Friday, November 2, 2012

The Application Process: The Analytical Essay

If you’ve read through the M.A. application instructions (and if you’re planning on applying for Fall 2013, I really hope that you’ve already at the very least skimmed the application instructions), one of the items you’ve probably zoomed in on is the topic for the analytical essay:
Discuss an issue of national or international importance and its concern to you. This essay should be no more than 600 words.
It’s a little vague, isn’t it?  We get a lot of questions from applicants wanting a little more direction regarding the analytical essay.
Here’s the skinny: the question is vague on purpose.
We leave this question somewhat open, because we want to see what you do with it.  We want to see how well you can write, and how well you think critically and analyze issues.  Will you write a policy memo, an opinion essay or editorial, an academic argument?  The choice is up to you.  What issue will you discuss?  The choice is up to you. 
Does the analytical essay require citations?  If the style of paper you choose to write typically calls for citations, then citations are probably a good idea.
Is the 600-word limit firm?  My answer is, “It’s firm enough,” meaning a few words over is fine, but don’t plan on writing a 700- or 800-word essay.  Remember, strong writing is concise; only use as many words as you need.
Does the topic need to be related to the concentration I indicate on my application?  Not necessarily so, but most successful applicants do choose to write on a relevant topic.  Why is that?  Because most applicants select an area that they already have some experience in, and they most likely have both professional and academic knowledge of that topic.  You should choose a topic that you’re well-versed on; now is not the time to write about something new (to you).
My last bit of advice - and strangely, people don’t really ask about this too much - is two-fold.
  1. Start working on your essay early.  So many people stress and over-prepare for the GREs (or GMATs), but they leave the essays until the last minute.  You want to start early so you have time to revise, edit, and polish your essay, so that it shines.
  2. Have someone else proofread your essay.  You’ll get sick of reading your own writing, and it’s easy to miss mistakes when you’ve read something several times through.  Find someone who is a good writer, has an eye for detail, and is a stickler for grammar; ask them to read it through and give you some feedback.  You’ll be glad you did.
Do you have any questions about the Analytical Essay that I didn’t cover?  Leave them in the comment section, and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions