The Master of Public Policy at BSG: Interview with coordinator Adam Ritchie – part 2

Admissions to BSG are now open and we’ve talked about the Master of Public Policy with Dr Adam Ritchie, the MPP course coordinator and departmental lecturer in science and public policy.

In this second part of the interview we get down to details on the application process, and we ask Adam to share some useful tips for potential applicants. Read the first part of the interview with Adam, where we discuss the MPP and how it’s different from other courses. 

MPP students meet each other on first day
This year’s MPP students on their first day.

Adam, besides being involved in the teaching and assessment of the MPP, you are also involved with the admissions process. The three main things that the selecting committee look for when assessing applications are academic excellence, strong commitment to public service, and demonstrable leadership and impact. Could you explain in detail what each of them mean? Let’s start with academic excellence.

Academic excellence is generally expressed through your academic track record and the written work provided with your application. We’re conscious that academic ability is developed differently across the world, so we always consider those differences. The stronger your academic track record, the better. Obviously, this is an area where a recent student might feel more confortable, while if you have been out of study for several years, you might be concerned about proving yourself in this area. However, if you have worked in a professional environment that demands advanced intellectual skills, like being able to handle huge projects and work across disciplines, these can be good signs of your ability to handle the academic challenges of the MPP.

Could you explain what you mean with commitment to public service?

This is where the opposite happens – applicants with more professional experience sometimes feeling more comfortable with this aspect of the application. If you’ve been working for a decade in the civil service, private, or NGO sectors, that is a clear, strong commitment. Commitment to public service can also come through references and your personal statement, which can really demonstrate what you’re passionate about, the change you want to see, how the MPP will help you do that. For students with less experience, I would suggest focusing on this – demonstrate your passion, and be clear on how you want to make a difference. Every year we’ve had younger students who had little professional experience but had shown commitment – perhaps through being involved in some serious volunteer work, social entrepreneurship, or education policy that had real impact.

How can someone demonstrate leadership and impact?

This should be clear from the personal statement and from the experiences you’ve had – for example a student who’s been leading student bodies, or a professional who’s demonstrated leadership in their job. Also your references can help show us that what you’ve been doing so far, or what you have the potential to do, can really have an impact. All these things – academic excellence, commitment to public service, leadership and impact potential – should be there for you already when you’re putting together your application. At the point of applying, you just have to make sure to make it easy for us to see how you meet the criteria. We will always look very hard, but if you leave things out we can’t judge, so make sure you include everything that is relevant.

If while I’m putting together the application I realise that I am particularly weak in one area, what’s your suggestion?

Firstly let me say that we look at each applicant holistically – if you’re concerned you might have a deficiency in one of these areas, it’s possible to make it up in the others. If I was making an application and was weak in one area, I would not try to ignore it. For example, if you are concerned you are weakest in academic excellence, you could address it in the personal statement. If you feel that in your professional life you’ve worked at a high level producing complex reports, analysing complex data, interacting on a high level, you could focus on this. Some people are worried about commitment to public service – if you lack experience in this area, a good way of addressing this is clearly communicating what you want to do and how the MPP will help you. For those concerned about leadership and impact potential, what things have you done that highlight your aspirations in this area – you might not be a CEO, but perhaps you’ve helped deliver an important project, and you have a reference that can support that.

Let’s imagine I’ve applied, but wasn’t successful. Would you suggest I apply again next year, and what should I focus on?

If the MPP at BSG is really what you want to do, we encourage re-applying – although we don’t provide feedback. With some self-reflection you might find what you’re missing, and you can try to build on that. Revisit what you’ve written – did you really convey your strengths, were the references the best ones? Each year is a completely new cycle and if you’ve not been successful in the past, you have another chance. But my best advice is to think about how to you want to serve the public, and take the steps to do so. The MPP shouldn’t be an end-goal. It should be a step on your path to being a better policy maker, and if you take steps toward that goal you will be a better MPP applicant, and if accepted, student.

Let’s talk about references – they have an important role, so how can a candidate make the best choice?

The references, together with the personal statement, are where we see evidence of your academic ability, commitment, and leadership. So you need to make sure that they can speak to the selection criteria. Resist the temptation of asking the most famous reference if they don’t really know you – a name means nothing if they can’t talk about your work and passion. My suggestion would be to speak to them in detail about why you are applying, why it matters to you and what the selection criteria are, so that they can really add value to your application.

One last question – could you share some quick tips for someone who’s applying?

The personal statement is important – it’s your chance to tell us about yourself and why you want to do the MPP. It communicates your commitment to public service, as well as your leadership and impact potential, but also if poorly written it can influence the judgment of your academic potential.

Make sure your written work is your own – all written submissions go through plagiarism software.

Make sure the written piece works on its own – while it’s acceptable to submit part of a larger piece that you might have done for work or for your studies, it needs to work without a context or it is very hard for us to judge.

And finally – be clear in why you’re applying.

The MPP at Blavatnik School of Government is open for admissions for 2016 entry until January – visit our website for more details or take inspiration from the profiles of our current students.