This 3-part blog offers a quick insight into what a postgraduate public policy degree entails, a peek into the application process and finally, career options post this master’s. Read the first part here

So, you’ve decided to take the leap and apply to graduate school and make a career in public policy. How do you go about it? While each school and specific program has its own application process, this post will give you an overview and highlight the most common requirements of the application.

Universities almost always require a ‘Statement of Purpose’ or a motivation statement. This is aimed at understanding a candidate’s context, background, motivation to apply and long-term career aspirations. The other piece of writing involved may be shorter essays demonstrating leadership, solutions to policy challenges, descriptions of goals and so on. These help Admissions Committees (AdComs) gauge writing skills as well as depth of understanding of certain issues and clarity of ambition.

Tip: The clearer you are about why you want to study policy and what you plan to do after, the better your chances of an admit. AdComs want to see purpose.

Resumes or CVs are also part of the application – its essential to ensure these are well formatted and typo-free.

Two letters of recommendation are needed: usually one academic and one professional, or two professional recommendation letters depending on your years of work experience. These are meant to affirm your skills and provide the AdCom with a better look at who you are from the perspective of your supervisors and people that know you well. A personal and thoughtful letter is always better than one that’s glowing, yet impersonal or obviously written by the candidate themselves.

Most U.S. schools require GRE scores. The GRE tests verbal, quantitative and analytical skills and provides a basic, objective method of evaluating applicants. This exam needs to be booked in advance and requires some preparation. Depending on your ability, preparation time could range from weeks to months. There are coaching classes in the market that help, but many applicants also comfortable studying on their own.

The other written test is to prove a basic level of English and the most common ones are TOEFL or the IELTS. A lot of schools exempt applicants from English-speaking countries or whose undergraduate studies have been conducted entirely in English. Waivers need to be procured in advance for these.

Some schools make offers directly and some invite candidates for interviews. These can be in person or via a video call.

It is always a good idea to start early. Writing strong essays takes time and several rounds of editing. Referees also take time to respond and its polite to give them enough of a heads-up. Preparation for the GRE can also take anywhere between a few weeks to a few months so it is best to have a clear timeline to work with.

A lot of candidates that want to pursue careers in public policy also need aid or scholarship assistance. This can be a bit daunting as there’s a wide area to be covered just in the search of scholarships. Again, it is helpful to speak to friends or peers or others who have done this before, or consult with experts. It is especially important to apply for aid early given the limited amount of funding.

To sum it up: start thinking through the process early, book your GRE/TOEFL/IELTS well in advance, edit your essays multiple times, and reach out to your referees with enough time to spare.

And of course, don’t forget to ask for help!