2016 Application Countdown, Part 6 - Coming Back to School? Here’s What You Need to Know
Perhaps you are thinking about coming back to school after working full-time for a number of years. Maybe you’ve been in the for-profit sector and want to pivot to the public sector. Or maybe you are already in the public sector and want to hone your skills. Whatever the case, you may be wondering whether returning to school is the right move, and if so, whether the Woodrow Wilson School is the right place for you.
I was in your shoes at this time last year. At the time, I was 29 and had been working full-time for five years with various international NGOs, with an additional two years of post-college experience in the Peace Corps. Most of my work was in the humanitarian aid sector, though I also worked on a few development projects.
Graduate school had always been on my radar, but I delayed applying because I was still paying off my college loans, and I hesitated to take on more student debt – not to mention the opportunity cost of a year or two of lost salary. I also had finally entered the point in my career where I had waded through the years of entry-level work and had access to some very interesting opportunities. Why would I then leave and go back to being a student?
The answer lay in the work that I was doing as a proposal writer and grants manager for a major international NGO. The more I advanced in my career, the more I felt the gaps in my education. I had never seriously studied international relations, international development, economics or statistics. Yet these fields intersected with my work on a daily basis. With a generalist’s background – but no hard skills other than writing/editing – my long-term career options were limited. True, in my field, employers value field experience more than a graduate diploma. But I owed it to myself and the people I was serving to go back to school and get a solid grounding in the theory behind my work.
Once I’d made this decision, the next step was to choose a program. There were hundreds of options. One of my biggest questions – which may also be one or yours – is whether you should choose a one-year or a typical two-year program. The former offers you a faster return to the workforce and a lower opportunity cost, while the latter can offer you a more thorough education. For me, the more thorough, two-year MPA program was the right choice.
The Wilson School’s MPA program is rigorous, the students are committed and the School invests in us. Other, similar programs may offer you the option of taking challenging statistics and economics courses. But at the Wilson School, they are at the heart of the program. This program will not only teach you – it will challenge you. Even if you’re one of those people who sailed easily through your college courses, this program will push you to reach a higher level of excellence. So if intellectual rigor is your “jam,” this is the place for you.
The quality of the student body is very high. Though there is a wide age range in my class – from the early 20s to mid-30s – everyone has had substantive work experience with something to contribute. The overall atmosphere among students also is incredibly positive and supportive. We students like to say that although this is a class of Type A’s, the WWS admissions staff is incredibly effective at weeding out jerks. When someone in our class is struggling (personally or academically), we help. When one student celebrates an achievement, we celebrate.
The Wilson School truly invests in its students. It’s no secret that many universities see their graduate programs as a revenue stream. This is not the case at WWS. In my opinion, you won’t find a similar program that offers more generous financial aid to its MPA students than the Wilson School. If you’re admitted into WWS, you will not be required to take out any loans. And if you’ve been researching master’s level graduate programs, you know how rare this is. This generosity is really exceptional, and it gives WWS students the freedom to dedicate our careers to the public sector.
If you’re interested in the WWS MPA program, I strongly encourage you to apply! We’re here and happy to answer your questions. Good luck with your application, and I hope to see you on Admitted Students’ Weekend!