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Where should I apply?


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This is my first evening on GradCafe. I'm applying to MPP & MPA programs this fall/winter for 2010. Trying to figure out where, apart from my current list, I should apply so I have a range of choices in terms of school quality and possibly financial aid.

About me:


Top ten liberal arts school, interdisciplinary major (history/philosophy of science & medicine)

GPA 3.9, Phi Beta Kappa

Relevant experience:

1.5 years work experience in HIV/AIDS advocacy organization, general research assistant

6 months work experience as research assistant at MDRC (well-regarded social policy research non-profit)

Simultaneous freelance research assistant work for health care policy professors at Yale and NYU

Coro Fellow in 2008/2009 (full time yearlong public affairs leadership program)

Now working as a project manager in the NYC Mayor's Office

GRE: Taking in a month, latest practice scores are Q:540, V: 790 (working on getting that quant up!)

Current school list (in no particular order):

Goldman, Woodrow Wilson, HKS, SIPA, Wagner

Thought process/questions:

I've realized that law school is not the best fit for my interests and I see lots of people in government and nonprofits with MPPs. I recognize that my quantitative skills aren't great (and I don't have econ or calc classes under my belt). I'm looking for a program with broad applicability that will let me capitalize on my strong academic skills, broad policy interests, and supposed leadership potential. I have an multi-sector background and hope to have a multi-sector future, so I'm eager for a program that will age well over time and prove applicable to many professional pursuits.

Specific questions:

Any guesses on my chances at the schools listed?

What other schools should I be looking at?

Am I a better fit for MPP or MPA?

Should I take a non-credit evening economics course (say, at NYU) to round out my academic history? Would it make a difference?

I would greatly appreciate any and all advice.

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OK, I seem to have turned into the resident HKS prognosticator (ha!), but that's only because I loved my time there so much and I love talking about it. Anyway, I have a hard time believing you wouldn't get into most of those schools with those stats. Policy schools have higher admissions rates - mostly, I think, because the applicant pool is so self-selecting. So if you have a solid public interest background and a good academic record, you're likely to get in. Work on getting your Q score up because that score will hurt you, but, at least with HKS, a lack of a quant background won't necessarily hurt you once you're there - they do a good job of teaching econ and stats to people who have never taken them, or forgotten it all in the time they've been away from school. I was a humanities major and did fine. Unfortunately (but fortunately for you!) I think the best policy schools place a lot of emphasis on UG school, so that will work in your favor.

Anyway, as to your other questions - I applied to most of the same schools as you (except for WW) and my impression was that NYU and HKS were quite well-rounded, while Berkeley was more strictly policy-oriented. That was one of my biggest reasons for picking HKS. Also, at HKS you can take classes at HBS, which is nice. AND if you're interested in developing your leadership skills, Harvard has a top-notch leadership program, and HKS in particular has one of the best leadership professors around (Heifetz).

OK, now that I've talked about how awesome HKS is, one bad thing - almost no one gets funding there. And that's likely to get even worse with Harvard's financial crisis. I and several other people I met got partial scholarships to NYU, so they seem to be more generous with aid. I don't regret picking HKS because it more closely fit what I wanted to study, but man, do I have a lot of loans!

Oh, and other schools: there aren't really that many good policy schools with a broad curriculum - most of the best are really focused on policy. Have you looked at the Maxwell School at Syracuse?

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for your help! Since my initial post I took the GRE and got an 800 V / 730 Q score. So relieved to have that hurdle out of the way. I'll also be taking an evening macroeconomics course at NYU starting in a couple weeks. Hopefully those elements will help boost my quantitative profile a little bit (I feel like micro may have been a more compelling choice but there was nothing that worked with my schedule).

I have been looking at Maxwell and will probably apply there in addition to my original list.

My follow-up questions are on financing and scholarships. Anywhere in particular I could look beyond scholarships linked to the schools?

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