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Q&A: MPA Online gives hard working mom the skills to land job at one of the big four consulting firms 

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Katherine Cooley is a senior consultant at Deloitte, focusing on regulatory and compliance issues for government clients. She graduated from the USC Price Master of Public Administration online in 2018 with a concentration in city and county management. Cooley reflects on her decision to pursue the MPA program online, her initial goal of becoming a city manager, and the journey that led to her current role in consulting.

Q: What factors motivated you to further your education?

A: I needed a graduate degree to get higher in city and county management and to really pursue those executive level jobs. That’s why I wanted an MPA to begin with, to further my career. And I chose USC basically because of their alumni pedigree. 

Q: What drove you to pick the USC MPA online over other graduate programs?

A: I had some colleagues in the Sacramento region who had good experiences with it. I looked a little bit closer into it, and I found out that the online program was really going to work for me because I have kids. I needed that flexibility. As a working mom, it was a really great option for me and that’s ultimately why I chose it. Of course, there is also the USC name associated with it, which has a very solid brand. I had lived in Southern California in the past, so felt very comfortable with the culture that Trojans have, and I knew I wanted that.

Q: You are a Senior Consultant at one of the Big Four consulting firms. Was this always your goal?

A: I took a bit of a journey, started out thinking solidly, I’m going to be a city manager, I’m going to be a county executive. I got my certificate in city and county management. Then, through the whole program, it opened up the world of consulting to me, and I learned in a lot of ways the program really sets you up very nicely for consultant work. I pivoted that way, having enjoyed it through the program. I’m very happy with my decision and I think the program prepared me well for it.

Q: As a hard working mom, how did you balance the demands of study with your life – both personal and professional?

A: I’m a working mom and the program helped me balance all of that. There is a lot of work that you can get done at night. Your whole work week schedule is adjusted with your schoolwork, to have the bulk of your work done on the weekends which really helps for your day job. Your professors know that you’re working most on the weekends. The cadence of it is developed so that you can have a work life balance. 

I was able to survive it with kids. I would say, as long as you’re drawing your own boundaries of what you can and cannot do in all spheres of your life, and really learning how to manage your time you can get through it.

Q: A cornerstone of the program is the in-person residencies. Did this stand out to you when you were researching the program? What was your experience with the residencies?

A: I loved the in-person residency with the MPA program. It was so formative for me in terms of getting to know my fellow students and getting to know my professors. We got to know each other online, but when you’re in person it’s a whole different level of quality relationship. I loved it. 

I feel like it was also pretty authentic to the challenges that you are provided in consulting. They teach you how to give presentations. They teach you how to present yourself to a prospective client, and how to describe your work in person. And, you get to go to football games, and see how amazing the USC campus is.

Q: How has your interaction and experience been with your professors?

A: My interaction and experience with my professors was great. The professors are interested in getting to know you, and they’re interested in your professional development. They will maintain relationships with you after the program is done, and they want to hear how you’re doing. 

I’ve never had a professor who was too busy to answer a question. For example they will get on a call with you – they’re there for you, above and beyond lectures, if you need that. That was my experience with all of them.

Q: How has your interaction and experience been with your fellow students?

A: One of the fun things about graduating from the MPA program is that you can really have long-term relationships with your fellow students and folks that have graduated from the program. When I first started with Deloitte I was – at least as far as I knew – on my own. Now, we have a group of about 4 of us in California who are working for Deloitte! You’re gonna forge those relationships through the program. You’ll be able to grow together in your careers and go places together in your careers, and that part has been really exciting and fulfilling for me.

Q: Would you recommend the MPA degree online to a prospective student? If so, what advice would you give them?

A: I would absolutely recommend the MPA online program to a prospective student. I would particularly recommend it to working moms. It’s a structure for you that can really help to get higher education. I know it’s not easy, but this program makes it possible. 

The best advice I can give is just be open to the process, and where it’s going to take you. Don’t keep one viewpoint of what you’re gonna do with the program, or how the program’s gonna be, just be open to the experience. You’re gonna learn a lot more things than you thought. You’re gonna develop a lot more relationships than you thought and that can serve you very well. It’s hard work…but it is going to pay off, I promise.

Learn more about the Master of Public Administration Online today.

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