The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all in various ways. For some of you, it may have prompted your decision to apply to graduate school. This is common! Crises tend to spur interest in higher education. We saw this happen after the 9/11 attacks and after the Great Recession in 2008. But while this trend is common, the last thing you want to be as a prospective student is common. SIPA seeks unique students with unique perspectives. If you want to write about the pandemic in your application essays, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Avoid generalities. We know these are unprecedented times. We also know that seeing how the world reacted to the pandemic may have prompted many prospective students to study public and international policy. But you should avoid stating these as reasons for applying to SIPA. If COVID-19 is a reason why you decided to pursue a graduate degree, you have to be more specific. What special circumstance did the pandemic inflict on you that pushed you to make this decision? You should create a specific connection between the pandemic and how it impacted your choice to pursue your intended degree. Focus on what will make you stand out from other applicants.
- Don’t say you’re applying JUST to get a better job. We all come to SIPA to find a job we love after graduation so we understand this is a huge motivating factor for applying, especially considering the millions of people who have been impacted by job losses as a result of the pandemic. However, using this as the only reason for applying is not enough to make you stand out. Students who are admitted to SIPA come with a specific goal for after graduation. This usually means they have thought long and hard about what degree program is best for them. So, while not every student who gets admitted to SIPA should know exactly what they want to do after graduation, they should have an idea of where their passions lie. A SIPA degree should be seen as a means to propel your career forward, not something to do when you find yourself without a plan. Emphasize how SIPA specifically will help you achieve your post-grad goals.
- Focus on experiences before the pandemic. Even if the pandemic is a major driving force behind your graduate school decision, don’t let this be the main reason. We want to see that you have given graduate school a lot of thought and that your past experiences have prepared you to be successful at SIPA. You should focus your essays on experiences that led you up to this point. Write about internship or work experiences that relate to your intended degree and how these experiences have prepared you for graduate school. If you’d like to address the pandemic, maybe focus on how your approach to policy issues has changed. You should strive to give the admissions committee an idea of why you are a unique and qualified candidate. The best way to do this is to talk about how your specific experiences have shaped you.
Good luck on your essays!