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Perspectives on Deferring/Re-applying

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Hi all,

I'm currently deciding between going to grad school in the fall with no financial aid, or getting a job for a year and re-applying. This year, with lackluster GPA, strong GRE, moderate but not great experience, and (hopefully) strong LOR and SOP I got into UCSD IR/PS and waitlisted at SAIS.

I'm debating whether it's worth it to try and get more experience under my belt, since I am still on the young end of the grad school student spectrum (2 years below average at the schools I've been applying to). My main hesitation is that even in DC it's not a great job market, and I would want to get a position directly in the IR field vs on the fringes/intersecting with it like the rest of my work experience so I don't feel like I'm in a holding pattern. It's tempting to go the 'safe' route of knowing where I'll be for the next two years, but also tempting to wait and roll the dice again for a school with more 'brand' recognition (my boss has told me that in NPO/public sector that label matters less, but then again she's an HKS grad so I think her perspective might be a little skewed).

Has anyone here gone that route of waiting a year and re-applying? How do you think that affected your admissions offers or your decision? Do you think it was a net positive or would you go back and take that first offer? Conversely, has anyone here strongly considered that route and gone to grad school, and how do you feel about that decision now?

Any insight would be very helpful--I'm very torn between the two routes right now.

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One thing I suggest you do is call up GW, SIPA and SAIS, and ask them why you were rejected/waitlisted, and how you could improve your profile. Sometimes departments are happy to advise. And if the case is they felt you are too young/inexperienced, then an extra year of work might be all that you need. Plus you'd know to really drill down on that aspect of your profile in your statement of purpose.

I think the main reason why more people don't reapply for MPP/MPA/IR degrees is that most of us our in our mid/late 20s, and at the point when we really need to get our careers moving. In other disicplines, like PhD econ applicants, it's much more common for people to reapply. The majority apply senior year or the year after, and aren't holding up careers or families by waiting.

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Also in the exact same scenario. Never considered this at the time of applying, as I thought the admits were the difficult thing. I have no aid from MSFS, but decent aid from all my other admits. My no.1 choice was SAIS but was rejected due to some issues, so I'm not sure what to do. Having spoken to the SAIS director of admissions, it was intimated to me that, aside from a mishap with my application, I would have been accepted as they evaluated my file but couldnt offer admission. Now the veracity of this I cant confirm but it just messed with my head further.

The only saving grace for me is I'm waiting to hear from the Fletcher School still so things could dramatically shift. Fingers crossed. I just accepted a great job so it seems much more prudent to wait and reapply for Spring at least but likely next Fall.

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A personal and largely instinctual decision. If you're entertaining the prospect of re-applying, then that in and of itself indicates that you're acknowledging it was an unsatisfying outcome in one way or another. For some of us, it's not a reflection of a cycle gone poorly or without positive result, but rather a recalibration and full awareness of the financial implications. After all of the time, effort, money, and waiting, it's a disquieting stance to take.

However, if age isn't an issue at the moment (in my case it isn't, but I understand that the window of opportunity feels shorter for some of y'all), you should explore every option. If you identify a few things you can do within the next 9 months or so to improve your profile and convey more precision with regards to your career path, how would that be a bad thing?

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While I've contacted the other schools I applied to, they've said that either they can't give specifics due to the number of applicants or that they can't respond until after they've processed admits/waitists--at which point it's too late for me to use that input in my decision.

To further expand on my thinking and my background:

Undergraduate Institution: non-APSIA school (just became affiliate)

GPA:3.2 (I had a bad first year, but maintained above 3.5 GPA for my last 2 years and due to a double major I took a LOT of upper-div. coursework)

GRE: 670V/680Q/4.5AW

LOR: Strong in titles, though I don't have copies of the actual LOR. Public programs director at IR non-profit who I interned for, the IS department head at my school, and the director of an Americorps program.

WE: Not strong. 1 year teaching English overseas, 9 months at IR non-profit (internships), and I'm partway through an Americorps year working with the immigrant community. All of it is relatable to IR but not direct IR policy experience.

SOP: Fair-to-strong; I tend to be pessimistic but my friend (3rd year law) who edited gave them a thumbs up. I mainly used it to tie my WE so far with my professional objectives and my program choices.

I aimed high with my school choices considering my credentials, but while I recognized that intellectually it still hit me emotionally when I didn't get into 3/4 of them; typical "over-achiever meets reality" syndrome I guess, but it shook my confidence a bit. Also, the longer I spend in DC the more I'm aware of the intangible benefits going to school here can bring, just from the wealth of internships, network connections, and also the ability to attend a lot of lectures at other schools and area organizations.

However, at this point I need to decide:

  • if IR/PS is "settling" or if it's just the letdown of not being admitted to other schools that's making me feel his way;
  • if the programs at IR/PS match my interests the way I thought they did a year ago when I selected it as a finalist school;
  • if the strength of programs at IR/PS are enough to justify the price point;
  • if a year of work experience will dramatically improve my credentials so that I can get into my top-choice schools in the DC area;
  • if I can get the type of work experience that will benefit me most;
  • and if I want to wait and enter the lottery again in hopes of winning the jackpot, or just take my winnings and go home.

Last (and, probably) least is the prospect in the back of my head of not finding a job immediately and having to justify my decision to family, friends etc: "I got into grad school but decided to wait a year and get a job... Well, right now I'm working at Starbucks and doing an unpaid internship... yes, like I did before I decided to go to grad school, thanks for that."

Edited by OregonGal
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Wait, so you don't have a job now? Or you don't have a job lined up for the next year? You could also withdraw your offer from USCD after April 15th, once you've spoken with the other departments. You'll probably lose your deposit though.

I just checked out SAIS' page on preparation, and noted this:

"M.A. students must be able to thrive in a rigorous academic environment, which includes substantial quantitative course work. This capacity can be evidenced in several ways: an undergraduate academic record that shows success in quantitative courses such as macroeconomics, microeconomics, calculus, statistics and/or econometrics; a strong quantitative GRE or GMAT score; and/or full-time work experience with significant and demonstrable quantitative responsibilities."

Maybe think about retaking the GRE. Your verbal score is quite strong, but you might want to raise your quant score. Most schools seem to average about 700, and if you're making up for deficient GPA or math/econ grades, a stronger quant score could be the ticket. I assume you explained the 3.2 in your SOP, hard classes, better upper division GPA, etc.

Re experience, I don't know very much about the IR world, but it strikes me that it's pretty hard for a BA-level person to get significant IR experience. It seems to me that you have decent experience, especially once you finish Americorps, along with the rest of your experience.

Is Columbia your dream school? Harvard? It seems like you stand a very good chance of getting in to SAIS next year with a bit of work on your profile, considering your waitlist.

Edited by state_school'12
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To weigh in on the other side of things, I'm strongly considering attending UC from out of state. I didn't get any funding, but as you've pointed out, GSI positions and the associated tuition waiver cuts costs significantly. That, coupled with in-state tuition the second year actually makes my UC scenario the least expensive (after Wisconsin). And some of my private schools gave me a large amount of funding.

So, if you think UCSD's program will be sufficient for your purposes, realize that it may end up $20k-$60k less expensive than your more prestigious dream school, even if that elite school gives you decent funding. I think once you've worked at the WB for a couple of years, the name on your degree will matter a lot less. If you think you can get the job you want coming out of UCSD, coupled with the extra year of seniority you'd have (vs waiting a year) in whatever organization you end up with... Something to consider. Good luck!

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This is tough. I'm in a similar situation, but frankly, I cannot wait another year. Also, I'm not sure I would find that amazing job/internship that would really polish my applications because every place I have applied to wants people that either have a master's or are in grad school. But, I'm also older than you are...I think (I'm 26).

Waiting a year is a gamble. But it might be worth it to you. But think, its not actually waiting a full year...it's more like waiting 6 or 7 months (because of deadlines). Is this enough time for you to find W.E.? Let alone learn and grow from it? Also enough time to garner a LOR from a potential supervisor?

Quick question: why didn't you apply to American? I'm sure you would have gotten in there no problem.

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RE: American...I only applied to 4 schools, and focused on schools with a strong functional/professional skills focus. And really, I only paid to apply to 3 schools (UCSD waives for Americorps members). On limited funds, I didn't want to apply to 7 or 8 schools and American didn't make that final cut. It didn't strike me as rigorous in the professional skills vs theoretical knowledge (especially with all the "wonk" ads they have plastered over DC). I also took my LOR/IR dept head's recommendations pretty strongly--she's the one who pointed me towards SAIS, which replaced American on my shortlist.

RE: finding a job...

My Americorps service year is up at the end of July. My concern is that I won't find a job immediately, and also that even if I do, as @peach11 pointed out that's only 6-7 months before I'm applying for grad school (which would imply notifying my employer via asking for LOR, that I'm looking at leaving 6 months after hire).

Of course, I could just give UCSD $500 and hedge my bets, still looking for that job and waiting to hear back from SAIS... but I would prefer not to have uncertainty hanging over my head for 3 more months.

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OregonGal - I'm honestly surprised by your rejections. I don't think your work experience sounds weak OR that you aimed too high considering your credentials. If you are thinking this way though, I wonder if that came across to the admissions committees. Based on your profile, I'm not sure working another year would boost your admissions more than taking a look at your resume and SOP and seeing if you're selling yourself as well as you could be.

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With my aiming for somewhat quant-heavy programs (especially SAIS), I think that what weakened my application was the lack of econ past my sophomore year of college. If I chose to wait and re-apply I'd take a stats/econ class and think about re-taking the GRE afterwards (to be fair, I spent all of 3 hours preparing for the GRE lol). Mostly this attitude of mine came after applying when I started getting rejection letters.

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Eh, I don't think analyzing rejections is very productive, since the whole process is so opaque. You have no idea why they didn't take you.

I didn't take any econ or math classes past sophomore year of college either, and have good academic and professional experience in security issues. Yet, I got into SAIS with fin-aid, and straight up rejected from Georgetown Security Studies. Go figure...

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