We tinkered with our application essays this year.  Our intention was to ensure applicants would provide the information we need in the personal statement (Essay 1).  The unintended result is that we’re hearing a lot of questions about Essay 2.  For those of you who haven’t started the application yet, Essay 2 asks:

Share something about yourself to help the Committee on Admissions
develop a more complete picture of who you are.  (500 words, maximum)

What applicants are asking is what, exactly, we really want them to tell us in answer to Essay 2.  The implication of their question is that we’ve left the question too structureless.

As I’m sure savvy blog readers would expect, I’m going to tell you that there’s no correct or expected answer to the essay question.  And I’d understand if you roll your eyes while muttering blah, blah, blah in your heads.  But it’s true:  there’s no correct or expected answer to the essay question.

Still aiming to be helpful, I’ll suggest, instead, a way of approaching the essay.  Think about the information you have provided in your application through all its parts.  What dimension of you/your background might you still want to share?  That is, don’t view the essay as a throw-away, and use it to fill in some gaps left after the rest of the application is complete.

Elaborate on your international experience.  Share your thoughts on leadership.  Talk about your hobbies (assuming there’s a link to your international affairs interests).  Describe a challenge you have faced.  Tell us how you needed to learn Spanish to speak to your rescue dog.  Describe the importance of community to you.  Tell us how your family upbringing made you the person you are.  Provide more detail on the origins of your interest in international affairs.  Write about your quest to cook the perfect dish from a country you love.  Any of these approaches (and many, many others!) would be a nice addition to an application.

In past years, we’ve used essay prompts that resulted in a few interesting responses and a zillion similar ones.  When we asked applicants to describe an item of particular importance to them, nearly all the responses were:  passport, bookcase full of IR books, hiking boots, or backpack.  We moved away from questions that draw such responses because we really want to know about you — not about what you think we want to know about you.

So, friendly applicants, choose a subject that boosts your application and go for it.  There’s no correct or expected answer to Essay 2, and we’ll enjoy learning about what’s important to you.

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