Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

Month: May 2020

Deciding on a Dual Degree: Sami Rovins’ Perspective

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I began my time at Heller as a Conflict Resolution and Coexistence student, but quickly realized I wanted to pursue a degree in Global Health Policy and Management as well: I am extremely interested in the intersection of conflict management, gender, and sexual health, and in the future, I hope to work with women and girls in conflict zones to address their sexual and reproductive health needs.  I feel confident that earning degrees in both COEX and GHPM will further this goal and will allow my knowledge in these fields to expand even greater.  I love that I have the opportunity at Heller to blend the curriculums of the COEX and GHPM programs and that I have the chance to tailor each program to fit my professional goals and interests. 

When I was first considering adding a dual degree, I wasn’t sure if the GHPM and COEX programs even made sense together: the two degrees seemed completely different from each other, and I was worried about how the dual degree would work, or how it might be viewed by future employers. Luckily, I had Heller faculty to ask a million questions about it. Sarah LaMorey, COEX’s practicum coordinator, was incredibly helpful and encouraging of my idea to pursue a dual degree. Sandy Jones was also a great resource; she is the Executive Director of Global Programs (COEX, SID, and MS-GHPM), in addition to being one of my professors. With the encouragement and positivity of Heller faculty on my side, I became much more confident in my goal of pursuing a dual degree, and feel more confident that combining these two degrees will propel me forward in my chosen career.  I really appreciate having the chance to combine two degrees which truly seemed completely different from each other at first. 

I do still feel nervous, though, about starting the Global Health Policy and Management portion of my dual degree in the Fall. I have never studied medicine or health policy, and science has never been a subject I’m particularly good at, so I know it may be an academic struggle for me at times. I am especially nervous about understanding statistics and analyzing data – I’m not exactly a numbers person! Even still, I feel confident that the GHPM degree will bolster the knowledge and experience I have already gained from COEX in a way that is crucial towards advancing my career aspirations. 

As my year as a COEX student is now coming to an end, I am looking forward to starting my journey as a GHPM student. I know it will be quite a challenge, especially as someone without a background in science or medicine. Luckily, I already know what I can expect from Heller – a supportive cohort, excellent professors, and challenging, enlightening classes. 

Hello Heller!: Doug Nevins’ Acceptance Story

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I had considered applying to programs at the Heller School for several years before I actually took the plunge. As an undergraduate alum and Brandeis staff member, Heller was always on my radar, but I wanted to be sure of my interests and goals before committing to graduate school. After considering applying to programs in education policy, law, and international affairs, I decided that an MPP was a perfect mix of interdisciplinary subjects, applicable to my current interests and flexible enough to explore new territory.

Funnily enough, when I received my admission update from Heller I was already on campus at my job in undergraduate admissions. Having been on the other end of sending decision letters for many years as an admissions counselor, it was a great feeling to receive one myself! I was so excited to be admitted to Heller.

Since I already knew the Brandeis community well, I had no doubt that I would enjoy my time at Heller. Still, I tried to learn all that I could. I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and openness of everyone I interacted with at Heller. For instance, after attending an admissions event, I emailed a thank you message to Mike, the MPP program head, who promptly invited me to a book talk at Heller that same evening! I walked up the hill from my office, was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a cocktail hour preceding the talk, and then spent an hour listening to a fascinating lecture about the 2018 midterm elections. In all my conversations with current students there and at other events I attended, everyone was gracious, friendly, and clearly passionate about Heller.

I ultimately chose Heller not only because of my long-term connection to Brandeis and positive associations with the university, but because Heller is its own unique community. The commitment to social justice and inclusion is real, and the academic culture is collaborative and fun in addition to being rigorous and engaging. I have loved my first year at Heller, and feel just as excited as when I first opened that email!

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 1

For the latest in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, I’d like to talk about some steps to take after you’ve made your decision and sent in your deposit. Some students may live close enough to Brandeis to commute, but for many, a new graduate program means a new city! I myself moved from Atlanta to Boston for graduate school, and I remember the mixture of excitement and nervousness that comes with taking this next big step. Here are some things that I learned along the way, along with some Brandeis-specific tips, that I hope will help you in your journey:

Bridge over the Charles River in Waltham

Waltham, MA © Aaron Collins

Location, location, location. Most Heller students choose to live in Waltham, because they prefer to be close to campus; it’s so convenient to be able to walk back to your home in between classes to grab a textbook, have a snack, or (let’s be honest) take a nap. Waltham is a great historic town right along the Charles River, and there are a ton of great restaurants along Moody Street (I love Moody’s Delicatessen for a quick lunch and Balani for a special-treat dinner). Waltham is also less than half an hour from Boston, so getting into the city is really easy, but rent in Waltham is generally a little more affordable than in Boston or Cambridge.

Monument in town square with Boston skyline in background

Somerville, MA © Eric Kilby

However, if you are looking to move to Boston or Cambridge because you want the experience of living in the city, I would recommend researching the Somerville, Allston/Brighton, or Jamaica Plain neighborhoods. Somerville is popular amongst Brandeis graduate students for its proximity to North Station, where you can board the commuter rail line that takes you right to the base of campus, and the neighborhoods around Porter Square and Davis square are really fun, with lots of shopping, restaurants, and cute cafes. Allston and Brighton are common places for students to live in Boston for their great restaurants and nightlife options; for those without a car, it’s easy to take the MBTA to North Station. Jamaica Plain isn’t as good an option for Heller students without a car, but for those that do, this neighborhood is a great mix of students and young professionals and has plenty of great food along Centre Street.

Mix and match. Unless you’re from the area or are moving with your family, you’ll most likely need to find roommates. The Brandeis Graduate Facebook group has a lot of great information and apartment postings, and many students use it to find roommates. Brandeis also hosts a Grad Housing listserv where you can sign up to get emails about available apartments or students looking for roommates, so I would also recommend subscribing to that. Many Heller students choose to live together; having a built-in support group in your program can be really helpful to students new to the area. Living with other students in your program can lend itself to group study sessions, but having students outside your program can often add a new perspective, so don’t be afraid to mix and match with classmates both inside and outside your program!

Timing is everything. Many apartments in Boston have leases that start on September 1st, but I would recommend looking for leases that start on August 1st or August 15th, so you’re not rushing to set up utilities and get settled in during the first week of classes. Boston housing fills up fast, so I would recommend starting to look as soon as you are able (Jump Off-Campus hosts a Brandeis specific site for landlords specifically looking to rent to Brandeis students and other members of the Brandeis community). It can also be very competitive, so if you find a place that you like, be prepared to commit that day: have your documents ready, your checkbook on hand, and a co-signer lined up (if necessary). During the COVID-19 pandemic, most realtors are offering virtual tours, which can make it easier to decide on an apartment even from far away (and an effective tool to weed out scams!). If you’re renting an unfurnished apartment, make sure you’re also budgeting enough time and money to find furniture; there’s an IKEA only thirty minutes away, and a Target less than fifteen minutes from Waltham, but there are also a lot of thrift stores along Moody Street and Main Street where you can dig up a lot of great finds for very low prices.

I hope these tips are helpful as you start your housing search! I’ll be sharing more housing tips in the coming weeks, so make sure you subscribe by entering your email address in the sidebar to the right.

Changing the World 101: Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Choosing my favorite class at Heller so far is not an easy task, but one course, in particular, does come to mind. Professor Nanako Tamaru’s class, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was an excellent course for so many reasons. First, I appreciated the class size. Most classes at Heller are relatively small, but Nanako’s course had only 11 students enrolled. As a result, “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” felt particularly intimate and personal, and allowed for even more equal participation among the students. Although it was technically a COEX course, I was the only COEX student there, and my classmates came from a variety of programs at Heller; I really appreciated the differences in perspective that this fostered and encouraged.

The course began in module 2 of my second semester at Heller, the same time quarantine was beginning. Virtual learning hasn’t been easy for me, but Nanako’s class was engaging, challenging, and fun, despite the difficult circumstances. She was able to conduct the class with so much enthusiasm and an eye for detail. Nanako was conscious and considerate of the difficulties her students faced as we suddenly transitioned to online learning, and I always felt comfortable asking for the help or clarity I needed. Nanako managed to turn a potentially rough and tricky transition into an opportunity to engage deeply with her students. Nanako was always happy and eager to illuminate the course with her own professional experience and knowledge.

Most classes at Heller have many assignments intended to be worked on as a group of students, but “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” mainly focused on individual assignments. Although I do usually enjoy group work, I loved the variety in the individual assignments we were given. Our assignments included writing an op-ed, as well as giving a presentation on anything that interested us relating to women and security. I also loved the freedom Nanako gave us in choosing what we each wrote our op-ed on, which gave me the opportunity to explore in greater detail the topics that were most relevant to me, my interests, and career choices; I decided to write about how women from the lowest caste in Indian society are on the vanguard of creating radical change in South Asia. Nanako published everyone’s op-eds on the class’s website, which fostered an even greater sense of accomplishment. And now I have the experience of constructing and writing an op-ed under my belt!

In the end, Nanako’s course taught me how and why women need to be incorporated into all aspects of peacebuilding and development. Without women’s inclusion and participation, the programs we design and implement as practitioners will simply be ineffective. As someone who intends to focus on women’s health as my career moves forward, this lesson was especially important and impactful. Although there are many other classes at Heller that left a profound impression on me, Professor Nanako’s “Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding” was absolutely one of the most challenging, helpful, and enjoyable courses I’ve taken as a grad student.

What I Wish I’d Known When I Started Heller: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

Man smiling at the camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Beginning classes at Heller this past fall after several years out of school, I was excited to get back into an academic mindset. While focusing on class is key to grad school success, it’s important not to overlook the amazing opportunities Heller has for research, career advising, and just generally connecting with people who are engaged in important and interesting work. My biggest piece of advice for new Heller students is to hit the ground running and identify folks on campus whom you want to meet. This might be a Heller faculty researcher whose work fascinates you, a peer whose interest areas are similar to yours, or a staff member who can connect you with helpful resources.

In my case, I was fortunate to get involved in the Heller Admissions office, through which I’ve met students in other degree programs and many staff members, and to be connected with Heller researchers through an assignment in my first semester research methods class. I also took advantage of career treks to Washington, D.C. and New York City this semester and connected with alumni working in public policy. I’ve gained a lot from these experiences, and I’m glad that there’s more at Heller still to discover. At the same time, it’s never too early to reach out and make connections.

Graduate school is really what you make of it. Everyone at Heller has a totally unique experience, and there’s no reason not to branch out and pursue opportunities outside of the core courses in your degree program. Research, working groups, campus jobs, volunteer activities – all can be a great way to get more value out of your Heller experience. One of my goals for the remainder of my time at Heller is to either get involved in a research institute or pursue an independent study. It’s great to know that faculty and advisers here will support me in this goal. When you first arrive at Heller, don’t wait to find the opportunities that will make your time here great!

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Financial Aid

I talked a little bit about this in the previous post in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, but today I’d like to dive a little deeper into how to evaluate your financial aid package and how to find additional ways of financing your graduate school education.

Read the fine print. When comparing graduate school financial aid packages, it’s important not to get stuck on the percentage of the scholarship you’ve received. Shorter programs, suburban or rural campuses, and internship support programs can all mean less-out-of-pocket costs for students: even living in Waltham over living in Boston can mean paying 4% less in rental costs, even though you’re still less than half an hour from the city! Additionally, some programs provide internship support; in Heller’s MPP program, students who secure paid internships can apply for matching funds of up to $2,500, and students who find unpaid internships can apply for support through Heller. These small differences can make a big impact over the course of a program.

Another factor to consider is what conditions your scholarship has: at Heller, tuition scholarships are not tied to required research assistantships or teaching assistantships because we reward you for the work you’ve already done. However, at many schools, scholarships are dependent on working as a graduate assistant, which may make it difficult for you to work for outside organizations during your graduate program.

Looking into all of these factors can take time and careful research; if you’re not sure where to look, I would suggest starting with your school’s Financial Aid page and the Policies and Procedures handbook for your specific program.

Start your search. Once you’ve compared your costs with internal scholarships, it’s time to start looking at external sources of funding. Here at Heller, we have a list of external funding sources for U.S. citizens and international students, which can be a great place to start. Fastweb.com and Funding US Study (for international students) are also fantastic resources for students looking to fund their graduate education. International students should also contact their local EducationUSA office;  EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 430 international student advising centers in 178 countries and territories and can help you to identify other sources of funding.

In many situations, there may be smaller scholarships for which you might be qualified. These small scholarships can add up; don’t dismiss opportunities because of size! Think about how you identify yourself: this can lead to some smaller pockets of money that are designated to specific groups available through advocacy organizations and/or foundations, including women’s organizations, LGBT organizations, and ethnic organizations.

Get to work! Once you get to campus, you can also start looking for on-campus employment. I’d encourage you to start your search for on-campus positions in the first few weeks, as on-campus jobs are usually in high demand. Many colleges have websites where you can search for open student employment positions, so you might even start searching the week before you arrive on campus. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box (or in this case, your program); international student offices, study abroad offices, libraries, research labs, student employment offices, and athletic departments often utilize student workers. In fact, this blog is written in part by two Graduate Assistants in the Admissions Office!

Once you’ve been in your program for a few months, don’t be afraid to approach professors about research assistantships or teaching assistantships. You can also reach out to your faculty advisor for guidance about how to approach faculty regarding your research interests or desire to teach while in graduate school.

Hello Heller!: Sami Rovins’ Acceptance Story

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins, COEX/MS’21

I was halfway out the front door to go to work when I got the email from Brandeis letting me know there was an update to my application. I held my breath and opened up the application status page. When I saw that I had been accepted to the Heller School, my top choice school, I let out a happy scream so loud it woke up my dog. I was thrilled and immediately called my parents to share the good news. I spent the rest of the morning joyfully texting friends and struggling to contain my excitement while at work. 

The next day, I officially accepted my offer to study at the Heller School. I felt proud, anxious, thrilled, and excited all at the same time. For the past year, I had been envisioning this moment, and it was certainly worth the wait. I felt completely ready in that moment to begin my degree in Conflict Resolution & Coexistence (COEX).  

My journey to Heller had begun almost three years earlier when I first started researching graduate programs and came in contact with Sandy Jones. Sandy is COEX’s Deputy Director, and she was happy to guide me every step of the way for months until I finally submitted my application. I credit Sandy greatly with my decision to study at the Heller School; interacting with her was my first glimpse into how individualized my time at Heller would be. It was clear Sandy cared about me, my interests, and my goals. I felt encouraged knowing Heller could provide this type of graduate school experience. 

Ultimately, I also chose to study at Heller because COEX seemed to be a truly unique program perfectly tailored to what I hoped to focus on in my career, and I knew I wouldn’t find the same degree anywhere else. Having built trust with Sandy Jones and other attentive staff members at Heller, I felt very comfortable in my decision to accept Brandeis’ offer of admission. I could tell I would be joining a true community, not just a degree program. 

I was right – the community at the Heller School serves as friends, colleagues, and mentors to each other. From the start of our orientation, I immediately felt motivated by my classmates and knew I was listened to with genuine interest. We are a kind, caring, funny, and hard-working community at Heller. This was clear to me from the very start, based upon my many, many emails and Skype appointments with Sandy. 

I remember the day I was accepted to the Heller School so vividly, and I still experience that same excitement and joy when I think of my school, my classmates, and my professors now. It was clear to me from the start of my application process that Heller is a place where everyone is welcomed, cared about, and listened to and the Heller School has repeatedly proven itself to be exactly that place.

Five Tips to Making Your Decision (Without Visiting Campus!)

Brandeis University sign with blooming tulipsAh, spring: when the flowers start blooming across Brandeis’ campus and the weather in Waltham begins to get warmer. Spring is all about new beginnings, and for many working in admissions, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year: when we get to welcome our admitted students to campus.  Back in January, we were gearing up to host hundreds of admitted students to help them make their final decision. For many students, stepping on campus is a lot like falling in love: when it’s right, you just know.

We were able to host two of our six planned Admitted Student Days before the world as we knew it ground to a halt. We’re not alone: all across the country (all across the world!), schools have stopped all campus activities, and students are faced with the challenge of choosing the right program without ever visiting campus.

But there’s good news:  there are many dedicated professionals who are ready and willing to assist you, and a lot of resources available to help you make this big decision. Today, I’m bringing you five ways to get a feel for an institution without ever stepping foot on campus.

  1. Admitted Student Webinars and Virtual Events.  Most colleges have been working overtime to provide students with opportunities to connect with current students or faculty members, so take advantage of this! Heller is currently hosting Housing Chats so that admitted students can connect with current students to ask questions about moving to the Boston area and how to find housing and roommates. We’re also working on creating more virtual content, so keep checking back!
  2. Check out magazines and newsletters. One of the best ways to gain insight into a program is by searching for different perspectives. Magazines, newsletters, and other types of publications aimed at current students or alumni can provide greater insight into a school’s culture. You can find the Heller magazine and our Social Impact Report (which focuses on the ground-breaking research happening at Heller) on our website.
  3. Take a virtual tour (or two). It can be hard to picture yourself on campus without visiting. Luckily, many institutions have been putting a renewed focus on their virtual tours. You can check out Heller’s virtual tour for a detailed look at our building, or the full Brandeis tour to see the rest of our beautiful campus.
  4. Scroll through social media. This is an often-overlooked way to get a feel for a graduate program, but it can be a great resource for trying to determine if the school would be a good fit for you. You should absolutely follow the institution’s social media handles, but also take a look at your program’s and student groups’ social media accounts. Because these have a different target audience, you may get a different insight than you would from just following the institutional account.
  5. Reach out to the admissions staff. Most of our typical spring travel has been canceled, so admissions teams might be even more available than they ordinarily would be this time of year. With many of us working from home, it may be tricky to get someone on the phone right away, but if you send an email, most schools are being very responsive to students’ questions. You can reach Heller Admissions at helleradmissions@brandeis.edu, or visit our contact page to find the email of your program’s admissions contact.

Although it may seem overwhelming, this can be an opportunity to learn even more about the programs that you’re considering. And at the end of the day, remember to trust your gut: you know yourself best! You can make a hundred pros and cons lists, read endless program overviews, and scroll through social media until your thumb aches, but when you’re able to envision yourself on campus and it feels right, don’t be afraid to trust that feeling.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Choosing the Right Program

Deciding what graduate programs to apply to is hard enough. But deciding what school to attend after you’ve received multiple offers? That can feel almost impossible. Today, I’d like to share some tips to help you choose which graduate school to attend. 

Get your facts straight. Even though you most likely did a significant amount of research when choosing which schools to apply to, now’s the time to dig even deeper. Many programs host Admitted Student Days (although most offerings are currently virtual), or connect accepted prospective students to current students or faculty members in other ways. Take advantage of this opportunity, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Ask current students what their cost of living is, how available faculty are outside of classroom hours, and what their workload is. Ask faculty what mentorship opportunities exist, what their current research projects are, and what their expectations of their students are. Try to get a feel for what the environment of the program is: is it more collaborative or competitive? What activities are available to students outside of classes? What are the relationships between students and faculty like? Remember that there are no right answers; only what would fit you best. 

Compare financial aid packages. Take a close look at the financial aid packages you’ve been offered. Some packages cover fees, while others don’t. Similar programs can vary in length, so a longer program may end up costing more in the long run, even if they’ve given you a higher scholarship. Some packages or stipends are contingent on being a teaching or research assistant, so factor that in as well. If you live out of state, you might also want to consider the cost of travelling home to visit family during your time in the program. The College Board has a great tool for comparing different financial aid packages, although it is intended for undergraduate programs, so you’ll need to substitute estimated living expenses for room and board, and you’ll want to factor in the length of the program as well. 

Weigh your options. For some students, it comes down to a gut decision. But for the more indecisive among us, it can be helpful to create a spreadsheet that takes into account your priororities. Here’s a sample one that I made to help illustrate this, but remember, the weight that you give each category is totally up to you, and you may have other priorities that I didn’t even list.

College A College B
Factor Score Weight Weighted Score Factor Score Weight Weighted Score
Research Opportunities 10 10% 1 Research Opportunities 9 10% 0.9
Community Feel 6 10% 0.6 Community Feel 8 10% 0.8
Academic Rigor 8 40% 3.2 Academic Rigor 6 40% 2.4
Cost 9 30% 2.7 Cost 7 30% 2.1
Student Life 8 10% 0.8 Student Life 5 10% 0.5

By adding the weighted scores together, you should get a total out of ten. In this example, College A scores an 8.3 out of 10, while College B gets a 6.7. Looks like School A is the place for me!

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