Admissions Blog

Tips and Tricks for Conquering the Application Essays

By Julia Anderson Crane '23
Posted Oct 26 2022

Perhaps one of the most daunting, yet important tasks of the admissions process is writing the required essays. The number of essays asked in the admission process can be overwhelming, especially with such a small word limit! How can you ensure you are expressing your ideas and the unique qualities you would bring to SIPA in such a short space? Never fear!  Below are some tips and tricks from the experts (experts being those who have gone through this process before).

General Tips:

o    Start early: You have probably heard this over and over again in your undergraduate education, and we can promise you will hear it on repeat here at SIPA as well. This is because starting early is vital! Waiting until the last minute doesn’t allow for your best work. You will need time to revisit your pieces and alter them to ensure they convey the best expression of your thoughts and who you are!

o   Do your research: Each essay will require some type of research, whether it’s analyzing the program you are applying to, the unique classes offered, what professors teach at SIPA, past international or public policies, or anything else you may need for your additional essay outside of your personal statement. No sources are necessary, so don’t worry about them taking up precious words!

o   Proofread:  Read it once, then again, then out loud, and then have someone else read it… and then read it one more time!

  • Personal Statement: This is your chance to communicate the unique experiences you have had and the qualities you possess that could better the SIPA community. Your essay should be clear in stating the inspiration and drive behind why you want the specific degree you are applying to at SIPA. This should be expressed in conjunction with your answer to the question, “Why Columbia?” As you know, there are many great programs out there, but what unique qualities about Columbia make you apply? Don’t be afraid to mention specific classes or name-drop a professor. This is where your research will come in handy.
  • Second Essay: This year’s prompt allows for a deeper look at the catalyst that has driven you to this field. This essay allows you to explain your “Why?” when it comes to your selected program. The trick with this essay is being concise as you only have 200 words! The point of this essay is two-fold: to allow the admissions committee to get to know you a little more through your personal experience, and to see how succinctly and concisely you can express a story or idea. Many assignments at SIPA challenge you by asking you to write a lot of information in a limited space, so this is good practice!
  • Diversity/Optional Essay: Although it is your choice to write these essays, this is an opportunity to allow the admission committee to get to know you even more. The admissions packet you submit is your first impression and the admissions committee only has about ten to fifteen minutes to get to know you off a piece of paper. What more do you want them to know? The open-endedness of these essays may pull you in many directions, but that is okay!
    • Diversity Essay: This prompt is a gem because it asks you for a story! The more stories and experiences you can share, the more the admissions committee understands who you are and how you would help bring diversity to Columbia or, how Columbia could help you understand the importance of diversity more.
    • The optional essay is a great chance to expand upon something in your resume that you were not able to talk about much (or weren’t able to include due to space restrictions!) and explain how this has influenced you. Perhaps you faced a challenge in your undergraduate career that may have impacted your grades? This is your chance to talk more about it!

Now that you have these tips and tricks in your pocket, you are ready to set forth and conquer the essays for your application! Good luck!