“Discuss an issue of national or international importance and its concern to you. This essay should be no more than 600 words.” The essay is another way for SAIS to measure the intellectual maturity of applicants, including writing and analytical abilities, and interest in current events. It is less about the topic that is selected, and more about the writing quality and ability to demonstrate why the issue is of concern and what might be done to address it. That said, you want to show consistency. While you don’t need to write about an issue directly related to your personal statement and the specific track to which you’re applying, you also don’t want to go too far afield. If you’re applying for the International Political Economy Program, you have a wide gamut of current issues to choose from that fall solidly within topics covered in the program. You probably don’t want to spend the analytical essay talking about your concern for rule of law issues for Kurds in Iraq, unless of course you have a clever (and logical!) way to tie the issue and the program together. Just be smart and consistent about the story your application materials tell about yourself. If your current job includes writing about current issues, you may want to pull from something you’ve already worked on as a starting point. Don’t overthink the topic or get stuck on the decision. Analysis paralysis is a surefire way to end up a week before the deadline with no analytical essay drafted. You might take a few days to brainstorm some current topics you think you can write about with confidence and passion. If you’ve narrowed it to two or three, jot down a few main points for each. Here are questions to ask yourself:
What are the critical components to the issue?
What are the main dilemmas?
Why is this issue important? …to you? …to a larger community? …to the nation or world?
Demonstrating that you can see the nuances of an issue will show that you’re a critical thinker and don’t reduce a complex problem to simplistic jargon.
The essay prompt doesn’t say they expect you to offer solutions, but depending on the issue you pick, it’s probably a good idea to outline a few interventions and discuss the merits and pitfalls of each. It’s fine if you don’t come out knowing the exact course of action, but you want to demonstrate that you’re the kind of person they could imagine holding a high-level policy position after graduation (even if it’s another few years down the line).
Still stuck? Try filling in this outline as a start:
- State the problem or issue you will address.
- Who does it affect? How? (Consider short-term and long-term.)
- Why do you care? Why should others care?
- What are a few interventions? By who? How? What are the merits and pitfalls of each?
- (Optional) What is your proposed course of action? Why?
Once you’ve filled this out, you have a good start to your essay, and remember 600 words is not a lot. You won’t need to write much, but it can be difficult to make a good argument without another 400 words. Try to keep your writing succinct and to the point; avoid unnecessary phrases and repetition. Once you’re done, as I say for every essay, have at least two people read it over and make sure they can repeat back to you the main point of your essay. If they can’t, it’s time for a rewrite. Remember it should also be easy to read. You don’t want your admissions officer having to squint and think too hard about your argument. He or she reads a lot of these every day and is probably not doing a close read, which is all the more reason your argument and main points should jump off the page! Finally, double and triple check for grammatical errors and typos. Have a friend and then another friend review it for mistakes. Don’t give that admissions officer any reason to doubt your seriousness as a candidate! Don’t wait too long to start. Once you have your topic, make your outline and then you’re almost there (the essay will almost write itself)!