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

817 posts in this topic

First, I owe a big thank you to the entire gradcafe community. As a lurker, I learned quite a bit about everything from GRE prep to which programs are more academic vs. more professionally oriented. I'm returning to school after a few years working, so it's been really nice to have a support system (even if none of you know me). 

Current List: UC Berkeley (Goldman), Georgetown (McCourt), Chicago (Harris), UVA (Batten), Michigan (Ford), Washington (Evans) -- also, I'm interested in MIT's MSci program, but that might be OT. 

GPA: 3.65, 3.9 Major GPA (International Studies, Focus on US Foreign Policy, Top 10 program for field, but definitely not Ivy). 

GRE: 169V, 161Q, Writing unknown (took it yesterday). 

Work Experience: 2 political campaign cycles in leadership positions (plus an internship in '08), 2 years in small business leadership (non-founder but with some policy overlap), 1 year as an academic coach at a community college (with experience setting/implementing new training/assessment policies). 

Quant Background: Calc I, II, Stats, Econometrics, Applications of Econometrics in a Professional Capacity

Languages: Intermediate in two beyond English (but they are very common, nothing crazy). 

SOP: I do and will have very clear, well articulated reasons for being interested in policy, but don't want to share too much on the interwebs. 

LOR: Reaching out to a couple undergrad professors who knew me very well at the time; hopefully that goes well (if anyone has experience doing this and has suggestions, that would be wonderful). Will have at least one very good professional rec. 

Do you think the schools I'm looking at are reasonable? I'm also very interested in the possibility of a PhD in Poli Sci after a MPP/MPA program (I have a deep and unfortunate love of teaching, but have zero peer-reviewed, published research experience). Are there certain programs I should look at/stay away from? 

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On 9/14/2016 at 8:17 AM, went_away said:

Your academics are a little weak, but would expect Fletcher to give you a decent scholarship for their MALD program bc of your professional experience. Legit experience doing compliance work in financial services + peace corps is a stronger than average professional background. 

 

Wasnt considering that program before but will look into it now, thank you for the feedback!  For my lsat 2 years of study I have around a 3.6 with lots of research experience (one funded program and lots of coursework with all As or A-s), hoping that is taken into consideration  to make up for my not great overall GPA.  Was thinking of writing a supplemental essay to try to highlight this upward trend and success in my last two years.

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1 hour ago, rpcvstp16 said:

Wasnt considering that program before but will look into it now, thank you for the feedback!  For my lsat 2 years of study I have around a 3.6 with lots of research experience (one funded program and lots of coursework with all As or A-s), hoping that is taken into consideration  to make up for my not great overall GPA.  Was thinking of writing a supplemental essay to try to highlight this upward trend and success in my last two years.

Yep, definitely should highlight all your good sides; if an optional essay is available that might be a component to include. A good gre/gmat/whatever it is poor kids have to take these days, would also be helpful for pushing your competitiveness for a decent scholarship. The 3.6 for your last 2 years is decent, still not great - they'll be much more interested in your experience doing research in conjunction with glamorous/reputable people and institutions and - especially - any history you have of securing funded research.

Remember everyone - these programs are outrageously expensive and the job market is weak for everybody these days (except for - as always - the untouchables). Buyer be aware. 

Edited by went_away

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On 9/17/2016 at 10:28 PM, chocolatecheesecake said:

 

General feedback:

Work experience: Your work experience looks fine. Make an effort to speak directly to professors and adcoms from schools that you're interested in, and I'll bet you'll find that many people have a similar background to you - maybe worked in a non-profit and did something unrelated to policy work, but got plenty of exposure and understood what it was all about. We all got interested in policy school *because* we didn't have an in for policy work. If you could just go ahead and do it, you probably wouldn't need to attend policy school.

SOP: So the exact nature of your work experience doesn't matter - what does is how you tell the story of getting interested in policy. Make sure you connect the dots explicitly between what you did and what you want to do (after grad school) and show that their program can help you get there. 

GRE: If you have the extra time, double down hard on this, and make your quant score the most outstanding it can be. It's one of the parts of the application that can be gamed, albeit with time and effort, and really broadens the amount of schools you can be competitive for. After all, there are a number of better known environmental policy schools out there (see Yale and Duke for starters).  

One more note: It's hard to judge whether you're competitive for a specific program if it's not one of the more well-known/top ranked ones. If the program isn't big, or doesn't have a lot of alums, or doesn't have a lot of applicants, we just won't have the knowledge in the GradCafe pool to contribute. I would say that looking at the stats that the CMU admissions office puts out would be your best bet, and that you want to end up in the top quartile of people for most numbers. If you're not, beef up on the SOP and letters of rec! 

Thank you for your feedback, it is encouraging! I've been spending 2 hours more or less everyday and, by the grace of my generous parents, have a very solid tutor helping me through the quantitative section. My GPA and verbal scores are luckily at the upper end of accepted students (though still in the 50th percentile), but if I can manage to go from a 150 to a 155 on the quantitative section, my scores won't stand out as much. I had several email exchanges with the admissions counselor at CMU Heinz who more or less said that improving my quant score, and thus my overall GRE score, will mean thousands of dollars more in scholarship if admitted. 

Edited by mpamppquestions

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Thanks in advance -- would appreciate an assessment of my profile below:

Undergrad: BA Economics / Political Science from a good non-Ivy US school (Duke/UChicago/Northwestern/etc)

Work-ex: 2 years at one of the elite management consultancies (McKinsey/Bain/BCG) and one year at an IFI (World Bank, IADB, etc)

Nationality: American

GMAT: 760 [will take the GRE as well]

GPA: 3.9

Shooting for:

KSG
WWS
SIPA

Basic "story" is that I'm passionate about bringing private sector efficiency to inefficient public sector institutions. Will likely apply to MBA/MPP and MBA/MPA programs, but only at the top ~3-5 public policy schools. 

Main concerns/questions is that my profile is very private sector-heavy. Any thoughts on how to make sure the commitment to public service comes through? I also have an F on my transcript from when I slept through a class final exam, but I retook it the next year and got an A in the course...it ended up having no impact on my GPA, but I am still nervous that it will affect my chances since it is an F nonetheless.

Appreciate your help!

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21 minutes ago, Sam992 said:

Thanks in advance -- would appreciate an assessment of my profile below:

Undergrad: BA Economics / Political Science from a good non-Ivy US school (Duke/UChicago/Northwestern/etc)

Work-ex: 2 years at one of the elite management consultancies (McKinsey/Bain/BCG) and one year at an IFI (World Bank, IADB, etc)

Nationality: American

GMAT: 760 [will take the GRE as well]

GPA: 3.9

Shooting for:

KSG
WWS
SIPA

Basic "story" is that I'm passionate about bringing private sector efficiency to inefficient public sector institutions. Will likely apply to MBA/MPP and MBA/MPA programs, but only at the top ~3-5 public policy schools. 

Main concerns/questions is that my profile is very private sector-heavy. Any thoughts on how to make sure the commitment to public service comes through? I also have an F on my transcript from when I slept through a class final exam, but I retook it the next year and got an A in the course...it ended up having no impact on my GPA, but I am still nervous that it will affect my chances since it is an F nonetheless.

Appreciate your help!

You'll be fine and with good execution should have a shot at a healthy scholarship at SIPA and should be very competitive at Wilson. I'm not sure how much money Kennedy gives, even to the strongest applicants; I would suggest you apply at SAIS and Fletcher as well. 

Your main area of concern is not coming off as an incredibly arrogant know-it-all type, so stay humble, carefully watch your tone (ie saying you want to bring private sector efficiency to all those 'inefficient' public sector institutions likely won't go over well what makes you think the private sector is more efficient than public? seen any news stories on wells fargo lately?), and craft a clear, simple compelling rationale for how grad school will enable you to keep moving forward at World Bank types of places and a specific idea or two on how it will help you achieve greater impact for the organization and those it serves.

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On 9/18/2016 at 6:47 PM, makingtheleap.back said:

First, I owe a big thank you to the entire gradcafe community. As a lurker, I learned quite a bit about everything from GRE prep to which programs are more academic vs. more professionally oriented. I'm returning to school after a few years working, so it's been really nice to have a support system (even if none of you know me). 

Current List: UC Berkeley (Goldman), Georgetown (McCourt), Chicago (Harris), UVA (Batten), Michigan (Ford), Washington (Evans) -- also, I'm interested in MIT's MSci program, but that might be OT. 

GPA: 3.65, 3.9 Major GPA (International Studies, Focus on US Foreign Policy, Top 10 program for field, but definitely not Ivy). 

GRE: 169V, 161Q, Writing unknown (took it yesterday). 

Work Experience: 2 political campaign cycles in leadership positions (plus an internship in '08), 2 years in small business leadership (non-founder but with some policy overlap), 1 year as an academic coach at a community college (with experience setting/implementing new training/assessment policies). 

Quant Background: Calc I, II, Stats, Econometrics, Applications of Econometrics in a Professional Capacity

Languages: Intermediate in two beyond English (but they are very common, nothing crazy). 

SOP: I do and will have very clear, well articulated reasons for being interested in policy, but don't want to share too much on the interwebs. 

LOR: Reaching out to a couple undergrad professors who knew me very well at the time; hopefully that goes well (if anyone has experience doing this and has suggestions, that would be wonderful). Will have at least one very good professional rec. 

Do you think the schools I'm looking at are reasonable? I'm also very interested in the possibility of a PhD in Poli Sci after a MPP/MPA program (I have a deep and unfortunate love of teaching, but have zero peer-reviewed, published research experience). Are there certain programs I should look at/stay away from? 

Wanted to add Duke (Sanford) to the list, add that I got a 5 on AWA, and ask beyond the typical am I competitive question (which would be great) if anyone has suggestions on framing my work experience (it's all decent in terms of leadership, but none directly policy related, and there's no specialization on a single sector). 

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OK, I've been reading about all these impressive people seeking opinions on their competitiveness. My stats are nowhere near most, but here are my stats. Grateful for any insights on what MPA/MPP programsI could possibly hope to apply to.

 

GPA:

My GPA is 3.23, mainly because I (stupidly) decided to challenge myself in undergrad and took a bunch of math classes that I shouldn't have probably

 

GRE score:

V163, Q149, writing still to come (I'm expecting a 5 or above, but you never know). I'm retaking the GRE in two months to improve my quant to close to 160, and hopefully also to push up my verbal by a couple of points.

Work experience:

Six years. I've worked in a leadership role in a nonprofit in DC, a researcher for a major INGO and ran my own business for three years

Have been published a few times.

 

Language skills:

Speak English with full professional proficiency; speak three other languages.

Undergrad academics

Went to a four-year institution in the South. Not an Ivy, but respected in its own right.

 

Overseas experience (work, study and teaching):

Lived and worked in two different countries for many years, as a conflict-related refugee in one. Currently living in a developing country. Taught ESL for four years during middle and high school. (I don't count these years in my "professional" work experience)

 

Recommendations:

I have two very strong recommendations, one from a professor, the other from an employer. The third one is from a professor who wrote nice things but lacks specifics.

 

 

Edited by DogsArePeopleToo

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Just an FYI tyladm, this is a Gov't Affairs thread and thus I'm not sure how helpful we'll be at evaluating experimental/social psych programs. 

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7 hours ago, tyladm said:

Looking at going into experimental social psychology.

Current List: UC Santa Barbara, NDSU, UNL, U of MN (Twin Cities), University of Denver

GPA: 3.75 overall, 4.0 major

GRE: 2nd test- 162 V, 155 Q, 5.5W; 1st test- 157 V, 158 Q, 4.5W (sending all and praying schools will be gracious and superscore)

Work Experience: nothing very related; Worked at career services center for 2 semesters, working with students on their resumes. other than that, all random jobs to get money to pay for school, but have been at every job for 2+ years

SOP: I'm working on it, but still not feeling very confident. 

LOR: I have one strong recommendation from a professor I have done research with. Another that likes me a lot that will most likely be strong. And a couple other options. (I transferred a number of times and didn't decide on grad school until late in the game, so I didn't get a chance to really make a strong impression). 

Any advice about SOPs, getting recommendations, pretty much anything. I'm a newbie (will graduate with BA in Psych in the Spring) and I'm very nervous about the whole process. I keep second guessing myself and freaking out that I can't go to grad school. Thank you!

@tyladm, you may be looking for the Psychology forums: http://forum.thegradcafe.com/forum/8-psychology/ This is mostly public policy/ public affairs/ int'l affairs. 

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Program: International Relations

Interests: Political Risk, Security

Schools Applying To:  SAIS - Global Risk (Bologna), St. Gallen MIA, Science Po

Undergrad Institution: Large Public School - Relatively well-respected but not a public Ivy.

Undergraduate GPA: 3.1, political science GPA is 3.4

Undergraduate Major: BS in Political Science

Law School: Mid-tier (top 20% of class)

GRE: 164V, 158Q, and 5.0W

Years of Work Experience: Fourteen years.

Languages: English, some French and Russian.

Work Experience:  Fourteen years in every type of legal setting imaginable: large firm, mid-sized firm, solo, and now running a company's legal department.

LORs: One strong one from the CEO of my current company.  A relatively strong one from a former colleague who later became a supervisor.  All programs told me professional letters were fine considering my time out of school.

Other Things: I am currently working on a certificate in International Security from an Ivy, and will likely complete that with a 4.0.

I am especially interested in hearing from people with knowledge of the SAIS Global Risk degree program.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts anyone wishes to share.

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Program: International Affairs, focus on Conflict or US Foreign Policy

Interests: international security & conflict

Schools Applying To:  Georgetown SFS (I had a friend that got into Harvard for undergrad with the same stats as me and I use that as motivation to apply for things even if I know I won't get in...); American SIS; Tufts Fletcher; King's College London Dept. of War Studies; LSE; St. Andrew's 

Undergrad Institution: NYU

Undergraduate GPA: 3.57, I think a tiny bit higher in the major

Undergraduate Major: Political science

GRE: 166V, 162Q, and 5.0W

Work Experience: basically none, straight from UG. definitely the weakest part of my app/why I'm afraid I'm not getting in anywhere. I had an unrelated internship (events) in a different major freshman year, I've been a Resident Assistant for 2 years, and I'm interning this October - December at an NGO that works with the UN

Languages: intermediate italian

LORs: One of my academic references is pretty good, small class, good term research paper, pretty well known professor. Other academic reference isn't great- the professor liked me but it was a big class based entirely on in-class exams- I asked him to write because it was the class that helped me decide to go into FP. Professional references (for schools that require them) are either my supervisor in my RA position or for my internship. 

Other Things: I'm a military brat, so lots of international experience + semester abroad in London. Hoping my SOP/LOR/GRE scores help make up for no work experience, if anyone has recommendations...

Any thoughts to share are welcome!

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On 9/27/2016 at 5:18 AM, DogsArePeopleToo said:

OK, I've been reading about all these impressive people seeking opinions on their competitiveness. My stats are nowhere near most, but here are my stats. Grateful for any insights on what MPA/MPP programsI could possibly hope to apply to.

 

GPA:

My GPA is 3.23, mainly because I (stupidly) decided to challenge myself in undergrad and took a bunch of math classes that I shouldn't have probably

 

GRE score:

V163, Q149, writing still to come (I'm expecting a 5 or above, but you never know). I'm retaking the GRE in two months to improve my quant to close to 160, and hopefully also to push up my verbal by a couple of points.

Work experience:

Six years. I've worked in a leadership role in a nonprofit in DC, a researcher for a major INGO and ran my own business for three years

Have been published a few times.

 

Language skills:

Speak English with full professional proficiency; speak three other languages.

Undergrad academics

Went to a four-year institution in the South. Not an Ivy, but respected in its own right.

 

Overseas experience (work, study and teaching):

Lived and worked in two different countries for many years, as a conflict-related refugee in one. Currently living in a developing country. Taught ESL for four years during middle and high school. (I don't count these years in my "professional" work experience)

 

Recommendations:

I have two very strong recommendations, one from a professor, the other from an employer. The third one is from a professor who wrote nice things but lacks specifics.

 

 

You haven't mentioned anything about the programs you're going for. Assuming that you're going for some sort of int'l affairs degree given your INGO work background.

Six years out of undergrad, people will pay relatively little attention to your GPA (3.23 is not low enough to worry). In general, it matters less the further you move away from undergrad. Your GRE becomes much more important, so make sure to study hard for the quant score, and get it up. If you can't manage more than 155, I would bolster your quant credentials by taking a class on microeconomics at a community college or online course and getting an A on it. Doing that anyway reassures schools that you can still cut it in the classroom. Otherwise, your work experience puts you at a relative advantage. Just make sure you come up with some good numbers GRE-wise, and you'll be a very competitive applicant with funding prospects at most schools if not the top ones.

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17 minutes ago, chocolatecheesecake said:

You haven't mentioned anything about the programs you're going for. Assuming that you're going for some sort of int'l affairs degree given your INGO work background.

Six years out of undergrad, people will pay relatively little attention to your GPA (3.23 is not low enough to worry). In general, it matters less the further you move away from undergrad. Your GRE becomes much more important, so make sure to study hard for the quant score, and get it up. If you can't manage more than 155, I would bolster your quant credentials by taking a class on microeconomics at a community college or online course and getting an A on it. Doing that anyway reassures schools that you can still cut it in the classroom. Otherwise, your work experience puts you at a relative advantage. Just make sure you come up with some good numbers GRE-wise, and you'll be a very competitive applicant with funding prospects at most schools if not the top ones.

Thank you very much for responding!

Let me answer some of your questions:

I am planning to study public policy. I was thinking to test my luck by applying to a mix of schools like HKS, Wilson, SIPA, Sanford, Indiana, Maxwell, Wagner, Bush, Martin (UK). That list tends towards the ambitious, but it's based on the hope for an improve quant score. Might drop some of the schools, depending on how my GRE retake turns out. But I'd still appreciate any thoughts on what schools I might realistically add or remove from this list.

From undergrad, I already have two introductory and two intermediate economics courses, plus an intermediate statistics course and an introductory accounting course. I have B level grades in all of them.

My TOEFL score, to the extent that it matters, is 116 out of 120.

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30 minutes ago, DogsArePeopleToo said:

Thank you very much for responding!

Let me answer some of your questions:

I am planning to study public policy. I was thinking to test my luck by applying to a mix of schools like HKS, Wilson, SIPA, Sanford, Indiana, Maxwell, Wagner, Bush, Martin (UK). That list tends towards the ambitious, but it's based on the hope for an improve quant score. Might drop some of the schools, depending on how my GRE retake turns out. But I'd still appreciate any thoughts on what schools I might realistically add or remove from this list.

From undergrad, I already have two introductory and two intermediate economics courses, plus an intermediate statistics course and an introductory accounting course. I have B level grades in all of them.

My TOEFL score, to the extent that it matters, is 116 out of 120.

A few thoughts. Highly suggest that you figure out what you want out of a program and apply to only a handful at the most. They can vary in prestigiousness/name/difficulty to get into, and you can remain ambitious, but make sure you know what you want. HKS is quite different from Sanford which is quite different from Maxwell. 

If you got Bs in undergrad quant courses, it makes it even more important to get a good GRE quant score and re-take some of those classes. You want to show them you can really handle those now, and do well. 

Finally, being a foreign student will definitely change the calculations a little bit. Make sure to tell your SOP especially well, and relate how this school in particular will help you on your way. The private schools will be more likely to give you money, so maybe not as much from Indiana and Bush. 

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54 minutes ago, chocolatecheesecake said:

A few thoughts. Highly suggest that you figure out what you want out of a program and apply to only a handful at the most. They can vary in prestigiousness/name/difficulty to get into, and you can remain ambitious, but make sure you know what you want. HKS is quite different from Sanford which is quite different from Maxwell.

That's very helpful feedback. I am applying through an international exchange program run by the US government. They only require a "personal statement" and a "statement of study objectives," so it's hard to tailor it to any particular program. We get to express preferences for universities through the program, and they do the rest - and could disregard our preferences if they judge us more suitable for a different school.

We're not allowed to apply to universities directly, but it is possible - though difficult - to obtain a waiver.

Ah, the complicated world we live in...

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I would love some feedback on if the options I am pursuing seem feasible and how to improve my odds. I am still a ways out from applications, as I am hoping to apply for Masters in Public Policy Programs for Fall 2018, but I am worried that I may be aiming too high.

GPA: My cumulative GPA is 3.245, with a 3.6 in my major (Health Science). I have stellar grades in all of my policy related classes as well as A's in all of my related quant. classes like microeconomics, health economics, and statistics. My GPA is pulled down primarily by science classes from my first major including anatomy and physiology. 

GRE score: I'm not officially taking the test until December, but my average practice test scores are V: 162 Q: 159

Work experience: I have 2 years of work experience at a statewide health related non-profit. 

Undergrad academics: I got my degree from a 4 year public university, it is highly ranked in our region but is by no means a prestigious university. One of my concerns is that I actually attended 4 different schools on my path to get a degree (2 community colleges, a more prestigious but still public university, and then school I graduated from) but there is nothing I can do to change that now. 

Recommendations: I will have 3 recommendations. 2 are academic, from professors in my undergraduate program and the other is from the CEO of my current organization. 

Potential Programs: UC Berkeley (Goldman), Harvard (Kennedy), USC (Price), University of Washington (Evans), Georgetown (McCort), UCLA (Luskin), University of the Pacific (McGeorge School of Law), & California State University, Sacramento (my backup school). 

I do plan on using the optional essay to give more personal background and hopefully make up for my subpar grades and no-name university.

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