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.

My Time at Wagner

Posted by Debbie Koh

Though it’s hard to tell with near 80° weather here in Southern California, fall is well underway – which means application season is in full swing. I’ve been talking to several prospectiveHealth Policy and Management students over the past few weeks, and they typically want to know the same things about my time at Wagner: my favorite or most valuable experiences, and some of the challenges I faced.

I’ll detail what I usually tell people below, but I’d love for readers to add anything you think prospective students should know in the comments section, especially insights from current students or recent graduates.

1)     Favorite or most valuable experience:

Of course this is a difficult question to answer, but my capstone project is probably the highlight of my Wagner experience. I was an International specialization and enrolled in a summer capstone session, so my group of four and I traveled to India to document best practices of a school lunch program for our client, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (our final product is available here).

This was an invaluable opportunity for me because I hadhad limited work and international field experience prior to graduate school. My capstone brought together what I learned in the classroom, from project management skills to international development theory to successful group work. I often cited examples from the project during job interviews, including my current employer.

2)     Challenges:

Being an International specialization in the HPAM program was sometimes an identity crisis for me. I knew I had an interest in global health specifically, so I applied to HPAM instead of the Public and Non-Profit Management program. Few of my January 2008 “spring start” cohort were also International specializations and I sometimes felt like my lack of desire to work in hospital administration or my limited passion for domestic health policy created a barrier between me and others in the program.

Eventually, I embraced being an HPAM-International student and sought to better represent this portion of the student body through my involvement with the Wagner Health Network (WHN). Though starting in the spring presented its own challenges, my extra semester allowed me to serve as both International Events Chair and Co-President of WHN. During my tenure I tried to plan events that bridged the International with the Policy, Management, and Finance specializations and to strengthen ties with other student organizations focused on international issues.

It’s been less than two years since I graduated, but I know things can change quickly. If you have an experience to share that might illustrate another aspect of Wagner that prospective students should know about or any additional words to share, please leave a comment and I would be happy to pass them along.