Tips for Postgraduate MPP Applicants

To our prospective applicants for the Batten School’s MPP Class of 2025: Welcome! You are on this page because you are at least considering whether to apply to our program. It’s an exciting pursuit, though I understand how daunting it can feel at times, particularly when you are considering multiple programs and balancing the other needs of work, school, and life in general. My hope is that this post will provide some clarity and a few useful tips as you begin the application process. And as always, we are here to provide whatever additional support is needed as you go forward. 

First, if you’ve considered applying to Batten in previous years, I want to highlight two notable changes to this year’s postgrad MPP application:

  • Essays: Applicants will have to submit THREE (3) essays this year rather than the four required in prior cycles. These essays will explore: your motivation behind pursuing the MPP, your experience working across lines of difference, and lessons learned from previous setbacks or failures. We believe these three essays will allow us to collect sufficient information while being mindful of the time commitment needed to submit an application.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Rather than asking them to send actual letters, this year all recommenders will be filling out a common form. This form will ask your recommenders to evaluate you on a series of categories (and to leave blank areas in which they cannot provide a proper evaluation). Each section will also include space for additional comments, as well as space at the end for any overarching comments. We believe a common form is the most effective way to probe certain areas of importance while also providing some much-needed consistency in recommendations. Please note that there is no desired formula for selecting your recommenders. It can be two academic, two professional, one of each – whomever you believe will provide the most useful (and positive!) insights for our committee. You can view a copy of the recommendation form here. And if your recommender prefers to write a traditional letter of recommendation or they’ve already created one, have no fear–letters may be uploaded to the common form.

We are also using a new platform for this year’s application. While we have the utmost confidence in this system, sometimes technology zigs instead of zags. So please do not hesitate to let us know if you confront any hurdles while filling out your application and we will address them quickly. 


Now, one of the questions I most often receive is some version of What do you look for in an applicant? or What can I do to make my application as strong as possible? It’s a good and important question. And you may have heard a variety of answers. My best response to these questions can be distilled into three points: 

  • First, get to know the school and the program, then tell them why you’d be a valuable member of that community. Even within the network of policy schools, every program is unique in its own way. Ours is certainly different. Notice that I didn’t say it’s better – that’s up to you to decide. I’m here at Batten because I sincerely believe in its mission. But you have to find the program (or programs) that speak to you. Our mission is to teach and train the next generation of consequential policy leaders. We are the only school that explicitly integrates leadership with policy, and policy with leadership. For us, this isn’t just a two-year program. We’re looking to build a lifelong community of individuals who will change the world. So when we review an application, we’re looking for people who understand what it is we’re trying to do and desire to be a part of it.
  • Second, answer the essay questions as they’re written. This may seem self-evident, but it’s not uncommon to see applicants cut and paste the same essay from a different application….and forget to change the school’s name! I get it – essays take a lot of time and mental energy. But schools ask questions specifically because they are trying to draw out evidence of things that matter to their program. If you answer essay questions directly – even if not perfectly – schools will have the best chance to consider your contribution to their community.
  • Finally, remember that you are the asset, not the school. While I appreciate the question of how to build the strongest possible application for Batten, I think the better question to ask is What’s the best program for me and my future aspirations? There are so many outstanding programs out there. Find the one that is best for you. If it’s Batten, we will humbly accept the application. But you’ve worked very hard to get to the position to apply to graduate school, and chances are you have much to offer to these programs. Please don’t forget that – you’ve earned it!

Between now and whatever application deadline you choose (November 15, January 20, or March 24), we are here to help. So if you have any additional questions on the application, or need more information and insights about our program, our school, and our university, please do not hesitate to ask. I offer daily virtual appointments, and we are offering an in-person MPP Open House in Charlottesville on Saturday, September 24 that might help guide your graduate school search. I wish you the very best on your search, and hope to see many of you here at UVA next fall!