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Horrible start - I need serious advice from you guys!


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Hi all. Like many of you, I'm having the worst of times with this SoP. I don't know if I'm over analyzing this, worrying about doing it wrong, or a combination of both...

As a preface - I'm applying to MA/MS programs in international relations. I know SoPs for PhD & master's can differ wildly in their nature & scope.

At any rate - I'm rather crunched for time to begin with, as I'm currently deployed to Afghanistan & will be until at least the first week of Feb--- which isn't ideal. I feel like I need to maximize the time I do have to get this done as correctly as possible.

I understand what I'm supposed to convey to the admissions board, but I simply cannot figure out a coherent structure past the first paragraph. This is where I am (these aren't necessarily paragraph #s or a logical order):

1 - opening/hook/theme. For me it seems like people include things like a short anecdote, quote, introduction into experience or interests & so on...

(past this is where it starts getting a little hazy for me)

2 - Undergrad classes & experience. I'm a little confused on this. I've been out of undergrad for approximately 6 years, so I'm not certain if I should say too much about this, as I really can't even remember much about my classes! Anyhow, I would tend to think I'd need to tie this into my 'research interests'

3 - Work experience? Really - I have no clue on this one.

4 - Program fit? Basically tie everything together & state how the given school/department/program fits your interests and why you'd do well there, how it would help to accomplish your goals, etc.

Am I on the right track? I understand some schools provide questions/points they'd like you to include, so those are obvious... Should I include anything about low grades, areas of concern for admissions boards (or anything of that nature).

Please help!

Thanks to all who read & offer advice! I'm sure I'll be back with more questions!

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Very quickly - here are my thoughts.

1. Intro - what you are interested in, why, and where you are applying... I am interested in studying X, because of (anecdote, interesting policy issue or theoretical puzzle, etc), which is why I am applying to program Z at Amazing University.

2. Provide specific interests and previous experience researching, studying, or working in related issues.... I am specifically interested in studying X. During undergrad, work, or whatever, I spent time researching this issue... OR, during my work experience I noticed that issue X is commonly misunderstood, and I would like to learn more about it... (This could be a number of paragraphs)

3. Goals - What do you hope to achieve from the masters program. What do you plan on doing next. How does this specific program/faculty help you achieve these goals.

4. Tie it all together.

It looks to be like you are on the right track. I think you can tie your undergraduate experience and work experience into your discussion of your academic interests and how they lead to your academic/professional goals. I hope this is helpful. Best of luck.

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Especially for someone who has been out of school for a while, there is no need to spend a whole paragraph on undergrad. You have more life experience that you could reference.

I like a structure that is more or less like adaptations suggested:

1. Intro - what you are interested in and why (I'd save the "why you are applying to school X" for the fit paragraph later on). List 1-2 specific questions that interest you. For a Masters they can be not-quite-worked-out, but the more specific you can get, the better.

2. Expand on specific interests. How did you develop them? Why do they interest you? Give any relevant background you have that has prepared you for studying these questions in grad school.

3. Fit. Why are you applying to school X? You may want to include - specific professors you would like to work with (and why), any special resources the school provides (classes, certificates, access to libraries or other physical resources, location may be important - e.g. for access to think tanks, internships or whatnot that is relevant to IR), unusual aspects of the program - collaborations with profs or students, social atmosphere - if you know anything about it.

4. Goals. What would you like to with your degree? I think this could be a good concluding paragraph. Otherwise, you should have an additional paragraph for the conclusion.

So, the focus is more about the present and future and less about the past.

There are different opinions about addressing weaknesses directly in the SOP. The best thing would be if you could have a LOR writer address any issues instead of explaining them yourself. Otherwise, the question is really what the weakness is and what kind of explanation you have (you don't have to tell us anything here). You don't want to be making excuses but if you think you need to explain anything about your background the common wisdom is to keep it short and to the point. Write just one or two sentences that end on a positive note - whatever the problem was, you want to convey that it's been dealt with and won't affect your performance in the future. It would be even better if you could attach this explanation as a separate note; many applications have space for you to tell the adcom additional information you think they should know that didn't come up elsewhere.

My personal preference is to let one's record speak for itself and not try to explain away any blemishes (which everyone has, btw), except if there are unusual circumstances like a serious illness, death in the family, etc.

Edited by fuzzylogician
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Especially for someone who has been out of school for a while, there is no need to spend a whole paragraph on undergrad. You have more life experience that you could reference.

I like a structure that is more or less like adaptations suggested:

1. Intro - what you are interested in and why (I'd save the "why you are applying to school X" for the fit paragraph later on). List 1-2 specific questions that interest you. For a Masters they can be not-quite-worked-out, but the more specific you can get, the better.

2. Expand on specific interests. How did you develop them? Why do they interest you? Give any relevant background you have that has prepared you for studying these questions in grad school.

3. Fit. Why are you applying to school X? You may want to include - specific professors you would like to work with (and why), any special resources the school provides (classes, certificates, access to libraries or other physical resources, location may be important - e.g. for access to think tanks, internships or whatnot that is relevant to IR), unusual aspects of the program - collaborations with profs or students, social atmosphere - if you know anything about it.

4. Goals. What would you like to with your degree? I think this could be a good concluding paragraph. Otherwise, you should have an additional paragraph for the conclusion.

So, the focus is more about the present and future and less about the past.

There are different opinions about addressing weaknesses directly in the SOP. The best thing would be if you could have a LOR writer address any issues instead of explaining them yourself. Otherwise, the question is really what the weakness is and what kind of explanation you have (you don't have to tell us anything here). You don't want to be making excuses but if you think you need to explain anything about your background the common wisdom is to keep it short and to the point. Write just one or two sentences that end on a positive note - whatever the problem was, you want to convey that it's been dealt with and won't affect your performance in the future. It would be even better if you could attach this explanation as a separate note; many applications have space for you to tell the adcom additional information you think they should know that didn't come up elsewhere.

My personal preference is to let one's record speak for itself and not try to explain away any blemishes (which everyone has, btw), except if there are unusual circumstances like a serious illness, death in the family, etc.

Thank you -- adaptations and fuzzylogician -- for your help. It's given me a MUCH better direction. I'm going to take these to hear & see what I come up with. Like I said, I'm sure I'll be back for critiques.

Thanks again to you both!

Edited by Republic
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