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Thread: Harvard vs. MIT (and a whole lot of debt...)

  1. #1
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    Harvard vs. MIT (and a whole lot of debt...)

    Hello all,

    Looking for your brutally honest advice as I have spoken with students, administrators, and faculty at both Harvard's GSD and MIT's DUSP and nobody wants to get real about the numbers.

    Here's the story: I was accepted into urban planning programs at both MIT and the GSD with MIT being my first choice. The GSD offered me an "ok" sized grant of almost 17k for the first year. MIT offered me a big fat "0."

    I would still really like to go to MIT, but after doing some number crunching I will incur $32K in new debt in my first year at the GSD and $51K in new debt at MIT (to add to my $20K in debt from undergrad). I really like MIT. The students there seem happier. I'm a more policy oriented person than design. I think my schedule at MIT would be more lax so I would have more free time to work. But let's be real about this-- that is a freaking ton of debt, we are talking business school size debt without the potential rewards (I would like to work for organizations like World Bank or USAID after school). Any thoughts on this? Is all of this money honestly worth it?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Are these schools your only 2 options? I notice you are in Belgium - do you have Euro citizenship? If so, I'd imagine the cost difference between Euro schools and top tier American schools is enormous. Given that your career interests don't seem to lie in doing municipal level US planning, if I were you I might just try for a high ranking European program. All that said, I can tell you what I know as a current MIT student.

    If you do well in your first year at MIT, they have pretty good second year aid for students, which can be as much as a 1/2 tuition fellowship and 1/2 RA-ship, which would amount to over $30K. They also have lots of departmental positions even for 1st years, from which you'd be able to make about $3K/semester. If you're looking to work during the semester (which most people opt not to do, given their desire to take as many courses as possible during their 2 years), the department sponsors lots of planning internships during the semester, and pays you at the same rate as departmental work. So going that route, you'd at least be able to gain relevant experience while working. Realistically, you should plan to be able to make $6K over the 9 months of school. Add that to your proposed loans of $51K, and you're budgeting $57K for the year (unless you're factoring in some savings). I am skeptical that, after your $44K in tuition/fees/books are paid, you'd be able to live on the remainder. You'd probably need to budget at least another $5K-10K. But as I said, second year aid could be much better.

    But a word of warning: MIT will not be lax - not in the slightest. Working even 10 hours a week will be very challenging.

    If you're at all able, you should try to make it to MIT's open house next weekend (maybe Harvard's is directly following MIT's? It was last year). You'll be able to talk to faculty and staff about money stuff, as well as get other students' takes. I know that by the time school began last year, a few students who initially had no aid ended up with some due to declined offers.

    Harvard's planning program is the smallest program within a large, prestigious design school. The studios take up a lot time, so if you aren't into physical planning/design, that might be a bit of a waste. There are lots of good policy courses in the Kennedy School of Government, though.

    Let me know if you have any other questions about MIT.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    So many would be thrilled to have this dilemma. My gut response is to go with the lower debt- you can still take classes at MIT as a GSD student, and the names are equally good. But that's a simple response based just on what you told me. Did you tell MIT about the GSD offer and give them a chance to consider upping their offer? It is worth a try, the two schools are so competitive.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by punkyreggielives View post
    Is all of this money honestly worth it?
    If you are going back to the Eurozone, it may be, depending upon how you repay this debt. In North America, not worth it. Happy students are a good clue. Also key is how much money you have to travel to the west to see the mountains and the West Coast. if little, go with the happy students if you can pay back the debt. IMHO.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    IMHO neither - state school.

    Broken record time - we have said this countless times before - Don't go into debt over a name.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Congrats on getting into two creme de la creme programs! I'm going to Harvard GSD, mostly due to practical reasons: best aid and good location. I also feel fairly secure about its employment opportunities. Harvard (and I'm sure MIT, which I get the sense has better career services) boasts a 100% employment rate, which, well, is always good and I think a huge advantage of going to Harvard/MIT in this economy. If it matters to you, the students at Harvard told have said that they're pleasantly surprised at alumni starting salaries.

    To be honest, I was only semi-impressed with Harvard's open house on March 30 (I'm guessing, if you're currently overseas, you didn't get the opportunity to attend). If I were willing to go into debt and put more distance between me and my husband (and yes, I considered both--he's on submarines half the year, what's 800 more miles?), I would probably follow my gut feeling and passion to Michigan or maybe Penn. I don't think the Harvard open house was run well--we spent basically the whole day inside classrooms and auditoriums (as opposed to MIT, which apparently gives you tons and tons of booze or Michigan, who dines you and takes you on a tour of both Ann Arbor and Detroit). They seemed to linger just a second too long as a selling point of Harvard being its name--but then again, whether or not you agree with the merits of it, the name Harvard does carry a global weight really unmatched elsewhere. That being said, take note that I didn't get to stay for the beer & dogs event nor the "unofficial" after party.

    But, of course, Harvard does have distinct positives. Other prospective students seemed to really enjoy the open house--the students were unexpectedly happy, down-to-earth, and close-knit, the studio space is amazing, and the program was actually interdisciplinary and diverse. It seems that Harvard has actually successfully moved away from being predominantly design-oriented and the "younger brother" of the architecture program.

    In fact, they hired 3 new faculty this year, one from MIT, and all, I believe, more policy- and social issue-focused. They're in the process of hiring one more. Now, that being said, you do have to do a studio requirement--which actually seemed pretty cool and less design-heavy than I expected. Note that very, very, very few people at the open house had any design experience.

    From what I've read on this forum: No, MIT is not more lax. Harvard, yes, has a more formal class structure, however, it also has a lighter work load. This means that you would have time to go over to MIT to take classes--this seems very common. You are also able to take advantage of taking classes offered at Harvard outside of the traditional urban planning curriculum--the program director specifically talked about GSD students taking advantage of language classes, classes on Dostoevsky, and Divinity school classes at Harvard.

    As Masswich said, definitely do see if MIT will up their offer. Explain your dilemma.

    Please let me know if you have any more questions! I also would take advantage of emailing the Harvard students who volunteered to be contacts for admitted students (and anyone at MIT if they gave you a similar list) and ask them what they think the differences between MIT and Harvard are--many have taken classes at both and this was something that was discussed during the student question-and-answer portion of the open house.

  7. #7
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    Update + Thanks!

    Thank you everyone for your awesome advice. In the end, I followed the money and decided to go to the GSD...well that was up until a couple of days ago when I got an e-mail from MIT offering an awesome financial package that I guess another potential student turned down. For anyone who may know, I have just a couple quick questions about the MIT program:

    1) You can take classes at the Kennedy School? GSD? and Harvard College when you are at MIT, correct?

    2) I ask (1) because I think some of the GSD's international studios look cool and this was what I was most looking forward to about going there and I'd also like to take a couple of language and policy courses while in school. If it's possible in terms of policy to take classes of this nature at Harvard, is it possible in terms of logistics and time constraints?

    Thanks!!!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    1.) I'm not sure about the Kennedy School and Harvard College--I would ask MIT.

    2.) I would definitely email students at MIT to ask if their course load allows them to do this--I'm not sure.

    Either way, congrats--even better offers now! Also, maybe I'll see you in one side of Cambridge or the other in the fall!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    1) Yes, you can take GSD and Kennedy courses, and courses from other schools in Harvard as well. The only caveat is that, if a class is oversubscribed, the school obviously gives its own students higher priority than outside students. On that note...

    2) Don't bank on being able to take an international studio at Harvard as an MIT student. Domestic, non-travel studios are nearly impossible for cross-registered students to get into, so international ones - no chance, IMO. The good news is that MIT also offers plenty of opportunities for international course work in all the different concentrations.

    Cross-registration goes both ways, so you really can't go wrong if you're just looking to take regular courses at the other school. With studios and courses involving travel, don't assume you'll have access. I would point out that MIT students have a bit more flexibility to take Harvard courses than vice versa due to fewer core requirements, at least in their first year. I really don't think you can go wrong with either program though.

    PM me if you'd like to talk more in depth about DUSP courses/studios.

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