Thursday, December 13, 2012

The analytical essay: you'll want to read this

Today we publish an analytical essay by a current SAIS Bologna student that caught the eye of the Admissions Committee.

If you read the essay -- click here -- you'll understand why.

In just over 550 words, Allison Carragher managed to introduce a topic that was of interest to her and relevant to her proposed course of study at SAIS. She explained the importance of the subject and her connection to it, and examined it from several angles.

Allison Carragher
In other words, she looked at an issue of international interest through a personal lens. Not every candidate will have Ally's background -- experience at two U.S. federal agencies, on Capitol Hill, on a presidential campaign and in a law firm. We would not expect candidates to duplicate Ally's essay.

But applicants pondering what to write about in their analytical essays can draw some lessons:

  • Find a topic that interests you and is relevant to what you might like to study at SAIS.
  • Explain it simply and clearly, say why it's important and examine it critically.
  • Do it all in under 600 words.

We are often asked if it's important to stick to 600 words or less. We're not going to reject applicants who write 601 words. But as Ally notes below, it's harder to write concisely than it is to run on. As a former wire service reporter, I know.

Want to read another essay that fit the bill? Click here to read the most popular post we have ever published.

Here in her own words is Ally's explanation of how she chose her topic and went about writing her essay.

I was working (a lot!) while trying to apply to graduate schools, so I focused my analytical essay on something that I was already involved in at work.

I wanted a topic that fit within the narrative of my application and was relevant to what I hoped to do after graduating from SAIS. I chose Impact Investing because it was a subject I found interesting and knew something about, but wanted to learn more. I think it’s important to pick an issue that interests you because if you actually enjoy writing the essay, that will show.

Impact Investing, especially as a tool for international development, is a relatively recent phenomenon so there isn’t that much research out there yet. I started by reading a number of memos and papers out there to better familiarize myself with the topic.

It’s also a subject my boss, OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, was really passionate about. I talked to her about the topic and where she thought the sector was headed. Then I got lucky. She had to give a speech on business as a force for good, and I was asked to draft it. It was the perfect excuse to start writing parts of my analytical essay!

Even though I learned a lot about Impact Investing, I couldn’t fit it all into one short essay. Believe me, cutting it down to the word limit wasn’t easy! I tried to focus on the parts that mattered most: defining the topic, introducing a few of the issues currently at play in the sector, and making one or two predictions for the future.

It seemed most important to make it clear that I understood what I was writing about and was able to think about it “analytically.” I also wanted to explain how the topic was relevant to me. In the end, I was really happy with the result.

Nelson Graves

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