Heller Admissions Blog

Demystifying the application process

Virtual Internships During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

A key feature of the MPP program at Heller is a summer internship between the first and second year. This was one of the selling points for me – the chance to take on a totally new professional challenge and learn in a hands-on way as a complement to my coursework. As Heller has strong connections with non-profit organizations, think tanks, government agencies, and research centers, I was excited by the prospect of finding an engaging summer opportunity.

The career center at Heller plans lots of great events to help students connect with alumni, organizations offering jobs or internships, and fellowship programs. I attended many such info sessions last fall, and in the spring I visited Washington, DC and New York City for Heller career treks. I was hoping to spend the summer in one of these cities, and I applied mostly to non-profit advocacy and research organizations.

As fate would have it, my summer looked very different than that. I had not pinned down an internship plan when the semester ended, and many internship programs had been canceled or moved online. It was challenging for many Heller students to transition to remote classes in the spring and to feel like we might miss out on opportunities we expected to have over the summer.

That said, remote internships were still an option, and I was lucky enough to be connected with a Heller alum in a city workforce development office through the help of one of my professors. I’ve been working part-time since July on a project looking at the transition of adult workforce training programs to remote service, a project which involves interviewing program staff, researching the sector overall, and assisting with presentations and reports to stakeholders. This has been an excellent opportunity to practice skills that I learned in Heller classes, such as conducting a literature review, editing an interview guide, and coding interview transcripts. I’ve become more knowledgeable and passionate, about workforce education, particularly around issues of inclusion and access. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated underlying inequities in resources and access to services, and it feels meaningful to work on immediate policy challenges at the local level. I’ve definitely developed a greater interest in city-level government and policy, and have a much better feel for the policy and non-profit spaces in the Boston area than I did previously.

As challenging as graduate school during COVID can be, working on policy issues where they directly impact people and communities was exactly what I hoped to do when I applied to Heller. I am grateful to the MPP program and to my internship host agency for supporting me, and I hope that my work will make a real difference!

 

 

 

 

Changing the World 101: Assets and Social Policy

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Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

It’s a cliché, but choosing only one course at Heller to write about is tough. As someone who feared statistics, Applied Regression Analysis gets an honorable mention in my book. (Seriously, to all other prospective MPP’s who managed to avoid statistics in your life, your stats professor, Steve, has got you covered!) Yet I think it’s more important to take this moment to write a love letter to my favorite class, Assets and Social Policy.

When I tell you I love Jessica Santos’s Assets course, I mean I looooove it. For me, it’s a perfect example of why I came to Heller. Assets and Social Policy teaches you how to examine the policies, practices, and norms that contribute to persistent poverty, concentrated wealth, and structural racial inequality in the US. Doesn’t that sounds exciting?!

Yes? No?

Wait, let me break down some of what we’ve learned before you decide.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the income gap between men and women as well as between white and non-white Americans. But have you examined the wealth gap? Check out these stats:

  • White single women earn 72 cents to the white male’s dollar.
  • White single women only own 32 cents to the while male’s dollar.
  • The median income for White Americans is $60K; the median wealth is $110K.
  • The median income for Black Americans is $35K; the median wealth is $7K.

Are you getting an idea for the stark contrast in wealth? Wealth is the total extent of an individual’s assets and resources (e.g. savings, real estate, stocks, etc.). But intangible assets (e.g. networks, knowledge, aspirational capital, etc.) can contribute to wealth as well. If we truly want to tackle poverty, we have to address the wealth gap in this country.

And that’s just the beginning (literally day 1). In this course, you’ll examine how assets affect a person or community’s social and economic course, what institutional conditions limit or expand opportunities for wealth accumulation, how policies can perpetuate disadvantages, and so much more. You’ll even compare urban and rural poverty and gain some new perspectives!

Getting excited now?

One month in, you’ll apply what you’ve learned in class to your own life by writing your Asset Story. If nothing else, this assignment is a great excuse to sit down with family members, learn about family history, and even discover something new about your ancestors! As a mixed, Black woman who was raised by two parents with sufficient income, I knew I carried quite a bit of privilege. Yet, in researching my Assets Story, I learned that tangible and intangible assets have equipped my family with privilege for generations. I never considered my Black grandparents as having privilege, but their assets (e.g. property passed down to them) freed up income that allowed them to better support their family. In addition, had my father not had neighbors who were college professors, he may have never formed the aspirations to establish the first Black law firm in Charleston, West Virginia.

I’d recommend this course to any student at Heller, as I believe it applies to all fields and can even be studied in an international context. This class and professor, Jess, have challenged me in the best ways. I haven’t finished the course yet but if I could take an Assets and Social Policy Part 2, I would in a heartbeat.

Put Your Best Foot Forward: Starting the Application Process

Now that you’ve chosen the schools you want to apply to, it’s time to start applying. This process can be overwhelming, so today I’m sharing some do’s and don’ts to keep you organized and to avoid common pitfalls.

 ✓ DO keep track of your deadlines. In a spreadsheet, calendar, or whatever organizational tool works best for you, write down ALL of the application submission deadlines for the programs you’re interested in. Don’t trust yourself to remember them all; making sure you know the deadlines for your applications will allow you to prioritize the work you need to do.

 ✓ DO write down all of the application requirements for each program. Unlike most undergraduate applications, graduate school application requirements can vary wildly.  Some programs require the GRE or GMAT, while it’s optional for others. Some will require a writing sample. Some programs may need three recommenders for your letters of recommendation, or two, or none at all. You don’t want to realize at 11:55pm that your application due at midnight requires a writing sample, so make sure you’ve checked each program’s requirements thoroughly: and again, write it down!

 ✓ DO repurpose material, but not word for word. It’s a great idea to have a template statement of purpose— there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel for each program. However, make sure that each statement of purpose has at least a few sentences that is unique to each program: what draws you to that program? Which faculty are you looking forward to working with? What opportunities does the school offer that you want to take advantage of during your time there?

X DON’T wait until the last minute to submit your supplemental materials. Remember that things like transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation can take time to prepare. Make sure you reach out to your undergraduate or other graduate institutions, test centers, and recommenders well ahead of time.

X DON’T skimp on proof-reading. Many students think that they can do their own editing, but it always helps to have another person’s perspective. You’d be surprised how many typos you’ll miss when you’re reading your own work! Identify two friends or colleagues whose writing advice you trust and send your work to them early, in case they have any revisions.

X DON’T forget to write your recommenders a thank you note! This often gets overlooked, but after your recommender has agreed to write your letter of recommendation, follow-up with a thank you note— it never goes unappreciated. Moreover, you can use your thank-you note as a chance to attach your resume (which is often helpful for your recommender to have), or mention what personal qualities and achievements you would like your recommender to focus on when writing your letter of recommendation.

Remember that you can control how hectic (or not) this application cycle can be. Starting early and staying organized not only help your graduate school application but also help prepare you for the rigors of a graduate school program; these are skills that will be beneficial to you as you enter the next phase of your academic journey. Best of luck!

A Whole New World: COEX to MS-GHPM

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Last year, as a COEX student, I decided to add an additional degree and to begin the MS Global Health Policy this year as well. As someone with almost zero experience or background in science or health, I nevertheless felt up for the challenge. But as the semester began, I felt intimidated by the material that left me feeling extremely out of my element. I’m the sort of student who can easily write a 15 or 20 page paper, but I have a lot of trouble with quantitative topics. I had found myself way outside of my academic comfort zone, and I felt worried. I hadn’t even taken a math class since 2007, and now I was suddenly trying to figure out equations and unfamiliar symbols. It felt like I would never catch up to my classmates who are more math- and science-oriented.

After the initial panic set in, I decided to take action and figure out what I would need to do to stay afloat in my classes. The Global Health Policy and Management degree is something I truly want, and something I know I’m capable of achieving with hard work and determination. I decided to talk to others and find the resources I’d need to thrive as a student in this program. I attended my professors’ and TAs’ office hours whenever I could. Then, I spoke to Sandy Jones, who was also my advisor in the COEX program last year and is also the Executive Director of Global Programs at Heller. Connecting with Sandy made a big difference, and she was able to point me in the direction of very valuable resources. She informed me that peer tutors are available to MS students at no extra cost. Having an individual tutor for my “Regression Analysis” and “STATA” classes has made a world of difference! I think it is also a great example of how Heller strives to support its students in a variety of ways.

Making these types of connections and finding these sorts of resources has made a huge difference in improving my first semester as a Global Health master’s student. I am definitely not 100% comfortable with quantitative topics yet, but having professors, staff, and peers at Heller to support me has made a world of difference. Now, I feel more confident in my ability to tackle difficult topics that are far beyond my usual comfort zone. At Heller, you are not simply on your own. Thankfully, there is a large pool of resources to draw upon whenever you need support or guidance.

New Semester, New Challenges

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

With the semester in full swing, I’ve had some time to get used to some new types of classes that I am taking this fall. In the first year of the MPP program, most of my coursework involved extensive reading, writing, and qualitative data analysis, but not as much quantitative content (with the exception of a full year of statistics, which I really enjoyed!). Now that I have enrolled in the MBA program as well, I have embarked on a sequence of accounting and finance classes, beginning with Financial Reporting and Analysis this semester, as well as taking Economics of Social Policy. It is strange to suddenly have problem sets on a weekly basis for two classes, and to have quizzes and midterm exams. I believe the last time I took a formal, closed-note exam was about a decade ago! Intimidating as it may be to memorize the formatting and rules of various kinds of financial statements, learn how to complete adjusted journal entries, and reacquaint myself to the discipline of studying for quizzes and midterms, I am really pleased to be delving into this subject matter. As I hope to work on policy related to labor and workforce development, I hope that developing a stronger foundation in finance and economics will prepare me to better understand corporate behavior, the job market, and macroeconomic policies that impact wages and employment.

It’s also great to balance writing- and reading-intensive classes with quantitative ones – it adds variety to assignments and helps with exercising different intellectual muscles. That said, at Heller the coursework is interdisciplinary, and many classes involve multiple types of thinking, both qualitative and quantitative. One example is a program evaluation course that I am taking this fall. The assignments require us to simulate the work of a consultant or program evaluator working with a non-profit organization. I found myself getting really excited about a data visualization assignment for this class (I think my Excel skills developed more in one Sunday afternoon than in several years working in an office!). While I chose Heller in part due to the MPP program’s emphasis on writing, research, and organizational skills (rather than being primarily focused on quantitative analysis and economics, as some policy programs are), I now find myself craving further opportunities to hone my data analysis skills. I am taking an introductory Geographic Information Systems course during the second half of this semester, and am considering enrolling in a big data course at Brandeis’ International Business School this spring. It’s great to know that opportunities are available at Heller, and at Brandeis, to challenge yourself and try new things. While I’m not necessarily thrilled about having midterm and final exams rather than papers, I’m glad to have dusted off my calculator and delved into the world of accounting, economics, and data analysis this semester.

Changing the World 101: Sami Rovins’ Favorite Classes

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Professor Lempereur’s course in Responsible Negotiation is a core component of the COEX curriculum.  Throughout my first semester at Heller, we learned to negotiate in different scenarios with a variety of (often challenging) people. Some negotiations were in-person, others could only take place by video chat, demonstrating how difficult negotiations could be based on the type of communication being used. In some negotiations, Professor Lempereur would even encourage one side to be particularly tough on the other. The goal was for our negotiations to mirror real-life scenarios that we might face as negotiators working in the world.

There wasn’t one typical or expected type of negotiation in this course. We sometimes negotiated in groups or teams, and sometimes one-on-one. At times these negotiations took place in person, sometimes by email. The negotiations covered a huge range of topics – from a legal dispute over car repairs, to political negotiations over a fictional autonomous region, to the personal and professional issues between two owners of a tech company. Our cohort didn’t simply learn how to responsibly negotiate, but we were also taught how to effectively prepare, how to debrief following a negotiation, how to properly manage our time, and how to work with (rather than against) the people with whom we negotiated.

As the final day of our Responsible Negotiation course, we played a complicated “game” called SIMSOC in which we had to simulate a society in every aspect. The COEX cohort was broken up into groups, each of which represented a different community. I was a member of the poorest community. While each group was given certain resources to begin the SIMSOC game with, our group began with no jobs, money, or food, and we had no ability to travel to the other regions. We quickly realized we would have to wait until another group visited us, and so we began to prepare for the negotiations that would take place once they did.

When we finally interacted with members from the other groups, we managed to pledge votes to a political party in exchange for jobs. Soon, however, our group began to split on the topic of money. Some wanted the money we were now earning to be collective, others wanted to keep their money for themselves. This led to a heated debate and ultimately two members of our community defected to another. SIMSOC took place over the course of the morning and afternoon, and by the end, the COEX cohort was exhausted. We finished the day at the Stein, a restaurant and bar on Brandeis’ campus. It was a great way for me, my fellow COEX students, and Professor Lempereur to unwind after a long and challenging final day of class.

How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research

Last month I talked about how to initially narrow your search for the perfect graduate program for you by looking at basics like population size, program format, geographic area. But once you have a list of about ten to twenty schools, making cuts can seem almost impossible. Especially now, when visiting schools is virtually impossible (pun intended!), how do you know which to cross off your list? Today I’m sharing some tips to move from a list of schools that meet your criteria to the four to six schools you’ll end up applying to.

Step 1: Take inventory. I referenced this briefly in my previous post, but this is the stage where you’ll really want to dive into what’s motivating you to go to graduate school. What are the holes in your knowledge? What do you want to gain from your time in graduate school? Try to make this list as concrete as possible (i.e., not “I want to make connections” but “I want to make connections with people in fields x, y, and z.”).

Step 2: Dive in. Now that you have your list, compare that to the curriculum and faculty interests of each program. If you know you want to gain hands-on experience, programs that don’t offer an internship or practicum option can be crossed off your list. If you want to focus on behavioral health issues in Southeast Asia (for example!), and none of the faculty at the school have experience in either behavioral health or Southeast Asia, you can eliminate them as well. If you know you need to learn STATA (a statistics software), and there’s no classes or support for that in the program, you know that the program would not be a good fit for you.

Step 3: Final cuts. After step two, you should have narrowed your initial list significantly; if you didn’t, it’s a sign that your list of objectives wasn’t concrete enough. But once you’ve gotten your list under ten, that’s where the fun part of the research comes in. Reach out to admissions staff members to get any answers for your remaining questions. Connect to current students and alumni, and ask questions like, “Do you have enough academic and career guidance? What do you like and dislike about your program? How available are your professors?” Attend virtual events for prospective students! Many schools, including Heller, are offering a ton of virtual events to help students connect to faculty, program directors, and current students, so take advantage of this opportunity.

Only you can decide which program will be best for you, so think of this as an opportunity to reflect on what you want to do after graduation. In the end, remember that graduate school is a stepping-stone toward your personal and professional goals, not the final destination; every person’s path will look different depending on where they see themselves in the future. Start early, keep your search organized, and know that whichever program you choose, your passion and hard work will be the keys to success!

Back to School with Sami Rovins

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

As a second-year student at Heller, I spent my summer wondering what beginning a brand new program would be like in an online context. Would it even be possible to meet new people and make friends over Zoom? I had no idea what to expect. I was worried that I would start the MS GHPM program, but I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fully get to know my classmates or professors. It was difficult not to compare my speculations about my upcoming experience at Heller to my time last year as a COEX student attending in-person classes.

Although the new semester is only a few weeks in, many of my fears surrounding making personal connections have already dissipated. In the first few days of MS GHPM classes, I felt relieved to see that as a cohort, we were managing to gradually get to know each other over Zoom. The “breakout room” function on Zoom makes a big difference in this regard. Breaking off into smaller groups of 4 or 5 students a few times during each class provides an opportunity to actually meet one another, and to get a better sense of who the people are behind each of the little boxes on the Zoom screen. In the breakout rooms, we’re able to ask each other how we’re adjusting to the new school year and how we’re handling our assignments. Ultimately, we all get a better sense of each other as individuals in this way.

A few students in the MS GHPM cohort had an excellent idea to create a WhatsApp group that everyone could join. This has served a few functions for us. In the WhatsApp group, we’re able to collaborate on ideas, share tips on assignments, and get to know each other a little better overall. We even have the chance to blow off steam by commiserating about all the work we have to complete. The WhatsApp group helps to individualize each of us, and helps to put faces and names together.

Now, a little over two weeks into the semester, I feel more confident that I’ll be able to foster and maintain personal connections with members of my cohort. Professors are also extremely accessible and often have extended office hours for students to get to know their teachers even better. It’s a relief to know that even behind a computer screen, making personal connections is not only possible, but also fun and exciting. I feel hopeful about my upcoming year at Heller, and hopeful that I’ll continue to make meaningful connections with my MS GHPM cohort, even in a digital world.

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

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Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Fun fact: I accidentally ignored my Heller acceptance letter for an entire week. Ironically, this came after weeks of obsessively checking my email in hopes of seeing “The Heller School” in my inbox and months of gushing over the school to anyone who would listen. But you know what they say: a watched pot never boils. Needless to say, when I finally saw that name in my inbox with the subject “Application Update,” my stomach leaped into my chest.

So many thoughts raced through my head before I opened the email. My journey to Heller had been a long one. After obtaining a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University, I went directly into the Peace Corps, serving as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in East Timor. I entered the Peace Corps with hopes of finding direction in the human rights field. Yet my time in the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste showed me the immense impact of community development when led by the community itself. Though I cared about a number of human rights crises around the world, nothing struck my heart quite like my own community’s crisis: racial discrimination and police brutality against Black Americans.

After my time in the Peace Corps, I was determined to follow my passion and make a difference for my community. I came back to my home, West Virginia, and worked for an anti-poverty nonprofit, learning the powers of organizing and policymaking. I knew I wanted to continue my education in order to make a more substantial impact for racial justice and, luckily, I had a mentor who guided me toward a Master’s in Public Policy. When searching for the right school, my priority was to find a school that emphasized the impact of policy on communities. The Heller School quickly rose to the top of my list.

Yet it wasn’t until I visited the Heller School that I fell completely in love. A normal campus visit usually involves one (short) meeting and maybe a class visit. However, my morning at Heller involved a campus tour, three separate meetings with assistant and associate deans, coffee with a current MPP student, sitting in on a COEX class and viewing second-year MPP student summer internship presentations. On top of all of that, I was encouraged to organize calls with professors skilled in my area of research. Prestigious professors, like Anita Hill, took time out of their day to speak with a prospective student to brainstorm research ideas! By the time the application deadline came around, I had already begun praying for an acceptance letter.

Back to the infamous email: I took a deep breath, attempted to embrace the mantra of “everything happens for a reason,” convinced myself that I would be O.K. with any decision, closed my eyes and clicked.

“There has been an update to your application.”

…that’s it?

“Well, that’s anti-climactic,” I thought.

The suspense was definitely lost but my patience was rewarded as I went through the admissions portal to find my prayers had been answered. I was accepted… with a scholarship!! I’ll spare you the cheesy details of my reaction (spoiler: it involved jumping on my bed and blasting “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen) because it’s the reactions of my father and mentor that I remember most. The joy pouring from my dad as he gave me a bear hug and the tears from my mentor on the phone solidified the feeling that this was it. I had applied to other prestigious schools in the Boston area, but I knew firsthand that no school would share my values, and value me as a student, like Heller. After only a month as an MPP student, I still believe this to be true.

Welcome Back: Doug Nevins

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Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

Back to school!

After a strange and unprecedented summer (which nonetheless seems to have flown by), I am back to school at Heller this fall for my second MPP year, and first MBA year. In keeping with a slightly corny family tradition of first day of school photos, I took a selfie on my front porch, laptop in hand, to mark the first day of classes. After having a few months to get used to Zoom meetings and remote work, transitioning back into virtual classes felt more natural than I expected. I’m excited to be back “at Heller” and delving into new subject matter.

I’ve found that it’s important to create routines and structure that better approximate the feeling of being in school full-time under normal circumstances. To that end, I’ve been setting my alarm to a bit earlier in the morning, trying to be a few minutes early to every class, and connecting with classmates on Zoom or in person, outside, for study sessions. Having a support system of fellow students to collaborate with outside of class has been invaluable, and it’s been great to reconnect with other MPP students whom I didn’t see this summer, and to meet my new MBA cohort. I’ve also found that continuing to work part-time, including at the MPP internship which I started this summer, gives my week some added structure and variety.

Doing a dual degree program at Heller can be intense. I’m currently taking 5 classes and have already had one major assignment due. That said, I’ve already learned A LOT this semester (I can balance a balance sheet, I think?) and am really enjoying being back in the classroom, virtual though it may be. The way that different classes, and degree programs, reinforce one another at Heller makes the whole experience that much more engaging and immersive.

As unorthodox as this “back to school” season has been, I’m so grateful to be at Heller and to be a part of this community.

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