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2016 Results Thread

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1 hour ago, Windmills said:

Is that actually a possible placement? I'm in the same boat where I'm coming from a different field so guaranteed work experience through the Service Corps in a relevant position will hopefully give me a shot at higher profile summer internships, as you said. I just really hope I don't end up choosing IU for their Service Corp and end up getting placed in a job that I'm not interested in and doesn't build relevant skills.

I think it's actually some nonprofit or other, but I stole the idea from a brochure, I believe. The pic stuck with me. I can't find it now, but it's a girl at a Farmer's market with a sign.

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2 hours ago, aslabchu said:

I think it's actually some nonprofit or other, but I stole the idea from a brochure, I believe. The pic stuck with me. I can't find it now, but it's a girl at a Farmer's market with a sign.

Interesting. I imagine that was a one-off volunteer outing or some event and that her day-to-day work is more applied than working at a farmer's market—or at least I would hope so. I would think they weed out placements that don't provide relevant work experience or skill building and were reviewed poorly by the student in an exit interview. Similarly, I can only assume a placement with an organization like Habitat for Humanity is more on the management or coordination side than the physical labor side.

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I've looked through SPEA's career placements and there are plenty of people who end up working for private companies, but overall does the private sector shy away from MPA/MPP compared to MS degrees? Are private companies more adverse to MPAs than government is to MS's? I feel like if I attend IU for their MPA-MSES I'd be open to public and, maybe to a lesser extent, private work. Whereas if I get an MS I'm more limited, but better suited, to the private sector.

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I'm going to use the template from previous years' Wrap Up Threads:

Previous Schools (Name, type, or tier): University of Florida
Previous Degrees and GPAs: B.A. Economics, B.A. Sociology; 3.60 Cumulative GPA
GRE Scores (Verbal/Quantitative/Analytical Writing): 158 V/158 V/4.5 AW
Previous Work Experience (Years, Type): At time of applying, 15-16 months of full-time social policy research/advocacy experience. Some student employment in an economics research bureau; undergrad TA roles; peer tutor.
Math/Econ Background: Economics major and took multiple statistics and research courses in undergrad. PPIA Fellowship.
Foreign Language Background (if applicable to your program): N/A
Intended Field of Study in Grad School: Public Policy and Social Work (joint degree applicant)
Long Term Professional Goals: Applied social research and program evaluation to impact policy change; open to federal, state or local level work. May go on to earn a Ph.D. 
Schools Applied to & Results: Went 12/12 on program acceptances. I will share the MPP/MPA funding results:

  • UCLA (accepted w/ $10K for first year only);
  • UT-Austin ($24K fellowship and out-of-state tuition waiver over 3 semesters);
  • UMichigan ($22K fellowship for 2 years)
  • UMinnesota (full tuition and out-of-state tuition waiver for 2 years)
  • UChicago ($12,500 fellowship for 2 years);
  • UWashington ($6,750 stipend and out-of-state tuition waiver for first year only)

Ultimate Decision & Why: University of Chicago. I had to weigh not only the policy programs, but also the social work programs; Chicago SSA was the only school to provide me with a fellowship. I also am in contact with a professor at SSA whom I can work with as an RA in the first year, in the hopes that I can strengthen my student profile and leverage more fellowship funding from Harris. I believe that both SSA and Harris have the best research fits and analytical frameworks to policy analysis and program evaluation that I am looking for. I've spent much too long thinking about this process, so it feels good to just go with my gut in the end!

Advice for Future Applicants: Don't sell yourself short. I sure as hell didn't think I would get into every program I applied to, because I'm my worst critic. If you're passionate about your field, your career, and your research, then make that as clear as possible in your written application materials.

Do well on the GRE, but don't stress out over it too much. I was going to retake the GRE because of this forum's conversations around it, and I ended up cancelling the exam because I realized that I'm a well-rounded applicant without hitting that 160V/Q benchmark. Perhaps it would have strengthened some funding offers, but I can't even confirm that.

If you can narrow down your applications, do it. In hindsight, I should not have applied to two of the programs on my list, and this list was considered my "short" list after 3 years of compiling program information!

Search through this forum. So many of our questions have been asked time and time again over the last 7 years. 

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Following the posting of the inimitable @RCtheSS in the hopes that my information brings help to future applicants!

Previous Schools (Name, type, or tier): Grinnell College 
Previous Degrees and GPAs: B.A. History, B.A. French; 3.75 Cumulative GPA
GRE Scores (Verbal/Quantitative/Analytical Writing): 163 V/154 Q/4.5 AW
Previous Work Experience (Years, Type): 3 years teaching high school English in a Title I school. I was a TFA'er who stayed in my placement school.
Math/Econ Background: Literally zero. Took AP Stat senior year in High School but that was my last math class and I've taken 0 Econ classes.
Foreign Language Background (if applicable to your program): I speak French and a little bit of Spanish. 
Intended Field of Study in Grad School: Public Policy 
Long Term Professional GoalsInterested in work that strengthens poor communities ideally through social policies involving children and families. 
Schools Applied to & Results: I applied to 11 schools. It was definitely too many, but I really doubted my lack of quant/econ background and just wasn't sure what would happen, even though I was accepted everywhere but Princeton.

  • Princeton WWS / rejected
  • UT-Austin / full ride
  • UMichigan / 1/3 tuition
  • NYU / no funding
  • UChicago /no funding
  • Johns Hopkins / 2/3 tuition
  • Brandeis / 2/3 tuition
  • GW / 10k/yr
  • American / 10k/yr
  • Maryland / 2/3 tuition
  • UPenn / 1/2 tuition

Ultimate Decision & Why: Michigan. In the end it came down to Michigan and Hopkins, two totally different programs. I went with Michigan ultimately because of the alumni network, the curriculum, and the professors, even though I was super impressed with the intimate nature of the Hopkins MPP and the faculty there as well. While my "gut" feeling was maybe towards Hopkins, I really felt like Michigan's program will be more beneficial to my future job prospects, and ultimately I'm going to grad school to change career paths.

Advice for Future ApplicantsAs I said, I definitely did waay more applications than necessary (although the Americorps fee waiver made that possible). If I had to do it again I would have applied to max 6 schools and I would have done more research pre-applying on which programs actually supported my research interests. Biggest takeaway was that a strong overall application can and will make up for lack of quant experience. Also...don't stress too much. You're going to get a great education wherever you go. 

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Hahaha, I think that's the first time I've been considered inimitable. Especially considering that I just noticed a typo in my original post :P

Congratulations on your decision to attend Michigan, @sparks1! I love the Ford School (that's where I did my PPIA fellowship); the faculty and staff are outstanding there, and you're going to have a strong cohort around you for sure.

Edited by RCtheSS
critiquing myself!
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Just now, sparks1 said:

@RCtheSS I think we actually met at UT Austin...we took a tour together and let's just say I was less than impressed with the campus diversity :) Congrats to you too!! I lived in Chicago for a couple of summers and that city is amazing. 

Yes, I remember you!! You are my favorite person for saying that on the tour, lol.

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These forums helped me a lot when I was applying, so I'll share my information here in case someone finds it useful in the future.

Previous Schools (Name, type, or tier): Best or second best school in Mexico (depending on who you ask).
Previous Degrees and GPAsB.A. International Relations; 3.89 Cumulative GPA
GRE Scores (Verbal/Quantitative/Analytical Writing): 167 V/158 Q/5 AW
Previous Work Experience (Years, Type): Over 2 years of corporate consulting in areas related to social risk, corruption and ethics.
Math/Econ Background: Minored in finance, so took a lot of math and econ classes.

Foreign Language Background: Spanish – native; English – advanced; French – intermediate; Russian – beginner 
Intended Field of Study in Grad School: International Relations.
Long Term Professional GoalsFirst option: diplomacy. Second option: risk consulting.
Schools Applied to & Results: Applied to "only" five schools since those are the only ones that I really felt were a good fit. I really tried to bring myself to apply to more, though other schools never motivated me enough. In order of priority:

  1. Georgetown MSFS – $18.5k per year.
  2. Princeton WWS – Rejected.
  3. NYU GSAS – Full tuition.
  4. American SIS – Tuition + stipend.
  5. George Washington Elliott – $14k per year.

Ultimate Decision & Why: Georgetown MSFS. It was always my first priority, so it was impossible to turn them down even if they offered me less than NYU and American. Through conversations with faculty and students I realized it would be nearly impossible to find a school that was a better fit for me. It also helps that I'm not sure I'll want to become a diplomatic once I graduate, and I think the Georgetown name would serve me well in the private sector. NYU tempted me for a while (I've always wanted to work in the UN), but current students didn't have many good things to say about the program.

Advice for Future Applicants: I'll present my advice in the form of my thoughts at the end of this process:

  • I think I maybe should have applied to other schools that weren't necessarily a great fit. I feel like I should have applied to other top schools (SAIS, Columbia, Stanford, maybe even other MPAs and MPPs like Harvard's and Yale's) regardless of fit.
  • I regret applying to both GW and American (my "safeties") since I wasn't going to go to any of those two schools unless they were the only ones that accepted me. One of them, i.e. American, should have been enough.
  • I also regret applying to NYU before talking to current students; I eliminated Columbia from my list early on since it didn't seem a good fit and it has a reputation for providing very little funding, but in light of what I learned after my applications I now know I should have applied to Columbia instead of NYU. My most important piece of advice is therefore to talk to current students before applying.
  • About Princeton WWS: I don't think I've seen anyone with experience exclusively in the private sector get admitted. Despite this, I still applied because I really liked the program.
  • I had subconsciously decided I wanted to go to Georgetown at the very beginning of this process. It was the only university that never moved from my list.
  • Studying for the GRE paid off big time for me (big increase between the first and second time I took it).
  • My LORs came from two not well-known professors that know me very well, and from my direct boss, who also knows me very well. I think this worked to my advantage.
  • Lastly, try not to stress to much about all of this. If you're reading this forum, you're probably an overachiever and way above the average applicant.
Edited by ursusinopinatus
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Like others I benefited from this forum, and want to pay the debt forward.

Program Applied To: Masters in international affairs with coursework focusing on energy policy and finance.

Undergraduate institution: One of the higher-ranked UCs

Undergraduate GPA: 3.45 but “peaky,” with lots of As in my majors and some failing grades in my first two years.

Last 60 hours of Undergraduate GPA (if applicable): 3.63 in the last two years

Undergraduate Major: Double major in International Studies and Economics

Languages: Advanced Spanish and intermediate Brazilian Portuguese (better at reading than speaking)

GRE Scores:  159 Q, 170 V, 5.5 AW

Years Out of Undergrad (if applicable): 4

Years of Work Experience: I spent the first two years out of undergrad working part-time for a number of professors, and then a year working in energy policy. While it’s not work, I’ve since spent an extended period of time living abroad.

Schools Applied to and Results:

  • American University SIS (60% tuition)

  • Georgetown SFS MSFS (waitlisted)

  • Johns Hopkins SAIS (50% tuition for first year)

  • Syracuse Maxwell School MAIR/MPA (no funding)

  • Tufts Fletcher MALD (30% tuition)

  • UCSD GPS (full tuition + stipend)

Final decision: UCSD GPS. While I had an agonizing time choosing between UCSD and SAIS, ultimately I decided that the ability to graduate with no debt outweighed the SAIS name and alumni network. Both schools offer strong classes in my field, and I’m hoping with aggressive networking I can stand out at UCSD and end up in much the same place as if I had gone to SAIS.

Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): I think my SOPs were strong, and played a large role in my success. I was able to tell a story that supported my professional ambitions, pointing to my work experience, undergraduate studies, and language and writing skills. I also applied to the least-selective schools first, which I think is wise: even if you’ve extensively reviewed and edited your SOP, it will get stronger and more focused with each iteration. Additionally, tailoring your SOP to each school is a great way of finding out where you don’t want to go: when I started writing a SOP for GW I realized that the program didn’t really fit with my personal goals.

Finally, the opportunity to write an additional essay is very useful and I don’t think it is a coincidence that I got into SAIS, which requires applicants to write an analytical essay, and not Georgetown, which doesn’t. (Yeah, I know SFS is more selective than SAIS, but I'm telling a story here!) In my essays for SAIS and Fletcher I was able to showcase not only my research and writing skills but also demonstrate how my professional experience and languages skills support my professional goals.

Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): I haven’t seen them, but probably pretty strong: one was written by a former boss, and the other two by professors I had authored substantial research projects under. Due to both hands-off laziness and a phobia of being too demanding I didn’t provide my letter-writers much guidance, which probably reduced my letters’ strength. Don’t be afraid to tell your writers exactly what you want from your graduate experience, and how they can best support these goals in their letters.

Also, I had sent holiday cards to all potential letter-writers every year since I graduated. Good tip for staying on people’s radars. (Though honestly you should be doing this anyway!)


Advice for future applicants: My applications were more successful than I had hoped, and I hope that my experience shows that you can overcome bad undergrad grades.

My main advice is to know why you are going to grad school, and be able to show the admissions committee how your interests, work experience, and skills support these goals. You should seriously research programs, faculty, and course offerings before applying. In retrospect, if I’d spent more time researching the course offerings at SIS, Georgetown, and Maxwell I probably wouldn’t have applied to these programs, which are of course strong but don’t really fit my interests. More research earlier in the process could have saved me hundreds of dollars.

I’d also recommend that you put serious time and effort into studying for the GRE—I loved Magoosh and it is worth the money—and while I’d hoped to have less of a spread between my quant and verbal scores I think my perfect verbal score contributed to me getting the funding offers that I did. Similarly, your SOPs are very important and take a long time to get right. Start them early enough that you have enough time to make many, many revisions. I started writing in October (after having taken the GRE in August), which was enough time to submit by December. If you have a demanding job or other time constraints start earlier. The whole process, from researching schools to writing SOPs to making a final decision, can take much more time than you expect.


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I've spent so much time on this forum in the past year-plus. I can't imagine having tried to navigate this process without all the years of info here. Hope this helps to pay it forward just a bit!

Undergraduate School (Name, type, or tier): Top LAC
Undergraduate GPA: 3.64
GRE Scores:  165 V / 163 Q / 5.5 AW
Previous Work Experience (Years, Type): 6 years out of undergrad. I spent the first three years working as a practicing artist and then transitioned into working in arts/service nonprofits.

Math/Econ Background: Because I went to a liberal arts school with very loose division requirements, I fulfilled my undergrad quant requirements by taking things like "Chemistry of Tropical Diseases"... which seemed very clever at the time but not so impressive on MPA/MPP apps. Starting the spring before app season, I took Statistics, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics through UCLA's Online Extension.
Foreign Language Background: One of my undergrad majors was a foreign language. I also studied abroad in a language-immersion program and did an extra Middlebury language-pledge summer program, though I haven't done much with it past my first job.
Intended Field of Study in Grad School: Urban/Social Policy
Long Term Professional Goals: Working at a grant-making foundation, nonprofit, or local level of government. 
Schools Applied to & Results

  1. Princeton WWS MPA – full tuition + stipend
  2. Harvard KSG MPP – $52k/yr fellowship
  3. Columbia SIPA MPA – $30k/yr fellowship
  4. NYU Wagner MPA – accepted, no funding
  5. Carnegie Mellon Heinz MSPPM – 90% tuition fellowship + work study
  6. USC Price MPP – full tuition fellowship
  7. U Penn SP2 MSSP + Data Analytics – $8k/yr

Ultimate Decision & Why: WWS was my first choice program, and funding was a huge thing for me. Once I got in there, I knew my decision was pretty much made, which I know is very lucky.

Advice for Future Applicants

  • This forum is an incredible resource, so use it! Read back through the decision/wrap-up threads, read back through the school specific threads, read everything, even if it's years old. It's not only a great way to get a better sense of which programs might be a good fit, but also to find out which programs are going to give you funding. Neither CMU or USC had really been on my radar before, but they seemed to offer pretty consistent, generous funding, which was a big part of why I applied there. Reading back through this forum also helped me find the cheapest option for taking the quant classes I needed. There's also a good amount of current/past students who are still active on this board, and they do a great job of not just giving inside info on their programs, but also bringing a realistic perspective on what it can be like to take on a huge amount of debt for grad school.
  • That said, take things with a grain of salt on Grad Cafe, especially when it comes to prestige. Not that things like reputation or alumni networks aren't important (they definitely are), but GC can get a little echo-chambery about the importance and prestige of certain programs that just does not always seem to be born out by in person visits or conversations with current students. Given how expensive a lot of these programs are and how stingy the fancy ones can be with aid, this is a big deal! It's easy to get swept up in how a program is talked about on GC, but definitely cross check that anecdotal reputation against employment stats of recent grads, how well-served by the program current students feel, and campus visits, if you can. 
  • Try to look at your application holistically as an Ad Com would. This will help you see gaps you might have that you can close before you apply or at least address in your application. By the time you get to applying, it's a little late to significantly change your undergrad performance or work experience, but you still have the power to think strategically for how you present yourself in other areas. For example, I knew my test scores and academic background might get me through a first read, but that because I was coming from a pretty unconventional background for MPA/MPP programs, there was going to be a much higher burden of proof on my SOPs to answer the obvious questions of "how does this connect?" and "I'm sorry... why do you want to do this again?" Similarly, I took my 3 quant classes not only because it would help prove I was up to the math/econ work, but because it would also underscore that I was serious about changing careers.
  • START EARLY, START EARLY, START EARLY. Lord, there is not enough caps lock in all the world to underscore enough how much I mean this. I decided to apply to MPA programs in November 2014, freaked out about whether I should scramble to send in an app to NYU in the next 2 weeks, ultimately decided against it, and I am so grateful that I took the long approach. My timeline ended up looking like this: January-March: researched possible programs; April - August: took quant classes (and tutored outside of my office job in order to pay for them); September-December: almost exclusively SOP writing. I had already taken my GREs back in 2011, in a rare fit of post-grad responsibility, which was lucky. I didn't get a chance to visit every campus, but I those programs I didn't visit in person, I sought out at the Idealist NYC grad fair, followed up with, and then set up half hour phone conversations with either current students or faculty. Again, I knew a lot of weight was going to rest on my SOPs, so working on those was basically all I did evenings and weekends for 4 months (note: I was very fun and popular during this time). But I think it genuinely took that long for me to find a narrative for myself that really worked and then to fine tune the writing. Also, it was helpful to have rough drafts early, because when my LOR writers asked for an idea of what I'd been up to and what I wanted to do, I could let them get an idea of how I was presenting myself.
  • Remember that at the end of the day, you are the greatest expert on what you want. Sometimes it won't feel like that's the case, and it sounds corny as heck, but it is true. Get as much information as you can, but when it comes time to make the best decision for you and your situation, there's really not much the internet can do. Go with your gut!
Edited by shrimps
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Accidentally hid my old post--hope this is helpful to folks in the future!

Program Applied To: MPP/MA/MPA

Schools Applied To: HKS, Yale, WWS, Georgetown (SSP), SAIS

Schools Admitted To: Yale (full funding + stipend), SAIS (20K fellowship), Georgetown (50% fellowship)

Schools Rejected From: WWS

Still Waiting: HKS (but removed myself from the waitlist)

Undergraduate institution: Top Public School

Undergraduate GPA: 3.90

Undergraduate Major: Double in Foreign Affairs & Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law

GRE Quantitative Score: 162

GRE Verbal Score: 168

GRE AW Score: 6.0

Years Out of Undergrad (if applicable): 2

Years of Work Experience: 2

Describe Relevant Work Experience: Two years at the Department of Justice, working on data analysis, courtroom litigation support, policy writing. I worked specifically in health care fraud and securities fraud.

Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): I felt good about them--several drafts later, I ended up with a discussion of how my interest in international security paralleled my interest in theater--both require you to keep one foot in reality, and continually say "yes" to every opportunity.

Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): The two I read were strong (my boss at DOJ and a law professor/mentor), and the other I felt good about as well (State Director for a Senator I interned for).

Final thoughts: Yale was my top choice, and it's where I'll be attending. The process was incredibly stressful, and I wasn't sure how the results would shake out, but I was incredibly lucky. Best wishes to everyone!


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  • 3 weeks later...

Understandably, Gradcafe is dominated by MPA candidates. Wanted to record some lessons for any future mid-career MPA and MPP applicants looking for tips - as there are some differences. 

Program Applied To: MPP/MA

Schools Applied To: WWS MPP, Fletcher MA, SAIS MIPP (also considered but excluded Yale, SIPA, Berkeley Goldman) 

Schools Admitted To: WWS (full funding + stipend), Fletcher (14K fellowship), SAIS (no funding offered to MIPPers)

Schools Rejected From: None

Still Waiting: None

Undergraduate institution: Top international university

Undergraduate GPA: No GPAs in my undergrad (estimate about a 3.7?)

Undergraduate Major: Geography/Political Sciences

GRE Quantitative Score: 153

GRE Verbal Score: 170

GRE AW Score: 5.0

Years Out of Undergrad (if applicable): 10

Years of Work Experience: 10 (7 in Diplomatic Service) 

Describe Relevant Work Experience: Two years in not-for-profit sector doing communications and public relations work, 7 years in Diplomatic Service specialising on conflict issues. 2 overseas placements, including in conflict environments.

Strength of SOP (be honest, describe the process, etc): A very simple, clear narrative of my professional interests and achievements, detailing how I wished to supplement my practical experience with study, and make useful professional contacts in the future. I was also clear about why I was applying to each university. I bounced my drafts off friends and colleagues which helped me to improve the structure and drafting. 

Strength of LOR's (be honest, describe the process, etc): Strong - I only used colleagues (my boss, a colleague from a past role, and my deputy head of department) who wrote detailed references which complimented my SOPs with lots of evidence. 

Final thoughts: Going to WWS - which was my top choice. I really wanted to attend a smaller, more intimate and personable school. And of course the financial support is incredible and makes it much easier to take time out of my career. 

Lessons learned 

- If you're mid-career, I really think that GRE scores/quant prerequisites count for A LOT less than the gradcafe prevailing narrative. I almost let my atrocious quant background put me off applying - I'm glad I didn't. My GRE quant score was poor and I haven't studied maths/stats/econ in any meaningful way since I was 16. But it's not my background and not where I'm planning to take my career. I think that the Adcomms understood that my other prerequisites were very strong. 

- LoRs for mid-career applicants do not have to be academic. I had lost contact with my university professors and worried that they wouldn't be able to produce a glowing American-style reference. I took a risk and used exclusively professional referees and it didn't hurt me at all. I went even further and got my close colleagues (rather than senior staff at my work) to craft my LoRs. This way I had a bunch of referees that really understood my background and motivation, who were willing to craft LoRs that complimented my SOP and draw out different aspects of my strengths, and were willing to put in some extra effort to get the letters ready to tight deadlines :P. I'm really glad I plumped for this approach. 

- Related to the above - do be more organised than I was! Though I'd been considering grad school on and off for ages I made a last minute decision to apply (mid Oct) and really had to scramble to get my info together. I only had a few weeks to prep for the GRE and it showed in my quant score! I missed some of the early deadline programs eg HKS because I didn't have my GRE in time. 

- Don't apply for loads of programmes. If you're clear about what you want (for me a full time 1 year programme with a strong international focus and cohort, and funding) you should be focused in your applications. I shouldn't have applied to SAIS, who don't offer any financial support at all to MIPP students. That was a bit of a waste of time and money. Pulling applications together is, frankly, exhausting! 

- SOPs don't need to be really inspirational hollywood-style stories of how you've overcome adversity :). I was nervous, coming from a culture which is a lot more embarrassed about selling yourself than the US, about how to present my strengths. But all that is needed is a clear narrative about what you've achieved so far and what you want to achieve, explaining how a masters qualification will help you. Be authentic and be honest about your interests. And leave plenty of time to craft this narrative and ask others for comments.

Good luck to those applying next year, try not to be too intimidated by the application process! And don't be overinfluenced by the prevailing gradcafe winds - much of the advice is useful but you are best placed to make decisions about your future! 

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