Thursday, October 23, 2014

Admissions: Writing the Analytical Essay

Most graduate programs in international affairs ask applicants to submit a statement of purpose. SAIS goes one step further and asks its applicants to additionally submit an analytical essay.

Below, I've outlined some tips on tackling this essay.

Choosing a Topic
The topic for the analytical essay is completely up to you. The only requirement is that it be related to international relations and under 600 words.

So, how do you choose a topic? Below are three options you can consider:

1. Write about what you know: Leverage your previous experiences to write on a subject you've already worked on or studied.

2. Write about what you want to know: Maybe you don't have an international relations background. In that case, you'll have to do a little more research to define a topic and an argument.
If you're completely unsure of what to write about, a good way to develop a theme is to look at SAIS' policy concentrations as "umbrellas" under which you can narrow your topic: International Economics, American Foreign Policy, Conflict Management, International Law, Strategic Studies, and Energy & the Environment.

Or, take a look at the SAIS course offerings on the Integrated Student Information System. Read the descriptions of classes that sound interesting and begin researching a specific topic.

3. Weave together options 1 and 2:

Valerie Tan, an M.A. student from the Philippines concentrating in International Development, went with option 3. In her essay, she discussed the issues faced by refugees. Understanding issues of migration and the systems in place to deal with those problems is why Valerie wanted to go to grad school, and so it was fitting for her to choose it as her essay topic. Not only was it a way for her to demonstrate her academic interest, but it was a way for her to unpack the challenges of a sector she hopes to work in after SAIS.

Having lived in many places, she has often been branded as "international" or as an expat. This identity, and her experience living in the U.S. on a student visa, also influenced her topic choice. Valerie's essay stood out to the admissions committee because it seamlessly weaved her personal connection to the topic with a high level of professionalism and analysis. Read her essay here.

Making an Argument
The admissions committee wants to see how you structure your thoughts into a coherent essay rather than what type of argument you make. Don't feel as if you have to write something profound. As applicants, you're not expected to have all the answers to the world's problems -- that's why you need a SAIS education!

Structuring your Argument
It's okay to use the first person. If you read Valerie's essay, you'll see that she used the first person POV. That's OK -- just remember to keep the framework of the essay analytical. I too brought in a personal narrative into my essay, but doing so is not necessary.

Write from the "bottom up": Many people make their strongest argument at the end of the essay, but with only 600 words to work with, bringing your main argument to the top will strengthen the analysis.

Concluding your Essay
What's the relevance of your topic? Why should the international community care? This should have been addressed at the beginning of your essay in some way, but ending with a statement on the relevance of your topic to the future of foreign affairs will give the reader something extra to think about.

Good luck!

Chelsea Boorman
(SAIS Europe 2015)

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