Archive for essays

5 Tips for a stress-free admissions essay writing experience

Writing admissions essays can be one of the most difficult parts about applying to graduate schools. SIPA asks for not one, but two essays, plus that optional third essay that some of you may want to add. If you are like me and spent some time working before applying to SIPA your writing skills may be a bit rusty. Or maybe writing has always been a stressful process for you, prompting painful all-nighters and excessive amounts of caffeine. Fear not, we are here to help with your writing woes!

There are some great posts with advice on How NOT to write your personal statement, and offering 6 Quick-and-Dirty tips for and outstanding admissions essay. This post is meant to help with your essay-writing strategy so you don’t find yourself spending too much time stressing about the essays, or scrambling to change the focus of your essay at the last minute.

1. Start early.

Seems like easy enough advice, but this is for those chronic procrastinators out there (I’m one too), and basically anyone juggling multiple things at once. Sure the application isn’t due until January 5th for fellowship consideration, or February 5th without, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a great admissions essay. As soon as you create your application in the online system you should be brainstorming ideas for your essays. This gives you enough time to edit or rewrite your essay if you don’t like it. Submitting your best application means taking as much time as possible to write your essays and make sure you are following all instructions in the prompt and answering the question.

2. Create an outline.

Even if you don’t normally outline when you are writing papers, having a general layout of what you want to write helps to organize your thoughts. Make sure you have a clear idea of how you plan to answer the question and points to back up that answer. The word limits restrict your answers to only the most important information, so you want to make sure you hit each point in your outline. There is no need to spend hours writing up multiple drafts of essays if you have already planned out what you will write. Plus, creating an outline makes the actual writing of the essay go by faster when all you have to do is flesh out points you already wrote!

3. Be yourself.

We all want to make ourselves look amazing in our applications, and I’m sure everyone applying to SIPA has something great to offer, so just be yourself. It can be tempting to want to embellish your essays with language or quotes that show-off your knowledge, don’t overthink it! The admissions committee wants to know about you and how SIPA can get you where you want to go. The essays are a chance for you to show SIPA what you’re made of, all that extra stuff won’t help your essay, or your stress levels. You chose SIPA for a reason, so just elaborate on that reason in your essay.

4. Ask for help.

I know we are all strong independent adults forging our own paths in this world, but sometimes we need to reach out for some help or advice. Whether it is using friends and family as sounding boards to bounce ideas off of, or to proofread your essay after you write it, asking for help can take some of the stress out of writing an admissions essay. Having another set of eyes look at your essay can make sure mistakes are caught before you submit. They can also provide feedback about weak areas in your essay, or even point out something you didn’t know about yourself that would make you a strong candidate.

5. Take a breather.

Just step away from the essay for a few days or even weeks if you have the time. Sitting down for a marathon writing session to just get things over with and submit may seem like a good idea initially, but we’re all human and it can be easy to miss small (or even large) mistakes the first time around. Applying for graduate school in general is stressful with all of the boxes that have to be checked off, so don’t let that get in the way of putting your best application forward. Reward yourself for the great work you have done, and then go back to it at a later time to make it even better!

[Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658225516. CC BY-SA 2.0.]

Don’t forget about these helpful blog posts

With the Fall 2016 application just one week away, I wanted to remind everyone of a few blog posts that will help as you finish your applications of admission to SIPA.

For those missing exam scores, “What’s with the GRE/GMAT and TOEFL/IELTS?” offers some great insight into how to self-report them. (Just keep in mind you’ll need to also upload a copy of your TOEFL/IELTS score report, which is a new requirement this year for our international applicants.) As for the official test scores: we only need the official records once you’re admitted to SIPA.

Also keep in mind that all three recommendation letters must be submitted by the application deadline. It’s OK if you submit your application before these are received, but follow-up with your recommenders and remind them of the pending due date. PA Adriana Popa and I share some great advice in “3 things every recommender should know” and “4 Tips for Letters of Recommendation.”

I also write about some insights into the MIA/MPA essay questions in “​How NOT to write your personal statement,” “How to answer the Fall 2016 short essay,” and last year’s “6 Quick-and-Dirty Tips For An Outstanding Admissions Essay.”

​If you’re stuck on how to format your quantitative and language resume, browse current student Yiting Xu’s “A Quantitative/Language Resume Breakdown,” which outlines the process thoroughly.

Regarding your missing college transcripts, we only need your unofficial records for admission. You can scan these (back and front, with grading scale) and upload them into your application, or upload a copy of your academic records from your university’s student portal. (Both self-uploaded versions are unofficial records, and are acceptable for admission purposes.)

And as an international applicant, this October 2015 blog post, “What I wish I knew as an international applicant” offers a few first-hand reflections on the application process.

If you need more help, review “Eloy’s Top 12 Application Questions,” which was our No. 1 blog post in 2015.

Thanks to our hardworking team, the Admissions Blog is full of helpful hints like these, so I encourage you to spend some time this weekend exploring the blog further. You can also take a closer look at all of your missing materials on your Status Page. Then, read this blog post that outlines the nuances with the Status Page, which can be tricky.

If you have any additional questions about the application process, please do not hesitate to contact us at sipa_admission@sipa.columbia.edu or 212-854-6216.

And don’t forget: the Fall 2016 application deadline is February 5, 2016. You may find out more about the admissions timeline here.

Good luck on your applications! Finish your applications here.

P.S. Confused by today’s meme? This should help.

How to answer the Fall 2016 short essay

Last week, I shared some tips on what NOT to do when responding to the personal statement (aka long essay). Today, I’m tackling the short essay. Read More →

How NOT to write your personal statement

One aspect of the application people stress the most about is the personal statement, or long essay question.  Read More →

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

 

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns at https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors / CC BY 2.0

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns at https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors / 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.

 

"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

Boiler Image