study trips was fierce. But for people who are interested in defense and intelligence, the faculty and the course selection and the broader connections of the department to those industries is absolutely worth it.

So I think at the end of the day I think it's important to balance all of these different wants and needs. There's opportunity to change your concentration after you start SAIS in most cases (I think entrance into IDEV is restricted), so i would just make sure to be paying attention and asking questions when you arrive to figure out what's the best fit. 

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How hard or easy are the Econ courses for someone who's slightly math illiterate or who took Econ eons ago?

thank you for the AMA!

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Since Sais is only a few buildings, what do students do for gyms nearby? Or health insurance/hospitals? I'm trying to make myself feel comfortable that I won't have access to the amenities of a big university if I choose SAIS... Or at least that the amenities will have to be a la carte and around DC.

Do you have any recommendations?

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1 hour ago, monocle said:

Since Sais is only a few buildings, what do students do for gyms nearby? Or health insurance/hospitals? I'm trying to make myself feel comfortable that I won't have access to the amenities of a big university if I choose SAIS... Or at least that the amenities will have to be a la carte and around DC.

Do you have any recommendations?

I'm currently working in Dupont Circle and I wouldn't sweat the availability of gyms, hospitals, bars, restaurants, or anything else really. SAIS is right in the thick of it. Can't speak to what students choose to do, but there's plenty of anything you might want for in the area.

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12 hours ago, abnd said:

@monocle this is an old packet that I found while doing some research the other day that should answer your questions: http://www.sais-jhu.edu/sites/default/files/resource-article/files/Guide%20to%20DC%202014%202015%20April12014.pdf

Thanks! This is very helpful. It's nice to know there's a Y nearby (because it should be pretty affordable, if a bit crowded)

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19 hours ago, ZebraFinch said:

How hard or easy are the Econ courses for someone who's slightly math illiterate or who took Econ eons ago?

thank you for the AMA!

I found the econ classes manageable, although my worst grade at SAIS was in monetary theory! :rolleyes: Most people tend to stress a lot, but then pull of a decent grade in the end. I think if you did econ in undergrad, even it was eons ago, you'll be fine. There were maybe 4-5 people in Bologna who failed micro in the fall and had to re-take it in the spring, but this was out of a class of ~200.  

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17 hours ago, monocle said:

Since Sais is only a few buildings, what do students do for gyms nearby? Or health insurance/hospitals? I'm trying to make myself feel comfortable that I won't have access to the amenities of a big university if I choose SAIS... Or at least that the amenities will have to be a la carte and around DC.

Do you have any recommendations?

Not sure if you have been to DC or Dupont Circle in particular, but the neighborhood is right downtown with lots of amenities. There are a TON of gyms in the area -- which one makes sense for you is dependent on your price range, but many have student discounts or are just cheap in general (such as the Y as already discussed or Gold's Gym, etc.). There are a lot of doctors' offices and health clinics around, too, but the only annoying thing is that we get our insurance through a Georgetown plan, so the student clinic we have access to is a bit inconvenient unless you happen to live in the Georgetown area (which almost no SAISers do) and they don't prescribe birth control b/c of the Catholic thing. But with the insurance plan you're free to go to regular doctors (with more convenient locations and the willingness to prescribe birth control!), so I never found it to be a problem.

 

 

 

 

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Everyone talks about "best fit". How did you present that aspect to SAIS when applying? Did you talk about how you like the quant-heavy classes, location, etc. or did you go deeper than that?

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1 hour ago, monocle said:

Thanks! This is very helpful. It's nice to know there's a Y nearby (because it should be pretty affordable, if a bit crowded)

Except I'm pretty sure it's closed. It was a "thing" at work recently since our office is right by there, and Yelp says the same - http://www.yelp.com/biz/ymca-national-capital-washington-2 (but there are tons of other gyms in downtown, and if you argue with them you can usually get them to reduce the price. In particular, there's an LA Fitness that's like $50/month)

Edited by SenNoodles

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On 3/22/2016 at 10:07 AM, ub3rmensch said:

Everyone talks about "best fit". How did you present that aspect to SAIS when applying? Did you talk about how you like the quant-heavy classes, location, etc. or did you go deeper than that?

In my essays, I talked about the issues that mattered to me and how a SAIS education, including the quant and econ focus, could help me achieve those goals. Funnily enough, I completely changed what I wanted to do by the end of my second semester. But I do think it's important to show admissions that you have thoroughly thought through your post-SAIS plans to show that you are proactive, taking it seriously, a good planner, etc. 

 

On 3/22/2016 at 11:23 AM, SenNoodles said:

Except I'm pretty sure it's closed. It was a "thing" at work recently since our office is right by there, and Yelp says the same - http://www.yelp.com/biz/ymca-national-capital-washington-2 (but there are tons of other gyms in downtown, and if you argue with them you can usually get them to reduce the price. In particular, there's an LA Fitness that's like $50/month)

Yes, now that I think about it, I believe they might be tearing down that building, probably for some fancy new condos. But there are still a lot of cheap gyms in the neighborhood - Gold's Gym, Washington Sports Club (which i think offers a SAIS discount), etc. 

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Kb6, just read all the posts on this thread. this was incredibly helpful. i am hoping you will be able to answer my questions too.

I am (luckily) faced with making a decision amongst a few top schools, the gist of which is as follows:

Harvard MPP - no funding - will cost $75k/year (incl living)

Tufts MALD - 32k annual waiver - will cost 30k/year (incl living)

Carnegie Mellon MSPPM - 29k annual waiver - will cost 28k/year (incl living)

Duke MPP - 10k annual waiver - will cost 49k/year (incl living) - i am yet to hear from them regarding a revised funding offer

SAIS MA (IDEV) - 30k annual waiver - will cost 33k/ year (incl living)

I would be utterly grateful if you (and others on this forum) could please:
 
1. tell me which one out of my offers you guys would advise me to go to, keeping in mind the prestige of the school and job prospects. 
 
2. tell me if you feel whether my chances of employment and earnings for entry level jobs in multilateral development organizations or research institutes would be significantly higher if I were to graduate from Harvard. Essentially, would this income differential justify the additional initial investment for Harvard (assuming i can foot the entire bill for HKS)?
 
3. Is SAIS the top school in the DC area? How does the MPP offered by the McCourt School at Georgetown compare this program with the MA program offered by SAIS, in terms of placements of graduates, quantitative rigor of coursework and research opportunities available to students.
 
4. I am told that SAIS isa feeder for the World Bank (which is where I would like to end up after graduating). Could you tell me what percentage of students at SAIS end up with jobs at the WB, and how many of t hem land consultancies while studying at SAIS?

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On 4/9/2016 at 2:46 PM, a.khalid said:

Kb6, just read all the posts on this thread. this was incredibly helpful. i am hoping you will be able to answer my questions too.

I am (luckily) faced with making a decision amongst a few top schools, the gist of which is as follows:

Harvard MPP - no funding - will cost $75k/year (incl living)

Tufts MALD - 32k annual waiver - will cost 30k/year (incl living)

Carnegie Mellon MSPPM - 29k annual waiver - will cost 28k/year (incl living)

Duke MPP - 10k annual waiver - will cost 49k/year (incl living) - i am yet to hear from them regarding a revised funding offer

SAIS MA (IDEV) - 30k annual waiver - will cost 33k/ year (incl living)

I would be utterly grateful if you (and others on this forum) could please:
 
1. tell me which one out of my offers you guys would advise me to go to, keeping in mind the prestige of the school and job prospects. 
 
2. tell me if you feel whether my chances of employment and earnings for entry level jobs in multilateral development organizations or research institutes would be significantly higher if I were to graduate from Harvard. Essentially, would this income differential justify the additional initial investment for Harvard (assuming i can foot the entire bill for HKS)?
 
3. Is SAIS the top school in the DC area? How does the MPP offered by the McCourt School at Georgetown compare this program with the MA program offered by SAIS, in terms of placements of graduates, quantitative rigor of coursework and research opportunities available to students.
 
4. I am told that SAIS isa feeder for the World Bank (which is where I would like to end up after graduating). Could you tell me what percentage of students at SAIS end up with jobs at the WB, and how many of t hem land consultancies while studying at SAIS?

Hi, I hope my response gets to you in time! 

It sounds like you've had a very successful application season, that's awesome! I'm sure you're going to be happy whatever you choose, but here are my thoughts:

 

1) I don't feel comfortable telling you to go to one school over another as I don't fully know your personal situation or future goals, but I will generally say that my decision-making came down to trying to find the best combination of funding and prestige. If you would have to take out loans to cover costs, I would proceed very cautiously. My friends who have six-figure loan burdens right now really feel that weight on their shoulders, even if they've gotten well-paying jobs for the field, and it's a situation to avoid if you can. 

 

2) I don't think your income would be higher coming out of Harvard in the multilateral/development sector. For post-master's positions, these orgs tend to have very fixed salary bands with not much room to negotiate. You might get a bit of a bump in the private sector, but again, IR jobs tend not to pay that much in the first place, so it's hard to imagine getting something that would be enough to justify a huge extra loan payment. 

It's possible that Kennedy School grads have all kinds of extra connections that give them access to jobs that I don't even know about, but I couldn't really speak to that. 

 

3) In the DC world I have found that the SAIS brand has carried me far. I think that SAIS grads often tend to compete for slightly different roles than MPP students from Georgetown might - I haven't really met people from that program in my professional endeavors, but that's because perhaps they're moving more into domestic-focused federal agencies and the like, or perhaps the non-profit world, whereas SAIS grads tend to flock to companies focused on defense, energy, finance, international stuff, etc.

 

4) This is an anecdotal estimate but probably 70% of my non-American friends who have stayed in DC post-SAIS are working at the World Bank right now. I don't want to say it's "easy" to get a job there, but with a SAIS degree, you are in a very good position to get an STC. In fact, some people I know used the World Bank as a back-up when they had trouble finding jobs in the private sector. Another bonus for non-Americans is that you don't have to worry about visa issues because Bank jobs use diplomatic visa which don't have a quota/limit. The quality of the positions varies though - some of my friends absolutely love their jobs, get to travel internationally on a regular basis, feel like they're doing meaningful work, etc., while some others are stuck in less stimulating roles or in unorganized departments. But that's just the Bank for you, not a reflection of where a SAIS degree gets you vis-a-vis other programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi 

I have been selected to the MAIA program at SAIS Bologna center.

I want to know more about the program in slight detail- classes, lectures, internships, pros and cons, including the career prospects for Indian students.

As i have not received a scholarship, is it worth spending so much for this course?

Waiting for replies.

Thank You

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Can anyone shed light on what to expect for conflict resolution concentrators? Is the program fairly big, or is it one of the more "tight-knit" communities? I'm looking at taking out the full amount in loans so I wanted to get some idea of what the alumni network and job prospects are for that particular concentration. Thanks!

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Hi sorry, I just noticed that more questions were added to this thread. I hope it's not too late.

I would think very carefully about the impact on your life of taking out the full amount in loans, @nic2017 and @blue22. I think that's especially true if you do conflict management, unless you have preferential hiring status (like Peace Corps or Army vet) that will help you get into the government. Non-profit jobs will get you in the $40-50k/yrThe general rule of thumb is not to take out more loans than you'll earn in your first year out.

Conflict management students seemed quite close, but I did hear that the department was a big disorganized - although that could have changed as I graduated about two years ago. 

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Are you able to complete a MA in Strat part time at SAIS?  What was the military population like at SAIS?

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I am interested in applying to SAIS, but am nervous about the language proficiency component. None of the languages I speak are offered at SAIS, and the website makes it sound like students can only fulfill the language proficiency requirement with languages offered by the university. I'd be okay with starting a new language, but want to make sure this is done by some students. Are students able to start a new languages at SAIS and learn enough to pass the language requirement? Is that common? 

Thanks for the help. I'd hate to apply only to find out I can't attend the program due to the limitation on accepted languages. 

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