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Beginning to apply to Higher Ed programs


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We are 2 students entering our final year of undergrad and are beginning the application process for Master's graduate programs in higher education. We need some general application advice, our chances, critique on our qualifications for grad school, more information on program, etc. Please help out if you can, it is very much appreciated! :)

Student 1:

5th year senior, Political Science and Sociology majors. Have not taken the GRE yet, but plan to soon. GPA is exactly 3.0 with an upward trend, will not graduate with any higher than a 3.2 GPA sadly. I am just beginning to pursue my interest in higher education. Up until midway of my 4th year, I was completely undecided, so I have little relevant experience. Basically all of my internships, research, and extracurricular leadership is from Fall 2011 until I graduate.

I have internship experience in two positions with career services and will be in leadership in a social organization for my 5th year. I also did research with the higher education grad department analyzing a survey from a previous' grad student, and wrote a proposal based off that. Other than that, my jobs have all been customer service based (receptionist, cashier, and food service) during the summers and school year. Does my lack of experience hurt my chances at all?

I am planning on applying to schools in California and New York as of now (Stanford, UCLA, NYU, Columbia) but am definitely open to more options. I have a lot of loan debt coming from undergrad so I'm really hoping to get a position that covers the costs of the grad program. Any suggestions on other grad schools to check out or that fully fund their students?

Student 2:

Rising senior, Sociology major, minor in Psychology and Business Leadership. Not too sure how to rate my GRE scores, but they were 143Q, 154V. Planning on retaking. GPA is 3.2 right now (had some extreme circumstances last year, but brought my GPA back up with summer courses). Probably going to to graduate with a 3.3/Cum Laude distinction. How competitive are my GRE scores and GPA? I'm feeling like they're both not super competitive right now.

I have a lot of experience in student organizations and have held leadership since my second year. I am most active in the student government, in an educational reform group, and an organization that is like a career/leadership center for minority students. My leadership in these organizations have also allowed me to have personal relationships with many administrators, so I am lucky enough to work with the Academic Support Center, the Office of Diversity, and the Office of Multicultural Programs. I've worked standard jobs at the University as well with Orientation, at the bookstore, and in the Student Center, but nothing too out of the ordinary. I am currently interning in the Higher Education Management field, so I am learning a lot about Higher Education Enrollment and Management, and getting to work with admissions, financial aid, and registrars offices. Is this experience adequate? I know it's very broad and scattered, but it's definitely given me a feel for different aspects of higher education.

I thought I really wanted to do Higher Ed Administration and Student Affairs up until this past year, but am still very passionate about that, but am also looking to pursue work in Higher Education Policy. I'm very interested in education reform, higher education inequality, college access and retention issues, and things of that nature. I am also interested in positions like advising and admissions as well. Ideally, I would like to work in a University for awhile so I can get involved with direct service to students, especially students from underrepresented backgrounds. After getting experience there, I would also like to get experience with places like the Dept of Ed, Institute for Higher Education Policy, National Education Association, etc. After getting my feet wet in both aspects of higher education, I'll probably know where I belong more, but it WOULD be amazing if there was a way to combine both.

I would like to apply to a bunch of schools, but unfortunately will probably have to narrow down due to financial constraints. So far, I am choosing between NYU, UMD, Columbia, Loyola Chicago, UVa, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard (maybe, just to see what happens haha). I want to end up working in or around DC after I graduate Any other suggestions on programs to check out given my interests?

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I would definitely add Michigan to your list of schools. Michigan has a very strong alumni network in the Washington DC and West Coast areas. While it's doctoral program is ranked #1, the program offers master's concentrations in public policy, academic and student affairs, development, business, and diversity. It doesn't offer assistantships, but students are required to pursue an internship throughout the duration of the program.

Since you two are still in college, I strongly recommend that you apply to programs that require internships/practicums for incoming students. You will need the post-BA work experience to be competitive in the job market.

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The programs that I remember who fully fund their students (granted this was 5+ years ago) are UConn, University of Vermont, Maryland, and Ohio State. The ones that partially fund are NYU, Harvard, UPenn, and Michigan. I am sure there are more schools in both categories that I listed.

For the second student who is interested in education policy, you'll want to go to a program that teaches you research methodology and statistics so you'll be marketable for jobs after you graduate. You might also want to go to a higher ed program that has a public policy school so you can take elective courses. I know Michigan has a dual Master's in Public Policy and MA in Higher Ed that you might be interested in. I am not sure if any of the other schools have a dual degree program quite like that. I know that Vanderbilt has a strong education policy and higher ed program. I am not sure how their funding structure works for their master's programs though, but it might be worth it to check it out.

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Thank you both for your responses! We are both checking out details on the programs at Michigan and #2 is checking out Vanderbilt as well.

Student 1: Does anyone have any input on whether I should continue onto grad school or get more experience? I'm worried that only having experience during my 4th and 5th years of undergrad will hurt my chances of acceptance into grad school. Any thoughts?

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Student 1: Does anyone have any input on whether I should continue onto grad school or get more experience? I'm worried that only having experience during my 4th and 5th years of undergrad will hurt my chances of acceptance into grad school. Any thoughts?

I sat on the admissions committee when I was a master's student for PhD and master's applicants in higher ed. I got to read the applications, participate in the discussion, and vote on whether to admit the applicants or not. My experience (and this is for a program that focused on higher ed than student affairs*) was that limited experience in higher ed wasn't too concerning for applicants who were coming straight from college. The faculty were more interested in their past academic performance (grades and courses taken) as well as recommendations from faculty who can speak to your academic abilities-- pretty much that you can write well, have good ideas and execute them well, and participate in class.

I think the experience card comes into play when you write your statement of purpose (SOP). Here the faculty want to see whether you have a basic understanding of the field, what you want to learn/do in your grad program, how this program helps you meet these goals, and what are your ultimate career goals. For example, at my master's program if you said that you wanted to study student athletes at colleges and universities and you hope to be an admin in athletics, it was probably not the best program for you because none of the faculty study that and there are no assistantships in that office.

That being said, most likely you'll be competing with people who have had professional experience in higher ed. Personally, if I was you student #1, I would just apply to 4 - 5 programs and see what happened. If you don't get in or discover the programs that you get into are not a good fit, then you can always try again in the future after working in the field for a bit.

* The difference between higher ed vs. student affairs can be an important distinction depending on your academic and professional interests. Students affairs usually looks at the student as the unit of analysis and emphasizes student development, counseling, transitions, etc. -- issues that affect students. Higher ed programs tend to be broader and examine student issues as well as faculty and administration issues. They also look at college and universities as organizations as well as examine state and federal policies (that affect higher ed), governance, etc. There are hybrid programs too that usually are called HESAs = Higher Education and Student Affairs programs.

When I was going through the process of looking at master's programs, I didn't realize how different the programs can be even though they have similar sounding names. Looking back at it now, I applied to a random collection of programs that really made no sense given my interests, but I didn't know any better! Thankfully, I ended up at a program that was a good match.

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ZeChocMoose: Thank you so much for your input. The difference between Higher Ed Administration v. Student Affairs is extremely helpful to the both of us!

Student 1: As of right now, I think I'm leaning toward a Student Affairs based program, since I want to directly help students in fields like advising, career services, or any department that serves students. I'll be sure to maintain relationships with professors and other administrators so that I can get good Letters of Recommendation.

Student 2: Since I would possibly like to go into policy in the future, would you reccomend a HESA program or just a program in Higher Ed? I'm not sure if I'd be competitive for a Ed Policy program since I have little research experience. I actually am not sure if my experiences so far qualify me for that much, though I do have good relationships with the people who will be writing my letters of recommendation. Any thoughts?

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Student 2: Since I would possibly like to go into policy in the future, would you reccomend a HESA program or just a program in Higher Ed? I'm not sure if I'd be competitive for a Ed Policy program since I have little research experience. I actually am not sure if my experiences so far qualify me for that much, though I do have good relationships with the people who will be writing my letters of recommendation. Any thoughts?

If you really think a policy job is what you want to do once you graduate, I would lean towards a MPP with an education emphasis, the dual degree, or the Higher Ed master's. If you know you don't want to work directly with students, a HESA program will not be the best fit especially since they tend to lean more to the Student Affairs side than the Higher Ed side.

I don't remember Ed Policy programs (at the master's level) really emphasized research experience. At the PhD level-- yes, but I can't imagine that a ton of master's applicants will have relevant research experience. I applied to a couple (of MPP programs) when I was looking at master's programs and I remember them focusing on your quantitative skills over everything else. You can always ask the folks over on the Governmental Affairs forum. They would know better than I and they will have more up to date information.

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I don't remember Ed Policy programs (at the master's level) really emphasized research experience. At the PhD level-- yes, but I can't imagine that a ton of master's applicants will have relevant research experience.

Agree - I don't remember anyone from my Higher Ed Ed.M. program who actually had research experience. Ed.M./M.P.P programs tend to be more like "foot-in-the-door" programs, in my view; i.e., they're often meant to introduce you to the field.

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If you really think a policy job is what you want to do once you graduate, I would lean towards a MPP with an education emphasis, the dual degree, or the Higher Ed master's. If you know you don't want to work directly with students, a HESA program will not be the best fit especially since they tend to lean more to the Student Affairs side than the Higher Ed side.

I don't remember Ed Policy programs (at the master's level) really emphasized research experience. At the PhD level-- yes, but I can't imagine that a ton of master's applicants will have relevant research experience. I applied to a couple (of MPP programs) when I was looking at master's programs and I remember them focusing on your quantitative skills over everything else. You can always ask the folks over on the Governmental Affairs forum. They would know better than I and they will have more up to date information.

Great response! Do you know what programs are there for MPP with education emphasis? I tried looking around, and I kind of want to stay within California but I'm not sure which programs are best for me. My undergrad GPA will probably be a 3.3~ when I graduate in June.

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Great response! Do you know what programs are there for MPP with education emphasis? I tried looking around, and I kind of want to stay within California but I'm not sure which programs are best for me. My undergrad GPA will probably be a 3.3~ when I graduate in June.

I don't know enough about schools in California to give proper advice. I imagine you could narrow it down by looking for schools that have education and public policy programs and see which ones appeal to you.

Or hopefully someone else will come along and post. You can also try the Governmental Affairs section-- they would have a better idea of MPP programs.

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