Breaking down the MPA/MPP personal statement, personal essay, and supplemental essay

Nov 08 2023
Graduate Admissions Office

Essays for graduate study cover a myriad of topics. Here at SPIA, we hope our essays help reflect and speak to our culture, our community, and our values—the stuff we care about. We require a variety of essays and short answer written responses, and each serves a slightly different purpose toward helping us to understand the academic and professional trajectory of each person as well as the motivation for graduate study at Princeton. No one thing is determinative in our process or application; we read each file individually and holistically, and admissions decisions are based on the totality of information in the file. 

The personal statement should answer the prompt and include an explanation of one’s commitment to a career in public service. We are interested in a clear description of the policy areas of interest to you and why you care about them as well as how your previous academic, personal, and professional experiences have shaped your career goals. We want to know why you want to enroll at SPIA, what you hope to gain from our program, as well as your career plans in terms of policy issues and agencies or organizations you wish to work with and why. We are looking to understand Why Princeton. Why now. And what’s next.

SPIA’s supplemental essay has long been the part of our application where we ask you to go beyond the other dimensions of the file and where we seek to get to know you on a more personal and individual basis. We all come from somewhere and it shapes us – both in who we become and what we value. We’re interested in your story and what shaped you. What do you value? This essay often helps us to further understand the person behind the paper.

This year, the Graduate School introduced the personal essay. The announcement of this essay reaffirms Princeton’s strong commitment to welcoming students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It provides applicants an additional space to describe how their academic interests and life experiences will help them contribute to Princeton’s scholarly community. We hope to further understand how you will contribute to our tight-knit and vibrant campus community.

We understand there may be some similarities and overlap in how you interpret and write each essay. Our hope, of course, is that each essay will reveal something new and that each provides space and opportunity to translate through as rich and as full a description of your background, goals, and aspirations as possible. 

Through each of them, we are looking for you to tell us your story in the way that only you can.

Good luck!