Simply from reading the news, one can easily infer that our communities (locally, regionally, and nationally) face critical decisions regarding our future. Amid this backdrop, I made the decision this fall that I was going to pursue a Master in Public Administration to be better equipped to contribute to the important social dialogue that is critical to shaping a future of well-being.
The process of applying to graduate school has been very educational, at times with unexpected turns. As I searched for programs, both online and by talking to public service practitioners, I found exciting programs at universities that I had never given much thought to. The application and interview process also taught me much about myself. Writing and rewriting my personal statements (for what felt like hundreds of times) and having to answer occasionally disconcerting questions in live interviews, made me think hard about who I am and what I hold as inherent values.
Both painful and exhilarating at times, the journey reaffirmed my commitment to public service and the belief that a MPA will give me important tools and skills to better contribute to effective policy solutions. But I realized that I am not at all ready to choose the type of career in public service that I want to embrace. For instance, do I favor working in local, state, or federal government?
Those realizations heavily influenced my decision-making process regarding graduate school. I was very fortunate to have been accepted to six competitive programs, with a number of attractive financial offers. This allowed me to focus less on the money required to attend school and more on finding the best fit for me. What program would best prepare me for public service? Which one would help me get a sense for what to expect at different levels of government? Having had a great undergraduate experience at the small but vibrant community of Willamette University, what academic setting would make my graduate experience different but equally positive?
I cannot thank enough the administrators, faculty and students at many universities who gave generously their time and experience – typically very candidly, with the interest of the student placed higher than any self-interest of the university – to help me reach a decision. Many of the programs that accepted me are exciting, and I could make arguments to attend several with great confidence in getting a high quality experience.
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But it ultimately became clear that the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill was the right fit for me. (Related Link: On Campus with the Carolina MPA Program) It is a program that fosters innovation and passion in public service, and that provides a selection of exceptional in-depth opportunities for students. While part of a large campus, UNC’s MPA program projects a “small and vibrant” feeling, with small class sizes, collaborative student cohorts and dedicated faculty. I felt “home” during my campus visit and made a preliminary decision relatively quickly, but allowed time to re-think that decision carefully and kept an open mind to all other options. When I finally accepted UNC’s offer, I did so feeling very comfortable – in fact, thrilled. The long process of applying to graduate school has been in many ways a life changing experience, and in strange ways I feel a little sad that it is over. But I very much look forward to the next two years of my life as a Tar Heel and the experiences that those years will bring. I want to express my appreciation to everyone who has helped me throughout this process. In many ways this was a group process with feedback and support from countless individuals – and that was a great, great feeling. Thank you!