Humphrey School News—February 13, 2020

Applying to the Humphrey School: Your Questions Answered

Insights, deadlines, and advice for prospective graduate students


Admissions Director Sherlonda Clarke stands behind a podium speaking to incoming Humphrey School students.
Humphrey School Admissions Director Sherlonda Clarke speaking to newly admitted students.

Are you considering a career in public affairs? Trying to decide whether to apply for graduate school? You’re invited to visit us and talk with our admissions team to learn more about the programs we offer at the Humphrey School, and what you'll gain from a Humphrey School master's degree. 

We offer a series of information sessions every year in the fall, where you can meet students and faculty members, explore the curriculum and career prospects, and get the information that will help you to make a good decision about your future. You can also contact our admissions team to set up an individual appointment.  

Our Director of Admissions Sherlonda Clarke answers some frequently asked questions about how to apply to the Humphrey School.   

1. I’m thinking about going back to school to earn my master’s degree. What should I know about the application process?

You can find all the requirements for your application here. The best advice we can give you is to start the process early! Completing your application requires an investment of time. We want your experience to be a positive one, and the best way to do that is to get started ASAP. 

Here are some important elements of your application.

Five of our six master’s degree programs require prospective students to take the GRE, a standardized test that is the most commonly required admission exam for graduate school. It’s similar to the SAT and ACT for undergraduate applicants, in that it’s a broad assessment of your critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative analysis (math) skills. It’s important to know that your GRE scores will not decide your fate as an applicant. Although we look for students who perform well, we don't judge applicants' accomplishments solely through standardized testing.

You will be required to write a personal statement of 500 words maximum that discusses your educational and professional experiences and your goals for graduate school and beyond. The personal statement is an important part of your application because it gives you the chance to add context to the ‘paper records’ such as your resume and test scores. You should discuss how you became interested in your chosen field of study, why you want to continue that work here at the Humphrey School, and show some knowledge of the faculty and research we have here.

This exercise is a good test to determine whether you’re ready for graduate school. If you aren’t able to clearly explain what you want to study and why, it’s probably not a good fit for you. Graduate school takes too much time and money to be unsure of where you want to end up. 

We ask you to submit letters of recommendation from at least three people who can appraise your ability to pursue an advanced degree, your potential for public service and leadership, and your motivation. It’s best to have a mix of references from professional and academic backgrounds. If you’ve only been out of college for a year or two, I’d suggest having two academic references and one professional reference. If you’ve been out of school for more than three years, it’s better to have two professional references and one academic. It’s not all that helpful to have personal references from relatives, friends, church leaders, and the like. 

2. What types of financial aid are available?

The Humphrey School is committed to providing students a great education at a great value. Here's a good summary of all the different types of financial aid we offer

Our students can receive merit-based and need-based financial aid through universitywide fellowships and through Humphrey School scholarships. We have a number of endowed scholarship funds that have been established by families and organizations to support our students. Half of our master’s degree students receive financial aid, and we’re committed to increasing that percentage over time. Students with financial need can also fill out the FAFSA to see if they’re eligible for federal loans.

The Humphrey School and the University of Minnesota at large have a host of paid assistantships for students, which are available in three categories: 

  • Teaching Assistantships (TA): Opportunities for students to assist a faculty member in the classroom. Duties range from grading papers, proctoring exams, and holding office hours to provide further instruction to students in the course. Most TA opportunities come from building a good rapport with a faculty member and performing successfully in your courses.
  • Research Assistantships (RA): Opportunities to work with faculty on a research project.  
  • Graduate Assistantships (GA): Job opportunities for graduate students who have specific job skills. Jobs could be academic based, student affairs based, or a combination.

The Twin Cities metro area is also ripe with opportunities for Humphrey School students. We are home to the State Capital, a booming nonprofit sector, and many Fortune 500 companies. Our Career and Professional Development Center works with students to find opportunities in the larger community.  

3. What is the deadline for me to apply?

We actually have a couple of different deadlines, and the earlier you submit your application, the better, especially if you would like to be considered for financial aid. 

  • December 15: Early deadline to be eligible for university-level fellowships  
  • January 15: Deadline to be considered for Humphrey School merit-based aid
  • February 15: Final application deadline for mid-career Master of Public Affairs program
  • April 1: Final application deadline for all other master's degree programs  

4. I didn’t have the best grades as an undergrad. How much will that affect my chances of getting accepted?

We look at a number of factors when we evaluate applicants for the Humphrey School. Academic performance is one of those factors, but we also consider your GRE scores, professional work history, leadership experience, and your letters of recommendation. If you’re hesitant to apply because of your previous grades, feel free to contact the admissions team to discuss it. We’d be happy to work with you individually to help you put together the strongest application you can.

5. How is graduate school different than undergrad?

The rigor of the coursework and expectations from faculty are much higher. There is a lot of reading and writing. Working in groups and teams will be a big part of your experience, so it’ll be important for you to be able to manage group projects. And there is a great deal of emphasis on quantitative analysis. If you haven’t taken any statistics or economics classes, we recommend that you think about taking one before starting the master’s program. It’s not required, but you’ll be better prepared for your graduate work at the Humphrey School.

It’s also a more self-driven environment. You need to be focused on what you want to get out of your experience. We have some core courses that students are required to take, but it’s not like undergraduate programs, where you can change your major or try out a variety of subjects. The Humphrey School experience is designed to guide you toward developing your expertise in a given subject area.

6. What qualities are you most interested in when you evaluate prospective students?

We look for students who are clear about why they want to attend and what they’re hoping to get out of their graduate education. We also want to make sure their goals are a good match for what we offer here at the Humphrey School. We look for people who are strong academic performers and who have some professional experience in their field, for example as an intern or a researcher. We also look for strong writing capabilities, because graduate students write a lot of reports and papers. We’re fortunate that the vast majority of our applicants are highly qualified, and we accept about 80 to 85 percent of them into our programs.

7. What do the most successful students at the Humphrey School have in common?  

They are passionate about advancing the common good; they welcome an academically rigorous program; and they will maximize the resources that we offer here, such as guest lectures, field experiences, career and professional development services, and student organizations. They are people who want to contribute positively to the School, and give back in some way.

8. Why should I consider attending the Humphrey School?

The Humphrey School offers students an outstanding educational experience. We have brilliant, world-renowned faculty who are also very approachable. Our students have opportunities for excellent experiences outside the classroom. In tandem with getting your degree, you can have multiple internships or jobs in multiple sectors. We have an amazing and well-connected alumni network. Another great asset is that we are part of the University of Minnesota. Students can take courses across academic programs to round out their interests.

The Humphrey School is committed to diversity and inclusion. It’s important for our students to have a classroom experience where they will hear a variety of views. We define diversity broadly—based on political beliefs, socioeconomic status, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. We strive for a student body that’s representative of the communities we serve. As part of our mission to bring the world to Minnesota and Minnesota to the world, we also want a healthy international student population. 

9. Where can I get more information?

Visit the Admissions section of our website for more detailed background on all of our academic programs, application requirements and deadlines, and costs and aid. Feel free to contact the Humphrey School's Admissions Office at or 612-624-3800 to connect with one of our staff. We're always happy to talk with prospective students individually to help them with the admissions process. 

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