So, You Didn’t Get A Scholarship. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic.

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in 2011 with over $25,000 in debt, the last thing I wanted to do was go on to graduate school and take out more loans. I was a Millennial fresh out of the higher education system and I was ready to enter the working world. After all, I had been promised since elementary school that college meant a good job relatively quickly.

As many of you probably know, that’s not exactly the way it works anymore. The Bachelor’s degree is, to a great extent, like the new high school diploma, and unless you’ve got a ton of internship experience or a good network, trolling the online job postings can be an exercise in futility.

It certainly was for me, even with my club work, 3.89 GPA, and living really close to NYC. Eventually I escaped this cycle of joblessness by joining the Peace Corps, and after I returned, I knew that I needed to get my MPA. Why did I need to get my MPA? Well, for one thing, my time doing project work in a foreign country made me realize that there were legitimately valuable things a graduate degree in administration could teach me. This is my first piece of advice to frustrated grads with their bachelors fresh in hand. Have you thought about what you still need to know? And what opportunities can you take to learn and grow to figure out what you don’t know?

If after some volunteering, interning, etc. you’ve figured out your learning gaps, then applying for a graduate degree makes sense. What’s more, going for that graduate degree makes sense even if you don’t get any scholarships or financial aid from the institution. That’s right. Graduate school, if you know what you want to do with your life, is worth taking out loans for, especially if you’ve been accepted to Rockefeller College.

To put it bluntly, being enrolled in this school is a whole different ballgame, networking wise. I’ve been attending for a mere 10 months, and I’ve already been offered three paid internships at a living wage. This is not unusual. Rockefeller students are highly sought after, and the school has well-established connections in the Capitol region and beyond that make the transition from school to work that much easier. So, if you just got word from your short list that the only aid available to you is Federal loans, don’t panic. Ask to talk to the Career Services department at each of your top choices and ask them what their internship program is like. Be direct, explain your situation, and make sure to inquire about the percentage of students currently working. Nobody likes to go into more debt. But if it means a virtual guarantee of gainful employment, you might decide that it’s worth the further investment in yourself.

What Makes Rockefeller College Stand Out?

I know what you guys are probably thinking. I’m an admissions person. My opinion is bias, and I have a vested interest in telling you all about how Rockefeller College is the place to be. Let me be the first to admit that Rockefeller College and I get along. But there are distinct reasons for this, which I’ve allowed my fellow students to expand upon below:

1. Rockefeller College Understands That You Have Stuff (Like Work) To Do

Many schools say that their curriculums are worker-friendly, but first year MPA student Melissa Krug chose Rockefeller because we stood out head and shoulders above her other choices in this way. When I asked her why she chose Rockefeller, she told me that “The fact that I could be a part-time student is a huge plus because other programs could not accommodate full-time working professionals.” There are two major ways Rockefeller achieves this accommodation: A part-time track as well as winter and summer courses and night class options. It is totally doable to work a nine to five and then roll in for your 5:45pm class!

2. Rockefeller College Won’t Break the Bank (For In-State or Out-of-State Students)

The average cost of attendance per year here at Rockefeller for a full-time, in-state Masters student is $12,517. For out-of-staters, it’s $23,857 – the lowest cost out of the top 25 MPA programs in the country! International students enjoy similarly low prices compared to other schools, owing just $25,059 per year. Rockefeller College also gives out a select number of in-house financial awards each year. I think my friend Rob said it best: “I could pay the tuition myself without any more loans. In this day and age, the value of that alone is priceless.

3. Rockefeller College Is Flexible and Offers a Broad Range Of Degree Concentrations 

We’ve already talked about Rockefeller’s accommodation of professionals. But Rockefeller also does everything we can to meet prospective and current students halfway. We understand, for example, that you are more than just one aspect of your application, and review all of your materials holistically. We also provide a variety of concentrations including Nonprofit Management, Health Policy, Financial Management, Global Affairs, and more. As one first year MPA student said when I asked him about his choice to come here, “Rockefeller College accepted me for who I really am.”

4. Rockefeller College Does all of its Career and Internship Placement Services In-House

Here at Rockefeller, you will have exclusive access to our Career Services office, which is responsible for by-appointment resume critiques and hundreds of job and internship placements each year. The Career Services office is also responsible for bringing in working professionals to talk with current students on a weekly basis and organizing numerous networking events and career fairs throughout the year. All these efforts are not in vain. In fact, Rockefeller College has a 98% job placement rate upon graduate – and yes, these are jobs in a relevant field of work.

Don’t Just Take Our Word For It Though…

If you’d like to learn more and meet with current students, faculty, and staff, come visit us! Email to schedule an appointment.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

If you’re currently a student, then you’re probably split between enjoying your winter break and agonizing about all the school and work applications you have in the mix. (We won’t talk about the spreadsheet currently sitting on my desktop. It’s color-coded to the point where it would blind you).

One thing that really stresses applicants out is making the ask for letters of recommendation. I’ve been doing this for one thing or another for about ten years and I still get squiffy about it. Below are a few tips for making these asks as painless and efficient as possible:

1. Choose your recommenders wisely.
Before you fire off fifty emails, ask yourself the following questions: Do I have a positive relationship with this person? Have I asked about their family/publications/life lately? Are they able to accurately and enthusiastically speak to my qualifications for whatever I am applying? You don’t want to pick the same recommenders for everything. If you’re applying for a summer job painting murals at an art museum, your finance professor should not be your first choice, for example. What’s more, you should try to pick people with whom you have a rapport—nobody likes getting emailed or spoken to only when a person wants something. At the very least, open your email with a salutation and well wishes.

2. Ask WELL in advance!
I personally feel anxious if I ask any less than three weeks in advance for a letter. It is so important to give your recommender enough time to do their letter justice. Believe me, they get read, and admissions committees can always tell if a writer was rushed.

3. Know what you’re applying for—and clue your recommender in.
Don’t annoy your recommender off the bat by linking them to a giant website for the university or organization you’re applying to. Take the time to write a short paragraph describing the program, the position you are hoping to get, when the deadline is, and what you hope they might highlight in their letter.

4. Attach your resume and whatever additional documentation your recommender asks for.
These additional documents may vary. I once had a recommender ask me to write my own draft and have them sign! Even if you feel like the recommender is asking for more than necessary, just remember they’re doing you a favor and forward it all along.

5. Don’t forget the follow-up.
Make sure to send a thank you note or a small gift to everyone who does end up writing you a letter, even if you don’t get accepted to whatever you applied for. This small gesture significantly increases your rapport with the person and increases the chances that they’ll say yes if you need another letter from them down the road. Also, if you do end up getting accepted to something, mention this in your note. There’s no better feeling then knowing you helped someone achieve their goals.

Getting Ahead of the GRE

Around this time, our office gets inundated with questions about the Revised General Test-also known as the “SAT for grad school” or the GRE. Below are a few tips for demystifying this application hurdle:

1. Most graduate programs require the GRE—but it’s worth it to ask about waiver policies. At Rockefeller college, the vast majority of MPA applicants and all PhD applicants are required to submit GRE scores along with their applications for study. However, we do consider applications for GRE waivers if an applicant has five or more years of work experience in a supervisory role, preferably in a quantitative field. Before you look up GRE time slots, email the admissions offices on your short list and ask about their waiver policies.

2. When you email, don’t ask about minimum score requirements—ask about average scores of acceptance. Many schools, in an effort to review applications holistically, do not have a specific minimum score requirement. However this does not give one much to aim for when taking the test. A good policy is to inquire about the average scores of people who are accepted into the program (don’t forget to specify that you want the average scores for writing, quantitative, and verbal). This will give you a solid standard to work with when preparing for the test. And in speaking of preparation…

3. Yes, you do need to study. Many people are so overwhelmed by the testing scope of the GRE that they take a “what I know is what I know” approach. While we understand that being tested on your entire vocabulary and all the math you’ve ever learned is daunting, studying will almost definitely improve your chances of success. What’s more, there are productive, concrete ways to study that do not require reviewing every spelling test and math exam you’ve ever taken. We’re particular fans of the GRE study guides put out by ETS, the testing company that creates and administers the GRE. Getting one of these books is a productive and relatively inexpensive option to brush up, plus they’re chock full of practice tests. 

4. For schools who require the GRE, it isn’t the only thing they look at, but it plays an important role when considering an applicant for admission. We here at Rockefeller have found that your GRE score, especially on the quantitative section, tends to be indicative of your future success in the program. The Master of Public Administration program in particular is heavy in the kind of math the GRE tests for, and so we use your score as a road map for your math competency. 

5. Whatever you do, start early, stay informed and follow up. You would not believe how many applications for GRE waivers we get two days before our application deadline. Still more people submit applications without being aware they have to take the test. If you’re applying for the fall, now is the time to start investigating the GRE requirements of the schools on your short list. If you have to take the test, making a first attempt as early as possible will take some of the pressure off, give you more time to study, and give you time to take it again if your first scores are less than ideal.

We hope these tips make the GRE a little less mysterious and daunting of a prospect. And please, if you feel we’ve forgotten any vital GRE hacks, comment below with your two cents.

Knowing Your Application Strengths and Weaknesses

If you’re considering graduate study in the fall, you’ve probably already started thinking about the application process and where you might like to go. This is often an overwhelming process, especially if you’re in a group of friends who are all applying at the same time. The temptation is to compare yourself to other people, and these comparisons can either bring you down or build up a false sense of confidence.

Just remember, nobody knows you better than you know yourself. Also, you’re probably a stronger candidate than you think you are. Below are a list of common (and less common) application strengths and weaknesses:


  1. A Well Written Personal Statement
    Everyone knows this counts of course. But it is truly rare to find a well written, cogent personal statement free of errors that answers all of the application prompts. Taking the time to make this document polished and communicative of who you are can set you apart big time from the crowd. (Trust me, I read dozens of them a day).
  2. Some Leadership Experience
    A good undergraduate track record is important, but often departments will forgive a less-than-stellar GPA if you can demonstrate considerable leadership experience. If you coach a team sport, are on the board of a school club, or even if you’ve babysat your whole life, these circumstances all speak to your ability to manage others and to work under some kind of pressure—so don’t write them off!
  3. Good Recommendation Letters
    A lot of applicants seem to think that the letters of recommendation are not as important as other facets of the application. This simply isn’t true. If someone who has known you professionally or academically for a significant period of time writes a glowing recommendation, we pay attention. (And similarly if the recommendation is lukewarm, we can tell and we will wonder why). Make sure you have a frank conversation with your potential recommenders before they write for you, so that you have a better idea of where you both stand.


  1. Low Test Scores
    How much test scores matter entirely depends on the program and the school to which you are applying. For Rockefeller though, we generally look at the GRE. For the MPA program. We consider anywhere within the 64th percentile for quantitative and 58th percentile for verbal to be competitive. The average score on the writing section is 4.5. Before you sign up for a million test dates, look up the ranges of generally accepted GRE scores on your short list of schools so that you have a better idea of what to aim for.

    2. Incomplete Materials
    You would be surprised how many applications are delayed or disregarded simply because the applicant did not follow instructions and/or promptly answer follow-up emails about missing materials. This kind of lack of attention to detail speaks volumes about your professional competency and can be an unspoken criteria of admittance, so make sure to read application directions thoroughly and do things right the first time.

  2. Lack of Any Work Experience
    For sure, there are plenty of students who go right from undergraduate to graduate school and may not have begun their careers in earnest. However, looking at work experience is just a more formal way for admissions committees to ascertain whether or not you have any leadership experience. We encourage you to put down all of your work experience even if it’s not related to your field of study, especially if you used these jobs to put yourself through Undergrad. That shows good goal setting and dedication to your education.

We hope this post got you thinking about your own candidacy pluses and minuses. Stay tuned for more articles on how to make your applications the best that they can be.

Do’s and Don’ts of the Grad School Fair (From People Who Know Their Stuff)

It’s that time of year. Apples, colorful leaves, jack-o-lanterns…and Graduate School fairs. Along with your hoodies, all of you seniors are probably starting to feel the warm, slightly claustrophobic pressure of your uncertain future closing in around you. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and going to graduate school fairs to see what higher education has to offer is a great place to start sorting out your plans.

Below is a list of top “Dos” and “Don’t’s” of the grad school fair as identified by seasoned admissions professionals here at Rockefeller:

Pro Tips

  1. Come to the event looking presentable. It’s a terrible cliché to say “dress for the job you want,” but as long as you do that (and don’t say it), then you’re golden.
  2. Bring a few copies of your resume. Or at the very least, write legibly when filling out information request cards. You would be surprised how much interest goes unanswered due to illegible handwriting.
  3. In speaking of resumes…make sure the copy you’re giving is up to date and approved by someone with an eye for the resume format.
  4. Do a little homework. At the very least, check the registration web page and see which schools are attending. Make a “must visit” page and target those tables so that the fair proper isn’t so overwhelming.
  5. Understand your own interests. It’s good to know the most important criteria for schools you might attend. For example, geographic location, program offerings, or faculty research in a particular area may all be important to you, and you should be able to articulate that during the school search.
  6. Be prepared with questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to the representatives, that’s what we are there for.
  7. Keep an open mind. Remember, the most valuable part of the grad school fair is the opportunity for in-person interaction with admissions staff. You might learn about a program you didn’t know existed, or start considering a school you’ve never heard of, and that’s okay. It might be the best decision you ever make.


  1. Clustering. Don’t treat the grad fair like a bar with your friends on Friday night. Break away from your friend circle and express interest in programs and schools directly to get the most out of your experience.
  2. Inappropriate email addresses. Try to stick with something that is a version of your name. It makes it easier if we have to transcribe it and it looks far more professional. Your email is not the place to be unique or cute.
  3. Pajamas/Sweatpants. Not wanting to wear a full suit is one thing. Showing up looking like you just rolled out of bed is quite another. If formality really makes you uncomfortable, at least consider something with buttons and/or collars.
  4. General cluelessness. If you have no idea what programs you’re interested in, what a school does, or where it is, this does not give a good impression.
  5. An “I’m in it for the stuff” attitude. Walking up to a table and grabbing a pen or a treat without demonstrating any willingness to interact with an admissions officer is just plain bad manners. (And besides, if the treats are good, the school just might be too).

We hope these tips prove helpful to you as you embark on your grad school search. And please, if you feel like we missed any particularly important ones, comment below and make your case.

Why Choose An Out-Of-State School? We Asked Someone Who Made The Move!

Deciding to leave one’s state for school can be a scary decision. This week I sat down with Adelaide Hurlbert, a fellow graduate assistant in my cohort, to pick her brain about why she chose to make the move.

12071674_10153312104438191_1966888450_nAdelaide is originally from Inman, South Carolina. Inman is a small town, and she knew that wherever she ended up going for higher education she wanted that “small town feel.” Adelaide decided to go out of state for her undergraduate degree and chose Ursinus College in Collegeville Pennsylvania because it offered a strong gymnastics program. Even though this was far from South Carolina, she enjoyed her undergraduate experience and the surrounding area.

 “The school itself was so small it felt like its own community, and then Collegeville was another small town.” she said of Ursinus. “It wasn’t a huge culture shock going from one to another.”

Her positive experience branching out for undergrad meant that when she was ready to look for master’s programs, out-of-state schools were on the table. She had majored in Media and Communications at Ursinus and was looking to compliment this skill set with more quantitative and management capacities.

With these goals in mind, she attended a grad school info fair to begin her search, a strategy she highly recommends.

“It’s far less confusing to sit down face to face with someone and discuss my options, rather than sifting through a bunch of overwhelming information on a website.”

We here at Admissions heartily agree, and in fact it was at the Idealist fair in Philadelphia where Adelaide met Kara Pangburn, our Director of Admissions. Kara discussed her educational goals with her one on one, then told her about some brand new program concentrations here at Rockefeller.

“I just felt like when I met Kara, this was it. This was a good match! I just want to go here!”

Of course as most of us know from applying to undergraduate institutions, only one college on the short list becomes where we actually attend. Adelaide finally decided on Rockefeller College because they offered her a competitive funding package and its location in the State Capitol is a great place to locate internships and jobs. She also caught wind of our fantastic career services office, which ultimately set Rockefeller apart from any in-state considerations.

It’s been about 7 weeks since the semester started, and so I felt I had to ask whether or not Rockefeller was meeting her expectations. Adelaide reports that indeed, her graduate education is everything she hoped it would be so far.

“I especially love the small class size,” she highlighted. “U Albany is a big university but Rockefeller is a small, comfortable learning environment. It feels like a small town within a big city and I still have the close knit feel that I appreciated at Ursinis. Also, there’s Dunkin Donuts everywhere. And loads of coffee places!”

Lastly, I asked Adelaide if she had any advice for the grad school search.

I think it’s just as important to visit your grad school campuses as it is to visit your undergraduate campuses. Also, keep an open mind. Don’t limit yourself to one state or think you can’t hack living away from home. It’s not as daunting as it sounds.”

(PS—if anyone feels like taking Adelaide’s advice and visiting Rockefeller College, follow the link below and fill out an online tour request form. We’d love to meet you!)