Peace Corps Language Materials

live-lingua-logo

Live Lingua, founded by a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, has brought all of the incredible Peace Corps language training materials for free to the public on the web. The founder, Ray Blakney, asked me to pass it on through this blog (which, I know, badly needs updating — I have seldom a spare moment at business school, but will get on it as soon).

Peace Corps gives its volunteers such comprehensive and excellent training by local language instructors in many of the world’s more obscure languages, such as Malagasy (Madagascar), Sranan (Suriname), Siswati (Swaziland) and of course Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and my other favorite Central Asian languages! I am glad to say that someone has finally collated all of these materials so that local language resources are not lost to those who want to learn from anywhere in the world.

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To the Border and Back

My internship at MCC this summer has been really incredible so far. First of all, my job description has followed the Terms of Reference to a tee (when does that ever happen?!). It is exactly what I wanted for the summer: substantive experience in evaluations for large projects, hands-on work with enumerators and researchers, greater exposure to issues of data tracking and quality control, and field travel to speak to actual beneficiaries. Also, lucky for me, Tanzania is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen — definitely to be added onto anyone’s bucket list.

To give you a taste of what types of issues we deal with at work, this post is about a trip I took at the beginning of the month to Tanga, in northern Tanzania by the Kenyan border. MCC finished a road project there last year, renovating the road from Tanga to the border town of Horohoro. I went with my colleague to monitor the work of our Road Traffic Count (RTC) evaluation consultants, who were collecting data on the vehicles using the new road, and new enterprises that have sprung up since the renovation. In addition, an article had been written in a local paper last month about increased tax revenues from international trade at the Horohoro border Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), and I proposed to my manager that this might make a good case study component about the road reconstruction’s long-term benefits.

Tanga is a 5-hour drive north from Dar es Salaam. The scenery was beautiful — waving palms, stretches of farmland, and a welcome change of pace from the traffic and bustle of the city. We left early in the morning and arrived to the Road Traffic Count mid-day.

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The count was in full swing when we arrived. Counting vehicles is harder than expected — there were about a dozen categorizations of trucks, cars and other vehicles. The enumerators sat in either the hot sun or the black night for 12 hours at a time. We identified some issues with the enterprise surveys and gaps in the enumerator training and skills, and raised them with the consultant. That evening was spent editing the enterprise survey tool together with the RTC team over a sunset dinner overlooking the coastal waters.

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[Roadside enterprise and driver surveys]

Unfortunately, the next day disaster struck. As is typical out in the field, nothing ever goes as expected. I spent the night with shaking chills and a high fever from some unknown bug. The next morning, my coworker went out to conduct the field surveys on her own, but before she got halfway to the border she got a call about a family tragedy and had to leave Tanga immediately. I was left with what was thought to be typhoid (in retrospect a questionable diagnosis), no interviews for our case study that we had come all the way out to collect, and no interpreter.

Followers of the blog from my Peace Corps days can understand what transpired next! First of all, a (Returned) Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) never gives up in the face of unforeseen setbacks. Secondly, an RPCV knows the value that a Peace Corps-like mentality and integration brings to any field study. So, I did what should be expected — rallied myself the next morning through the fever, contacted a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanga who was miraculously in town for the fourth of July, and recruited her to be my interpreter. Naturally.

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 [Trucks at the Horohoro border]

Our interviews went very well. The TRA border manager told us that East Africa trade had gone up a lot at the site since the road reconstruction, with trucks carrying everything from aluminum to mangoes increasing in number and volume on both the import and export side. Image

[Crossing over to Kenya to do a cross-check of trade benefits on the other side!]

Some of the benefits we found by interviewing local truck drivers were unexpected. First of all, the road renovation had eliminated an entire culture of crime from Tanga to Horohoro. It used to take truck drivers 6 hours to get from Tanga to the border, at slow speeds and suffering frequent breakdowns due to the bad road conditions. As a result, thieves could either cut cargo off of the back of slow-moving trucks, or surround a truck during a breakdown and rob the driver of all his money. Now that the road has been renovated, it takes only 45-60 minutes to get from one end of the road to another. Thieves have no more reason to conglomerate along the road and prey on distressed or decelerated trucks.

Life along the road had also improved. Access to concrete building materials has resulted in updated infrastructure and real estate along the road. These in turn bring employment and revenues from construction projects, and greater disaster resiliency in the roadside communities. Investors have already come into the area to open new shops and even a gas station.

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[A mud and straw building next to a new concrete building. Better building materials are more accessible after the road renovation.]

All in all, what could have ended up as a fruitless expedition turned into a very worthwhile trip. I got a real feel for how the projects and beneficiaries look after the investments of the 5-year MCC compact, and hopefully the information we got can be used in both closeout outreach efforts and preparations for the second compact coming up!

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Weekend in Zanzibar

Last weekend, a group of friends and I went to explore Tanzania’s famous semi-autonomous region: the beautiful island of Zanzibar.

A brief background and history: As early as the 1st century AD, Zanzibar was a trading post between Africa, Arabia and India. It fell under Portuguese rule in the 16th century but in the 17th century was controlled by the Sultanate of Oman. Arab rule brought the rise of spice plantations and  another, more malicious trade — by the 19th century Zanzibar had become the largest slave market in East Africa, with as many as 50,000 slaves passing through the port each year. The United Kingdom sought to end the slave trade, and in 1896, they fought the Zanzibar Sultanate in what is considered the shortest war in history (lasting all of 38 minutes), establishing an era of British rule. The year after, Zanzibar abolished slavery — 32 years after its abolition in the US with the 13th Amendment. Zanzibar gained a short-lived independence under the Sultan again in 1963, which quickly gave way to the bloody Zanzibar Revolution, in which African insurgents overthrew the Arab government. Thousands were killed, and in the face of the resulting instability and aftermath, the new president Abeid Karume agreed to unite the island with the mainland colony of Tanganyika. So, in April of 1964, the modern republic was formed (hence, Tan-Zan-ia). But Zanzibar’s semi-autonomous status remains an issue to this day — just earlier this month, a new Tanzanian draft constitution was unveiled suggesting a three-tiered government with separate Presidents and parliaments for the mainland, Zanzibar, and the union. More on modern Tanzanian history later!

Zanzibar is a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland on a good day. Over 99% of the island’s population is Muslim (compared with 35% in Tanzania as a whole) and it clearly has its own culture and feel. It is a gorgeous place to vacation and travelers come from all over the world to visit its pristine beaches (particularly on honeymoon!). I cannot recommend it enough — will let photos do the rest of the talking.

[Scenes of Zanzibar: Stone Town alleys, bustling markets, port and fortress]

 

Jun 23, 20131

 

[The gorgeous Mtoni Palace Ruins; a Friday night must featuring traditional taarab music, a historical tour and delicious home-cooked feast at the site of the old Omani Sultanate's palace]

Jun 23, 2013

 

[The famously ornate Zanzibar doors]

Jun 23, 20133

 

[Markets galore: cotton khanga cloth, dhow boat paintings, mancala games, henna tattoos, fresh green oranges, dried octopus and fresh coconuts]

Jun 23, 20134

 

 

[The endangered Aldabra giant tortoises of Prison Island]

Jun 23, 20135

 

[Utterly pristine beaches]

Jun 23, 20136

 

[A fantastic weekend with friends!]

Jun 23, 20132

 

Posted in adventure, food, nature, Tanzania, travel, vacation | 1 Comment

POTUS visit to Tanzania!

So, as I was gearing up for this summer internship, I was told that a “VIP visitor” would be coming and that embassy resources/cars/etc. would consequently be usurped. Turns out, that VIP visitor is POTUS (that is, President of the United States)! I staffed a CODEL (Congressional Delegation) when I was an intern at the US embassy in Estonia in college, but a POTUS visit obviously represents the height of embassy logistical insanity as everyone works hard to provide security, lodging, cars, scheduling and who knows what else for the some 700+ diplomats, businessmen, Secret Service personnel and Presidents/first ladies (George W. and Laura Bush are also making an appearance!).

Obama is taking what is only his second presidential trip to Sub-Saharan Africa to launch an initiative to build energy infrastructure that could bring electricity to 100 million Africans. Currently, only 14% of Tanzania’s 46 million people have access to electricity.

So far, many articles I’ve read about why Obama is coming to Tanzania references the organization I’m working for this summer — Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). More on MCC later, but in short it is an independent U.S. aid agency founded in 2004 that distributes aid to countries based on a broad range of indicators (including governance and transparency), and focuses on local implementation and ownership. MCC’s Tanzania compact is the largest in its history ($689 million), and represents one of the largest US-government investments in African energy to date. Tanzania will be given a high-profile chance to show off the results of its work with MCC during the POTUS visit, as Obama will be accompanied by hundreds of businessmen and investors on his visit. Tanzania has also already been chosen for a second MCC compact that will again include energy as one area of focus. And on the American side, as MCC’s CEO so clearly stated, investing in a stable and prosperous Tanzania has strategic economic benefits for the U.S. as well. (Additional insight: PRC President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania in March and signed $800 million in business/infrastructure deals.)

Somehow I always manage to arrive to a new job just as something terribly consequential is taking place — at least in this case,  it’s something good!

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[President Obama and Tanzania President Kikwete in 2009, after Obama's inauguration]

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Travel Guide – Shymkent/SKO

Apologies for the blast from the past (unrelated to my current whereabouts!), but I realized I had written this up long ago and never posted it. South Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO) has something for every traveler — mountains and rivers, untouched nomadic valleys, beautiful mosques and mausoleums, bustling bazaars and many ubiquitous remnants of the Soviet Union.  People keep asking me where they should go when traveling to southern Kazakhstan, so I figured I should make the info public. My Peace Corps site was Shymkent, the capital of SKO, and it has developed a lot in recent years. Here is my list of sites to see and things to do, along with a few pictures. Keep in mind that I left in 2011, so some things may be outdated (if you know of corrections, please post a comment!).

To see:

Abai Park: memorials, tanks, ferris wheel, statue of Abai. Attached to the park is the aquapark “Delfin” if you want some water park fun in the summer


Shymkent1[newly refurbished WWII memorials at Abai Park]

Park Ken-Baba - some miniatures of famous architecture, as well as a little pond and walking area with rides/swings. On main road Tauke Xana, and Kazybek-Bi

Dendropark - As its name suggests, a tree-filled park out in the further microdistricts by the Hippodrome.

Shymkent

[Scenes from Dendropark]

Mega - most popular youth hangout place in town, a mall with indoor skating rink, movie theater, Western-style chain grocery store and an upstairs food court. On Tauke-Xana

Spartak - awesome outdoor swimming pool, soccer field and basketball court. Across from Mega on Tauke-Xana

The big Tulip Fountain - on the corner of main street Tauke Xana and Mamashuli.

New Memorial - very impressive, at Ordabasy Square, the site of the founding of Shymkent. There is a massive monument recently built that you can get to by climbing up on a bridge past some nice fountains (equally if not more impressive at night). Also see the Philharmonia (though I have never seen a concert here even once), a nice park area, and the new yurt-like museum they built recently, all in that area. Inexpensive shared taxis to Sairam also leave from this square.

Hippodrome – if anything is going on (which is rare: usually public holidays like Nauryz), the Hippodrome is well worth a visit for horse games such as Kokpar. Hard to find out when things are happening, however.

Mar 23, 20111

[Holiday scenes from Nauryz celebrations (in Late March) at the Hippodrome in Shymkent]

New hockey/ice skating rink - on Zheltoksan I believe (?)

Old cinema next door to the skating rink

Markets - Aina Bazaar, good for buying food and random stuff (some clothes, Chinese electronics, burned CDs with Kazakh music, etc.). In a microregion a bit outside of town, but public transport regularly goes there. Koktem bazaar is good for fresh produce and fruit.

Miras University and Lenin Statue - the last remaining statue of Lenin in Shymkent

Aug 8, 2010

To stay:

Rented apartments, bargain for your room. Don’t pay more than 2000 tenge for a normal room or 4000 tenge for “elite” (newly remodeled room) in a rented apartment. No meals included, so-so conditions for the most part, but it’s cheap. The apartments we always used were right on the main road (Tauke Xana/Respublika), past Hotel Shymkent close to the bus stop Ogonyok. The apartment rental is done out of a rainbow-colored cafe right on the street (can’t remember what this cafe was called!).

Overpriced hotel options include Hotel Shymkent, and Clara Sapar (better option for business/diplomat guests). Rooms are over $100 night though.

To eat:

Apr 8, 2010

[The ever-present naan bread, giant "kazan"s of plov (pilau, or rice with carrots and meat), delicious Uyghur "lagman" (fried noodles), and fresh seasonal fruits]

Kok-serai - Uzbek restaurant on Ilyaeva and Momyshuli

Caravan - excellent Uyghur lagman (get the Busso lagman, fried with meat and peppers), inside of park Ken-Baba.

Madlen - western-style sandwiches, pastries, salads and shakes. on Ilyaeva, or the bigger Madlen next to Shymkent Hotel on Tauke-Xana. Very popular Shymkent hangout with locals

Mozzarella - expensive Italian food with free wifi, on Ilyaeva and Dulati

El Doro - excellent and reasonably-priced pizza, on Tauke Xana past/across the street from Park Ken-baba. Try the vegetarian with goat cheese

Dinara cafe/bar – pick up a good shashlik (grilled meat kebab) and mug of Shymkentskoe beer, a “typical Shymkent” meal. Right across the street from Mega Center mall on Tauke Xana

Best “doner” place in town - a turkish “doner kebab” is a lavash flat pita bread filled with meat, carrots, tomatos, cucumbers, mayo and a ketchupy sauce. The best doner kebab in Shymkent is a stand with a few outdoor tables/chairs located south of the center on Turkestanskaya and Konaeva.

Bars/Clubs/Entertainment:

“Cinema Bar” is a European-esque techno club with no cover charge, attached to the old cinema on Zheltoksan and Baitursynova. Has a cool ambience inside, old-movie decor. May be closed now, not sure.

Hotel Shymkent has a fancy club called Joy attached to it, with cover charge

Karaoke bars down past Hotel Shymkent on Respublika (extension of main street Tauke Xana), bus stop “Ogonyok”

Bowling and pool tables at Tauke Xana and Kunaeva, upstairs at the “Maharaja” entertainment complex right next to the Spartak sports complex in the middle of town

Hookah bar (forgot the name) that recently opened in the 17th microregion, expensive but nice ambience and stage with DJ/live music on certain nights/events

Movies playing (mostly Western movies dubbed in Russian) on the top floor of Mega Center.

“Babylon” arcade complex also on the top floor of Mega Center, complete with games and laser tag

Buy train tickets:

Imran - small commission but smack in the middle of town; bring passport

Train station - they will sometimes try to cheat you out of change, so try to bring smaller bills. Technically should be no commission but the ticket ladies selling upstairs often take bribes.

Day trips:

Turkestan: most famous Muslim site in Kazakhstan, with a beautiful mausoleum and brand new historical museum. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the south for a few days.

Sairam mausoleums (stop to see the “SHYMKENT” Hollywood sign on your way)

Sauran ancient city ruins – you can book a private taxi from Shymkent, or take a taxi from Turkestan if you’re already there.

Mountains/Countryside: A trip to the villages outside of Shymkent is always worthwhile, to see what rural life is like in most of the country. In addition, South Kazakhstan Oblast has some of the best options of seasonal hiking and mountain-climbing, since the weather is often warmer than in the southeastern mountains by Almaty. For good options, try Bergulyuk (Бургулюк), or Ak’ Mechet’ (Ақ Мечеть, or “the White Mosque”).

Mar 20, 2011_6

[Both amateur and professional climbers/hikers can find beautiful treks in Southern Kazakhstan]

Posted in adventure, advice, food, holidays, Intercultural Exchange, local friends, nationality, nature, Shymkent, sights, travel, vacation | 4 Comments

Summer Internship – Millennium Challenge Corporation, Tanzania

Friends, colleagues and other interested parties –

I’ve recently wrapped up a fantastic, hectic, grueling, enriching, and truly life-changing first year at the Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. I will be starting the second year of my three-year MPA/MBA joint degree with the Yale School of Management in early August. Before then, Princeton will generously be funding my internship at the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I had orientation this past week in the DC Headquarters office, and can already tell that MCC will be a fantastic place to work.

I plan to revive this blog over the summer to update friends, family and development-interested individuals on work and life in a region that is brand new to me (Sub-Saharan Africa), so please add to whatever Google-Reader-replacement is out there and comment so I know who is following while I’m far away from home yet once more. :)

WP_20130604_002Twilight commuting my first day: typical Dar es Salaam traffic along the beach.

 

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Graduate School for International Development

I realize I have neglected the blog for far too long — such is the life of a graduate student! One might think that going to grad school would present more free time when compared to a work schedule, but in reality at work you are (mostly) off the clock once you leave in the evening…in grad school, even the joy of three-day weekends are countered by the fact that every spare moment could feasibly be spent checking off an endless stream of readings and assignments, and some classes don’t actually end until 10 pm!

Still, I am incredibly grateful to have studied this year with amazing professors and students at the Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, and think about the issues I faced in the field for the last three years. In honor of the completion of my first year of grad school, I thought I would write an FAQ about going to graduate school for international development. A lot of these questions are from friends who were recently been applying and making their decisions.

What kind of graduate degree should I get to work in development? MPA, MPP, MPA/ID, MGHD, MBA, PhD, JD…? 

If you want to be a doctor you get an MD; if you want to be a lawyer you get a JD; if you want to be a professor you get a PhD; if you want to be in private equity you get an MBA. So what about if you want to work in the dynamic field of international development? Your career could and likely will span all three sectors (private, government and non-profit). You could work on a government-sponsored project through a private contractor, then for an NGO, and then a multilateral organization like the UN, World Bank or IMF. The development field is filled with actors beyond just the donor-donee landscape of a couple decades ago.

Which degree to pursue basically depends on the skill set you want to exercise. In general, a masters-level degree in development (MPA/MPP/MPA-ID/MGHD/MIA, all different names for approximately the same degree) will cater to the well-rounded professional. You will learn core skills for analysis like statistics, econometrics, micro/macro economics. You will also get development-specific courses on politics, post-conflict theory, social enterprise, regional studies and/or impact evaluation. The core curriculum for Masters degrees tends to be similar across programs, but the emphasis on quantitative requirements sometimes varies. Later I will discuss some differences between specific programs.

An MBA will be useful if the main skill set you want in development is a managerial one, and not an analytical one. If you aspire to being an upper-level manager in an organization, no matter public/private/non-profit, an MBA can give you the managerial skills to make that leap in both responsibility and salary. However, it also comes at a very large cost. I am doing mine at Yale SOM because it was one of the only programs I found that 1) had a real focus on non-profit/public management and social enterprise, and 2) guaranteed full loan forgiveness plus interest to me if I went into the public/non-profit sector after graduation (with no limitations on how many times I can leave those sectors and come back, for the 10 year loan payback period!). To see business schools that really have good options (faculty, courses, clubs) in the social/public sectors, see this great ranking at http://www.beyondgreypinstripes.org/, and talk extensively to financial aid offices about their loan forgiveness programs as you apply.

PhD is, of course, the right option for people pursuing academia. However, it can also be useful for those who want to do quantitative economics/political science research at think tanks, work as a World Bank analyst, or obtain a high-level analyst position in the US government bureaucracy. A Masters degree can sometimes be a good foot in the door for PhD candidacy. Several of my classmates at Princeton are going on to apply for PhDs in policy, which exist at a select number of institutions (such as Princeton WWS, Harvard KSG, JHU SAIS, RAND, Berkeley Goldman, Georgetown GPPI, University of Maryland, etc.). These policy PhD programs, as opposed to standard programs in PoliSci or Economics, tend to be shorter and a little more applied, with less of an automatic assumption of a future academic career (though it is still an option). As a development professional however it may be more relevant to get a straight PhD in economics if you want to be on the quant side of the World Bank or other development economics bodies.

For a good debate on the MPA vs. PhD, check out development blog star Chris Blattman’s popular post.

In my opinion, there is not a huge amount of value added to getting a JD for doing actual development work. A law degree used to be a catch-all for all smart people that wanted to do something in policy, but its cache is falling while expenses rise. I thought I was going to be a lawyer from age 12, when all my friends and family told me that being articulate and liking a good argument clearly suited me to this profession. That is a horrible reason to go into law. A good reason to go into law is to practice law, not development. “International law” doesn’t really exist and offers very few concrete jobs internationally outside of the private sector (most of them involve advocating for prisoners of conscience or dealing with war criminals, with operations like Amnesty International or international criminal tribunals. Very competitive field when it comes to jobs, and if you’re into development this is important but offers a very narrow view of the issues you deal with in the field).

What should my #1 criterion be when choosing schools? 

To me, it is self-evident that the answer here is funding. Many development jobs are in the government or non-profit sectors. While private sector options do exist now that do many of the same types of projects (i.e. development consulting, or private USAID contractors), taking on a huge amount of debt for a development degree can still be very limiting in career options. Scholarship options are few and far between (though I will pass along this one, for those interested in careers w/ USAID).

Receiving funding is difficult for masters programs in IR/development/policy, even harder for MBAs/JDs, and virtually guaranteed for PhDs (but there is a higher opportunity cost in salary for doing the long degree!). And, not all masters programs are created equal.

Many prospective applicants may be interested in which concrete schools offer more or less funding. The Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton offers a full ride (no tuition costs) to every single person who is admitted, in addition to a ~$20k living stipend to most of the class (a few each year who have worked in private sector in the past or have a lot of savings will get less). The offer of full funding also makes it the most selective school in terms of admissions rates. The Tufts Fletcher School is very transparent about their aid packages — they are decent about giving partial funding ($7k-18k is the middle 50%), but their max scholarships cover only about half-tuition and no living costs. The Kennedy School at Harvard offers a few full rides, and some stipends especially to international students, but the vast majority of those who get in do not receive any funding at all and end up having to pay full tuition on top of living costs in a very expensive Boston housing market. The Yale Jackson School is a smaller program and very selective, but as a result offers up to full aid + stipend to outstanding candidates with excellent academic records and a strong work background (in service/military helps). SAIS offers a sparse handful of essay-based full tuition scholarships each year on specific topics, and otherwise gives pretty limited aid. Georgetown SFS gives very limited aid the first year, except for the new development-focused MGHD program which has given out a handful of full scholarships and a number of partial tuition scholarships in its two-year existence so far. Like SFS, Columbia SIPA also has a system of little to no aid the first year, with an opportunity to receive aid based on merit the second year; this is a pretty flawed system however as 1) aid is not guaranteed in year 2 so you take a big risk by enrolling with no assurances; 2) your graduate student loans start accruing from Day 1, so giving aid only in the second year means you’ll have already accrued a bunch of interest on your first year loans; and 3) you spend your first year competing with classmates for grades in order to receive second-year aid, which is not the kind of environment best conducive to collaborative learning.

Where do schools fall on the theory-practitioner spectrum?

Another thing to consider when picking schools is how much they focus on theory vs. practice. A development-only program like the Georgetown MGHD is going to be very practitioner-focused, with practitioner/adjunct professors teaching and many applied classes. From personal experience, I can say the Princeton WWS program is more theoretical, and deeply academic with a lot of focus on quantitative rigor and analysis. The professors are not practitioners for the most part — they are academics in the traditional sense. The Core is therefore more theory-based your first year, but in electives which you can take your second year there are certainly more practitioner elements that you can fill out your course load with. MPA-ID at HKS is very quantitatively rigorous and good for development economic analysis, if you are quantitatively inclined.

What are the admissions rates of various grad schools?

Often times they don’t publish these. Peterson’s grad school website is an okay resource for info, though many entries are missing: http://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/.  This past year the Princeton WWS admit rate was ~11%, while the site reports Harvard KSG at 27% and Columbia SIPA at 42%.

What is a policy memo and how do I write it?

Some masters degree applications require a policy memo (WWS, HKS, SAIS). A policy memo is a succinct document giving a concrete recommendation on a topic. Therefore, it should start with a header (your name, whom you are writing to, date, subject) and the text of the memo should begin with a clear recommendation in one or two sentences. The rest of the memo should back up that recommendation with background evidence and argumentation. At WWS at least, we are taught that there is no need for a reiterating conclusion in the memo, and that a lot of citations are also not necessary. Whatever word limit they give you should be rigidly adhered to, as part of writing a good memo is brevity. It should not be a story or personal essay. It should not really relate to you personally in any way; it should deal with issues that you are passionate about or have expertise on, but need not say why you chose that topic (that can be left for the personal statement). Generally the more specific the topic, the better.

What element of my application to a development Masters program is most important?

IMO, the clear answer to this is your work experience — both length and type. Many people try to apply to policy or development degrees out of college with no work experience whatsoever. It is not law school, where your test scores and GPA carry the decision. The average work experience for most MPA programs is around 4-5 years, so consider that carefully when you apply. If you have <4 years of experience, you are below average in this regard for the acceptance pool, and should consider working more before applying. Many applicants get the feedback that they are too young when they first apply and should work a couple years, go abroad to get field experience, etc. and try again.

For more information about graduate school for development, another great resource is the Grad Cafe Forums on Government Affairs (policy and development degrees). Also check out the inaugural WWS Admissions Blog, for which I was a blogger this past school year.

Posted in advice, development, grad school | 1 Comment