Masters In Public Administration Personal Statement

You never know where public administration might take you. Will it take you into politics? Find out where some inspiring women have ended up now.

Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd is more serious about her activism than many other celebrities. In 2010, she received a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Judd talked about her decision to enter the program with the New York Times. She said she wanted to immerse herself in some very serious, earnest, practical learning with people who have literally dedicated all they have to public service.

Since she graduated, she’s been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, has considered running for office in the USA, and has joined the Leadership Council of the International Center for Research on women. She works for a number of humanitarian groups, and is an active public speaker.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th and currentPresident of Liberia. She has been in office since 2006. Before that, she served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until the 1980 coup d'état, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions.

Sirleaf was placed second in the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. She was a successful candidate for re-election in 2011.

Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa, and that is quite something. In June 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States. This made her the first female to occupy that position since it was formed.

Sirleaf was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. These women were recognized "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

In 2014, she was listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller

Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller, ON, MP, is a Jamaican politician. She served as Prime Minister of Jamaica from March 2006 to September 2007, then again from 5 January 2012 to 3 March 2016. 

Simpson-Miller is the leader of the People's National Party and the Leader of the Opposition—a position she previously occupied between September 2007 and January 2012.

While serving as Prime Minister, Simpson-Miller retained the positions of Minister of Defence, Development, Information and Sports, but she has also served as Minister of Labour, Social Security and Sport, Minister of Tourism and Sports and Minister of Local Government throughout her political career. 

Following her second election win at the end of 2011, when Simpson-Miller’s party defeated the Jamaica Labour Party, she became the second individual since independence to have served non-consecutive terms as prime minister.

Leanne Wood

Leanne Wood is a Welshpolitician and the leader of Plaid Cymru. Born in the Rhondda, Wood has been a Member of the National Assembly for Wales (AM) since 2003. She represented the South Wales Central region until 2016, when she was elected AM for Rhondda.

Wood has been leader of Plaid Cymru since March 2012. A socialist, republican and proponent of Welsh independence, she is the first female leader of Plaid Cymru. She is also the first party leader to be a Welsh learner rather than already fluent in the Welsh language.

These hardworking women have all studied public administration, and shaped their careers the way they wanted to. What sort of contribution will you make? Let us know if we can help you in your career.

Applying to graduate school, like applying for a job, requires a personal statement—but don’t confuse it with a résumé. Although they contain similar information, a résumé tends to fragment your experiences into constituent parts. A personal statement, on the other hand, should synthesize thoseparts and form a compelling, future-oriented story that connects your background and aspirations to your pursuit of a graduate degree. This is why MPA@UNC refers to the document as a statement of purpose and asks the question: “Why do you want to earn an MPA from UNC-Chapel Hill?” Your statement must be about you, and it must also demonstrate clarity of purpose. The goal  of a personal statement is to present yourself as a unique and qualified individual, who has thoughtfully considered a public service career, supported by research and self-assessment, to establish that the program is the most fitting route to pursue.

With this goal in mind, here are four tips for making your statement more personal and purposeful.

Don’t hold back. 

People with a clear purpose tend to exude passion for their work. Failure to portray sufficient desire and drive into your statement could inaccurately represent your commitment. While you should avoid sounding boastful, you must demonstrate confidence, enthusiasm, and ambition. Describe how you will be an asset to UNC and add value to the communities you plan to serve after graduation.

Before you begin writing, spend time contemplating what motivates and inspires you. The more in touch you are with your core values and motivations, the easier you will find writing about them. Find a story angle or “hook” from your experiences that crystalizes who you are. Concentrate on crafting an opening that draws readers into your narrative and establishes a theme that holds the entire essay together.

Give examples.

A writing maxim is “show, don’t tell.” Use concrete examples to personalize your points. Instead of simply saying, “I am committed to nonprofit development,” you can say, “Fellowships helped my mother achieve her dream to be a violinist. I want to ensure aspiring artists get that same chance.” Consider the difference between a banal sentence (“I’m a people person.”) and a poignant one (“My three years as intake coordinator for a congregate meals program taught me the value of empathy.”).

Choose examples that clarify how your experiences have shaped you. Describing specific examples of what you want to accomplish in the short and long term further helps establish your strong sense of purpose. By doing so, it will be easier for the admissions team to envision your projected path and how the MPA degree can support your goals. Choose your words carefully, but beware of over-reliance on your thesaurus; use language that sounds like you.

Leave some subjects out.

While striving for vivid, concrete examples, remember the advice offered by the French philosopher and writer Voltaire, who said, “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything." Like cropping a photograph, trimming extraneous details from your personal statement will enhance its focus on your intention. Personal statements are only one to two pages, so plan your story arc appropriately.

Stick with subjects directly related to the MPA degree and your goals for earning it. Part-time jobs and childhood experiences may not be relevant. Some topics may be unsuitable. Since you are writing for multiple unknown readers, be especially cautious about attempting humor or broaching sensitive, partisan, or controversial topics. As an applicant, you want to stand out, but, to be selected, you must fit in.


Admissions committees form first impressions while reading applicants’ personal statements. Make sure they see your best work. Don’t let typographical errors, poor grammar, or confusing sentences diminish the quality of your story. The MPA@UNC admissions committee seeks articulate students who can express themselves clearly in prose. The statement should be considered as a writing sample as well.

Set your completed draft aside for a while, so you have time to re-read it with fresh eyes. Reading aloud can also help you spot errors. If anything interrupts the flow or leaves way for assumption or misinterpretation, revise it until you’ve resolved the issue. Ask people you trust for feedback, but do not enlist others to help write your personal statement. Admissions officers want to see only your own, honest work.

Like any endeavor, if you invest sufficient time and effort and follow proven strategies, then your personal statement should be an accurate and compelling representation and introduction of your candidacy to the MPA@UNC admissions committee.

Learn more about our admissions process.

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