Applying to MSPP
I chose to apply only to MSPP’s doctoral program, but I had been in graduate school twice before and I had an idea of what the process would involve. Not surprisingly, the application process for MSPP was tedious and time-consuming, as it would be for applying to any school. There were forms to fill out, transcripts and reference letters to obtain, and the taking of the dreaded GRE (the necessity of which is pretty much a given for any student who’s been away from school for a while). What was different, for me, was the fact that the process was predominantly electronic. Even the GRE was administered on a computer, and was scored on the spot. I was given an MSPP account in which to upload all of the materials, and I received periodic notices informing me about open houses and other aspects of the school. I was even notified electronically about my invitation to interview, and my invitation to matriculate!
All that being said, however, MSPP tried hard to make it as painless as possible. For example, when I visited the school and toured with Liz from Admissions, she emphasized that it was not necessary to stress over the GRE. (I did anyway, but it was nice of her to try.) From what I have observed, the GRE score is not typically a deal breaker for admission to MSPP, if other qualifications are acceptable. MSPP seemed intent on making sure that candidates had as many opportunities to get to know the school as were needed: I was invited to attend open houses, visit the school, sit in on a class, speak with and/or email current students through “Connections,” and talk to as many faculty members as I wished. I took advantage of all of the opportunities, and I am glad I did. The “fit” has to work both ways.
I must have called the Admissions Office at least a dozen times in the months during which I was preparing my application. It reached a point where they knew me, which was both embarrassing and gratifying. I certainly never felt like a number or an “applicant” when speaking with them. On the day that I actually submitted my application, having gathered and completed all of the required documents, the application didn’t go through. Yikes! Fortunately, I was only 10 minutes away and was able to discuss it with them personally. They set me up on a computer in the library, and worked with me to get it done.
Interview day was very interesting. Actually, their interview process was one of the things that had drawn me to the school. I appreciated the fact that they made it possible for candidates to present themselves in more than one mode, i.e., one-on-one and in a small group. As I’d observed at other times, the staff and student volunteers who were present were gracious and hospitable. There was explicit acknowledgement of the fact that we candidates were nervous, notably in the fact that they placed aromatherapy sticks and antacids in the restrooms!
The interviews themselves were also very interesting. I was surprised, and pleased, when I realized that I would be interviewed by a team consisting of a faculty member and a student. I liked the fact that a student – someone who actually knew what it was like to study there – was there to both ask relevant questions and answer mine.
The group interview was unavoidably strange. About ten of us were placed in a room and given a task to complete (for the life of me I can’t remember now what it was), and given 40 minutes to talk it out together, while again being observed by an interview team. We were reassured that no one would “win” the exercise, and that it was possible that more than one person from the group would be invited to join the MSPP community. That helped a little bit, but it is virtually impossible to act “normal” in a group while being considered for acceptance to something!
The last noteworthy aspect of applying to MSPP is the language used. Throughout the admission process, the people there consistently used the word “invitation” vs. “acceptance.” They also used the word bidirectionally: They not only talked about inviting candidates to come to MSPP, they also talked in terms of the candidates accepting the invitation. I was a little suspicious of this language at first, because it is easy to use such words for effect, without really meaning it. But my suspicion ebbed away as I observed the term being used consistently, and also observed how consonant the word was with the MSPP culture in general.
In the end, I was delighted to accept MSPP’s invitation to join the community.