Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Service Engagement at UMSI -- Peace Corps Coverdell Program

Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Anderson, and I am a 3rd year dual degree Master of Science in Information (Information Analysis and Retrieval concentration) and Master of Public Policy candidate. I am writing this blog post to talk about how I ended up at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) as a previous Peace Corps participant and the many ways in which UMSI complements Peace Corps service.

My road to UMSI was an indirect one. I studied international affairs as an undergraduate and worked as an AmeriCorps*VISTA in my home state of Maine directly after graduation, waiting to see if my dream of joining the Peace Corps would become a reality. Fortunately for me, the wait paid off, I left Maine in 2010 to start my 27-month Peace Corps journey in Albania.

I served as a Community and Organization Development Facilitator in a mid-sized city in south-central Albania; this broad title left me open to exploring all types of opportunities for community involvement, which I readily took advantage of. I worked with the local youth center Qendra Rinore on developing summer programming and ties with other community organizations, and in these roles I saw significant fragmentation of the flow of information. In fact, on several occasions, the Qendra Rinore directors would go to work only to find the electricity shut off without warning because of some problem taken place at the Municipality. I spent another large chunk of my service working at said Municipality’s Office of Economic Development to create a information management system for its donor contacts and to help with the documentation of office projects to enable smooth transitions of employees coming and going.

Towards the end of my time in Albania, I knew that I wanted to enhance my skill set further so as to make the greatest impact in my intended future career path of public service; however, I quickly realized degrees in many different fields would help me get there.  Since I wasn’t able to visit any schools in person, I did my due diligence in researching schools as fully as I could. I talked with former and current students, I checked out admissions blogs (like this one!) and went to school-coordinated online chats, and I cross-referenced my final choices with the Peace Corps Paul C. Coverdell Fellowship opportunities.  In all of my research, it became clear that the University of Michigan was a welcoming, resource-rich, and highly multidisciplinary school, making it easy for me to pursue classes across disciplines. With that, I came to the University of Michigan in 2012 to start my degree as a Master of Public Policy (MPP) candidate.

During my first year of my public policy program, I realized how much I enjoyed crunching data pertaining to social good outcomes. As semesters passed, I learned of more and more experiences happening at the School of Information that were a great melding of this data crunching and service learning--the exact combination of what I wanted to be doing (see the Ann Arbor Data Dive and Alternative Spring Break programs as two major examples). I also realized as I was trying to fill my cognate courses requirements--courses outside of my intended degree program--that the classes that often seemed most interesting were housed in UMSI.  

Last fall, I started giving serious consideration to pursuing a second graduate degree at UMSI as part of a dual degree with my public policy program. As I was updating my application materials and reaching out to more recent mentors for recommendations, I learned that UMSI was starting a new partnership with Peace Corps to become part of the Coverdell program. I took this as a serendipitous sign that I was making the right choice for my future.

I am proud to say that I am now a 3rd year dual degree MSI/MPP student and a UMSI Coverdell Fellow. I have taken advantage of numerous service opportunities since being here, such as  helping with analyze nonprofit survey data on two separate projects with Ann Arbor Data Dive and the Community Information Corps, respectively. I will also be heading to Washington, D.C. this coming March as a participant in the Alternative Spring Break program.  Furthermore, my classes are specific to what I hope to my doing in my career--helping public organizations make better use of their data--and highly complementary to my public policy courses. This third year has greatly enhanced my knowledge base and skill set to be fully prepared upon graduation.

If you have questions about the UMSI Peace Corps Coverdell program or pursuing a dual degree MSI/MPP, please feel free to reach out to me at

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Updates and reminders

Thanks so much to those who have submitted their applications for the Master of Science in Information's January 15 early deadline.

For those who submitted master's applications on or before January 15, I've been getting a few questions about when UMSI actually received an application and how that might affect the status of being considered for the first round of UMSI scholarships.  If the status of your application states that it was received after January 15, please do not worry!  It may take your application a couple of days to get into our system, but if you applied on or before January 15, you can be sure you will be considered.

For those who have not yet applied, there is still plenty of time to apply (final deadline is May 1) and we do have subsequent rounds of funding.  Please let us know if you have further questions about the process, feel free to join our Facebook group where you can ask questions of current students and staff, and check out our old blog posts (about the application process).

For all, stay tuned to this blog in the coming weeks for posts about the culture of UMSI, living in Ann Arbor, and other topics! If you have ideas of things you'd like to hear about from our current students, please comment on this post or let us know via Facebook.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Application Process Perspective from a Current Student and Information Mentor

Happy New Year 2015!
The UMSI Master’s deadline is January 15 (in just 3 days!) and this time last year, I was working on my application up until that deadline. Originally I had planned on turning it in by early March, a couple months before the May 1 deadline. But in December as I read through the 2015 Prospective Student Facebook group (, it seemed that a lot of people were trying to apply by January 15 for the early consideration of scholarships. I’d been looking at Funding Resources ( but wasn’t thinking of applying early. Since a lot of people seemed to be applying early, and also getting questions answered that I’d had but had not asked, I figured to try and power through my materials and finish applying.

One thing that I would advise you to keep in mind is that while all applicants are considered for UMSI merit scholarships (see, the first round is the largest round, and coincides with the January 15 deadline.

So, when I considered the pieces of my application, I took an assessment of where I was at that point.  Would I be able to submit by January 15 AND put my best application forward?  These are some of my thoughts as I moved towards the January 15 deadline:
  • I’d only started asking for my letters of recommendation in November and was worried that they would not be completed in time, so I sent them an email apologizing for the rush and asking them if they could submit sooner because I wanted to have all of my materials for the early deadline.  
  • I had been toying for a while with about five different starts on my personal statement and statement of purpose. I took a few nights after work and finished them. I sent them to a good friend who has a knack for editing. Thankfully she had time to give me feedback on such short notice. I considered and used some of her feedback, and was then done with my essays. After a few days away from the essays while she was reviewing them for me, I was able to look at them with fresh eyes and was satisfied that this was what I wanted to turn in.  
  • In December, I had tried to clean up my resume but did not feel like I really had anything new to add in the time since then as it was still pretty similar as it had been for the past few months.
  • By December, I didn’t have time to get an official transcript so my unofficial copy would just have to do until I could get an official one – after the early deadline (which I learned was okay from the Facebook group).
    • Note: it’s totally OK to submit official transcripts after January 15 but do be sure you have uploaded an unofficial transcript in your application so the committee can review it.
  • I had taken the GRE in late November with the idea of taking it again in a couple months later to try any improve my score. But I actually did better than I thought the first time (thanks to my local library for the practice GRE books!).
All in all, when it came down to it (to the wire on January 15), I had to decide – I had all my materials and could submit them now. But would I be satisfied? Would I regret that I hadn’t taken an extra month or two to try and improve them? Would I be relieved that I had finished? I was glad that I had completed everything and could make that decision. Instead of looking back later and wondering if I should have tried to turn it earlier. Take a self-assessment and decide what’s best for you.   
In the end, it did not matter that people on the Facebook group were applying by the early deadline, it didn’t matter that family and friends thought I should apply early, it only mattered that I wanted to apply and I could choose whenever I wanted [before May 1;) ] to do so because I felt confident I was submitting the application that best represented my accomplishments, qualifications, and fit with the program and field. If you’re looking for more tips or advice about completing your application, check out:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions

Hello! My name is Natalie Yee and I’m an Information Mentor and a first year MSI student. As the first application deadline approaches, we wanted to provide answers to questions that are commonly asked during the application process. This post is adapted from a staff member’s post from last year. I hope this helps to address some of your concerns, if you have any questions please email us anytime at

1) Do I need to take the GRE?

The GRE taken within the past five years is required of all applicants. We do not have a minimum requirement. Our review process looks holistically at all application pieces and takes each piece into consideration. For details visit: MSI Application Requirements.

2) Is the TOEFL required? Or, can I be exempt from the TOEFL?

Applicants whose native language is not English must demonstrate English proficiency and are required to provide official score reports for the TOEFL exam. We have updated our exemption requirements to the following:

  • The degree was earned from an institution where the language of instruction is English, exclusively. This exception does not apply if some classes completed were taught in a language other than English. Verification from the school may be required.
  • If the degree earned is a Bachelor’s degree, all four years of the degree must be earned from an institution where the language of instruction is English, exclusively.  This exception does not apply if some classes completed were taught in a language other than English.
  • The degree was earned from a country where the official language is English (United States of America, Australia, England).

TOEFL scores are good for up to 2 years and in order for us to use your score, you need to apply to our program within that timeframe. If your scores will expire after you apply, that is not a problem. However, if your scores will expire before you apply, we may not be able to use them.

3) I got an email saying not all my application materials were in, can you check to see if my materials are in?

I get a lot of email asking if we have received your letters of recommendation, test scores or transcripts. We encourage students to check your application status here: This page will let you know what materials we have, and the status of your application. You will need your University of Michigan ID number (UMID) to access this information. You will receive your UMID number in the original confirmation email that will be sent to you when you submit your application. We work hard to update these materials as often as we can and we appreciate your patience. If you believe there is a serious issue or a significant amount of time has passed since you sent in your materials please feel free to contact us.

3a)  How do I know you have my materials (i.e. transcripts, test scores) if I haven’t submitted yet?

If you have not yet submitted your application, that link will only be available to you after you submit and we process your application.  Once we process your application, you can check to see which materials are in.  Prior to submitting, it is very time consuming to check for materials, so we appreciate your waiting until you submit and receive confirmation from us to ask us if we have your materials.  

Please note that around the January 15 early deadline, it may take us several days (or longer) to process your application.  Do know that your application is considered submitted and received the date you submit, not the day we process it.

4) What sort of funding or scholarships does your school offer?

Funding for masters programs in general is limited, and while we do offer a substantial level of funding to our masters students, many well qualified students do not receive funding from our department. All UMSI departmental funding is in the form of merit tuition scholarships. UMSI merit scholarships range from partial to full tuition coverage, with possible additional benefits, (regardless of residency status) for four semester of full-time MSI coursework. There are also a handful of fully funded assistantships available through the
University Library Associate program and Bonk Assistantship program. Many additional students obtain relevant part time jobs and internships to help defray costs and to obtain valuable experience. Our student services staff work very hard to help students find creative ways of financing their graduate program.

Other options of funding may include research assistantships with UMSI faculty. Some students are able to secure these positions at some point after they are enrolled. Faculty prefer to hire students they know and who have performed well in the program. Certainly, you could use our web site to identify faculty whose research interests you, and email them to introduce yourself to begin the process of exploring future research opportunities.

Teaching assistantship opportunities are rare within our own program for our master’s students. If you feel your background may qualify you to assist with an undergraduate course in another department, you could check with relevant departments to see if they have needs for graduate student instructors, which carries tuition, stipend and health insurance.

In addition, I encourage you to review additional sources of funding, including those we highlight on our own web site on the funding your degree page.

5) Are there any classes I should take? Are there any pre-requisite classes? Should I take any programming classes if I don’t have experience in them?

We admit students from all undergraduate majors and with a wide range of academic coursework. If you do decide to take additional coursework, you can choose what is of interest to you in relation to our curriculum, given we draw from a number of fields to create an interdisciplinary program.

Some of the fields represented in our courses and faculty include psychology, computer science, data science, economics, history, political science, public policy, linguistics, and more. Our curriculum spans social sciences and humanities as well as quantitative and technical areas. Thus we seek students with the potential to do well across these areas.

In other words, we don't need or require students to have coursework in all of the above mentioned areas, but we do look for evidence that students have strength in quantitative and analytical areas as well as in writing, creative thinking, synthesizing ideas, etc.

6) When will I hear about my application decision?

We appreciate all of your enthusiasm but the time it takes to process, complete, review, and evaluate applications can be time consuming. We typically tell students it takes six to eight weeks to get a response from us after the review of applications start. We begin to review applications after our application deadlines. For the PhD this would mean review will start after the December 1st deadline. For the Master’s programs this means after the January 15th deadline, the deadline for first priority for UMSI merit scholarships.

7) Does the School of Information Offer an Online Degree?

Our school does not offer any distance or online learning options for our degree. We do offer the option of taking a part-time course load.

For more information see the answer to “What constitutes part time enrollment” on the FAQ page.