Making the Most of a Full-time MPP Program
March 10, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I recently accepted an offer for a spot in a full time MPP program from a very decent, non-Ivy school. My funding (per an assistantship or researcher position) reduces the total tuition to approximately $3000, and the program provides an allowance for an unpaid or poorly paid summer internship. I have enough money saved to avoid going into debt if I work part time. I want to offset the opportunity costs of two years outside of work by making myself as employable as possible.

I do not have a stipend to cover costs of living, but I have sufficient savings to graduate without going into debt and a good chance of getting a relevant part time job as a project coordinator with a nearby nonprofit due to past professional experiences and networking. I'm currently looking for additional scholarships and finding very few geared towards MPPs (any advice would be appreciated).

I'm 27. My undergraduate major was English and my GPA was 3.2, which explains why I did not get a full ride and (I think) why it would not be a good idea to hold off in the hopes of a better offer. I spent a year teaching English in Korea and decided that it provided little in the way of stimulation or career prospects, so I left it with the knowledge that I could always come back to it.

I started working as an entry level payment analyst for a decent company. The pay (28K per year, not including overtime) urged me to apply for other jobs within the company and outside of it, but the results were negligible (a few interviews and a lot of no-responses). I started to take community college classes in statistics and economics using our company's tuition reimbursement plan, and also began volunteering with several community ESL groups as a process coordinator and program manager.

I did this to improve myself first, to further my career prospects second, and to help the community third. I wanted to emphasize that order because, although I'm very interested in programs and institutions slated to advance the standards of living for a wide demographic, I think it's also important to portray myself as a person interested in personal and professional advancement if I'm going to get useful answers.

I've researched the positions which interest me, but I'm not limiting myself to them because of what I assume will be intense competition for employment and the likelihood that I will encounter additional organizations fulfilling similar purposes. The MPP program is three hours outside of D.C., which is probably where I would like to end up, and makes trips to the city on Fridays for lectures, policy seminars and networking. With that said, the following employers appeal to me; with the exceptions of SIGTARP, specific NGOs and specific non-profits, my program has placed its graduates into jobs within these organizations:

U.S. Department of State: Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement or FSO (Economics Cone)
The World Bank
Think Tanks focusing on anti-corruption measures (please suggest some)
Watchdog Groups focusing on anti-corruption measures (please suggest some)
The Open Society Institute or one of its associated programs (please suggest more)
Transparency International Secretariat or one of its associated programs (please suggest more)
The Mines Advisory Group or one of its associated programs (please suggest more)
Danish Church Aid, Amnesty International, and organizations like them (please suggest more)
D.C. Based Consulting Firms

As you can see, I'm shooting for the moon. Wait until you see my personal and academic goals below. At present, my primary goal is to narrow my focus and minimize my risk through advice from the community. With that said, please help me plan my academic and professional schedules so that

I will be able to:

1.Graduate near the top of my class with publications in hand
2.Network effectively to ensure interviews, internships, and job prospects
3.Select relevant courses emphasizing hard skills (statistics and statistics software, econometrics, modeling)
4.Continue to develop soft skills (leadership, program management, process coordination)

and I'd also like to:

1.Begin a mutual fund, money-market, or otherwise useful investment to complement my IRA
2.Learn to code in a useful language
3.Take a 3 sequence Calculus series, Linear Algebra, and Real Analysis classes (or something similar to improve the chances of a.) acceptance to MSc programs for Statistics or b.) passing actuarial exams.)
4.Earn a PMI or Six Sigma certification

and it would be nice to:

1.Improve my Flamenco
2.Advance from intermediate Spanish to working fluency and pick up another language
3.Continue to train for triathlons and MMA
4.Eat a lot of Indian and Thai food.

Still reading? Here are the minimum elective courses I would like to take aside from the required core module (please offer advice to round out potential gaps in skills):

1.Cross Section Econometrics.
2.Time Series Econometrics.
3.International Trade: Theory and Policy.
4.Forecasting Methods and Applications
5.International Trade Law
6.Operations Research: Deterministic Models
7.Operations Research: Stochastic Models

Final word: I've been thinking about this program for a long time, and I'm trying to do my best to prepare myself for a quantitative focus by re-learning calculus before matriculating. If you have any advice as to which additional community college courses I should take in the summer interim between now and starting the program (and the summer interim during my internship), I'm all ears. Please keep in mind that I'll be working full time.

It's difficult not to see this program as a second chance for a shot at a stable, stimulating career that pays more than $50k per year. Because of this, I worry that I may be avoiding acknowledgement of the opportunity costs incurred by enrolling- I'd like to hear that side of the argument as well.

Thanks in advance,

posted by pinterecki to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This seems like a good plan. MPP + extensive experience in ESL is a great combo.

You might think about doing some ESL teaching part-time while you're doing your internships in the summer, both to keep in practice and bring in some cash.

I am generally skeptical about the utility of grad school for most people, but it seems like a good choice for you even though a stipend didn't happen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on March 10, 2013

Wow, that was a slog. Tip: include question marks somewhere in your question, ideally marking the actual questions you want responses to. Learn to cut irrelevant or unimportant information - summarise pretty much everything under 'I'd also like to would be nice to' sections as 'and I need to have time to maintain my hobbies and non-Masters related skill development as well, which include learning Spanish, taking a six sigma certification and eventually learning to program'.

I think your questions are
- Where can I find info on scholarships that I might be eligible for as an MPP student?
- please help me plan my academic and professional schedules given I want to take these x courses and gain these y skills [in the next z years?]
- Do you have any advice as to which additional community college courses I should take in the summer interim between now and starting the program (and the summer interim during my internship)? [besides the calculus and linear algebra courses outlined above or instead of?]
- What are the opportunity costs incurred by enrolling [in the MPP] that I may be underestimating or ignoring?

Have you talked to student advisors at your MPP college? It seems a little ridiculous to ask for help in choosing specific subjects and not even bother to name or link to the school you are going to.
posted by jacalata at 1:34 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also think you will need to either list the school/program or outline the core modules of your program in order for us to be able to make recommendations since it's a pretty general degree. Is your concentration going to be in international trade? I did most of an MPP in international development and from what I know of other programs, some are overall more quantitative and others are more qualitative in nature. I tried to take more quantitative/stats/econometrics courses in mine and I never needed calc - I took that in undergrad but didn't really use it in grad. Not sure if you were thinking calc would be more useful for the MPP or for MSc in statistics, but in my program we did have the option of taking some courses in different departments to count as electives so you might look into that.

Anyway all of that varies by program.

As far as community college goes, if you want to pick up a programming language you could take a class there, or I would recommend Codeacademy to get your feet wet.

It would also help to know which types of jobs you are interested in instead of just the organizations. That would help a lot in answering these questions.
posted by fromageball at 2:25 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jacalata summarized my post very well. Thanks, jacalata.

This is the program's core curriculum.

I don't intend to concentrate on international trade- that seems beyond the capacity of this program. I listed those courses because the program requires a course from the law school and because some of the organizations I'm interested in have an international scope.

I'm mostly interested in evaluating project proposals to determine their potential for success, which is what I think this set of electives will enable me to do. If I had to narrow it down, I would say that this translates to a grant manager, a program coordinator, or a research associate position.
posted by pinterecki at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2013

Having looked at your question and the required syllabus, I would recommend that you seek out an electives in qualitative analysis/assessment. You look like you are going to get a strong grounding in quantitative analysis, but working in the international development field, I find it is sometimes very difficult to isolate the contribution a program has made, but qualitative analysis can tell some of the story. This is not seen as such a 'hard' skill as quantitative analysis, but it is still very valuable.

When you have opportunities to do assignments, look to see if you can tie it to something in the real world, rather than just theory. For example, I did a major research piece in which I both analysed the current policy around bribery of foreign officials, but also collected data to show how much this was being taken up by the major contractors to the federal government. Doing some original data collection doesn't need to be difficult if you are smart about it (in my case, I framed it as looking at their attitudes as demonstrated by how prominent they made the issue in their public documents and website), and will potentially give you something publishable - or at least able to be used for a poster display at a conference.

I am not sure what you are hoping to get out of a second masters (MSc Stats) - I think you run the risk of spending a lot of time and money on education against actually spending time in the workforce. Personally when I hire, I am more interested in real world experience than education (as long as the basic hurdles are cleared). So I think being clear on what you need and why is important - I would suggest doing some informational interviewing with grant managers, program coordinators and research associates (or their managers) to find out what it is that would help you and also what you would actually like to do.
posted by AnnaRat at 7:15 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really, all that matters is that you make the right connections to get the key internships at the state department or another choice agency that puts you in the right place.

If you're a quiet, unassuming person who wants to concentrate on your classes and get good grades while improving your flamenco skills, you will end up like the legions of young idealistic people with debt and a dead end job at an anonymous non-profit or doing HR at a subdivision of a government agency before you get tired of it and move back to your hometown.

By the middle of your first year, you should be on some kind of internship-to-permanent-job track. You should take classes with and get on projects with professors who are doing work with places like the state department,the world bank, or specific think tanks you want to be involved with. Trust me-- nothing else matters. I think you are already at somewhat of a disadvantage because you are not in DC during this program, like the people competing with you for these jobs are while they're in their own MPP programs, but assuming you hook up with the right professors during the term and internship programs during the summer, you should be ok.
posted by deanc at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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