Archive for essay

More on the Application Essays

With our Early Action deadline behind us and our January 5 (deadline with fellowship consideration) and February 5 (final deadline) deadlines approaching, we’d like to provide some more information on our application essays.

For general essay tips, we recommend checking out our blog entry on writing a strong essay.

For the MIA/MPA program applications, the following essays are required:

  1. Personal Statement
  2. Describe future self to future employer, or current self to future employer
  3. Optional Essay

A quick tip on the Personal Statement

In addition to sharing your personal story, this is an opportunity to indicate a clear trajectory for your professional and personal development. This is the chance to share how SIPA can fit into your path for moving forward. We encourage you to be as detailed as possible when writing this essay.

What to include on the Future Career Essay

The purpose of this essay is to provide a space for prospective applicants to identify their professional strengths and establish a ‘personal pitch.’

Imagine writing a short cover letter to your ideal employer.

  • What skills would you want to highlight?
  • What previous experience makes you an exceptional candidate?
  • What professional qualities do you bring to the table?

More on the Optional Essay

Please keep in mind that this is an optional essay. If you feel that you do not need this additional space, then do not feel obligated to fill in this space. However, if there is something you feel you could not express in other areas of the application, please use the optional essay to share this with the Admissions Committee. This is your opportunity to highlight what makes you unique as an applicant, or to offer greater detail into a part of your application that you feel you should address. We’re looking for the whole picture on our applicants, so the more information you provide, the better.

Our SIPA community prides itself in having a diverse student population, made of a myriad of personal and professional stories. We look forward to reading your essays and learning more about YOU!

peer advisor group photo

6 Quick-and-Dirty Tips For An Outstanding Admissions Essay


Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns at / CC BY 2.0

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns at / CC BY 2.0

Admissions essays can be one of the most daunting parts of the application process. Applicants often spend hours (or days) staring at a blank computer screen, just hoping for the perfect words to flow from their fingers to the keyboard. They don’t want this opportunity to go up in proverbial flames by writing down the wrong response, and neither do admissions officers. But in reality, we’re not looking for the perfect response. We’re looking for your truth. So don’t be afraid to be honest in the words you choose.

To help you in the writing process, here are some tips that are sure to help your writing shine.

1. Follow directions.
It’s an easy step, but it’s one that applicants often fail to follow. We know you’re applying to multiple schools, so every year we develop essay questions and set word limits that will save you time. The guidelines also help our admissions committee make the best decision about your eligibility. So answer the essay question—and only the essay question—and abide by the word limit. (OK, you can go over by a few words.) And if you want to expand upon another topic, take advantage of the optional essay question.

2. Be concise.
Keep your responses short and to the point. Don’t waste your word limit on Brobdingnagian (really, really big) words and long-winded sentences. There’s a word limit for a reason: we want you to get to the truth of your educational/professional desires as quickly as possible.

3. Show us your hunger.
This is your chance to tell us your truth that we mentioned at the beginning of this post. Show us that you really want to be here and why SIPA is the only place for you. Introduce yourself, your intended program of study and your motivations and experiences. Did something interesting happen that led you on your path to SIPA? Then tell us about it, and what you want to accomplish. Don’t forget to cite specific examples of how SIPA can help you achieve your deepest aspirations.

4. Take advantage of the optional essay.
This is your chance to talk about deficiencies in your application. If you don’t have as much professional experience or your lacking quantitative skills, explain to use why you’re still a stellar candidate. There’s a reason you’re applying even if you don’t “check off all of the boxes,” so elaborate on exactly why. Or, just tell us something unexpected about yourself. What makes you unique compared to other applicants? What’s something specific you can bring to the program?

5. Don’t quote Mahatma Gandhi. Seriously.
It’s nice to read that applicants admire great people throughout history, but admissions officers don’t want to read the same inspirational quotes time and time again. (Besides, you’re quoting them wrong.) We want to read about what you have to say, not what other great people in history have said or done. So keep your essays focused on you, and you alone.

6. Proofread your work. When you’re finished, proofread it again.
Believe it or not, spell check doesn’t catch everything. So make sure you proofread your work carefully. Heck! Ask someone else to read it as well. A great trick is to print out your essay and read every single word backwards. (You’d be surprised at how mistakes you’ll catch!) Also, a good way to catch grammatical and sentence-structure mistakes is to read the essay aloud. For example, if you have trouble catching your breath between sentences, tighten things up.

Are you ready to write an outstanding admissions essay? We thought you might be. You can start (or finish) your MIA/MPA application here: MIA/MPA Admissions Application.


Tips for SIPA’s 2014 Application- The Personal Statement

Ah, the personal statement. Perhaps there is no part of the application more anguished over, more edited and re-edited, more emphasized than this.

First off, as the applicant you should embrace the personal statement! An applicant doesn’t always have control over how his or her final microeconomics grade turned out, or his or her GRE verbal score may be a little lower than desired. But the personal statement is a place where the applicant has full control. So feel empowered!

It is important to note that the admissions office sees the personal statement as the most important part of the application. It helps us to learn about your passions, your goals, and your desire to impact the world and make it a little brighter. Due to the volume of applications we receive, we cannot conduct interviews with our applicants, but we do think of the personal statement as a type of interview.

With this in mind, if you could only spend 10 or 15 minutes in front of the Admissions Committee, what would you say? What’s your best sales pitch? We want to hear it.

Our personal statement section is broken down into three distinct parts, with an optional fourth essay. Before we dive into those questions, here are some common questions that we receive at the admissions office regarding the essays.

Question:  Do I have to follow the format of the personal statement?

Answer: Yes.  Please follow these instructions, for your sake and ours. Stay within the stated word limits. And know that you will be judged harshly if you try to substitute a statement written according to another school’s requirements. Following the directions (on all parts of the application) is a critical part of applying to SIPA.

The majority of this entry addresses the first part of the personal statement.  We generally do not provide instructions regarding the second and third parts because we want each applicant to answer in his or her own way.  For the second and third parts, we are interested in how applicants choose to respond to the question and thus have no specific advice on what constitutes a “good” part 2 answer and part 3 answer.

The fourth part of the personal statement is wide open. We provide space where you can include information you wish for the Committee to be aware of that might not be highlighted in other parts of your application or that you feel will shed light on some aspect of your past or future goals.  Part four can focus on things you are proud of, or perhaps not so proud of.  You may also use this part to address any concerns in your application.  The Admissions Committee would prefer to see something in section four, so please try not to leave it blank!

Question:  Do you have any general advice regarding the personal statement?

Answer: Yes, and the rest of this entry will focus on advice for you to consider.

For one, it’s probably not a good idea to quote someone  in your personal statement.  For example, it would not be wise to say something along the lines of the following –

I want to join SIPA because like Gandhi said, “I wish to be the change I wish to see in the world.”

While this is a nice quote and Gandhi was an incredible person, the Admissions Committee is not making a decision to admit Gandhi to SIPA – we are considering admitting you to our program.  Thus we are not so interested in what Gandhi has to say. Rather, we are  interested in what you have to say! Also, when you quote someone else it in essence says, “I could not think of anything on my own to say, so let me let someone else do it for me.”

At SIPA we are looking for creative, passionate, smart, driven, and competent people.  The best personal statements are just that – personal.  We want to hear from you.  The best applicants each year become quotable.  When an Admissions Committee member is impressed with what an applicant has written, they will often call attention to this when discussing the application.  So your goal should be to become quotable, not to quote someone else.

Another note is that your answer to section one should not simply be your résumé in paragraph format.  In order to get your point across in your personal statement it might be necessary to restate information already included in your résumé, however do not restate information without a specific reason or goal.

One thing not to do for example is to tell us in your personal statement where you went to school.  Many applicants will mention the name of their school in the personal statement.  What is wrong with this? Well, you sent us your transcript and you state where you went to school in your résumé, why would we need to be told a third time where you went to school?  Use your personal statement to get across new information that might not be contained in other parts of your application. Tell us things we don’t know. Give us great reasons why you absolutely have to be in our new entering class.

Your answer to part one of the personal statement should particularly be about what you hope to accomplish in the future.  What are you passionate about?  What are your goals?  What impact do you hope to make on the world?  Most of the contents of your application are about your past, we want a glimpse into your future.

One thing we are trying to determine is if SIPA is the right program for you.  We are also trying to determine the type of contribution you will make as a student and alumnus of our program.  We do understand that you might not know exactly what you wish to do, however you should try to be as specific as you can.  For example, if you are interested in development, is there a region or particular group of people you wish to focus on? If you are interested in international security policy, what do you hope to do with the skills you attain while at SIPA?

Strong responses to part one are focused and clear. An example of not being focused is to say that you wish to work for the United Nations. 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.

The most outstanding personal statements each year become a part of discussions amongst members of the Admissions Committee.  Each person is different and has a different history and goals.  Make sure to pour yourself into your personal statement and it will likely stand out because no two people are the same.

Application Essay Question 2

Please share any additional information about yourself that you believe would be of interest to the Admissions Committee.  Please focus on information that is not already reflected in the other parts of your application or might not be clear in the information submitted.  You may also use this section to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. 

We at the admissions office receive lots of inquiries about the above essay question, and understandably so.  This question is asked on most graduate and undergraduate applications as an optional method of describing any mitigating circumstances that might impact your admission credentials.  While it can certainly be used for that; at SIPA an answer to this question is required.

So how do you answer it?  First and foremost, as the prompt itself implies, use this space to answer any lingering questions the Admissions Committee might have.  This could mean addressing gaps in your resume, explaining personal circumstances that may have led in a dip in your GPA as an undergraduate or expressing your ability to perform academically despite less than stellar test scores.

If you are among the lucky applicants for whom none of these issues are of concern, use this space to tell us something about yourself that we would not find elsewhere on the application.  Although your professional experience may be impressive, SIPA is a competitive program and that could be said for the vast majority of our applicants.  The Admissions Committee is not just admitting individual applicants but building a class like a mosaic.  What’s special about you?  What makes you tick?  Was there a particular experience that sparked your interest in international affairs?  What makes you who you are?  There is no one way to tell this story.  Just be as specific as possible and use this space to draw a picture of how/what you can add to our incoming class.

We look forward to getting to know you!


preparation for grad school app

If you’re starting to apply to public policy programs, I remember being in your shoes.  It can be nerve wracking and frustrating especially when you have  years of professional experience, but in a non-traditional field. Coming from a background of working on political campaigns, I knew what skills I had developed and how they could help me be successful at SIPA, but I wasn’t sure how my resume would translate to an admissions committee that might not be familiar with the intense work environment, time management, and quantitative  skills that one builds on the campaign trail. Luckily for me I was able to make that argument because, here I am! I want to share some advice I wish someone had given me early in the application process. These tips can be useful to everyone, but especially those coming from a non-traditional working environment.

Here is some advice I wish someone had given me in preparation for the grad school application process.

1) Take some classes. 
Even though SIPA does not require any specific courses as a prerequisite to admission, you need to be able to show you have strong quantitative skills on your application.  I  knew where these skills came into play on a campaign,  but I knew it would be less obvious to others and scoring well in a math or econ class can help solve that as well as give you a leg up in your first year econ courses. In addition, if your grades weren’t great in college, as mine were not,  taking classes gives you an opportunity to prove that you’ve matured. Finally if you’ve been out of school for a while, it’s an opportunity to cultivate an academic reference, and one who is more experienced in writing letters of recommendation than your professional colleagues are likely to be, which brings me to number 2…

2) Give your references plenty of warning, and coaching. You should probably do this anyway, but it goes double if your references are from a field where they are not usually called on to give a recommendation.  In my case asking my former bosses to write a reference in October of an election year would have been far from ideal. You don’t want to miss out on a reference who knows you well because they don’t have time and you don’t want them to do a rushed job. In addition, your friends and colleagues may be unfamiliar with the application process so it useful to give them plenty of coaching about writing a good recommendation.  Send them a copy of your personal statement so they have a sense of your professional goals and can relate that back to your prior experience. Talk to admissions officers  (or read on our website) about what we are looking for in an application and then use your recommendations to highlight your strengths with specific examples and to help address any holes.

3) Start your applications early, not just the essay. I made this mistake with my early applications. I spent weeks writing answers to the long essay questions, but had not considered what I would include in my resume, what if anything, I would write about having been sick in college in the portion where they ask if there is any additional information the admissions committee should know, and how long it would take to track down and upload my transcripts in the proper format. Ideally I would fill all of these out ahead of time, and have uploading my final essays as the last step.

4) Visit the campus. Trying to distinguish between schools from their websites and viewbooks is kind of like online dating- you won’t get a real feel for them until you meet them in person. Undergraduate institutions have distinct personalities and so do their graduate counterparts. Not only will pre-application visits save you time and money on applying to places you wouldn’t actually want to go, they will help you get a feel for the culture of the school and thus what to include in your application. SIPA offers info sessions on most Mondays and Fridays as well as the opportunity to sit in on classes and interact with current students. Send us an email! I’d be happy to help you set this up.

5) Be able to make an argument for why you need your degree. I like to joke that I have a PhD in Campaign Management from the school of hard knocks, and yet here I am pursuing a Masters of Public Administration.  Think long and hard about what you want out of a graduate degree and which programs fit your career goals before you begin to apply. If you can’t explain to yourself why you need a degree from that institution to achieve your goals, then how can you explain it to the school? There is no shame in researching a program and deciding it isn’t the right fit for you. The more specifically you  can articulate how your program of choice will help you reach your goals,  the better your chance of admission and the better for you personally.

I’m looking forward to helping you through the process!

Best of Luck,

Nancy Leeds is a Democratic Campaign Operative and blogger pursuing her MPA in Social Policy and Management at SIPA.  She is specifically interested in voting rights and electoral systems.



"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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