Columbia Mpa Essay

The deadlines for Fall 2017 application are almost here and a lot of you are in the process of working on your admission essays. The second essay for this cycle (Fall 2017/Spring 2018) asks applicants to express their views about a policy-related question. This is a mandatory essay and the prompt for this changes every year. So I thought it was a good idea to share my take on this year’s prompt and some advice on how you can approach writing it.

The prompt for this year is: Tell us about a policy change related to your selected SIPA concentration that has had a negative or positive impact on others. For this, you need to focus on a policy change that is related to your desired concentration at SIPA. For applying to SIPA, you need choose one of the six following concentrations: Economic and Political Development, Energy and Environment, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy, International Finance and Economic Policy, International Security Policy or Urban and Social Policy. Each of these concentrations cover a wide array of policy issues and questions, so there is a lot of flexibility to chose the specific topic you want to write about. The main idea here is to understand your outlook of the policy world around you. So the essay should reflect your knowledge of the specific policy or industry you are interested in. Feel free to focus on either a domestic or an international issue, something that has happened recently or something that is a few years old and has been debated over time.

It is always a good idea to start early. Make sure to have enough time in case you need to research the topic you are writing about and filter out the necessary information to include. While writing this essay, please keep in mind the word limit is 200 and that it is there for a reason. It is hard to be concise when you are writing about complex policy issues and their impacts, but that is one of the qualities we look for in our future students. So this is a chance for you to show the Admissions Committee that you are able to write succinctly on policy subjects.

A second pair of eyes always help. Although we are looking to see your understanding of and opinion on the issue, discussing about it with a friend, peer, or family member who knows about the topic can’t hurt. Making them read your essay can also help you identify and correct any editing mistakes you might have made and we highly appreciate reading an essay that has been properly proofread.

To wrap things up, this essay is not meant to stress you out in any way. Given the fact that you are applying to a policy school and you know your desired concentration means you are halfway there with identifying what you want to write about! Now it is just about putting pen to the paper — writing down your thoughts is helpful! — and make good use of those 200 words.

[Photo | “Ready” by Kevin Doncaster is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

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We receive several emails and calls from applicants asking for advice about the optional essay, so here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to submit the optional essay as part of your application.

First, what is the optional essay?
As taken from our Application Checklist, the prompt for the optional essay is:

This optional essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays. 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. 

Is it a requirement?
Nope! We aren’t trying to play a mind game with you, it really is optional! There is no formal interview process for your application to SIPA, so applicants often take advantage of the optional essay to address topics that might typically come up in an interview. If you don’t think you need to write anything, then don’t feel obligated to do it.

What is the word limit?
There isn’t one! This is one of the most common questions we get, but unfortunately we can’t give you an exact number. We do recommend that you use the other essay prompt word limits as a guide (200-400 words). Remember, this essay is only meant to share information that isn’t otherwise made clear in the other components of your application; it shouldn’t be a second personal statement.

What should I write about?
We don’t want to read your senior thesis as your optional essay. The essay is meant to provide added value by explaining any shortcomings you see in your application, expand on something previously mentioned, or to highlight a relevant achievement. For example, maybe due to personal circumstances you had a bad semester at your undergraduate university and your GPA dropped, or you have gaps in your resume. The optional essay can provide a space for you to explain these instances and tell us why that doesn’t reflect your ability to succeed at SIPA.

If you think there are not any shortcomings to explain, you can expand upon something you view as a strength that makes you an ideal candidate; especially if you were unable to mention it elsewhere in the application. This might include something in your resume that you didn’t get a chance to address in your personal statement, such as a volunteer experience, or relevant professional project you excelled at.

Does it have to cover a single topic?
Do not feel obligated to stick to just one topic. The essay doesn’t need to be one continuous narrative.  If there are multiple things you would like to address, feel free to devote a paragraph to each.

 

I hope this information is useful as you finalize your applications for admission. Keep in mind our application deadlines for Fall 2017 are coming up: January 5, 2017 with fellowship consideration, and February 5, 2017 without fellowship consideration.

[Photo Courtesy of Casper Folsing(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

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