Kaneisha, our founder and CEO, recently sat down for an Application Intervention® with a client seeking feedback on her MPA/ID application to the Harvard Kennedy School. Originally, the client signed up to work with The Art of Applying® in 2018. However, after receiving an unexpected professional opportunity, she paused her graduate school plans and picked them back up again in 2020.
In her 45-minute Application Intervention® session, the client received some critical feedback to transform her MPA/ID application. During the session, Kaneisha reviewed and live-edited several of the client’s essays. In particular, the client was looking for advice on how to make her application stand out in the applicant pool, and for feedback about her level of technical experience.
To help other applicants, we’ve summarized the feedback Kaneisha shared with the client in this post.
Focus on demonstrating an understanding of the types of analytical skills required for the program.
After reviewing the client’s profile, Kaneisha validated that she was a strong applicant. However, the client was concerned about her lack of economics experience. While the client met the prerequisites for the program, the rest of her experience was not heavily focused on economics. Kaneisha gave the client several strategies to showcase her analytical skills.
First, Kaneisha suggested the client focus more on highlighting her existing technical experience as opposed to her personal experience. Kaneisha shared,
“For the MPA/ID, it’s such a quantitatively rigorous program… I want a lot more focus [in your essays] on the analytical skills and how they relate to your career and a lot less heartstring stories.”
Kaneisha also shared a list of questions to address in her essays:
- What helped you move from the microeconomic mindset to the macroeconomic mindset?
- Why is the MPA/ID a better fit for you than the MPP?
- What technical and analytical skills do you already possess? Which ones do you lack?
- What could you have done in prior experiences had you had more rigorous analytical skills?
- How might the problems you’re able to solve become much bigger with more sustainable solutions as a result of your MPA/ID education?
While the client didn’t have a lot of economics-focused work experience, the answers to these questions would demonstrate her understanding of the impact that the MPA/ID’s technical skills will have on her career.
Make the answer to the prompt easy to identify.
The client made a common mistake in her essays: focusing too much on storytelling as opposed to directly answering the prompt. In response to one of the client’s essay introductions, Kaneisha said, “This would be a beautiful intro if this was a Ted Talk.” While it can be tempting to craft a beautiful story, storytelling should not take precedence over clarity.
In fact, Kaneisha stated that starting an essay by answering the prompt as directly as possible is actually preferable. Kaneisha advised,
“Do not elevate storytelling over the answer that [the admissions committee is] asking for.
Storytelling matters..but what they really want to know is the answer to the question up front, and then you can tell a beautiful story.”
Elevate your essays from college admissions to graduate school level.
Kaneisha had one big piece of advice for the client:
“Always connect [your personal story] to systemic, macro issues.”
Kaneisha explained that contextualizing your experience this way is the difference between undergraduate and graduate school essays. This approach demonstrates an understanding of how your unique perspective can add value to your career. To help frame this advice, Kaneisha recommended that the client think about her personal experiences as gems in a treasure chest that can be shared with other students.
For this client, part of that recommendation included demonstrating an empowered racial identity and clearly defining how her experience could help inform her policy school perspective. Taking this approach can demonstrate to an admissions committee that an applicant understands how their lived experience is an asset to their career.
Have the right mindset for policy school.
One piece of advice that Kaneisha shared with the client was to make sure she demonstrated an understanding of how policy can enact larger-scale change. Kaneisha said,
“What we want to do in going to policy school is get out of the…mentality of ‘I’m going to build a well and help these 100 people’ and [instead think] more like, ‘I’m going to create global water policies that affect millions.’”
This piece of feedback also demonstrates why applicants should avoid focusing entirely on personal experience. Instead, policy school applicants should tell the story of how their personal experience can inform policy and in turn, enact broader change.
This Application Intervention® client had a strong application that needed some fine-tuning to take it to the next level. In the 45-minute session, Kaneisha live-edited three of the client’s essays and gave the client key questions to transform those essays. Additionally, she was able to give the client some advice for addressing her lack of economics-focused experience. Overall, Kaneisha helped this client elevate her essays from undergraduate level to graduate school level. Fortunately, other MPA/ID and MPP applicants can also learn from much of the feedback that Kaneisha shared with the client.
Whether you’re applying to MPA/ID programs or looking at other degrees, we can help answer your questions about your application. Schedule a Quick Call with our team to discuss.