Dos and Don’ts of a Policy School Personal Statement

Dos and Don’ts of a Policy School Personal Statement

So, the time has come to write that personal statement.

Where do you start? Here are some quick tips on how to write a strong personal statement for graduate programs in policy or international affairs.

DO write a tailored essay for each program you apply to.

There is no common application for policy graduate school. Ideally, you’ve figured out which programs are the best fit for your interests and are excited about applying to them for that reason. Your personal statement should reflect this and speak specifically to that program or degree. While you can use the same ideas across your different essays, be sure to include one or two unique things that attract you to each specific program.

DO focus on your specific academic interests and professional goals.

Keep your focus on the future. Where do you see yourself taking this degree? How is this degree integral to your career plans? Why does each school’s approach align with your academic interests? Incorporating all of these concepts into your narrative will provide the reader with a clear understanding of who you would be as a graduate student and prove to them that you have done your homework on their program.

DO answer any questions they are asking.

Sometimes the programs you’re applying to will provide a prompt or set of questions they’d like you to address in your statement. Make sure you are answering them. It is easy to default to “form letter” mode when writing multiple personal statements at once, so be mindful of the ideas you’d like to get across as well as what that particular program is asking for. Give your essay to a friend or colleague to get an opinion on whether you’ve answered the questions adequately.

DON’T rehash your resume in paragraph format.

Your resume is already part of your application, so you do not need to summarize it for the admissions committee. You can certainly provide them with your story about how you got to where you are, but keep the focus on what comes next in your journey. Note that resumes can often be 1-2 pages for graduate school, so you can expand on your past experiences there.

DON’T explain past academic issues or indiscretions.

If you had a low GPA one semester, dealt with a family crisis, suffered an injury or sickness while in undergrad, etc., ask the program if you can submit a supplemental document explaining this to the admissions committee. Do not feel that you have to incorporate it into your statement, as it should not be the focus of the piece and can take up valuable word space.

DON’T reference the wrong school, program, or professor.

Proofread, proofread, proofread. After you’ve put in hours of work on your different graduate school applications, the last thing you want to do is send your essay for School X to the admissions committee of School Y.

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Elizabeth McCarthy

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