The 'Am I competitive' thread - READ ME BEFORE POSTING


645 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

There seem to be a lot of threads asking the same thing popping up lately and I figured it might make sense to make an overall guide thread and then those who feel their answers still haven’t been adequately answered can post below for an idea of what their chances are. Here is a brief rundown of factors affecting your likelihood of getting into top-tier and well respected programs. If you fall below par in any one of these factors you can bump it up by being stellar in one of the others. I'll add to this if others point out other things I've left out.

School requirements:

Your first stop should be the school admissions website – this will tell you what prerequisites you need, give you an idea of GRE and GPA requirements and what work experience is expected (if any)

GPA:

From what I’ve seen/read over the years any GPA over 3.4 and you should be competitive. That’s not to say if your GPA is lower than 3.4 you’ll have no chance, but if you have a GPA above 3.4 you should be in good shape.

GRE score:

GRE scores seem to be most important for schools with demanding quantitative programs and for securing the top financial aid. Most schools will state the average GRE scores for their incoming classes on their website – use these to see how competitive you are. By and large you should be competitive if you score over 650 on verbal and quantitative and over 4.0 on the AWA. For the top schools over 700 seems to be closer to the mark.

Work experience:

For most programs it will be expected that you have at least 1-2 years of relevant experience in your field. This can be lowered a little if you have other pseudo-relevant work experience (management in the for-profit sector etc.) but you should have shown some level of professional interest in the area you hope to study at grad school. Applicants coming straight out of undergrad may find it very hard to get into the programs aimed more at junior/mid-career professionals such as Johns Hopkins SAIS and Princeton’s WWS.

Language skills:

For a lot of programs being able to speak a second language is a must, while for others it is just a very good selling point. If you can show experience working in a foreign language this will show adaptability and will endear schools looking to enrol a diverse group of applicants.

Quantitative requirements:

A lot of schools will want you to show experience in micro/macroeconomics and some maths/statistics courses. You can fullfil these through undergrad classes or by taking courses at a community college/diploma program.

Overseas experience (work, study and teaching):

Work overseas and study abroad are also viewed extremely favourably by admissions committees and if you have taught English abroad, worked in the Peace Corps or otherwise gained experience living in a developing country this will really strengthen your application. It also shows you to be a go-getter, and that you can bring this outside experience to grad school study.

Statement of Purpose:

This is where it all comes together. This is your chance to impress the admission committee and show how your personal 'arc' has brought you to this point - being the perfect addition to their grad school. This more than any other part of your application will determine how admit committees view you as an applicant and it's also one of the only application variables that's completely under your control. Having a cohesive narrative that brings together life experience, past academic history and professional experience is a must. It also gives you a great chance to showcase your writing style - so make sure no grammar/spelling mistakes make it into your final revision.

Great list of SOP pitfalls

If your profile matches at least 3 or 4 of the criteria listed above then you are competitive to apply to an MPA/MPP/IR program.

What is most important about any grad school application is showing fit – that is how your profile matches the speciality of that school and its program. If you can’t articulate compelling reasons why you are a good match for them and vice versa, question whether you should be applying to that program.

A note on applying to top schools:

It is worth noting that nobody here can tell you what your chances of getting into a top program (Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown etc.) because getting into a top program requires a certain amount of luck as well as a great profile. Some people get offers from Harvard with a 2.9 GPA, but also happen to have singlehandedly retaken an allied command post in the Korengal valley. It’s down to who reads your application and what they happen to be looking for with the current application cycle.

Spend time improving the elements of your application that you can (GRE, work experience, languages) and don’t waste time freaking out about the things you can’t change (GPA).

If you’ve read all of the above and really still can’t tell if your application is competitive, post your profile below.

Edited by fenderpete

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Posted

Admins/Mods, we need a sticky on this one. Perhaps other members (those who already are in grad school are preferred) should contribute to this thread too, if they'd like.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for making this. I was one of those people who recently posted an "evaluate me" thread, and in retrospect it is just clutter. Hopefully we can consolidate such posts to this thread.

I also would add some stuff on SOP, as it is a major major part of the application and is something you certainly can control.

Edited by MYRNIST

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Posted

Thanks! Sorry for spamming the thread but this will certainly clear things up.

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Posted

Thanks guys - feel free to either message me or add comments to this thread and I'll update the original post. Those were kind of my initial thoughts from what I've read/seen over the years but I'm by no means the expert :) If we can make this into one comprehensive post hopefully it'll be a useful resource for folks in the future.

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Posted

I think there are too many differences from one program to the other in order to make this sticky. For instance, my program (economics) seems to require a much stronger transcript and GRE score than suggested above but work and life experience seem to play almost no role in admissions decisions. The original post is a good guideline but I fear that it is in danger of misleading some who's actual degree requirements are quite different.

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Posted

I think there are too many differences from one program to the other in order to make this sticky. For instance, my program (economics) seems to require a much stronger transcript and GRE score than suggested above but work and life experience seem to play almost no role in admissions decisions. The original post is a good guideline but I fear that it is in danger of misleading some who's actual degree requirements are quite different.

Exactly the reason why folks like you and I and others from different areas should contribute to this thread. 1 thread with all info is better than few hundreds on 'what are my chances'. Don't you think?

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Posted (edited)

I think there are too many differences from one program to the other in order to make this sticky. For instance, my program (economics) seems to require a much stronger transcript and GRE score than suggested above but work and life experience seem to play almost no role in admissions decisions. The original post is a good guideline but I fear that it is in danger of misleading some who's actual degree requirements are quite different.

I believe that this thread explicitly stated it was intedned to address those individuals applying to "MPA/MPP/IR program".. Under those circumstances, it is quite an aplicable thread to make a sticky. Those applying to programs at Georgetown, Harvard, George Washington, Hopkins, UT-LBJ, DU-Korbel, Princeton, Tufts, etc........

If you review those programs, they do in fact share many of the common characteristics posted by this thread starter.

As far as I know, if you want to figure out how to be a competitve Economics aplicant, you can head over to the Social-Sciences section and post in the "economics" thread. This was intended for the Governmental-Affairs individuals. However, input from other majors would be appreciatated as well, i'm sure.

(p.s., none of this post was intended to come across as condescending or rude. Just stating that I think you may be a bit off in your analysis here.)

Edited by Learn619

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Posted

As far as I know, if you want to figure out how to be a competitve Economics aplicant, you can head over to the Social-Sciences section and post in the "economics" thread. This was intended for the Governmental-Affairs individuals. However, input from other majors would be appreciatated as well /i'm sure.

Put in the specific context of Government Affairs I see that my comments are not applicable. I didn't realize what topic the thread was under, I just clicked and started writing. Think before you type.

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Posted

Thanks for the info, if I understand correctly a good GRE (v710 q800) can make up for a spotty undergrad?

what about letters of recommendation? This will be my weak link as i don't think i will able to get very relevant letters (I worked abroad and currently work in private education and undergrad was years ago)

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the info, if I understand correctly a good GRE (v710 q800) can make up for a spotty undergrad?

what about letters of recommendation? This will be my weak link as i don't think i will able to get very relevant letters (I worked abroad and currently work in private education and undergrad was years ago)

How long ago was your undergraduate degree obtained? Is there any chance that at least one professor remembers your work, that you contributed frequently in class, a paper that you composed, etc? If you mention in an email something specific the professor may remember about you, to spur the recolection of your performance as a student.

Edited by Learn619

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Posted

Thanks for the info, if I understand correctly a good GRE (v710 q800) can make up for a spotty undergrad?

what about letters of recommendation? This will be my weak link as i don't think i will able to get very relevant letters (I worked abroad and currently work in private education and undergrad was years ago)

Definitely, it's really a case of showcasing 'potential' in your application, and good GRE quant seems to be used quite a lot by schools as a predictor of how you'll do in grad school (right or wrong, that's the deal). So showing you can apply yourself on the quant side of the GRE coupled with good work experience will be competitive.

In terms of LORs, from what I've seen you should try and get at least one academic reference. Hopefully you'll be able to find one professor who remembers you enough to write something positive - if they don't remember you much then attach your resume and if possible an old essay or piece of work that they might remember. If your undergrad was a really really long time ago, try and get work references that'll focus on your research aptitude.

I'll add a section on LORs tomorrow.

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Posted (edited)

Weirdly the board won't let me edit the original post... so I'll have to tag this on at the end here...

Letters of Recommendation:

Arguably another one of the biggest factors in your application that you can exert control over. For professional programs if you can add in a recommender with knowledge of your work history, who can state how excellent your research skills are then this is a huge boost to your application. This is a bit like your personal statement, where those academic and professional skills come together. If you can mix both in your LORs you should be in good shape.

There is a fair bit of debate surrounding academic references - particularly in big name vs professors who aren't as well known. My take on this has always been that it's far better to use a professor who knows your work inside out, and will write you a glowing reference than someone who is a superstar professor, but has to write 30+ references. I fear that'll end up with a generic reference that won't pop out and differentiate you from the other applicants. If you can pick someone who'll say 'I always remember Mr Jones' contribution in seminars and his perceptive essay writing' you've got the right recommender.

If you've been out of academia for a while it can be a lot tougher to line up a professor who'll rave about you (or remember you) and in this case you might need to approach a few people to figure out who will be best. I think it's not a bad idea to include a copy of past essays and your resumé - this not only refreshes recommenders' memory, but also gives them a chance to see what you've done since.

As application season is such a tough time, and logistical nightmare, it's also not a bad idea to have a backup recommender - this way if one of your main recommenders flakes out you can quickly substitute them in and still be able to submit an application.

In short, pick people who really know you and your work, and make sure you ask them for references with plenty of time before the application has to be submitted.

Edited by fenderpete

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Posted

Hi everybody,

This is my first post. I need somebody to evaluate my chances for IR program. I am looking for a career change. Is this even possible? Last year when I wrote GMAT, I had MBA in my mind but being a close follower of international events, I am giving a thought to pursue career into it and have called off MBA plans. I really want to follow my interest rather than going for MBA. I am targeting Defense and security programs.

Profile snapshot:

Graduation: B.Tech, Computer Science. From a college among top ten in the country.

CGPA (3.24/4)

GMAT : 720 (38V,50Q) AWA 4.5

Experience : 4.3 years at Dell's R&D Center with leadership experience and good career progression.

International experience: NIL.

Relevant experience: NIL.

Nationality: Indian

Community service: Part time for 3 years. Spent close to 15 hours a month.

Please advice me how to make a strong case without relevant experience.

Thanks,

sk_tik

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Posted (edited)

How much value does the LOR of a sitting member of parliament in India add value?

The value of such a letter would be quite small, if the individual could not speak strongly in favor of your skills, and any positive attributes that they knew you for while you worked for them. The LOR is nearly meaningless from a "big name", who can only speak in generalized terms about you, where if they replaced your name with "John Doe" in the letter, the letter description would remain exactly the same.

The individual writing your LOR should feel comfortable writing you a strong letter, as detailed about your work/research/etc. as possible, to distinguish you from other worthy applicants.

In other words, a LOR from an “important person” is no more or less valid than an average academic reference. It is all about what they say about you, not who they are.

Also, congrats on the previous acceptances to several outstanding schools/programs! Your Quant-GRE score is superb!

Edited by Learn619

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Posted

Hi All:

Thanks for this interesting thread. I am starting my essays and recco process now. Had a question about my profile.

GMAT: 710 (47q, 40v)

Undergrad: BA Hons. Economics, Lady Shriram College for Women, University of Delhi

Post-grad 1: MA International Political Eonomy (University of Warwick, rank 3 class of 120, no GPA type grade)

Work-ex: 4 years Public Private Partnerships in South Asia with International Finance Corporation + 1 year in Germany working in the inter-cultural management team of an Indo-German JV + 2 years economics internaships at Centre for Policy Research and Confederation of Indian Industries

Nationality: Indian

Applying to:

KSG

WWS

Goldman

SAIS

SIPA

Harris

deciding on the last school to apply to many people have recommended NYU over Maxwell or any other

Planning to take GRE in 2 weeks as WWS and GSPS take only GRE. I took the GRE some 8 years ago and had (800q,690v). Any idea on what is it like now?

Appreciate your advice!

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Hi All:

Thanks for this interesting thread. I am starting my essays and recco process now. Had a question about my profile.

GMAT: 710 (47q, 40v)

Undergrad: BA Hons. Economics, Lady Shriram College for Women, University of Delhi

Post-grad 1: MA International Political Eonomy (University of Warwick, rank 3 class of 120, no GPA type grade)

Work-ex: 4 years Public Private Partnerships in South Asia with International Finance Corporation + 1 year in Germany working in the inter-cultural management team of an Indo-German JV + 2 years economics internaships at Centre for Policy Research and Confederation of Indian Industries

Nationality: Indian

Applying to:

KSG

WWS

Goldman

SAIS

SIPA

Harris

deciding on the last school to apply to many people have recommended NYU over Maxwell or any other

Planning to take GRE in 2 weeks as WWS and GSPS take only GRE. I took the GRE some 8 years ago and had (800q,690v). Any idea on what is it like now?

Appreciate your advice!

Your overall package looks very good. Here are just a few points you should devote some time to in your application process.

- The GRE is only valid for 5 years from the date of testing. So your test 8 years ago has ZERO usability for the current admissions process. I know you took the GMAT, you might be able to use that in lieu of the GRE at some schools, but be sure to check with each school to see if they will accept GMAT instead of GRE. If not, you will need to retake the GRE by roughly late Oct/early November to meet application deadlines.

- you already have a masters, so you probably will want to be very proactive about spelling out to adcoms why another MA is vital to your career plans. Basically, you can't just say "because its a better more prestigious degree", you need to be specific about what these programs will do for you that your previous MA did not.

Good luck!

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Posted

Thanks and good advice on the MA. I do actually have a story there anyone good given the vast difference in pedagogical practices and course structure between a UK and a US school.

Once again, appreciate your response.

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Posted (edited)

Hi all:

Thanks so much for all of your great insights. I was hoping you would be willing to take a look at my profile:

Undergrad:

- BA Cum Laude (3.48), Political Science & International Studies, State University of New York at Fredonia.

- leadership roles in several campus political groups and judicial boards

- study abroad in Cairo

GRE: 510v, 530q, 3.5

Work/Volunteer experience:

- Internship for U.S Senate committee

- 3 campaign cycles at the state and federal level (congressional race, presidential race, managerial experience)

- 1 year of Americorps service as a "manager of partner relations" for a small non profit in DC

Applying to: Maxwell (top choice), Fels, GSPIA Pitt, Albany, UVA Batten, CIPA, UW Madison (La Follette)

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

Edited by jfornof

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Posted

Hi all:

Thanks so much for all of your great insights. I was hoping you would be willing to take a look at my profile:

Undergrad:

- BA Cum Laude (3.48), Political Science & International Studies, State University of New York at Fredonia.

- leadership roles in several campus political groups and judicial boards

- study abroad in Cairo

GRE: 510v, 530q, 3.5

Work/Volunteer experience:

- Internship for U.S Senate committee

- 3 campaign cycles at the state and federal level (congressional race, presidential race, managerial experience)

- 1 year of Americorps service as a "manager of partner relations" for a small non profit in DC

Applying to: Maxwell (top choice), Fels, GSPIA Pitt, Albany, UVA Batten, CIPA, UW Madison (La Follette)

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

Maxwell is a great choice - it's where I go. You may need to bump up your GRE scores. This is probably especially the case if you're coming right out of undergrad. To my knowledge, our current MPA class has < 6 folks who are RIGHT out of undergrad, and I think they all received virtually no cash financial assistance or assistantships with their packages. Not to discourage you, but definitely get your numbers up if you can. You have time to take the GRE twice if you need to, and I would spend that time practicing quant - it is easiest to teach yourself in a short period of time. I would strongly suggest you go do something for a year or two if you're coming out of UG.

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Posted (edited)

Sorry for not being more clear - my Americorps service and work on political campaigns have all been professional full time jobs that I've held since graduating college in May, 2007.

Edited by jfornof

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Posted

This is my profile

  • I finished my BS in Civil Engineering 4 months ago in a Top University in Caracas, Venezuela. I graduated top of a 20 students class and my GPA is 17/20 (about 3.4)
  • I have no background or experience in the US education system. I just studied English for 6 months in LA after I graduated from Highschool.
  • I have been working in a my family Construction Company for about a year. I did my intership there.
  • I did a research thesis in order to obtain my BS, its subjects related to construction planning and control.
  • I have relatively good LOR, specially the professor I did my thesis with, but since they are professors that do not speak English fluently I am a little afraid they might not be perfect.
  • My GRE scores are: 740 - 800 MATH , 630 - 730 VERBAL

I plan to apply to a MS in Construction Management, Engineering and Project Management or Engineering Management in the following Universities:

1. Berkeley (CEE Department)

2. Stanford (CEE Department)

3. Columbia (CEE Department)

4. Illinois Urbana (CEE Department)

5. Cornell (Engineering Management Dept.)

6. Duke (Engineering Management Dept.)

Ok with this profile, I was wondering If I should be aiming to the top Engineering Universities as I mentioned, or should I lower my expectations?

Also If anyone have any experience of International students getting in successfully in those top Programs I appreciate your feedback....

Thanks for your time and help

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Posted

@George2248, this is the government affairs forum, you need to post your profile in the engineering forum...or maybe the planning one not sure which is most appropriate for your program of choice.

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@George2248, this is the government affairs forum, you need to post your profile in the engineering forum...or maybe the planning one not sure which is most appropriate for your program of choice.

I see that I really didnt see it, I just saw the post in the new post section sorry...

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Posted

no apology necessary, just wanted to let you know where to post so you'll get advice from people in your program.

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