What Makes a Strong Application?

Our primary purpose at William and Mary is to prepare students to lead in whatever fields they enter, to thrive in a complex, changing world, and to make a difference in their communities, states and nations.

In the W&M Public Policy program, we are looking for students who are excited about using public policy to change the world for the better. We are looking for students who want an engaged, up-close and personal education, who are willing to debate ideas and have their opinions challenged, who take seriously views different from their own, and who are willing to explore their own limitations.

We expect our students to ask probing, imaginative questions while developing fundamental skills such as sharp analytical ability and the capacity to communicate effectively in multiple media.

We firmly believe that a diverse classroom experience enhances the learning process so there is no typical student in our program. Our students' academic backgrounds vary widely, and no particular undergraduate major is required or encouraged. While many MPP students do have a background in Economics or Political Science, some of our most successful alumni have undergraduate degrees in Philosophy, English, Biology, Women's Studies, etc.

Most of our students have had some relevant experience before beginning the program. For many, work experiences have provided insights into problems that need to be addressed or the policy process or the need for innovative policy solutions. For others, volunteer experiences with local non-profits or working on particular issues have piqued their interest in studying public policy. While the average age of our students is 26, we have students who come straight from their undergraduate programs as well as students who are changing careers after more than 30 years in the work force.

Since our program does emphasize rigorous quantitative and analytical thinking, the strongest applications demonstrate the ability to master quantitative and analytical concepts in one or more of the following ways:

  • Solid quantitative scores on the GRE (150 or above);
  • A's or B's in Calculus and/or Statistics;
  • A's and B's in Economics classes, particularly Microeconomics;
  • Solid work experience using quantitative skills (e.g., budgeting, forecasting, etc.); or
  • Current enrollment in college-level math or economics courses.

Strong applications will also demonstrate a high-level of verbal ability in one or more of the following ways:

  • Solid verbal scores on the GRE (160 or above);
  • High TOEFL scores, where applicable, (100 or above; 25 or higher for each section);
  • IELTS minimum score of 7.5;
  • A's or B's in upper-level writing intensive undergraduate courses;
  • Solid work experience requiring communication skills (e.g., public speaking, report writing, etc.); or
  • A persuasive personal statement.

Spend some time on your personal statement. It doesn't need to be long, but it should sincerely convey your interest in our Master's program - particularly your specific policy interests, areas where you might like to focus your academic and practical experiences, and your anticipated professional and career goals. Your personal statement should be a reflection of you and there is no set recipe for writing one. Some of the things you could address in your statement include:

  • Why are you applying to graduate school now, rather than in a couple of years - or why didn't you go earlier?
  • Is there a particular area of public policy that interests you the most and if so, why?
  • Why do you think W&M is a good fit for you?

Finally, when choosing your recommendation letter writers, think about who can provide some additional information about you that may not come through in the other parts of your application. Is there a Professor that you worked with on an unusual project that we wouldn't otherwise know about? Is there a supervisor from a volunteer experience who can attest to your ability to work as part of a team? Can a former employer add something about your ability to handle stressful situations? If you are currently in school or have only been out only a few years, we recommend you have at least two academic references. If you have been out of university for longer, you may want to focus more on professional references, though at least one academic reference is recommended.