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sleeplesswithcoffee

Duke v. Columbia v. Georgetown (2 MPPs and a MIA)

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Hi all,

I hope this will be an interesting discussion between three great public policy schools in three different locations and I'm going to attempt to make this as comprehensive as I can. So I will edit as I think of more stuff and as I hear more stuff.

I've been accepted to all 3 as an international student who's one year removed from undergrad with no full-time professional experience but some internships and a few months of military service. I'd like to work in the future in something policy-related (research associate, policy analyst @ J-Pal kind of deal) in either a non-profit or local/state government where I can craft and evaluate policy. I think I'll have a green card by the end of my first academic year so for all intents and purposes, let's assume I have a permanent work authorization.

Georgetown (McCourt):

  • As a DC school, the program is designed to allow you to work during the day with lots of once a week evening classes. And it may be best positioned for a future career in DC. Obviously, the school LOVEEEEES to play up its DC advantage. Problem is, I can almost certainly not work off-campus the first year (international organizations only) and believe a rigorous, academic structure would be good for me. Anybody out there take classes in a program like this without working? What's it like to have this kind of schedule?
  • Known for being quant-heavy. 5 required quant. classes with 3 of them specifically focused on public policy. 
  • A lot of flexibility in the curriculum due to 18 credits allocated for electives + Georgetown's other great graduate schools like SFS and their law and business schools.
  • School is relatively new though it existed as an Institute and program before 2013. This suggests that its reputation, quality of faculty and alumni may be weaker than more established schools. Then again, new schools are more adaptable so it would be cool to get information on McCourt's "newness" if this is the case.

Columbia (SIPA):

  • Class size is gigantic compared to the other schools with almost 400 students counting MIAs and MPAs. I know that means more electives and resources (for example, specializations @ Columbia don't seem to be an option anywhere else though lots of schools have concentrations) but the environment sounds like one where you really have to know what you want and have to be a go-getter to seize opportunities. For some people, especially those with more experience, that could be perfect but I'm thinking I need more support.
  • Presumably, the school lives up to its promise of being a "global" school and Columbia in general has a reputation that is unmatched. Based on these forums, SIPA seems to share that reputation. Half of the class consists of international students and with IR and international economics classes, the curriculum is tilted in that direction. Like Georgetown, classes at other graduate schools look quite strong. 
  • You get some pretty amazing practitioners as adjunct faculty, individuals who might be working during the day but can teach classes at night. If you do well in their classes and develop a relationship with them, that could lead to some wonderful things.
  • While the curriculum has impressive breadth, the core seems kind of scattershot and not as cohesively designed. 
  • The forums seem to have the least recent information on SIPA despite it being held in such high regard...

Duke (Sanford):

  • Personalized attention, and close-knit cohort. The FB page is full of people who have meaningful experiences in a variety of policy-related fields and they all seem like super nice people. This is the most distinguishing factor in my case and permeates every part of the program, from the class community to career services & alumni support to student-faculty interaction. The Admissions Ambassadors, students at Sanford, have done an amazing job reaching out to us.
  • Emphasis on practical experiences and innovation through both the curriculum (ex: Spring Consulting Project) and co-curricular projects. Who doesn't want to be able to say by graduation that they have both the academic credentials & the experience working on client projects?
  • Reputation for being strong in social policy, which is what I'm primarily interested in. A lot of students there seem to also want to specialize in social policy, to the point where I'm a little concerned there won't be enough variety to enrich classroom discussions/activities outside of class.
  • Greatest weakness might be the location of Durham... though it will obviously be a lot cheaper to live here than in the other two cities. It does sound like a good city to live in but less to do than the other two. 

As for funding, I'm fortunate enough where that isn't a factor I'm considering. Sanford is currently my top choice but I'm doing my due diligence. 

Looking for insight from current students and alum and prospectives who have heard from current students on the validity of these points but more importantly, whether I'm missing some key qualities these schools possess.

 

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That's a good rundown.  I'm speaking as someone who has just decided on Sanford (after their wonderful Open House last Friday).  Here's some thoughts in list form:

-I would say you have underestimated McCourt's reputation -- everyone I've talked to considers it the best of the DC schools.  Also, they have agreements with GWU and American which let students take classes between schools.

-Would your international status allow you to intern in DC?  My understanding is that this is the route a lot of students take in order to get experience, even if they can't get paying jobs.  

-For SIPA, you really have to consider program fit.  All the int'l reputation in the world doesn't, IMO, compensate for a miserable, directionless grad experience.  Are you able to attend any Open Houses or virtual events?  I would definitely get in touch with current/former students beyond those at gradcafe, in order to either confirm or rebut your impressions here.

-I share most of your impressions about Sanford.  I can tell you that there was a healthy focus across concentrations at the Open House, with sizable factions interested in Int'l Development and/or Nat'l Security.  But you're correct that there are lots of Education and Health folks, which makes sense given Sanford's reputation in these areas.  I myself have sort of a niche interest (political reform), but was able to find faculty/courses there that will nurture it.

-As far as location, I already live near Durham so I can tell you all about the area if you want to PM me.  I'll say here that you shouldn't really consider Durham by itself, but rather as part of the Research Triangle which includes Chapel Hill and Raleigh (it's 20 minutes from each).  In that sense there's a lot to do, though it's definitely not as metropolitan as either DC or NYC.  But on the other hand, outdoors activities and green space are much more accessible here.

-Finally, you didn't mention WHERE you think you want to do your policy work after graduation, and that is one of the most important factors in this decision.  Do you want to stay in the States?  In DC?  Do you plan to move back to your country?  If you want to work internationally then SIPA makes a lot of sense, and my impression is that Sanford has the weakest int'l reputation of the three.  If you want to stay in the States, however, SIPA is probably the least useful, with Sanford and McCourt probably being on par.  Even if you want to stay in DC, Sanford's network there is strong and doesn't lag too far behind McCourt.  Of course the latter would give you much more practical experience and connections there. . .

Hope this helps!

Edited by 3dender

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I think Sanford should be your first choice, then Georgetown, then Columbia. Sanford has great D.C. relationships and a great Career Services Office. I haven't heard anyone say the location negatively impacted their experience. Plus,social policy! Congrats and good luck :) 

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18 hours ago, sleeplesswithcoffee said:

Georgetown (McCourt):

  • As a DC school, the program is designed to allow you to work during the day with lots of once a week evening classes. And it may be best positioned for a future career in DC. Obviously, the school LOVEEEEES to play up its DC advantage. Problem is, I can almost certainly not work off-campus the first year (international organizations only) and believe a rigorous, academic structure would be good for me. Anybody out there take classes in a program like this without working? What's it like to have this kind of schedule?
  • Known for being quant-heavy. 5 required quant. classes with 3 of them specifically focused on public policy. 
  • A lot of flexibility in the curriculum due to 18 credits allocated for electives + Georgetown's other great graduate schools like SFS and their law and business schools.
  • School is relatively new though it existed as an Institute and program before 2013. This suggests that its reputation, quality of faculty and alumni may be weaker than more established schools. Then again, new schools are more adaptable so it would be cool to get information on McCourt's "newness" if this is the case.

 

 

18 credits at McCourt equates to 6-8 electives. Compared to Chicago (11 electives), it's not as flexible. I've spoken to McCourt students who wished they had more options.

I can't disagree with you enough on the 2nd bolded point. Just because the name of the school is different (Frank McCourt donated a ton of money as a naming gift in 2013), doesn't mean faculty and alums are weak. Georgetown has been around since 1789. It's KNOWN in DC for public policy. It's a name of a school. What difference does it make?

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On 03/04/2017 at 8:48 AM, sleeplesswithcoffee said:

Emphasis on practical experiences and innovation through both the curriculum (ex: Spring Consulting Project) and co-curricular projects. Who doesn't want to be able to say by graduation that they have both the academic credentials & the experience working on client projects?

McCourt has a capstone project as well. And as for internships, you won't be able to work off campus for the first year at any of the other schools as well. That isn't such a huge issue (in my opinion). You'll always have international organisations and like you mentioned as a point under SIPA, you could build connections with your professors during this time. 

Furthermore, esp for someone with lack of work experience (I'm in the same boat), I feel DC is particularly advantageous. 

And I completely agree with @thex11factor about disagreeing with you on the last point under Georgetown. 

That being said, it seems pretty evident that your gut tells you to go with Sanford. I'd say you should follow your gut. They seem at par in my eyes. 

Best of luck making the final decision. Just make sure you aren't underestimating McCourt's reputation to make the decision easier (as @3dender mentioned). 

Edited by nahuja32
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Thanks to @3dender, @dollybird, @thex11factor and @nahuja32 for your assistance and feedback.

I apologize for suggesting that McCourt might have been weaker with the last bullet-point there. I stand corrected and it sounds like McCourt is right up there with the best of the policy schools :) I can tell from to some of the McCourt-set propsies that the students there are really nice and competent people. 

I believe I'll be able to work unconditionally following the first year at anywhere that doesn't require citizenship or has a residence requirement (like some state govs. will). I want to stay in the United States but not sure if I want to work in DC though I'm keen on interning there during the summer. 3dender, I don't know if you know but the Fall Course Offerings draft for Sanford has Democracy Lab as a course option! Sounds right up your alley. 

I'm updating what I wrote above with some more insight I gained from looking at Open House material and talking with students:

Columbia (SIPA)

  • I've heard it said repeated that coming here you should have an idea of what you want or you'll be lost. Overwhelming if you try to dabble in whatever looks interesting because too many things will.  Also, there's lots of Type A people, so it can feel academically stifling and competitive but this raises the bar for everyone. 
  • Professional Development course and Career Services office has improved dramatically in 6 years with the feedback from current students and alumni. A few years ago, GradCafe really had poor things to say about SIPA's career services so this is a promising change.
  • SIPA has apparently Regional Centers that do research with a ton of money and seemingly are eager for research internships. So if you're interested in policy in a specific region, I would go to SIPA. It makes sense that the faculty working at these centers specialize and teach corresponding classes as well. 
  • Global alum. network is very helpful in a way Sanford probably wouldn't be if you want an international career. Example of alum in Sierra Leone who helped with a student's workshop project in class and difficulties they had in the country. 

Sanford:

  • One con, and it's something I expected though didn't really think about, is there are fewer student groups than in the other schools. You can of course start your own but if you want to join in something existing, that may not be there for you. 
  • I feel like they've been the most on top of it in terms of materials and access they gives students to help them understand their MPP program. 

I'm choosing Sanford in the end! Thanks again, and I hope this thread can continue!

 

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