Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

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Changing the World 101: Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I’ve enjoyed all of my courses at Heller, and it would be impossible to choose a favorite. That said, one of the best things about Heller is the option to take module courses, half-semester classes which offer a chance to explore a more specialized topic in what is typically a small seminar setting. In my first semester at Heller, I chose to take “Labor Income, Labor Power, and Labor Markets,” co-taught by Professor Robert Kuttner and Dean David Weil. I found this course so engaging and informative that it is hard to believe, in retrospect, that it only met for seven weeks! While adding a fifth class for half a semester made my finals period quite intense, it was 100% worth it.

Part of my motivation for pursuing an MPP, and the Heller MPP in particular, was that this type of degree seemed like the ideal combination of academic subjects including history, political science, and economics, all in the service of gaining skills needed to analyze and advocate for effective and just policies. This course reflected that balance perfectly. It combined discussions of the economics of labor markets, lectures on the history of the labor movement (including lots of colorful and inspiring stories), and reflections from students on their own experiences with work and labor issues in a multinational context. Professor Kuttner provided insights from his time as a journalist covering labor issues and politics, while Dean Weil drew upon examples from his time in the Department of Labor and from his research related to the “fissured workplace.” Both were incredibly engaging and entertaining as professors. We also had the chance to hear from visiting scholars of labor history and economics. This meant that the course, while firmly grounded in history, also drew upon the direct experiences of our instructors and their work on contemporary research and policy challenges.

While I have been interested for quite a while in activism and social justice advocacy, this course helped me to see social movements in the context of political economy and to use analytical tools to assess and understand their impact. The chance to draw lessons from history and gain an understanding of how labor organizing can influence policy outcomes was very influential in helping me to hone my interests, which lie in the realm of workforce development and education policy. This course represents what I think is special about Heller – the opportunity to explore themes of social justice and equity in an academically rigorous, critical, and collaborative fashion. I am thankful that I chose to take a chance on a fifth course last semester – don’t forget to check for interesting modules at Heller!

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 2

I’m following up on my recent post on finding housing while in graduate school with a special post about avoiding scams while looking for housing. According to a recent survey conducted by College Pads, approximately 15% of students encounter a rental scam when looking for housing— unfortunately, it’s much more common than you would think! Although some scams are easily weeded out with just a little bit of investigation, others can be quite convincing, so it’s important to do your homework and keep these tips in mind.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Before you fall in love with a 2,000 square foot studio apartment with sweeping views of the Charles for only $500 a month, ask yourself if the price lines up with the other apartments you’ve viewed. Although there are certainly good deals to be found, Boston real estate is notoriously expensive, and anything significantly less than the average for the area should be treated with caution. With roommates, you should expect to pay between $500 and $800 in rent in the Waltham area, and between $600 and $1,000 in Boston or Cambridge. If you’re looking to live alone, most studios in Boston start at around $1,500. Anything significantly lower than that should be treated with caution.
  2. Do a grammar check. Once you start communicating with a landlord or realtor, pay special attention to the emails you receive. Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive punctuation, or language that seems overly “robotic” should all be red flags that the listing may not be legitimate. If the signature of the realtor contains a company website, check that out too; company websites should also look legitimate and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make Google your best friend. Always, always, always, do a search on the person or company you’re dealing with. If a scammer is targeting you, chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done this, and you can usually find negative reviews and comments online. Remember that people can pay for positive reviews and delete negative comments on their websites, so look for third-party review pages (like Yelp or GoogleReviews) and look past the first few comments. If there are multiple people complaining about their experience with the landlord or real estate company, treat that as a red flag.
  4. Know your rights. In Boston, landlords are not allowed to charge you an application fee, a credit check fee, or a fee to ‘hold’ the apartment. If they ask for any of these, that should be a huge warning sign. Once you sign a lease, you may be asked to pay first, last, and a security deposit on an apartment, but you should only do this once you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment at the very least. You can find more information about your rights as a renter on the City of Boston’s website.
  5. See the apartment if at all possible. For students coming from across the country, or even internationally, this may not be an option, but if at all possible, try to see the apartment. If you’re not able to visit the apartment, see if one of your roommates or another close friend in the area can visit it on your behalf, and ask them to take a video of their walkthrough of the apartment so you can see it. This is slightly complicated by the current pandemic, but most landlords are now showing apartments; at the very least they can do a video walkthrough for you (ask to see the apartment from the outside to verify the address and ask them to state your name or the date so you can verify they’re not showing you an old or out-dated video).

Unfortunately, if you have been scammed, it’s often difficult to get your money back, so if possible, pay with a check so your money can be traced and you can cancel the check if something goes wrong. The good news is that if you follow these tips and use good judgement, you’ll be able to weed out the vast majority of rental scams. Happy apartment hunting!

 

Why Choose Heller? 60 Reasons for 60 Years! (Part 1)

Since our founding in 1959, Heller faculty, students, researchers, staff, and alumni have remained united by a vision of “knowledge advancing social justice” and a commitment to rigorous research and engagement with policymakers, practitioners and recipients of social policies, as well as academics. To celebrate our 60th anniversary, we’ll be sharing sixty messages from students, alumni, faculty, and staff over the next few weeks.

1. “I’ve never experienced the support that the staff gives the students at any other higher education institution, and for that, I will always be grateful.” Nicole Rodriguez, MPP’14
2. “We always treat the person as the number-one priority when we’re dealing with any issues, be they academic, personal or professional. And we make sure to link them to the resources they need.” Ravi Lakshmikanthan, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Services
3. “Heller was where I first understood health policy, its links to global health, and the social justice issues around global health. Heller helped me choose a focus on research to provide rigorous evidence that health policymakers can use to make meaningful decisions.” Adeyemi Okunogbe, MS GHPM’12 
4. “My education at Heller, including a deeper understanding of economic, political and sociological theories, coupled with skills in statistics and research methods, has given me a distinct advantage.” Antoinette Hays, PhD’90
5. “Having classmates from all over the world helps you to get rid of some of the biases you have.” Shadi Sheikhsaraf, MA SID/COEX ’17
6. “I was drawn in by Heller’s social justice focus. I didn’t want to have to do a more traditional graduate program and translate that to the work I wanted to do. I wanted to be around people who cared about the same things I cared about.” Maryse Pearce, MBA/MPP’18
7. “My Heller cohort continues to be my extended family and professional network. I frequently reach out to individuals or groups to inquire about specific topics and I’m always amazed by the overwhelming support.” Rodrigo Moran, MA SID’16
8. “The students are enormously dedicated and engaged. I was thinking, during orientation, that it kind of feels like a family, and that’s wonderful, especially when you are dealing with such difficult issues and topics.” Pamina Firchow, Associate Professor
9. “At Heller, social justice is in the DNA.” Michael Levine, PhD’85
10. “Heller not only had the SID program, but also the environmental conservation concentration that I wanted. My coursework at Heller and summer internship are preparing me to address sustainable energy challenges in Africa from a global perspective.” Abdishakur Ahmed, MA SID’20
11. “Our community is passionate about local and global social justice, and we have a strong academic purpose.” Maria Madison, Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity
12. “Heller sends grads out with the tools to understand data and models, and also with the skills to understand whether a policy is going to help people or hurt people.” Brian Kennedy, MPP’16
13. “I just had a great experience at Heller. The faculty, the students — the community was fantastic.” Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD’77
14. “The most important thing I took away from Heller was the way I approach my work. As someone passionate about social change, I bring a much stronger equity lens to every aspect of my work as a result of my time at Heller. I also feel more confident, more organized, and generally more impactful in my work processes.” Analissa Iversen, MBA/MPP’16
15. “The professors are very approachable, they’re always telling us to come visit them, and they really make themselves available.” Dahiana Loaiza, MS GHPM ’14/MA SID ’21
16. “I’m really, really happy here, with how much I’m learning and seeing everything from other perspectives,” she says. “My professors are convinced there’s a resolution for everything. A lot of us came from war zones, where people just gave up. They show us different ways to do things and what’s possible.” Natalia Hermida-Cepeda, MA COEX’19
17. “Through a combination of academic and real-world experiences during my time at Heller, I became more attuned to the role that government can play in addressing social determinants of health and other upstream factors that can improve population health and reduce inequities.” Fran Hodgins, MBA/MPP’18
18. “I went into Heller to pursue what I was most passionate about and learned things I knew nothing about before, like organizational theory with Jody Hoffer Gittell.” Anne Douglass, PhD’09
19. “Heller helped me to understand the theories behind what I was doing in my work. At Heller, you meet a lot of inspiring people and you learn the way they have done things in their own countries. I now understand the problems in Nigeria, the challenges to young people in America, the struggles around gender identities in India.” Qaisar Roonjha, MA SID’19 
20. “I chose to attend Heller to be part of a community of policymakers intent on incorporating social justice into every aspect of their work.” Billierae Engelman, MPP’19

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3, coming up over the next few weeks!

Hello Heller!: Elizabeth Nguyen’s Acceptance Story

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Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

I found out that I was accepted into the Heller School on my birthday! At that time, I was living in Washington, D.C., working for the federal government. I remember getting onto the green metro line and seeing that I had received the alert that my application status had been updated. My excitement and eagerness meant that I only waited a few days to accept my invitation. In the end, I didn’t even finish the application process for the other two schools I had initially applied to because I had already gotten into my first choice with a great scholarship. It felt like the decision was already made – The Heller School was a school that I wanted to go to and that also wanted me.

Before starting my dual programs, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland (Eswatini), where I ran a social enterprise in rural communities and worked with university students who were interested in starting community-based social enterprises of their own. This introduced me to social impact-driven businesses or social enterprises, essentially what I see as the “good side” of business. As I started looking at various graduate programs, I was searching mostly for MBAs focusing on nonprofit management, social impact, and social entrepreneurship. I was specifically looking at programs where I could gain tangible skills and academic knowledge to support the work that I had done in the field, especially because I wanted to learn the ins and outs of businesses so that I could best support the communities that I had started to work with.

Another factor in my graduate school search was my desire to continue my education at a school that supported Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. I looked at schools that had a strong Coverdell Fellows program and a strong community, both at the university level and the local city level. I found that Brandeis had a commitment to RPCVs by offering generous scholarships. I saw that there was a community of service-driven individuals with a commitment to international development and knew that I had found a second home.

During the application process, I had the opportunity to come to the Brandeis campus and visit Heller. The class that I shadowed was Carole Carlson’s social entrepreneurship class and it instantly confirmed that this was where I needed to be. (As I was a student, this ended up being my all-time favorite class at Heller.) Over the summer after my acceptance but before classes started, I decided that I wanted to add the Sustainable International degree as a dual degree. While I was traveling in Belgium with limited service, the MBA Admissions Director at Heller was very accessible and provided me with all of the documents I needed to go through the process. It made me even more confident and excited about my degrees. I felt extremely supported by the Heller staff to help me achieve my dreams.

There are two main decisions in my life that I have never had to second guess – joining the Peace Corps and completing my Social Impact MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development.

Campus Connections: Doug Nevins’ Perspective

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

I was excited to start graduate school at Heller partly because it was an opportunity to meet lots of passionate, engaged, and friendly people. Connecting with peers and making new friends is a huge part of the Heller experience, and it’s impossible to walk around the building without seeing several familiar faces. When I visited for the MPP accepted students’ day, one of the first people I met at Heller was Norman, one of the Heller admissions graduate assistants. Later, we spoke on the phone and I was able to ask extensive questions about the MPP program. Being able to connect directly with current students was a big factor in my decision to attend Heller.

Having the opportunity to become friends with second-year students has been a great part of my first year at Heller. The two MPP cohorts organized social activities including bar nights and primary debate watch parties together, which gave us the chance to get to know second-year students better, and the graduate assistant job in Heller Admissions has also given me the chance to meet students in other programs. In part through hours spent at the admissions front desk, Norman and I got to be friends, and have kept in touch during the recent period of remote learning and social distancing. We share an appreciation for unintentionally funny bad movies, intentionally funny comedy, and politics (despite the occasional political disagreement). He was one of the people who strongly advised me to consider applying for the dual MBA program (and patiently answered numerous questions during my period of indecision). If not for the chance to hear from Norman and other dual degree students further along in the program, I would not have considered it as strongly.

I think the ease with which I have been able to make friends at Heller, not just in my cohort but across years and programs, is a testament to the close-knit and welcoming community at Heller. Everyone here wears a few hats — Norman was the TA for my strategic management course, for example — so there’s a good chance that your new friends and classmates will also be your coworkers, TAs, or group project partners. The collaborative and non-hierarchical culture at Heller facilitates moving between these roles comfortably. I am fortunate to have met so many great people in my first year at Heller, and these relationships have made my time here thus far all the more rewarding.

 

Editor’s Note

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, over the past two weeks, in lieu of our regularly scheduled blog posts, I’ve chosen instead to share with you messages from Heller’s class of 2020. We’ll be resuming our content next week: not as a return to business as usual, but because at Heller we recognize that you— our prospective students, our admitted students, our current students, our graduates— can help bring about the change and healing our local communities, campuses, cities, and our country so desperately need, and it’s our role to help you in this journey.

By the time our students arrive at Heller, many have already done amazing things: started their own charities, worked for innovative NGOs, worked on the campaign trail for a political candidate they believed in, served in the Peace Corps, volunteered in their communities, conducted groundbreaking research… our applicants never fail to surprise me with their incredible backgrounds. Our students come to Heller because they are motivated to change the world, and they graduate with the tools to do it.

So in what will certainly be a contentious election year, in the midst of a pandemic, while needed protests are sweeping the nation, I chose to share recordings of two of our commencement speakers because they gave me hope. If you’re reading this, I know that you share the desire to affect the change our world needs, and that gives me hope too.  I look forward to continuing to providing you with information, tips, and perspectives from our current Heller students next week, and beyond.

Master of Public Policy Commencement Speaker: Bishar Jenkins, MPP’20

Today, I’d like to share with you another message from one of our wonderful Commencement speakers this year, this time from Bishar Jenkins, Master of Public Policy.

 

Bishar’s statement that “a commitment to social justice alone is not enough. Our commitment to social justice cannot merely be theoretical, it must be kinetic” is particularly resonant right now. Our present moment has revealed in harsh relief the dire need for effective, responsible, and ethical policymakers, and I am grateful to know that Heller students will be among those leading the charge. Again, congratulations to the Heller class of 2020; I can’t wait to see how you change the world.

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

This summer I’m interning with Shadhika, an NGO that strives to empower women and girls through holistic education initiatives in various parts of India. As Shadhika’s Project Intern, I’m using a human rights framework in order to re-visit and re-tool the organization’s theory of change. My role involves primary and secondary research, and ongoing communication with Shadhika’s partner NGO’s in India. Today, I’ll be walking you through a typical day at my internship.

8:00am – I get my coffee ready and hop on an early Zoom call with my internship supervisor at Shadhika. She is in Pune, India, so our calls tend to be during my morning, and her evening. We catch up with each other before discussing my work from last week and my action plan for the coming week. She and I will chat again during tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of Shadhika’s staff. There are 7 of us total, and I love that the organization feels like a tight-knit group.

9:00am – After taking my dog for a long walk, I grab a slice of toast and another cup of coffee before getting back to work.

9:51am – I’ve been reading grant reports from Shadhika’s partner NGOs in India to get a better sense of the organization’s programs since I can’t be there in person. There’s a lot of material to get through, and I’m beginning to feel the stress of getting everything done in time. I remind myself to breathe deeply; I’ll get it all done.

11:35 am – I’m already starting to daydream about lunch.

1:15 pm – Finishing up my notes on the different grant reports, I start to compile and analyze the common indicators of success across the partner programs. This task is challenging for me, but I’m enjoying gaining a better understanding of Shadhika’s goals and activities.

2:30 pm – I want to reach out to my supervisor to ask a few questions, but instead, I’ve got to be patient and wait until tomorrow. It’s late in the evening in India now, and I definitely don’t want to wake her up! Yet another challenge of interning virtually, and across time zones.

4:20 pm – At last, I finish up my work for the day. I feel relaxed and confident after completing the task of mapping different indicators of success across Shadhika’s partner organizations. Time for another long walk with my dog and my favorite podcast. Now, I’m starting to daydream about dinner…

Sustainable International Development Commencement speaker: Prince Mujumbe Salama, MA SID’20

In lieu of our planned post for today, I’d like to share with you the words of this year’s Sustainable International Development Commencement speaker, Prince Mujumbe Salama.

 

I’d like to personally extend my congratulations to all of Heller’s amazing 2020 graduates and to congratulate our prospective students, applicants, and deposited students on their commitment to becoming, as Prince said, “the light that our planet so desperately craves”.

Five Tips for Finishing your Application

With many graduate schools (including Heller!) extending their application deadlines, now might be the right time to take the leap and apply for that graduate program you’ve been considering. You’ve done your research, you’ve chosen the programs, and you’ve started your application: but how do you push through to the finish line? As someone who submitted way too many applications when I was applying to graduate programs, I’m a self-proclaimed expert on finishing graduate school applications, and today I’m giving you my top five tips to help you click the “Submit” button with confidence.

  1. Phone an (admissions) friend. Many colleges are changing their requirements during this application cycle to accommodate students. For example, Heller’s Social Impact MBA and Master of Public Policy program are waiving the GRE and GMAT test requirement for this cycle. Programs that normally require interviews may be doing phone or Zoom interviews or waiving them entirely. Check the admissions page for your program or reach out to the admissions staff of the college to make sure you have all the required materials and know the updated application deadlines
  2. Make a schedule. While it’s tempting to set aside a whole day to finalize your applications and just get it over with, I would recommend making a schedule and breaking your time into manageable blocks. Once you know the updated deadlines for your programs, prioritize programs with earlier deadlines, and read through each application carefully. I wouldn’t recommend working for longer than an hour at a time (even if it doesn’t feel like it, you really do lose focus after a while!) and reward yourself after each time-block: take a walk, order take-out, watch an episode of a TV show, whatever helps you to unwind and come back to those applications refreshed.
  3. Profread Proofread! I get it; you’ve read your statement of purpose twenty times already, and the thought of reading it one more time makes you want to scream. But proofreading is one of the easiest ways to polish your application and put your best foot forward. Ask someone else if they would mind looking over your statement of purpose– chances are, they’ll catch more mistakes than you would on your twenty-first read through. Another tip for proofreading: input your statement into a text-to-speech reader and have your computer read your work back to you (I use Natural Readers); you’ll catch way more errors hearing it read out loud. While you’re at it, check your resume too!
  4. Reach out to recommenders. Your recommenders are likely writing more than one letter of recommendation this application cycle, so make sure that you’re on the forefront of their mind by writing them a sincere thank you note. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by writing a letter of recommendation, so make sure you express your gratitude and check in with them if there’s anything else they need from you (if you haven’t already, attach your resume to your thank you note so your recommender can review your qualifications and include specifics in their letter).
  5. Triple-check your transcripts. Although Heller (and many other schools) accept unofficial transcripts for the purpose of admission, reviewers still need to authenticate certain information. Make sure that the transcript you’ve uploaded has your name, your previous institution’s name, and indicates that you’ve completed your program (if you have). This may sound like common sense, but many grade portals on student accounts don’t include this information, so make sure you take a look before you submit your application.

Checked everything off this list? Then you’re ready to press the submit button! Good luck and make sure you reward yourself for taking this important step for your future. Remember: you’ve got this.

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