Category: Applications (page 2 of 2)

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Your Resume or CV

Already in this series, I’ve discussed the difference between a statement of purpose and a personal statement; another similar question I get from students is the difference between a resume and CV. For the Heller application, we allow you to either upload your resume or your curriculum vitae, and in fact, these documents will often contain a lot of the same information, but the small differences might have a significant difference on how you choose to structure these documents. Today I’ll be taking you through the anatomy of both, and talk a little about which might be best for you, depending on your situation.

Resume:

Chances are, you already have a resume, as they’re more commonly for job applications. Your resume should, at a minimum, contain your work experience, including key responsibilities and achievements in each role, and your education. Many students also include sections for their skills, awards, publications, and licenses and certifications, if they’re relevant. Typically, work experience and education will come first on your resume (though not necessarily in that order), followed by these additional sections, but as a rule, you’ll want to keep your resume under two pages at most.

In terms of what not to include in your resume, you’ll notice that in that last paragraph, I used the phrase if it’s relevant. This is key, but an often over-looked piece of advice. Many students, in an effort to beef up their resume, will include every piece of information possible, including their babysitting job when they were twelve and which high school they went to. When it comes to the work experience you do list, I recommend that when listing your job responsibilities and achievements, you try to tailor them to the program to which you’re applying. Try to connect the dots for us between your skills-your career objectives-the program to which you’re applying, as much as possible.

A few more things to leave off your resume: although this differs across cultures, in the U.S., you shouldn’t include your picture on your resume, physical characteristics, or personal data aside from your name and contact information. That means you don’t need to list your date of birth, race, religion, or marital status on your resume; in the U.S., making hiring or (in our case) admissions decisions based on any of these characteristics can be considered discrimination, so employers and institutions in the U.S. prefer that you don’t include it.

C.V.:

C.V. is short for curriculum vitae, or “course of life”; as the name suggests, these are typically longer than a resume, and are focused largely on your academic achievements. You should still include your education and work experience (although in a C.V., you’ll generally put the education section first). But in addition to these sections, you could also include your publications, any teaching experiences, conferences you’ve presented at, relevant coursework, certificates you’ve earned, languages, research interests, and any fellowships you received.

A good way to think about the difference between a C.V. and a resume is that a resume is typically meant to highlight your experience and your C.V. is meant to highlight your credentials. With that in mind, I’d like to close with a quick guide on which might be best to use in your application.

A resume might be best if…  You have significant accomplishments in the workplace that you’d like to highlight, your primary field isn’t academia, you’ve been out of school for a significant amount of time, and/or you’re not applying to a PhD program (a resume, in other words, might be the more appropriate choice for most applicants)

A C.V. might be best if… You’re applying to a PhD program, your primary accomplishments have been in the field of academia, and/or you’re a recent graduate without much work experience.

Writing the Perfect Statement of Purpose with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

Disclaimer: My advice cannot guarantee your entrance into Heller. I’m only an MPP student who has seen the values of The Heller School up close. I’ll show you what I think made my essay a success, now knowing Heller a bit better. This essay reflects my own views as a student and is no way the official guidance of The Heller School.

So, you’re applying to graduate schools and have to convince each school why you’re the ideal applicant. Easy, right? Who doesn’t love talking about themselves?

Me. I don’t. (Which is ironic considering I’m always blogging…)

Luckily, grad school apps are less about “What makes you special?” and more about “What makes what you want to do special?” And if you’re applying to a graduate program, you probably have a good reason for it. So here’s my advice on how to make that reason shine:


  1. Ground Yourself: What brought you here?

What inspired you to go for this degree? Did a professional experience show you the cracks in the system and make you realize that a graduate degree could help you mend those cracks? Or were you so inspired by your undergraduate studies that you want to continue your learning and fine-tune your expertise in order to make a greater impact? Or maybe it was a personal interaction that opened your eyes to all that could be accomplished with a graduate degree? Either way, help the reviewers understand why you want this degree.

For example: I spoke about the two communities that molded me: East Timor (where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer) and the Black community in West Virginia (my home). I expounded on some of the lessons I learned living and working in both of these communities and tied it a sector of policy that I hoped to research. I even included some policy research questions such as: “How does the use of excessive force by the police, and the policies that license it, inhibit the socioeconomic progress of Black Americans?”

  1. Be Honest: What do you know and what don’t you know?

We all come to graduate school with our own expertise. Even if you don’t think you’re an expert in anything, trust me, you know more about certain subjects than most of your peers! Believe that and use it. Show the review committee what you know by stating some facts (or, even better, stats). But no one knows everything about everything. And the review committee will certainly call your bluff if you claim that. So save yourself the trouble and admit to the concepts that you still want to learn more about. You could highlight a particular skill or subject, or you could post a research question to which you’d like to find the answer.

For example: I compared the poverty and disparities facing East Timor and West Virginia: 41% of Timorese live below the country’s poverty line, while 19% of all West Virginians and 31% of Black West Virginians live below the US poverty line. West Virginia only has a Black population of 3.6% yet we’re living in a poverty rate that is comparable to a country that is still trying to rebuild after decades of occupation. How is this so? Could it be a result of power dynamics in both regions?

  1. Say My Name, Say My Name: Who do you want to work with?

Graduate school is not just about the degree or the research you’ve completed; it’s about the connections you make and the things you learn from those around you outside of class. Apply for a program with a list of faculty in mind from whom you want to learn. Research professors from within and outside of your program in order to find the people with expertise most relevant to your interests. Naming faculty within your statement will show the reviewers that you’ve done your homework and that you’re ready to be in this program.

Pro Tip: Reach out to those faculty members before school starts. Heck, you could even reach out to them before you apply; chances are, they’ll answer! Faculty members aren’t usually the ones making admissions decisions, but if you’re interested in their research or you think they brought up a salient point in a recent interview, ask them about it! Being able to throw that conversation into an application shows great initiative. It worked for me, it can work for you too.


Good luck with your application! And remember, if you truly believe that you’re right for Heller (and I’m sure you are), make that shine through your whole statement!

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Writing Your Statement of Purpose Part One

I think December is the perfect month to write a statement of purpose, and I’ll tell you why. There’s a deeply rooted inclination towards reflection in the winter months: if fall is the time to reap your harvest and spring is the time to plant seeds, winter is surely the natural time to hunker down in your home, and to think about what’s to come. As the past year draws to a close (after what seems like approximately 47 months) and with the new year approaching, it seems like peoples’ thoughts naturally shift to reflection, goal-setting, and of course, resolutions.

This is the perfect mindset to be in when you’re writing your statement of purpose. You’ll notice that I call it a statement of purpose, and not a personal statement. Don’t be misled by articles that tell you they are essentially the same thing: the two are in fact very different. When you applied to your undergraduate institution, you most likely wrote a personal statement, which is much more, well… personal. Most undergraduate programs recognize that at seventeen or eighteen, you probably don’t have as many concrete goals or plans, and that the ones you have now may shift over the next four years. That’s what college is for, to discover yourself and what you want to do! But when applying to a graduate program, we want to hear much more about your skillset, your goals, and answering your specific questions of why this degree and school are right for you.

To write a statement of purpose, that’s where you need to start, and that’s where I think this special time of the year plays a crucial role. Reflect back on your experiences and what has led you to this exact moment. Be as specific as possible: if you want to help people, that’s great, but tell the reader why you want to help people in this way. I would recommend nailing down concrete, specific answers to the following questions:

  • When did you decide you would need a graduate degree to accomplish the work you want to do? When did you decide that a graduate degree from Heller would help you to best accomplish that work?
  • What skill-set will you bring to a graduate program? Why are you qualified for this program?
  • What skills do you want to gain? How will a graduate degree from Heller help you to gain those skills?
  • What opportunities do you hope this degree will open up? What do you hope to accomplish during graduate school?
  • What do you hope to accomplish after you complete your degree?

Again, you want to be as specific as possible, both about yourself and the program that you’re applying to. There are millions of students applying to hundreds of thousands of graduate programs this year, but what sets you and your chosen program apart? Think of it in terms of new years resolutions: vague goals like “exercise more” or “save money” almost never work out. Rather, you want to nail down specific things like, “Exercise at least three times a week for at least thirty minutes” or “Save at least 15% of your paycheck every month”.

Over the next week, take some time to pour yourself a cup of your favorite warm winter beverage, curl up on your couch and really take some time to look back on what you’ve accomplished and what you hope the years ahead bring you. Journal out your answers to those questions if you need to. If you find yourself slipping into generalities, try to force yourself to name something concrete that drew you to the program. Next week, we’ll dive into the structure of your statement of purpose, the essential scaffolding that will set your statement.

 

Interview Tips from One of Our Interviewers

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

In my role as a Heller Admissions Grad Assistant, I have had the pleasure of conducting interviews for the MPP and MBA programs. As these are my degree programs here at Heller, I love talking to prospective students about their backgrounds and reasons for considering these degrees. I enjoy interviewing people – I always found it interesting to take part in interviews of job candidates while I was working full time, and in my prior career as a college admissions counselor I conducted many interviews with high school students applying to college. Interviewing Heller applicants is a new experience, since our prospective students have substantial academic and professional experience, but are also often looking to pivot industries or learn new skills.

While I am by no means an expert, I thought that for this week’s blog post I would try to come up with a list of tips for folks considering an interview with Heller.

In no particular order….

Be yourself!

This probably goes without saying, but it helps neither you nor us to present an inauthentic version of yourself in the interview. Heller students come from many backgrounds and have varying levels of real-world experience with policy and management – and that’s ok! We want to know what experience you DO have, and how it has inspired your interests and relates to your graduate school goals.

THAT SAID….

Don’t be afraid to brag!

It’s helpful for us to know what you have accomplished and what you’re proud of so far in your academic and professional career. It’s totally fine to talk a bit about your achievements in the interview. I usually begin by asking interviewees to “tell me a little about yourself,” and end by asking if the applicant has questions OR anything else they want to share. Hopefully, these moments provide a chance for people to share some points of pride.

AT THE SAME TIME…

Be prepared to talk about challenges you’ve encountered.

It’s common in job and grad school interviews to be asked about both your strengths and weaknesses, or successes and failures. It’s a great idea to spend a moment reflecting on how you would answer these questions. Discussing a challenge you’ve encountered or an area in which you’d like to improve is a great opportunity to give us a sense of how you’ve grown and changed, and of how graduate school can help you to continue leveling up your skills.

Think of a couple questions to ask.

It’s always a good idea to have a couple questions in mind to ask your interviewer. For one thing, that’s what we’re here for, and we’re sure you have questions! In addition, this can really demonstrate that you’ve done some research about our programs and are at the point where you have specific questions that aren’t as easily found on the website.

The interview is informal, but professional.

Our interviews are not meant to be intimidating or overly formal. I try to conduct my interviews as a conversation as much as possible. And I will certainly not be wearing a tie. That said, it’s best to try to find a quiet place to do your interview, and be sure you’re ready to get started on time.

LASTLY…

Have fun!

Again, we hope that the interview is a fairly relaxed experience that enables you to learn as much about Heller as we learn about you. Getting a sense of “fit” when looking at grad schools is important, and we hope that the interview is an opportunity to do that, while hopefully enjoying the experience! I hope these tips are helpful for any prospective students reading, and I look forward to interviewing some of you in the future!

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!

Last Chance to Submit Your Application!

Hi everyone! Tomorrow’s the big day: the last chance for domestic students to submit their application to a master’s program at Heller. If you haven’t, check out my earlier post with five tips for finishing your application, but sometimes, we need a little motivation! So today, rather than sharing the how of finishing your application, I’m going to share three reasons why you should submit your application to motivate you to cross the finish line.

  1. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 276 schools of public affairs. For 2021, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and top 20 for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  2. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 66 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), making international students about a third of our incoming class. 39% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view, and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty, but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts and more.
  3. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.

You’re almost there! Just push through and press that submit button, and then help yourself to your favorite treat to celebrate! Best of luck; I look forward to welcoming you to Heller!

Five Tips for Finishing your Application

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

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

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

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