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Podcast transcript: The MPA


Transcript for The MPA, Part One: Overview of the degree and careers

AMY POTTHAST: Welcome to the Idealist Grad School podcast where together we explore grad school for the public good.

I'm Amy Potthast, Director of Graduate Education Programs at Idealist. This episode of our Grad Schools podcast is part I of a three part series looking at the Master of Public Administration and Affairs Degrees.

On this episode I'm chatting with admissions officers and alumna of three public affairs master's programs about what the public affairs degree is, how it's distinct from public policy, nonprofit management, and other degrees and what kind of careers students go into.


AMY: Welcome to the show Julie, Lisa, and Kathryn. It is so exciting to have all four of us on the phone together at the same time. How about we go around and each person introduce themselves and their school name and just a little bit about your background.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Well, hi, everyone my name is Lisa Sperling. I worked for about ten years in non profit world in Atlanta....when I came back to school to get my masters in Public Administration at the University of Georgia. And I am now the Masters of Public Administration Recruiter and Career Services Coordinator at the University of Georgia.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: This is Kathryn Meyer and I am from Texas A&M University. Specifically, the Bush School of Government and Public Service. My background was spending about eight years teaching in secondary education. And ended up finding my way into higher education and have now been with the Bush School for nearly nine years with recruiting and with helping on the admission side as well.

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Hi. I'm Julie Harrold the director of Graduate Student Services at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. And graduate of the Humphrey school and prior to returning I worked in a number of different international affairs and international development positions in Washington DC and overseas; I'm also a former Peace Corps volunteer and staff member and I currently direct admissions, recruitment, financial aid, and current student functions for the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

AMY: Part one of this Public Affairs series is meant to draw some distinctions among Public Affairs, Public Administration, Public Policy and other degree areas. And it can be tricky; they tend to get grouped together quite a bit.

Can you guys help me draw some distinctions around what public affairs is and is not. And I was hoping we could start with Julie Harrold from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.//

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Public affairs is a really broad area. And broadly speaking, it gives students training to solve public programs. I think one of the key things though there are any number of names of degrees public affairs, public administration, public policy, public service, public management, nonprofit management, ...there is no one standard that says every public administration degree has all of these components, every public management degree... So I would encourage people to look past the actual title of the degree and focus on the curriculum and skill set that you're going to learn.

AMY: And Lisa Sperling at the University of Georgia MPA program, I'm curious to hear your perspective on the Public Affairs degree and what it means?

LISA SPERLING, UGA: A lot of these programs have one name, but they are really a hybrid. And ours used to be straight Public Administration, which has more emphasis on management skills like finance and human resources, but in the past ten years we have hired more economists and policy faculty and so we've really built that up. So, I agree with Julie, you have to get past the title and see what the classes are that you'd be taking.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: And this is Kathryn. Adding to that, it's the same thing with our program having started a little over ten years ago and they provide the name here at Texas A & M to be the bush school of government in public service but the degree was when a Masters in Public Service and Administration so now no one can pull us up with an MPA because we are an MPSA and there's very few schools with that service element.

But we've been able to mesh a lot of those same elements. There are two tracks, one being in policy analysis and the other in management. So the same idea, you have to go in and look at the curriculum; find out the kind of specifics you are interested in...what kind of classes you would take...what career path you see yourself going down and then keep in mind that even if a program has service what does that entail? I know specifically here with us, it's doing a capstone research project and developing leadership skills. So again, I think all in a nut shell, you've just got to look at the program and not rely upon the naming at any point.

AMY: And so if our listeners are looking for a good list of public affairs grad schools rather than googling the term MPA: You can go to the website for the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, or NASPAA, which is at NASPAA.org. And there you'll find a directory of NASPAA programs. NAASPA, as I understand it is both a membership organization and an accrediting body. Does one of you want to talk about what accreditation means to a prospective student? Lisa, from University of Georgia's MPA program...

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Every seven years you go through accreditation and why this is important and why you should look for a school that is accredited is that this neutral nonpartisan association works with the faculty at numerous schools to decide on the curriculum that should be coherent across the country when you have one of these degrees. So they look at things like faculty, internships, and a lot of subcategories just to make sure that there's some uniformity.

So say an MPA from Georgia will have a similar set of skills, in terms of core skills, than someone at the Bush School or at the Humphrey School. It's like accreditation in any other facet of our life; it ensures quality and ensures that for your time, you're getting a top notch education, a comprehensive education.

AMY: Julie Harrold from the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota I'm really curious to hear your perspective on accreditation?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Most important in the accreditation process is the opportunity for each school going through that process to review and reflect on their curriculum and improve it and keep it up to date with what the needs are. Part of that process is surveying alumni to keep up to date on what are they using? What statistic tools are they using? What management skills do they find most helpful?... So that we can keep our curriculum up to date.

Only recently have public policy programs been able to be accredited through NASPAA they had previously focused on public administration and public affairs. And so there are still a number of very strong schools and programs that aren't accredited not because they're not good strong solid programs on a par with ours, but they haven't gone through that process yet because it's fairly new that the policy programs have been incorporated into NASPAA accreditation.

AMY: And Kathryn from the Bush School at Texas A & M what would you add to this conversation on accreditation?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: Same thing with what Julie commented because it was many years before Texas A & M decided to undergo those steps and it wasn't that we didn't have the same thing in place from one year to two years later when we were accredited. It was the intimidation of going through that massive gathering of data. So it took us a number of years in place. We are now accredited at Texas A & M, but we certainly didn't want people to overlook us earlier in our career just because we weren't.

So it's definitely there for a standard of excellence. And it's great if the programs you're applying to have them, but there certainly is not a reason to rule out another school. You just need to ask certain questions when you are evaluating schools because it does need to be a fit for you...and it does need to have a certain set of quality standards.

AMY: So to end Part one of this podcast series on Public Affairs, I want to widen the lens and talk a little bit about what you can do with a public affairs degree. And so I was hoping one of you at least might be able to tell a story of an alum from your program and what they have gone on to do with their career to illustrate what is possible with this degree.

Lisa Sperling from University of Georgia's MPA program, I know you work with the career side of your department as well so I was hoping maybe you could start us off.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Sure! We had a young woman come to us straight from college. She had been to a very small woman's college in South Carolina and she was very active on her campus. And she came and she was very interested in policy and so she was looking for different ways to kind of try her hand, she took the classes and did well and the two main areas we suggested to her are either at the state level or the federal level. The state of Florida has a particularly good policy and program office in the South East; It's one of the most well respected.

And Valerie got her internship there and wound up doing a lot of reviewing of their programs and writing them up and it only fueled her interest in this field. So in her second year she applied for the presidential management fellowship program and the PMF, the acronym, is a very prestigious two year rotational, it's an internship program or a fellowship program for two years and then usually almost always you are absorbed into federal government and you're able to apply for jobs on a noncompetitive basis.

And Valerie did and her first agency, or home agency was the Centers for Disease Control and she worked there for her two years and absolutely loved it there and did very well and within a month or two after her two years when she was transitioning into her full time position, they sent her to Africa for two years and she was working there on health policy and kind of international relations and contracts. And she returned from Africa about six months ago and kind of has a home base here in Atlanta and has been going to places like Vietnam and is planning Kazakstan next month.

So she has translated her love of policy and evaluation into helping working with programs internationally and is just thriving.

AMY: Lisa, I really like that example because you were able to describe the arch of that student's career and I'm wondering Julie Harrold from the Humphrey School at the Universtiy of Minnesota would you say public affairs graduates tend to go on into government sector work predominantly?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: I'll go back to what I first said, it's that graduates in public affairs fields are solving public problems, solving the challenges that often effect communities, individuals, they can effect companies, nation-states, etc. And they do it through....a number of us do it through government, federal government, state government, local governement; a number do it through the nonprofit sector, both nationally, internationally, or small community organizations, and an increasing number of us do it through the private sector.

I think if nothing else we are in an era where neither just government action nor solely private action is enough to solve some of our more pressing public problems and so we really need that cross-sector collaboration.

AMY: Kathryn Meyer what do you find at the Bush School of Government at Texas A & M? Do students go on to a range of different careers?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: We are running across more and more that the nature of basically the economy right now that the federal government cannot absorb the needs that students are going out and basically getting their feet wet in the nonprofits, the think-tanks, the private industry. They're developing so many more avenues for student employment. Especially if they had come fairly new to the Master's degree without much experience before hand.

We are finding a lot of students love to go to DC and be involved with the federal government but that may be a few years down the road for them. They may need to start here in Texas, or elsewhere in the nation, and work their networking opportunities and watch for openings, and continue to apply, and try their hand at a number of different things because the education that they're getting with an MPA is allowing them some flexibility with the kind of classes that they may have taken. So they can go in a number of directions. There is no one path that is going to take anybody, nowadays at least.

AMY: Thank you so much, each of you, for your contribution to part one of this episode and we will regroup for part two.


AMY POTTHAST: Okay Idealist podcast listeners if you want to hear more from the show just check out part II on coursework and certificate programs and Part Three on admissions and financial aid. You can find them all at idealist.org/podcasts.

Learn more about the Public Affairs Degree on the Idealist Grad School Resource Center, Idealist.org/gradschool. I'm Amy Potthast, thanks for listening. To find more good things to do go to Idealist.org. Today's show was produced with the help of our intern Millicent Zimdars.

If you have enjoyed our podcast please show your support by going to iTunes and leaving a rating of this episode and others you've liked. You can also send us feedback to podcasts@idealist.org.


Transcript for The MPA, Part Two: Coursework, fieldwork, and certificates

AMY POTTHAST: Welcome to the Idealist Grad School podcast where together we explore grad school for the public good. I'm Amy Potthast, Director of Graduate Education Programs at Idealist.

This episode of our Grad School podcast is part two of a three part series looking at the Masters of Public Administration and Affairs Degrees. On this episode I'm chatting with admissions officers and alumna of three public affairs master's programs about coursework, fieldwork, and certificates.


AMY: Welcome back Lisa, Julie, and Kathryn. Let's do a quick round of names and school names again.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Hi Everyone. My name is Lisa Sperling, I'm at the University of Georgia, Masters of Public Administration.

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Hi. I'm Julie Harrold the director of Graduate Student Services at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: This is Kathryn Meyer from Texas A&M University the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

AMY: To continue our conversation about public affairs I am wondering what sort of course work a prospective student can expect? Kathryn Meyer from the Bush School at Texas A & M will you start us off?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: I know here at Texas A & M specifically we have a Master's of Public Service Administration. They are taking a core course, public administration in general, maybe a policy and economic coursework, we also add to that Quantitative Methods 1 and 2.

So the student is going to be pretty rigorous in their first semester, maybe first two semesters with some basic quant work understanding of public policy and analysis and then after that they get into the classes they choose and have a little bit more freedom. Based off concentrations that they can develop like nonprofit, or state and local government, security policy or health policy.

AMY: And Julie Harrold from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School what kind of course work can students expect there?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN:: Similar. You're gonna get core skills in analyzing policies and problems to kind of define a problem and get to the root of the problem you're trying to address, you're gonna get core skills in managing people, organizations, and resources to address those problems. And then cores skills in politics, and how to marshal the political processes to, at a minimum keep them out of your way, at best, get them behind your program and policies so you can have an even greater impact.

On top of that, people are able to choose an area of concentration, again, global policy, social policy, women and public policy any number, education, things like that.

AMY: And Lisa what is the course work like at University of Georgia's MPA program?

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Well, our program is very similar. What we do is it's a two year 13 class program and seven of the classes are the core classes, much as Kathryn mentioned, there's kind of an intro, there's a finance, there's a statistics class and the last six are electives. And we have what we call specialization, so if you do four in one area, you actually specialize in that area.

And at the University of Georgia, we're a very big school, and so we actually work with some of the other colleges on our campus. So we have a health policy and administration specialization track where you can come from our classes but also come to our college of public health. We also do a joint one, a joint specialization with the institute for higher education here on our campus. So there are eight different tracks a student can take.

I also would really like to talk about internships because one of the things at the University of Georgia that we stress is that learning occurs in and outside the classroom. Classes are all late afternoon and evening so students by and large are doing internships during the day. And not just one kind, not just all federal but mixing it up with state and local, with finance and HR, but really kind of trying things, because especially the students who come straight from college, they've only read about the stuff and so they need sometimes to try, and sometimes realize that they don't like an area.

AMY: What about a certificate in public affairs? Kathryn Meyer from Texas A&M Bush School do you recommend that students think about testing the waters with a graduate certificate first?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: In talking about the certificate it is a way for people to test the course work, see if this is an area of passion for them, that they enjoy it, that they like the readings, that they enjoy the interactions. Unique for us, is that these are online for certificate, whereas they are going to have to come in and be in the classroom for the degree program.

A certificate, a lot of times is only four classes, maybe four to five classes to complete it, and you do that within a semester or two while they're still working. And so yes, it can work very well for people.

AMY: Julie Harrold from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School can you think of additional ways students can test the waters?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN:: In addition students can take classes, I think probably at any of our schools, as what's called non-degree-seeking-students. Just talk to the admissions staff, or faculty at one of our schools and say I'm interested in the program but I'm not really sure about it, what classes do you recommend that I might take if I'm interested in this area and we can recommend a class or two for you to take to explore your interest in that area and to also see what you think about the program, if it's something that's a good fit for you.

AMY: Changing gears, another valuable element of a professional master's program is getting to do fieldwork as a student. Kathryn Meyer from Texas A&M Bush School I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the value of doing an internship as a student?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: I know, for instance, I had a young man in talking to me today who is in the workforce here in Houston and he had come up here and asked about the opportunity to have his internship waived because he's been working for a number of years, but as we began talking about him trying to get his foot through the door going to the DC, federal government area, and in talking he realized, that that might not be what he wants to do, of waiving it, he might want to work on new network opportunities.

So again, there may be some prevalence, that I really don't want to do an internship, I already know what I want to do, but the path of your career makes a lot of twists and turns. And you never know where having interned somewhere, having worked with someone who can then vouch for your abilities, can turn into something completely new.

So you don't always want to waive those opportunities off and try something that may be out of your comfort zone or try something that may be exactly what you thought it was, but after you've done it, that may not be what you want to do and now you've got a second year to come back, reevaluate, talk to your colleagues, figure out what they may have done that might interest you, and just open up all kinds of avenues for a career path.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Can I add something? This is Lisa. In our traditional mind we think of internships, you're working in an office, and for a lot of people that's a great experience, if they've never worked in an office, they're coming to us from college. But there are all types of internships now due to having the internet.

And a lot of agencies you can connect with, and maybe only have to visit 3 or 4 times, let's for example, if you work full time, and that you can do your project on your own, if you need minimum supervision and just talk and send in your data or whatever you're writing via email and there's also Skype so, a lot of my, a lot of the students here who are maybe the non-traditional students are finding ways around having to be in an office 8 to 5.

AMY: Julie Harrold at the Humphrey School, University of Minnesota, do you also have internships?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: We also have a required internship. For people who don't already have relevant work experience it's four hundred hours working in a policy related internship and many of our programs, our schools have mid-career programs. Ours happens to be called Masters of Public Affairs and it's a shorter program, we require ten years of experience.

Programs like that are going to be, I think, generally more broadly focused on leadership and more advanced leadership, policy analysis skills that are required of managers, directors, and leaders of organizations to prepare people to take that next step. And they tend to be more self-designed and flexible. A number of them might have kind of online, or distance learning options as well.

AMY: So in that case, the internship isn't necessarily be a distance learning internship but the program itself might be. And the more professional experience that a person has then the assumption is that the don't need the fieldwork quite as much. I want to thank you all again for participating in part two of our podcast on public affairs and we will regroup for part three of the podcast which is also available at idealist.org/podcasts.


Okay Idealist podcast listeners, want to hear more from the show? Just check out part one an overview of the public affairs degree and a discussion about careers and part two on admissions and financial aid.You can find them all at idealist.org/podcasts.

Learn more about the Public Affairs Degree on the Idealist Grad School Resource Center, Idealist.org/gradschool.

I'm Amy Potthast, thanks for listening. To find more good things to do go to Idealist.org. Today's show was produced with the help of our intern Millicent Zimdars. If you have enjoyed our podcast please show your support by going to iTunes and leaving a review and a rating of this episode and others you've liked. You can also send us feedback to podcasts@idealist.org.


Transcript for The MPA, Part Three: Admissions and financial aid

AMY POTTHAST: Welcome to the Idealist Grad School podcast where together we explore grad school for the public good. I'm Amy Potthast, Director of Graduate Education Programs at Idealist.

This episode of our Grad Schools podcast is part three of a three part series looking at the Master of Public Administration and Affairs Degrees. On this episode I'm chatting with admissions officers and alumna of three public affairs master's programs about admissions and financial aid.//


AMY: Lisa, Kathryn and Julie, welcome back. Let's do a quick round of introductions and get started.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Well, Hi Everyone, my name is Lisa Sperling, I'm at the University of Georgia, Masters of Public Administration.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: This is Kathryn Meyer from Texas A&M University the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Hi. I'm Julie Harrold the director of Graduate Student Services at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

AMY: The focus of this final part of our show is really about financial aid and admissions tips. And we've done other shows about financial aid, for example a really great show with Heather Jarvis about public service loan forgiveness and income based repayment for people who are taking out federal loans to pay for school. And on our website at Idealist.org/gradschool we also have tons of resources around paying for school, but I thought with you guys having a long history with your public affairs programs you might be able to shed some light on some unique ways to pay for school that people might not have already thought of.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: This is Lisa, one of the things I've been telling students because at a state school we really have lost a lot of money but a lot of the bigger state schools have places all through campus that maybe able to hire an assistant.

So for example, if you were a very active undergrad I often suggest that those students find out whoever their boss was at their college and maybe their is a kind of counterpart at this school that may need an assistant.

AMY: Ooh, I like that example. That's a great idea. So for example find another department to be a graduate assistant in or become like a resident assistant?

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Resident Assistant is probably the most prevalent. But for example, we had a student a few years back that went to Duke and he thought at one point that he wanted to go into sport's administration so very early on in his career at Duke he went to the basketball team and said I'd really like to work and volunteer. And then his kind of role with the team's own administration really grew and he loved it and they loved him.

Well, through just natural growth and experience at school he realized his interest was in administration but in international and nonprofit administration. But when he came to apply to Georgia he still loved basketball, that didn't go away, so Duke's coach called the Georgia coach so they needed help and he got a wonderful assistant-ship which kept a passion of his, he didn't want to to into basketball administration but he was able to keep that part all because of things he did in his undergrad and it paid for his two years at grad school.

AMY: That's a really nice example that relies on networking as well that uses your connections outside the graduate program. Julie Harrold at Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota do you have any cool ideas for funding?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Well, one of the things I would say is it's important to look at the whole financial picture, so look at kind of value for money, if you will. So you might not be getting a huge scholarship, but the overall cost might be more affordable at one school because of the location, because it's a state school versus a private school.

AMY: So basically make sure to look at the big picture when you're making your school decisions. Kathryn from Texas A & M Bush School do you have any creative ideas for funding?

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: The only thing I can think of is look around just like Lisa is talking, there are positions on campus to do.

There are also some national scholarship opportunities that you have to apply to early enough but those are available. But you've got to stay consistent continually look, keep applying for things. So I know specifically here at Texas A&M with the Bush School we offer scholarships to every incoming student and they are renewed in their second year at a different rate but they are getting something to help them pay for school because that's our commitment to service not every school is gonna have that benefit but we are also not trying to buy students.

We want to help those that want to come here because its a good fit for them. You should never make a decision based solely off the financial aid. Yes it's a huge decision. Yes you want as much money as you can. But you're not going to be happy at the school if that's not a fit for you.

AMY: I'd like to turn the conversation towards admissions processes and advice for that. My first question is what distinguishes a student who is admitted to your program from one who is not? And specifically, I would love to hear about things to do and not to do during the admissions process. Julie Harrold from University of Minnesota Humphrey School let's hear from you.

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Sure, I'll start.

First and foremost, it's important to research the programs that you're applying to and be careful in terms of, what's a good fit for what you want to do. And I use this example, it may make you laugh, but it's true. We had somebody apply to study maritime transportation at the University of Minnesota and, you can't be farther away from an ocean than we are and we don't have anybody doing that. And so in spite of really strong grades and references and test scores, we couldn't admit that person because we didn't have anything to offer that person. So really be sure you're applying to schools that are a good fit for what it is you want to study.

In our programs you'll find list of areas of concentration and then beyond that, every school should have a list of faculty, ideally one that you can sort by areas of expertise. And so you will want to look at both the types of degrees that are offered, the areas of concentration that are offered, and then the faculty expertise at each of our schools and that's a good way to do that. Other things that are important are the degree to which you are prepared to succeed in the program.

So we want to set you up for success in the program, if we have prerequisites, it's better to have taken them before you're admitted or, at least, explain in your application when you expect to complete them. We obviously hope that you have a strong undergraduate academic record.

Do well on your tests. Test scores people really get flustered about. It's one part of the application. I don't think any one of our schools ever rejects somebody solely on the basis of a test, neither do you get guaranteed admission solely on the basis of really good test scores. It's part of your application. You want to do as well as you can, but don't completely stress out about it.

References are incredibly important. Select them well. Avoid people like friends, family members, pastors, things like that and focus on professional and academic references.

AMY: And would you say that it's preferable to read a recommendation letter from someone who has a very impressive title but who doesn't know you very well versus someone who has supervised you directly, who may not have a fancy title but who can speak to your strengths and give lots of great examples?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: Excellent question, and you're right on. People who know you well, people who can speak to your academic potential, to your work experience, to your passion and commitment for this field because they've supervised you or taught you or worked with you, like in a research setting, are far more important than the president of the university or your US senator, if you don't know them.

AMY: Kathryn from the Bush School at Texas A&M I know you have lots of great ideas on this topic.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: Make sure that you've prepped your recommenders. You provide them a resume, talk to them about what you hope to do, because some people are going back to professors they haven't had for two or three years and you can't express that professor to write much about other than this student did very well in my class and when I asked them to come this is the kind of work they produce. That's great, but it helps if there is more substance there with it.

A great one-page is better than two or three sentences, which we have gotten before. But even a page and a half that goes even into more depth, you know, outside of the classroom I was able to speak with this student in an advisor role.

So if you can develop those relationships, do try to get to an academic who can really say who you are and maybe find two more outside who are doing the internship or the community service or anything else that you're passionate about and write about that element for you.

Adding to that, we'll get a number of students here at Texas A&M who were undergraduates here and just kind of assume that their next step is grad school and I'm already here, this looks like a really competitive program, I've got good grades, let's apply here, not knowing what other universities are out there. You know faculty, we have an interview section, and they're going to ask them questions, what other school looks to be of interest to you? Well, what did you like about that school?

Sometimes there is a better program out there for them. And we certainly like them to know what those are and we'll be the first to make those recommendations if they're not a fit for us. But being prepared, showing that maturity, that you're ready for graduate school and it's just not a "nnnnyeah, it's the next step."

And we have declined really strong students because the faculty were really turned off by their lack of polish, readiness. It's a professional school and they are about to go into a career path that they may stay in for the next twenty to twenty five years.

AMY: And Lisa Sperling from the MPA program at the University of Georgia what advice do you have about the admissions and application process?

LISA SPERLING, UGA: I actually have three things that I would suggest to potential applicants and two have to do with the personal statement. I always tell people when I get asked, "what do you want to see in the personal statement?

I always say the answer to two questions: Why you? Why us? I find that sometimes, like Kathryn said, students will think graduate school is the next step and they've definitely said that, but they haven't really distinguished between different master's degrees and not all masters degrees are created equal. And may not have an idea of where they want to go next. We really look for that linear thought process in the writing sample.

The second thing, and I get this question a lot, I'm assuming you do too Kathryn and Julie, but I get people who say, for example, in college either had a parent pass away, or something pretty traumatic happen in their lives, or they just didn't find themselves then. And they are coming back and applying in their thirties and they're like, you know, my college GPA really wasn't very good, mention that, but then say, since then I've done this, this, and this.

If someone had shared with you what had happened to them, for example, let's lose the passing away of a parent, sometimes in their telling you about that they became more aware of what social services local and global that governments offer and that's the germ that became the idea that became the application to work in a nonprofit.

Everyone on a faculty committee has been in their college years and in their twenties and so they know that these things happen, so we do take these things into account. The third thing I would really like to stress and I see this more and more every year is not being professional when they contact the department. If you treat staff as if they're there to serve you, it will get back to faculty. While we may have sixty to eighty to a hundred people coming in in the cohort, and they may not all know each other, staff and faculty, all know each other.

AMY: And that's an example of a bad way to stand out on your application.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: And it's also a way to stand out in a good way. We have had people that come in who are dressed versus in ripped jeans, in wet and tied up hair. Always think of every interaction you have with the department you're applying to as a professional interaction, how you would be with an employer, not with your best friend.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: This is Kathryn. Something to add to that, in that I get a lot more visits now, than I did five years ago, with parents. This is a professional program, you're out of undergraduate, you're now ready for your career path. And I know that it's a sincere turn off for faculty at that stage to have to deal with parents because it doesn't say a lot about your ability to handle your own state of goods when you get here for the classroom.

AMY: And Kathryn from the Bush School, few years ago when I was writing the admissions guide, which now lives on our website, Idealist.org/gradschool, you had mentioned the concept of the stealth applicant. Someone whose application arrives out of the blue, someone that you've never heard of before, but your perspective at the time was that applicants should contact you and rely on your insights to help them navigate the admissions process.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: Correct. Definitely, we all try to put together a very interactive website that provides a lot of information but when you have got a specific set of questions that is unique to your opportunities then that is definitely something you need to ask and that can be via email or it can be in visits, phone calls. We are here to help you because the programs are evolving constantly to adapt to the situations of the students.

So definitely don't feel like you should just become what's called a stealth applicant, you just look at most of the websites, you apply. If you can get your name in front of people by visiting for open houses or by coming and making contacts via email, don't hesitate to do that. That's what we are here for is to help.

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: This is Julie. One thing I'd also recommend is a lot of people think "oh it's better if I can get one on one time, so I can get all my questions answered." And that's certainly fine, but I strongly encourage you to go to group information sessions, open houses, visits, because often times you'll learn many things from people who ask questions you didn't think of, but that give you really good information. And it's also a nice way to get to meet possible prospective, or admitted, or incoming students who are going to be your peers in the following or upcoming years.

AMY: And Lisa Sperling from University of Georgia's MPA program what do you think about whether or not people should contact you?

LISA SPERLING, UGA: Please know that most people who go into this line of work love to talk with students and potential applicants. I agree with Kathryn, what you should do is first check if your question can be answered on the website, but don't be afraid to contact us because we know this is a life decision, and a life changing decision and we do want to talk with you.

AMY: What final thoughts do you have about going to grad school or on the admissions process?

JULIE HARROLD, UMN: This is Julie from Minnesota and I would just say I'm glad that people are interested, one of the best parts of my job is getting to read applications and meet people who want to change the world, and to make a difference and truly believe that they can, and I think evermore these days we need people working in these fields and tackling those problems and making that difference. So thanks to those who have that commitment and that interest.

KATHRYN MEYER, TAMU: And this is Kathryn and I'm going to reiterate along with Julie that we are definitely looking for that passion, that you don't ever let any statistics you see on a school scare you away if that's the school you really want to apply to and try to be apart of, then you go for it, but you always need to consider what they are looking for, what that pool might look like, and always have back-up plans. You don't want to apply to one school you want to apply to three to five and be prepared to make those correct decisions for you. And just go out there and do your best.

LISA SPERLING, UGA: I just want to say thank you for listening to the podcast and for considering a career that serves your country whether at the local, state, or federal level or nonprofit. We have a big job to do out there so I'm glad more and more students are looking that way.

AMY: Thank you all so much. It was very lovely chatting with you.


AMY POTTHAST: Okay, Idealist podcast listeners, want to hear more from the show? Check out part one, an overview of public affairs and a discussion about careers, and part two on coursework, fieldwork, and certificates. You can find them all at idealist.org/podcasts. //

Learn more about the Public Affairs Degree on the Idealist Grad School Resource Center, Idealist.org/gradschool.

I'm Amy Potthast, thanks for listening. To find more good things to do go to Idealist.org. Today's show was produced with the help of our intern Millicent Zimdars. If you have enjoyed our podcast please show your support by going to iTunes and leaving a review and a rating of this podcast and others you've liked. You can also send us feedback to podcasts@idealist.org.