USDA-Grade School?
August 25, 2009 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any experience with the USDA Graduate School in DC? Is this an acceptable place to do prerequisites for graduate programs?

I'm interested in doing a graduate program in either public policy or economics (an MA to start, and likely a PhD after), and either one will likely require calculus and up to intermediate macro and micro for admission. I was a history major and didn't take any econ, and my calculus grade could stand some improvement. Plus, I've been out of school a few years, and I need academic recommenders.

Is the USDA grad school a good solution to get these prereqs out of the way? It's amazingly inexpensive, a short metro ride from my apartment and it almost seems too good to be true. I'd rather not schlep out to Fairfax and go to GMU if I can avoid it.
posted by downing street memo to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not too good to be true! There's a reason why you see a ton of people walking around with the blue USDA grad school tote bags.

I took German for reading comprehension there and was very pleased. (My lack of German skills is entirely due to my failure to study.) Lots of people go there for personal interest or professional development. I highly recommend it.
posted by orrnyereg at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2009

It's a "graduate school" in the sense that it gears many of its classes towards people already holding BAs. It's not a graduate school in the sense of granting graduate degrees. It's not really an academic institution so much as a place to do continuing education for your job--or to pick up another language (I've heard fabulous things about their language classes). That might be a significant problem if you try to use their classes as pre-reqs for graduate school; as I recall from when I was applying to masters programs, they only were interested the classes I had taken from degree-granting institutions, and I'm pretty sure (although not positive) that the USDA grad school wouldn't count.

I would guess that *maybe* some schools in the DC area would accept the courses as fulfilling prereqs for something like calculus that wasn't central to the degree, where they were more interested in making sure you had the skills versus wanting to evaluate your grades in the subject. Maybe. If you're planning on applying for grad programs outside of the area, or the pre-reqs are more directly related to the program you're entering (e.g., micro and macro for a grad program in economics), I would look at actual accredited schools that grant degrees, as I think many graduate programs won't accept credits from non-degree-granting institutions.

Unfortunately my guess is that it is too good to be true. IANAAdmissions Director, though, so you could probably check with area schools to see how they treat USDA classes.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:13 AM on August 25, 2009

Also: GMU is definitely cheaper than other schools in the area, but it's definitely not the only option. If you have an employer who is kicking in for some of the $1K-per-credit-hour tuition, GW could be a nice metro-accessible choice (they definitely have evening classes aimed at post-BA students for things like calculus and economics). The last time I checked, which admittedly was a few years ago, you could also take economics and public policy classes at Georgetown as a non-degree seeking student, but they were mostly in the afternoon, which might conflict with your job. Also University of Maryland offers some online courses through their University College (UMUC).

I went through this process a few years ago--taking math/econ classes in DC to meet the prereqs for a masters degree--so feel free to memail me if you want more info about my experience.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2009

My sister took economics classes (both Macro and Micro, I believe) at the USDA Grad School a couple years back and spoke pretty damningly of the quality of instruction -- i.e. that her instructor routinely had no idea what he was talking about and that the exam grading was pretty capricious. She's a champion AskMe lurker, so maybe she'll show up in the thread to expand on this a bit.
posted by killdevil at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2009

It depends, but looks promising.

What school are looking at going to for your masters? If it is one of the following partnership schools, you are more likely to have some success in transfering courses.

As they answer here, they are only partly accredidted by the American Council on Education and then still say that you should check to see if they'll recognize a prerequisite class from the institution. I believe both their econ and calculus classes are recognized by ACE.

Good luck!
posted by gagoumot at 11:38 AM on August 25, 2009

I wish I could go to GW or Georgetown, but my employer doesn't do any tuition benefits and I can't afford those schools without financial aid (which I'm not eligible for as a non-degree student). I live in Courthouse and don't have a car, and College Park is light-years away on the metro - it's an option I suppose, but the logistics and extra cost (out-of-state tuition) make it tough.

I may call the USDA school later today and see what they say - hopefully they'll be honest.
posted by downing street memo at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2009

Oh, just realized you said UMUC - I'll look into that.
posted by downing street memo at 11:40 AM on August 25, 2009

iminurmefi - what did you end up doing? I just spoke with someone there and she said that it depends on the individual school - not encouraging when I'm not sure where I'll end up going.
posted by downing street memo at 11:58 AM on August 25, 2009

Many of GMU's econ classes are held at the Arlington campus, which is about a 5 minute walk from the Virginia Square metro. Might be worth checking to see whether you can get classes there, as it's much more convenient.
posted by decathecting at 12:01 PM on August 25, 2009

@downing street memo

Have you looked at the GMU campus in Arlington itself? And would NOVA count, or do they need to be for a four year college? I found NVCC classes (the Alexandria campus is probably the easiest to get to for you - i took some classes there. And it was cheap.)

Also, UVA has a continuing education campus in Falls Church as well.

I think GMU or NVCC is the best bet, though.
posted by waylaid at 12:16 PM on August 25, 2009

Virginia Tech also has a center here.
posted by jgirl at 12:22 PM on August 25, 2009

To those mentioning the Arlington campus - that'd be great, I live five minutes away, but it doesn't look like they offer undergrad econ courses.

NOVA would be awesome, though. Has anyone had experience with using community college classes to fulfill prerequisites?
posted by downing street memo at 12:35 PM on August 25, 2009

I studied Chinese and Russian at the USDA Graduate School. I have never had trouble getting credit for those courses. You'll be best off if you check with the registrar at the institution where you want to transfer the credits, however.

I will say that for foreign languages, you are much more likely to have course requirements waived, rather than be issued prior learning credit for USDA courses.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:43 PM on August 25, 2009

A toooooooon of people I know have gone to USDA for those very same kinds of classes - prerequisites to grad programs that they didn't take in undergrad. In fact, I have three friends right now taking microeconomics at USDA.

(Two of those three friends are in a class with a professor they can't stand right now - feel free to mail me if you want and I'll get the name so you can have an idea of who to avoid!)
posted by harperpitt at 1:05 PM on August 25, 2009

I was once an "instructor" for a correspondence course at the USDA grad school. I don't know about in-person classes, but the correspondence courses seemed to be a complete joke. I had no business "teaching" the thing and ultimately quit because it seemed to be such a mickey mouse operation. YMMV
posted by dipolemoment at 4:36 PM on August 25, 2009

I took NVCC econ courses, and transferred them into Cornell (where I finished up my undergrad). It worked fine, although I can't say they were as rigorous as the econ classes i had later at Cornell.
posted by waylaid at 5:44 PM on August 25, 2009

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