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Advice for Masters in IR 2015?


DKJ87
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Hi y'all!

 

I'm currently an undergraduate senior and I'm hoping to apply to a masters IR program in 2015, and I would really appreciate some advice and making an all around competitive application. My dream program is at SAIS, but it seems like a shot in the dark. I'm new to this whole process, so any advice would be really welcomed. I'm hoping to ultimately work as an FSO for State in the Political or Econ track, or as an FSO for USAID. 

 

 

- Undergrad at a Florida public university, nothing special ranking wise.

- Political Science major, history and IR double minor

- 3.60 GPA (Hoping to bring it up to a 3.65 by the time I graduate), 3.77 Upper levels GPA

- A Presidential Scholar Award, two study abroad scholarships, and a grant for a directed independent study with a Professor

- A published foreign affairs article in local newspaper 

- Deans List for four semesters

- 5 econ courses 

- International Studies Association Member, World Affairs Council member, Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Pi Sigma Alpha political science honors 

- City government Economic Development internship with the mayor

- U.S State Department economic intern in Moscow

- Studied abroad in Russia for a semester

- I speak a conversational amount of Russian, and I emigrated from Belarus so a conversational amount of Belarusian as well. 

- Doing a DIS with a former UN Ambassador on the economic aspects of Russia's oil and natural gas industry

 

I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I'm pretty good with standardized tests and have been studying for awhile already. 

 

I'm looking to graduate in the Summer or Fall, and I'd like to have another internship or two before I apply, but it would probably be in the office of my senator/representative. Some people have told me to wait it out and get a job first, while others have told me to just go ahead and apply. Any tips or advice on other good schools to look at would be really great! Thank you!

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My strong advice would be to wait, try to get a job either in the field or in something related, and figure out what it is you really want to do with your degree before you apply.  

 

What I thought I wanted to do when I graduated from college (join the Foreign Service) ended up being 100% not what I wanted to do even just a few years later.  Having some time to work in Washington, meet people, and really get a sense for what a job in the foreign relations/national security field would actually mean and look like, has made all the difference. Unless you know 100% you want to do a PhD program now or you have some very compelling reason to know what you want to do after you graduate, you should take some time to explore the field before committing to a graduate program.  For me, there were interests and goals that I've developed over the past few years that I couldn't even see on the horizon when I graduated from college.  

 

There are so many different options when it comes to jobs with an international aspect (categories like government, NGO, nonprofit, and private sector only scratch the surface), and in my experience most college seniors only have a very vague notion of what the possibilities are and which possibility is best for them. So it's hard for them to make informed choices about the best grad program for them because they don't have specific goals in mind yet.  

 

Because I waited, and worked, I was able to develop a very specific understanding of what I wanted to do and how specifically a grad program would help me accomplish that.  I think that specificity was immensely helpful when it came to not just getting accepted to schools (I got in to all  5 I applied to), but being awarded several prestigious scholarships, even though my GRE scores were not the highest. 

 

If you can clearly and specifically answer right now what your goals are, and how the grad program will help you, then maybe it's worth applying.  But if you're still vague, my true advice would be to wait. 

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I second Gov2School. I'm only a year and a half out of undergrad at the moment, but I have such a clearer idea of what I want to do. I did apply right out from undergrad, and got accepted to a bunch of places, and later backed out to go work for a year in NYC, and then DC. It really opens up possibilities and it makes you a more viable candidate because you have a clear idea of what you want to do, and the experience to back it up. In my opinion, that all translates very well in statements of purpose and in your resume.

Most, if not all, grad schools tend to look very favorably upon professional experience. It's definitely possible to get in straight from undergrad, but it's also much harder. All of the info sessions and opportunities I had to speak with students all reinforced that SAIS values professional experience, and I don't think I would have gotten in without it. I didn't even bother applying to it straight from undergrad. I do think it would be good to get work first, if possible. But at the end of the day, you're the only one who knows what would be a good fit for you.

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I third what Gov2School said. When I was a senior, I was considering law school, but ended up doing Peace Corps. Toward the middle/end of my Peace Corps service, I took the GRE and started planning on applying for grad school, but then opted to postpone it (partly because I didn't want to spend my last few months in country huddled at my laptop cranking out personal statements and such) and get a full-time job. Now I'm more than a year removed from that, and it gave me so much more clarity and focus on what I want to do and not do. Not to mention that my overall profile is looked upon much more favorable now, with 3-4 years of international and language skills built up that I just didn't have as an undergraduate. It may be worth applying in the fall to see what happens with some schools, but it's certain that finding a full-time job (even an entry-level position with a nonprofit, think tank, gov't agency. etc.) would only bolster your chances of getting into the best schools and getting some $$$

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