The Johns Hopkins SAIS website describes this component: “Discuss your goals for graduate study and for your professional career. What experiences have most contributed to your desire to study international relations? How will Johns Hopkins SAIS and your intended concentration serve to meet your academic and professional goals? If you have selected International Development as your first choice concentration, it is important to also address your interests in your second choice concentration as your application may be reviewed by both programs. If you intend to pursue a dual degree you should address this interest as well. This essay should be no more than 600 words in length.”
(Note: Make sure you double check the website itself, information can change. Don’t make us your only source!)
Everything they list is important, but something you should particularly focus on is how SAIS and your concentration serve to meet your academic and professional goals. Anyone can spin a coherent tale of their career goals and motivations for studying international relations (and SAIS will get stacks of people who knock those parts out of the park,) but you want to also show them how much you want and need SAIS specifically. (By the way, this is true for all your other applications whether it’s HKS or SIPA or any other program.) Think critically about why you truly want to go to SAIS above all other programs and be able to articulate this clearly. Why are you a good fit for SAIS and why is SAIS a good fit for you? Before starting your Statement of Purpose (SOP), try your hand at filling in the blanks with short phrases, a sentence or even two (and no more!):
- I have the following 3 goals for graduate study: (1) ______ (2) ______ (3) ______.
- I have the following 3 goals for my professional career: (1) ______ (2) ______ (3) ______.
- SAIS and my concentration in _______ helps me meet these goals by _______.
- My second choice concentration in ______ also helps me meet these goals by _______.
- My burning desire to study international relations has been fueled most by my experience doing ______.
- I am most passionate about _______ (some facet of the academic/professional area you plan to pursue) because _______.
- I am a great fit for SAIS because I bring _______ to the table.
- SAIS is a great fit for me because _______.
- I am unique because ______.
Once you have coherent answers to these questions – they true for you and don’t just sound nice on paper – you’re ready to start. 600 words is not a lot so this is an exercise in making your point but also in getting to the point. Use the above sentences as a guide to begin writing and be sure to make the narrative your own. The sentences alone won’t make a good essay, they’re only a starting point to help you narrow down your focus. They serve as a guide for your content. If you find yourself falling down the rabbit-hole, describing some experience or idea that doesn’t relate to anything you wrote in the blanks, most likely it’s extraneous (so you don’t need to use it!). At the same time, if you can’t answer one of the blanks above, you need to do some more thinking. When you write, use your own unique writing voice and then have 2-3 people read it over for content. Whoever you give it to should be able to read it and then repeat back to you the gist of your SOP that roughly matches the answers you wrote in the blanks above. If they have trouble remembering what they read or get too bogged down in other details, it’s a hint that your wording is convoluted, you’re too verbose, or you’re just trying to cram in too much. Don’t feel bad though, you have lots of things to say! Take out what doesn’t fit your main purpose, and expand on the essentials. Finally, once you feel happy with the content and overall message and you have it within the word limit, ask 2-3 people (could be the same people who reviewed for content) to read it over your work for grammar errors and typos. There is no excuse for mistakes in your Statement of Purpose and could indicate to a tired and cranky admissions officer that you just didn’t care enough. Don’t give them a reason to discount your otherwise great SOP!