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Writing an application essay for a graduate school program can feel a bit daunting, to say the least. We all want to make the best impression we can and also communicate our message of why we believe we’re the right fit for the program and school. Graduate school essays serve as a bridge to our future—a bridge to our hopes and dreams coming true. As a current MBA/MPA Dual Degree student at Presidio Graduate School, I still very clearly remember the anxiety I felt about writing the “best” essay. In the end, I decided to reframe my thinking about my essay and sought to write the most “authentic” essay possible instead of the “best.” After all, I knew Presidio is a collaborative environment, and striving to be the “best” felt more like trying to enter a competition than a community.

Here are my top tips on how to write an authentic, powerful essay that clearly describes what you have to offer to a collaborative academic community like the one fostered by Presidio Graduate School.

1. What are the strengths you have to offer?

Ask yourself what strengths you have to offer. Usually, people want to be the best versions of themselves, and we should do this by also being the best for our social networks. When joining the Presidio community, we are expected to share our strengths with our peers. In your application essay, please tell the Admissions team what you see as your strengths. Then assess how you can share these skills and competencies with your cohort. For example, in the past, those with strong Microsoft Excel skills have helped tutor others, or even be available at random hours to answer Excel questions for those who are still learning the platform. Any technical skills that can be shared are always valued strengths.

It doesn’t stop there, though! One of my strengths is storytelling, which is a skill that I am happy to share with others through proofreading their work to ensure it supports the desired voice, tone, and messaging. I know others who have strengths in networking, visual art, mathematics, entrepreneurial skills, and more. At Presidio, students have an array of interests and professional backgrounds, which means we’re all bringing different quantitative and qualitative skills to share with each other. This aspect of the student community also mirrors our school’s philosophy that we can best address the most complex problems by working together.

2. What are areas you’d like to improve?

In this section, identify which areas you’d like to develop. Some people are born with certain strengths, but much like working out to improve physical strength, there are other types of skills we would like to enhance through practice as well. Telling the Admissions team about areas where you’re not as strong, but would like to improve, shows that you are self-aware and authentic. None of us is perfect (even though many of us want to be!), which is why it’s important to acknowledge the skills we’re looking to gain from a graduate school experience.

Moreover, all of those strengths mentioned earlier that our students possess are there to be shared with others! We have the opportunity to receive the gifts others have to give in this community, which is why we form a tight-knit community, and this culture of exchange allows for the creation of balanced teamwork necessary for projects we complete together.

3. How do you practice personal sustainability?

Now is a great time to explore how you practice self-sustainability. Let’s be real. Sustainability can feel overwhelming. We’re choosing to look at and tackle the world’s most pressing environmental and social issues at Presidio. This means we’re reading and learning about the problems in our world in order to understand them better and hopefully address them more compassionately and effectively. This also means it can get depressing if we allow ourselves to burn out. How do you practice personal sustainability? Others may call this self-care, work/life balance, etc. The point is, no school wants to lose students to burnout, and the reality is that burnout is a very real issue in any academic setting. So, what is your plan now to take care of yourself in the midst of accomplishing your goals?

4. What is your “why”?

Along with personal sustainability, your “why” is part of what will carry you forward in a sustainability or social justice career. Why do you want to do this work? Why is it personal to you? Where does your personal story start with this journey? Do you have words to live by? For example, in my application essay, I wrote about my father and how he always said, “You have no right to complain about something you’re not going to do anything about.” These are words I live by. They move me forward in terms of why I do what I do because there are so many things in this world to complain about, but complaining doesn’t make anything better. Plus, I like to joke that I like to complain so therefore I have to do something! All joking aside, be authentic in your “why” because it’s a part of who you are. Ultimately, the Admissions team and your future classmates want to know who you truly are so that we can be your biggest support during your graduate school journey.

I hope you find that these tips not only offer themselves as useful tools for the Presidio Graduate School application process but also as a chance to know yourself better and clearly define parts of your journey. Self-reflection is a tool used by many great leaders with high emotional intelligence. When we know ourselves, we are better able to show up fully for others, whether that be in work, school, or personal relationships. Hold on to your application essay even after you send it to the Admissions team, because you may find it useful in future job interviews as well! Wishing you all the best in your grad school application process, and I hope to see you soon in the next cohorts at Presidio Graduate School!

Ready to join talented students like Heather and become a Presidian? There’s no better time than now to make a change—for yourself and for the world. Learn more about our MBA, MPA, Dual Degree, and Certificate programs, and then start a conversation with us!

About the Author / Heather Openshaw

As the owner of a long-standing vintage clothing business, Heather has years of experience in customer service. She formerly worked with the City of Nashville’s Public Works Waste Reduction Department to develop a county-wide recycling audit program. She is currently a dual MBA/MPA candidate at Presidio Graduate School with a focus on accessible and sustainable lifestyle design. She lives in Davis, WV.

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