April 29, 2020

The unique application process at the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management

April 29, 2020

From its earliest days as FETP (Fulbright Economics Teaching Program – 1994-2017) and as Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM), the school always upholds the highest standards in admission set by leading U.S. universities. Built on the academic discipline from Harvard, admission procedures adopted at FSPPM enable us to be responsive to our learners’ needs and in turn select the most qualified students for the program. Our unique admission procedures also embody the core values in education, culture, and academic rigor which Fulbright strives to emulate.

The challenge of the “Quantitative Test”

Policy Analysis applicants are required to complete the application form, take the entrance exam and conduct personal interviews. Leadership & Management applicants only need to complete the application form and the personal interviews. Applicants for two concentrations all have to satisfy English proficiency requirements.

After completing the online application form, Policy Analysis applicants complete a multiple choice “Quantitative Test” replicating the GRE, a common standardized test for graduate education in U.S. The focus of the test is not on measuring the breadth of knowledge of prospective applicants, as the knowledge required stays at the level of secondary education.

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, noted that “the test lasts 60 minutes with a great number of questions, requiring test takers to be quick in thinking. Here we do not intend to test the applicants’ knowledge. In a stress less setting, these questions are simple to answer and pose no difficulty to anyone. But under the tension in the exam room and with about one minute for each question, the test examines students ‘thinking capabilities, reasoning abilities and performance under pressure.’”

Chau Ngo Anh Nhan (MPP2 alumnus) recalls he had to spend 3 months brushing up his quantitative skills for tests using mock GREs and other quantitative tests. In his opinion the experience is quite positive:

This is my first time sitting for such exam, but to me, entrance exams to business majors using this format makes more sense than asking test takers to calculate complicated math functions,” explains Mr. Nhan.

Mr. Ho Quang De, Deputy Head of the Finance Department of Phu Yen Province is an alumnus of MPP2 intake. A graduate from Technology University, Mr. Ho also has a background in engineering, and did not spend much time preparing for the entrance exam. He shared his impression on the test, stating that “Fulbright tests require students to have a broad knowledge base, flexibility, and problem-solving skills since imparted time for each question is relatively short.

That quantitative test forms an integral part of the entrance exam, according to Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, MPP Director. MPP students, particularly in Policy Analysis concentration, are expected to master quantitative skills to quantify effects of different policies. As a result, learners should secure a basic understanding of quantitative skills in order to catch up with others in quantitative courses. Indeed, many MPP students perform outstandingly despite not graduating from math majors. Fulbright courses are designed to let students work on their critical and analytical skills, rather than focusing solely on math-intensive sections.

Tell your story – the personal essay

Some differences in admission procedures notwithstanding, one common feature of the two concentrations (Policy Analysis and Leadership & Management) is a series of 2 to 3 personal essays that form the nucleus of every application package. Reading those personal essays is the most anticipated aspect of each admission procedure for seasoned faculty members, as they always hold much promise and surprising revelations.  Each essay is a personal narrative reflecting an applicant’s perceptions and aspirations, in which faculty searches for shared values between the applicant and the Fulbright school.

Although the two concentrations are graded using different criteria, one common trait FSPPM is always looking for in its future students is the commitment to serving the public and the common good  – this remains the founding principle of the Fulbright school, a standard to which each applicant is measured.

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh explains that “some applicants score quite well in the standardized tests but may be rejected due to poorly written essays expressing only personal needs instead of public concerns or social values. Applicants attending the school for a degree or a job promotion are not good fit for the scholarship. Fulbright School emphasizes public values, public interests and service to the society. We look for applicants wishing to advance our society to its next level of development, to achieve great potential through social contribution. This distinctive feature makes admission to MPP program at Fulbright School really stand out from other graduate programs.”

Chau Ngo Anh Nhan remembered spending more than 1 month brainstorming ideas and drafting the application essays, while studying the ins and outs of the program, consulting with alumni and expert opinions on the quality of the program he was applying to.

“It was a memorable experience writing down your aspirations and dreams, explaining how participation in the MPP program could help you one step closer to those great expectations. It’s interesting confide your ambitions in life and career to someone completely unknown to you at the time,” he reflected.

Ms. Duong Thi Kieu Anh, FETP 11 (2006) alumna, elaborated that essays are critical in helping applicants and the school to find an answer to the question ‘Why Fulbright?’ and ‘Why you?’ among numerous other options.

She emphasized that “Essays are opportunities to explicitly express your deepest ambitions and goals so that Fulbright gets the full story of who you are. This distinguishes Fulbright from the rest. You should do your research well, exploring how Fulbright empowers the community and its graduates with knowledge and values. Be yourself in the essay so that the school can observe and uncover the truest essence of yourself.”

Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia added that the school renews its essay questions annually to challenge applicants to express their perceptions and insights on recent policies or a prominent policy which they are mostly concerned with.

“Essay questions and suggestions for ideas can be found in the application package. In addition to that, applicants can also elaborate on why they believe the Fulbright program is the right path leading them to fulfilling their life’s dream.”

The Quantitative test judges students’ intellectual acumen to perform academically while the English test confirms whether students are able take classes directly with international scholars and perform research in English, the international language of the academic world. Lastly, the personal essays help Fulbright understand the applicant’s aspirations and objectives in pursuing the program. During the personal interview, the school gains a better understanding of your problem solving skills, the missing piece which will decide if you are the type of profile we are looking for.

“As a test taker, I realize admission procedures are chances for candidates to get the first impressions of the school, express their personal dreams and expectations from the school and then confirm whether pursuing the program is worth the opportunity cost. I believe this mechanism benefits both sides, the school and the applicant,” added Mr. Nhan.

On the other hand, application essays sometimes surprise Fulbright assessors. Dr. Tu Anh noted that in their personal essays, some applicants explained the insightful policy analyses of Fulbright faculty in the media inspired them to apply to the program although they didn’t known the faculty personally.

Tapping the depths of experience

Since 2018, the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management initiated a new concentration titled Leadership & Management. Prospective candidates of the program are middle and senior managers in public, private, NGO and NPO sectors.

According to Assoc. Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, the new major accommodates a rapidly changing labor market affected by the technological disruptions and the growing economy of Vietnam. Managers in private enterprises, governmental agencies or social organizations are more likely to fall behind in knowledge if they fail to keep abreast with shifting and ever-changing concepts relating to management and business.

This Fulbright program attempts to provide learners with the mindset and skillset to accurately assess the impact of governmental policies on the economy and society in general and their private enterprise or NPO organization in particular. Managers participating in the program can bring their knowledge and perspective up to date for better performance in supervisory roles. In addition, with its solid background in public policy, Fulbright connects managers with top leadership at major corporations, as well as officials and policy makers in government agencies.

For Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, the distinguishing factor setting apart the new concentration – Leadership and Management – from other majors is its applicants base, constituted of professionals already holding management and leadership positions in their own organizations. Managers and leaders are required to make decisions in a shifting and complex environment. Therefore, the Fulbright program aims to simulate a policy laboratory with various stakeholders engaging in the policy-making process. For instance, central and local policy makers, expert analysts, enterprises, NGO and researchers at universities and think-tanks. Learners can then immerse themselves in simulated settings and attempt to make decisions relevant to uncertain and dynamic realities. This is the essence of the pragmatic, experiential Fulbright curriculum.

“For Policy Analysis candidates, admission results are based mostly on their academic performance; for Leadership & Management (LM) applicants, we want to understand their vision and experience. Personal essays are an important medium for the Admission Board to make such judgement. Leaders have their own stories of success and failure, accumulating over time to form their own legacy. I strongly advise LM applicants to start well ahead of deadline and spend time building and enriching their personal essays. If you plan to complete the application package at the last minute, you will be pressed for time and forego the opportunity to tell your story in the profound way it has the potential to be told,” concludes Dr. Tu Anh.

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