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Beginning to Research MPP Programs

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       Hey everyone! I've been browsing through this site the last couple of months, but this is my first time actually posting here, so I hope I'm posting in the right category. I'm beginning to  research some Master's in Public Policy Programs, and I'm a little lost. So here is a little bit of relevant background information that might be helpful to understand my situation. I'm in my last year of undergrad, and I graduate in May 2018. I'm a psychology major and biology minor. I have a 3.977 GPA. I was planning on pursuing a career in neuropsychology for most of my undergraduate career, but then I studied abroad for a semester, and that completely changed everything. I've had some decent travelling experiences. I've also been involved in a pretty wide array of research experiences, ranging from neuroscience to political science. I've had several classes in experimental methodology and statistics, but I'm still comparatively weaker in quantitative fields than what I think MPP programs are looking for. I've taken a variety of classes outside of psychology and biology as well.

       So for the future, this is my tentative plan. I'm applying for a bunch of summer internships in public health. They're pretty competitive, so I don't know if I'll get into any. In the case that I don't, I'll just study all summer for the GRE. After this upcoming summer, I plan on teaching English in China for a year. After that year, I plan on applying to a one year master's program in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University in China, with a focus on either public policy or international affairs. If I don't get into that program, or if I do get into the program and after I complete it, I plan on doing the Peace Corps (or something like it) for two years. Finally, I plan on applying to MPP programs  with a focus either in Public Health or International Affairs after all of this. This is all pretty tentative at this point, and it all depends on what I'm accepted to.

       So with all this in mind, how does this sound as a tentative rough plan to get into some good MPP programs? I'm pretty lost since this is such a new field and such a recent change for me, so I'm kind of struggling to find some grounding. I'm seeing that the best MPP programs like to see a few years of work experience in their applicants before they apply, so what kind of experiences are especially useful to have when applying for MPP programs? What kind of experiences are useful for these pathways in particular? What can I do at this point to strengthen my application and enhance my competitiveness? What can make me standout as an applicant? Will it be detrimental to come from a psychology and biology background? How important is a quantitative foundation for MPP programs? How important is the GRE when applying for MPP programs? Is there anything you wish you would've known when you were just getting into researching MPP programs? Please let me know if I can clarify my situation or my questions in any way. Thank you in advance for taking the time to help me out!! I appreciate it a lot.

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If I were you I'd stick with neuropsychology, but...


what kind of experiences are especially useful to have when applying for MPP programs?

international work experience or work experience with policy (can be public sector, can be NGO, private sector), better, with the type of policy you want to study in your degree. international work experience in policy is best, unless you plan to focus on US issues.


What can I do at this point to strengthen my application and enhance my competitiveness?

take intro macro/micro and statistics


What can make me standout as an applicant?

good GPA/GRE, strong work experience, strong letters, good essays. the usual.


How important is a quantitative foundation for MPP programs?

in the vast majority of cases, it's important to show programs you can do basic math by e.g. taking a college level math course or scoring 160+ on the QGRE. a small spectrum of programs like to see more math preparation, e.g. linear algebra or multivariable calc. never more than that.

How important is the GRE when applying for MPP programs?


You're going to be okay. Don't forget to enjoy being young.

Edited by ExponentialDecay
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Seconding everything ExponentialDecay said. Building your statistical programming abilities (getting familiar with Stata, or doing online courses in R or Python) wouldn't be a bad idea at some point either. I was familiar with Stata from an undergrad econ degree but still felt very underprepared and stressed re-learning it during the first year of my program.

I can't speak to anything related to public health, but I do think it's really important to work (not intern) in a field before making a multiyear and tens of thousands dollar commitment to graduate study in that field. I always worry it comes off as condescending to point this out, but it really is true that looking at a field or industry from afar can be very different than working in it. Often the activities you actually spend your days doing is more important to your job satisfaction, in my mind, than the actual subject matter, and this can be hard to judge from the outside. An internship in public health is great, but internships are often not indicative of the actual experience of working full-time in an industry. Again, I can't speak to the public health field though.

Prior work experience in your field of interest of course is also valued by admissions committees, opens doors to talking to people in industry, and helps you 'speak the language' and not come off as naive. Additionally—and this can REALLY come off as condescending—certain aspects of public interest work like low pay and job insecurity look very different from your early twenties than from your late twenties, though it sounds like that with teaching abroad and possibly the peace corps you would be making these decisions a few years removed from undergrad anyway. 

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