The most important part of an application to SIPA is most definitely the personal statement. The personal statement gives each applicant the chance to provide the Admissions Committee with a clear picture of what he or she hopes to gain from our program and to elaborate on career/life aspirations.
The best personal statements demonstrate clear focus, elaborate on passion and purpose, and are not vague. The personal statement should be just that: personal. As you describe your goals and the impact on the world you hope to make, you may weave into your statement unique attributes you possess, experiences that have been significant, and intangible things about you perhaps not included in the other parts of your application. Just remember that your passion and goals should be the focus. Your résumé is more about your past, your personal statement should give us a vision for the person you hope to become both during your time at SIPA and after you leave SIPA. Thus when information about your past is included, it should have a descriptive purpose.
The résumé and personal statement should tell us different things. One common mistake some applicants make is to write a personal statement that reads like a résumé. Effective statements expound on future goals and illustrate how the applicant believes concepts learned at SIPA can be applied in the formulation of effective policy.
Strong statements are focused and clear. An example of not being focused is to say that you wish to work for the United Nations. Just saying this alone is too vague. The United Nations is comprised of a multitude of organizations, doing a multitude of different things, in a multitude of different places. Listing a broad policy objective without context is also a common mistake. Whatever you hope to do, you should integrate the who, what, where, how, and why elements into your statement.
Address questions such as: Who do you wish to impact? Is there a specific region, city, country, locality you are passionate about? What population do you hope to serve? What concerns you about the future and how do you hope to address policy questions to make a difference? What skills will SIPA help you to develop? Is there a sector that is most appealing to you? (Non-profit, multilateral, for profit, public). Do you hope to go in a new direction and why? Specificity is important.
There is also a limit to the personal statement for SIPA: it must be 850 words or less. With this in mind, do not state the obvious. For example there is no need to provide the name of your undergraduate school in the personal statement: your transcripts are included in the application packet and this information is redundant. Thus, be wise with your word choice and focus on providing the Committee with a clear picture of what it is you hope to gain from our program and why you are committing two years of your life to obtain a professional policy degree.