Programs Applied To: IR masters programs, specifically MPP, MIA, MSFS, MA
Schools Admitted To: Yale Jackson ($$$$), Korbel ($$$$), Georgetown MSFS ($$), SAIS Bologna ($$), Fletcher MALD ($$), Elliott ($$), SIPA (X)
Schools Rejected From: Harvard HKS MPP (booo)
Undergraduate School: University of Virginia
GPA: 3.77 GPA, Phi Beta Kappa, Dean's List every semester, graduated with high distinction
Undergraduate Major: Double majored in Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies
GRE 1: 170 (99%) Verbal, 156 (63%) Quant, 5.5 (97%) AWA
GRE 2: 167 (97%), Verbal 158 (70%) Quant, 4.5 (82%) AWA
Years Out of Undergrad: 4 years
Work Experience: 3 years at highly regarded international relations magazine/think tank as a research assistant/admin person, 1-year internship in Cairo, ~3 years as an intern at the FBI (over the summer, during semesters, not consecutive) doing random admin work.
International Experience: 1 year living in Cairo, Egypt after graduation and one semester of study abroad in Scotland (I was evacuated from Cairo due to the Arab Spring and had to go from Cairo to a tiny, cute Scottish town)
Languages: 3 years of Arabic at the college level, one year living in Cairo, 3 years of studying under private tutors ~ High Intermediate. Some German from high school and a couple of college courses.
Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): My Harvard SOP was pretty bad (<= understatement) since that app was due a full month before any of the others, but I worked off of that and ended up with something pretty darn solid (read: awesome ?). A friend of mine kept saying “Make it more personal! Make it more colorful!” and that really helped my essay, which had started off quite dry. I tried to craft my essay as a story—for example, describing the sights and smells with more evocative language, showing rather than telling, and basically using the same rules a creative essay requires. I personalized my SOP to each school, so that half or more of my personal statement changed with each application. For each iteration, I had four or so friends and family members look it over, including a professional copy editor friend.
I wrote the analytical essay for SIPA the night it was due and it was not great, but it also wasn’t horrible. I didn’t have anyone look it over. Oopsie. I wrote the second essay for Fletcher over two days and went through six drafts before I was happy. Several people read it before I sent it off. I think that one turned out pretty well, though I wish I had spent more time on it.
Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): All of my recommendations were solid. I had two professors from undergrad write as well as my boss of three years.
Both of my undergraduate professors had written me a letter of recommendation for my post-college internship. I’m sure this made their recommendations sound fresher because they had written the majority of the letter years ago when we were in more constant contact, rather than four years after the last time they saw me on a regular basis. In my emails to them, I slipped in a reminder that they had written for me before to ensure they hadn’t forgotten about their old letters. I also I sent them a bunch of information on my current interests and activities and ended up meeting one of them for coffee so that they could update their old letters with current info. One of the professors was my major advisor, the other was my undergraduate thesis advisor for a while (my topic changed and, alas, so did my advisor). Also they’re awesome people, so I’m sure they wrote something nice.
Boss-Man is a big name at a fancy think tank who has a book under his belt, regularly writes for newspapers and magazines, and often appears on TV and radio. I’ve done a lot of work for him over the years and we know each other very well. He’s also an excellent writer so I’m sure his letter was great. I had been hinting for a long time that I was planning to apply to grad school so he wasn’t surprised to be asked. I was going to ask him in person, but he was traveling a lot when I needed to ask so I awkwardly ended up asking via email even though his office is right next to mine. Boss-Man is also a cool and awesome dude so I’m sure his letter was a good one.