Is GW worth the extra cost vs NU or UR

I’m a recently admitted undergrad transfer student (rising junior level) who’s torn in making a difficult decision between attending three really great universities. I’ve been accepted to the Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) at George Washington University (GW), although I may change my major and study Political Science at its Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. I’ve also been accepted to Northeastern University (NU), where I would potentially double-major in International Affairs and Political Science, and my third option is to attend University of Richmond (UR), where my intended major would be Political Science.

I understand the obvious advantages of attending GW, being located in DC, having direct access to numerous internships and job opportunities, being part its large and strong alumni network, and potentially being able to take classes with some top notch and notable DC professional faculty. However, I’m not completely convinced any of this merits the amount of debt attending would put me into by pursuing my BA degree there. I understand ESIA carries some prestige along with the GW name brand that may offer some more unique connections than the other two schools, but it may be difficult to capitalize on taking advantage of those opportunities as much as I’d would like to anyway, mainly because I’d most likely have to work the majority of my free time to support my finances when I’m not in class, which doesn’t leave much time for government internships or exploration of DC’s resources, nor make that time any more affordable when most of those opportunities tend to be unpaid. I suppose I could attempt to take out additional personal loans to help counter-balance my free time while in school, but I’d like to hear from any knowledgeable or experienced individuals from the GW community and/or professionals working in the industry who could attest to the value of getting my BA degree at GW, considering my circumstances, and of course anyone else can feel free to offer their own insight as well.

Money is an important factor of course, and while I’m receiving financial aid from all three schools, GW demands a much larger investment compared to the other two, which strikes the major question of whether or not going through all that trouble and debt just to attend GW is worth paying the extra cost in the long run. Here are the major financial details I’m specifically debating between my choices.


Estimated cost of attendance - $69,100
Total grant aid - $43,815
Remaining cost to me - $25,285 (Cost I’d have to pay out of pocket or use loans to pay)

Estimated cost of attendance - $64,954
Total grant aid - $53,615
Remaining cost to me - $11,339 (Cost I’d have to pay out of pocket or use loans to pay)

Estimated cost of attendance - $63,040
Total grant aid - $56,000
Remaining cost to me - $7,040 (Cost I’d have to pay out of pocket or use loans to pay)

It would take me 5 semesters at both GW or NU to complete my degree, while it would only take me 4 semesters at UR. This only matters mainly with GW because it will ultimately end up costing me more money in loans by the time I graduate.

Although working would help me to pay my per year costs a bit, I’d still end up taking out at least $7,150 in loans per semester at GW, if not several thousand dollars more. I already have about $15,000 of educational loan debt currently, so if you add 5 semesters of loans to that, the total will be at least $50,750, and could range up to possibly $60,000 if I need to rely on additional financial assistance.

In contrast, since all of my tuition is being fully covered at the other two universities, any loan assistance that I might require to help with any remaining living expenses would be much more minimal. Attending NU would allow me to double-major instead of having to choose between International Affairs or Political Science as would be the case at GW (simply because I can’t afford the extra credits and extra semesters it would take me to do this there), and NU offers an incredible co-op program that would potentially still allow me to work in DC if I wanted to, but instead of a part-time internship as is normally the case for GW students during the school year, it would be full-time for 6 months, and I’d be able to undertake up to two co-ops while at NU. Additionally, NU’s co-op programs can be pursued virtually anywhere in the world, due to their extensive international partnerships with participating employers. During the regular school semester, I could potentially attempt to intern at the Massachusetts State House or another local government office. Also, while I don’t know how NU’s alumni and recruiting networks compare with that of GW’s, its Career Services have been ranked #1 nationally for the last four consecutive years, if I’m not mistaken.

In UR’s case, I’m guaranteed funding of up to $4,000 to pay for one summer internship while pursuing my degree, which I could also choose to be in DC, although during the summer it will be more competitive to acquire one. Otherwise, I suppose I could try and intern locally at the Virginia General Assembly, or perhaps abroad through one of their intern abroad programs. Also, while it’s not around the corner, Richmond is not too far from DC either, and I’d still technically have access to the city and its networking resources. I don’t know much about UR’s extent of connections or resources though.

While I know each of these schools are quality institutions, I am less familiar with how employers interpret their competitiveness with one another, and less confident in assuming that NU or UR can put me at a greater advantage than GW could, even with consideration to their strengths. I also realize and anticipate that I’d most likely need and want to continue my studies by going to graduate school to be able to better compete with others in my field. Working as a Congressional staffer and even running for public office myself at some point are part of my career interests, but I’m also interested in the Foreign Service and international politics and diplomacy. I already have a half of year of full-time job experience as a State Department intern in DC, so hopefully that will help make it easier to obtain additional government opportunities. I’m also open to hearing about job recommendations that align with my interests if anyone might see some sort of fit here.

The only other thing I can think to mention is that I just turned 31, so professional networking is pretty important for me to make up for what I don’t have in younger years to waste. I appreciate any helpful feedback/comments!

You have thought this all through really well and have offered pretty thorough analysis of the situation, beyond some of the intelligence that I was going to offer you. George Washington has by far the best political science and international relations program, but it is also the most expensive. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of networking and being in the center of all the action, especially for a career in government, but it may or may not be of that much benefit to you if you are unable to participate or intern during the school year. Taking out loans or pursuing an expensive options may also make summer opportunities more difficult.

Northeastern, on the other hand, is not as well known for its political science department but has the co-op option, which is attractive because you can earn money while gaining work experience in many different places in the world, which offers it’s unique set of advantages because you have a semester or a summer period to do it rather than a part-time or short-term position. University of Richmond also has the benefit of being relatively close to DC and likely draws some of the network and is the lowest cost out of the three. Both are also in relatively big cities full of opportunities. I would look into the strengths of their departments, alumni outcomes, and their networks and see if it is possible to get in touch with any of them since I am not as familiar with the last two as well.

I would also recommend keeping in contact with those that you met during your time at the State Department. Even if it is just reaching out and writing them an email once in a while, offering up some insight on an event or staying up to date on the projects that they are doing. Those will become a great group of people part of your already expanding network and will be helpful in case they are seeking long-term people for their positions.

First of all congratulations on your pursuit of education at 31, not easy. What I am going to say is a unique recommendation based on your age/maturity.

The cost of attendance for 2 years at GWU = $50570, NE = $ 22678, UR = $ 14080.
Minimum cost for 2 years for you = $14,080 [UR]. You will be paying $8598 more at NE and $36,490 more at GWU.

Assuming you get a job that pays $50,000 minimum even if you put away a minimum of additional 5K it will take you an additional 8 years [with interest] to pay off the GWU debt.

Getting a degree from a college has only so much value in the job market, it is what you bring to the table and how motivated you are. So if you feel stashing away an additional 5K for the next years is not too much of a burden go for GWU other wise go to UR and get the internship in DC and prove/impress them and find your first job, the rest is up to your performance there. Just my opinion.

It seems like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, so you’re already ahead of the game. I don’t won’t to reiterate what anyone else said, so here’s what I have to offer:

Student loans can be suffocating. Most people seem to have between $30-60K when they graduate (I graduated with about $30K and had monthly payments of $350). What I recommend you do is make a mock post-graduation budget. At 31, you should have a pretty good idea of what your monthly expenses are. Estimate a salary (I think $50K is a good place to start for D.C.) and deduct for taxes (if you’re single, you’ll probably only see 70% of your income after taxes). With this income in mind, subtract for you living expenses (necessities first) then what you’d figure your student loan payments will be (if you go to GW, you’ll be around $60K in debt, so go with $700). Whatever is left will be what you have for “extras.” Do you think you’d be comfortable living on that amount for a few years until you make more money? I’m nearly certain it’ll require you to live with roommates if you’re in D.C. (I know of a lot of young professionals here that still have roommates).

Another point: I think you’ll be able to save some more money while at GW. If you’re able/willing, live off campus with other students and pay less than what GW charges for student housing. Upperclassman housing is around $13K a year, which works out to about $1,445/mo if you’re at school 9 months out of the year. You can easily find housing rooming with other off-campus for $1,000/mo or less. That’ll save you $4,000 over the course of the academic year. Not only that, but I assume you’d want to stay in D.C. over the summer to either work or intern.

And finally: if you want to work in D.C. post-graduation, you’ll be at an advantage if you’re actually living in the city while applying. It’s not the case with all employers, but I know that for some, they won’t even entertain hiring you if you’re living out of the area. I can’t say that this is worth the premium the GW charges, but it’s a consideration.

Good luck with whatever you decide. Even though I’m partial to GW, I’m very hesitant at incurring debt. I don’t know if I’d personally be willing to go to GW if it meant $60K in student loans.

Really thoughtful advice everyone. Would anyone happen to know how difficult it is to get into GW’s graduate program, considering that I was accepted once already to their undergraduate program? Part of my logic with this is that if I intend to pursue a MA after graduating, I could potentially still go to GW later for it, saving money now and putting myself in a better financial position to pay for it later. If that were the case, where I go to school for undergrad wouldn’t matter quite as much because if anything, where I received my graduate degree would carry more weight.

You’re right- where you receive your Masters from will matter more than where you went to undergrad. It’s also very wise to choose a more affordable option for undergrad then “splurge” on a graduate program.

With that said, I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “if I was accepted for undergrad will I also be accepted for grad?” College is a lot different than high school, so assuming you’ll have a similar GPA after 4 years is not necessarily the case. Also, your GPA will matter differently depending on which college you go to and how “competitive” they are known to be. Bottom line: do your absolute best in college. Get the highest GPA you can, take an EC or two (as long as they don’t impact your GPA, as that’s what’s most important). And lastly, get highly involved with undergrad research/internships.

you’re much less likely to get good financial aid from a top 10 professional IR grad program than from undergrad schools, so keep that in mind. princeton’s woodrow wilson is the exception to this, as they fund all their grad students. other than that, if you want to get something like $43k in grant aid from a top IR grad program, you will definitely have to be in the upper tier of applicants. just something to keep in mind going forward if debt is a concern.