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I don't mean to go on (too much of) a political screed, but...

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I was thinking about applying this past cycle for policy programs, specifically in environmental policy where I have some background, but Trump's election sort of put the kibosh on that, at least for now. Admittedly, my initial decision to go ahead with applying was partially predicated on a Hillary Clinton victory, since she had quite a kick-ass plan in terms of fighting climate change and adopting clean energy. A Trump victory, however, is obviously bad for environmental policy, even leaving aside the fact that he thinks climate change is a Chinese-manufactured hoax. The fact that he's instituted a federal hiring freeze, looks to put the EPA's budget on the chopping block, and rolled back protections against student loan debt just makes things even worse. 

Having said all that, the situation with state and local governments leaves some room for hope and action. While the federal government may way roll back environmental protections and anti-climate change efforts, there's nothing stopping states, cities, and even private corporations from picking up the tab, even if that wouldn't be as effective without Washington's participation. California's already set up to do that sort of independent thing, so it's not unreasonable for other states to follow suit. And that's certainly going to involve more hiring to meets these goals, which would mean more work for policy analysts in that field. 

So the way I see it, there are potentially four options for me going forward:

  1. Apply this year for Fall 2018 and take a chance that either Trump's anti-environmentalism gets tempered enough or that state/local governments expand their own environmental policies and hiring to fill the gap. This also runs the risk of going to school and no longer having Obama-era student loan protections, thus putting me in potentially worse financial shape down the line. 
  2.  Apply this year, but instead of aiming for top-tier programs like Georgetown and Cornell (which I intended to apply to), go for lesser-ranked but still good programs like SUNY Albany and CUNY Baruch. That way, even if the political situation re: environmental policy doesn't improve, I won't have incurred as much debt and risk as I would've had I gone to a more expensive school.
  3. Wait another 3-4 years before I apply for real, although this is actually the least attractive option for me since I've been planning a very long time for this and I'm just a naturally impatient person. 
  4. Still apply for this year but instead choose to forego environmental policy at least for now; instead I would focus on a more general policy field applicable to multiple industries so that I could still find gainful employment after graduation even if it's not at the EPA or whatnot. 

I know that I'm probably oversimplifying and overlooking a lot of things here, and it's still too early to tell how things will play out, but pragmatically speaking these look like reasonable assumptions to me. If I could get your feedback about these options, it would be much appreciated, thanks. 

And of course, here's my academic and professional background per this forum:

GPA: 3.47, BA in English from a UC.
GRE: Verbal score 162, Math score 162, AW score 6.0  
Work experience: 5 years paralegal work substantial experience in environmental litigation/policy, another 2 years of paralegal work this time in-house for a hedge fund. 
Program: MPA, MAYBE an MPP.
Age: 28
Quant coursework: Microeconomics and Statistics, at both the undergrad at graduate level

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I don't know the field specifically, but I'm a reasonably intelligent person so my off-the-cuff reaction may be helpful.

I think it's totally worth it to pursue it ASAP, with either the elite programs or the cheaper options (I consider the question of debt v. prestige as somewhat separate, considering the difference in salaries you'll be able to command with each degree will probably be negligible).  Even if you have your heart set on a dream job at the EPA or elsewhere in FedGov,  by the time you get out of school you will have only 1-2 years left before Trump's probably out of office, at which point they'll start hiring again.  In that time you can build your resume at state/local level, or even with an NGO.  Incidentally, existence of these last is why I don't think jobs will really go anywhere -- there will be a lot of slack for non-profits to pick up.

So yeah, at the worst you will only have to find something to do for a year or two after graduation -- potentially a good opportunity for a job that includes debt forgiveness.  At the best -- maybe with the help of an elite program? --  you can find that dream job right away.  It's a solid gamble, win or lose.

As an aside, I experienced something similar to your second thoughts as I was applying last year.  I was really interested in journalism, but seeing the state of the field during the election made me realize it would be a somewhat . . . let's say challenging career move.  I applied for Public Policy instead and it has definitely been the right decision.  You can feel grateful that your desired field is at least in better shape than journalism.

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I understand the apprehension, but I think this is the best time to pursue your studies in this field because of the freeze and possibility of the EPA and other environmental program being less funded or disappearing altogether. By the time you graduate, as 3dender has said, Trump will be sooner out of office. Furthermore, unless you really have your heart set on working for the government, there will be so many more opportunities to gain experience in NGOs, IOs and even in the private sector because they will have to do so much more work without the help of government in making sure we still have a planet by the end of all of this. Gain experience from those areas, and you will build a resumé much more impressively, having worked actively in the environmental field during a time of great need (as cheesy as that sounds).

At this point in time and most likely when you finish, if you do by chance find work in the fed/state gov't concerning environmental policy, you will still be an entry-level employee doing mostly writing and briefing superiors that you wouldn't have much influence on policies anyway.

I think this article really summarizes this whole situation well, even though the article talks about IR majors and not environmental policy majors. http://www.eagerlydc.com/career-in-foreign-policy-trump/

As far as going for the elite schools or not, I would apply to either and see which ones give you the most funding if any. Don't discount the elite programs just yet because some may be generous at offering funding and may have programs on their own about debt forgiveness. I also wouldn't discount schools abroad that would be much cheaper than in the US and may provide a much better insight on environmental policy. You know, the EU is generally at the forefront for environmentalism internationally, and of course, with the pollution being a daily visible problem in Asia, it would be interesting to pursue that there. Both options would even give you time away from this administration.


Edited by Student007
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