Applying to an MPP program means assembling a clear, compelling application that reflects what you value, what you’ve accomplished, and what you aim to do in the future. Here are five tips that can help your application make its mark.
1. Be Genuine.
There’s only one you, so don’t pretend to be someone you’re not! Admissions committees are looking for diversity across cultures, work experience, geography, and personal background; telling someone else’s story won’t help you.
2. Spend Time on Self-Reflection.
Start the application process early so you have enough time for self-reflection and introspection.
• What REALLY motivates you?
• What are your career aspirations – what do you want to do long-term?
• What is your short-term post-MPP goal?
• What skills, knowledge, and relationships do you need to develop to get you to that short-term goal?
• How has your experience prepared you for an MPP?
• What do you bring to an MPP program? (Top programs expect students to share their unique experiences and perspectives with others.)
Synthesize your reflections into themes about yourself. Are you an inspirational leader? Policy wonk? Community organizer? Activist?
3. Do Your Research.
Learn the key themes of the various MPP programs you’re considering. (Every school has its own themes and buzzwords.) Find ways to connect your themes with theirs.
As you investigate MPP programs, you should also consider the kinds of schools that will fit you best. There are lots of ways to learn what you need to learn here: attending webinars, visiting classes, considering each school’s preferred mix of teaching methods, reviewing options for concentrating in particularly policy areas, and getting a grasp on the composition of the student body (and the school’s alumni network).
4. Take a Structured Approach to Writing.
When it’s time to start working on your MPP essays, first read the fine print. In addition to the prompts, supplementary guidelines provide hints about what each MPP program is looking for.
Start with outlines – these are indispensable. Outlines establish a framework for answering the questions and ensure that you are communicating what you intend to communicate.
Ask for independent reviews and feedback. Let each set of essays ‘rest’ for a few days so you can revisit them with fresh eyes.
Resist the temptation to re-use content. Even if two schools have the same essay prompt, you can’t simply cut and paste from one to the other; you need to incorporate school-specific themes.
5. Guide Your Recommenders.
Once you’ve chosen your two recommenders, let them know why you want an MPP, and share the overall picture you’re painting. (In particular, share your key themes so your recommenders can add to the portrait.) Remind them of your major accomplishments, and – kindly and subtly – ask them to be as specific as possible. More showing and less telling are the keys here. It’s much better to let an example demonstrate that you are a creative problem-solver than for your recommender to simply say so.
After you have given your recommenders the guidance they need, step back and give them space. Trust the process!
Admissions committees look at MPP applications holistically, so it is important that all elements of your application are aligned – resume, essays, short answers and recommendations.