Category: Admissions (page 5 of 7)

What Does “Holistic Review Process” Mean, Anyway?

Students entering college this year will likely have no memory of cut scores (in which colleges wouldn’t consider applications from students with lower than a certain SAT score or GPA), but for those of us who remember what a VCR was, the transition to a holistic admissions review process can sometimes seem like a catchy but meaningless buzzword. Every year students ask me, “I have a quantitative GRE score of 150, what are my chances?” or “My GPA is below a 3.0, should I bother to apply?” and every year I have to give them the most frustrating answer… it depends. Because I get so many questions about what a holistic admissions process really means, and because students often don’t realize how this process can work in their favor, today I’m going to be giving you the definitive explanation of what a holistic admissions process means for you and your application.

Put simply, a holistic admissions process means that your application is considered as a whole, rather than individual data points. Of course, we still consider your grades and test scores, but we use other pieces of your application to provide context. Let me give you an example of how that might play out.

Student X and Y are both applying to the same program at Heller. Student X has a 3.8 GPA, and Student Y has a 3.0 GPA; a traditional application review process would suggest that we favor Student X over Student Y because of this higher GPA score. But in a holistic application review, Student Y’s resume might reveal that they were working in a nursing home throughout their undergraduate degree, and their statement of purpose might tell us that they were providing care for an elderly parent in their final year of college. Both of these experiences led them to develop an interest in improving health outcomes for the elderly, or patients on Medicare. With that in mind, we might determine that the professional background and life experience of Student Y make them a good fit for the program, even if their GPA isn’t as high. This doesn’t, by the way, mean we wouldn’t accept Student X; we would look just as hard at their application to see what experiences they would bring to our community.

So knowing this, how can you use a holistic admissions process to your advantage? You can’t change your GPA or (if your program requires them) your standardized test scores, and it’s probably too late to get a new job to put on your resume, but you can decide who your recommenders are going to be, what to highlight on your resume, and what to write in your statement of purpose. I’m going to use another example to show you how that can work to your advantage.

Student Z is interested in Heller’s PhD program, but knows that they don’t have strong  GRE scores (editor’s note: the GRE is now optional for students applying to the PhD program for Fall 2021), and low grades in the quantitative classes like statistics or economics they took in their master’s program, although they’ve been out of school for some time. However, they do have more than five years of work experience in a research lab, and their mentor from their master’s program is well known in the field. What can they do to make up for the weaknesses in their application? First, and easiest, they could move their work experience to the top of their resume, and take care to highlight their accomplishments in the years since they’ve graduated, especially accomplishments that would show that they’re capable of performing high-level research. If they have publications, they could find a way to highlight that on their resume as well. When they’re thinking about their recommenders, they could certainly ask their mentor to write one, but they would be smart to make sure that the other two recommenders are people they’ve worked closely with on research projects, who can testify to their quantitative skills or how they respond to new challenges. When they submit a writing sample, they could choose to submit a sample that shows a high level of data analysis. And just like that, their application would demonstrate that despite the weakness of their GRE or GPA, they are perfectly capable of succeeding in a quantitative research program.

This is just an example, of course, and it’s likely that your situation will be quite different. Regardless, the key here is to think strategically about how your application will appear as a whole and make efforts to supplement any potential weaknesses. So take the opportunity to look at your application as an outsider: What’s missing? What part of your story aren’t you telling? What strengths are underrepresented? At Heller, we’re not offering admission to your GPA, we’re giving it to you, so make sure you give us a good sense of what you would bring to the Heller community.

Common Graduate School Application Mistakes to Avoid

If you’re considering applying to graduate school, chances are you’ve taken a look at one of the many guides all over the internet giving advice on how to start the process (maybe you’ve even read the blog post I wrote earlier last month on some do’s and don’ts!), and realized that most of the advice columns offer the same advice. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve almost certainly read one of my many, many, posts where I urge students to proofread their work. “I get it, I get it, how many times are they going to tell me?” you’ve probably thought…. but the truth is, we repeat these maxims over and over because we run into them over and over. So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let’s run through the most common application mistakes I see and some tips on how to avoid them.

Start off on the right foot. When I was 4/5/6/7/8/9 years old…”, “From a young age I have always been interested in…”, “For as long as I can remember I have been interested in…” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve read these words as the opening line in a personal statement, I could take myself and every reader of this blog on all-expenses-paid vacation. If you added a nickel for personal statements that begin with a famous quote, we could all retire. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t reflect on what brought you to apply to graduate school, and it doesn’t mean that you can never use a quote in your personal statement. It does mean, however, that we’re more interested in the specifics of what led you to the program you’re applying to than about generalities.

Don’t be a rebel. Follow instructions. Read them carefully, and then read them again. It’s easy to overlook directions when you’re juggling multiple applications at once, but the ability to follow procedures and stay organized are key components for being successful in graduate school, and application readers look for those skills in all aspects of your application. Make sure that you’ve answered all the questions on the application, and that you’ve answered them correctly. Double-check that your statement of purpose doesn’t exceed the page limit (same goes for your writing sample, if you have one!).

Choose wisely. Without fail, every year I get an email from a professor who is baffled by the fact that they’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation… from a student they’ve never met. If you’ve never made this mistake, it can be hard to believe, but it really does happen!  It may seem obvious, but you should make sure the recommenders you choose know you well, even if there’s a more “impressive” contact you could ask.  An unfavorable letter of recommendation is as bad as having no letter at all, if not worse, and a generic letter doesn’t do anything to help your application.

With application deadlines coming up soon, I hope you use this list as a guide to put your strongest foot forward and gain entry into the program of your dreams. Good luck and stay focused!

 

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!

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!

Hello Heller!: Andrea Tyree’s Acceptance Story

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

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

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

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.

How to Choose the Right Graduate Program: Narrowing Your Search

Now that Heller’s 2021-2022 Application is officially open, I’d like to take the opportunity to provide a guide to making a list of which graduate schools to apply to. I’ll be covering some similar topics as my previous post, but this series will be aimed at prospective students, taking you from the beginning of your journey right up to the application stage. Make sense? Great, let’s start.

US News and World lists 1,168 institutions offering graduate programs in the US; many of those institutions have more than one graduate school, and within each school, there can be as many as thirty programs within each school. So when you start your search, there are more than 6,000 individual graduate programs to choose from. Narrowing this search is the first step: most admissions professionals will tell you to apply to between 4 to 6 programs per round.

So how do you move from 6,000 to 6? Well, the first order of business is to identify the type of program you want. It’s obvious that if you’re interested in economics, an engineering program isn’t going to be your best bet. But within each field, there can be a lot of variance in the type of degrees offered. You might be interested in an Master’s in Public Administration, but have you looked into a Master’s of Public Policy? Or, if you’re interested in Public Health, have you been limiting your searches to MPH degrees? Programs like Heller’s MS in Global Health Policy and Management might be an equally good fit, or an even better fit.

Research at this phase can be crucial. I recommend working backwards, by searching for degrees held by people in your desired field. There are a few ways to go about this: Identify a few people in your desired field across all stages of their careers, and look into not only where they went to school, but what type of program they were enrolled in. If you have close relationships with these people, you might even reach out to them personally for their recommendations. Or, if you’re currently working in your chosen field, connect with a hiring manager and ask them what types of degrees they typically see, or what trends they’ve noticed for people entering the field at your desired level. US News and World offers a graduate program search tool that can give you a list to start with, once you know the field you’re interested in. GradTrek‘s search tool is also a good place to start. Depending on your answers, this will likely narrow your search to between 20 and 50 programs.

Once you’ve narrowed that down, your next steps are to determine your priorities. At the end of the day, why do you want to go to graduate school? Do you want to form connections? Look for schools with smaller populations, where faculty will have more one-on-one interactions with students, and you’ll be able to form closer bonds with your cohort. Gain new skills? Check if your program has a practicum or internship component. Deepen your theoretical knowledge? Look for schools with course descriptions that match the holes in your current knowledge.

That should yield you a list of about ten. These are the programs that you’ll want to deeply research. We’ll talk about how to do that next week!

The Start of a New Year

Growing up, the start of the new school year was always my favorite time of year. I loved buying new notebooks and highlighters, decorating binders, and adding in meetings and important dates to my agenda (can you tell I was a bit of a nerd?). To me, the new school year meant a fresh beginning, a clean slate. The struggles of the last year were wiped away, and I was now able to re-invent myself however I chose: maybe this year I would try out for a school play, or learn an instrument, or join a new club.

This year feels a little different (for starters, we are still dealing with the struggles of last year). As yesterday morning’s nationwide outage of Zoom effectively demonstrated, there will certainly be even more challenges ahead of us this school year. Heller is embarking on an ambitious project: not how to adapt our community and our academics to a virtual environment, but how to improve it. How to make something that is not an imitation of the past, but something that envisions a better and brighter future.

It’s difficult for me to not feel that there is some parallel between this project and the current state of the world. All across the nation, all across the world, people are asking themselves, “How could this be different? How could this be better?” Demanding change is often seen as complaining, or as nit-picking, but I see it another way: asking for change is a result of indefatigable optimism. To demand change, one must believe that things can be better, that there is always room for improvement, that each moment is an opportunity for a new start…

Which leads me back to the beginning of the new school year. Tomorrow, our incoming students will begin their first classes at Heller. These students come from all over the world, from every background imaginable: we have students who have worked in U.S. embassies, students who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, students who are refugees, students that have spent years working for top research institutes, students who grew up halfway around the world. The following week, our application for the next entry terms will open. Over the next months, my team and I will be reading applications from students from all over the world. We’ll get a chance to dive into your personal stories, read recommendations from those that know you best, have conversations with you at our virtual events. Our students come from such diverse backgrounds, and yet they are united by the idea that the world can be better, that we each have the power to change not only our own lives, but our community and our society.

There are challenges ahead, but I am confident in the Heller community’s ability to not only meet them, but exceed them. If you are reading this, I am confident in your ability to exceed them. In spite of it all, I think that the 2020-2021 academic year is going to be a very good year.

Get ready for orientation with Sami Rovins

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Before my first semester at Heller began, my COEX cohort started to bond during our orientation. One particular highlight from orientation was our visit to Plymouth Plantation. We had the opportunity to learn Indigenous boat-making, interact with actors portraying 17th-century villagers, and glance into the complicated history surrounding Massachusetts’ early settlers and the indigenous people whose land they settled on. Orientations for Heller’s programs will be held online this year, but there are certain things we can still expect to learn and gain from the orientation experience.

Heller faculty and staff are always eager to engage in thought-provoking discussions, and always happy to answer any questions that pop into students’ minds. During this year’s virtual orientations, we can anticipate having the support of Heller staff and faculty in this same way. You should feel empowered to ask them about your schedule, class topics, resources for graduate students, and your career aspirations, just to name a few. You will be meeting people virtually who are extremely passionate about their students, classes, and the Heller community as a whole.

Orientation is also an exciting opportunity to meet the people who will make up your cohort over the next few semesters. Orientation will introduce you to your new community and your support systems. I recall meeting many people on those first two days of orientation who are now dear friends and colleagues. My advice is to be as open-minded as you can, as you’ll be meeting many people from many different places and backgrounds. It’ll soon become clear how much you can benefit from the relationships you’ll build with your classmates starting those first days of the semester when orientation takes place.

Lastly, virtual orientation will be an excellent introduction to what your experience over the next year (or two) will look like. For me, I was nervous and worried before starting at Heller, but orientation was a means of easing my fears and making me feel comfortable in this new experience. Not only is orientation a way of meeting your classmates and Heller staff and getting your questions answered, but orientation is also a way to introduce you to Waltham, to what you can expect academically, and to all the options and opportunities you’ll have as a Heller student.

Although Heller’s orientations will be held differently this year, there are many aspects of orientation that won’t change. You will meet and bond with your classmates and pave the way to lasting friendships. You’ll also meet Heller staff and professors who will be eager to answer any and all questions you may have about schedules, your academic interests, or the support you may need. Orientation is a thorough introduction to the Heller community overall, and an integral way to begin your time as a Heller graduate student.

Heller To-Do List: Sami Rovins Goals for the next year

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

My Heller “to-do” list is long, but a few events in particular come to mind. Before my time at Heller comes to a close, I’d love to throw a party and invite my cohort and other fellow Heller students in different degree programs over to my house. Heller students are a tight-knit group, but we are all so busy that we don’t always find the time to relax and unwind together. Throwing an off-campus get-together would be the perfect opportunity for that. As graduate students, we can become so hyper-focused on school that we sometimes lose sight of other important aspects to our lives. It’s so valuable to socialize with each other and to find the time to relax after a busy week at Heller. It also feels important for us to celebrate our accomplishments together as a group. We all work so hard throughout the week, and a party on the weekend would be our chance to unwind and ultimately get to know each other even better.

I would also love to attend more Graduate Student Association (GSA) events. In the past, I’ve felt hesitant to join for a few reasons. Either I had way too much work, or I felt too tired at the end of the day, or I was anxious about socializing with people who I didn’t already know. But once the event happened, I would realize that attending it would have been a positive experience and would have enhanced my day: the GSA provides a wide range of events, and it seems there is truly something for everyone. My bucket list also includes spending more time in the office of Graduate Student Affairs, which is very close to the Heller building on campus. There’s always something delicious to eat there, and it’s a terrific place to spend some time if you need a break from Heller’s building.

Another outing I’d love to go on with my cohort is to spend a beach day at Walden Pond. Only 25 minutes from campus, Walden Pond is the perfect place to spend a fun and relaxing Spring or Summer afternoon. This type of off-campus adventure is also on my Heller bucket list because I know how much my fellow classmates would enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to drive over to Walden Pond with a group of Heller friends. It would be yet another way to unwind, relax, and get to know each other away from campus and the context of school. Walden Pond is also a significant and historic place to visit in the Boston area. Visiting it with Heller friends would be a great opportunity for all of us to get to know our new home better. I hope to have the opportunity to check off Walden Pond and all of my bucket list items before my time at Heller comes to an end!

« Older posts Newer posts »

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)