The Collaborative Cohort Culture of the MPA Program at UNC

There’s lots of energy around the MPA wing at the UNC School of Government right now. Many different people are working hard with their eyes on the future.

Second year students like myself are bearing down to write our portfolios, a lengthy document that graduating MPA students submit to satisfy the thesis requirements of the MPA program and the Graduate School. We are also working hard at writing cover letters and polishing our resumes as we apply for jobs to start after graduation. First year students are working on their own resumes and cover letters as they apply for their Professional Work Experience (PWE) internships for the summer. Today begins a period of a few weeks where interviewers (many of whom are MPA alumni themselves) are coming to campus from a variety of local and state government organizations to speak with prospective interns.

They aren’t even the only interviewees in the building. Today we also began welcoming prospective students to campus for admission to the program. Our applicants come from a diverse background of undergraduate programs and work experiences from Environmental Science to Public Policy to the Military and all levels of government. I distinctly remember my interview experience and recall the mixed emotions of feeling both nervous and excited. I feel like I can relate to every applicant I’ve met and I enjoy learning about their interests and ambitions.

My name tag from my admissions interview exactly 2 years ago.


What strikes me as a through-line connecting each group is the collaborative nature of the cohort structure. Working and learning together builds a very strong culture. Through group work and general shared experience, students build strong academic and social bonds. While some graduate school programs have a reputation of being ultra-competitive and cut-throat, the culture of the MPA program is welcoming and cooperative. Though the process of writing our portfolios is difficult, we have each other to lean on. We help each other through peer-editing, recommending sources to cite, and offering genuine emotional support. We have lots of support from last year’s graduating class, who have kept in touch and offer us thoughtful advice. We also help each other looking for jobs and regularly email postings to each other based on knowing our peers skills and interests. Having gone through the PWE interview search process the second year class is able to offer perspective and advice to the first years as they go through the process themselves. Both first and second year students joined prospective students for lunch today and shared in conversation about career goals and our visions of 21st century public service.

The collaborative cohort culture is a huge part of what brought me to the program and what has sustained me throughout my time here.