Application Advice from Current Students: Writing Your Personal Statement

Have you ever wondered why universities require a statement of purpose?  To me, it boils down to this: it’s about making a match.  At CIPA, we want to know if you’re a good fit for a program AND whether the program is a good fit for you.  We know that you’re investing a lot in your graduate degree program and we want to make sure that we can help you accomplish your goals. 

How can you put your best foot forward with your statement?  From the beginning, you need to understand that a statement of purpose is NOT a résumé or a transcript.  CIPA already requires both of these documents, so the Admissions’ Committee can see the courses you’ve taken and the leadership positions you’ve held.  What these documents can’t show, however, is this:

  • How have the courses you’ve taken and the experiences you’ve had led to your decision to study public policy?
  • Who or what has influenced you and how?
  • What are your long-term aspirations or goals and how do you think a CIPA MPA can help you move forward in your journey?

These are the items that we hope you’ll address in your statement of purpose.

Since we believe that experience is the best teacher, we’ve asked some of our current students to think back on their own application process and offer suggestions on how to best approach a statement of purpose.  Here are a few of their thoughts:

I am not a native English speaker, nor a very good writer. So, if you are in either of these situations, the best is to start your personal statement really early.  Once written, give it to people to look over:  your peers, your professors, your boss, everyone.  More people means more feedback.  Deciding what, specifically, you want to project about yourself is vitally important. Keep in mind that every sentence you write has to be related to your main goal.

-Sandra Mosqueira, Social Policy

One of the best pieces of advice I received about writing a personal statement was to use active verbs that showed me taking the action. Instead of writing “I had the opportunity to travel”, write “I traveled…”. Too often, we have the tendency to downplay our own roles and stories; it takes practice to brag about yourself!

-Elif Senvardarli, Economic and Financial Policy

I was applying to multiple graduate programs and one of the things I tried to avoid was producing just one, go-to, generic personal statement. Each graduate program is different and you have to highlight how THAT specific one can benefit you. You have to put in the work. That means writing multiple drafts, doing research on the graduate program to which you’re applying, and then revising.

-Anlly Palacios, Social Policy

I know application pages repeat this advice too much, but they’re right: Make your personal statement address what that specific university is looking for. Writing an individualized personal statement will help you to realize if your interests are aligned with those of the university to which you’re applying.

-Roberto Galvan, Economics and Financial Policy

Take your time.  Applying to Cornell is not something that you can do fast. When writing your Personal Statement, leave your first draft for a couple of days without thinking about it and then read it again (you will find your mistakes and weaknesses in the document).

-Daniel De La Hormaza, Science, Technology and Infrastructure

Tell your story! What makes you stand out and drives you on? With such a qualified group of applicants, I felt that once it’s established that a prospective can handle CIPA curriculum, admissions’ committee members are looking for uniqueness rather than a generic personal statement.

-Rafi Raja, International Development

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