I express this not only as my own sentiment regarding applying to the MPA program, but also as a common theme among my peers. Not knowing anyone in Austin when I arrived, I was eager and available to get to know others in the program. After classes groups of MPAs often walked to restaurants near campus, like Pluckers or Cain and Ables, to visit. [I’m convinced food is the ultimate ice breaker.] A habitual conversation starter for us was “how and why did you end up coming here” because in our early interactions that was what we knew we had in common.
In response I heard and reheard variations of the story “I didn’t think I had any chance of getting in, but the early response was first, so I applied to see what would happen, knowing that if I didn’t get in I could go elsewhere”. It always surprised me because the people who said these things are so remarkable! I would think “your GMAT is amazing!” or “you were in the top of your class” or “your extracurriculars are so impressive” but the fact remains that many of us who had the option to and chose to attend here weren’t sure we had what it takes.
The mechanics of graduate school admissions are a mystery, a bit like winning the lottery, and we all wish we could find the key. My admittedly flawed sampling of students probably can’t be used for any truly reliable conclusions about it, but I think that the theme is not an accident. Something about the admissions process seems to slect people who are highly successful yet modest, reminiscent of Jim Collins’s “level five leader”. Aside from that, from what I can tell the secret to getting in to this program is not being deterred by probability; it’s taking the initiative to pursue something with an uncertain outcome.