Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Analytical Essay

Applicants to SAIS are asked to submit an analytical essay as part of their dossier.

I can hear our sharpest readers ask: "But did you require that last year?" The answer: SAIS DC did but SAIS Bologna did not.

This year Bologna and DC have aligned many requirements as part of a single, online application. All M.A. applicants are asked to submit an essay that discusses "an issue of national or international importance and its concern to you." The length limit is 600 words.

This kind of essay is as new to Bologna Admissions as it is to our applicants. Who better to tell us how to do it than a current student who has gone through the experience?

Sarah Ralston is a first-year M.A. student at SAIS DC. Before I let you have a glance at the essay that she submitted, consider some of the things she did before she started SAIS:

Sarah Ralston
After she graduated from university (Johns Hopkins), she worked for the U.N. Development Fund for Women in Mexico City. Then, from Washington she helped to support an Iraqi refugee family of three as they navigated the complexities of the U.S. social welfare system. She then started work for the U.S. Treasury Department, first in the International Affairs Department, then in the Financial Management Service.

In the analytical essay that she submitted as part of her application, she discussed an aspect of her work at Treasury. You might admire her grasp of the subject matter. Note also how she mixes her personal experience with the subject.

She packs a lot of information into a mere 572 words. If you're having trouble keeping to 600, get out the editorial scalpel or start over.

Recently we asked Irena Peresa and Sebastian Alexander Ernst to write about the statement of purpose. Here is what Sarah told us when we asked her about the analytical essay:

When it came time for me to write the analytical essay for my SAIS application, I had difficulty narrowing down potential topics. There was no shortage of timely and interesting subjects in the field of international relations to choose from. But I wanted to identify a policy-relevant issue that wouldn’t be too far removed from the themes contained elsewhere in my application.

After much deliberation, I committed to writing about the use of financial inclusion as a tool for development. Aware of the word limit, I took a broad approach to the topic. As is often the case for me, getting the first draft down on paper was the hardest part of the process. I went through several revisions and asked for feedback from two different readers, mostly to ensure that my points were clearly stated without jargon or superfluous detail.

Eventually, my essay became a brief policy summary about the pros and cons of expanding financial inclusion to achieve broader economic development. I also tried to convey to the admissions committee why I thought the issue of financial inclusion was relevant for today’s policy makers, and how the topic related to my own interests and experiences.

When it comes to picking your topic, rest assured that it’s hard to go wrong. If you’re looking for inspiration, try flipping through a recent issue of The Economist.

Don’t feel pressured to reach any earth shattering conclusions. You don’t need to write a 600-word masterpiece. You’re simply using the essay to show the admissions committee that you’re comfortable writing about issues in international affairs. Pick a topic that’s meaningful for you, and if you manage to help the reader understand your connection to the issue, even better.

Nelson Graves


Anna said...

Sorry, I was wondering whether the word count should include the works sited bit and whether you at all expect a bibliography section? To me, it seems that you are happy for the essay not to refer to particular sources when it is an individual understanding of a topic except for the cases when there is a direct quote? At least, this is how I see the sample essay.

Johns Hopkins
SAIS Bologna

Thank you for your commment, Anna. We don't expect a bibliography in the analytical essay. What will be important is how you analyze your chosen topic.