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Importance of finishing a masters before applying to PhD programs?

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I am interested in applying to PhD programs, particularly programs that focus on Congress, interest group activities, and public/private relationships (government contracting, etc.) I have a fairly solid academic and professional background.

My big question is: Should I finish my part-time MPP program at GWU, or is my profile strong enough as-is? Will adcoms look down on you for leaving a program unfinished?

I am interested in applying at Harvard, MIT, and DC-area schools (Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, GW, etc.)

Here is my profile (years of experience are slightly inflated to reflect my time applying, not my current experience)

Type of Undergrad Institution: Tier 1 National Liberal Arts College (but not top 10)
Major(s)/Minor(s): Political Science Major, Spanish Minor
Undergrad GPA: 4.0 (Class valedictorian)
Type of Grad: MPP at George Washington (part time, not complete)
Grad GPA: Still in progress
GRE: 164V, 161Q, 4.5W 
Any Special Courses: Political Science Research Methods (undergrad), Econ Statistics (undergrad), Program and Policy analysis (grad), econometrics (grad)
Letters of Recommendation: Probably pretty good. Professors with PhDs from UChicago and UGA with whom I worked
Research Experience: Senior Thesis on interest group activities (top department awards), Co-author in PS Political Science and Politics, research assistant credited in two books

Teaching Experience: None.
Subfield/Research Interests: Interest group activities, public/private relationships, Congress
Professional Experience: Deloitte Consulting (2 years) Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting (3-4 years as of the time applying)

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I don't think an MPP is really going to help you whether you even did it or not for Ph.D. programs (outside of taking some methods/math classes). An MPP is a professional degree, Ph.D.s are strictly academic. So along that type of reasoning, it doesn't matter either way. 

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While I think you make a good point, I can't see it hurting, especially with my academic interest being related to the policy-making process (Congress, interest groups, etc.)


How about general profile evaluation? I am having difficulty locating stats for PhD admissions at schools like Harvard and MIT. Do I have a shot?

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  • 1 month later...

I would actually like to add a question to this question...does an unfinished MA in Political Science hurt?

So, here is my situation...I started my MA in Political Science at Eastern Illinois University in the Fall of 2013. In my first semester, I had issues with the professor I was a GA for, and decided to apply to a different program (but everyone had run ins with him, and he is no longer at EIU). So, I applied to McGill for a MA in Political Science (figured what the hell, even if it seemed like a shot in the dark). During my second semester at Eastern Illinois, I was admitted to McGill. Of course, I accepted. During the spring and summer semesters, I finished my course requirements for EIU (finishing my coursework with a 4.0), and all I had to do was write and defend my thesis. But when I came to McGill (which was only a few days after finishing the summer at EIU), my time was limited, and I ignored my EIU MA degree and have spent all of my time on my McGill work (which also includes a RAship and a TAship).

I will have my McGill MA finished in May of 2016 and I plan on applying to PhD programs starting in December. Will the non-completion of the EIU degree hurt? I would hope that they would see that I left EIU to go to McGill, but could it still hurt nonetheless?

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Maybe you should try to finish the MPP. Not necessarily for the sake of finishing it, but there are a few more doors open if you do. You could amass more quant skills, and if your program allows it - more research experience. 

However, I'm saying this from the position of someone applying out of undergrad who's applying to a couple of MPP programs as a backup, so my advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

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I'm finishing up my IR policy-oriented MA -- not quite an MPP but still considered a professional rather than academic degree -- and currently applying to Political Science PhD programs. Although you can certainly sell it in your SOP/LOR as a logical shift to not finish it, I'd argue for both personal and CV reasons, I'm in the camp that it can only help you to finish a degree.

Also: In my case, I come from the humanities as an undergrad and like that my current program shows quantitative and analytical skills now shown through my BA. 

Edited by joseon4th
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If your MPP is giving you good, usable skills it might help. Like statistics or econometrics or something. I'm not sure what you learn in an MPP. Either way, though, it's probably not worth the opportunity cost of applying. If you put together a good application with good research interests, the admissions committee might even give you a little bump because of your work experience.

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