Hola prospective applicants!

My name is Leslie and I will manage the IEDP student blog this year. I can’t believe I have finally started my master’s at UPenn! Although we currently live in a time of great uncertainty and virtual meetings, it’s been great to meet my classmates from all around the world and to start my first semester of graduate school.

A little bit about me!

I was born in Peru, but I have lived in the U.S since I was eleven. This abrupt transition opened my eyes to the huge inequalities still present in our world today. I have always felt extremely lucky to have access to a high-quality education and to have the resources necessary to succeed academically and professionally. Like the majority of the readers of this blog, I believe that education is a powerful tool that everyone should have access to.

First encounter with the IEDP

I first learned about the IEDP more than two years ago. In the summer of 2018, only a year after graduating from my bachelor’s. Back then, I began to think about switching from business to the international development or education fields. I say “or” because at the time, I mainly associated development with just economics. So, I googled a few opportunities I had heard about: Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, graduate programs in international development, public policy, and international education. Eventually, I ended up on the Penn GSE’s IEDP page and I was impressed by the diverse courses offered across different departments and the focus on education, language, and culture. I signed up to receive updates from admissions as I continued to search for other opportunities.

From business to international educational development

I knew back in 2018 that I wanted to work internationally, and I also knew that I wanted to go to grad school in the future. But during my quarter-life crisis, committing to any type of program for more than six months scared me. At the same time, I did not think I was ready to go back to school. I reached out to friends and family members to learn about their experiences in nonprofits, international volunteer service, and government entities. I decided I would move back to Peru the following year. I thought this would give me enough time to think things through and wrap things up at my corporate job. I don’t recall the exact date, but I found an NGO in Arequipa where I could teach English and commit for just three months.

Preparing to apply

In early 2019, I started my volunteer work in Peru. I liked my experience so much that I eventually stayed with the NGO for a whole year. You will learn more about my experience and areas of interest in future blogs. I mainly taught English to really energetic kids across different ages and also assisted the volunteer coordinator with the academic material for our classes. While learning, traveling, and meeting new people, I kept some deadlines in mind. I was not sure when I would apply to grad school, but I signed up to take the GRE and mentally prepared to study 2-3 months before the test date. I also knew from my early research that the application cycles usually started in September, so I had a lot of time to learn about graduate programs and create an initial list.

A picture of me and a baby alpaca during one of my trips

During this time, I evaluated the programs’ focus, courses, and length, as well as career outcomes. Almost a year ago, I found out through LinkedIn that one of the volunteers in Peru knew Kelsey Ullom, now a second-year student of the IEDP. Sidenote: When people say this is a small world, believe them! Having a mutual friend made it less intimidating to reach out to a student in the program. Kelsey is super nice and agreed to have a phone call with me and told me about her experience in the program, which was really valuable to hear. The IEDP Instagram, Facebook, and the blog also helped me learn more about it. At the end, the IEDP made it the top of the list again due to the variety of the courses (with both quantitative and qualitative components) and the international internship (practical professional skills).

Once I had a final list, I started with the IEDP application because it was my top choice, but also because of its rolling admissions, which meant my application would be reviewed as soon as it was submitted and not after a distant set deadline. I submitted my application in mid-November, being more optimistic that I have ever been, but also being extremely fearful of what a rejection would mean. Would I be good enough for an Ivy League institution? While I waited for a decision from UPenn, I struggled focusing on the admission essays for the other programs in my list because my heart was not in them.

Decision Time

Fortunately, I received my acceptance less than a month after applying, before my other applications were due! For me, no other program fit the diversity of courses, flexibility, and practical skills students learn in the IEDP. So, only five days after the wonderful news, I accepted my admission to the IEDP. Just like with love…when you know, you know.

Many universities give you a few months to make a decision, so you can (and probably should) wait to hear back from all the programs you are interested in.

My advice

If you are considering development/education programs, keep these things in mind…

  • Start your research on programs as early as possible
  • Evaluate the focus of the program: Is it policy? Economics? Culture? Anthropology? Is there any flexibility with learning across different subjects?
  • Talk to former/current students
  • Reach out to your network, ask about their careers and graduate school experiences
  • What do you care about besides the focus? The length of the program? The cost (huge investment)? Are there scholarships?
  • In what city is the university located and how is the weather?
  • Have realistic deadlines for all the components (exams, letters of rec, resume, essays)
  • Make a final list of programs you are interested in and rank them by priority and deadline

Hope you enjoyed learning about my application process. Soon you will hear from other students in the program and also about our first week of virtual classes!