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Connie @ TheArtofApplying

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About Connie @ TheArtofApplying

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  • Location
    Taipei, Taiwan
  • Application Season
    Not Applicable
  • Program
    Duke Sanford MPP Graduate

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  1. Hi @sturdyelm! I am happy to share some experiences about Duke Sanford. I graduated in May, and it was an incredible two years there. I did have a classmate who took undergraduate Arabic classes at Duke. While it's possible (you have 4 core courses each semester first year, but can take up to 5 full classes per semester), it's important to know it doesn't count toward your degree. To satisfy graduation requirements, you will have to take 5 public policy classes for at least one semester during your two years. You can definitely work part-time and volunteer. I graduated Duke with a 3.75 GPA, and I worked part-time for three semesters. My first year, it was an internship with a think tank in Raleigh, and I also did two teaching assistantships (almost everyone gets those). Friends also worked on campus or as research assistants. Volunteer opportunities abound, especially through student orgs. I ran two student orgs (Sanford Women in Policy, Bridging Communities) my second year (which was a bit busy). An excellent student org/ volunteer opportunity is the Sanford Board Leadership Initiative, which places you on a nonprofit board for a year. While it was never easy, I really thrived on being able to work, study, and volunteer at the same time throughout my time at Duke. Family/work/life balance is always a tricky thing. What you should know about Duke: the MPP cohort is younger, but quite a few people were married, and a few do have kids. It's convenient to bike to school or take a bus, so the commute isn't long. It takes 15 minutes to drive anywhere in the city. =) It's a tight-knit program, and I was constantly visiting friends for parties, pet-sitting, clothing swaps, or game nights. You can be as integrated into the community as you want, and your spouse will be welcome. In general, Durham is a very affordable and nice to live in (nearby state parks, walkable downtown, craft breweries, brunch places). A bunch of my friends and Sanford alums are still around, in fact, after graduation, a fact which speaks louder than any testimonial. =) I really encourage you to visit, and to reach out to the Admissions office to see if you can connect with some current students. Good luck with your decision-making!
  2. @hesitant_grad: It’s always a tough decision in terms of taking on debt. I didn’t attend Fletcher, but if you're still on the fence, I have some general thoughts about this. First, have you been able to negotiate the offer? You can always ask for more money by writing a financial aid appeal letter, and attaching a more generous package from another school can help as leverage. If there’s an additional amount of grant aid that would make you comfortable with taking on the debt, then you should ask for it. Secondly, the rule of thumb is to not take on more student loan debt than your expected first year of salary; $50-$80K is definitely the high end of that range, but I think you can manage that in the private IR sector. It’s definitely a lot of money, but I think a Fletcher degree will help you pay for that in a reasonable amount of time (no longer than 10 years after graduation). @eltothemo has provided some good estimates for federal government job salaries in DC if you'd rather do public sector. Thirdly, I also suggest you reach out to Fletcher alums on LinkedIn for a more unbiased perspective. Find someone who works in the career or organization you want, and cold-email them. Here are some questions that have helped me gain candid insights: What was the best part of your experience and the worst? What surprised you? What were some common complaints about the program/department among your peers? Did the program help you end up in your current position? Fourth, I think the question you’re asking here is “Is Fletcher worth the investment?”, and not “Is Fletcher more worth it than another school?” The second question is very different and much harder to answer without other offers in hand or knowing how comfortable you are with waiting a cycle to apply again. Ultimately, we’re all interested in graduate school for different reasons. Your definition of “worth it” won’t be someone else’s, and we all take on some risk. All you can do is make sure you’re clear on what you want to do with the degree, and be reasonably sure this program will help you get there. Good luck with the decision!
  3. @yoh_rrg: Great idea to take these micro and stats courses! Community college courses will do fine, as long as it’s an accredited community college, and these are course-bearing courses for which you can receive a transcript. This is a better course of action than edX or Coursera, as admissions offices have not yet provided a consistent statement on how they view these courses in admissions. As long as you earn a B+ or better in these courses, having taken them will enhance your candidacy. When it comes to course rigor, definitely don’t count out less prestigious-sounding schools or community colleges. The course content is usually the same, especially since they are such basic, intro-level courses. In fact, many professors (adjunct or otherwise) from four-year universities work at community colleges for extra money! What varies is how much the class or professor might demand from you. No matter what’s asked of you, put serious effort into understanding and retaining the material, and not only will you get a good grade, but you will build a real foundation for tackling more complicated material when you actually get to grad school. If you want to learn about other extension programs, one good way is to reach out to a few top schools on your list, and ask them what institutions they tend to accept for distance-learning or online-learning pre-requisite classes. Many schools tend to keep their own lists of approved schools.
  4. @gradblues: You have a very interesting profile! I want to especially address your concerns and help you see another side of your candidacy. It’s easy to get caught up in all the different profiles that are floating around on Gradcafe or other places, but those are distractions from the real story: yours. You have a compelling story to tell, the story of how you came to be interested in international development and policy analysis, and your job is to share that story with schools through your SOP. In your SOP, admissions committees are always looking for three things, no matter what essay prompt they put forward. They want to know that: 1) because of your past experiences, you know that 2) you want to do something in the future, and 3) that you know how their program/school is going to help you get there. You can have sparkling statistics and work experience at brand name companies or organizations, but if you fail to articulate this, it weakens your entire candidacy. Based on your undergrad major, it sounds like you started down a path in community college and university that has led you to your job experiences (which have been broad if not deep) and your current interest in graduate school. If that’s the case, focus on telling that story through the SOP. Your story about community college is very much an asset. By showing that you transferred as a community college student to a four-year institution, you’ve already demonstrated that you put in hard work and had initiative, so that part will likely add to your candidacy, not detract from it. Since you can’t retake and get a better verbal GRE score, I’d say focus on emphasizing your writing experience in the SOP too. It sounds like you have collaborated with others in writing and have some publications to your name. In short, you have much more to offer than you think you do. Be confident in your applications!
  5. @tharr011: your profile seems relatively strong. Your work experience seems to me your strongest point. Make sure you tell a compelling story about how that work experience has informed your interests in security and East Asia policy. Your GPA shouldn’t be a huge issue. Your transcript will show that you did well in your major courses, which are somewhat related to public policy. If the classes you did not do as well in are in quantitative fields, you do need to be concerned. That lack of quant background and a middle-of-the-road GRE score means you should probably try to take an online or community college course in microeconomics or statistics. Even if you don’t have a completed grade to show, being able to report in your optional essay that you’re taking that course shows the admissions committee you know where your weaknesses are. You’re applying to some very selective IR schools, and while your profile may well be strong enough to get in, you may not receive a lot of funding. If getting a full ride or most of your tuition covered is a must for you, consider reapplying next year after significantly boosting your quant scores and taking introductory microeconomics and statistics.
  6. @akdoehler: You have a lot of honors and accomplishments coming out of undergraduate, which will definitely make you stand out. It’s also good that you have a strong focus on what you want to study, like the concentration on identity, ideology, and nationalism. What the admissions committees will want to know is what you want to do with this degree. What kind of organization do you want to work afterwards? In what kind of role? What skills/ experiences are you hoping to gain from school that will make you successful in those positions? Make sure you address these questions thoroughly in the SOP. This is where undergrad applicants are typically weak on, and what adcoms will want to explicitly hear from you. Years of work experience tend give applicants a better idea of where they want to be afterwards, and how the program can help them get there. I certainly did a 180 on what kind of degree I wanted to get between graduating college and actually applying to policy school. I would say close to 20% of my policy cohort came straight out of undergrad; it’s much more common to see people with two or more years of work experience. Good luck with those apps!
  7. @YunaCamel, I think you underrate yourself! You have a really outstanding profile. If you’re this good at representing yourself on a forum, you’re probably not going to have any problems impressing an admissions committee. It sounds like you have the right job experience to pave the road for an IR degree, and certainly more than the necessary language skills. You seem to have worked hard on showing a specialization and depth in one particular subject, which will be very compelling. As you said, just make sure you write a brilliant SOP that conveys your story clearly. To address your main worry, I believe your quant GRE score is strong enough to overcome a C+ in an intro class. It might detract from your ability to get funding, but that’s a different concern. If you got mostly As and Bs in your other econ/stats classes, that C+ will definitely fade in importance. The intro classes don’t count as much; after all, Admissions want to know that you improve over time and finish strong, because we are often very different from the people we were at age 18 or 19. You’re in a good position overall!
  8. @oshea_eastbay: you’re raising a lot of questions that we’ve all struggled with before. They’re quite common! First, regarding not having a GPA, I don’t think you should be worried. As long as your school is an accredited institution, the fact that they don’t evaluate you using numbers shouldn’t be a stumbling block for your candidacy. If you have a strong quant background with some high-level stats courses, all the better. Leave it to the admissions committee to dissect your transcript. I personally think they’ll like the fact that you had an unconventional undergrad education, because adcoms are always looking for ways to create a diverse cohort. Secondly, very few of us have deep policy experience by the time we get to policy school. If we had it, we wouldn’t need to actually go to policy school. It’s a common misconception that lack of specific policy experience will disqualify us for school. Your experience with direct service should do very well, as long as you can tell a compelling story about it in your SOP. You would be a great candidate for MPP/MPA programs, but I suggest you give it at least two more years, instead of applying next fall. You’ve just graduated, and it’s a positive sign that you already are interested in policy, but there’s a lot more you can learn from direct service or other such jobs. You’re also interested in MSW, which is great. While some do the dual degree path, they typically prepare you for very different roles and responsibilities. More work experience and a closer acquaintance with career trajectories from those two degrees will help you make a sound decision. Good luck!
  9. @LC0496, it makes sense that you are a worried about your quant GRE score. Since you’re so close to your school deadline, you probably don’t have plans of re-taking the GRE. In that case, I would urge you to focus on your other quant credentials. Since you’re only three years out of school, your academic coursework will count for more. If you got anything less than a B+ in your econ classes, I suggest enrolling in a microeconomics and/or statistics supplementary course right now to refresh yourself, and make sure you get an A in the course. Admissions committees will appreciate you taking those courses as a sign that you’re aware of your application’s shortcomings, even if your grade doesn’t come in before they make a decision. You can also directly address your quantitative experience in your SOP, and confidently state that you can handle the quantitative rigors of graduate school. Other thoughts on how to handle your recommenders: I had immense trouble with one of mine, and ended up having to go with a back-up recommender. If you are severely troubled by their inability to respond to you, create a Plan B. However, if you think this person’s just having trouble finding the time to write about you, make it easier for them by creating and giving the recommender a recommender packet. The recommender packet should contain: a one-sheeter that outlines exactly what you are asking them to do (i.e. names of schools, deadlines for submission of letters, etc.) your resume your personal statement (you don’t have to include all essays for all schools) a list of achievements, experiences, or personal qualities they could highlight about you optional: a half-sheet summarizing how each school talks about itself—giving the writer an idea of the "personality" of the school A recommender packet can be useful if you want them to emphasize something particular you did in undergrad, and act as a subtle reminder that they need to write you a letter soon! Finally, I suggest you look into the Heller School at Brandeis if you haven’t already. It’s a wonderful social policy program, and could be very much up your alley. Good luck!
  10. Any information about GRE medians should be taken with a grain of salt, so here are the closest thing to class profiles (which may or may not contain GRE median info) for the dozen or so schools that people here commonly apply to: Berkeley Goldman: https://gspp.berkeley.edu/programs/masters-of-public-policy-mpp/applying-for-the-mpp/admissions-statistics Chicago Harris: http://harris.uchicago.edu/admissions-and-aid/faq Columbia SIPA: https://sipa.columbia.edu/admissions/preparing-to-apply/miampa-class-profile Duke Sanford: https://sanford.duke.edu/admissions/mpp Georgetown McCourt: https://mccourt.georgetown.edu/degree-programs/incoming-student-profiles Harvard Kennedy: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/degrees/admissions/overview/class-profiles Johns Hopkins SAIS: https://www.sais-jhu.edu/content/admissions#fall-2016-incoming-student-profiles Michigan Ford: http://fordschool.umich.edu/mpp-mpa/admissions/faqs NYU Wagner: http://wagner.nyu.edu/files/admissions/NYU_Wagner_Fast_Facts_2015-2016_.pdf Stanford IPS: https://ips.stanford.edu/admissions/frequently-asked-questions USC Price: http://priceschool.usc.edu/programs/masters/mpp/admission/faq/ University of Texas LBJ: https://gradschool.utexas.edu/admissions/where-to-begin/admissions-and-enrollment-statistics Washington Evans: http://evans.uw.edu/about/mpa-class-profiles Whatever the median scores or ranges are, remember not to obsess over them. It can be satisfying to find out that you’re right around the average or comfortably above it. If you’re significantly below, just know that you need to either study hard and re-take the test or pump up other parts of your experience. Take some quant classes online or at a community college if you need. Address the problem, and move on to the rest of your application. That being said, I think the GRE, like other standardized testing tools, are fading, not growing, in importance in the admissions process. With a field like public policy, what schools tend to value about potential students is our experience and our various talents. That’s why work experience is so strongly correlated with better admissions outcomes and higher funding. Just remember: we are so much more than the sum of our GRE scores. =)
  11. @jdreisba, I agree that you have a great story, and a great combination of work and volunteer experience to back that up. First, definitely retake the GRE if you can and focus on getting that score up. If it’s too late to register before your application deadlines, find an online or community college course on microeconomics and/or statistics, and make sure you ace that. Admissions committees will see it as a good sign that you are aware you don’t have a lot of quant experience. You can let the adcom know you are taking these supplemental courses in your optional essay. In regards to your 1.5 year gap and going home to take care of your family, many of us have odd gaps or timings on our resumes, and universities often provide space in an optional essay or a part of the application for you to discuss this. Since you’ve only been out of school a few years, I think it’s a good idea to put in a brief explanation about this gap. It shouldn’t prove a real barrier to your candidacy. Your schools look like a great match for your interests, but not for your funding situation. Public schools are usually not in as good of a position to offer you substantial money, though they can be better once you establish residency and are eligible for in-state tuition. I definitely suggest adding a few private institutions to your list, like Duke Sanford (pretty great social policy program).
  12. @lr0901: I love long posts and many questions! A rule of thumb in grad school was that if you had a question, chances were that a third of the rest of the class also had that question. =) We’ve all been there, so I’ll try to give you my two cents. 1. Is public policy research better suited to introverts than to extroverts? Do public policy research careers also allow for collaboration and teamwork? Both, and yes. Public policy research can include first-hand fieldwork/primary research as well as secondary research (literature reviews). Both introverts and extroverts will find something to enjoy. Also, public policy careers are all about collaboration and teamwork, and research is just one aspect on which you collaborate. In policy school, I found myself constantly engaged in group research projects, primarily client-facing, and that really is to prepare you for the amount of teamwork that is to come in the future. 2. How much is “advocacy” a part of public policy work? As I mentioned, I really enjoy writing, public speaking, etc., so the concept of advocacy appeals to me. Advocacy is a huge part! Many of my fellow Duke Sanford classmates are now working at state or federal-level advocacy organizations. It’s an incredibly important role in translating the impact of policy to the public, and I personally think you’d enjoy it. Check out some favorite advocacy organizations in your field. Chances are, they have research associate roles that require an MPA/MPP. 3. If I were to continue working while going to school, I’d have to obtain an evening MA or MPP in public policy. Obviously, these programs are not from top-tier schools. Is there still a value to these degrees? I know that “value” is relative, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Does anyone else have a master’s in public policy from a school such as these? 4. If I can get into a top-tier public policy school (TBD), would it be silly for me to go to a much lower-tier program instead? To answer 3 and 4, I think “prestigious” and “top-tier“ are less useful terms than “fit” and “value” in judging programs. We all look to get slightly different things from the grad school experience, after all. What defines a valuable degree to me are the people involved. On one hand, your fellow students can really make or break your experience. My classes, extracurricular activities, and social life were really elevated by an inspiring cohort of people who had come out of the Marines, Peace Corps, even started their own companies, etc. At Duke, I found myself being pushed to work harder than I ever had before. Before I went to grad school, I also took evening classes in an MPA program at the university where I worked, with a very different crowd of working professionals and police officers. Those people pushed me to see things from different perspectives. Both cohort experiences are valuable - it just depends on what you’re looking for. On the other hand, a school’s alumni network is one of the most important assets you gain. Duke has a very strong network of alumni, and I leaned heavily on that network for informational interviews, internships, and the full-time job hunt. Certain state/federal gov offices and NGOs are just full of alumni from places like Princeton, Syracuse, Harvard, Columbia, etc. I was looking specifically for those two things in the cohort experience and the alumni network, so those things made Duke’s degree very valuable to me. Not all schools can attract the students that you want to study with, whoever they are, and especially younger schools or less rigorous schools will not have the same kind of alumni network. Figure out what value means to you, and then find out where it is!
  13. @Obecalp, I can tell you that your quant GRE score is by no means low. In fact, 160 is just above the average score for the Fall 2016 incoming class at Berkeley (https://gspp.berkeley.edu/programs/masters-of-public-policy-mpp/applying-for-the-mpp/admissions-statistics) which is definitely hard to get into. You can check out other schools’ profiles, but I think you’ll see something similar. You’ve picked four prestigious schools to apply to, and your quant score, coupled with your work experience and story, should make you a competitive applicant at all of them. Funding can be another story. High GRE scores often make the difference between a full ride and rather little funding. If your financial situation isn’t great, and you’re open to working for another year, you can take another year to further improve your quant credentials by retaking the GRE and getting closer to 165, and even taking an online or community college class in microecon and/or stats. It could save you a lot of money on the back end, but it all depends on your personal life circumstances. Good luck with your decision!
  14. @cbx2v, providing a paragraph to your boss is a great idea I would encourage adopting for any recommender. It can feel weird talking yourself up a lot, but that’s your recommender’s job. Make it easier for them to do their job by reiterating your accomplishments and mentioning what you would like them to emphasize. Don’t assume they know what your strengths or biggest accomplishments are; spell out exactly what you’ve done and how you have contributed. Admissions committees look to your letters of recommendation to see how you operate in different spheres. While adcoms have multiple sources of information about your academic strengths (your GRE, GPA, academic recommendations), the letter from your boss is one of the few sources of information about your professional experience. A good professional rec letter can speak to how well you work with teammates, your professional skills and strengths, your work ethic, and more. Think about where you shine or have grown in the professional context, especially if it won’t come through in other parts of your application, and ask your boss to speak about them. Some recommenders offload this task to you, the applicant, in fact! Occasionally, you might be asked to draft a letter for them, which they will then edit and send out directly. Schools in general really don't like it when applicants have anything to do with the letter of recommendation drafting process. However, in our experience, many applicants are put in the position of having to help with content for the letter of recommendation, so just know that this is a common (though frowned upon by schools) practice. Best of luck with your letters!
  15. @mpamppquestions, I’ve been exactly where you are, and I’m happy to reassure you that your background is not only very common for policy school applicants but also makes complete sense for the purposes of your SOP. Policy school applicants typically do not have a lot of experience in doing policy analysis already. When you look at the curriculum for a lot of policy schools, you find that you’ll spend those two years getting up to date on microeconomics, statistics, and writing memos. There’s room to specialize by taking subject matter classes, but usually, you go to policy school to acquire the skills you need to be a policy analyst. So don’t be afraid that your lack of analytical experience and skill will disqualify you from this degree. In fact, it is the very reason you’re applying. You’ll find that your path is very common, as I did when I started talking to current students and professors. The challenge with your SOP, then, is to communicate exactly why your background and previous work experience has made you interested in learning how to analyze policy. You should be able to knock that out of the park, with all your experiences around environmental regulations and policy. Talk about what you have become curious about and why, and what you would like to do after you graduate. Best, Connie
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