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Advise from WWS and HKS students: why was I rejected twice?


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Undergrad: 3.6 GPA from Notre Dame, majored in Chinese, Political Science and Finance

Grades in selected courses:

Calc 105: B+

Calc 108: A+

Micro econ: B+

Managerial econ (which is equivalent to intermediate micro): A-

Macroeconomic Principles: B+

Business Statistics: A-

GRE: Math scores were all over the map I've scored as low at the 500s when I didn't finish the test.

Highest GRE scores:

Math 670

Verbal 780

Other info:

I'm a Filipino citizen, I grew up in Manila and came to the US for college when I was 17

I was in the International Scholars Program at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies (Notre Dame based institute)

all that really means is that I got to work as a research assistant for an economist (he specializes in international trade) as an undergrad

Work Experience:

Citibank, financial analyst in New York for 1 year

Volunteered for microfinance institution on the side

International Finance Corporation 2 years in Manila and one year in Beijing (IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank Group)

no volunteer work while I was working in Manila

Recommendations: two profs (one Pol Science and one Economics) and my boss at IFC Manila

I don't know what they wrote but I think they must have been good since I got into two programs

Here's my problem:

While I was at Citibank I applied to the following schools:

Fletcher, Maryland, Kennedy, WWS

Fletcher and Maryland- admit

Kennedy and WWS - declined

I took the job at IFC, moved back to Manila and took a huge pay cut to work in development. On my second year at IFC, I applied to the same four schools again

Fletcher, Maryland- both offered scholarships (80 and 50% respectively)

Kennedy MPP and WWS- decline

The first time around, WWS provided a feedback letter upon request and the primary reason given was that they were concerned about my private sector background (this was when I was about to join IFC). They couldn't been sure about my commitment to the public sector. This makes sense as the majority of IFC analysts end up getting MBAs. The second time I applied, I was an IFC analyst and I wouldn't have been surprised if they declined me for the same reason except that my colleague was accepted! She was a couple of years older than I am. I asked for another feedback letter and assistant dean Templeton was swamped and asked if I could wait but he never got around to sending the letter even with my follow up emails.

For Kennedy School- I don't know why I was declined. I'm particularly interested in the Business and Government Policy area so I thought I was a good fit. Another IFC colleague applied at the same time (the second time I applied) and got in.

Math has never been my strong point and I dread taking the new GRE. I don't even know if that's the reason for the declines since WWS never mentioned it.

I left IFC after three years- I found that my job was 90% investment and 10% development. I am now an associate with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in Beijing. It's an international non profit that provides advisory services on sustainability issues. It's actually a very good use of the 10% I learned at IFC. I plan to apply again to graduate school again this year.

Any advice? I really want to get into WWS and Kennedy. Thank you!

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and this is why I have nightmares about applying. Your resume is obviously excellent, so unless your SOP's were terrible (your writing is clear, so I doubt that is the case), you are just one unlucky bastard.

may I ask why you didn't take the 80% scholarship offer from Fletcher? That place is every bit as good as WWS and HKS, but perhaps with even better job placement.

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Fletcher is great. I'm very interested in public international law and it's the only program that offers it as a concentration. I just have two main concerns and the second is the primary reason why I hesitated.

The first is that the Fletcher program is very unstructured. They have a lot of interesting classes but I don't think that is offers a very strong foundation in the fundamentals (sorry, I can't think of a better word) the way WWS does. I guess if you are very disciplined, you can make sure that you take a lot of economics classes to make up for that.

The second reason is that Fletcher does not hold a lot of clout in east Asia. As a Notre Dame grad, it's really frustrating when I get a blank look after I tell people where I went to school. In China, where I am currently based, it's really important for your career prospects. I can tell that the fact that I didn't go to a better known school takes away some of my credibility. It's not personal vanity, I'm just trying to take the best course for my career.

Yes, I don't think my SOP could have sucked that much since I had my professor who taught at WWS read it. He told me he was optimistic about my chances (the second time around).

I am at a loss so I hope some WWS and HKS can give some insight. I really don't want to take the GRE Math again if that's not going to help.

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I don't think retaking the GRE would do anything to help, especially since you have proven academic success in calc, stats and econ. It is unfortunate that the dean never got back to you, I would be interested in what he said. Otherwise, just keep your head up, I think anyone would love to have the resume you have, although I know that doesn't help much now.

In regards to the name clout, your reasoning is sound. In my opinion, for most of these schools the education is more or less the same from one top tier school to the next, it is simply the brand and the alumni you are buying with your tuition.

As an American, not knowing Notre Dame is near impossible.

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I am not a WWS alum but my fiance is and I spent a lot of time with the WWS students.

Your background and stats are outstanding, but in reading them I don't see how you demonstrate a commitment to public service. Not to say you don't, but if in reading this blurb about yourself I didn't see a clear link to public service, I wonder if WWS didn't either.

In applying to graduate school this year I read several personal statements from WWS alums who are friends of ours. They all talked about their experience either in the public sector or their interactions with the public sector. WWS' prompt states this explicitly- they really need to be convinced you want to go into public sector work (or private-public partnerships, etc) and want your personal statement to focus on that.

You said your personal statement was strong, which is probably is, but did it 100% convince readers that your career trajectory is in the public sector (or related to it) and that's why you need WWS? Components of the IFC do work with governments, but did you? Now that you work in a nonprofit finance institution, how can you convince WWS that you want to continue in the public sector?

The WWS international alums I'm friends with all wanted to study at WWS to then return to their home countries (including the Philippines) and serve in ngo-public partnerships, in their ministries of foreign affairs, etc. Very clear career paths that they were obviously able to explain clearly in their personal statements.

Since I'm not a WWS student take this with a grain of salt, but this is what I've observed :).

Edited by indiblue
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Sorry to hear you were dinged. I guess I'm sort of in the same boat - worked in finance for a few years, but realized I wasn't too good at it AND I didn't like it it (not a winning combination..), and now I'm trying to transition to a career in IR. While I am dead-set on this path, I have to admit what scant evidence there is to be found in my CV to indicate this.

Have you thought about pursuing n MBA or an MA in Public Policy with a focus on International Development? Maybe attack things from a different angle? I'm just thinking out loud here...as I need a solution for myself too. Cheers and good luck.

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I'd just reapply addressing what's changed since you're last app. If I were you I'd also apply to more schools. Fletcher, gtown, sais, sipa...any five that have the stuff you want. Take a look at the profs and classes offered, depending on your goals, they may have the same thing. They at least have a lot of overlap. It's ok to strive for the most 'prestigious', but you end up putting your desired job on hold if you obsess about it.

What are your career goals? I guess what it comes down to is: is your current situation so compelling and does it meet your cereer goals well enough that you'd only leave it for those two schools, or would you really like to have more substantial roles in the development sector sooner rather than later? If the answer is the latter, then you might be delaying your chosen career. You could've been graduati this year!

Maryland is a big step below Harvard, but Fletcher? I know someone who did a dual degree at both and hated her Harvard semesters. Also did you know that Harvard has a fairly large domestic component? Many students there are not interested in international careers.

This time apply to the usual suspects of top tier ir schools. Get a scholarship and flaunt it! In the end it is your talent that will get you the job, the school just gets you in the interview. Look at the job reports for all of them, they are very close, except 80% of wws grads go to the govt sector.

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I would say take the 80% at Fletcher (!! Congrats on it by the way that is quite an achievement!), but that being said I do understand what you mean about school reps in Asia. Have you considered adding Yale to your list? They have a huge reputation in China and a lot of curricular focus on East Asia. Their IR program is much smaller, little known (there was some discussion of this on the other thread) and still hard to get into, but it seems more academic and would definitely hold name-clout (almost as much as H and definitely more than P, in China).

I agree with other commenters that the main issue with your profile seems to be your lack of experience in public sector, policy, service or development. You shouldn't be penalized for wanting to switch sectors but since a lot of people are coming into these apps with Peace Corps and other clear grassroots international/service experiences under their belts, it will be a disadvantage to have done banking for all those years. I heard a rumor that a number of years back WWS got flak from some of their founders/donors about the # of people going into private sector after grad, as a lot of other IR/policy programs routinely send a chunk of their class into banking/consulting. Since WWS gives full funding in the name of public service so their grads make a commitment to public/non-profit sector work after graduation, it does seem clear that for them the main criteria (after making sure you are able to do the work) is the commitment to public service. That being said HKS seems a lot less oriented towards this so I'd say you have a better shot there if you were to try for a third go-around.

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Thank you to everyone who replied, I really appreciate it.

Thanks godlessgael- yes, if only I were planning a career in the US, I'd take Fletcher and run! I read somewhere that a 670 is enough for Fletcher but you need a 700 for WWS. Is that so? I mean, of course some people fall below the average but to be safe, do I need a 700? I took the GRE several times over the two application rounds and twice I didn't not finish the Math section. The scores were under 600.

Thanks indiblue- yes, on the second try, I really tried to articulate in great detail why I left Citibank to work for IFC and what I plan to focus on in the future: microfinance, regional integration (ASEAN) and public partner partnerships. I have substantial volunteer experience. It's very common at Notre Dame to volunteer and it's actually one of the reasons I chose to go there as an undergrad. Nope, my work at IFC did not touch on government work. If I were on the advisory side, it might have but I was on investments. Also, 22 year olds don't get to be in the professional grade levels on the advisory side. However, both my colleagues (the KSG and WWS students) did not work with the government either. It's just very unlikely as an investment analyst that you'd talk to anyone other than a regulator and that's just to check if your company is complying with the law. I really appreciate your feeback.

Thanks ajarn- no MBA for me, I had enough after majoring in finance. As for the MA in Public Policy, that is what I am applying for so I'm not sure I get the question.

Thanks carpecc- I don't regret delaying twice. The IFC experience was worth it the first time and moving to China was worth it the second. Yes, it was numbingly dull to do all the finance bits but some parts were really interesting (for example: development outcome tracking, env&social standards, etc.) and it's really rare for entry level staff to have such great exposure in international development.

I like my job now but I couldn't bear it if I have to do it for more than two years. I really want to springbroad to the international policy sphere. I don't want to stay at such a micro level working at individual PPP programs one at a time.

I don't regret the time I spent as I learned a lot and now I am more valuable as a professional (at least I hope so) :)

I don't really want to go anywhere else and I did a lot of research by talking to school reps and that's how I chose my schools. I chose them because they are the best schools most likely to give aid and I liked their concentration offerings.

Thanks piquant- there is truth to the rumor. Yes, in China, it is sometimes suggested to get a Yale degree if you think you can't make it to the top MBA schools but I'm not attracted to the IR curriculum and I don't mind going to WWS even if it is less famous -at least people would recognize it more than Notre Dame.

My questions are:

Do you think that saying that I plan to focus on three things in my career (microfinance, regional integration and PPP) hurt my chances because it is too many difference things? I have background for each 1) Microfinance- finance background 2) regional integration- research assistant to trade economist and 3) PPP- IFC work

I don't want to join Philippine politics. It's just so corrupt and nothing gets done. I'd probably get shot trying to keep my hands clean. I know a WWS alumna from the Philippines. She went to my high school. She went into local politics perhaps because her family is a political one. I stated in my SOP that I want to work for the ASEAN because I believe in the use of economic integration in furthering economic development. I think I stated the EU as an example. Do you think perhaps they weren't convinced? I mean, by then I was working in Manila. I had already gone to school in the US and back to the Phillipines. I didn't think I needed to prove I'd do it again but perhaps they wanted to see more grassroots work rather than IFC.

My IFC colleagues are both older than me. I thought this mattered for WWS but not for KSG. The first time I applied, I was 22 (I graduated at 21) and the second time I was 24. Now I am 26, I think this might help a bit for WWS. Do you think so?

For KSG students, I'm under the impression that KSG wants to admit future leaders. Given that I have not been promoted yet, how do I show that I am a future leader? The IFC colleague who went to KSG went to Harvard for undergrad so maybe she got a little boost. For all my volunteer work at school, I only spent a semester in student government and I was appointed and not elected to the position. I also stayed clear away from any domestic politics because of previously mentioned reasons.

PS. I got a A in calc 108 not A+ (no A+ in college) my mistake

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I would disagree with most of the posters in this thread, and say that analyzing why you didn't get into WWS or HKS is a fools errand.

The sheer number of extremely qualified applicants gunning for limited spots means that either school could field an entirely different class made up of people who they didn't accept, and have it be just as good. It's arbitrary, a lottery, sub 10% admissions rate of a self-selected pool of elite candidates, whatever you want to call it. You clearly are qualified (prestigious undergrad, good stats, work experience, probably a solid SOP), you just didn't have whatever arbitrary, not-under-your-control profile they were looking for to fill out their class based on ever-changing organizational goals and requirements, the same as 90% of all the other smart and accomplished people who applied there.

I think looking at yourself and trying to figure out whats "wrong" with you is a common defense mechanism, in that it makes it seem like admissions are under YOUR control. If I know my "weaknesses", and go out and get experience X and test score Y to correct them, they have to accept me! Well, no - you have no idea why they didn't accept you, and even if you "fix" what you think might be the problem, their admissions target very likely has moved again. Picking apart the exact tone of your SOP, career trajectory, etc. provides zero usable insight, IMO. All you can do is put in the app, and hope you get in. If you don't, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. Clearly other schools think you are a great candidate (I'm sure many posters here would love to have an 80% scholarship at Fletcher), so move on.

EDIT - you totally should apply again and work to improve your application as much as possible, I'm just trying to inject some reality: that 90% of applicants will get dinged (as you have already experienced), you have no idea why, and it's not worth losing sleep over.

Edited by MYRNIST
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I actually came back to say something similar to MYRNIST.

I disagree a bit that analyzing you as a candidate provides zero insight. I think it's useful to collect perspectives and insight and decide what you can try to change (not necessarily improve- there is nothing about your profile that is "bad"), or if you think you've done the best you can to present who you are and where you're headed.

That said, it does come down to a numbers game as MYRNIST said. WWS has enough candidates to fill a qualified pool of a class at SIPA or SAIS but is a fraction of the size. For them it is going to come down a lot to school fit and building a class and all that other intangible stuff that those of us layfolks couldn't possibly provide insight on.

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It's arbitrary, a lottery, sub 10% admissions rate of a self-selected pool of elite candidates, whatever you want to call it. You clearly are qualified (prestigious undergrad, good stats, work experience, probably a solid SOP), you just didn't have whatever arbitrary, not-under-your-control profile they were looking for to fill out their class based on ever-changing organizational goals and requirements, the same as 90% of all the other smart and accomplished people who applied there.

Actually I think WWS is something like 15% acceptance and Harvard is 15-35 varying by year based on what I've read. I'm not going to bother to look up anything now. I've known a few people who went to Harvard and they're exceptional, but I've got some colleagues at SIPA that are just as great or even better. I'm not knocking Harvard, I'm just saying globalhopscotch should have a shot.

Anyways, globalhopscotch, it sounds like you know what's best for yourself and you seem to have researched the selections well. Indeed being older will increase your chances and the fact that you've made some career decisions that move you closer to development should demonstrate your commitment to the field. Mention in your SOP why you made those changes and how they have reinforced what you do and do not want to do. Also you can probably raise your Math GRE, that's an easy one to lift. But since you're in China, they don't offer another test till May I think.

But don't worry, you can get into some great schools that will get you the skills/connections/prestige you want.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi globalhopscotch

I can understand the frustration and confusion that you are currently going through...But I have a thought that I'd like to share in this regard...I am not studying at WWS but have some friends there and interactions with them gave me few interesting and unique insights...

WWS offers a highly funded program and hence, seeks to admit candidates who realllly deserve it...They want people who are driven by passion, not by career goals, brand, money, fame, prestige blah...blah...etc...I guess they look for genuine interest in public service instead of derived interest...For example- lets consider 2 applicants, A and B...A got the best grades, GRE scores, great work ex, recos, SOP etc and B undertook a self initiated project in his/her village that transformed the lives of 200 farmers...I guess in that case WWS will pick B over A because while helping the people around him, B had no motivation to get into WWS...he just did what he believed in...I guess, WWS looks for people who dont do what they do just to get into an Ivy League school..they want people who can change the world and be future leaders...

I just tried to give you an honest insight...I might be wrong..but this was just a food for thought... :) All the best ...

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  • 1 month later...

Not trolling here, but genuinely curious.. if employers don't know about Notre Dame and Tufts in Asia then what schools do they know? Only the ivies? Those are both really good schools.. esp Fletcher. I am not sure if you're applying for a PhD or Master's, but for a Master's Fletcher is ranked 5th in the nation for international affairs.

Anyway. I agree with everyone else.. why were you in finance/banking if you're applying for IR programs? It would make more sense then if you apply for perhaps ID, or International Economics.. something that fits better with your background.

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I don't think WWS cares about a few extra points on the GRE. I think ujs in his post above hit the nail on the head about WWS looking for students who are extremely passionate and driven in their field, who are in public service because of their commitment to engaging in national and international problems. A few points lower on a good GRE will not likely prevent an otherwise ideal applicant from admission to WWS. (I say this as someone who also applied to WWS and is unlikely to be accepted or waitlisted.)

They look for a specific whole package to complement a whole, very small, class. Unfortunately there's a lot in that equation that we have little control over.

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I don't see what's wrong w/ working for Citibank for a year. You have tripple majors and one of your majors is finance. This's where you practiced in a real world. And I see there's nothing wrong working for IFC. It's like you're working for WB and besides, you deserve higher credits on taking less pay, being in the field and helping people get financed for their works, business, life and for the well-being of people there.

There are people who apply for ID, MPP, MPA and get accepted w/ business background too. Your work is finance & development.

My point is that all things were being considered equally or similarly, whom would you choose? Higher GRE-Q or lower GRE Q? You're from the Philippines, your verbal GRE is at the advantages of most Asian nationals, except Singapore, Indian and a few more countries.

The GPAs and grades from one school canNOT be compared to another school. Let's say if you go top 1 or top 2 Us in Asian countries and have lower GPAs b/c the conservative grading system used there. You get D in cal, flunk stat but your GRE is still up to their average ranges vs A, B+, A- on these subjects in an X university, and you get from 500-670. What do these tell the admission committees? It can be interpreted in few ways. I don't want to elaborate here.

Basically, grading is not as important. As far as I remember, HKS doesn't ask people to report undergraduate GPA if schools are OUTSIDE the US. So, how do they measure candidates? I really doubt WWS. On its catalogue/prospectus, it even clearly shows average GRE Q pie charts! You see the average and you must beat the average b/c you're using your Filipino background as a basis of your application i.e. SOP right?

I hope my best wishes may require you to attempt a bit more. There is a will, there is a way. Rome isn't built in one day.

I think your profile is awesome and what bothers me is your Q. Don't forget you spent 10-12 years in Asia, they compare you w/ thousands of Asian applicants too b/c math skills are acquired throughout years but practice will also help your strategies in solving them. But if you keep 500-670 sporadically.. Just do maybe 80 points more and I believe you can succeed b/c you seem young and this standardized test variances w/ your age. It can be kept for 5 years. Who knows one day you may need it for a Ph.d? Rather do it just in case.. Good luck. :) Salamat Pu

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your best quant score was 670 and you had a score in the 500s and you are confused on why you got rejected from the top two schools? you should not expect to get into any top schools (especially if you have those scores) since the admissions process is a gamble for everyone. you see ppl get into HKS but not WWS and vice versa. bringing up your score probably won't make a difference but you gave them an additional reason to reject you with your scores (which are way below the norm for WWS/HKS)

as for WWS, i think you are done with them for life since it is obvious they don't want your profile. as for HKS, you may have a chance in the future, but getting a 670 on the quant section and complaining about why you didn't get in is kind of immature. there are others with better profiles and grades than you that have been rejected so you should not be complaining.

this thread reeks of entitlement since you have been offered an 80% scholarship at Fletcher and it still isn't enough for you. i can understand your feelings regarding prestige in asia, but you need to let it go and accept the fact that you are not getting in. you should be proud of Fletcher and go there with enthusiasm.

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Second everything said by 1.99. I'd also add that WWS isn't about just checking off all the right boxes--it's about checking those boxes and them deciding you're one of the 60 most qualified public service leaders who applied and there aren't two people with better versions of your profile. NOBODY can assume a WWS admission--the real perplexing issue isn't "why was I rejected?" The proper question is "why was I accepted?"

If prestige is so important, I'd apply to less competitive programs that are hooked to bigger university names. Yale Jackson springs to mind, but then just random East Asian studies programs or whatever attached to Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, and other brand name schools. If these folks don't know what Fletcher is, then they won't understand that you're not attending the most prestigious IR programs in those countries and will just fawn over those university names.

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Also if they don't know what Fletcher (or other top IR programs) is, then aren't they somewhat irrelevant anyway? I mean we're talking about the field you want to go into and those employers, not someone on the street you ask to tell you which school they think is more prestigious, Tufts or Yale. Is this just pure naivete?

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as smith said, if you want cheap prestige, apply for a masters in east asian studies or any liberal arts masters at harvard or columbia as long as you don't mind paying out of your butt.

however, i think i know what you are going through in terms of asian people not recognizing anything but ivies+stanford but i find it hard to believe people in your field would not know what schools in their area is good. for example, one of my friends went to michigan for law school (he was chinese) and although lay people there did not know how good michigan's law school was, the lawyers there knew and he did not seem to have a problem finding good work. on the other side, i also had another friend who got a master's in east asian studies from harvard who would get "wows" from people on the street, but had tons of trouble finding proper employment because insiders knew that her degree was useless and took anyone with a pulse.

Edited by adollarninetynine
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The last 4 posts were deep and I agree with all of them. We have the tendency of believing in "diamond-in-the-rough" acceptance from top-tier schools but with so many capable applicants applying to HKS and WWS, your GRE stats pretty much killed your chances.

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