BusinessPublic AdministrationPublic Service

Spare Me the Extra Pages

CSUN Graduation

On August 2, I sat for my Comprehensive Exam at California State University, Northridge.

It was the last act in my pursuit of a Masters in Public Administration (MPA), specializing in Nonprofit Management. Working three jobs, it took me 2.5 years to complete the 12-course program. I was definitely not a typical MPA student…I was more the misguided business student, surrounded by the men and women running Los Angeles’ nonprofits, the Assessors Office, DMVs, Social Security Administration offices, free health clinics, police departments, and city governments. If/when I ever need help in these areas, fortunately, I now have an in.

The “Comp Exam” had two parts: General Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. Each MPA candidate was given three hours in a computer lab to write an essay on each topic. After attending the CSUN prep courses, I learned the general expectation was for each student to write approximately 2 pages per hour, resulting in a decent 6-page essay, on each topic.

After my first 3 hours had passed, I printed a 3.25 page essay. I watched with horror as my friends stood patiently as their 10-12 page essays printed. After my second 3 hours had passed, I printed a confident 6 page essay. Again, I watched as 8…10…12 page essays engulfed mine.

A few weeks later, I received the results: I passed! My 3.25 page essay went up against the same giant as the 12 page essays and accomplished the same result.

Some of us are 3.25 page people and others need 12 pages. As long as we’re all still accomplishing what needs to get done, it doesn’t matter all that much how we get there.

As for me, though, spare me the extra pages. If I have questions, or need more information, I promise, I will ask for it.


Click here to download the files I used to prepare for the comps. 


  1. Hi Emily,

    For you comp exam, where you given an option to choose from pre-selected questions? or were you forced to answer the one question provided. I just want to know my chances of having the option to chose from a list of questions versus being stuck on answering only one. My comp exam is in two weeks! eeek!

    1. Hi Suzana! Thanks for reaching out 🙂 The comp exam will have three essay options for each of the sections. You’ll select the essay you feel you can write the strongest/best essay for. They want to see that you know the information, so cram as many details, dates, names, etc. in to your essays. When I took the comps in 2014, the shortest passing essay at that time was about 4.5 pages long. I set a new CSUN MPA record with the shortest passing essay – one of my essays was only 3.25 pages! I say all this to encourage you to make your essays as “meaty” and “fact-full” as possible.

      You’re going to do great Suzana! 🙂

  2. Hi Emily,
    I really appreciate you sharing your experience. I am scheduled to take the comp test in a couple of weeks and would love to see your study materials. Thanks again. This process is really nerve wrecking.

    1. Hi Maria,
      I was a nervous WRECK and was sure I was going to fail when I was preparing. Absorb as much as you can and trust yourself the day of the comps. You’ll do great! Oh, and I’ll email you the files. Good luck!

  3. Hi Emily!
    Thank you for sharing your experience. My cohort takes the exam in August and we’re all so stressed anticipating what is going to be expected of us. Like you, I am not one to write long essays and am dreading the 6-hour process.
    If you could please send me your study materials I would greatly appreciate it. I’m hoping it will help put my mind at ease. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Chanel, thanks for reaching out 🙂 I just emailed you a link to all of my comp files. I hope they help. Good luck!

  4. Hi Emily,

    I am having a mini breakdown as I’m taking my exam next month. But thank you for sharing your experience. If you do have any materials that you could share with a desperate soul, I would greatly appreciated it. Thanks Again 🙂

    1. Hi Theresa,
      You’re going to do great! I just sent you a folder full of documents I used when I studied for the comps. If you have any questions, you know where to find me. Good luck! 🙂

  5. Hi Emily,
    Thank you for posting this article. I am taking the Comp exam this August and I am so terrified! I am meeting with a group of classmates and we are dissecting each course through the lens of “public vs. private” and “leadership.” I am not sure if we are on the right path, in terms of preparing. Do you have any documents, templates or other materials that helped you prepare? And that you could share?

    1. Absolutely! I’ll email you a folder of notes that I used when I took the comps. I passed both essays (Public Admin and Nonprofit) the first time. You’re going to do great 🙂

  6. Hi Emily,

    I am looking to apply to this program this July. How do you feel the program was working full time? Was it very difficult to keep up?

    1. Hi Valerie,
      I was working full-time when I was in the program too. I only took 1 class per semester because, in addition to working, I had other things happening. It was a full schedule but I was able to manage it well. Most people took 2 classes per semester and finished faster than me – some of them were working full-time also. I’m confident you could work full-time and take 1 or 2 classes and do well! Thanks for reaching out 🙂

  7. Hi Emily,
    I just saw your comment! I don’t know why I didn’t get an email notification. I am currently studying for the comps with two other classmates. We are making a spreadsheet of all the theorists, what they did, strength, and weaknesses. We are also sharing papers. I would love if you shared your study materials! That would be great!

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      I just emailed a dropbox link to my MPA folders, files, etc. Hope it helps 🙂
      You’re going to do great!

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      I was anxious too. I felt sick the day of the comps too. But, in the end, I passed and couldn’t have been more grateful. If you need help studying, I’d be happy to share all I have with you. Just let me know 🙂

    2. I’m happy to share my study materials with you if you think it might help. Just let me know 🙂

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