Just for some background, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a top Ivy (HYP) recently.
It may be a pipe dream but foreign policy is my passion and I aspire to a career that will eventually allow me to play a role in US foreign policy.
In planning my next steps, I've considered 3 degrees, but still remain conflicted over which I should pursue. I have a week to make my final decision and, out of desperation, am seeking help from this forum.
Logically, someone hoping for a policy career should go to policy school. A policy degree for a policy career--plain and simple. But I've decided it's not so simple. I have contemplated this for over a year but especially in a world of credentialism I really cannot see the benefit of a master's in policy. That is to say, a master's is so commonplace these days that I might as well put in a couple more years and churn out a PhD thesis. With the exception of Princeton's WWS, most policy schools would cost money and I don't think an entry-level postgrad job would offer sufficient compensation to offset both the tuition and the opportunity costs of attending grad school. Moreover, after speaking with some MPP students, I've come to believe that the skills you learn in an MPP program aren't even that profound or extremely useful. They seem to be mostly "soft" skills, i.e. BS (for qualitative), and on the quantitative side, mostly superficial unless you REALLY get serious about statistical analysis/modeling. The only benefit of a policy school might be to find the connections necessary to enter government, but that brings us back to my first point about compensation and there are other, more cost effective ways to enter government.
The alternative would be to get a PhD in political science, then become a professor or a think tank researcher until by divine providence someone decides that my work should matter for US foreign policy. I actually was set on pursuing a PhD and almost applied in the previous cycle, but decided against it because my research on PhD programs in political science seemed to scream "STAY AWAY." First, I don't think I can deal with the extreme uncertainty of a PhD life. Even after 5 -7 years of toiling, I would be one of the lucky few to even become a professor anywhere straight out of grad school. To get from there to where I want to be would easily be another decade in the best case scenario, and with no guarantees. I also am not particularly passionate about teaching, so this does not bode well for a career in teaching. As uncertain as it seems, a PhD nonetheless remains an effective way to find a role in US foreign policymaking, hence my continued dilemma.
Frankly, I wasn't even thinking about pursuing a JD, because I have never been fascinated or passionate about "the law." I have friends who have read the Constitution for fun and that is not me. I cannot name most of the Supreme Court justices and honestly don't really care, beyond a superficial level, about the landmark Supreme Court cases that came to define US history. Nor am I particularly interested in a career in politics, for which a law degree may be useful. I'm only considering a JD degree because I've come to understand the role of law in negotiations and international agreements, and have come to believe that a JD would allow me to do everything in policy that a PhD would, except to become a professor which I was never interested in to begin with. If anything, a JD would also be more effective and practical than a MPP in equipping me with the expertise and (literally) license I may need for the actual PRACTICE and execution of policy (in the form of documents and contracts.) Of course, a law degree is infinitely more expensive than any of the other degrees mentioned, but I'm cautiously hoping that I could enter a career in corporate law and later in life find ways to leverage my way into the senior echelons of policymaking in DC (would love to hear feedback on this part)
Working from the bottom up
The final option would have been to do a public policy fellowship or enter the State Department (or some other comparable institution) to gain experience and work from the bottom up. I threw this option out the window because I had legitimate concerns about security clearance that made this path less feasible for me.
I've shared my options because I want to hear people's feedback on whether my analysis of these options are correct or misled. I'm currently leaning toward applying to law school and would also love to hear about any people who have successfully managed to transfer from a career in corporate law to policy in DC. Thanks in advance.
(Please Ask Questions and Answer Questions)
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