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Any advice for an engineer, RPCV, and hopeful MPA applicant?

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Thinking of applying to some top MPA programs for next year. A few questions first:


1.  I'm worried about quant preference/pre-reqs. I have a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from a good research university (UT-Austin, GPA: 3.67), but I have never really taken an economics or statistics course (unless engineering economics and engineering statistics count). I haven't taken the GRE yet but I expect to do well on the math portion. Is an engineering background and good GRE quant score enough to show strong quant skills? Or will I be hurt without micro or macro econ under my belt?


2.  Will having an unrelated bachelor's help me stand out or hinder my chances of getting into good programs? It's not actually that random of a switch; I got really into working with Engineers Without Borders as an undergrad and then decided to do Peace Corps following graduation (2 years teaching high school math and science in Tanzania). I loved it and extended my PC service for a 3rd year, currently working with the UN World Food Programme. Anyways, I think I can weave this career development into a decent narrative for my personal statement that makes it clear why I want to now get my MPA, work with NGOs, etc...will that be explanation enough?


3.  Many schools prefer or require 2-3 years work experience. Does Peace Corps count? It's hard to call it just volunteer experience when you do it full-time for 3 years but I also don't know whether it can be classified as "professional experience" in the eyes of universities. I had a part-time and summer engineering internship for 2+ years as an undergrad, as well as silly jobs like waitressing, but I haven't exactly had a career yet.


Thanks for any and all input!


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Hey Kathryn!


I'm sure someone more knowledgeable will comment in due course, but I'll answer too in order to assuage any doubts you may have.


1. I would think engineering economics and engineering stats have the same foundations that any micro/macro course may have. I'm thinking most of these schools would want you to have been at least exposed to econ and stats. That said, depending upon what you want to focus on there may be pre-reqs that you can't get away with not having. For instance, if you wanted to study International Development and decided to apply to Kennedy's MPA-ID program, your lack of certain econ and stat courses would hurt you quite a bit. It depends upon what you want to do, though. I recommend reaching out to the schools and asking them direct. I betcha that's an answer they'd love to provide.


2. I'm willing to bet you aren't the only engineer that discovered their public administration side! ;) Your academic background isn't the most represented within the MPA world, but it's there! So long as you're able to weave a strong narrative highlighting why an MPA will help you further your career and achieve your goals (which I bet you'll be able to do just fine!) you're going to have a very convincing story to tell! Bear in mind the questions you think an AdComm would ask of you: "Why the 'switch'?" "Why do you need this?" "What will it bring you in the future?" "Why not another graduate degree?" "Are you sure you want to do this?" Questions of that sort are great ways of creating the internal dialogue needed to craft a strong PS imho.


3. From what I've seen, Peace Corps folks are considered to have very strong work experience once they return to the States. Especially if, you know, you actually went out of your way to make an especially strong impact in your area. It sounds like you did. Use the motivations gained during your PC service to both advocate for yourself as well as inform. What I mean is the AdComm should know what serving as a PC volunteer means. Just in case, though, make sure they know. As appropriate, list some of your duties. What were some of the things you accomplished? As an engineer, you probably had a big hand to play in building something of importance to the community. Tell about it. Basically, no one will know how professional this experience was unless you can etch it into their brain.


Best of luck, Kathryn! I bet you're going to do really well!

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What programs are you considering?  In short I think you'll be fine on quant, most good schools will value functional experience that informs what you're into in terms of policy even if it's semi-unrelated.  RPCV are highly prized and very much considered to have work experience.


Good luck with the GRE and apps!

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Just skimming through,

Some schools require Stats and Microeconomics.  I am applying to Sacramento State for fall next year, and they require Stats, MicroE, and Gov.   So you might want to see what schools you are interested in, and what their requirements are.   Some programs differ from others.

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In my experience, MPA programs and employers really like Peace Corps and it counts for quite a bit on your resume.  I can tell you that I get a lot of respect when people find out I'm an RPCV, even in DC where tons of people have done cool things and RPCVs are a dime a dozen.  You should be set with an engineering degree as well, you will probably be busy planning your next Friday night out while the Philosophy and French majors are sweating out their problem sets.  There are people from all kinds of backgrounds applying for and getting into top MPA programs.  One of the keys is demonstrating your interest in the "Public" part of MPA, which is why Peace Corps is so beneficial.

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