Life at George Washington University for foreign students
January 26, 2008 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Young New Zealand girl seriously wants to go to George Washington University to study a Masters of Forensic Science next year. That's all I know. That's pretty much all she knows .....but she wants to know more. What should she know?

I guess she is just looking for information about what it would be like living there, how could she prepare for it, will it be easy to make friends, what's the school like. Seriously if you know anything about George Washington University or what life would be like for a young female foreigner in DC, that's more than either of us know!
posted by zaebiz to Education (14 answers total)
GW is a very expensive school and living in DC can be very expensive as well. Would she have a research or teaching assistantship or would she be paying for it herself? If she has to pay for it herself, she might want to consider a less expensive school in a less expensive city (which might fund her anyway). That said, DC is a pretty good place for young foreigners in the US.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:13 AM on January 26, 2008

I work as an executive at GWU. the campus is very metropolitan. It's actually in the same neighborhood as the White House and there is nothing to demarcate GWU from the urban environment in the same way that other DC schools have campuses that draw a distinction between city and academia. While GW is expensive, most people have scholarships thanks to the large endowment the school has. You will need to find out about scholarships and bursaries that are available to NZ students in American schools and see if Commonwealth scholarships apply too. In fact, really do your homework on this: call police offices and see if they would give money for example.
Living in DC for most people is a lot of fun. It's a nice city, very walkable with a lot of distinct neighborhoods and about 300 museums of every shape and description. It's a paradise for someone interested in law enforcement careers. There are seven police agencies in the city, the FBI, CIA, Amtrak police and the Post Office Inspector's offices, too. So many opportunities for internships and work experience if your friend can qualify for a secret clearance or pass a background check.
posted by parmanparman at 5:45 AM on January 26, 2008

2007-08 Tuition:

Tuition $39,210
Student Association Fee $30
Orientation Fee $250
Room & Board $11,900
Books and Supplies $1,000
Personal $1,350

TOTAL: $53,740

Damn. As parmanparman points out, most students have scholarships but a lot don't -- there's a lot of $$ hanging around Foggy Bottom as a result.

This piece from the Washington CityPaper may be of interest to get a flavor of what the school is like:
The $50,630 Question: Is an education at George Washington University worth it?
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:23 AM on January 26, 2008

BTW, Ike_Arumba's figures (and CityPaper article) are based on an undergraduate education, which is different. Here is a .pdf document detailing 2007-2008 tuition for the graduate departments.

DC attracts a lot of international students, and GW's campus is right downtown. I'm sure your friend will fit right in and have a ball. Hey, you should email the Association of Forensic Science Students at GWU, who seem eager to answer specific questions from prospective students.
posted by nkknkk at 6:50 AM on January 26, 2008

It's a very young town in a lot of ways with all the interns and young politicos so she'll have no shortage of folks to meet, on campus and off.

Some local blogs that talk about life in the city (disclosure: I write for dc metblogs)

The area in general:
DC Metblogs

Some neighborhood blogs (not necessarily anywhere near GW):
Penn Quarter Living

Not to say that the picture of life you get from reading bloggers completely reflects reality, but they do somewhat reflect how varied the city is.
posted by phearlez at 6:52 AM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whoops I screwed up the Prince of Petworth link above.
posted by phearlez at 6:53 AM on January 26, 2008

When I did college recruiting events, this major, criminal justice, anything remotely CSI related was the running joke with all the recruiters. People who study those fields will finds a grossly oversaturated market when they graduate and will probably be going back to school for something else. Too many people grow up on those TV shows and think it is some glamorous profession but the more likely reality is being in a police lab basement mounting DNA slides all day. Before your friend invests in an expensive education, she should research carefully her job prospects when she finishes and also consider doing an internship prior to her grad work to see how really boring routine the work is before she goes in to it.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:08 AM on January 26, 2008

The other thing she should be sure she has real written guarantees of, or as close as possible to them, is that the program at GW will count for anything back in New Zealand. It would really suck to drop $100K on a professional certification program that doesn't count in NZ because it's not accredited by the relevant NZ agencies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:19 AM on January 26, 2008

I signed up just to answer this question. I graduated from GW as an undergrad in 2007. The overwhelming perception among students is that GW and the rest of DC are very distinct from one another. GW is a sort of "bubble" in a neighborhood without even a real grocery store. All of the shops and services in Foggy Bottom are geared to students and workers that commute to nearby government jobs. If you are beyond the age where living in a dorm seems appealing, living in Foggy Bottom is NOT the way to go. There are many apartment buildings in Foggy Bottom but they tend to be more expensive than the options elsewhere. Foggy Bottom has no music venues and generally only has restaurants that are either pricey or disgusting. If you get out of the bubble, you'll see a lot more of the city, save money, have more fun, and meet more interesting people.

With that said, Foggy Bottom is very safe. Apparently there has been a "crime emergency" lately in DC, though the effect on me has been nil. DC has some neighborhoods that are not fun places for a woman, particularly a young one, to walk by herself. My girlfriend used to walk from the closest bus stop to my apartment, a distance of about 3 blocks, and get catcalls and come-ons and rude comments from men hanging out on the sidewalk drinking beer or driving by and pulling over just to harass her (this is in Mount Vernon). DC also has a lot of homeless people who can be unpleasant - the other week a man followed me for 2 blocks mumbling and yelling because I didn't give him a quarter.

As for GW itself, I think you'll find the administration of the school to be competent but slow. I have had no exposure to the Forensic Science program, but I did abandon my original undergrad biology major in part because the lab facilities were lacking. I have a few friends pursuing Masters' degrees at GW right now, so I'll ask them for any additional insights and post again. GW has a HUGE expat community and there's no real risk of you being too isolated. Unfortunately, a number of the students from the states are the overprivileged snotty type with grating New Jersey accents pursuing easy degrees, leaving them plenty of time to compete at spending Daddy's money buying overpriced liquor and making asses of themselves. Most of the students are fine, though, and my advice to you if you're a low-key person is to check out bars and concerts outside of the usual Georgetown circuit to meet slightly older and more relaxed people. DC is swimming in interesting art and music and GW does a reasonably good job promoting the more well-known stuff.

In sum, it is an urban environment fairly similar to other ones. If you get off the beaten path and don't let your guard down, you'll be fine.

E-mail is in profile if you have more questions.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:09 AM on January 26, 2008

I applied to GW for a Masters in Computer Science a little over two years ago. I was accepted, but with zero financial support. And as others have said, it's an expensive school. I don't know that much about a Masters of Forensic Science program, but a lot of Masters programs are viewed as "terminal" and don't get the financial support that Ph.D. students do.

If she's dead-set on GW, see if there are any scholarship programs for nearby federal or state (of Virginia, maybe?) government agencies. I was received one that NSA offered (not at GW, but a few others schools) that basically paid for your tuition, housing and other expenses in exchange for a guarantee of working for them for at least two years after graduation. I ended up being uncomfortable with the idea of working for the government of Bush the Second, and took a no strings attached scholarship to UBC instead. Unless her family is independently wealthy or GW is really looking to bait international students, she'll probably have to look for external funding.
posted by Nelsormensch at 9:32 AM on January 26, 2008

What 45moore and ROU said re: the important decision here is not the school/city so much as the program. Forensics is the ultimate driven-by-the-media program right now and universities are piling on to meet student demand, not market demand. Depending on what her undergraduate major is, I'd reccommend she do a Masters in that field with some contact with forensics, say through a thesis with a forensic focus. For example, there is a forensics program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (nice city, Commonwealth, all that) and coming in with anything from biochemistry to archaeology undergraduate maybe she could work something out that doesn't put all her training and education eggs in one basket.
posted by Rumple at 11:34 AM on January 26, 2008

It looks like the one of the really best-ranked masters programs in forensic science is at Villa Julie College, which is near Baltimore.
posted by parmanparman at 1:13 PM on January 26, 2008

With respect to what Inspector.Gadget said, you should be aware that it's very different to go to GW as a graduate student compared to a undergraduate student. I'm currently a grad student at GW, and really, I don't spend much time on campus other than when I'm in class (and neither do most of my classmates). I don't think anyone in my program actually lives in Foggy Bottom--we all live a bit further out, where it's cheaper!--and about half of us work full-time. The rest work at least 15-20 hours a week, either through GW (as a teaching assistant, for example) or on short-term contracts from companies in the field.

Looking at the schedule of graduate classes in the forensics department for this semester here, it looks like most of the classes are offered in the evenings; many of the earliest start at 4pm. I'd guess that is because many, if not most, of the people in the program already have jobs and take classes in the evening or on the weekends. If she's seriously considering coming over and doing this, she should take some time to talk to the department and find out what percentage of students go through the masters full-time versus part-time while working. I think it might be difficult to be one of the few full-time students without a job (I'm not sure what the visa and work situation would be for her)--no one will be able to meet for study groups except on the weekends, and everything will be set up to accommodate people who work. If most people going through the program are already in the field or a related field, it will affect how classes are taught (with an eye towards enhancing what people are already seeing on the job) to how much energy the department puts into things like cultivating internships for people with no experience (not much).
posted by iminurmefi at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2008

Thanks very much for all of the responses. She is very grateful and quite amazed at all of the information. Inspector.Gadget, thanks for signing up just to answer the question. AskMe is a great resource - it will be money well spent.
posted by zaebiz at 11:47 PM on January 26, 2008

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