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Public Policy-Quantitative Requirements/Work Experience


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Hey everyone,

I've been lurking around these forums for a while but was always too intimidated to ask my questions. I guess I figured I should just do it, so here goes.

I am very interested in applying to public policy programs for fall 2012. I have two main concerns, though...

First, I do not have a particularly strong quantitative background. I took AP Calculus in high school (quite a while ago) and did not take any statistics or economics in undergrad. I double majored in Linguistics and French at a very good public school and graduated with a 3.8 GPA. My undergraduate thesis in linguistics did involve a bit of statistics, which was self-taught and counseled by my thesis advisor. I also worked as a research assistant on a linguistics study that involved statistics and was presented at an international conference. In my junior year I worked as an intern at the US Department of State, where I ended up being placed at the OECD in Paris. I basically had to teach myself the basics of economics as quickly as possible in order to be able to do my job. Last but not least, my quantitative GRE scores are definitely not so hot. I took the GRE twice in my senior year but I am taking it again in October and have spent considerably more time preparing.

Second, regarding my work experience, this year I am not in any paying position. I interned at the OECD in my junior year, after graduation I was granted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, but now I am a barista...full time. I spend around 20-25 hours a week volunteering at a refugee and asylum center in my town. I work in education, resettlement, and legal translating. I'm in this position because I was supposed to attend a graduate school abroad but because of visa issues that fell through at the last minute, I had get the first job I could find to pay my rent. The job market is rough right now and it looks like I won't find any paying policy work for the time being.

I guess after all this rambling, my question is: will schools look down on my lack of paid work experience this year? I want to go into human rights and immigration policy (preferably related to Southeast Asia) so my volunteer work is directly related...but my paying job is making cappuccinos. I know I will be competing against people who've been working on Capitol Hill so I feel like I hardly stand a chance.

I know my quant is weak. I did well in calculus in high school so I know I can learn the material. If I can afford it, I will be taking classes at the local community college this spring in economics and statistics. Do you think this will pretty much boot me off any list?

For further info: I'm applying to Fletcher and Ford School (dual MA with Southeast Asian Studies).

If you actually feel like reading this whole anxiety-ridden essay and answering I'd really appreciate it.

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Hello! Fellow (relatively) quant-deficient applicant here. There are two things I would do to address this. First, definitely spend part of your SOP (concisely) describing how you taught yourself statistics and econ when the situation warranted. I can't speak to Tufts, but I know that Ford doesn't actually require either, even if they are recommended. ETA: Have you taken the GRE yet? Scoring well on the quantitative (720+ in the old format is about 75th percentile, which is what Ford claims is their norm) might allay concerns.

Second, make your knowledge of French and linguistics work for you by describing how those kinds of classes uniquely prepared you to pursue policy. Maybe it's the ease with which you pick up languages, maybe it's the quirky outside-the-box kind of analysis that linguistics requires (I'm making these up, though I did room with a linguistics major for two years). Concentrating in linguistics likely uncommon among applicants. Embrace that, and figure out a way to make it into an asset. Instead of what you're lacking, make the conversation about what you'll bring to the program that other applicants can't or won't.

As to your barista job, I would suggest leaving it on your CV/resume, but not mentioning it in your SOP. It doesn't bring anything to the table, but your service work definitely does, paid or unpaid, so discuss that when you're talking about where you're at now. The economy is affecting everyone, especially educational institutions... and I don't know if you're from the state, but especially in Michigan. There's only one way I see the situation seriously working against you, and that's if the admissions committee gets the impression that you're only applying to graduate school because you don't know what else to do in the current climate. This is where your SOP comes in again; as long as you can clearly convey what you would like to do in the future and why a MPP is part of that plan, I think you'll be okay.

For the TL;DR crowd: Write a killer SOP and I think you'd be an incredibly strong candidate for both programs.

Edited by TypeA
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I'd study up for the GRE and get such a good quantitative score that it erases any doubts about your lack of formal mathematics training. It's honestly not that hard - it's all basic high school math. If you have the work ethic, it's masterable. I went from 640 to 800 by studying about 20 hours a week for 5 months.

In regards to the whole paid/unpaid thing... it's all about how you spin it. You could easily frame it as, "look how dedicated I am to my field - I'm putting in a big time commitment and staying involved despite not being paid." Adcoms aren't stupid, they know the main (only?) reason people go to a MPP/MPA program is to advance career prospects. Treat your current situation as a way to show them just how committed you are, and how awesome of a grad student you'd be

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