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STOP FREAKING OUT: these programs are not as competitive as you think

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I graduated from a top IR program in 2015, and before that was an anxiety-ridden gradcafe poster under another handle (trying to retain a little anonymity here). 

Scrolling through these anxious posts on a lazy Saturday morning, I want to assure that it's not as hard to get into these programs as many gradcafe posters seem to think.

I had a solid GRE, mediocre GPA, decent but not exceptional work experience. I worked hard on my essays and two of my professional recommendation letter writers definitely liked me a lot (although I never saw their letters), but I was a number of years out of undergrad and the academic reference I got was from a professor in a totally unrelated field who probably barely remembered who I was. I had never had a proper IR job, had never lived in DC. It was a mixed application. But it got me into Johns Hopkins SAIS with a hefty scholarship, and a number of other top programs most of which gave me money.

This is not Yale Law. You don't need a 3.96 GPA from an elite undergrad and a 98th percentile GRE/LSAT. One of my good friends at SAIS once casually referenced being happy about having cracked the 50th percentile on the math portion of the GRE. I have a number of friends that came from no-name undergrads (and of course some from Princeton, Vanderbilt, Middlebury, Boston College, Brown, etc.). 

If you're looking for $$$, then you probably want to pump up your GRE scores and write the best letters you possibly can. 

ETA: Most gradcafe-ers are probably some of the top applicants to these schools. That's why when results season comes around, you'll see lots of posts like "I can't believe I got into X school with Y dollars!" 

Edited by kb6

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Excellent post.

You - the applicant - are, more than ever, a customer. A customer of an increasingly overpriced, increasingly commodified product that seeks to serve you in an increasingly competitive job market where jobs are shrinking faster than most realize. You have more power than you may realize, at least before school. 

One last note - veteran's status will do much more for your job prospects in Washington DC - to include private contractors - than an IR degree from Georgetown, SAIS, or Fletcher. Federal jobs have nearly dried up entirely for non-veterans and most private contractors place heavy emphasis on hiring veterans because those companies with veteran employees are given preferential treatment for winning government contracts (also women, minority, veteran, service-disabled owned companies).

Edited by went_away

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Wow way to pump the ego kb6!  You totally hit the nail on the head with how freaked out all of us are-- and by all, I mostly mean myself, and probably lots of others.  Thanks for the raw insight!

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I have come back to read this several times when I'm stressed about applications.  Thank you!

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How hard is it to get and how rare are full or near full scholarships with or without guaranteed teaching requirements? Talking about MPP

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On 10/31/2016 at 8:22 PM, MD guy said:

How hard is it to get and how rare are full or near full scholarships with or without guaranteed teaching requirements? Talking about MPP

I got money from all the programs I got into, including one full ride, and none of them had teaching requirements. I don't think TA'ships are typically required for MPP/IR master's students because they are professional programs and not academic ones. In terms of SAIS, the undergrad campus is located in another city and in terms of schools like Columbia, they have actual econ/poli sci PhD students to TA undergrad courses.

In terms of how hard it is to get money...I think only 25-40% of students typically get scholarships from these kinds of programs, if I remember what I was told when I asked during the process in 2012-2013. You can call up admissions offices to ask for more current figures. But a scholarship can mean knocking 5k/yr off of tuition. Full rides are very rare. I can't say for sure why I got a good amount of money, but as I believe I referenced above I had pretty high GRE scores. 

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As someone who wants to eventually work on environmental policy, this all pretty gut-wrenching. Really wondering if I should consider another path, despite all the work I've done toward applications so far. If anyone wants to give me good reasons why I shouldn't abandon ship, please do!

Edited by mpamppquestions

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If you've put efforts into the applications, you might as well apply. Like I said, I was surprised to get funding considering I had a middling GPA. But if your only option ends up being plunging yourself into enormous debt in order to get this degree, I would strongly caution you against that - especially if you want to enter the non-profit world where salaries are shockingly low. Even my friends working for private sector development contractors (Ashoka, Chemonics) start off in the mid-40s. If some of these IBR/REPAYE programs go away they are going to be royally f*cked (and they still may be when they get an insane tax bill in 20 years).

I took on a relatively smaller amount of debt and now work in the private sector, and it still sucks. My friends with huge debt loads making at the higher end of the starting income range for IR grads (70s-low 80s) are living with roommates into their 30s. Not fun.

 

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Thank you to the original poster, I got accepted last week into my masters and I needed to hear it with all the stress.

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I would chime in here and say that rather than thinking that the policy programs are not as competitive as you think, the people here at Grad Cafe—especially the people engaging a lot, asking lots of questions, and/or answering questions—are much more prepared than most other applicants for the challenge of gaining admission. Lots of people apply to graduate school, and especially policy school, with a "Let me throw my hat in the ring and just see if I'll get in" approach, and don't end up putting their best candidacy forward. The GradCafe'rs approach the application process with more intention, organization, and knowledge of the process and why they are going to grad school. Basically two sides of the same coin but from a slightly different perspective. Breathe, everyone! If you put your best effort forward (and get quality information from the schools and people you trust on here or elsewhere), you will end up exactly where you belong.

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On 11/10/2016 at 10:32 AM, mpamppquestions said:

As someone who wants to eventually work on environmental policy, this all pretty gut-wrenching. Really wondering if I should consider another path, despite all the work I've done toward applications so far. If anyone wants to give me good reasons why I shouldn't abandon ship, please do!

If the amount of debt you have to take on exceeds the average salary you'll get coming out of school, turn it down. I have a huge number of friends in the env space and they'll all tell you that there is no rush for a graduate degree. Especially if you can't get into one of the big 4 env schools, it's a no-brainer to turn it down imo

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On 11/9/2016 at 9:06 PM, kb6 said:

I got money from all the programs I got into, including one full ride, and none of them had teaching requirements. I don't think TA'ships are typically required for MPP/IR master's students because they are professional programs and not academic ones. In terms of SAIS, the undergrad campus is located in another city and in terms of schools like Columbia, they have actual econ/poli sci PhD students to TA undergrad courses.

In terms of how hard it is to get money...I think only 25-40% of students typically get scholarships from these kinds of programs, if I remember what I was told when I asked during the process in 2012-2013. You can call up admissions offices to ask for more current figures. But a scholarship can mean knocking 5k/yr off of tuition. Full rides are very rare. I can't say for sure why I got a good amount of money, but as I believe I referenced above I had pretty high GRE scores. 

I see, thank you! So here I am again hoping/praying that my MD will be the strongest bait for good money. I'm not going to add to my med school debt load for some public service degree lol. Woody Woo it is! :P

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I like to revisit this thread every so often just to give myself a little reminder that this process need not be so bothersome.  To me (and people like me) who may have gotten a little nutty when applying to undergrad, threads like these are really nice to read.

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On 11/13/2016 at 10:54 AM, Kaneisha said:

I would chime in here and say that rather than thinking that the policy programs are not as competitive as you think, the people here at Grad Cafe—especially the people engaging a lot, asking lots of questions, and/or answering questions—are much more prepared than most other applicants for the challenge of gaining admission. Lots of people apply to graduate school, and especially policy school, with a "Let me throw my hat in the ring and just see if I'll get in" approach, and don't end up putting their best candidacy forward. The GradCafe'rs approach the application process with more intention, organization, and knowledge of the process and why they are going to grad school. Basically two sides of the same coin but from a slightly different perspective. Breathe, everyone! If you put your best effort forward (and get quality information from the schools and people you trust on here or elsewhere), you will end up exactly where you belong.

Totally agreed here. I would also say that since GradCafes, like you said, are among the most prepared to begin with, they probably have friends and so on who have applied to much more competitive programs -- law, business, med school. I think that makes them misjudge how competitive MPP and MPA programs really are. They think they're comparable to MBAs and JDs, when really that's not entirely true, at least not from an admissions standpoint.

So, yes, breathe!

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Honestly, this post is so true. I applied to only a single program, and got offered full tuition + stipend funding. It's more than enough for me to live on as well.

 

I don't even consider myself a particularly impressive applicant. 

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