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So what we are looking for in an ideal candidate?

Students bring many perspectives to our programs each year

Students bring many perspectives to our MA IR and MPA programs each year

What is Maxwell looking for in an ideal candidate? I get asked that question a lot… A REAL LOT!  It’s really quite simple when you break it down … Do you have clearly identified professional career interests that are aligned with our program (s)? and …  Can you do the work?  As a school with a tradition of public service – that is also preeminent in our consideration.  Our school and students benefit from an exceptionally tight knit community. Our students bring a vast array of perspectives, backgrounds and policy interests, they come from all over the world, have diverse academic and work backgrounds, and represent countless religious, political, ethnic and racial perspectives – but the one central factor that unites them all is this commitment to public service.  That is an overarching theme around here and one we take seriously and with great pride.

But, as simply as I stated what we are looking for in candidates … (and let’s get this straight, there is NO  “one ideal candidate”!) – a bit of clarification will no doubt be helpful. I will expand on these points below – but also invite you to join me for one of my regularly scheduled webinars on the applications process, where will go into all the parts of the application in detail and have plenty of time for Q&A.

Applying 101: Preparing a Competitive Application for Graduate Study in PA and IR 
Department WEBINAR Schedule

As for our process:  Applications for both programs (MPA and MA IR) are reviewed in a single review process and the admissions requirements are essentially the same for both (except as noted below).

1)      Does you understand the professional nature of the PA and IR fields?
Do you have a well-developed sense of where you want your career to go?  Are you able to clearly articulate these goals?  Are these career goals aligned with our school’s mission and commitment to preparing professionals for careers in public & international service?

We assess this primarily by the resume and personal statement. Do you have relevant work, volunteerism, and internships in this area?  Does your personal statement convey your passion and motivation for study in this field – and clearly articulate your career goals? Are these career goals in line with the career paths of our graduates?  Do your recommendation letters further attest to your commitment to your chosen career field?

NOTE:  You can review our career stats and our career field guides to learn more about where Maxwell Grads Go! – just one of the many resources available to our students via our career development office.

2)      Can you handle the work?

We assess this through a review of your transcripts, GRE’s and letters of recommendation. Your transcript will hold the most weight in this review. We prefer to see a graduating GPA of no lower than 3.0… but do not have a cut-off per se, and will complete a thorough review of the transcript.  We will note in which classes you did well, and any in which you did not.  We will also note any variations in the transcript (ie: one really poor semester – which may be explained later in the application), but may have affected the overall GPA.

Letters of recommendation from prior faculty and supervisors can comment on your ability to handle demanding work at the graduate level, your maturity, ability to meet deadlines and be an overall responsible, hardworking student or employee.  The best letters of recommendation will say that they would hire you again, or would love to more students like you in their class.

Since our programs have some hefty graduate level economics / statistics courses in the core requirements, we will look for an indication that you will be able to handle quantitative coursework.  We will notice any courses taken in the areas of math, economics and statistics – and also notice the grades in these courses as compared with grades overall on the transcript.  Failing scores in these classes can be a red flag in the admissions process – as is the absence of these types of courses.

The GRE is used as a cross check against the transcript – but we expect that you will prepare and do as well as you can on this exam. The GRE alone will never be the sole reason a student is admitted, nor will it ever be the sole reason a student is not admitted.  If the transcript raises some red flags with regard to your academic preparation and the GRE does not counteract these red flags, it is not a good sign.

The MA IR degree requires advanced intermediate proficiency in a second language as a graduation requirement. At admission, we will look to see that you are at or near this level of proficiency, since learning a language while engaged in full time graduate study is quite difficult. The language should be aligned with your professional interests.  You should have a plan that includes additional language study if your career goals will require this upon graduation – and if you need to advance your skills to meet this requirement while enrolled. Advanced intermediate proficiency is defined as four semesters of a language at the college level up through passing a 202 level course – or its equivalent.


3)      What will you bring to our student community?
The final thing we look for is how you demonstrate your commitment to public service – and what is that something extra you will bring to our student community.  What is your passion? What ignites your motivation?  How will you engage in our community as a student?  What is it about your background (both personal and professional) that make you stand out? This is your story – and why you want to study in our program.

This is not a school or program where you come, attend class, and simply check off requirements and earn your degree when enough boxes are checked. This is the kind of program where you come, fully immerse, an engage with your fellow students, faculty and the learning process.  Maxwell is a place where students gain a full experience (not just learning) but being part of a diverse and living network of people who will change the world.  So, how will you engage? That is what can set you apart in our admissions process.

See… simple!


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