A few days ago I received a Skype phone call from a close friend who recently moved to Europe to begin graduate school. She is enrolled in an Economics program run through a prestigious U.S. university. Her 100+ first-year classmates hail from over 80 different countries, most have traveled extensively or lived abroad for years, and all are bilingual, if not trilingual or multilingual. While my friend is enjoying her time abroad, her experience with the program has been less positive. She is put off by the competitiveness of her classmates, the intense environment fostered by the school, and the pressure to find an internship, a job, and achieve perfect grades by the end of the first year. I gathered from our conversation that she felt lost, and discouraged at how challenging it has been to fit into her graduate school community.
My experience at MSPP is almost entirely the opposite. My school psychology cohort consists of ten students total, and after just seven weeks, we have gotten to know each other quite well. We look out for one another – the first week of school there was some confusion as to where classes would meet those days because of electrical outages wrought by a particularly ferocious Tropical Storm Irene. My classmates took the time to call me to ensure I would know where classes would be held. No one hesitates to ask for help from anyone else, and we do our best to collaborate and help each other out when needed – whether that means printing out extra copies of class documents, studying for an especially daunting midterm, or listening to the inevitable frustrations that arise while working at our practicum sites. We are comfortable asking questions and making mistakes together.
At MSPP, community building is as important as resume building. Learning the material is more important than grades. And knowing who to ask or how to find the information you need is more important than knowing everything. Being kind is valued, as is being kind to yourself and taking time out now and then. MSPP values students not only for their academic contributions to the school, but as people with families, pets, histories, hopes, anxieties, and goals. This is not to say that MSPP is perfect for everyone – this is a small school with all the advantages and disadvantages that small institutions entail.
The real question to ask is whether MSPP will be a good fit for you. Prior to enrolling at MSPP, I completed a master’s degree in public policy, with a program set-up more closely resembling my friend’s current experience than MSPP. My classmates were for the most part, internationally diverse, high achieving, ambitious, and well intentioned. While I survived in this environment, I didn’t thrive. MSPP is a place where I can thrive – where I can ask questions, learn in the classroom and the “real world,” where I can be myself, where I can make my voice heard, where I can be a part of a community. My professor of lifespan development would call this “goodness of fit – ” my environment nurtures the best elements of myself and allows me to progress and develop in a positive way. For me, MSPP fits.