Tag Archives: university applications

Private and Public Colleges: How to Decide What’s Best for You

In nearly every country, private and public colleges are different. In the United States, deciding what’s best requires a dynamic look at issues of cost, prestige, and overall fit.

  1. Cost

On average, private colleges are more expensive than public ones. However, averages can be deceptive.

  Average Price Information
  Tuition and Fees* Debt per Borrower**
Public School $23,893 $26,872
Private School $32,405 $31,710

*2015-16 data from CollegeBoard. Public school statistics for out-of-state students.

**2016 data from lendedu.com

Private schools charge nearly $10,000 more per year. However, average debt per borrower is only about $5,000 more. In part, this is due to the misleading nature of sticker prices– scholarships and grants often make posted tuition rates irrelevant.

Prices also greatly depend on the individual school. Berea College in Kentucky, for example, is a private school that is completely tuition-free!

Before deciding that a private school is too expensive for you, research its actual price and investigate potential scholarships.

  1. Prestige

Students often make the mistake of thinking that private U.S. colleges are more prestigious. This is in part because of the fame of the “ivy leagues,” a group of private schools that include Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

You will find, however, that there are also many prestigious public colleges…

Read the whole article on college.edu.sg

Choosing between Sciences Po and LSE

Vaishnavi, a Political Science student at the University of Delhi, is facing the difficult choice. She is choosing between Sciences Po and LSE (London School of Economics) for her master’s. She wrote me:

Hi! I was researching PSIA [Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs] and I chanced upon your blog. I’ve been accepted into the Master’s of International Development. I’m in a huge dilemma as I have also been accepted into the MSc. in Development Management at LSE.

To start, I want to note that this is not an uncommon dilemma. I have met several students at PSIA (Sciences Po) who also applied to LSE. I have also reviewed CVs and cover letters for applicants applying to both programs. After all, both Sciences Po and LSE have some similar programs. They are also both in Europe and both very well-known.

Want to have your CV or letter of motivation reviewed by me?
Vaishnavi writes that she is currently leaning towards LSE for 3 main reasons:

1. Recognition

I assume LSE is a more recognised name globally as compared to Sciences Po which is highly regarded in Europe. Coming from India and without any work experience I believe I have few chances of gaining employment in Europe/UK, and thus LSE becomes more attractive to perceive employers in Asia/ Africa/ South America.

First of all, if you are interested in working in Europe or the UK, don’t sell yourself short!

If you complete your master’s degree in France, you can get something called an APS (Autorisation Provisoire de Séjour) which allows you to work in France for up to one year. During this time you generally work short contracts until you find a permanent job offer (called a CDI). As soon as you have that offer of employment, you can automatically convert your APS into a work visa. There are practically no questions asked. A similar program exists in the UK. This has got to be THE easiest way to get a work visa in Europe. In addition, the Sciences Po program features a 6-month internship. That means you can gain the work experience you need to find that first job.

It can be easy to fall into the “recognition” trap.

LSE does tend to rank slightly higher than Sciences Po in terms of numbers. However, they are both very highly regarded institutions and probably equally impressive to anybody who knows about good development programs. For someone who isn’t really familiar with either program, Sciences Po might gain some weight simply because it is a full 2-year program.

That said, I encourage you not to make your decision based on which institution you think might impress a future employer. In the long run, employers are more impressed with what you actually do with your education than with the name of your school.

Therefore, rather than thinking about the prestige of a school’s name and what employers in different areas of the world will think, consider this:

  • Which school is going to give you more hands on experiences?
  • In which school will you be more likely to get involved in a campus organization, or pursue publishable research?
  • In which city do you think you’ll find more interesting volunteer opportunities?

Ultimately, those are the kinds of questions that will truly lead you to a highly regarded education.

2. Academic rigour

I read in a few places and have spoken to a few students who complain of PSIA courses being too ‘basic’, and that thematic and regional concentrations along with language courses often prevent one from specialising in their actual field itself. Does this stand true?

This sounds backwards to me.

The thematic and regional concentrations don’t prevent a student from specializing– they actually help you to specialize.

These concentrations allow you to take classes focusing on specific aspects of development that interest you (like project management or migrations). The language courses allow you to gain access to an area of the world where you might not otherwise have had a chance to work.

What I will say, though, is that it is important to choose your concentrations wisely. For example, I know a student from Colombia who initially chose a concentration in Latin America. For her, it was way too basic– she had already lived, studied and worked her whole life in Latin America, so taking courses about Latin American politics with a bunch of foreigners from other places was, understandably, way too basic for her.

One last thing to consider:

Development is a huuge field that covers tons of different topics. You’ll probably have plenty of classes that– if your only goal is to get a passing grade– will seem fairly easy. In fact, grades are often based on just one or two term papers. That said, if you take the right courses or join a projet collectif, you might come out of your degree having developed your own mobile app or earned a grant for a project overseas or started your own NGO or something else equally as impressive.

3. Cost

What comes out to be the average cost of long over two years? Although London is more expensive than Paris, the course at LSE is only 1 year long.

Without a doubt, living in Paris for two years is expensive.

The one saving grace about it all is that in France you can work part-time on a student visa. I believe the same is true in London. This might also be a good way to gain some experience!

In France you can also get money from the CAF to subsidize the price of housing.

To give you an example, for a 500€ apartment you might get about 150€ in CAF refunds (making your rent only 350€/mo).

During your second year at Sciences Po you have the opportunity to do a 6-month internship. While anything having to do with the UN is unpaid, there are also paid opportunities.

Most gigs in Paris (if you decide to stay in Paris) pay the minimum of roughly 550€/mo + half of your metro card fees. That said, it’s not uncommon to find a job paying 800€, 1000€ or even more. For me, 800€/mo is roughly the break-even point to live in Paris (school tuition aside).

At the same time, MID at SciPo remains attractive to me because of the chance to do an internship (Does the school help you get an internship?) and the opportunity to learn French, which is highly useful. Also, what are the chances of getting employment post completing my course?

The internship is a really cool thing because:
  1. You actually have to be a student in order to get an internship in France, and
  2. Lots of times internships lead to jobs!

The school hosts recruitment events with employers specifically looking for interns (and employees) from Sciences Po. They also have a very good website where employers can list job and internship opportunities for only Sciences Po students to see (that’s how I found my internship), and the OECD also has a separate portal for Sciences Po intern applications.

You still have to do your own leg work of writing your motivation letter and CV (although they hold workshops in case you need help) and actually sending in your application.

For students with lots of previous work experience, a 6-month internship might not make a big difference.

However, in your case, this should be given serious consideration. More than 80% of employers want candidates to have work experience. 

Your chances of finding a job after completing the degree are very, very high. Sciences Po estimates that 81% of students who decided to join the work force after graduation found a job within 6 months, and nearly a third of them were recruited even before graduation.

Learning French is also a huge asset.

This is especially true if you plan to work in West Africa or if you’re interested in a French NGO (and there are a lot of big ones– like Doctors Without Borders and Action Contre la Faim).

4. Other Factors

Could you please provide me any information that would be useful to make a decision between these two schools? Are there any absolutely compelling reasons to not forgo Sciences Po that I may be overlooking? Thank you

Choosing between Sciences Po and LSE is difficult for a lot of students.

You might decide that, because you already speak English, it would be easier to find part-time work in London. Or, you might decide that the internship opportunity at Sciences Po is really essential. Consider: Where do you prefer the weather? The food? Where do you think you’ll be happier or more motivated?

Ultimately, the most important thing is not school recognition, academic rigor or cost. After all, LSE and Sciences Po are really more or less comparable on those points.

Rather, I urge you to consider where you will be the most motivated. Where will you best take advantage of opportunities and build your resumé?

In the long run, no matter where you choose to go, it will only gain you one measly line on your CV– that line that says you have a master’s. And in the development field, experiences, projects, languages, and publications are much more valuable than any degree.


Feel free to send me more questions, leave comments, or read more of my posts about Sciences Po! If you’re applying to Sciences Po, why not ask me to review your CV or letter of motivation?

Sciences Po Application Questions and Answers

Bénédicte, a Political Economy student at King’s College London,  sent me these questions about his Sciences Po application and letter of motivation:

1. What would you say really made your letter of motivation stand out from other applications?

All of the students at Sciences Po have great resumes. It would be a mistake to think that you are a shoo-in just because you speak multiple languages, are student body president, or volunteer with the homeless. Basically every student at Sciences Po has a similar, equally impressive story.
Your letter of motivation is your opportunity to explain how all your incredible resume lines fit together in a coherent way… and how they lead to Sciences Po as a logical next step.

Why have you decided to get a master’s degree?
How will this help you to develop your academic persona and future career?
What makes Sciences Po, as opposed to another school, the logical choice for pursuing your degree?

q&a question marks

I think that my letter of motivation stood out because I was able to clearly show that logical connection. I would stay away from telling Sciences Po why you think their program is awesome (they already know it is) and focus more on that logical aspect– why it is awesome for you.

Still not sure how to make that happen? Maybe I can help.

2. Still concerning the application, I feel like the committee seeks a personality to stand out more than an academic. Would you say that you focused more on showcasing your personality and your future goals, rather than proving your interest in the modules of the master etc?

Why choose?
First of all, you’re writing a letter. With that said, how you can “prove” your interest in the modules of any degree? By saying that you really, really, reaaaaally love economic development? I’m not even sure what that would mean. A professor once told me never to use the words “love” or “passion” in an application– they just don’t mean anything.
Rather, by explaining the things you have done or choices you have made and why (your thought process/rationale for doing them) you can both showcase both your personality as well as your academic drive in a way that makes the reader understand how Sciences Po fits in your future.

Example: Instead of saying that you think food security is super interesting, tell the story about how you visited a farm in Ethiopia and listened to a farmer talk about the issues facing his family. Then tell about how you got there and how the conversation affected you– that gives us not only a feel for your personality, but also a better understanding of why you’re interested in food issues.

3. I am not 100% sure as to what I would like to do after this master. I just know that International development is the path in which I am the most interested in. Would you suggest to be honest and admit to my uncertainty? I feel like it would not make me stand out as someone who is confident and who would do well on this master. Though I know it is the right fit for me, I still feel like not being sure in which organization or which precise career path I’d like to go in is a liability.

Nobody at PSIA knows the precise career path they want or the exact organization they plan to work for. If they did, they probably wouldn’t bother with a master’s degree! If you want to work in International Development, you don’t really “need” a degree… unless you plan to teach. The great thing about this masters is that it will give you the guidance and tools to better understand what is needed on the development front, thereby helping you to understand where you can fit in. It will also give you some practical experience to help you get a foot in the door for your first job.

So, while it’s quite normal to be a bit unsure about your future path, there is no need to “admit to” any uncertainty– they already know that you are uncertain (and even if you weren’t, they know that your plans may likely change over the next two years). So don’t waste your breath (or word count). For what it’s worth, I didn’t mention any specific organizations in my motivation letter at all. Instead, I focused on explaining how my trajectory so far has led me to the doors of Sciences Po.

That said, if you want to give a sentence pointing towards a vague career trajectory, go for it. You don’t need to be very specific.

Example: I want to work for an international organization that manages development projects abroad or I want to work for an NGO helping with food security in Africa is plenty good enough.

And of course, if you change your mind about anything you write, nobody will ever hold it against you.

4. Finally, how would you describe your experience in the lectures and seminars at PSIA so far? Because from the syllabus it looks incredible.

It is incredible!
Don’t be fooled though… Sciences Po has a serious problem with course sign-up and you never end up with all the classes that you want. In fact, you usually end up with one class per semester that you really didn’t want. Sometimes it ends up being a pleasant surprise though!

As for the lectures, well… like at any school, sometimes you get professors that know how to teach, other times you get a professor who can barely keep your interest for 10 minutes, let alone 2 hours. I’ve only had one lecture per semester throughout my two years though (3 boring ones and one great one– a military General who lectured while walking around, really keeping us on our toes).
The seminars in general tend to be quite interactive and fun. There are a lot of group projects, presentations, and even group essay writing. Coming from the US, that was quite a change!


Feel free to send me more questions, leave comments/questions in the comments, or read more of my posts about Sciences Po! If you’re applying to Sciences Po and would like your application (CV or letter of motivation) reviewed, why not learn more about my services?

Interested in having your CV or letter of motivation reviewed by me? Click here!