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Work and volunteering - Personal statement for Master of Public Administration/MPP applications


FranzFan 1 / 2  
Sep 23, 2015   #1
Hi there,

I am applying to a in work and in voluntary rolescombination of MPP and MPA courses in the USA. I will likely tailor the personal statement below depending on whether it is a MPA or MPP, but in reality the courses to which I am applying are similar in content. The applications I am making require personal statements ranging from 750-2000 words. The below os a draft which I will expand or shrink accordingly, but the content and themes should remain the same. I would appreciate feedback on how well I sell myself, whether the central theme is coherent enough, and how well the narrative flows. There is no need to comment on spelling/ grammar at this point. Thank you in advance for your help.

Personal statement:

I grew up in a part of the UK where few people leave their local area or go to university. Neither of my parents went to university. I went to a public school that sends hardly any pupils to Oxford or Cambridge; yet this is the goal to which I aspired. Having achieved it, it was whilst at university that I realised how hard it had been. I saw at first-hand the stark disparity in outcomes for young people from different backgrounds. Around half of my peers attended private schools and only a small minority non-selective public schools such as my own.

My personal experience, and the sadness that I feel at the unfulfilled potential amongst so many poorer communities in the UK, led me to realise that promoting social mobility is my prime motivation in life. I have since worked for five years in prominent non-profit organisations in research, evaluation and policy roles seeking to address this challenge. Now I wish to undertake an MPA to further my objectives first of becoming a better analyst and subsequently to work towards leading a non-profit or public body that promotes social mobility.

In the UK, only 7% of pupils attend private schools, yet 71% of senior judges, 53% of senior diplomats, 45% of public body chairs and over 30% of cabinet ministers did so. Affluence at birth has become a pre-requisite for achievement in life. I feel privileged each and every day to have gained the university education that I did, and all the opportunities it has opened for me. Yet for the vast majority of publicly-educated pupils, such opportunities never come. I am determined to address this inequity, and it is for this reason that I entered the non-profit sector on a leadership development program as soon as I graduated, as it is in such organisations that I feel the greatest contribution to this challenge can be made.

Since then in my career I have focussed on addressing entrenched social problems, first through developing Social Impact Bonds - financial instruments that fund preventative interventions, and most recently as a researcher and analyst at the UK's leading organisation addressing inequality in education. I have been fortunate to work on some projects of strategic significance, through which I have developed my knowledge of a range of social issues, my quantitative and qualitative analysis skills and my understanding of the workings of the public and non-profit sectors, all of which mean I am well-placed to further build my skill-set make the most out of the education you can offer.

Highlights of my career to date include carrying out an analysis advocating the expansion of adult fostering services as an alternative to institutional care - a piece of work that was endowed and launched to the sector by the UK Minister of State for Community and Social Care; evaluating the teacher training model for the UK's largest single provider of new teachers to schools in low-income communities; and re-designing one of the UK's largest higher education access programmes. Above all, this experience has taught me the importance of robust analysis of interventions intended to improve social outcomes. I have been struck by how much government and philanthropic funding is spent on poorly-evaluated programs that are not proven to achieve their objectives. An MPA degree would undoubtedly equip me with many of the analysis skills that I need to help address the evaluation deficit.

Whilst my immediate goal is to further develop my analysis skill set - particularly on the quantitative side - so that I can deliver analytical work with greater precision and to greater effect, my long-term ambition is to move into a leadership role in the public or non-profit sectors. I believe that strong analysis skills is key to effective leadership, since a clear understanding of a problem will always be integral to the design and delivery of an effective solution. I ultimately wish to run a non-profit organisation or public sector body which addresses social mobility in some form.

Demonstrating my commitment to this objective, I have already started to gain experience of leadership roles that address this issue area. I consider such experience vital both to better understand how organisations in the non-profit and public sectors operate at a senior level, and as a means of actively addressing the issues that I care about.

As well as being Chair of Trustees for a charity that provides career coaching to children in public schools, I am Chair of Governors of a large elementary school, and a Director of a chain of elementary schools - both serving low-income communities in London. In these roles I am responsible for holding senior school leaders to account, addressing the concerns of parents and ensuring the financial and academic success of the institutions. Through this experience I have dealt with challenging situations, including disputes between head teachers and between other directors and school leaders. Above all I have learned that there is a pressing need for excellent leadership of social sector organisations. Too often the public and non-profit organisations suffer from a lack of skill and capability at senior levels, apparently due to insufficient rigour in the sector and a loss of talent to more lucrative and/ or less demanding sectors. Driven by this insight, I am convinced that the leadership skills that I could learn through an MPA degree are essential and would help to equip me with the tools that I need to one day become a good leader myself.

As a result of the experience I have gained both in work and in voluntary roles, I believe I am well-placed to make the very most of the learning opportunities offered to me by an MPA. I am aware of the existing strengths that I have, and which I would like to develop further. In my view my greatest ability lies in analysing complex problems and conveying simple conclusions. But most of all I wish to address my weaknesses, which I believe centre on an insufficiently advanced quantitative analysis skillset and a lack of training in leadership and management.

I wish to pursue my studies at [x institution] because of your [x focus in your curriculum] and the opportunity to learn from [x professors]. Were I offered the opportunity to join your incoming class I would make the very most of the opportunity as I have the perspective to fully appreciate its value, and the motivation to achieve highly. Thank you for considering my application.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Sep 23, 2015   #2
Ben, as I read your first and second paragraphs, I came to the opinion that both paragraphs could actually be combined into one since both paragraphs, as they stand now, refer to your personal thoughts and observations of your mother community. By integrating the thoughts in the two paragraphs, you will come up with a stronger opening statement.

For your second paragraph, you don't really need to mention percentages in your essay. That is of no interest to the reviewer and does not have a direct bearing upon your personal side. Rather, mentioning the affluence that allows one to complete an education, something you struggled to do, would be a better approach to developing this portion. It would help highlight the reasons behind your decision to attend higher studies in this particular course.

I am really impressed by the early highlights of your career. One suggestion though, always mention the specific program and agency that you were able to help. Simply saying that you helped redesign one of the UK's higher access education programs, and being the chair of the board of trustees of an unnamed foundation or school is not enough. You need name recall in order to create an impression with the reviewer. So mentioning specific schools, agencies, and programs that you helped can only be good for you. Remember, there may be instances when your claims will be fact checked. So you need to be as specific as possible in order to help determine the validity of your claims and statements.

The rest of the essay is alright and quite informative. In fact, some parts of your essay, should you decide to revise or omit some parts, could very well work as a part of the accompanying Statement of Purpose within your application.
admission2012 - / 481 90  
Sep 24, 2015   #3
Hello,

When I read your essay, what I wanted to see was an outpouring of passion that quite frankly does not exist here. What you are trying to do here is show that you are a fighter for the underclass but your support evidence is rather weak. You need to talk more in depth about your previous work in the social sector and then connect that to the program so that there is a clear natural continuation. Saying that you need stronger analytical skills is ok, but really show the reader that that is indeed the case. Furthermore, you will need to talk more about the specific program and what other elements appeal to you at that specific school and how that specific school will directly contribute to you successfully obtaining your career objectives. - We can help - Admissions Advice Online
bonboncase 20 / 45 15  
Sep 25, 2015   #4
Hi
I agree with @admission2012 and when I read your essay, I can see that you are a very good students with lots of skills and experiences. But I don't see a lot of your own understanding and opinion of MPA/MPP. I believe that if you state more of your feeling and passion for MPA your essay will be more touching. Right now it seems like just listed your experiences about your life. I think you do not have to write your essay using time sequence. You can state why you find MPA interested first.
justivy03 - / 2,366 607  
Sep 26, 2015   #5
- ...it was whilst at university that I realisedrealized how hard it had been.
- At first, I saw at first-hand the stark disparity...
- ...inof outcomes for young people from different backgrounds.

- ....so many poorer communities in the UK,
- ...led me to realiserealize that promoting...
- ...to further my objectives, first of becoming a better analyst..

- as it is in such organisationsorganizations that I feel the...

- Since then, I have focused in my career I have focussed
- ....a researcher and analyst at the UK's leading organisationorganizations addressing...
- ....my skill-set to make the most...
- ...out of the education your institution can offer.

I hope the remarks I made above helps.
It's a good essay and I wish you all the best to further your studies.
Learning everyday is a great way to live life!!!
OP FranzFan 1 / 2  
Sep 27, 2015   #6
Thank you all for your comments. I can see that I've probably gone down the wrong-track with my first draft so have done a re-write. I still fear that it may appear to procedural/ lacking in passion, but at the same time I am keen to portray my likely strengths relative to other candidates (without just reciting my resume), the most significant of these being a good amount of relevant work experience and a relatively privileged background.

As a reminder, this is not a statement of purpose, it is a personal statement, and the main things that it should include (according to application requirements) are my background, goals, academic and professional aspirations, and a commitment to public service.

I will also tailor it considerably for each individual application so there are some placeholders in there at the moment and it will need to be expanded/ cut depending on length requirements. I have removed the names of some of the specific organisations that i've worked for simply for the sake of preserving anonymity - I will put them in for the final application (thanks for that suggestion Vangiespen). I would gratefully receive any further comments that you have on my second draft:

Draft 2:

I grew up in a part of the UK where few people leave their local area or go to university. Neither of my parents went to university. I went to a public school that sends hardly any pupils to Oxford or Cambridge; yet this is the goal to which I aspired. Having achieved it, it was whilst at university that I realised how hard it had been. I saw at first-hand the stark disparity in outcomes for young people from different backgrounds. Around half of my peers attended private schools and only a small minority non-selective public schools such as my own. The frustration that I feel at the unfulfilled potential amongst so many poorer communities in the UK is why working to improve social mobility is my prime motivation in life. I want many more people to benefit from the opportunities that my education opened for me. Since graduating I have worked for five years in prominent non-profit organisations in research, evaluation and policy roles seeking to address this challenge. Now I wish to undertake an MPA to further my objectives first of becoming a better social policy analyst and subsequently to work towards leading a non-profit or public body that promotes social mobility.

I have been committed to pursuing a career in public service from the very start of my career. It is for this reason that my first step after university was to win a place on a highly selective leadership development programme for the not-for-profit sector in the UK. During this programme I worked in a variety of roles in non-profit organisations tackling homelessness and health. One of the organisations in which I worked, St Mungo's, was forced to close a number of its homeless shelters following government funding cuts - cuts which were much easier for the government to make due to insubstantial evidence of the benefits to the organisation's work. This was one example amongst many other I noticed, in which insufficient evidence of outcomes inhibits both the efficacy of social sector organisations and the ability of funders to support genuinely impactful programmes. Building the evidence base of social policies and programmes is a priority in the UK, and this is why I chose to focus my immediate career goals on building analytical skills and applying these as a means of addressing social problems.

I believe that a lack of social mobility is the most significant social problem facing the UK, and that facilitating access to a good education for all is one of the most effective means of addressing this challenge. This is why I have have sought to gain substantial experience of policy analysis and administration in this field - both in my job and in voluntary roles. In my current role, I build the evidence base to support effective decision-making at the UK's largest charity addressing inequality in education - [org name removed]; meanwhile I also volunteer in leadership roles in the field, enabling me to actively address issues that I care about whilst gaining experience in public administration. As Chair of Governors at a large elementary school and a Director of a chain of elementary schools, I have dealt with a range of leadership challenges, including removing a head teacher and recruiting senior school leaders, and overhauling governance at the schools. The breadth of experience that I have gained in a relatively short-time shows that I have the commitment and potential to progress to a leadership role in public service, however I believe that I need quality training in certain areas to fulfil that potential.

A key reason why I want to undertake an MPA is to improve my quantitative analysis skills. During my career, I have seen that quantitative analysis of a social problem or policy initiative is one of the most powerful tools through which a concise and compelling argument can be made. For instance, whilst working at Social Finance, an organisation raising social investment to fund preventative interventions, I carried out a cost/ benefit analysis comparing a form of adult fostering care, known as Shared Lives, to institutional alternatives such as care homes. Although Shared Lives was already thought to provide beneficiaries with a better quality of life, a lack of evidence of its cost-effectiveness was preventing commissioners from expanding it. My analysis proved that Shared Lives is far more cost-effective than most alternatives. As a result over £1m of social investment was raised to support the expansion of Shared Lives in a number of local authorities and the initiative personally backed by the Minister for Care and Support. Just one chart, comparing the cost of one form of care to others, has the potential to ultimately improve the lives of thousands of people.

Yet so many other social policies lack the evidence to prove their financial and social impact. Subsequently, so much public and philanthropic funding is spent on unproven programmes. During my career, much of my work has centred on using quantitative skills to build the evidence base around policy initiatives, encompassing analysis of large data sets and economic modelling. However I lack training in more advanced quantitative methods that are becoming increasingly central to policy analysis, including statistics and econometrics. For instance I am currently evaluating a higher education access programme, where the ability to create a control group and use regression techniques would help me to carry out far more robust analysis of its efficacy than I am currently able to do. It is these skills that I want to develop through this course, in particular through studying x class under x professor, which would help me to become a more accomplished and efficacious social policy analyst.

During my career I have also realised that strong leadership of public and non-profit organisations is a vital, yet all-too-scarce, skill. I have worked closely with a number of senior leaders in the public and non-profit spheres and have found many to be lacking crucial technical and inter-personal skills. For instance as a director of a chain of elementary schools I recently joined my colleagues in voting out the Chair of directors, after we lost confidence in his ability to lead the Board. He failed to succeed in the role because he ascended to a senior position too quickly and lacked training in leadership and management. I feel that poor leadership in the social sector is too common, due to poor accountability, training and development of leaders in social organisations, and to a leaching of talent to more lucrative sectors. Yet it is in the public sphere that good leadership is most vital; in which it most directly affects people's lives. I am specifically seeking training in the financial management of organisations and the socio-political considerations that are integral to an effective and driven workforce, such as creating a diverse staff and a culture which embraces that diversity. I believe these skills would help me to fulfil my long-term ambition of leading a non-profit or public organisation.

I would relish the opportunity to study x course at x university. I am certain that the training you can provide me both in policy analysis, and management and leadership of organisations, would equip me with the skills i need to achieve my short and long-term goals. Thank you for considering my application.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Sep 27, 2015   #7
Ben, it is quite obvious that you took all of our advice to heart. It is reflected in the way your essay has vastly improved from your first writing. This version clearly shows your personal connection not only to the causes close to your heart, but also to the betterment of the service through higher training. The fact that the paper takes so long to read makes it obvious that you were able to argue your beliefs quite well. If I may say tough, Rather than consuming the full 2000 word count, I would have liked to have read an essay somewhere in between 700 and 2000. 900 to 1000 ought to do the job. While a very detailed personal statement is excellent, you have to keep in mind that the reviewer may eventually tire of reading your paper. Specially if he has already 10 others before it. So if you could find a way to shorten the essay a bit, I believe it would help your chances immensely.

I agree that your essay sounds highly procedural. However, you cannot approach the paper from any other standpoint because your job requires analysis, which is dependent on procedures and factual data. Don't worry though, you were able to display compassion and real interest in the projects you participated in as you described the work that you had to do to fight for the charity organizations. That is an impressive feat.

As I review your essay again, I am wondering if you can't just choose one, the most important of all your work experiences to highlight, then make short mention of the other accomplishments so that the essay will be easier and faster to read.Would you like to try and shorten it a bit more? If you can shorten it, maybe the feel of a procedural essay will be lessened as well.

You might also choose to opt to take parts of the essay to create a shorter personal statement. You did mention that you were going to adjust the essay as needed for various statements. Maybe you should test that out now? It won't hurt to try :-) By the way, double check for spelling issues. Also, try to consider restating some of the longer paragraphs in a shorter and more concise form. I could have done some of it for you but I felt that you should be do that since anything I revise might alter the way you feel about and the message of the essay.
OP FranzFan 1 / 2  
Sep 27, 2015   #8
Thank you so much for your comments, and for taking the time to read both of my drafts - such useful feedback.

If you are able to advise any clear ways in which I could edit this down then it would certainly be appreciated. I spent most of the last few days staring at this thing, and now lack perspective to such a degree that i find it hard to edit it down!

I will certainly have a go at writing a version that is half the length, as this would be good practice and some of my applications do require this. But others want something that is around 750-1,000 words, so a little less than the current length, whilst others require something around 200 words so it's a real range. Thanks again for your help.
vangiespen - / 4,137 1449  
Sep 27, 2015   #9
I have read your new draft over and over again and I believe that the only way that we can best approach the shortening of your personal statement is to have you choose which of the experiences you have narrated present you in the best light. You don't really need to go through a thorough analysis of each of your jobs. Just the important ones. I know that they all sound important and valuable at the moment but you really have to choose. While you can use some or all of these with other applications, right now, you just need to pick the strongest jobs you had and try to not call attention to any negatives you may possess as a professional.

Take for instance in paragraph five, you talk so intensively about a weakness that you have. Don't you think that you can save that for a different essay prompt? Does it really seem necessary that you portray your weaknesses in your personal statement? If I were you, I would use the personal statement to continuously enhance my image through the written word. They can find out about my weaknesses later.

If I may also be so bold as to make a suggestion regarding your 6th paragraph, I believe it can be shortened immensely if you omit some lines such as:

For instance as a director of a chain of elementary schools I recently joined my colleagues in voting out the Chair of directors, after we lost confidence in his ability to lead the Board. He failed to succeed in the role because he ascended to a senior position too quickly and lacked training in leadership and management.

It seems to me that the reviewer will take this as an assumption instead of as a fact. So by leaving it out of your essay, you come across as presenting a valid discussion instead. You can always add it back in when needed.

Upon further review, I think you can also revise your first paragraph. If you consider it, there are shorter ways to say what you want to get across. For example, I would present it this way:

I grew up in a part of the UK where few people leave their local area or go to university. I was happy to be an exception to that norm because I saw first-hand the stark disparity in outcomes for young people from different backgrounds. The frustration that I feel at the unfulfilled potential amongst so many poorer communities in the UK is why working to improve social mobility is my prime motivation in life. Since graduating I have worked for five years in prominent non-profit organisations in research, evaluation and policy roles seeking to address this challenge. Now I wish to undertake an MPA to further my objectives first of becoming a better social policy analyst and subsequently to work towards leading a non-profit or public body that promotes social mobility.

That is just one of the approaches that I would take to shortening the essay. I don't think I changed the essence of your original paragraph. That is the main goal of shortening the essay. Saying the things you want in the simplest way possible. I hope my suggestions work for you :-)


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