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quietman

Where did I go wrong?

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Hi,

First off, I hope me starting this thread isn't considered presumptuous, but I notice that posts in the 'Am I Competitive' thread often get overlooked.

I was admitted to elite law schools (HLS, Columbia on a fellowship) a year ago and initially planned to be a lawyer, but decided not to attend and instead applied to MPP programs. I aimed high, perhaps too confident from my law admissions success, and struck out this application year (HKS, WWS, Berk---not even a waitlist), which has been very tough to swallow. I was just wondering if anyone has input as to what the most likely causes of this could be (see details below). I also know that there are factors such as essays that are considered as part of one's application, and my essays are not posted here for you to see.

-Does a 155 quant score preclude admission at the top schools?

-Will a total lack of economics and stats courses, as well as time abroad, be detrimental?

-Looking at the info below, where do you see room for improvement?

Program: MPP/MPA

Schools being considered: Applied to Harvard, Princeton, and Berkeley..I know I should've applied more broadly.

Major: Poli Sci

GPA: 4.16/4.33 from the first college I attended, then 89.5 at the university I transferred to (this was the highest percentage out of all 200+ POLI students there)

GRE score: 170 verbal (99th); 155 quant (60th); 6 writing (99th)

Other test scores: 174 LSAT (99th percentile)

Years since undergrad: It would be 2.5 in the fall of 2016. I worked through UG though.

Work experience:  Founder of a successful but small and local non-profit that is no longer in operation due to a lack of time; policy analyst for a local political party (summer job); legal researcher for a law firm; Program coordinator for a university

Coursework: Mainly Poli Sci and Psych. No Economics or Math courses.

Language skills: Only English fluently

Statement of Purpose: Focusing on interest in education policy

Letters of Recommendation: Two professors whose courses I excelled in and one employer.

Concerns: Poor quant score, minimal quantitative/econ-related coursework, no time abroad, and lacking in extensive research aside from what is typically done in undergrad.

 

Edited by quietman

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Hey quietman,

I'm also interested in education policy and all I can give you is my own perspective. I truly think the lack of quant background is the problem. I was admitted to Berkeley (not HKS though, did not apply to WWS). While I don't think a 155 quant score or no formal econ schooling can preclude you individually, they can probably together. All the top programs are highly quantitative schools. I scores a 155Q on my first GRE, and studied for a few months and got a 162Q. I also took a micro and macro econ class online (Berkeley and UCLA extension, respectively) and got A's in them. I think those are the things that truly made me competitive. I would definitely recommend to take some classes and retake the GRE and reapply next year.

Don't give the adcom any reason to reject you.

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I can only speak for myself, but hopefully this might help... I applied to two programs last year, HKS and Jackson.  Rejected at both.  This year, I'm 6/7 with admits at HKS, SAIS, Fletcher, Sciences Po, LBJ and QUB.  I have a fairly low quant score (158) and no econ or stats classes at all.  The only difference between my applications last year and this year is more worldly experience.  I spent most of last year working in a US Embassy in a volatile country.  When I reapplied to HKS this year, I didn't even change my rec letters because I didn't think I would get in. 

Where I am getting at is don't be discouraged, get more real life experience and reapply.  In 15 years, you aren't going to care if you were 25, 26 or 27 when you got your masters.  

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@quietman I've gotta be honest you sound like an awesome applicant and if I were head of an admissions committee I would for sure admit you. I'm mostly just here to chime in that my quant score was 154 (oops) and while I got rejected from WWS I'm in at LBJ, Ford, GW, Hopkins, American, etc. and got money everywhere I applied. I think you happened to pick very quant-reliant programs and increasing that score (or taking a calc class online, etc) would really bolster your score for next year. 

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I feel your pain quietman.

I too was rejected and felt very much alone, as if life was passing me by.  But I used that time to get more worldly experience and travelled to Thailand. My experience in Thailand put me very much at ease, and I was a stronger candidate because of it. Will you have better experience to bring to the table next time? I think so.

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4 minutes ago, PolicySchool2016 said:

If your heart is set on HKS, can you apply to the HLS/HKS joint degree program and use your LSAT in lieu of your GRE?

I could've done that and thought about it a lot, but I would've had to pay tuition for a year of law school and at the time I decided that since I was just going to do the MPP it wouldn't be worth it. Because I turned down the HLS offer I'd have to reapply there to try that strategy.

And thanks everyone for the quick feedback...I really appreciate it.

Edited by quietman

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Harvard Business has the HBX program. If you do well in that, it may demonstrate some quant ability to offset your GRE quant score. The program is pricey though. You could also simply retake the GRE.

This little bit of advice is related only to HKS as I'm not familiar with other schools. Obviously, I don't see your essays, but one question I had is: Why education policy? If that was the hook for your application, it may have been a problem. I'm not sure if the non-profit you started was education related or if the law firm you worked for did education law, but I would make sure that, if you haven't already, make sure that your application makes a tight argument for why you will excel in education policy.  Your recommendations, volunteer work, work experience should all make the argument. Remember at HKS they are forming a class of diverse perspectives, so there's only so many kids regardless of numbers who they will accept with education policy interests.  A lot of those students are former teachers, school board members, legislative aides with an education portfolio, etc. So you have to make sure that your app really makes you stand out for your stated interest. 

You're a great candidate, so I wouldn't get too discouraged about future prospects.

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I hate to be that guy, but it's not always about this kind of raw biographical and statistical data. (I know law school tends to be that way, but MPA/MPP seems different.) We're talking about the very best schools, and it has a lot to do with how you presented yourself to them. It's very easy to get put in the "high achieving empathetic white dude" pile and never find your way out again. Did you have a solid narrative across all your documents? Did your letter writers back you up on it? That kind of thing matters more than you'd think.

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15 minutes ago, aslabchu said:

I hate to be that guy, but it's not always about this kind of raw biographical and statistical data. (I know law school tends to be that way, but MPA/MPP seems different.) We're talking about the very best schools, and it has a lot to do with how you presented yourself to them. It's very easy to get put in the "high achieving empathetic white dude" pile and never find your way out again. Did you have a solid narrative across all your documents? Did your letter writers back you up on it? That kind of thing matters more than you'd think.

As a law student, I think this is big (along with having some sort of discernible quant background). LS admissions are very "congrats, you have two numbers that look good on our statistics for US News rankings, you're in." That doesn't fly in actual policy programs. 

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Yes, you both raise good points. I think I was overconfident based on my law school admissions results, and wasn't mindful enough that the focus would be on different aspects of my application.

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@quietman, I feel for you for sure. I'm a lawyer going back - admits to Berkeley and Michigan (and probably NYU; I interviewed for a fellowship with them and didn't make finalist, but they've all but told me I'm in) and rejected from HKS. My quant score was abysmal (lower than yours, trust me), mostly because the last math course I took was Cal 2 in Spring 2003 (my freshman year...Jesus, it's been so long). I think I got the admits I got because of my life experience. I get the feeling that at least Berkeley and Michigan didn't give a toot about my GRE score because of that (though I did well on verbal and the writing portion; I can't even remember what the score was; I was mostly just taking it because I had to). My undergrad GPA was a 3.9, and I graduated from law school with honors, but I think there were two things that got me in:

1. I have spent my entire professional career (now seven years) in public service (I was hired through DOJ Honors out of school, and I've stayed put, despite the call of...so much money. I don't know if that makes me cool or an idiot).

2. I had a clear narrative for why I want this degree and what I plan to do with it.

It sucks to high heaven that you didn't get in on this go, but you certainly sound like you're headed in the right direction. I didn't have econ in my background, either (I'm taking it right now, actually; I don't want to go in cold); I went to a state school for undergrad and law school; I've never been abroad; I've been involved in non-profits. Frankly, reading your profile you posted, you sounded a lot like me a few years ago. I think you've got a great groundwork. Please don't give up! Take heart! I truly believe I wouldn't have gotten in a few years ago, but the life experience, and the time that gave me to craft an idea for what I really want to do (an insane plan to try to save the Mississippi Delta, where I'm from). I hope that you can take this as an opportunity to explore the world a little bit. So many of us, I'm sure, have spent a lot of time busting our tails in school or trying to improve our professional lives, and we don't take the time to appreciate all of the knowledge we've gotten, the things we've achieved. You have achieved a great deal, and not being admitted this go round does not change that. You're going to get in; it's not a matter of if, but when. 

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Quietman, I know your pain. I too was rejected today and I am absolutely devastated. Our stories share some key elements, so let me add my two cents. 

 
I applied to HKS last year and was waitlisted. I decided to wait a year and reapply, turning down admission to a couple of prestigious B-schools in the process. Like you, I decided that policy was where my true interests lie. I spent a year bolstering my application: I took a stats course through an HKS-recommended program, did countless rewrites of my essays, and even quit my consulting job to spend a year running my own startup firm and volunteering nearly full time. I really wanted to find a job at an NGO or such, but it unfortunately just didn't come together. 
 
HKS is a prestigious school, and Ivy admissions are notoriously tricky, but I still cannot believe I didn't hit the WL at least. Every aspect of my app was better than last year. Recommendations from current HKS staff. A compelling narrative. Strong GRE verbal, okay quant, and supplemental coursework. Argggg it's driving me crazy that I bombed. Seriously depressed. 
 
Still waiting on Fletcher regular decision for MALD to come back. Will likely attend if admitted. I worked for Harvard a while back and love the Boston area. 
 
Stay strong, man. HLS admittance is seriously impressive. I don't know what happened to HKS this year, they must have had some serious talent. 
 
Stats:
 
-170V, 158Q, 5.5 GRE
-3.73 cum GPA, 3.82 IR major from "public Ivy" 
-Stats, Econ, few math courses, all As and one B
-Strong recs, including former professor and HKS personnel 
-3+ years in consulting, strong leadership responsibilities, volunteering throughout 
-Founder of multiple volunteering groups in DC metro area 
 
As you can see, my weakest link was lack of professional policy experience, IMHO. I hoped to counteract it with all my volunteering credentials. Guess it didn't work. 
 
HKS is weird, man. My much less polished app from last year got me WLed. Spent a year working on it only to get dinged. Congrats to everyone who got in, but I'm pretty salty about my situation right now. I wanted this. Badly. 
 
If you reapply, you should definitely try to up your quant game. My 158 probably did me no favors, even though I tried to bolster it with supplemental quant coursework. 
 
Good luck. 
 
 

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2 hours ago, F4 said:

Quietman, I know your pain. I too was rejected today and I am absolutely devastated. Our stories share some key elements, so let me add my two cents. 

 
I applied to HKS last year and was waitlisted. I decided to wait a year and reapply, turning down admission to a couple of prestigious B-schools in the process. Like you, I decided that policy was where my true interests lie. I spent a year bolstering my application: I took a stats course through an HKS-recommended program, did countless rewrites of my essays, and even quit my consulting job to spend a year running my own startup firm and volunteering nearly full time. I really wanted to find a job at an NGO or such, but it unfortunately just didn't come together. 
 
HKS is a prestigious school, and Ivy admissions are notoriously tricky, but I still cannot believe I didn't hit the WL at least. Every aspect of my app was better than last year. Recommendations from current HKS staff. A compelling narrative. Strong GRE verbal, okay quant, and supplemental coursework. Argggg it's driving me crazy that I bombed. Seriously depressed. 
 
Still waiting on Fletcher regular decision for MALD to come back. Will likely attend if admitted. I worked for Harvard a while back and love the Boston area. 
 
Stay strong, man. HLS admittance is seriously impressive. I don't know what happened to HKS this year, they must have had some serious talent. 
 
Stats:
 
-170V, 158Q, 5.5 GRE
-3.73 cum GPA, 3.82 IR major from "public Ivy" 
-Stats, Econ, few math courses, all As and one B
-Strong recs, including former professor and HKS personnel 
-3+ years in consulting, strong leadership responsibilities, volunteering throughout 
-Founder of multiple volunteering groups in DC metro area 
 
As you can see, my weakest link was lack of professional policy experience, IMHO. I hoped to counteract it with all my volunteering credentials. Guess it didn't work. 
 
HKS is weird, man. My much less polished app from last year got me WLed. Spent a year working on it only to get dinged. Congrats to everyone who got in, but I'm pretty salty about my situation right now. I wanted this. Badly. 
 
If you reapply, you should definitely try to up your quant game. My 158 probably did me no favors, even though I tried to bolster it with supplemental quant coursework. 
 
Good luck. 
 
 

Crazy that you didn't get in. You absolutely deserved it. Good luck with the rest

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5 hours ago, aslabchu said:

I hate to be that guy, but it's not always about this kind of raw biographical and statistical data. (I know law school tends to be that way, but MPA/MPP seems different.) We're talking about the very best schools, and it has a lot to do with how you presented yourself to them. It's very easy to get put in the "high achieving empathetic white dude" pile and never find your way out again. Did you have a solid narrative across all your documents? Did your letter writers back you up on it? That kind of thing matters more than you'd think.

Just want to highlight this again. I didn't get into HKS either, but honestly, it's because I wasn't a good fit for me.

In my experience, public policy programs tend to be much more concerned about fit, which isn't stressed as much at law programs. Law schools are dying to fill as many spots as they can just to keep themselves afloat; MPP programs are much more like PhD programs (especially since so many of them are designed to provide some level of funding for many students).

Additionally, being strong in math is important (I say this as someone who isn't strong in math and hates math). That doesn't mean you necessarily need a better quant score, it may just mean you should try and take a stats or calculus class so they can tell you're serious about being able to do quantitative work.

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Just out of curiosity, why do you want to go to a public policy school instead of going to law school? What position could you only get with an MPP that you couldn't with an LD?

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Firstly...this is just my opinion..so please don't kill me if you disagree: You should reconsider the law school decision. With your LSAT score and GPA you should reply to the top schools and see where the chips fall. I dont think that there is any policy arena in which a degree from HLS or Columbia Law is less valuable than HKS or WWS.

In regards to your question: I got into WWS and HKS. We have similar verbal scores, but my quant was significantly higher. I came from a polisci background so I put in some effort to score above 160 for the quant. My understanding is that the median for the top schools(HKS, WWS, Goldman) is around 161Q and 162V. But I also had a very quantitative job, so I think that was a factor.

Honestly from your profile, I doubt that a few quant points or classes made the difference in your app. Sometimes you are just not a fit for the class that adcom is trying to build. 

I am grasping at straws, because I don't really know what to tell you. You have great scores and you seem like the perfect candidate. I honestly think that this process can just be very random..maybe the person that read your app was just having a bad day..maybe there were too many education policy apps...what I am trying to say is that this occurrence, as sad as it is, in no way reflects your abilities or capabilities. My final suggestion would be this...try to highlight your interest in education through work experience and get your quant to over 160. And perhaps reconsider law school...especially with that LSAT score.

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Thanks for all the responses....I greatly appreciate it (and I feel your pain F4).

Edited by quietman

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15 hours ago, kbui said:

Just out of curiosity, why do you want to go to a public policy school instead of going to law school? What position could you only get with an MPP that you couldn't with an LD?

Hi kbui,

Congrats on the HKS acceptance!

I chose to pursue the MPP because it is more versatile internationally (with the JD I'd be bound to the American legal system, at least until completing a lengthy process of certification abroad) and even with opportunity cost considered the MPP would be more financially feasible for me given my goals.

Of course in hindsight I'm kicking myself for not taking the sure thing over the gamble of applying for the MPP, where I was probably overvaluing the significance of my strong academic performance. I actually tried deferring the JD at HLS, then applying to the MPP program in the intervening period using my LSAT (this is allowed for joint degree students currently pursuing a JD) but I was told that only those currently attending a JD prgoram could do so and that all others must submit a GRE (which in my case featured the mediocre quant score).

 

Edited by quietman

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4 hours ago, quietman said:

Hi kbui,

Congrats on the HKS acceptance!

I chose to pursue the MPP because it is more versatile internationally (with the JD I'd be bound to the American legal system, at least until completing a lengthy process of certification abroad) and even with opportunity cost considered the MPP would be more financially feasible for me given my goals.

Of course in hindsight I'm kicking myself for not taking the sure thing over the gamble of applying for the MPP, where I was probably overvaluing the significance of my strong academic performance. I actually tried deferring the JD at HLS, then applying to the MPP program in the intervening period using my LSAT (this is allowed for joint degree students currently pursuing a JD) but I was told that only those currently attending a JD prgoram could do so and that all others must submit a GRE (which in my case featured the mediocre quant score).

 

You're a super strong candidate and have an impressive profile. Wish I had your academic pedigree.

I got rejected from MC-MPA despite .... and rejection hurts. Really painful. Like you, asking questions, pondering, and wondering why. Truth be told, it's never one thing -- a bunch of factors, some out of our control -- come together to produce disappointing outcomes and results.

We'll fall short and even fail in leadership tests throughout life and while this is very difficult to accept, this experience will undoubtedly make you a stronger leader if you can show grit and move past it.  I hope to do the same. Wish you all the best.

 

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6 hours ago, needanswers said:

You're a super strong candidate and have an impressive profile. Wish I had your academic pedigree.

I got rejected from MC-MPA despite .... and rejection hurts. Really painful. Like you, asking questions, pondering, and wondering why. Truth be told, it's never one thing -- a bunch of factors, some out of our control -- come together to produce disappointing outcomes and results.

We'll fall short and even fail in leadership tests throughout life and while this is very difficult to accept, this experience will undoubtedly make you a stronger leader if you can show grit and move past it.  I hope to do the same. Wish you all the best.

 

Thanks for the response and commiserations on the rejection.

I'm sure I'll get over it, but given that I already had the HLS acceptance in my hands things sting pretty badly; a lot of regrets and 'what the hell was I thinking' at this point! I keep hoping that there was some sort of mistake, and that I was actually supposed to be accepted, but  of course the chances of that are pretty much 0.

Best of luck to you as well :)

Edited by quietman

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On 3/8/2016 at 2:28 PM, aslabchu said:

I hate to be that guy, but it's not always about this kind of raw biographical and statistical data. (I know law school tends to be that way, but MPA/MPP seems different.) We're talking about the very best schools, and it has a lot to do with how you presented yourself to them. It's very easy to get put in the "high achieving empathetic white dude" pile and never find your way out again. Did you have a solid narrative across all your documents? Did your letter writers back you up on it? That kind of thing matters more than you'd think.

I will second this. Entering into a master's degree program, MPP or MPA, your quant score is not a problem. If you were applying for a PhD, I would recommend retaking the GRE. You are competing against hundreds of overachievers. Your narrative and recommendations matter.

 

Did you take care to meet the requirements of the applications with the correct ratio and number of academics to professional recommendations? When I applied to my graduate programs, the people who wrote my recommendations had me outline what they should write, make sure they hit the important projects and achievements I accomplished. The recommendations should corroborate, not conflict, with you overall narrative. 

Did you show understanding of the programs and how they fit with your goals? Schools want to see that you are committed, and showing that you actually took the time to learn about them, their program, and work is important. Also, these are Ivy leagues that you are applying to, you need to show that you are applying for more reason than prestige. 

What will an MPP education do for your and your career goals? Did you show that you took this into consideration. What differentiates you from the hundreds of other overachievers who want to change the world, make better policy, or administrate an effective government? Maybe what you want to do is not a good fit for these programs. Maybe they want a year more of experience. Maybe the applicants from your region were more impressive and your region is over represented in acceptances and on the wait list. Maybe 50 Malalas applied this year. Only the admissions people know. 

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On March 8, 2016 at 2:02 PM, quietman said:

Hi,

First off, I hope me starting this thread isn't considered presumptuous, but I notice that posts in the 'Am I Competitive' thread often get overlooked.

I was admitted to elite law schools (HLS, Columbia on a fellowship) a year ago and initially planned to be a lawyer, but decided not to attend and instead applied to MPP programs. I aimed high, perhaps too confident from my law admissions success, and struck out this application year (HKS, WWS, Berk---not even a waitlist), which has been very tough to swallow. I was just wondering if anyone has input as to what the most likely causes of this could be (see details below). I also know that there are factors such as essays that are considered as part of one's application, and my essays are not posted here for you to see.

-Does a 155 quant score preclude admission at the top schools?

-Will a total lack of economics and stats courses, as well as time abroad, be detrimental?

-Looking at the info below, where do you see room for improvement?

Program: MPP/MPA

Schools being considered: Applied to Harvard, Princeton, and Berkeley..I know I should've applied more broadly.

Major: Poli Sci

GPA: 4.16/4.33 from the first college I attended, then 89.5 at the university I transferred to (this was the highest percentage out of all 200+ POLI students there)

GRE score: 170 verbal (99th); 155 quant (60th); 6 writing (99th)

Other test scores: 174 LSAT (99th percentile)

Years since undergrad: It would be 2.5 in the fall of 2016. I worked through UG though.

Work experience:  Founder of a successful but small and local non-profit that is no longer in operation due to a lack of time; policy analyst for a local political party (summer job); legal researcher for a law firm; Program coordinator for a university

Coursework: Mainly Poli Sci and Psych. No Economics or Math courses.

Language skills: Only English fluently

Statement of Purpose: Focusing on interest in education policy

Letters of Recommendation: Two professors whose courses I excelled in and one employer.

Concerns: Poor quant score, minimal quantitative/econ-related coursework, no time abroad, and lacking in extensive research aside from what is typically done in undergrad.

 

I don't think the GRE scores or lack of econ classes is the problem. You seem to have excelled in organized educational settings, and have good letters of rec. My own opinion is that it's not clear, based on what you've provided, why you're interested in education policy. Was your non profit education-focused? Is your current job in that field? Overall, my sense is that they're looking for a consistent narrative. If you're serious about a particular field, show them that through your interests and outside experiences.

Just my two cents. I'm an HKS MPP  grad.

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