How Much are Three Letters Worth?


Posted by Debbie Koh

Pursuing a graduate degree is a huge undertaking. At Wagner, getting a Masters of Public Administration typically means an investment of two years’ time (nights studying at Bobst Library you’ll never get back), tuition (roughly $40,000 per year), and any lost wages if you’re not working (opportunity cost).

It’s reasonable to question whether such a significant investment is worth it, especially when considering a public service career. So what convinced me that getting those three letters behind my name was worth the time and resources? I’d say the following areas: networking, experience and skills.

- Networking: No, I don’t mean the jaded, using-other-people’s-connections-to get-ahead kind of networking. I’m talking about being brought into a group of students and alumni who are joined by the desire to use their careers to achieve some sort of social impact. That shared motivation is what drove my day-to-day conversations with other students, helped me conduct information interviews with alumni, and encouraged me to connect with prospective and new students. Sometimes this kind of networking opened doors to career opportunities and sometimes it didn’t, but it helped me decide what made sense to keep pursuing and what to leave behind.

- Experience: Wagner offers a unique opportunity to build up one’s work experience. Being in New York meant that I had access to a huge array of institutions, organizations, and companies. If I wanted to work for a non-profit with US headquarters and overseas offices, or a small consulting firm with local and national clients, I could (and did). Capstone, which remains the highlight of my Wagner experience, provided me with solid experience that I could reference in job interviews and lessons learned that I apply in my current job. Finally, it was inspiring to learn from from the variety of backgrounds that were captured even in a specific program like Health Policy and Management, and from the larger student body.

- Skills: Probably the easiest, most obvious reason the go to graduate school, but it’s still worth noting. Economics, statistics, and finance skills are critical to have but difficult to get outside the classroom. In addition, taking time to become knowledgeable and stay current about one’s field – whether hospital management or international development – often falls prey to the daily demands of the workplace. Graduate school provides the opportunity to study the history, theory and recent developments in one’s practice area. I believe that this is a key component to producing high-quality work in any field.

The affordability and utility of an MPA or any graduate degree will always be a personal choice. It’s impossible to know how my career might be different or whether I would’ve had the same opportunities without attending Wagner. Certainly, no program is perfect – but for me, it was worth it.

Debbie graduated from Wagner in 2010 with her MPA in Health Policy and Management, International Health. She returned to her native California in 2011 and currently works for Venture Strategies Innovations. Follow her on Twitter at @thedebkoh or connect via LinkedIn. All views expressed are her own.

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