A master’s degree may be indispensable in your quest to make an impact in public and international affairs after leaving the Peace Corps. Previously, I told you how to research graduate programs in these areas of service. Let us say you are in the second year of your Peace Corps assignment and you expect to go to school in fall 2010. You should start now on the application. And the core of a winning application is the statement of purpose - the key not only to an offer of admission but also to the award of scholarships and fellowships.

I have read thousands of these statements from applicants, some former Peace Corps volunteers, who were seeking admission and scholarship support in a graduate program in international or public affairs. All these statements have had one thing in common: they underlined the applicant’s desire to make an impact as a actor on the critical issues of our time – the environment, health, poverty and sustainable development, urban crises, war, peace and security, and human rights.

Here are some tips on how to distinguish yourself in the statement. You have already spent months in a service capacity and you have decided to put your ideals and experience behind an education that will help you build a bridge to future service. Emphasize your ideals that are blended with actual experience. But lots of others will do the same. So you should underline the unique characteristics that make you different from the next applicant. Show how you want to use the resources of the grad program to build a bridge from your past and your Peace Corps service into a productive career in public and international affairs.

Tell the committee the contributions you expect to make in your career and how their grad program will facilitate your growth. They want to recruit committed and promising students and they want to be sure you can benefit from their offerings. Give it your all. Be clear and honest. Make them understand who you are in a fairly short space. The statement alone does not guarantee an offer of admission or scholarship support. But, with an appropriate prior academic record and strong letters of recommendation, your statement could very well be the key to a successful application.