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Advice on Improving Resume/Apps Over Next Year


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Hi all,


I was set on applying for MA programs in IR/Security Studies this cycle and then finding a relevant job after a cross-country move didn't go as quickly as I hoped it would leaving me with a gap in my resume right before I would have been applying. Therefore, I didn't feel confident that I would have been submitting my best application that I am capable of, so I made the decision to wait until next Fall.


Now my question is, what are some things I can do with this next year to improve my applications/my resume and show that I am serious? I am now working full-time in a relevant (private sector) job - but what else?? I signed up for some relevant Coursera classes but I saw, for example, that JH SAIS doesn't even allow you to put those on your application. I also saw that the Bush School offers a grad cert in International Affairs that can be done online - would that be useful?? Are there any others like this? Language courses? Things to get involved in? What else?? If you had an extra year to improve your resume/apps for these types of programs, what would you do? I am in Washington, D.C., if that helps at all. Thanks!

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The things I personally would do:


(1) Get your intro macro/micro econ + stats + some calculus down

     (even better if you can get to more advanced econ/ make sure the courses you take are accepted by

       schools you're applying. I heard straighterline.com econ courses were accepted by some schools, double check tho)

(2) Take language classes, preferably in a language from a region in which you're likely to be working

      in/relevant to your field of study

     (i.e. interested in East Asian security issues? learn Chinese, Japanese, etc / Like Middle Eastern issues?

       Learn Arabic/Turkish etc Or, a rare and underrepresneted language)

(3) Try to take classes for credit at a graduate level, or go for a short certificate

     (but idk how useful an online certificate will be, esp in more qualitative subject like IR)

(4) Think about who's gonna be writing your letter of rec, esp if it's gonna be one of your current/recent past employers

     Make sure they may be willing or even talk to them about it 

(5) Look for scholarships, grants, fellowship and etc. Some ppl I've seen had private scholarship/grants ready

      to go even before they got into any schools

     (something like the Rangel fellowship, I'm thinking. Or even just straight money scholarships)

(6) Attend grad school info sessions, talk to someone in their admissions office

      Admissions offices are usually welcoming prospective students, and you can talk to them about

       detailed reqs for admissions, content/nature of their MA programs, etc.

      (Plus, some schools ask if you had made any efforts to know more about school, like attending info sessions.

        That reflects positively on your application (but not immensely, still an advantage))

(7) Since you're in DC, try to attend many relevant conferences, presentations, and think tank/FP events

      (idk if you already know about dc.linktank.com)

      Try to just talk to ppl, even if that doesn't lead to anything substantial.

      Attend events w ppl from work, you know, and they may know someone there and you can build connection (albeit tenuous) 

      You prob don't need to go overboard with these events,

      but personally I see this as a nice perk of working in DC, so I def enjoyed it.

(8) Think about your SOP early on, if you haven't done so already.

      Make sure your GRE score is at least the average score, and see if you could improve it. 

      And get info about your schools early on and eliminate/add schools you really don't think you want to attend if you get in.

      (But I'm sure you've already done these things)

(9) Enjoy DC B) (and try not to freeze to death)



That's all the advice I would have given to myself a year ago.....

I'm a Fall 2014 applicant so i dont have first hand knowledge of all the details of grad school admissions/grad school life, but I'm basing these off what I've heard, read, and what ppl told me about when I was doing an internship in DC and talking to think tank folks and SAIS/Georgetwon folks.


I hope it helps, and sorry if you already knew most of it!  

Edited by dpgu800
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One thing I see as being very important is that you don't always need a graduate degree to begin doing what you're doing. Many times, you follow a topic that you're interested in, a project, a cause, an organization, and you find that the masters or the PhD is essential to doing what you actually want to be doing for that topic.


I say that just to mention that this is a good year to nail down what you are interested in doing and really begin to flesh that out. Don't wait for that acceptance letter -- if you are really interested in security issues in the Middle East, try to get involved in blogging about it online, attending the conferences or seminars that address that topic and getting into a dialogue with others, and whatever you're interested in, start making it happen. If you're not sure yet, use the advice given in the above post to try to narrow it down. I think it's a great run-down of what you should be doing, but the WHY, the reason why you should be doing all that, is to figure out what you're really interested in working on in your career, and then to begin to further it. Volunteer somewhere for that cause that you're invested in, and start becoming knowledgable in that subject or active in that field. Tweet up a storm at a related event. I don't think everyone does this, but to wait for graduate school to begin working on the change that you want to see is putting the cart before the horse. 

And you'll find that it will help you clarify what you want in a program, what you want to do in the future (maybe ruling out something you thought was interesting before), get a sense of who is who in that field and gain yourself some advocates. Not all of this helps you present a better application as in higher scores, but maybe better as in more tailored and confident. That is appealing to schools, because they want to see that you aim beyond just getting into a school. And after you get in, you'll be that much further along in figuring out what you'd like to do and concentrate on in grad school and beyond. 

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