Columbia or Yale MPH?
April 10, 2011 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Should I go to Yale or Columbia to get my MPH? I'm already in NYC, but I'm hearing unhappy rumblings from students at Columbia.

I'm thrilled and a bit shocked to have gotten in to several schools, but now I have to decide. Obviously, no one can make this decision for me, but I would appreciate an outsider’s feedback.

In Columbia's favor: I already live in and love New York City. I have a part-time job I could continue during school, connections in the public health world and friends here. Because it is an enormous school, there is a wealth of course offerings, some of which sound awesome.

My concerns about Columbia: Many of the students and recent graduates I have spoken to seem disappointed with the program. None said, flat out: Don't come here, but the feedback I've gotten has largely been negative. The two specific complaints have been about the quality of coursework in my department (which they all agree is dry and some say has prepared them inadequately) and access to faculty.

Possible mitigating factors: I haven't had the chance to speak with anyone from my track within the department. It's possible they feel better trained in research methods, what I will be studying. I just don't know. The wealth of opportunities outside the classroom might compensate for weaker coursework. (But then again, I already live in New York; what I'm paying for is the classes.)

In Yale's favor: Students I met at the admitted students day seemed genuinely happy. Many of them have been doing amazing projects. The faculty is more accessible. Classes are smaller. Opportunities to do research (my primary interest) with faculty, easier to get. The degree I would be pursuing would give me more flexibility to pick my course load. Classes are ungraded, which might take some of the pressure off.

My concerns about Yale: Living in New Haven. The school’s size -- 1/5 of Columbia -- means course options are more limited. Qualitative research methods, an interest of mine, are little taught. I know less about the program because I have only my experience at the admitted students’ day to go on; unlike Columbia I have no personal connections with the school to get the inside scoop.

Possible mitigating factors: I could take classes outside of the school of public health, including field research methods in the sociology department. The last year has been hard and it might be nice to make a clean break and start over somewhere new. The scuttlebutt about Yale’s SPH confirms what I saw at the open house: small, intimate school, close faculty/student relationships, etc.

Non-issues: Cost (the same), reputation (I think they are both sufficiently renowned, though Columbia is better known in the public health world), James Franco’s presence on campus.

Whatdya think?
posted by reren to Education (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Two thoughts:

a) I would try and contact people in your preferred track at Columbia and people in the department at Yale. They may have some sort of student group for the department or the graduate students likely have some sort of representative body. I reasonably often fielded questions like this for prospective students while I was co-director of a student organization for a graduate professional program.

b) Depending on your discipline, you may be able to use library research tools like Web of Science that will let you sort by affiliation -- you can do a search for your area of specialization and see who is publishing at each school. It won't help to go to a "good school" that won't support your areas of research well or at all.

Both of these should give you more information for what's going to be a fairly significant decision.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the surface, YALE.

But also, what's your end goal?

From what I know of Columbia's MPH program (which is not a lot, granted), people have been pretty unhappy and the rigor of research isn't fantastic. (And the few people that I know that came out of Columbia's MPH program were not better prepared in research methods than any of the social science undergrads that I have had as research assistants.)

IMHO, if you're really into doing research, go to an MPH program that also has a doctoral program.
posted by k8t at 7:15 AM on April 10, 2011

It sounds like Yale is the better choice for you. If you want to expand the breadth of the courses you take, you can always do a summer at Columbia or elsewhere.
posted by DeusExMegana at 7:32 AM on April 10, 2011

Seconding GenjiandProust's suggestion. It really is going to depend on your research interests. As you probably know, each public health school has its own specialty-- Hopkins for urban health, Harvard for global, UNC Chapel Hill for Maternal/Child. I don't know too much about Mailman or YSPH in terms of their focus. Figure out who's publishing what and how much access you'll have to them as an MPH student.

Also, Yale's got one thing going for it that Columbia could never touch: Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana.
posted by The White Hat at 7:35 AM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved living in New Haven - it's small and walkable, and very safe. Certainly, I always felt safer there than in NYC, and I lived on the edge of a very poor part of New Haven. It's a small city, but with a lot of cultural things going on and many of them free (art gallery, classical music performances) or cheap (films at the medical school - $4 recently). Good bands come because of the university - I saw Great Big Sea and They Might Be giants for cheap in a small venue there.

That said, academics are always the first priority when it comes to choosing a program - you need to know that there are the courses and people to help you learn what you want to learn. I actually had problems in my own graduate program because the department didn't fit well with my interests - lack of coursework, lack of interesting research seminars and (worst) lack of friends and colleagues who I could talk to about my research with who were working on similar things. I was in for a five-year degree with lots of research, so that makes a difference - a primarily course based program may work, esp if you are able to get the methodology courses you are interested in from other departments. Also, the emotional atmosphere of a department can be so critical to learning - having a department in which you never feel like professors care about you and your learning puts a damper on the whole experience. Whereas good relationships are stimulating - you have conversations that make you want to study and learn more.
posted by jb at 7:43 AM on April 10, 2011

I am getting a masters (MPA) at Columbia now and in my department it is true that there isnt really great access to the name professors. Also: faculty great, students great, classes great, but University - not so much.

But as jb says, its about the work. I would get the degree requirements from each school and try to make a really detailed course plan for each program.
posted by shothotbot at 8:25 AM on April 10, 2011

Evaluate your sources as much as possible (i.e. do these seem like troublemakers/malcontents, or well-adjusted people in genuinely bad situations?), but as a rule of thumb re: grad programs - unhappy students = RUN. I ignored that rule and watched it nearly end my career.

Also, Yale sounds, on the surface, like the best option in most all areas except you're not already settled there (and the NYC/New Haven trade off might seem stark)? "intimate school, close faculty/student relationships" - this sounds like a phenomenal recommendation for Yale.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:47 AM on April 10, 2011

I'm a Mailman alum, class of '04.

Depends on what department you're looking at. Some of the departments at Columbia are great, some are not. PopFam and Epi are very, very good; SMS is not so hot; don't know much about HPM though I suspect it is good; I really struggled with Biostats because my brain does not work that way, so I can't speak to the quality of that department. As someone in public health professionally, Columbia has a better reputation than Yale; at least in my areas of public health (I do practice, not research). You will make very good connections at Columbia and there is a very good set up in terms of internships/practicums. I had good relationships with the faculty and other students in my department and my classmates would agree. I don't know if that's true for all departments and tracks. Columbia University is a bloated whale, though, and that can be really frustrating, especially since MSPH is kind of the red-headed stepchild of the med school.

I went through several phases (thrilled, miserable, frustrated, elated, challenged, etc) in my time in grad school and immediately after. I would take what current students are saying with a grain of salt; sometimes while you're in it things can feel more frustrating then they will in retrospect and honestly I never met a grad student in any topic at any school that was happy and satisfied all the time--dissatisfaction seems to come with the territory. With several years' perspective, I can say I got a very good education, really stretched myself intellectually, and made good connections. It was definitely the right choice for me, and my cohort is now doing very interesting things.

I would look at what alums of each school are doing, or where people in your dream jobs went, as well as what the big research is coming out of each school. Look at what the extracurricular events (professional, not social) are--what speakers and events the school has that you can learn from. What opportunities are there for GRA work, how hard is it to get those positions, how many students get them? Several of my friends got a GRA job, which led to a practicum, which led straight to a job after school. Also, think about where you want to go after school--if you want to stay in NYC long-term, it doesn't make sense to go to a new city for your connections. But if you want to move to, say, South Dakota, it matters less which east coast city you pick. Plan out your two years of coursework at both schools and see which seems better. Also, which department requires work experience before attending? I would avoid any department that takes people straight out of undergrad; the ones that require at least two years of work experience lead to more rigorous classes and more interesting classmates. Both schools I was considering put me in touch with current students to talk to, so ask Yale about that.

My generic public health grad advice: take more skills classes than topical classes--you can learn about about any topic on the job, but the skills stuff is much harder to learn afterwards. I wish I had know that.

I'm happy to discuss in more personal detail if you want to memail me.
posted by min at 10:14 AM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Thanks for the really great advice and feedback -- still mulling things over and trying to get some more info.

Some follow-up information:

I'm in the Sociomedical Sciences department, thus my worries, min.

k8t: My professional goals are tentative, but I'm interested in conducting public health research, perhaps in an academic setting and going on for my PhD. Where are you hearing that the quality of research coming out of Columbia is poor? Mailman does have doctoral students, as does Yale, fwiw.
posted by reren at 6:27 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. I put down my deposit at Yale. After reviewing the course offerings and thinking over what people affiliated with both programs had told me, I decided that that was where I would get the best academic experience. Wish me luck!
posted by reren at 5:56 AM on April 16, 2011

« Older Whose dog is this?   |   I have an amazing ticket to a Braves game today..... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.