Graduate school essay purgatory

I promise my love of travel and Rome in all its glory will return – and hopefully more destinations! After all, that’s why I started this blog.

But RIGHT NOW, this graduate school essay. Technically, I need to write more than one essay because I’m going to tailor each to the school and the program to which I’m applying. But the heart of the essay will be the same because I’m applying to International Relations programs.

As I’ve explained in a previous blog, I’ve over-researched what to write and ideas, so as of now I’ve gotten the main points I need to cover in my essay down to this far-from-brief outline (feel free to skip it, much of it may not make sense; also, IR = International Relations, exs. = examples, int’l = international ,etc.):

  • Demonstrate IR knowledge/academic interest
    • multidisciplinary approach – why my unconventional background fits this field perfectly
    • understand appropriate contributions from other disciplines (sociology, poli sci, law, etc.)
    • no “1 view” of IR – diversity of approaches & methods to understanding the world
    • “Big picture” – how state/territory fits with neighboring states & into a global context
  • Why now (back to grad school)? CONCRETE EXs.!!!
    • Steps I’ve taken to be better informed about this new field (IR) & better prepared to make a lasting commitment?
    • Beyond academics – illustrate real-life experiences & hardships that have made me qualified for this particular field of IR (exs.)
    • Why I didn’t do IR right away (& what I gained from law school) & how I’ve changed since then
    • Demonstrate personal progression
  • Why specific school
    • Why THIS school not just grad school
    • School’s unique features
  • Transferrable skills
    •  Journalism
      • Communication
      • Write in clear, consistent, precise & compelling way
      • Tailor messages to different cultures & audiences
      • synthesis
    • Law
      • Independent study
      • textual analysis
    • Other
  • Anecdote(s)
    • Use elements of narrative prose: scene setting, dialogue, depictions of actions, internal reaction
    • 5 senses
  • Future goals
    • Building on law degree à went out of way to take int’l law classes à human rights & int’l law?
  • How contribute to the school & what bring to program?
    • Full, well-rounded class due to my unique background
  • My uniqueness
    • Unconventional background – allows for thinking, action, reflection, failure & resilience in ever-changing world
    • Self-awareness – understand strengths, weaknesses, biases,
    • Creativity – independent personal contribution to understanding of a subject AND offer insights not dependent on past thinking (outside the box, unorthodox background)
    • Ability to see problems from variety of perspectives
    • Research
  • Gaps & discrepancies that need to be explained
    • Focus on positive – make “blemishes or deficiencies” into positive experiences
    • Description of internal changes often driven by challenges faced
    • Introspection about my internal development in response to external events
  • Other
    • How have I changed intellectually?
    • DEPTH over breadth – 1 or 2 key themes & ideas
    • EVALUATE my experiences rather than simply describe
  • “Living without regrets means owning the choices we make.”

As you can see (and this is just the “add” part to some paragraphs I’ve already written and may or may not keep), that I have WAY too much going on for a cogent, full essay that emphasizes depth and not breadth. I know, I know that my personal statement/essay is only one part of the overall picture the admissions committee will get of me, and that I cannot change the past 6-8 years since law school that I’ve spend largely wandering and not exactly contributing to world peace or even climbing a career ladder. Because of that, I feel a huge amount of pressure to make up for it in my personal essay and to defend why I have such an odd and unconventional recent past that probably doesn’t look too appealing to graduate school admissions committees.

So… I’ve realized that the only way I can really spin my essay is to play up the unorthodox path that has led me to where I am right now. I’m obviously not going straight from undergrad, and I have very little – if any – related work history since I graduated from law school in 2012. Given this, how in the world do I convince these people on the admissions committees that I’m a great candidate whose life path has led me to what now seems to be obvious – a career in international relations?

If there is an admissions application essay muse, now would be a great time to pay me a visit.



3 thoughts on “Graduate school essay purgatory

  1. I never was able to utilize outlines when writing a paper of any length. I find this somewhat unusual because I view myself as a logical, linear thinker. Your outline provides the “bones” for a truly outstanding essay. I would think the admissions committee is looking for someone who has a passion for IR and who is not a traditional, “cookie cutter “ applicant. And that, my dear, can be you. Love, Papa 👴

    Liked by 1 person

    • Papa! 😃 (or Vater, although Germans use “papa” informally in my limited experience.
      Thank you for the comment, it meant so much to me. I’m going to save it with my “positive” messages from others file.
      Re: outlines. Yes, I would have thought you’d be an “outline person” from the way you think.
      I’m not always an outline person either, but I usually do a loose outline with my ideas, not necessarily the structure, because that way I can refer to it if I forget what I’m trying to say, and so I don’t forget something. It also helps with the “blank page” paralysis. But often once I start writing something, I just refer to the outline when I need reminders and to stay on track.
      Thank you for the comment. It means more than you know.
      I love you,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s