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Top MPP Programs - Can I get in from a regional public school?

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Hello and thank you in advance for reading about my predicament.

I am an undergraduate at a regional public university. Let me be upfront--it's not a great school. I was accepted to a variety of really amazing colleges out of high school (University of Washington, St. John's College, etc) but I could not attend due to my parents refusal to co-sign for student loans or help me financially (they had high income so I did not qualify for student aid). So, I worked for a year and a half, more than full time, as a corporate research analyst to save up money for school.

At the end of that year, I enrolled in the local branch campus of a major state university. After a semester, I transferred here to a less regarded regional public school. Why? I was studying Public Affairs/Domestic Policy but I wanted a more Internationally-focused program and a school where I could study a language and study abroad. That, and I am paying far less and going into little (if any) debt. I am an International Affairs major pursuing a Gender Studies certificate with minors in Economics and Spanish.

I have not yet taken the GREs but I have always tested well, and with practice tests online I have always scored fair-high. My GPA is 4.0 currently and I will probably maintain between a 3.95 and 4.0 for my college career. Classes I have achieved 4.0 in include Statistics, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, and intermediate Spanish so not all super easy classes. I also have a calculus background (from high school).

To give a pretty brief overview of my resume (not including accomplishments), I completed a fellowship with a national (well-known) nonprofit/political organization focusing on international women's health and US foreign policy, participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women, interned with the Human Rights Education Institute, interned with multiple political campaigns, founder/president of multiple clubs and organizations, was the Budget & Finance Chair of a local political action committee, worked in the International Students office at my university, was a reporter for a student newspaper, student representative on President's commission on gender equity, campus fellow for climate change organization, grant research for refugee organization, social media coordinator for national women's rights organization, done some global women's rights research for London-based organization, done some political/electoral rights research for the UN Development Programme, conducting research on UN for another nonprofit, currently sitting on board of sustainable development organization that works in Kenya, and starting in January as a data analysis/criminal justice reform intern for local courthouse. Next summer I will study abroad in India (women's rights/Hindi) and the spring after next I will study abroad in Spain (spanish intensive).

My hope is to study in a fairly quantitatively rigorous MPP program or MIA program, with a concentration in international development. The schools I am looking at include:

- Princeton - Woodrow Wilson School (MPA in International Affairs)

- Columbia University - SIPA (MA in International Relations)

- Tufts University - Fletcher School (MA in Law and Diplomacy)

- NYU - Wagner School (MSPP in International Development Policy)

- College of William & Mary (MPP in International Development Policy)

- University of Denver - Josef Korbel School (MA in International Human Rights)

- University of Minnesota - Humphrey School (MPP, concentration in International Development)

Is there any way I could get into these schools coming from the school I am coming from? I know Princeton/Columbia/Tufts are real stretches, should I bother even applying? What about NYU/CWM/UDenver? Should I get a few more years of work experience before applying to make myself more competitive? What other experiences should I look for to round out my application/resume?


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I went to a large public university in the south and ended up at HKS. You'll be fine. However, make sure you have some work experience (at least 2 years, preferably 3) before you begin applying to grad school. You'll be much, much more competitive as an applicant and you'll be better suited for jobs once you finish graduate school. 

I will say, I met very few people at HKS who went to public universities for undergrad. In one of my classes of 60+ people, only 3 of us went to public colleges. I started to notice that there's a high number of people at HKS (and maybe at other policy schools, who knows) who come from very wealthy families and/or went to elite private high schools that then fed into elite private colleges. Several people I met at HKS had never worked a part-time summer job before.

I think this is more of a byproduct of the realities of working in public administration than any overt bias by HKS admissions. For instance, if you have family money, of course you'll be able to take on an unpaid internship at the State Department. I've also met people whose parents paid their rent while they worked for pennies at small nonprofits. That's just not feasible for those of us who don't have wealthy parents. 


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