The Road to Fels: The Best Kept Secret

March 17, 2010

By Matthew Closter, Fels MGA '10 student

I decided to apply to graduate school after working for two years with an international volunteer organization in Houston.  I loved the organization I was working for, but in order to develop additional skills, seek new challenges, and explore my career interests, I wanted a graduate degree.  Throughout my third and final year with the organization, I researched programs extensively, studied hard for my GREs, and perfected my personal statement.

I looked into a diverse set of programs -  ranging from Organizational Dynamics  to Nonprofit Management to Public Administration - because I felt like each could be a good fit for my interests.  I grew up around Washington, DC and appreciated the urban environment, so I narrowed my program choices to those located in cities.  I felt more inclined to head back to the East Coast, perhaps DC or New York.  Los Angeles was a tempting option at the time.

In browsing through different East Coast schools,  I discovered the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.  I had visited Philadelphia in the past and could easily imagine myself studying and living in the City of Brotherly Love.  I read through the comprehensive Fels website and was impressed by the program’s structure.  The course schedule was straightforward and the opportunity to pursue a Certificate in Nonprofit Administration was compelling.

Three months later, I was thrilled to receive my letter of acceptance from Penn and four out of the other five schools.  The idea of receiving my graduate education from an Ivy League institute was enticing and Fels offered a generous scholarship to assist me in my academic studies.  I decided to visit all of the schools I had been accepted to so that I could meet my potential classmates and professors and experience the environment of each campus and city.

Fels was the last school I visited on my cross-country trek.  I was exhausted, not just from the traveling but from all of the contemplations about which school I would attend.  I had ruled out a couple already - at one school, the professors touted their publishing accomplishments too much, and at another, the attitude was a bit too informal.  But I walked into the Fels mansion and felt a sense of home.  The space was cozy, the staff was welcoming, and the other students were sociable.  The staff, students, and alumni presentations revealed a strong confidence in Fels' practicality, emphasis on accountability, and preparation for the political environment.  The background in state and local government was not something that I had really considered prior to applying, and in fact I was impressed by the focus on federal government at one of my other schools, but the MGA degree felt unique and substantive.  After I determined that I could be happy living in Philadelphia, it did not take me long to decide to come to Penn.

During one of the panels at Admitted Students' Day, I remarked that Fels seemed like one of the best kept secrets in graduate education.  I continue to appreciate its special qualities to this day.

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