Bénédicte, a Political Economy student at King’s College London, sent me these questions about his Sciences Po application and letter of motivation:
1. What would you say really made your letter of motivation stand out from other applications?
All of the students at Sciences Po have great resumes. It would be a mistake to think that you are a shoo-in just because you speak multiple languages, are student body president, or volunteer with the homeless. Basically every student at Sciences Po has a similar, equally impressive story.
Your letter of motivation is your opportunity to explain how all your incredible resume lines fit together in a coherent way… and how they lead to Sciences Po as a logical next step.
Why have you decided to get a master’s degree?
How will this help you to develop your academic persona and future career?
What makes Sciences Po, as opposed to another school, the logical choice for pursuing your degree?
I think that my letter of motivation stood out because I was able to clearly show that logical connection. I would stay away from telling Sciences Po why you think their program is awesome (they already know it is) and focus more on that logical aspect– why it is awesome for you.
Still not sure how to make that happen? Maybe I can help.
2. Still concerning the application, I feel like the committee seeks a personality to stand out more than an academic. Would you say that you focused more on showcasing your personality and your future goals, rather than proving your interest in the modules of the master etc?
First of all, you’re writing a letter. With that said, how you can “prove” your interest in the modules of any degree? By saying that you really, really, reaaaaally love economic development? I’m not even sure what that would mean. A professor once told me never to use the words “love” or “passion” in an application– they just don’t mean anything.
Rather, by explaining the things you have done or choices you have made and why (your thought process/rationale for doing them) you can both showcase both your personality as well as your academic drive in a way that makes the reader understand how Sciences Po fits in your future.
Example: Instead of saying that you think food security is super interesting, tell the story about how you visited a farm in Ethiopia and listened to a farmer talk about the issues facing his family. Then tell about how you got there and how the conversation affected you– that gives us not only a feel for your personality, but also a better understanding of why you’re interested in food issues.
3. I am not 100% sure as to what I would like to do after this master. I just know that International development is the path in which I am the most interested in. Would you suggest to be honest and admit to my uncertainty? I feel like it would not make me stand out as someone who is confident and who would do well on this master. Though I know it is the right fit for me, I still feel like not being sure in which organization or which precise career path I’d like to go in is a liability.
Nobody at PSIA knows the precise career path they want or the exact organization they plan to work for. If they did, they probably wouldn’t bother with a master’s degree! If you want to work in International Development, you don’t really “need” a degree… unless you plan to teach. The great thing about this masters is that it will give you the guidance and tools to better understand what is needed on the development front, thereby helping you to understand where you can fit in. It will also give you some practical experience to help you get a foot in the door for your first job.
So, while it’s quite normal to be a bit unsure about your future path, there is no need to “admit to” any uncertainty– they already know that you are uncertain (and even if you weren’t, they know that your plans may likely change over the next two years). So don’t waste your breath (or word count). For what it’s worth, I didn’t mention any specific organizations in my motivation letter at all. Instead, I focused on explaining how my trajectory so far has led me to the doors of Sciences Po.
That said, if you want to give a sentence pointing towards a vague career trajectory, go for it. You don’t need to be very specific.
Example: I want to work for an international organization that manages development projects abroad or I want to work for an NGO helping with food security in Africa is plenty good enough.
And of course, if you change your mind about anything you write, nobody will ever hold it against you.
4. Finally, how would you describe your experience in the lectures and seminars at PSIA so far? Because from the syllabus it looks incredible.
It is incredible!
Don’t be fooled though… Sciences Po has a serious problem with course sign-up and you never end up with all the classes that you want. In fact, you usually end up with one class per semester that you really didn’t want. Sometimes it ends up being a pleasant surprise though!
As for the lectures, well… like at any school, sometimes you get professors that know how to teach, other times you get a professor who can barely keep your interest for 10 minutes, let alone 2 hours. I’ve only had one lecture per semester throughout my two years though (3 boring ones and one great one– a military General who lectured while walking around, really keeping us on our toes).
The seminars in general tend to be quite interactive and fun. There are a lot of group projects, presentations, and even group essay writing. Coming from the US, that was quite a change!
Feel free to send me more questions, leave comments/questions in the comments, or read more of my posts about Sciences Po! If you’re applying to Sciences Po and would like your application (CV or letter of motivation) reviewed, why not learn more about my services?