In January, I posted relief that all our daughter’s graduate school applications were complete. Since then, we found out that she was accepted at five excellent schools, and she set about visiting them for their admitted student days. Last week alone she was on a plane six days out of seven doing just that, and today was the deadline for admissions decisions. She spent all weekend in major deliberations.
University of Maryland had the advantage of being affordable with both merit aid and in-state tuition, while keeping all the contacts she had built in the Governor’s Office in Maryland, and being a half hour train ride outside of D.C. It had a great career services department, but the weakest rankings and academics of any of her choices. She ruled it off the list.
Boston College was ruled out because she realized in the process of visiting schools that she wanted a more practical, professional degree than the one they were offering in Political Science. She loves thinking about issues, but wants to be poised to take action, more than merely focus on theory.
The University of Indiana’s SPEA program looked interesting; it is ranked #2 and our daughter received merit aid there. But when she visited, she found the culture casual in a way that did not connect with her, and as most of the students were from the midwest, she desired a more diverse student body. She ruled that one off the list as well.
The decision would come down between the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University There are great things about both programs and making a decision between them was extremely difficult because it was like comparing apples and oranges.
The University of Chicago was expected in many ways to be her first choice option. There she’d be chatting with the likes of David Axlerod, and listening to copious exciting speakers that are brought in. The school had name recognition, and an elitist image of distinction and prestige (even though it is ranked #4.)
The University of Chicago is notorious as a bastion for intellectuals, and this attracted her intellectually. After all, most of her undergraduate professors had graduated from there, and inculcated an attitude that if you got in you should go. Additionally, alumni from the University of Chicago have become congressmen, which was compelling as our daughter may one day run for office. The most persuasive argument for the University of Chicago is that their course titles sounded awesome, and since the program was longer, it might be more in depth.
But the place was focused on the staff and not the students. The people in class seemed beleaguered, unresponsive, and drone-like. She said there was a weird vibe there; the culture was cold, competitive, and some even said toxic. The building was ugly and unwelcoming. It is a two year program for a Master’s in Public Policy, which is much more quantitative than other programs, and likely she’d end up being a back office number cruncher which is not want she wants to be. Worse, she might end up spending the time and money on that degree only to become turned off to working in this field at all, since it might be a grind and no fun.
Going to the University of Chicago Harris School would be difficult on the spirit as well as on the mind, but our daughter was not one to shrink back from such things. She can rise to a challenge and wondered whether it was her duty to do so. Isn’t that what it takes to succeed? She’s always chosen the hardest route before. But she wants to change the system, so should she go to a school that made the system the way it is?
Another major factor was the $80,000+ loan she would have to take out for the privilege of going the the University of Chicago. She always thought she’d love to live in Hyde Park, and Chicago as a city is terrific, but is it worth it? What effect would that loan have on her freedom of options after getting her degree? Graduate study was supposed to expand her opportunities, but would that debt-load constrain her instead?
Contrast all this with the possibility of going to the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, which only folks in the field know has been ranked #1 (out of 266 programs) since 1995. Ninety years ago it was the first professional school of its kind. The student body is warm, vibrant, enthusiastic, engaged, curious, innovative and collaborative; she liked them very much. They are people she wants to be with.
The school itself has been welcoming and encouraging to our daughter all the way through the application and decision process, immediately recognizing her value and eventually offering her merit aid. They are a student oriented program with accessible, high quality faculty and lively classes.
This one year intensive program for a Masters in Public Affairs is designed to get students all the practical training they need while also getting them swiftly out into the work force. Their alumni network is a tight-knit community that is so fiercely loyal that they are described as the “Maxwell Mafia” for getting students at Maxwell interviews for jobs before they are even listed as available.
Maxwell alumni tell stories of lifelong mentorship with professors there, who they still frequently contact regarding things that come up throughout their careers. No alumni to date have become congressmen, but the school churns out mayors, State Department people, mavens of non profits, highly paid consultants, and movers and shakers in state capitols, in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Maxwell graduates are even the first choice of employers that went to rival programs themselves.
We heard a story about a talented policy analyst from University of Chicago that worked in an office of mostly Maxwell grads from Syracuse. When he made a brilliant policy proposal, the boss asked for a budget analysis and an implementation plan. The University of Chicago student could only stare back at him blankly and the boss called in Maxwell students to take over the project.
Our daughter is ready to get into the job force and start making a difference. She thrives in strong community and being actively involved with others. She needs a graduate school where she can be herself and take her many natural abilities to the next level.
Unable to believe she turned down the University of Chicago, today our daughter decided to go to the Maxwell School at Syracuse and sent in her deposit. She starts in July. We are so proud of her!