The Supplemental Essay The instructions tell us: “Beyond your other application requirements, we want to get to know you on a more personal and individual basis. We would like you to answer the question, ‘What do you like best and least about where and how you grew up?’ Your answer should be concise, 200 to 300 words, double spaced.” This essay is just what it says, a chance to “get to know you on a personal and individual basis”. And they’re asking you to do this by talking about where and how you grew up. There are a few strategies to tackle this question that are similar in taking on the prompts of most other policy schools. One is to start with where and how you grew up and think about the best and worst things. Another is to start by thinking about what you want to distinguish about yourself as an individual. Especially if you’re thinking “there’s nothing interesting about where I grew up!”, I’d recommend starting with the latter. Make a list of a the things you would like the admissions committee to know about you that aren’t going to be apparent from the rest of your application materials. Don’t worry about how they relate to how/where you grew up. Just make the list. Once you have your list (think 3-5 things), go back through and think about how each may relate to where and how you grew up. Some items may not relate, but most likely at least a few will. The more you think about it, the more you may see links you didn’t think about before. For example, I thought of three for myself.
- I’m very adaptable to new environments and new social settings and consider it a defining characteristic that allows me to work all over the world and with diverse populations.
- I’m extremely empathetic and this has been very helpful in my work in peacebuilding and mediation because I can empathize with all sides.
- I enjoy conflict. I’m not afraid of it and I like debate and argument and getting to the heart of issues instead of pushing them down. I believe that smoothing over conflict only makes it fester and it’s a major reason I’m interested in the conflict work I do.
Now, I would try to translate those into an essay about where and how I grew up. Here are my thoughts: The first item in the list is easy. I grew up moving every 2-3 years and that was tough. I kicked and screamed every time my dad told me we were moving again, but it was also a great opportunity to learn at a very young age how to fit in at a new school, in a new city, a new state… I can elaborate on how that has made me adaptable and able to work effectively in environments all over the world. The second feels harder. I might leave that until the end. Let’s try the third. I grew up in a family setting where one just didn’t argue. Everything was smoothed over. Typical WASPs, right? So this is something I never liked about the way I grew up and I was the outlier in the family. I thrive on openness and debate. I wanted to have lively conversations over social policies even as a teen and that just wasn’t a part of my family. Now it’s easy to let that lead into my interest in a career in conflict negotiation and critical analysis. Now we’ll return to the second item in the list. It’s ok if you don’t fit them all in, you don’t want anything to feel artificial and 200-300 words is not very long. In my case, I can draw on the empathy I learned from my grandmother who I lived near during much of elementary school in Southern California and who modeled empathy for immigrants and those living in poverty in our community. She was critical of the statements I’d report hearing other students say about migrant worker’s children in our classes. Your essay will likely look very different from this–and it should! It’s all about you. But make sure to use this opportunity to the fullest. This might look like an easy essay to knock out, just writing directly about how you grew up. This strategy may work for some, but remember the ultimate point is to distinguish yourself from others as an individual who the WWS wants in their program. And as usual, double check your essay for grammar and spelling errors. Always get another person (or two!) to read your essay to catch the mistake you missed. Don’t make what they learn about you as an individual be that you turn in essays with typos!
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