The following is information about the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs (Princeton University). Much of it is based on a conversation with John Templeton, Director of the program. I will be placing this information and supporting information in an advising file.
The Program: The Woodrow Wilson School is a highly prestigious program that offers a degree of Master in Public Affairs (MPA). There is a highly quantitative Economics and Public Policy Track, a slightly less quantitative Domestic Policy Track, an International Relations track, and a Development Studies track. There is also a joint degree in Urban and Regional Planning (URP). Both the MPA and the MPA-URP are two year programs with the middle summer spent in an internship.
The distinctiveness of the program is its quantitative and economic emphasis. Where many public policy programs will offer particular functional areas of specialization, such as Health Care, the focus of the Woodrow Wilson Program is on providing a general "skill set of quantitative and economic analysis" that can be used in a variety of policy settings.
1) Quantitative skills. A student should be advised to take a year of Calculus, at least one course in Statistics, at least the Macroeconomic/ Microeconomic sequence at the introductory level, and should have exposure to Political Science courses.
This is consistent with the composition of the Woodrow Wilson faculty. Fifteen of the professors have joint appointments in the Politics department and fifteen have joint appointments in the Economics department. There are one or two with joint appointments in Sociology, Psychology, etc.
2) Public Service. The Program takes seriously its mission of public service. They are training people to address the "systemic problems of society." To that end, they are interested in people who have demonstrated a commitment to public service.
3) Employment. You should plan on working at least one year before applying to the Program. On average, most students on the Woodrow Wilson School have worked 2-4 years and 19 of the 65 students admitted had five or more years of experience. Only 8 students were admitted directly from college, and these were special cases (usually international students in which there would have been problems with returning home).
Jobs held by those admitted to the Program range from: research assistant, newspaper reporter, teacher, marketing assistant, legislative aide, work in public service.
4) Junior Summer Institute. The Woodrow Wilson School holds a Junior Summer Institute. The Institute seems helpful in providing skills as well as providing some familiarity with the Program that might be helpful in admissions.
1) The Woodrow Wilson School receives approximately 600 applications each year. They admit about 80, of which 60 go.
2) About 90% of the entering class has GRE quantitative scores between 600 and 800. Fifty percent score above 700. A student scoring below 600 will need to demonstrate strong preparation in Economics and Math.
3) About 90% of the entering class had a GPA between 3.0 and 4.0. The median GPA was 3.7. Fifty percent of the entering class had a GPA between 3.7 and 4.0. Twenty five to thirty percent had a GPA between 3.3 and 3.6.
4) Only 8 of 60 students were admitted directly from college. Most students have worked at least one year.
Writing a Statement of Purpose:
This program, like all programs, will ask students to write a statement of purpose. What follows are some tips:
1) The statement should be authentic. Don’t try to "conjure" what Princeton wants to hear. Instead, focus on giving them a sense of what is distinctive about you.
2) Focus on the mission of the Woodrow Wilson School, which is a commitment to public service. They are interested in ways in which you have demonstrated a commitment to public service.
3) Talk about any experiences that might have shaped you, including evidence of resilience, leadership, or management in difficult times.
4) You should show focus in your goals and objectives. This is the importance of working for a while.
Letters of Recommendation:
It is important that you do not use outdated letters for references, particularly since you will have gained valuable work experience before applying to graduate school. It is important that you talk with faculty members who may be writing reference letters. Give them a sense of what you have been doing, what experiences you have had, and what sort of goals and objectives you have. This will be important so that the faculty member can emphasize personal aspects in the recommendation.