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Sanford (Duke) v. Goldman (Berkeley) MPP


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I've browsed old threads here and seen discussions on the merits of these two programs from years ago, as far back as 2010.  But I know a lot changes in seven years, and I was wondering if there are any fresh perspectives around.  I've lived in NC for about 15 years and have a family here.  We are comfortable but are highly intrigued by the possibility of shaking things up.  I've gotten into Goldman with the possibility for a G.A.ship that would reduce tuition by 40%, and I've gotten a half-ride from Duke.  With differences in housing costs I'm estimating that I would spend an extra 60 or 70k by moving the family to Berkeley (a highly appealing destination for our family).  Sanford is clearly the path of least resistance as we currently live in Chapel Hill.

Beyond the dubious wisdom of uprooting my comfortable family, I'm really curious about a comparison between the programs by people who might know.  I understand that both are "top 5," by whatever arbitrary standards US News uses, but the more I look around the more it seems that Goldman's prestige is more regionally-based, while Sanford's is more global.  Am I understanding that correctly?  Also, as far as I can tell there is not anything that one program has that the other does not.  I'm impressed by the faculty at both, but the smaller class size at Duke is more appealing.

For obvious reasons I'm leaning toward Sanford, but I'd love to hear other knowledgeable perspectives on what I may be overlooking from Goldman.  The main draw is the Bay area itself, along with UCB's great reputation.  Basically, I guess I'm wondering if living in the Bay area will be worth an extra $70k in debt, and then what my job prospects on the east coast will be like after getting out.  My desired area of concentration as it's still a little nebulous, but I'm most passionate about political/corporate reform, campaign finance reform, and applied politics.

I appreciate anyone who can drop some wisdom.



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Another interesting tidbit I forgot to mention in my OP: In addition to the above, I've been accepted at Harris, SIPA, GWU, LBJ, and American, with money offers from a couple.  In attempting to negotiate with one of those schools (which I will keep anonymous so as to protect this person's job), the dean told me that if she was getting offers from all of the schools I listed, she would go to Duke "in a heartbeat."  She later elaborated: 

  • "I am particularly impressed with the Sanford school.  I have a few colleagues there and know that they mix really fantastic teaching and top-notch scholarship - as well as applied work impacting real policy debates.  I have been down there for a symposium on campaign finance reform that also included two Members of Congress highly involved in that debate and other events like that.
    "The Duke MPP has a strong social science-based but inter-disciplinary focus and I get the impression that their students receive a nice mix of rigorous tools and policy content/frameworks to understand policymaking and policy analysis.  It also seems like a nice size and has a beautiful building with lots of opportunities for students to meet and work together and hold events (something we don't have at GW). I also weighed heavily your statement that they offered a significant financial award, which I do encourage everyone to take into consideration when making this decision.  
    "None of these MPP programs are bad choices - all four are excellent - and I am sure you will take advantage of the opportunities at whichever you choose and move forward your career.  That said, if you really want to be in Washington (which does have a competitive advantage because of the access to experts and organizations in any policy area) and AU is offering a significant scholarship (or even moderate scholarship since their tuition is likely the most reasonable of the bunch), I would seriously consider them as well. They have some great social policy faculty as well!"
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Woops looks like you did give away the school....But great to know about Sanford! 

I don't have much insight between the two programs as I didn't apply to Goldman - but I also suggest you pose these questions in each of this year's respective threads (and read through last years if they exist) if you haven't already. I know there are current students from both programs who are some-what active on here so they could help answer some of your questions.


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Hi 3dender! I'm a current second year MPP at Sanford, and I remember lurking around these forums two years ago and found them helpful. If you have any specific follow-up questions, I'd be happy to answer them (hdb4@duke.edu), but to briefly respond to your question:

First, congratulations. You've been accepted with funding to a handful of the top policy schools in the country; no matter what you end up choosing, you're in a good spot. That said, I will go to bat for Duke/Sanford over the others any day. Everything the representative from another school stressed about the program above rings true to me as well, and I've really appreciated the wealth of knowledge and resources available to me here, whether it's career services, administration, faculty, or fellow students. 

I honestly don't think the overall experience at Berkeley vs. Duke would be all that different, and for that reason, I don't believe Berkeley is worth an extra $70k in debt. In addition, if your goal is to land a job on the east coast, in North Carolina or especially in DC where Duke has an extensive network of alumni who are more than happy to hire you let alone meet you for an interview, then it's no question: Duke has an advantage. If you want to stay in California after graduating (and you think the advantage Berkeley provides over Duke in landing you a job there is worth an extra $70k), then choose Berkeley.

In the end, what drove my choice two years ago was the people: which people did I see myself learning from? Which peers did I want to spend time with and build my future professional network from? Which thought leaders/academics/practitioners would best prepare me to succeed? I obviously chose Duke, and that choice was solidified by visiting campus and meeting those people. I strongly urge you and everyone else reading this to do everything in your power to visit the schools you're seriously considering and soak in as much information as possible. I hope to see you at Sanford's admitted students open house at the end of the month (widely regarded as the best and most comprehensive/competent open house among peer schools). 

Again, feel free to contact me with more questions, and best of luck with your decision!

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Thanks both for your replies.  Yes I've been a little flustered lately so I went and outed my source anyway -- I wish there were an edit or delete feature, but oh well.

I appreciate your thoughts Buck.  They align with what I've been feeling as well.  On the one hand my wife and I ARE intrigued by the possibility of spending some time post-school in CA, but that's way too big of a decision to make in spur-of-the-moment fashion, especially with two children and having family support here.  I'm looking forward to the Open House on the 31st and hope to see you there.  If you want to find me just look for the oldest guy in the room :-)

Honestly, I'm almost certain I'm going to commit to Duke unless I somehow get a weird vibe at the Open House that turns me off.  Not likely, I know, but it actually happened when I went to visit Chicago-Harris.  To put it diplomatically: it became apparent very early that I was not a good fit for their culture.

Anyway, I appreciate your help, and thanks to sturdy for pointing me to the Gov't Affairs board, which I hadn't known about.  Cheers!

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Many of the most successful MPPs I've come across are older, more experienced individuals who I've been lucky to have been able to learn from in class. Don't let anyone make you feel out of place; know that your knowledge makes you an asset, and schools would be lucky to have you. I look forward to meeting you!

And as an undergrad at UChicago who also applied to Harris, I have no trouble believing they were able to turn you off. :P Also, Durham is so much warmer!

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