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Elvidi

How big of a role does your undergrad institution play in admissions chances?

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I'm sure this has been answered so apologies if I'm being repetitive. I'm just curious - how important is the prestige/ranking of undergrad education in admissions to big name IR/professional programs?

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In and of itself, I'd say it's mildly important. What's much more likely to influence your chances is your perceived professional trajectory, which is likely strongly influenced by the quality of your undergraduate institution. Go to a highly ranked, private school (Johns Hopkins/Tufts/Georgetown/Carnegie Mellon/Claremont Mckenna) and you'll probably have several prestigious internships and a good runway for decent full-time employment at a relevant employer (the sophisticated guidance and doors opened by those top schools - not to mention you tend to actually learn quite a lot more - is incredibly helpful and results in significantly higher lifetime earnings). Go to lesser-ranked and/or public university and more likely you find yourself working customer service/retail type positions or for peanuts at no-name NGO. I am an example of the latter and was still able to make things work, but it's been incredibly difficult and I'm 2-4 years behind those who had those wonderful opportunities in their teens and early 20s. 

If you're from a less advantaged background, it's obviously helpful if you can build up the margins of your application (languages, additional quant courses, volunteer work, community service, leadership). I'd highly recommend you try to get some current students or (better yet) graduates of your target schools to look over your resume and application materials and make constructive comments. 

One final comment - if you have a less prestigious background and lack those elite connections and work experiences that others have acquired through attending a top undergraduate institution, I highly recommend you go to the most prestigious grad school possible, barring catastrophic debt levels. When I was applying, I ruled out the very top schools - I reasoned my blue collar background would not be well-received by admission committees - but did not even consider schools below the levels of SAIS/Fletcher/SIPA/Georgetown, knowing I would need that more elite sheen on the resume. If you want to work in the US, I would also caution you to think carefully about going to school in Europe. European universities have a reputation for placing far less emphasis on career/industry connections than the top American professional programs.   

Edited by went_away

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@went_away, this is super helpful, thank you! It's so intimidating looking at the profiles and stats of students/grads (especially. Fletcher, obviously my first choice) with all these crazy Ivy League BA degrees and I'm over here paying out of state tuition at a mediocre public university :/ 

do you have any tips for reaching out to grads/students while I'm applying? I have basically no connections there so I really don't know where to start!

Edited by Elvidi

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I'm in a different field, but still humanities, and still international. For what it's worth, if anything, I went to a no-name undergrad (mostly anyone I speak to has never heard of it unless they grew up there), but I had a markedly unique experience there, and had outstanding work experience in international relations and my field, as well as stellar LOR's. I was definitely asked multiple times by multiple professors at multiple schools during the pre- and -post-application processes (pre-decision) about my undergrad, and none were impressed. But with the overall package it didn't matter. I am at a top-5 (or top-10, depending which list) US school now for my field.

 

As others will say elsewhere: overall package really matters!

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@went_away, this is super helpful, thank you! It's so intimidating looking at the profiles and stats of students/grads (especially. Fletcher, obviously my first choice) with all these crazy Ivy League BA degrees and I'm over here paying out of state tuition at a mediocre public university :/ 

do you have any tips for reaching out to grads/students while I'm applying? I have basically no connections there so I really don't know where to start!

LinkedIn is your first friend. So many search options are available, even with a free account. Try to find current students or recent graduates working in organizations that match up with your career goals and hit them up for an informational interview (I'm sure you can google for etiquette on that if you're unsure how to go about it). Fletcher prides itself on being a school with some of the friendlier/more helpful students and alumni, so I'm guessing you'll hear back 

Also, definitely start talking to the admissions department at Fletcher and see if they can put you in touch with a current student or three - their insights should be helpful to you, and showing solid evidence of enthusiasm/knowledge of the school and your career goals certainly won't hurt. 

I took a look at your profile and it looks like you don't have an X factor driving you in (ie worked in the West Bank for a year) and lack strong work and international experience. Given that, your campus leadership and high grades (which is also a form of campus leadership) are your strongest suit, so you should play that up in your application presentation.   

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I took a look at your profile and it looks like you don't have an X factor driving you in (ie worked in the West Bank for a year) and lack strong work and international experience. Given that, your campus leadership and high grades (which is also a form of campus leadership) are your strongest suit, so you should play that up in your application presentation.   

That's definitely why I'm applying for Map Your Future. I'm hoping I can use the admissions interview to convince them of my ability to get some solid work experience in before starting. Thanks again for the input!

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I think the name in and of itself is probably minimally important. The part of your undergrad experience that are most interesting to the admissions team will be your transcripts and your academic LOR, and the biggest way the prestige of the institution plays in is to give those things context. A GPA of 3.4 might read differently depending on where it's from. Schools want to see that you challenged yourself with increasingly difficult classes, took leadership positions, and were engaged with your academic community, but I do think they understand that opportunities can be very different college to college. This doesn't only apply to how well-known a school is, but also how well-funded or how large - generally, you aren't going to be faulted for not taking advantage of courses that weren't offered.

I do think @went_away raises a very valid point that people who graduate from prestigious colleges can have advantages in entry-level jobs and internships that put them frustratingly ahead of the game. However, it's worth looking into the lists of undergrad institutions that incoming students are coming from. Most MPA/MPP programs put these demographics somewhere on their websites, and it's definitely not just a collection of the US News top 10 who get in - those are represented, but people are also coming from all types of places.

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I went to a large, state public university in the South. For anonymity's sake I don't want to say which one, but it's around #30 in the US public school rankings. I'm in my first year of my MPP at HKS now. 

I wouldn't say that your undergraduate university matters. In my program, we have plenty of people who graduated from so-so schools. What matters is - did you succeed at your undergraduate institution? Did you take advantage of leadership opportunities there? What have you done professionally after leaving school? Do your activities show a strong commitment to public service? At least at HKS, your work experience is FAR more important than where you got your bachelor's degree. 

 

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From my observations, no, if you have work experience. A high GPA also helps combat any suspicions. Graduating Honors/Phi Beta Kappa also aids to the softening of any non-elite/"never heard of this uni" before thoughts. If you're straight out of undergrad then graduating from a top 25 may help. You must realize if you're straight out of undergrad adcom will take into consideration your internships and the strength of recommendations.

Yes. those who attend elite institutions have better access to internships, but, at least in my experience, the gulf between a worker who graduated from a non-elite college and one that did is much smaller than one actually thinks.

Graduate school is the leveling field for those who have not attended the elites -- reality shows there is a mix of elite/prestigious universities/colleges and non-elites.

Oh, and GRE score. MPA/MPP programs take a more holistics approach to admissions. This isn't like law school where GPA & LSAT scores are the two main ingredients for a "Welcome to Harvard Law!" 

Seriously, the only advantage the students at elite schools have over you is connections (roommate/boyfriend's parents know so-and-so in Federal Agency/prominent think tank/prominent non-profit). Do connections help? Sure. But some posters here paint it like some Everest type of challenge. It's not. Get the language skill,s get the quant skills, get the work/internship experience (whatever you ca get), get the GRE score and get the recs. Kill the essays and hit submit before the day of the deadline.

You also have to take in account that the MPA/MPP world is usually self-selected. I know more lawyers than I know people who have an MPA/MPP. The world of public sector/policy "wonk" nerds isn't big.

Edited by UrbanMidwest

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In and of itself, I'd say it's mildly important. What's much more likely to influence your chances is your perceived professional trajectory, which is likely strongly influenced by the quality of your undergraduate institution. Go to a highly ranked, private school (Johns Hopkins/Tufts/Georgetown/Carnegie Mellon/Claremont Mckenna) and you'll probably have several prestigious internships and a good runway for decent full-time employment at a relevant employer (the sophisticated guidance and doors opened by those top schools - not to mention you tend to actually learn quite a lot more - is incredibly helpful and results in significantly higher lifetime earnings). Go to lesser-ranked and/or public university and more likely you find yourself working customer service/retail type positions or for peanuts at no-name NGO. I am an example of the latter and was still able to make things work, but it's been incredibly difficult and I'm 2-4 years behind those who had those wonderful opportunities in their teens and early 20s. 

If you're from a less advantaged background, it's obviously helpful if you can build up the margins of your application (languages, additional quant courses, volunteer work, community service, leadership). I'd highly recommend you try to get some current students or (better yet) graduates of your target schools to look over your resume and application materials and make constructive comments. 

One final comment - if you have a less prestigious background and lack those elite connections and work experiences that others have acquired through attending a top undergraduate institution, I highly recommend you go to the most prestigious grad school possible, barring catastrophic debt levels. When I was applying, I ruled out the very top schools - I reasoned my blue collar background would not be well-received by admission committees - but did not even consider schools below the levels of SAIS/Fletcher/SIPA/Georgetown, knowing I would need that more elite sheen on the resume. If you want to work in the US, I would also caution you to think carefully about going to school in Europe. European universities have a reputation for placing far less emphasis on career/industry connections than the top American professional programs.   

What on earth did I just read ...

Given that DC is a "where did you go to school?" type of city aka prestige wh_re - with the all "equality" talk - I find this highly ironic.

Plus, I was just went on the WW page with bios of the MPA students -- many of the internships, if the student who attends a school outside the top 25 is resourceful and has done his homework, many of the internships that's available to a student at an elite institution can be accessed. The only thing that holds them back - and it's not language skills or quant skills (a good majority who are Hill staffers majored in the liberal arts & humanities for Christ sakes) - it's just the awareness of internships. That's where the department career services come in. This gap can be shrunken if the student researches about internships about students who also want to enter their given field.

Edited by UrbanMidwest

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On 10/31/2015, 11:14:48, UrbanMidwest said:

What on earth did I just read ...

Given that DC is a "where did you go to school?" type of city aka prestige wh_re - with the all "equality" talk - I find this highly ironic.

Plus, I was just went on the WW page with bios of the MPA students -- many of the internships, if the student who attends a school outside the top 25 is resourceful and has done his homework, many of the internships that's available to a student at an elite institution can be accessed. The only thing that holds them back - and it's not language skills or quant skills (a good majority who are Hill staffers majored in the liberal arts & humanities for Christ sakes) - it's just the awareness of internships. That's where the department career services come in. This gap can be shrunken if the student researches about internships about students who also want to enter their given field.

I don't understand what you wrote, if you wanted to attack me or what exactly. Regardless, below are a couple of sources that have informed my thinking on the relationship of one's undergraduate institution to career prospects. Both strongly support my own take on the relative influence of the eliteness of the undergraduate institution vs. graduate school on future earnings. Also, keep in mind that I am not speaking here as a future student or interested observant. I am a graduate of one of the higher ranked grad schools of international affairs and currently work in the industry in Washington DC, so I do have quite a lot of personal knowledge on the topic. 

I certainly do not agree that the only advantage that graduates of top undergraduate universities have is due to personal connections formed through friendships on-campus. The research I've been able to find strongly supports my assertion: 

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2473238

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/education/edlife/why-you-cant-catch-up.html?_r=1

 

Edited by went_away

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