Category: Admissions (page 2 of 9)

Expect the Unexpected

Last week, I had a conversation with a student who was interested in applying to Heller’s PhD program. “I’d really like to finish the program in four years; what’s the best way for me to do this?” Uh….

I’ll tell you what I told him: that’s a hard thing to do. Undertaking a PhD is a big step! Your dissertation is essentially the length of a (pretty lengthy) book, and it’s hard to get that done in the year. But, as I told him, if you’re determined to complete it in four years, there are a few things things that you can do right now that will set you up for success. When I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that the advice I gave him actually scales to any student about to undertake a graduate level degree. Doing these three things right now, before you enroll in graduate school, will ensure that you have the best experience possible and get the most you can from your program.

Number one: Get your finances in line.

This isn’t the time to say, “Oh, I’ll figure it out once I’m in the program” or “I’m sure I’ll be able to get loans that will cover my program”. To be successful in your program, you’ll want to have as little stress outside of grad school as humanly possible, and financial stress is an important part of that. You don’t want to be in the middle of taking your midterms, worried about whether or not you’ll be able to make rent next month. Make a budget for grad school: on one side, write down any money you’ll have coming in (a stipend, your savings, a scholarship, your salary) and on the other side, write down any money you’ll have going out (the cost of your program, your rent, your living expenses). Ideally, the first number should be larger or the same as the second. If that’s not possible, the difference will represent the amount you’ll have to take out in loans.

Number two: Identify your support systems. 

Getting a graduate degree is tough. There are late nights, stressful finals weeks, and not a lot of time or money to take vacations. Before you begin a graduate program, I would suggest that you identify things or people in your life that you can lean on when things get tough. It’s been said that everyone should have three hobbies: one that helps your body, one that helps your mind/emotions, and one that helps your finances. I would try to find a hobby for each of those, but also find a person in your life for each of those categories as well.  For body, it might be a personal trainer, a friend that you schedule a weekly walk with, a friend who’s into yoga classes, a partner that will make sure you eat; mind or emotions could be a close friend that gives great advice, a therapist, a supportive parent figure who’s always ready to take your calls; wallet could be a mentor in your field who will give you honest career advice, a partner who is willing to shoulder more of the financial burdens while you’re in school, or a professor who is always in need of a research assistant.

Number three: Expect the unexpected.

Ever heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men”? The second part of the phrase is, “Often go awry.” This holds especially true if the mice and men are in graduate school. If you can do so without causing undue stress, take a moment to consider some “worst case scenarios” and how you would deal with them while you were in graduate school. If you’re using the school’s health insurance, familiarize yourself with your new coverage. Ask about what the medical or personal leaves at your new school look like. Ask about what happens if you fail a class, or what support there is on campus for students who are struggling. If you have a partner, talk to them about what would happen if they lost their job, or were offered an amazing job in a different area. These can be hard conversations, and scary to think about, but I promise, the more you’re able to have things “lined up” in the event of a problem, the more prepared you will be to solve that problem.

Q&A: What is a Proseminar?

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

This weekend, I had the opportunity to take part in a Heller proseminar with a focus on finance and budgeting, and it was excellent. So I figured, if you decide to become a Heller Graduate student (or maybe you already are one), you may also have the opportunity to take part in proseminars and may have some questions about what they are and how they work. Let’s take a moment to discuss what exactly they are:

Q: What makes proseminars different from regular courses?

A: Proseminars are 9 hour “crash courses” (my words, not Heller’s) that typically meet Friday – Sunday that feature a wide variety of topics. 

Q: Are proseminars required?

A: No, they are totally optional! If it is a topic you are interested in, then you can opt in to the course – but they are never required. 

Q: Do proseminars count for credits?

A: Yes! Proseminars count for 1 academic credit. 

Q: Why would I want to take a proseminar?

A: As was mentioned above, proseminars can cover a variety of topics – such as finance and budgeting for nonprofits;  technology for development; diversity, equity and inclusion; and many other changing topics! You. may chose to take them out of interest, or because they count towards your overall credit requirements (or both)!

Q: How many proseminars are offered each semester?

A: It depends. I have found that there are usually 2-3 each semester, but I believe that can change . 

Q: Do I have to pay to attend a proseminar?

A: No, these are free for students to join at no additional cost. It is akin to attending a free weekend learning conference.

Q: Are proseminars graded or on a pass/fail basis?

A: They are graded and count towards you GPA the same as a regular module or semester long course. 

Q: How do I enroll in a proseminar?

A: You will get an email from your program advisor a month or so ahead of time with all needed information – including an online sign-up form. 

Still have questions about a proseminar? Feel free to reach out to your program advisor for the most accurate information on when they are, what topics they may feature, how to enroll, and any additional questions!

 

Love is Blind: Admissions

Like many others across the nation (and even the world: there’s now both a Japanese and Brazilian version), I spent a good portion of last month binge-watching season two of Netflix’s hit show Love is Blind, and tuned in this past week for the reunion episode. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the show, it goes a little something like this: over less than two weeks, potential couples participate in a version of speed dating where they can hear, but not see each other. By the end of the pod dates, some couples choose to get engaged, if accepted, the two will meet face to face for the first time. The show then follows them out of the pods to their honeymoon, and then back to real life where they meet each other’s friends and families. At the end of three weeks, they then decide if they want to get married or not.

Okay, Amanda, what’s your point? I’m getting there! The show has been very much on my mind, and we happen to be at the point of the admissions cycle where we’re both still admitting students and trying to yield the students we’ve already admitted this cycle… and when I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that in admissions, we often use words like “perfect match”, a “good fit”, or “knowing in your gut”, the same things people often talk about when they’re dating. It got me wondering if Love is Blind just may have some important lessons for students in the process of applying to grad school. Here are some of my takeaways:

Love, whether it’s for a graduate school or a romantic partner, can (and maybe should!) be blind. In the pods, contestants are challenged to fall in love without knowing what the other person looks like. When exploring schools, or choosing the right school for you, I implore you to try to do the same. Strip away the prestigious name or the high ranking, look past how other people might judge you for your choice and ask yourself, how do I feel here? Does the environment feel right to me? Do this school’s values mesh with mine? Could I see myself fitting into this community? Those questions, more than a flashy name, will help you choose which school is the best fit for you.

These things take time. Couples that seem like the strongest in the pods often fall apart after a week in the outside world. All the bonding that they do through the walls amounts to very little when they’re confronted with each other’s families, friends, apartments, conflict styles, love languages, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to love, and I suspect there may not be a shortcut to finding the right graduate school. It takes careful research, meeting with people in the community, a visit to campus (if possible!) to figure out if the school might be the right one for you. Don’t try to rush into things!

There’s no such thing as “The One”. Something I was struck by in Love is Blind is how frequently contestants will say something like, “I never connect with people outside… but in here, I have three guys that I could see as my future husband!” I think that goes to show that the myth of one soulmate or one perfect school may just be that… a myth! There are probably a few dozen schools that you could be happy at, so don’t take rejection too hard. Even if you don’t get into what you think is your dream school, it may just be that there’s another school out there that you would ultimately be more suited for.

While I don’t think Love is Blind is necessarily the best way to find a romantic partner, I think there are some takeaways that are actually better applied to graduate admissions. But worry not– you don’t have to enter into a pod to see if Heller is right for you.

Recap of a Stint in Virtual Learning

Hannah Plumb headshot

Hannah Plumb, MA SID’22

When I was looking into graduate schools back in 2020, one thing that was really important to me was having in person classes. Obviously, when the pandemic first hit, most graduate schools had all their classes online. That was why I decided to wait and apply for Fall 2021, when I knew it would be more likely that I could experience everything in person. Thankfully, the Fall 2021 semester was all in person and I got my wish.

However, in December 2021, the Omicron variant hit, and uncertainty about classes being online was in the air again. So many people I knew were getting infected, and I got more and more concerned we’d be moving online permanently. I constantly was checking my inbox over the break, looking for updates about if in person classes would begin. Finally, I saw the email– I quickly skimmed and found the information I was looking for. “Classes will begin online for the first two weeks of the Spring 2022 semester.” My heart sank a little bit; even though I knew it was the right decision with the new variant, that didn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed.

Now being back in person after those two weeks, it seems a good a time as any to look back on those two weeks of online classes. A few good things about being online were that I seemed to have so much more time. Since I wasn’t as worried about getting to campus, my time was my own, and I had a lot more of it. Also, being at home meant that I could take some time during the day to cook, get my laundry done etc, which I don’t get to do as much during a normal week. However, there were also negatives too. Because I also was working remotely, I was essentially staring at my computer for 12 hours a day every day. As someone who loves being outdoors and being social, this was a little bit tough for me. Plus, being online I have a much harder time concentrating, and find that I get distracted much easier.

While there were definitely some benefits to being virtual, I must say I’m very happy to be back in person. However, I have to give credit to the professors that made being online much more engaging that I anticipated. One professor that really stood out for me with her skills in teaching online classes was Professor Kaitie Chakoian.  Professor Chakoian teaches Policy Approaches to Gender-Based Violence, which is my favorite class of the semester so far. When we were online, she did such an great job at letting us be part of the discussion and coming up with exercises to really make sure everyone was able to participate. In addition, these discussions got us thinking on a deeper level about what rape culture really is and what constitutes it. Also, she made sure to give us frequent breaks as needed, and give us time to get into break out rooms to have further discussion about the topics of class. This was so helpful, as it gave us time to really absorb the material and ask any questions we might have. Professor Chakoian did an amazing job, and if we had to be online permanently, I would take her class in a heartbeat.

Learn the Lingo: Graduate Admissions

“Ah, yeah, his app is showing as incomplete because he never sent verified TOEFL scores to us; his GRE is waived but since he self-reported, he’ll need to send those too. But once he pays his application fee we should be ready to review him for the first priority deadline.”

If that sounds like gibberish to you, never fear! As we move further into the application cycle, I thought it might be helpful to share some lingo that’s common in graduate admissions. This glossary can help you make sense of all the information you’re sorting through.

Application Fee: The fee required to submit an application to the program. Heller’s application fee is US $55;his fee is waived for applicants from developing nations and current or returned Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year, and other service organization volunteers.

Curriculum Vitae (CV): A detailed document highlighting a person’s professional and academic history. CVs usually include work experience, achievements and awards, scholarships and grants, completed coursework, research projects, and publications. This is similar to a resume, but with a few key differences.

Deposit/ Enrollment deposit:  In order to confirm your space in the incoming class, you must fill out your “Reply to Offer of Admission” form by the deadline stated and pay a non-refundable tuition deposit.  The deposit will be credited toward your first semester tuition charges and will secure your place in the entering class.

Duolingo English Test: The Duolingo English Test is an English proficiency assessment. The test is available online, on demand. You don’t have to make an appointment or travel to a test center—you can take the test from your home via a computer and webcam.  The test is administered using computer adaptive technology, meaning that the question difficulty adapts to each test taker. The test also integrates a video interview and writing sample, which are sent to an institution along with your proficiency score when you send your results. The entire test experience takes just under an hour. Test results are certified within 48 hours, and they can be shared with an unlimited number of institutions.  The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at 115 on the Duolingo English Test.

English Proficiency: As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. For some international students, your English Proficiency requirement will be automatically waived based on your citizenship or where you obtained a previous degree. For other intrnational students, you’ll have to demonstrate your proficiency by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam, IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam, or Duolingo English Test.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans (also called Unsubsidized Stafford Loans) are non–need-based guaranteed educational loans. With a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, students can borrow up to $20,500 per year. Unlike Subsidized Loans, Unsubsidized Loans accumulate interest while students are in their program, and this interest is added to the principal amount. However, students do not have to make payments on their loans while they are enrolled in their program at least half-time.

GMAT:  A standardized graduate business school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council, which measures verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills. For Heller’s Social Impact MBA program, we usually require either the GMAT or GRE (Note: Heller has extended its test-optional policy for applicants to the MBA, MPP, or PhD program for the Fall 2022 cycle, although International applicants must still either qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver or submit IELTS, TOEFL or Duolingo English Test scores.).

Graduate Plus Loans: The Graduate PLUS Loan is a fixed-interest student loan guaranteed by the federal government that allows graduate students to borrow the total cost for their graduate school needs, including tuition, room and board, supplies, lab expenses, and travel, less than any other aid. The Graduate PLUS Loan is a non-need, credit-based loan similar to a private student loan with the benefit of having a fixed interest rate and federal guarantee.

GRE: A standardized graduate school entrance exam administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), which measures verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills. Heller’s Master of Public Policy or PhD in Social Policy program usually require the GRE;  Heller’s Social Impact MBA program,  usually requires either the GMAT or GRE (Note: Heller has extended its test-optional policy for applicants to the MBA, MPP, or PhD program for the Fall 2022 cycle, although International applicants must still either qualify for an English Proficiency Waiver or submit IELTS, TOEFL or Duolingo English Test scores.

IELTS: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)  is an English proficiency assessment. Students taking the IELTS to apply for graduate school should take the IELTS Academic Test IELTS is graded on a scale of 1-9.  There are six sections;  the total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes.  The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at a 7.0 on the IELTS.

Merit-based aid/ merit scholarships: A type of financial aid awarded to students who have demonstrated special academic ability or talents, regardless of their financial need. This is what Heller uses! All applicants are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships, and recipients will be notified along with their admission decision.

Official transcript: Official transcripts must a) Be issued directly by the institution and b) include one or more of the following features: the registrar’s signature, the registrar’s seal, an institutional watermark, and/or be printed on official institutional paper. If you have been admitted, and you have accepted that offer of admission, we will require official transcripts; we do not require official transcripts at the time of application.

Priority Deadline: The date by which an application must be received in order to be given full consideration. At Heller, this can apply to admissions and financial aid. After the priority date passes, applications are considered on a rolling basis until the next deadline.

Rolling Admission: An admissions process used by some colleges and universities in which each application is considered as soon as all the required materials have been received, rather than by a specific deadline. This is what Heller uses, starting after our first priority deadline.

Statement of Purpose: The statement of purpose is a pivotal piece of the entire application package and should discuss the reasons for applying to the degree program of your choice. In the statement of purpose, you should highlight any previous academic and professional experiences that make you a strong candidate for this degree. You should provide the admissions committee with further insight about your personal and professional interests, and include an in-depth discussion of your career goals following completion of the program. The statement of purpose should also highlight what aspects of this program appeal to you most, and why you’re specifically interested in completing your graduate education at the Heller School. The committee would like to know what you hope to gain from the degree and what you believe you can bring to the program.

Stipend: In addition to tuition, fees, and the individual health insurance premium, the Heller PhD program also provides stipend support to full-time PhD students. Stipends are a fixed amount of money given to students to support them while in their program; at Heller, your stipend is completely separate from any requirement to work on campus.

TOEFL: The TOEFL test has 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The total test takes about 3 hours to complete. Official TOEFL scores must be sent directly through ETS to our institution code 3097 at the time that you apply. The Heller School only considers TOEFL scores from a single test date, not MyBest™ scores. The majority of our successful applicants tend to have a score of at least 94 on the TOEFL,

Unofficial transcript: We accept unofficial transcripts at the time of application. Many institutions allow students and alumni to access their grade report online; these reports are sufficient for application file review.

Waitlist:  A list of qualified applicants to a school who may be offered admission if there is space available after all admitted students have made their decisions. At Heller, only the PhD program uses a waitlist; all other programs have rolling admission.

Why Study Public Policy?

Daniella Levine, MPP ’22

As I sit here, almost at the halfway point of my last semester at Heller, I cannot help but reflect on my experience. Instead of a sappy and sentimental post that I can feel bubbling to the top, I want to focus on the structure of the Heller MPP program and why this remains the right choice for me from an academic prospective.

To do so, I decided to go back to my statement of purpose. I wanted to see what I asked of Heller three years ago when I submitted my initial application and hold both Heller and myself accountable. Did we both accomplish what we set out to do?

“I have come to understand how little untrained professionals understand of the complexities of community work, which is the reason I am applying to your MPP program.”

After five years in a direct service role, I was ready to go back to school to enhance my skills. I had reached the limit of what I could do without further instruction and guidance, and knew that the best way for me to attain those skills was through a higher education degree. The work is multilayered and I wanted to garner the expertise to avoid burnout and frustration.

“What I am seeking is not just to mend the wounds caused by imbalance and injustice, but rather to learn how to identify, combat, and work to prevent these systemic injustices from taking root.” 

It took me a few years to confirm that an MPP was the right educational track. I played with the idea of an MSW or an MBA – but in the end, I knew the work I wanted to do was deeply  rooted in the policy realm.  I kept coming back to the old proverb: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life. We need to address the systemic issues at play to ensure this man is fed everyday. A public policy degree provides the infrastructure for how to assimilate successfully into a policy-specific role in order to impart change.

“The ability to combine the MPP with a concentration in gender policy allows me to develop the skill-base necessary to impact a niche field. […] I want to explore the intersection of assimilation, gender, and the cultural socialization on gender normativity. I can study gender through a sociological or historical lens, but both paths feel too passive and retroactive.”

Heller’s academic structure encourages students to specialize in a specific area of policy. The program is constructed in such a way that each student receives an interdisciplinary education. I would not understand the intricacies of social policy without the integration of gender and race into the conversation. Heller not only promotes those conversations, but uplifts diversity as one of the school’s core tenants.

“Heller’s field experience opportunities and small class sizes are ideal as I have always been a tactile learner. Your program is the perfect mixture of purposeful work combined with the quantitative training necessary to make a difference locally and beyond.”

The class load, requirements, and design match my learning style and challenge me to be the best student I can be. Although I was initially afraid of the quantitative materials, I have found the work to be digestible and accessible. Each class is carefully thought out to ensure that each student graduate with the essential tools to excel in the public policy field.

“Heller offers me the chance to explore public policy in a community I have called home for the last five years with my desired educational track.”

Whether you are a transplant to Boston or a life-long New Englander, Heller is strategically located in a unique political arena. From local issues to national recognition, the Greater Boston area offers a plethora of avenues to explore the complexities of policy up close. With renowned research institutes and access to practitioners at the top of their field, you cannot beat the exposure Heller offers.

Heller Winter 2022 Magazine Highlights

Every quarter, my colleagues in Heller Communications put out a new issue of the Heller magazine, and at the risk of sounding like a bit of a dweeb, I always read it cover to cover. Although I would say that Heller is better than a lot of workplaces at fostering community, there’s always so much going on that it’s hard to keep up with what everyone else in the building is up to. The Heller Magazine always does a great job highlighting interesting stories from students, alumni, faculty, and even giving a bit of Heller history. Some of my favorite articles from issues past include Beyond “Do no harm”The Best Lessons I Learned at Heller: Alumni share stories about their favorite professors, and 2020 asks us: If not now, when?.

When I came into the office on Tuesday, I was so excited to see the Winter 2022 issue in my mailbox, and have spent the last few days reading it cover to cover. You can find the full accessible PDF here, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorite articles from this issue.

Fighting for Energy Justice – This article profiles the work of an alumna of our Sustainable International Development program, Paula García. García’s interest in environmental issues began when she worked as a ranger in her native country’s (Columbia) national parks as a college student, but today she works as a senior bilingual energy analyst in the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In the article, she shares what she’s been doing since she graduated from Heller, why green technology is essential for addressing climate change, how clean energy can combat climate change and deal with its impact, and the importance of energy equity. It was this last piece that I found especially compelling, and I learned a lot from the article that I’ll admit hadn’t really occurred to me before.

Stand-out quote: “On the customer side, a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found just 15% of households with solar panels earned below $50,000 per year, signifying that the technology remains out of reach for residents who would benefit most from the energy cost savings. Low-income families are spending nearly 9% of their income on electricity, the Department of Energy has found, versus 3% for wealthier households.”

Preserving Concord’s Black History – This article immediately caught my eye for two reasons: 1. As an American literature buff, I love the town of Concord and 2. It focuses on the work of Maria Madison, who is one of my favorite people at Heller – I challenge anyone to talk to her for over a minute and not walk away stunned by her intelligence and warmth. In addition to being Heller’s Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity; the Director Institute for Economic and Racial Equity; and the co-chair of the Economic and Racial Equity concentration, Dr. Madison also is the founder and co-president of The Robbins House, a nonprofit focused on the long civil rights movement in America, through the lens of African descended inhabitants of the eponymous 19th century house, including a black woman activist who attempted to challenge the nation’s first civil rights act of 1866.

Stand-out quote: “Too often, she [Madison] says, historic sites and museums omit the Black history of the U.S. ‘Concord’s Black history is America’s history,’ says Madison, noting that Concord was the location of the first successful battle against British forces.”

Q & A: Meet Alison Elliott, MBA/MA SID’22: My partner is an environmental scientist, and through him, I’ve definitely become more interested in issues of environmentalism and sustainability; I’ve also been a vegetarian for almost two decades and love cooking, so this Q&A with Alison Elliott, MBA/MA SID’22, was basically written just for me. Elliot is the author of “The Farmer Foodie,” a blog and social media platform where she shares vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes as well as sustainable culinary and farming tips with the goal of helping people reduce their environmental footprints.

Stand-out quote: “What is the biggest misconception people have about your work? People sometimes think their individual impact doesn’t matter. It definitely does, because people’s individual impact collectively makes a big impact. I often get asked, “Why should I compost? Why should I recycle?” At the end of the day, it adds up.”

Pushing through Writer’s Block on your Statement of Purpose

Daniella Levine, MPP ’21

When I wrote my statement of purpose for my Heller application, I was at first ambivalent and nervous. In general, I procrastinate – and to be fair, I usually use the time productively, to clean my room, or work on another assignment/project. But when I check my list and notice the only thing left is the one thing I have been avoiding, I know it’s time to hunker down and get to business. So when the time came to write my statement of purpose, the kitchen was already sparkling and my holiday gift shopping complete. When I sat down and started to write, I realized that while the grammar and structure would need work, the passion and drive were easy to document. The words began to flow because they reflected exactly why I was applying to graduate school. I had spent years in the field honing in on a particular interest area and when given the chance to verbalize why I wanted to obtain a public policy degree, the words were already there.

We are drawn to this work for a reason and we choose to take time out of the workforce to better equip ourselves to make a difference. Do not discredit your rationale, your drive, and your commitment to social justice – that is what has brought you to this page and can carry you through the application process.

Here are some tips and tricks if you’re feeling stuck:

  1. It’s okay to take breaks while writing. Walk around, get a snack, close the computer and come back to it the next day. Go at a pace that works for you and do not let frustration or pressure limit you.
  2. Have someone read over your application and personal statement. Regardless of your writing comprehension, a second pair of eyes always helps. Additionally, push your reader for constructive criticism – no piece is perfect and there must be at least one thing that could use revision.
  3. Do not try to write towards an assumed perspective – this is your chance to express yourself and your unique view … that’s exactly what we want to see!
  4. You are allowed to recycle your statement of purpose. While we hope you choose to apply to Heller, we know that we may not be the only school on your list. Do not hesitate to use portions of other statements while constructing your essay. But make sure to include why Heller is the right fit for you. Your reasons for applying to schools may be similar – but why us specifically? Show you’ve done your homework and share what makes Heller stand out for you.

Giving Thanks

My mom called me last night absolutely frantic. Even though I told her last week that my fiancé and I would be coming to visit, I guess it took a while for it to sink in that she’d have to plan what we’d eat for Thanksgiving. Here’s the catch: both my fiancé and I are pescatarians (meaning we don’t eat any meat except for fish and seafood), so no turkey, no ham, and nothing with bacon. I spent the next thirty minutes reassuring her that it really didn’t matter to either of us what we ate and that we were just happy to have the time to spend with her and a much-needed break from work.

Especially in comparison to last year’s Thanksgiving, where I almost didn’t visit her because I was afraid of inadvertently affecting her, it strikes me that the idea of having a day set aside to celebrate with your family and friends and to share what we’re grateful for is really pretty special. As unsavory as I find the history and the food surrounding the holiday, the sentiment is a good one. So with that, here are some things I’m grateful for this year:

Our new blog writers. This time last year, we had three graduate student assistants writing for the blog, and now we have almost double that. One of our very first blog writers, Doug Nevins, is still with us (although he’s graduating this semester!), but we’ve had some great student workers contribute to the blog over the past year, and I love getting to read their individual stories and learn about their experiences at Heller. Especially now, when the office is still running on a hybrid schedule, I feel like I’ve gotten to know our graduate assistants really well through this blog. Which reminds me…

Being back on campus (at least part-time). Oh no, is that cheesy? Even if it is, it’s true and I have to give credit where credit is due. I had only been at Heller for seven months when the pandemic forced us to move to work from home, and it would have been so easy for me to feel isolated and disconnected if not for my amazing co-workers. Even now, when we’re still working on a hybrid schedule, we still take the time to check in with each other. And for the two days a week I am on campus, it’s such a pleasure to get to see other staff members and faculty I hadn’t seen in more than a year. I also find the view of the changing autumn leaves through the windows of the Zinner forum incredibly beautiful, and am happy to be back on campus to enjoy the foliage.

The re-release of Taylor Swift’s Red album. One of the things that I love about Brandeis is that there are a variety of small walking trails that will lead you to a great view of the fall leaves, or an unexpected piece of art hidden in the woods, or an outlook where you can see Boston in the distance. While I’m walking around during my lunch hour, I usually like listening to podcasts, but lately, I’ve really been enjoying listening to Taylor Swift’s re-release of her album Red. I know that may be a little bit basic, but it really invokes some powerful nostalgia in me and just seems like the perfect “fall” album.

For this post, I’m opening up the comments: I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for!

Hello Heller! Andy Mendez’ Acceptance Story

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

When I read over my acceptance letter on a snowy day in January 2020 in an apartment on Chicago’s northwest side, I thought about what it had taken for that letter to land in my inbox. I thought about how I had borrowed books from the Peace Corps library in Morocco and studied for the exam every day of Ramadan. I thought about how I raced against a snowstorm and the clock to make it seven hours north to the capital to take the GRE at the AMIDEAST center in Rabat. While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I had 8 to 10 schools on my list at any given time. When the time came to actually commit, I thought about where I could really see myself and that was Heller. I withdrew the only other application I had submitted, put all my eggs in the Heller basket and it had worked out!

The problem was I had committed to a second term of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago that would run from February 2020 to February 2021. To attend Heller, I’d have to end my service 6 months early. I had just transferred from a position as a VISTA Member to a position as a VISTA Leader supporting a full 45+ member cohort of volunteers working on sustainable, anti-poverty solutions.

Maybe you can understand why it was hard for me to type out my deferral letter. If I had accepted, I knew I would be leaving a lot unfinished in my role at AmeriCorps and I would be forfeiting another $6K Education Award. With my pre-COVID-19 naiveté, I thought an extra year would allow me to gain more work experience, build my Chi-town network, and still leave a few months to volunteer abroad. A week after my deferral request was accepted, my office went remote, my campus tour was canceled, toilet paper was flying off the shelves, and the reality of our new normal started setting in. In that week, I realized my decision to defer had much bigger implications. It meant avoiding an uncertain year of virtual school. It meant committing to a year of national service that would look very different than what I had anticipated. It meant that the third-largest city in the country had been reduced to the four walls of my bedroom.

When I received my updated Admissions decision a year later, the COVID-19 situation was still unclear, but my resolve to attend graduate school was firm. The pandemic had clarified a lot of things for me, including my desire to be at a mission-driven institution and to be in an environment where I could build my quantitative skills and technical expertise. I knew that, despite the uncertainty, I was ready to become a part of the Heller community. I knew that I didn’t want to delay the start of this journey any longer.

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