If you’ve already gotten a sense that a policy program might be right for you and you’d like to start preparing for the application process, it’s time to ask yourself three essential questions:
How Do You Want to Serve?
Lots of students apply to policy programs because they have a general sense that they’d like to contribute in the public sphere. This is a great motivation, of course, but it’s usually not specific enough.
Successful applicants generally know something about the kinds of roles they’d like to fill – and the kinds of roles they’re well-suited for. When you think about the public sphere, where can you imagine yourself most easily: as an elected official? A policy advisor? A nonprofit executive? A for-profit consultant working with public sector clients? An activist? (If you’ve never thought about these questions, that’s okay – this brainstorming exercise can help.)
Which Issues Do You Care About Most?
There are a thousand important issues in the public sphere, and it’s easy to get engrossed in lots of them. However, by the time you apply to graduate school, you need to have a reasonably clear (if not final) focus on the issues (or regions of the world) you care about most. This focus typically grows out of your professional experience.
Sometimes, going to grad school means going deeper into issues you are already working on. Other times, it means changing course and pursuing the path you are meant to be on. In either case, though, putting together a successful application means speaking clearly about what you care about, what you hope to accomplish, and why.
What Kinds of Learning Environments Suit You Best?
Too many students get wide-eyed at the prospect of going to a prestigious university – and overlook the basic questions about which schools are best for them. Don’t make that mistake.
Instead, ask: big school or small? International environment or more domestic focus? Intimate talks with accessible professors, or drive-by conversations with globe-trotting policy advisers?
When you’ve sorted through these questions, you’re ready to embark on your application. As you do, remember one last thing: be real (see our 5 Ways to Be a Compelling MPP Candidate article).