Thursday, October 22, 2015

Preparing Your Application: Statements of Purpose

This is the fourth in a blog series discussing best practices for preparing your application for Johns Hopkins SAIS. Today, we'll be covering the Statement of Purpose.

A common question I hear from applicants is, "What's the most important part of an application?" I always answer that we look at applications holistically, rather than having specific weights for specific components.

That being said, the Statement of Purpose essay (sometimes also referred to as the Personal Statement) is an integral piece of your application. I like to think of the Statement of Purpose as the keystone of an application--when executed well, it pulls all those pieces together to create a cohesive whole. Without a strong Statement of Purpose, the application itself becomes weaker.

So, what is the Statement of Purpose? It's your story. Who you are, where you are and where you're going, and how Johns Hopkins SAIS fits into that picture. Your Statement of Purpose is how you personalize your application--it allows you to show the Admissions Committee the real person behind the transcripts, recommendations, and test scores. With the Statement of Purpose, we expect you to not only show us why we should admit you, but also why Johns Hopkins SAIS is the best fit for you.

A couple of tips for your Statement of Purpose:
  • Statement of Purpose/Personal Statement essays questions can be pretty similar from school to school. Resist the temptation to write one generic essay and submit it to every school, using cut and paste to swap out the school name before submitting your application. International relations schools are each different, and we each look for different things in an essay. A good essay for SAIS might be a poor fit for another school. Plus, you don't want to be caught with the wrong school name in your essay!
  • The first rule of writing anything--not just an essay--is this: think about your audience.  Your audience?  The Admissions Committee.  Ask yourself, what does the committee want to know about me?  What information are they looking for?  Write for your audience.
  • Good writing is concise writing.  A concise writer can express more in 500 words than a mediocre writer can express in 2000.  The word limit on the Statement of Purpose is 600 words.  You can go over by a few words, but don't send an essay that is 1000 words.
  • On a similar note: revise, revise, revise.  Your first draft can be 1200 words--that's fine.  But you'll need to keep revising and refining until it's down to the requested word count.
  • Revision means that you'll end up spending a lot of time working on this essay.  Don't expect to dash off your essay a few nights before the application deadline and think it will be the best representation of your abilities.  Start brainstorming now, give the essay the amount of time and attention that it deserves, and submit the best version of the essay--and you--as possible.
Thanks for reading!

--Erin Skelly, Associate Director of Admissions

Do you have questions about the Statement of Purpose?  Post them below!

More in this series
Letters of Recommendation
Class Visits
Standardized Tests
The Analytical Essay