APSIA is an umbrella organization that promotes professional schools of international affairs to current and prospective students, employers, media, and news-related professionals. All major American and many international professional schools of international affairs are represented in APSIA. The organization maintains a website with information about its 33 member schools and 30 affiliates and holds admissions forums around the world to give prospective students a chance to talk with admissions officers from its member schools. Several Croft students and Associate Director Dr. Schenck attended an APSIA Admissions Forum in Atlanta, GA in October, 2010. Here are Dr. Schenck's observations on the fair and the pre-fair presentation made by admissions officers from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, Tufts University's Fletcher School, and the University of California, San Diego's School of International Relations & Pacific Studies.
Why Get a Master's from a Professional School of International Affairs?
As world population grows and becomes more interdependent, there will be an ever-greater need for people who can solve the problems and take advantage of the opportunities that will arise. Professional schools of international affairs train individuals to analyze problems and to find solutions, to finance and to manage the programs that implement those solutions, and to measure the results. APSIA schools are foremost professional schools that train people to advance their careers in international service, not places to spend two years learning more about the world. A master's from an APSIA school requires a substantial investment of time and money and so should only be pursued by individuals who have a clear idea of how that particular degree will help them accomplish their professional goals. Getting a master's from an APSIA school does not necessarily mean you will be working for the State Department or an international NGO. Overall, the career paths of graduates from APSIA programs are evenly split between the private sector, the public sector, and non-profits, and many graduates will move between these sectors over the course of their careers. The analytic, management, and language skills and the understanding of the specific regions and the international system provided by an APSIA degree will be sought out by any organization trying to solve the problems and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the growing and ever-more-interdependent world.
The Importance of Work Experience before Pursuing a Master's
All of the admissions officers at the fair agreed that in almost all circumstances it is advisable to get some work experience before applying to an APSIA program. The average age of entering students ranges from 25-27 and most will have 2-5 years of work experience. Only 10-20% of students beginning APSIA programs come directly from undergraduate, and these tend to be extremely talented students with high GPA's and test scores as well as extensive internship experience, language skills, and time spent abroad. Several admissions officers cautioned that even those students sometimes regret entering the master's program immediately after undergrad both because they lack the real-world experience to contextualize what they study and because they are less competitive for employment when they finish their degrees than their classmates with work experience. That said, however, exceptional students who get substantial internship or other experience before finishing undergrad can succeed in an APSIA program and find work afterwards. Several Croft students have gone directly to graduate school after undergraduate and been quite successful.
Finding Work without a Master's
The job market is not particularly strong at the moment, and you may wonder how you are supposed to find a job without a graduate degree, especially when there are people with graduate degrees competing for many of the same positions. It may be tempting to go to graduate school just to wait out the slow recovery and try looking for a job again in two years. But jobs may still be hard to find in two years, and the person with a graduate degree and no experience will still be at disadvantage compared to the person with a graduate degree and experience. While any work experience will help, the admissions officers at the fair mentioned several paths students just finishing undergrad might consider. None of them pay particularly well, but they should be considered a further part of you education, an opportunity to apply what you have learned in the classroom to the real world and experience the rhythm of working life.
The important thing is to stay engaged in an issue that interests you. Many of the APSIA schools consider service an important part of their mission and are looking for applicants with a proven record of service to the world community. Working on issues that interest you for several years before going to graduate school will allow you to choose a graduate program that will best help you move forward. You will know what skills you will need, what kinds of contacts, and what areas of the world you will need to study if you have already gotten your feet wet in the field.
Choosing an APSIA Program
Once you are ready to move forward with a career in international affairs and get a master's, there are many options to choose from. There are 33 member schools of APSIA and 30 affiliated schools, and each school offers multiple programs, degrees, and specializations. Look over the member profiles on the APSIA website, visit the school's websites, and contact the admissions offices with specific questions. There are many factors to consider, beyond the "ranking" of the schools; in fact, just looking at which schools are "best" is probably not a good idea. You want to find the schools and programs that are best for you. Talk to admissions officers, current students, and alumni of these programs and, whenever possible, go and visit the school so you can get a feel for the setting, the classes, and the intellectual, cultural, and physical climate. Things to consider:
Writing a Good Application to an APSIA Program
Once you have some work and/or internship experience and feel it is the right time to go back to school to get a master's to advance to the next level in your career, there are a few things to think about while writing applications. First, consider how the graduate program will help you achieve the goals you've set based your educational and work experiences. As you write your statement of purpose and ask for recommendations, highlight the concrete things you have already done that reinforce your desire to go to graduate school. Get letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your individual strengths and accomplishments, not from "important" people you might have worked for but who do not know you individually. Research the programs you are applying to and point to why they are such a good match for you and you are such a good match for them. As one of the admission officers at the APSIA fair said, think about why people are going remember you after you finish the program and highlight those strengths. Be short and concise with your statements of purpose. Admissions officers read hundreds or even thousands of applications and will appreciate a well-written, engaging, and concise statement. Don't pad it with quotes or truisms about globalization, service, or the like, but allow your unique voice to show and emphasize your own experiences and goals. Professional schools of international affairs are not looking for people who want to find out more about the world, they are looking for motivated individuals who are going to make an impact on the world.
Talk to Your Predecessors
Many Croft graduates have begun successful careers in international affairs and attended APSIA programs. We would be happy to put you in touch with them so they can share their experiences and tell you about the difficulties and successes they've encountered. But remember, many Croft graduates have followed other career paths as well, because a B.A. in International Studies does not necessarily lead to an M.A. in International Relations. Find out whether another graduate degree - in area studies, an academic field, social work, education, law, or business - may be better for you.