You're right. Thanks for this comment. Gradcafe has been there for me throughout the years. It's helped me receive the Fulbright and get into my dream school on a full ride. I'll add to the thread now.
Program Applied To: (MPA, MPP, IR, etc.) MPP Schools Applied To: Harvard Kennedy School Schools Admitted To: Harvard Kennedy School Undergraduate Institution: State School in the South Undergraduate GPA: 3.78 Last 60 hours of Undergraduate GPA (if applicable): 3.9 Undergraduate Major: International Studies GRE Quantitative Score: 144 (more on this in other) GRE Verbal Score: 158 GRE AW Score: 4.0
Years Out of Undergrad (if applicable): 7 Years of Work Experience: I graduated in 2011, but I've often held down multiple roles at one time. From running political campaigns while doing private sector work to working on a ballot initiative while serving as a policy analyst...I've often leveraged positions I'm in to get additional experiences outside of work. Sometimes it's of the paid variety, but often I did the work for free. Ultimately, it's all invaluable on your resume. So if you count those experiences separately, about 10 years. I did count them separately with my HKS application and obviously they seemed to have sided with me lol. It's not frou frou stuff neither. You have to demonstrate that you're doing more than just showing up or it's pointless to list the experiences imho. Describe Relevant Work Experience: I've done some stuff...within the U.S., I was a policy analyst, ran multiple campaigns, and had some private sector experience. Internationally, I've been a Fulbright, German Chancellor Fellow, and worked for the State Department. I was on track to become a diplomat, but during my Fulbright year I noticed some troubling things. So I had an about face and came back to my home state to do some work. Through luck and a strong network, I was able to get involved in public policy. I pushed and passed legislation, but wasn't moving the needle fast enough...so I ventured back abroad as a GCF. Now I'm back implementing my research within my home state at a pretty high level. Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): I'm going to be pretty descriptive here so that I hopefully convey the elements that went into what I think was the main reason I got into HKS. I also realize that a lot of this profile could easily give me away haha. Oh well, I want ya'll to get in, so I'm going to just be real. In looking back on everything now, I've lived a crazy life. I talked about it a little, but immediately contextualized it around what I care about and how the recalibration of my career focus has allowed that former pathway to enhance my work. I specifically focused the essay around a lady I once worked with and her plight. How I saw first hand that the system can gobble you up and spit you back out with nothing to show for it. I didn't hold back at all. I then talked about what I need from HKS to prevent that situation from ever happening again. The other essay I talked about a person who was able to benefit from some legislation I helped pass. I talked about the process of getting it done. The data analysis. The lobbying. Winning and what it meant for thousands of kids in my state. Big stuff! Then I talked about the unexpected consequences that followed as a result. How I could never have envisioned them occurring back then, but that now I could see why I needed more training to mitigate this moving forward. With the diversity essay, I talked about the decision to work in my home state instead of becoming a diplomat. I framed it around coming back to my community and the reaction that caused. I finished with the perspective I would bring to the school as a result. Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): I had 3 Professional LORs. I'd simply been out of school too long to even think about getting an academic one. However, I took part in the Maryland Leadership Institute (I think it's now defunct, but HKS recruited from there) which is a high-level Summer quant/leadership program that a bunch of fellowship programs used to send their participants. You're required to upload that transcript and, thankfully, I did really well and the organizers wrote a very positive letter...so even though it's from years ago, I'd say it was a proxy academic LOR. One of my LORs wrote a really powerful letter for me. He also mentioned how he'd supervised someone who had just graduated from HKS and that he could attest to my quantitative abilities because we essentially had the same job. I'm sure that was clutch as well. The other two I didn't read. Other: So those scores! I remember folks saying "Oh, if you don't score X and Y they won't even review your application. BULLSHIT. I hope folks who read this moving forward can see that while those scores are important...they definitely aren't decisive. Now, I did have all of the quant coursework (micro, macro, stats, calculus, quantitative seminar, thesis) in college and completed them with honors credit. My quantitative resume was like 4 pages long if I remember correctly. Further, I work with data often at work and in multi-faceted ways too. I've done that both within the U.S. and as a Research Fellow internationally. I can do the stuff, but I am not a good test taker at all. Couple all of that with the fact I'd been out of school for awhile, and there's probably no chance in Hell I'd have a shot at doing well with that test unless I could study for it full-time which, as I've indicated, is damn near impossible given everything else I do. I think the AdCom saw that as well. I obviously DON'T recommend you take the path I did lol. Please score as high as you can! I just want to be forthright in all of this to show that HKS really does look at your entire application. They won't trash you because of a damn random score on a high-stakes test. Hell, I was abroad for my test and was sick. I noted all of this in my additional info section and let it go. I also received a full ride, so they obviously value everything in spite of! I'm passionate about this particular part because I'm convinced many high quality candidates won't apply because they'll believe this idea that you have to score at a certain level. Matt says they'd like to see you score within a certain range, true, but he also says they'll look throughout your application for evidence you can handle the quant in spite of your score. Believe that and make your case.
A piece of advice. I think I stood out because I was vulnerable and made my essays personal. Don't make your narrative mechanistic. Don't just check boxes. Let your story shine through. I'm saying this because I highly doubt you could read my essays and know exactly what I want to do. That said, you will know WHY I do what I do WHO the people are I work to uplift and HOW I could do many things if I had the tools needed to do my work at a higher level. You will know from my words that I'm committed to what I do every single fiber of my being. Just saying "I want to be X in Y years" would never encapsulate what I'm trying to accomplish. No random title job at fancy institute would be indicative of this journey I'm on, ya know? I think my profile shows a life time of service on paper, but I think my essays also show what motivates me and drives me to do the work that I do. No single element of my resume has a frivolous aspect to it. I've been lucky to do some really cool stuff, yet everything I've done has been strategically aligned with my heart.
Let your friends and family help craft your narrative too. Let them look over crappy drafts and give advice. Let them learn things they may not have known about you, which could make you uncomfortable. Use every resource possible. Let the process consume you. Don't take every piece of advice, however. Your message won't resonate with everyone. That's okay! Ignore that part of their criticism and instead make sure your subject-verb agreement is on point.
Do a much better job of managing the process than I did though. I've always wanted to go to HKS, but you wouldn't know that by how close I was to the dang deadline. Frantically typing with a minute to go close. Start early! The only school I applied to in the end was Harvard because I just didn't have time with everything else I had going on, but all of this was because I didn't start the process early enough. I didn't think I'd ultimately get in at all, so this was going to be a trial run. I was already planning how to rewrite my essays even! Lo and behold...I'm going to my dream school next year on a full-ride Presidential Scholarship!