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jrsell

Undergrad to MPP

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Hi everyone, new here, hoping to get some advice about the upcoming MPP application cycle.

I'm currently a rising senior at Emory University majoring in psychology. 

GPA: 3.9

Work experience: Tons of experience working with a unique Community Building and Social Change Fellowship. Assisted with program evaluation one summer, and managed a solar energy initiative this past summer. I've also spent 3 years in a psychology research lab, although probably not the most applicable in this case. When I was a senior in high school, I participated in a Youth Council program, where we basically interned for Oklahoma City city councilmen, and I interned at the OK Department of Mental Health (again, probably too old to be relevant). 

Personal history: Low-income scholar, tons of adversity early in life, personally devoted toward changing drug policy due to family history (i.e. treatment via policy). Strong mission statement and purpose. 

Programs of interest: Most of the top: Harris, Sanford, Heinz, Price, Evans, LBJ, Ford

So my main concern is the lack of postgraduate experience I'll have when I'm applying to programs. The GPA and GRE score will be at or above the general class averages, but I'm curious if any of you are familiar with going straight to MPP after undergrad. I'm fairly certain this is the path I want to pursue, and the professional degree will put me at a good starting point. I'll be able to attain some stellar letters of recommendation, but again, just worrying about the lack of "real" work experience. 

Thanks!

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Get 3+ years of work experience then apply

I'm fairly certain this is the path I want to pursue, and the professional degree will put me at a good starting point. 

Why do undergrads think they can be "fairly certain" of things like this? When I was an undergrad, I wasn't fairly certain of anything. This attitude has served me well. Also, no it won't.

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Unless you can get a full ride, don't go. You may think you know what you want, but even the best internships do not adequately prepare you for what it's like to have a full-time office job where you're doing the same thing for years on end.

It sounds like you'd be in a great position to get a job with a non-profit or local government agency after you graduate. Do this for a year or three and you'll have a much better idea of whether that kind of career suits you. You'll also have a stronger application and a better shot at getting $$$. You don't to plunge yourself 50k or - god for bid - 100k+ into debt only to discover that you really don't like the career path you chose at age 21.

 

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If you're sure I guess go for it. You can probably get into some of these programs with minimal aid. If I were you i wouldn't expect much $$$.

I would also recommend taking 2 or more years off before going to grad school. Everyone's different but when I was an undergrad I thought I wanted to go to law school. It's up to you, just be very sure before you agree to take on debt.

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Craft a compelling, cohesive narrative (you're well on your way) and I could see you landing full-tuition scholarship. I would say go for it if you can get a top-10 school to pony up the money.  

Where I would caution you is the schools you've listed and your perception that a grad degree from one of them will necessarily set you up better for a job than you are right now. An undergrad degree from Emory is just as good or better than many public policy master's programs (from a jobs competitiveness perspective) and may put you in a strong enough position to get the job you want without the master's degree.

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I strongly recommend working for at least a few years before attending grad school, even if you are confident that you know what you would like to do. Work experience will increase your likelihood of receiving funding, and working in your preferred field will let you gain out-of-the-classroom experience that admissions committees want to bring to the classroom. 

Even if you are admitted to your preferred school now, work experience will help you after graduation. Students who go straight to Masters programs often lack experience in things like interpersonal communication, office etiquette, how to run a meeting, and personal time management/task tracking that employers value (even after you are hired). I don't mean to imply that you don't have these skills or that you can't learn these things in school or internships, but I believe that these skills are much stronger in people who have at least a year of full-time work experience, and will substantially help you land and succeed in a job and succeed in your field after you graduate. 

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16 hours ago, went_away said:

Where I would caution you is the schools you've listed and your perception that a grad degree from one of them will necessarily set you up better for a job than you are right now. An undergrad degree from Emory is just as good or better than many public policy master's programs (from a jobs competitiveness perspective) and may put you in a strong enough position to get the job you want without the master's degree.

This part could not be more true. It's important to remember that this isn't law school or med school where the degree is going to give you a credential that opens up previously inaccessible employment options. Nor is it like an elite MBA where the job market assigns it a very high value, whatever the merits of that may be. In my current office, I'd say 2/3 of people under 35 have master's (that figure drops to about 1/4 for people over 35, by the way, which says a lot about the contemporary US job market), but only about half are in public policy or IR. 

Most people I know who went straight through from undergrad are now in positions they could have gotten without the master's, with a salary to match. Maybe that makes sense if money isn't a concern, or if the person was unable to get a full-time job after undergrad. But it sounds like OP is in a good position to get an entry-level gig somewhere and then work his or her way up. The grad programs will always be there to apply to later if desired.

And what @mapiau said about softer skills one learns on the job is also spot on. Again, an internship is just not comparable (spoken as someone who always excelled in internships but still had a lot to learn at my first full-time job). 
 

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I would argue that it is actually a disadvantage to earn a professional degree without any work experience. When you finish school, you will then be competing for an entirely different set of jobs, against people who have both the same credentials AND more work experience. You will be overqualified for entry level positions where you could probably excel at this point in time, and you will be underqualified for more advanced positions (at least in comparison to the competition). If you can get a full-ride somewhere, then maybe it would be worth it to go. You sound smart and motivated, and I'm sure you will be successful as you enter the next phase of your career. But make sure you think through the potential unintended consequences of getting a professional degree without full-time professional experience (internships are not the same thing, as others have pointed out). I have known really smart people with great degrees who have struggled in the job market due to lack of professional experience. Employers want to see both the degree and the experience.

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I'll weigh in because I just graduated, had the same gpa and similar stats, and wanted to go into an MPP straight out of undergrad. I was applying to programs while simultaneously job hunting, which I encourage. I was able to land a competitive government job that pays right around the average of what I'd be making coming out of the masters that will be a great asset in two years when, or if, I do decide to go back to school. I only share this because I was set on going back to school immediately upon graduation because I thought there would be no options for me in the field. I think you'll find that with your GPA, previous work experience, and the reputation of your college (which is much better than mine) you'll be able to find meaningful work experience that will let you familiarize yourself with the field and give you time to truly decide if it is what you want. Also, making real money, and possibly saving, is so good. You may be working in policy for the rest of your life, taking two or three years to put yourself in a good position is a small sacrifice of time for some crucial work experience. 

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On 7/21/2017 at 2:00 PM, hopeful88 said:

I would argue that it is actually a disadvantage to earn a professional degree without any work experience. When you finish school, you will then be competing for an entirely different set of jobs, against people who have both the same credentials AND more work experience. You will be overqualified for entry level positions where you could probably excel at this point in time, and you will be underqualified for more advanced positions (at least in comparison to the competition). If you can get a full-ride somewhere, then maybe it would be worth it to go. You sound smart and motivated, and I'm sure you will be successful as you enter the next phase of your career. But make sure you think through the potential unintended consequences of getting a professional degree without full-time professional experience (internships are not the same thing, as others have pointed out). I have known really smart people with great degrees who have struggled in the job market due to lack of professional experience. Employers want to see both the degree and the experience.

100% agree with this. Having recently finished my MPA, I can say for certain that those of us who got jobs at graduation had some prior work experience. Many of the students who went straight from undergrad to grad seemed to leave grad school with no better employment prospect than when they entered.

The degree may be a qualification to get a foot in the door to a job, but it alone isn't going to land you an offer.

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As others have said, work for a couple of years if you can. This will help you really figure out if public policy is for you, and if you decide it is, it will make you a more competitive applicant...work years can help you get into a program and once you're in, it can help you get more financial aid. Public policy programs are pretty big on work experience as opposed to law schools, which rely more heavily on the GPA/LSAT combo.

Your pre-MPP work experience could also make you a more competitive job applicant post-MPP.

Others have said enough about the increase in earning potential from am MPP.

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