Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I figured it might be worthwhile to get a reality check from some of my peers on here, as you all would know better than many of the real-world people I know about the MES world and what their admissions processes look like. I could really use some perspective and context about this matter, so some feedback would be greatly appreciated.
I am in an unconventional situation where:
a) I am adamant about transitioning into academia/the humanities to study the Middle East with a focus on the intellectual history of the Levant and Ottoman Empire.
b ) I have a B.Sc. in Business Administration from a top 50 public school in New England, where I double concentrated in Finance and Production Operations Management, and double minored in Statistics and English (GPA 3.20).
c) my work experience in the four years since graduation has been at a tech start-up that has no relation to my academic interests.
d) I do not have a thesis or any worthy research papers to provide as writing samples, (although I do have some critical analyses from somewhat pertinent (i.e. post-colonial studies) classes that I could tidy up and submit instead).
On the other hand, these are the merits and motivations that compel me to pursue education in MES:
1) I quit my job a few months ago to focus on making this transition and explore my academic interests. That has involved me traveling throughout Turkey and the Arab world, as well as studying a lot of pertinent academic and literary texts on my own (Said, Massad, Ahmed, Soueif, Saleh, Hafiz, Darwish, etc).
2) I speak (and write/read, to a lesser extent) Arabic fluently, having lived in Jordan during my high school years (although US born, I am of Palestinian origin). I am currently in Palestine volunteering on a construction project, but my intention in the next few months is to relocate to Turkey (after finishing up with grad school apps) to learn and experience the Turkish language/society.
3) The more I study, the more interested I become in understanding the world through the intellectual lens of the Arab world, as reflected and informed by its cultural artifacts, society, and intellectual history.
4) I have long been interested in (and intermittently engaged) in the politics and affairs of the Arab world (ex: I founded and led a Students for Justice in Palestine coalition on my campus, attended the international Arabic debate tournament in Qatar on behalf of my university.)
5) I am privileged in the exposure and access I have been afforded in the Middle East over my lifetime: I have spent extended periods of time getting to know many villages/communities throughout Palestine, I know Amman and its society extremely well, and I have lived in two different emirates in the UAE. I have read literature from all over the Middle East.
6) I am in a fortunate situation where I do not need to go into debt to pay off a terminal MA
7) I have somewhat compensatory LORs in that they come from my more academic literature/humanities professors, and not from my quantitative/Business professors
So, considering all of the above, what I need help figuring out is:
1. Considering my irrelevant academic and professional background, not to mention relatively low GPA, do I even stand a chance at getting into a reputable program in the US? From my research it appears that most academic (as opposed to security/intelligence)-focused programs are housed at the nation's most elite institutions, and thus I am looking to apply to the following programs (Columbia MESAAS, Harvard CMES, NYU, Princeton, UChicago)
- Am I missing any programs, particularly ones with easier admissions? Are British universities (SOAS, Oxbridge, King's) more merciful in that regard?
2. Is there anything in particular about my profile that I should emphasize in my SOP - anything I already have that grad school admins love to see?
- The way I see it, I am lacking in GPA (taking the GRE next month) and academic background (save for my English minor), but I do have the language skills and the regional experience in addition to a strong personal interest in the academics of it all (enough to be making a deliberate career pivot, as I am). After all, this is a passion-driven endeavor I am undertaking. Are any of these points particularly valuable?
3. Is a college essay entitled "The conflict of Afro-Islamic Spirituality and Western Modernity as depicted in “Ambiguous Adventure” going to cut it as a writing sample? Considering I do not have a mentor/professor to advise on the process, would it still be better if I wrote something more pertinent/up-to-date from scratch?
- Frankly, I just do not have many papers from my undergraduate that are in excess of 10-15 pages, let alone ones that are of material relevance to the programs I am applying to. My hope was to edit this paper thoroughly and use it in lieu of a research paper or thesis.
4. Can my unconventional background as a Business major and tech industry member be regarded as a positive? If not, are there any obvious ways in which I could spin it as such?
- I worry that I was incorrect in my early assumption that my background is not a serious hinderance to my prospects, and that it might in fact help me stand out as a truly interested/invested candidate. Is that baseless? Looking at this forum and the MES/poli sci undergrads wielding 3.8+ GPAs, three languages, and highly relevant experience... I begin to doubt the value of my earnestness to these grad admission boards.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading all of this. I look forward to getting some guidance from any fellow hopefuls or admittees - any context/perspective will help me evaluate how to best allocate and apply my efforts. Your responses are greatly appreciated!