Hugely indebted to this forum and hope this helps. Anyway here goes:
Program Applied To: MPP Schools Applied To: Harvard Kennedy (MPP), WWS (MPA), Yale Jackson (MGA), Duke Sanford (MPP), Lee Kuan Yew (MPP) Schools Admitted To: Harvard Kennedy (MPP), Duke Sanford ($$$) Schools Rejected From: WWS, Jackson, Lee Kuan Yew Undergraduate institution: Engineering institution from India GPA: 6.38/10 with 3 F grades Undergraduate Major: Mechanical Engineering GRE Quantitative Score: 166 GRE Verbal Score: 157 GRE AW Score: 4.0 Years Out of Undergrad (if applicable): 8 Years of Work Experience: about 4 Describe Relevant Work Experience: Worked two years in engineering sector. After that, shifted to public policy research at a think tank for 2.5 years and did a fellowship in a rural area for 1 year. Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): No idea how good it was but I did keep it very focussed. Wrote about one area I found interesting, how I could solve problems in that area and how the courses in the school can help me solve these problems. Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): Don't know, never read any. Did have two supervisors and a senior colleague write them. Other:
I had a terrible GPA and I knew that it might be a concern for many schools. So I started prepping to mitigate that weakness in my application. I studied really hard for the GRE and can’t recommend Magoosh enough. At the same time, I also took classes through UCLA Extension. I spent a lot of time on Stats (A+) and Micro and Macro economics (both As). They were time consuming and expensive but I believe they paid off. I believe it showed that I could handle the academic rigour of graduate school and that I was dedicated enough to be part of academics again. I never addressed my low GPA or why I took the courses anywhere in my essay. I felt that space was limited and the adcom would maybe know why I did something.
I spent a good amount of time on my essays and kept them very focussed. All essays were modelled around my HKS and WWS essays as they were the first due. I followed all advise on the HKS blogpost to the T. I thought it was very useful to write a short, coherent essay and I believe it helped.
My advise is do not rush. If you feel that something about your application was weak (maybe work ex, GPA, GRE etc), try to address it even if it ends being slightly expensive or time consuming because in the end, that might be the difference between being accepted or not. Many people urged me to apply after 2 years but I am glad I waited an extra year to serve in a rural area as I feel that too helped bolster my application. Further, I got a lot of advise on this forum regarding online courses— in fact, one person did tell me bluntly that with my GPA, I was not at all competitive for any top school unless I addressed it. I did do that with extension courses and would urge others also to invest a good amount of time to send in a good application. I would rather not send in a haphazard application hoping to get lucky. If I was in anyone else shows, I would wait and send in a strong application the next year.
Good luck to all