How to Write a Grad School Application Essay
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What Is a Grad School Application Essay? | What Are Admissions Officers Looking for? | Before You Start Writing | While You're Writing | When You've Finished Writing | Sample Essay | Grad School Essay FAQs
Writing a graduate school admission essay can seem daunting. However, students can make the process easier by taking time to develop and organize their ideas before writing their personal statement.
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Students can apply several practices to write a compelling grad school personal statement that gets readers to take notice. These steps include developing a solid outline, conveying a strong and memorable thesis, presenting specific points relevant to the topic, and taking sufficient time to edit and proofread the essay before submitting it.
What Is a Grad School Application Essay?
Graduate school admission or application essays allow graduate programs to get to know applicants better as people. Although an applicant's grade point average (GPA), transcripts, and test scores tell part of their story, grad school essays allow students to show how their personalities, achievements, and past experiences inform their career interests and potential for academic success.
Graduate schools often ask for personal statements or letters of intent from applicants. Prospective graduate students should know what distinguishes these documents.
- A personal statement allows students some freedom to discuss how their past experiences, career goals, and interest in a prospective program have shaped their likelihood of success in and fit for graduate study.
- A statement of purpose describes a student's reasons for applying to a program. The student typically explains how their career goals, qualifications, and research interests will affect their future beyond graduate school.
- A letter of intent is a brief essay describing a student's skills, accomplishments, and goals that pertain to the field of study they aspire to pursue while in graduate school.
What Are Admissions Officers Looking for in a Grad School Essay?
In general, admissions personnel review these essays to determine how well students might fit in with a graduate program and succeed academically. Reviewers also look for a sense of how well prospective students handle stress, overcome challenges, and stand up to the demands of a rigorous program.
Grad school essays should shed light on how well students respond to criticism of their work. Also, graduate school provides a setting where individuals can explore diverse theories and perspectives. To this end, admissions personnel look for clues about students' openness to different viewpoints and their ability to express their ideas in written form.
What to Know Before You Start Writing
Review the prompt.
The prompt for the application essay gives students a sense of how to focus their writing. Before starting to write, students should read the instructions within the prompt carefully. These directions shed light on readers' expectations.
Prompts for grad school application essays vary greatly, with some offering little detail on what the statement should cover. Applicants should pay close attention to the requirements, including word count, format, and submission method.
Some graduate essay prompts offer few instructions or requirements, leaving applicants a lot of room for choosing a topic. To determine the most appropriate topic, focus, and personal examples to include, students should devote considerable time to brainstorming before they start writing.
Students should give themselves time to reflect on their strengths, accomplishments, and research interests. They should also consider the qualities they want in a graduate program and pick out benefits provided by the program so they can speak to the specific reasons they're applying.
Create An Outline
Outlining is a crucial step in creating a compelling and memorable grad school personal statement. Just as architects need a blueprint to design and build a skyscraper, grad school applicants need a roadmap to organize and write their essays.
The most effective application essays include an attention-grabbing introduction, a body with solid and concise points, and a memorable conclusion. An outline will likely change somewhat during the writing process, but it still allows the writer to stay on top of the essay's construction.
Know the Point You're Trying to Get Across
A grad school personal statement should present a clear point or thesis to help it stand out. An overall thesis statement or claim answers the question, "What is this essay about?" A reader should not have to work hard to understand the thesis. If the point of an essay is unclear or confusing, an admissions officer might stop reading.
Applicants should place their thesis in the introduction so that the reader clearly understands what the following essay will address. Students can insert their thesis immediately after an anecdote, quotation, or other attention-getter to provide a smooth transition into the main topic.
Be Aware of Topics to Avoid
Brainstorming allows an applicant to consider a variety of topics and ways of writing about them. However, some subjects may be inappropriate for a grad school application essay because they could alienate certain readers or make them lose interest.
Topics that writers should consider omitting from an admission essay include the following:
- Traumatic personal experiences
- Subjects that make the writer appear overly negative or cynical
- An exhaustive list of accomplishments
Students should also avoid using well-known phrases or expressions. For example, common cliches offer virtually no advantage because they suggest little to no originality of thought. Also, students should not use words or terms (e.g., vulgar language) that detract from their professionalism.
What to Consider While You're Writing
Grab the reader's attention.
A strong grad school personal statement starts with writing a concise introduction that gains the reader's attention. The writer can make the essay more memorable by using a brief anecdote, quotation, compelling statistic, or rhetorical question.
The introduction should also provide a clear preview or roadmap for the rest of the essay. After the attention-getter, the essay should quickly transition into the thesis statement or main idea, followed by a preview of the upcoming points.
Writers should revisit the introduction once their essay is complete to double-check that it accurately reflects the main points of the essay.
Students should not just focus on what they think admissions personnel will want to read. Instead, they should use their voice to present their ideas in meaningful ways that reflect their true selves. In other words, write with authenticity. While the essay should reflect a polished draft, it should also show applicants as they are.
Graduate school applicants shouldn't lie or misrepresent themselves in the grad school essay. In addition to strengths and accomplishments, admissions departments want to read what applicants say about their shortcomings and how they have worked to overcome them.
Be Relevant and Specific
While students can use creative anecdotes and personal examples, they need to make their points relevant to the prompt or question. Admissions personnel generally want to learn why students wish to enroll in the program and what makes them qualified. These elements can serve as the foundation when writing the main body of an essay .
Also, the main points should be specific. For example, in expressing why they are applying to a particular program, applicants can use a brief anecdote to explain their desire to work with a faculty member who shares their research interests. While stories and examples add a personal touch, they should not distract from essential information that grad schools want to know about an applicant.
Have a Strong Ending
When writing the conclusion of a graduate school admission essay, writers should restate the thesis and reiterate the main points. Rather than presenting new information, the ending should remind the reader of the statement’s main ideas. Furthermore, it should refer back to those points while giving the reader something to think about after they have finished reading.
A conclusion can also end by tying back to the attention-getting statement in the introduction. This stylistic device brings the whole essay full circle, provides a sense of closure, and strengthens the emotional connection with the reader.
What to Do When You've Finished Writing
Finishing the draft of a graduate school admission essay does not signal the end of the writing process. Rather, polishing the draft requires re-reading, editing, and getting feedback before submitting it.
Reread Your Draft
A grad school essay containing errors or reflecting poor writing does not leave a favorable impression. Re-reading the essay allows for catching mistakes, clearing up confusing sentences, and strengthening the main points.
Unfortunately, writers can gloss over errors after reading the essay just once. As a rule of thumb, when students believe their draft has gone through enough editing and proofreading, they might take a little more time and read the document one more time.
Edit Your Draft
Students should not confuse editing with proofreading — a step that involves checking for grammar, punctuation, and stylistic errors. Editing is a more substantive process that includes checking for conciseness and ensuring that ideas flow well. Proper editing also allows writers to determine whether each paragraph or section expresses a single thought and make sure that sentences are concise and clear.
Students should allow enough time to edit their essays. Also, reading the essay aloud can provide another way to catch mistakes or confusing phrases.
Students should find individuals they trust to check their personal statement for clarity, errors, and other stylistic inconsistencies. Also, having others review the essay can give the applicant a sense of how others perceive its tone, organization, and potential to engage the reader.
Trusted peers, instructors, family members, friends, and students who have recently gone through the grad school application process often provide excellent feedback. Students can also seek out others who are applying to graduate school to share their personal statements and exchange constructive criticism.
Sample Grad School Application Essay
Prompt: Why do you wish to pursue a graduate degree in communication studies at the University of Oklahoma and how does it relate to your career goals?
Three years ago, I underwent a breast biopsy after two mammograms failed to rule out a suspicious lump. I met with my oncological surgeon before she was to perform the procedure. Although her technical skills were superior, her bedside manner left me feeling scared, uncertain, and lacking confidence in my capacity to handle a possible cancer diagnosis. Moreover, my doctor's inability to relate to me personally left me feeling powerless in meeting my health needs as a patient.
In poor health, many people feel robbed of their dignity. One of the most critical settings where patients can maintain dignity is during a doctor's visit. I wish to conduct research and teach courses in an academic setting to explore how doctor-patient interactions can help patients gain more confidence and improve their health outcomes. To this end, I am applying to the Communication Department at the University of Oklahoma to pursue a master's degree specializing in health communication. This master's will then allow me to continue my studies and earn a doctorate in this area.
I first learned a great deal about doctor-patient interactions while taking an undergraduate health communication class from Dr. Edith McNulty at the University of Nebraska. Dr. McNulty's class informed the way I view my breast biopsy experience. After completing her class, I enrolled in an independent study with Dr. McNulty transcribing qualitative interviews she conducted with patients. Through this independent study, I also learned how to perform constant comparative coding of those transcripts.
My independent study has fueled my interest in researching health communication and teaching classes on the subject. My interest in the communication studies program at Oklahoma stems partly from my interest in Dr. Dan O'Malley's studies of patients' expressions of ethnicity when they encounter healthcare workers. Working with Dr. O'Malley could expand my healthcare interest to include ethnicity as a factor in these settings.
I also am familiar with Dr. Wendy Wasser's research on communication efficacy during online video appointments. Given that increasing numbers of patients rely on telemedicine to receive their healthcare, studying with Dr. Wasser can help me understand the role of new communication technologies in doctor's visits.
Although my breast biopsy from three years ago was benign, I know that other patients are not as fortunate in their health outlook. All patients have the right to quality communication during doctor visits to help them gain confidence and take proactive measures toward their healthcare. My pursuit of a master's in health communication at the University of Oklahoma can set me on a path to contributing to our understanding of the interpersonal impact of doctor-patient interactions on medical care and patient well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions About Grad School Application Essays
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How long should a grad school application essay be?
Most applicants should expect to write at least 500 words for their grad school admission essay. However, length varies by graduate program. Many application materials contain specific instructions on how to write the essay, including word limits.
What should I title my application essay for grad school?
If an online application submission page includes a text box for the title, the applicant should follow the word or character limit and make the title relevant to their grad school personal statement. However, students do not need to add a title if the application does not require it.
How do I make my application essay stand out for grad school?
Prospective students should write a clear and compelling grad school essay free of errors. Also, the statement should help make the applicant stand out from their peers. It can include specific examples of unique experiences that illustrate students' strengths and abilities.
What should you not do in an application essay for grad school?
Students should not wander off topic when answering a prompt, especially if it asks a specific question. Also, an essay should not include so many personal examples that they read as a list. Instead, the applicant can provide a brief anecdote for each main point they want to make.
How do you answer grad school application essay questions?
The best graduate school admission essays have a clear thesis statement and good organization. They also grab the reader's attention right away and maintain it to the end. The best essays also reflect the writer's careful attention to the application instructions by addressing the prompt thoroughly.
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Lonnie Woods III is a student affairs administrator, professor, and professional development practitioner whose research examines the career competencies of college students studying arts-related majors. Woods holds a BS in fine art photography from Towson University and an MA in higher education and student affairs from New York University . He has 10-plus years of experience working in higher education, with professional experience spanning various institutions, including Pratt Institute, New York University, The George Washington University , and Columbia University.
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How to Write Your Graduate School Admissions Essay
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The admissions essay is often the least well-understood part of the graduate school application yet it is critical to your admissions success. The graduate admissions essay or personal statement is your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants and let the admissions committee know you apart from your GPA and GRE scores . Your admissions essay can be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted or rejected by a graduate school. Therefore, it is necessary that you write an essay that is honest, interesting, and well organized.
How well you structure and organize your application essay can determine your fate. A well-written essay tells the admissions committee that you have the capacity to write coherently, think logically, and do well in grad school . Format your essay to include an introduction, a body, and a concluding paragraph. Essays are often written in response to prompts posed by the grad school . Regardless, organization is key to your success.
- The introduction is the most important part of the essay, especially the first sentence. The first sentence introduces your essay and a bad introduction, in person or in writing, is detrimental to your admissions chances.
- The first sentence should be unique and compelling, possibly thought provoking or attention-grabbing.
- First sentences may explain your desire to study the subject of interest or discuss the motivation that influenced your desire to study the subject of interest. State it in a creative manner.
- The sentences following the first sentence should provide a brief explanation that supports the claim stated in the first sentence.
- Your goal for the introduction is to entice the reader to continue beyond the first paragraph.
- The body includes several paragraphs that provide detailed evidence to support the statements made in the introductory paragraph.
- Each paragraph should have a transition, which starts each paragraph with a topic statement that will be the theme of that paragraph. This gives the reader a heads up of what's to come. Transitions connect paragraphs to preceding paragraphs, enabling the essay to flow smoothly.
- Each paragraph should have a resolution, which ends each paragraph with a meaningful sentence that provides a transition to the next paragraph.
- Experiences, accomplishments or any other evidence that can support your claims should be included in the body. Future goals should also be mentioned in the body.
- A short summary of your educational background can be discussed in the 1st paragraph of the body.
- Personal experiences and the reasons for wanting to attend the school can be discussed in the 2nd paragraph.
- Do not simply repeat what was stated in the application.
- The last paragraph can explain why you are a good match for the program.
- The conclusion is the last paragraph of the essay.
- State the key points mentioned in the body, such as your experiences or accomplishments, that explain your interest in the subject. State it in a conclusive and brief manner.
- Convey your fit to the specific graduate program and field.
Your essay should include detail, be personal, and specific. The purpose of the graduate admissions essay is to show the admission committee what makes you unique and different from other applicants. Your job is to display your distinct personality and provide evidence that confirms your passion, desire, and, especially, fit for the subject and the program.
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Statement of Purpose Format for Graduate School (SOP)
When it comes to applying to graduate school, there are many things students must prepare, including a graduate school recommendation letter and graduate school CV.
However, the most important element in your graduate school admissions package is the Statement of Purpose, also known at many universities as the “personal statement.”
In this article, you will learn why the Statement of Purpose is so important for graduate school admissions, how the Statement of Purpose format differs from college application essay formats , and how to format a successful Statement of Purpose for graduate school–with examples!
Table of Contents
What is a statement of purpose.
- How to Format a Statement of Purpose
- Statement of Purpose Format and Structure
- Statement of Purpose Sample Examples
In graduate school applications, a statement of purpose (SOP) (or personal statement) is the one part of the application that allows applicants to construct a narrative of their choosing that includes all relevant parts of their academic and personal histories. This includes academic and professional interests and accomplishments, personality, values, and worldview, as well as how both the student and graduate program can add value to each other.
Difference between the Statement of Purpose and college admissions essays
At the graduate school level, students often have years of research and academic experience. In the case of MBA programs, applicants also often have years of work experience they can include in their essays.
- How to write an effective MBA admissions essay
This makes graduate school admission essays or personal statements distinct from undergraduate application essays. Graduate school applicants have a significant amount of material and context with which to differentiate themselves and stand apart from other applicants. The scope (how much is covered) and depth (how detailed the experiences are) are both much more complex for a Statement of Purpose.
Do I need to write a Statement of Purpose for college?
The graduate Statement of Purpose allows applicants to summarize non-quantifiable qualities for consideration by an admissions committee. This may include an applicant’s personal or professional strengths, as well as goals or passion for certain subjects.
The graduate school application process is often competitive. In addition to being academically qualified, students must demonstrate a commitment to the program. Remember, one concern graduate programs have is that students will drop out and not continue to pay tuition.
Effect of Covid-19 on the Statement of Purpose
COVID-19 has reduced the feasibility of standardized testing, and there are increased concerns by wider society over the equitable nature of standardized testing in general.
For example, NYU Stern School of Business on June 15th became the fourth top-25 business school to announce that its full-time MBA program would not consider the GMAT or GRE any longer .
Further, Michael Hunt, director of the University of Maryland McNair Scholars Program has gone on record stating that
“[My] goal is to “remove barriers and not maintain obstacles under the guise of academic freedom or other university policies. I pray that one day, we will not need committees or a pandemic to determine if something is equitable.”
This leaves the Statement of Purpose, academic background, resume/CV , and letters of recommendation as the primary determinants of graduate admission.
How long should a Statement of Purpose be?
Generally, a Statement of Purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words long and should not exceed a single page. But this can depend on the school or program to which you are applying, as well as on the extent of your academic experience.
Graduate Statement Of Purpose Format Guidelines
We have already covered how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school (with examples).
Read over these resources and watch our Wordvice Webinar Series for how to write a winning Statement of Purpose :
General Statement of Purpose Formatting Rules
Unlike a college admissions essay, a grad school Statement of Purpose is generally not uploaded in a text box or input field in some platforms, as the Common Application essay is.
Applying to graduate school means applying directly to the graduate program and its parent department. Graduate programs are separate entities within their universities. Applying to the College of Arts & Sciences is different than applying to a university’s College of Engineering.
As a result, most graduate school applications are simply uploaded directly to the program. So, you will likely be uploading a Word .doc or Adobe .pdf file.
Microsoft Word (.DOC) format
Typical file types for a Statement of Purpose are .doc or .docx. There is a downside to Word files being editable, and there are sometimes conflicts among the different Word versions (2010 vs 2016. vs Office365). One benefit of Word files is that anyone can view them.
If maintaining the visual aspects of your essay is important, this is a safe choice. PDFs prevent formatting issues that might arise with older versions of Word documents.
To make the statement easier to read, applicants should follow the following rules:
- Use 1-inch margins . Microsoft Word uses this setting by default.
- Use a traditional Serif font. These types of fonts include Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond and are the “classy” fonts you typically see. They add professionalism to your essay. Avoid minimalist sans Serif fonts.
- Use a standard 12-font size.
- Use 1.5- or double-spacing. Readability is very important for your Statement of Purpose. Double spaces are not an issue as the essay should already fit on 1 page.
- Add a Header with your First Name, Last Name, university, and other required information.
- Clearly separate your paragraphs. By default, just press ‘ENTER’ twice.
Additional Statement of Purpose Format Tips
- Review and Revise. Make sure your Statement of Purpose is formatted properly and error-free, including spelling and grammar errors. One great way to prepare your admissions essay is by using an application essay editing service that specializes in Statement of Purpose editing and personal statement editing .
- Write clearly and concisely.
- Avoid clichés and repetitive language.
- Avoid casual, colloquial, and text message-based formatting. This includes emojis and hashtags!
- Do not write a wall of text. Admissions counselors only skim statements of purpose . Make your writing readable by adding line breaks and separate paragraphs.
Statement of Purpose Format and Structure Outline
One of the most important characteristics of a strong Statement of Purpose is its structure. Layout the information in such a way that the reader can easily understand it. Well-organized statements keep readers interested.
In general, a Statement of Purpose should follow the format of an academic essay .
Introduction – State your goals and introduce yourself
The first section of the application should clearly and concisely explain what the student hopes to achieve by completing the program. For a history student, the goal may be to earn a PhD that allows them to take a historian position at a major non-profit institution or museum upon graduation. For a chemistry student, the goal may be to move into a postdoctoral research position at a major university with the hope of becoming a professor later.
Or perhaps an applicant has goals of going into the private sector. Regardless of the field of study, your professional experience, academic history, prior internships or jobs, and goals should be introduced here.
Tips for writing the Introduction for the Statement of Purpose
- Grab attention. Your introduction is the first impression you make on your reader.
- Write a compelling first sentence. Consider using an anecdote, quotation, or gripping personal story.
- Preview. The second half of your introduction should briefly preview the other sections of your Statement of Purpose.
Main Body – Academic and career history
In the first part of the body, you must support the idea of you being a qualified candidate with details about your academic and career history as well as examples of projects, accomplishments, and learning experiences.
Start with a brief history of your undergraduate experience and academic results. Then, move on to extracurricular, professional, and career experiences and achievements. As a graduate studies applicant, professional and career experiences will naturally be more diverse and therefore help you stand out.
You should of course emphasize your academic experience and grades. Mention how you took advantage of your university’s resources and if you developed any special relationships with professors–that is especially what PhD advisors are looking for!
In the second part of the body, support your assertions with examples.
Tips for writing about academic and career history and goals
- Interest in the program. Why are you interested in this particular graduate program?
- Academic goals. As a graduate student, you are entering into a research environment. What tangible research goals do you hope to achieve?
- Career and professional goals. What are your post-graduate plans? Specify if you have academic or private industry goals.
- Strengths and weaknesses. Give context to why and how you developed your strengths and weaknesses. Demonstrate self-awareness as to how your behaviors and personality affect others–collaboration and equity are huge concerns!
- Provide context, not a CV. Fit your achievements and experiences into your compelling narrative, not as standalone.
- Give examples. Extend your personal narrative with compelling examples. The more specific you are, the more convincing your narrative becomes. If you are applying to a program in statistics, write about your poker games with your grandpa and the moment you learned the power of weighted expected value.
Main Body – Why you are a fit for the program ?
Students’ goals and interests must align with the mission and values of a college or university when being considered for admissions. A common tactic is to highlight a few professors in the department, which demonstrates that the applicant has done the research, whereas other students discuss the accomplishments of prominent alumni they admire.
Students can use this space to create an impressive application by creatively demonstrating their knowledge of the school and department while matching it with their goals.
Tips for writing about fit with the program
- Align with the program . Use the university’s program description as a guide on how to align your Statement of Purpose with the graduate degree program. Refer to your experience in the context of the program.
- Community and culture. Nowadays, universities seek students who can be representatives of and contributors to their community. How do your history and goals fit into that program’s city, university, and culture?
- Your benefit to the program. You are not giving just your money and time to the graduate program; the admission committee wants to know what benefits you seek to get out of it. This is where you can reference specific departments and professors in the program and any academic contributions of theirs you are familiar with.
Conclusion – Summary
The conclusion must accomplish two goals: package everything together and leave the reader interested in knowing more. If you can accomplish the second part, you will likely get a passing grade on your Statement of Purpose.
Reflect on what attending the program would mean to you, both professionally and personally, as you give one final thought or insight. Write about both the impact you hope to have on the world and the impact attending the program would have on yourself.
Tips for writing the Statement of Purpose conclusion
- Keep it succinct. This section will usually contain no new information, so don’t repeat any information.
- (Re)State your value. You are your own best marketer here. Display confidence not just in your abilities but in your decision to apply and stick with your decision. You also bring a unique profile of academic, career, and personal experiences and goals. You may not gain admission, but make sure it’s because you’re not the right fit, NOT because your value was understated or misunderstood.
Statement of Purpose Format: Structure and Summary
Be sure to check our article on how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school.
We also have recommendation letter templates and dozens of other useful resources to help you prepare your admissions essays.
If you need editing or proofreading, you can start by checking out our professional proofreading services , including admissions editing services , SOP editing services , and college and graduate essay editing services .
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Graduate School Application Essays
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Types of Essays
Regardless of the type of school you are applying to, you will be required to submit an admissions essay as part of the application process. Graduate programs want students with clear commitment to the field. Essay prompts typically ask applicants to discuss their previous experience, future professional goals, and how the program can help them in achieving those objectives. The essay gives the applicant the chance to articulate these goals and display strong writing skills. Remember to tailor your essay to each school and the faculty committee that reviews your application. But first, take note of what kind of essay is being requested of you. Here are the two main admission essays:
A personal statement is a narrative piece describing how your character and experiences have formed you into someone who will contribute positively and effectively to not only the department but the academic discipline as a whole. This is often achieved by detailing social, educational, cultural, and economic obstacles you have overcome in your journey to get to where you are today and your future objectives. A personal statement is also an opportunity to highlight what is unique about you and how you will advance diversity within the institution.
Check out Personal Statement Resources for Graduate School Applications in the Resources section of Handshake for a brainstorming activity and essay samples that can help you get started on your personal statement.
Statement of Purpose
Interchangeably called a “research statement”, a statement of purpose will prompt you to describe your research interests and professional goals, how you plan to accomplish them, and why a specific program is best suited for you to do so. Be specific about your specialized interests within your major field. Be clear about the kind of program you expect to undertake, and explain how your study plan connects with your previous training and future goals.
Use the Outlining Your Statement of Purpose guide in the Resources section of Handshake to get started on your statement outline.
How to Write a Powerful Admission Essay
Whatever required format, your essay should be thoughtful, concise, compelling, and interesting. Remember, admissions officers read hundreds of personal essays. Below are some tips for your admissions essay writing process:
- Read the question: Be sure you are aware of all aspects of the prompt. Failing to pay attention to details in the prompt won’t reflect well on you as a potential candidate.
- What is distinct, special, and/or impressive about me and my life story?
- Have I overcome any particular hardships or obstacles?
- When did I become interested in this field and what have I learned about it?
- What are my career goals?
- What personal traits, values, and skill sets do I have that would make me stand out from other applicants?
- Create an outline: You might have a lot that you want to say, but you will need to whittle down your many thoughts and experiences to a concrete thesis with a select number of examples to support it. Create an outline for your draft, not only to organize your points and examples, but to help tailor your essay for your readers.
- Know your audience: Consider how your narrative can best meet the expectations of admissions committee members. Will faculty be reading this? Administrators? Experts in the field? Knowing your audience ahead of time will assist you in addressing the prompt appropriately.
- Grab your reader’s attention: Start your essay with something that will grab the reader’s attention such as a personal anecdote, questions, or engaging depiction of a scene. Avoid starting things off with common phrases such as “I was born in…” or “I have always wanted to…” Consider the experiences that have shaped you or your career decision, and delve into them with a creative hook.
- Write well: Your essay is a sample of your writing abilities, so it’s important to convey your thoughts clearly and effectively. Be succinct—you don’t need to write out your full autobiography or resume in prose. Exclude anything that doesn’t support your thesis. Gentle humor is okay, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t make things up! Be honest about your experiences.
- End strong: End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis. This helps unify your essay as a whole, connecting your detailed experiences back to the reason you are writing this essay in the first place—to show your qualifications for your graduate program of choice.
- Use resources: The MIT Communication Labs have a CommKit that collects all of the Comm Lab resources relevant to the grad application process , including recommendation letters & interviews
- Revise: Give yourself enough time to step away from your draft. Return with a fresh pair of eyes to make your edits. Be realistic with yourself, not your harshest critic. Make a few rounds of revisions if you need.
- Ask for help: Have your essay critiqued by friends, family, educators, and the MIT Writing and Communication Center or our Career Services staff.
- Proofread: Read your essay out loud or even record yourself and listen to the recording, to help you catch mistakes or poor phrasing you may have missed when reading to yourself. Also, don’t rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.
Tips & advice.
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Build Your Brand
Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admissions Essay
Updated: Nov 1, 2022, 12:08pm
You’ve made a big life decision: to apply to grad school. The transcripts are ordered, the letters of recommendation requested, and the interview is on the books. Now you just have to complete what might be the hardest part: write the perfect grad school admissions essay. But how do you get started? And what should a grad school admissions essay include? Follow our guide below to get started.
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What Is a Statement of Purpose for Grad School?
A grad school essay, otherwise known as a statement of purpose, is a required part of the grad school admissions process that tells school officials who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you might contribute to the program.
A statement of purpose should generally be between 500 and 1,000 words, but check with your individual program for length, font size and spacing preferences.
Why Does It Matter?
Most graduate schools require a statement of purpose as part of the application process because it allows them to learn more about you in a personal way and decide if you will be a good fit for the program.
Applicants should convey that they have a decent amount of experience in their desired field of study and will be successful in a graduate school program. If there’s anything lacking or missing in your GPA or transcripts, you can briefly address it in your statement of purpose and explain why it won’t be an issue. Schools also like to see that applicants are resilient and can overcome challenges, so bring up any personal anecdotes that pertain to that as well.
What Makes a Good Personal Statement?
A good personal statement should include information about your work and academic experience. It should be detailed, but also concise. It’s also a chance for you to share a personal side of yourself with the admissions committee and explain why you’d be a good fit for the program and how you could add value to it if accepted.
Shows You’re a Good Fit for the Program
Above all, your personal statement should demonstrate that your interests would fit in the program and that you would do well there. For example, if applying to a master of business administration program, you might want to talk about your undergraduate studies in business, internships with high profile companies, past jobs you’ve held, or even future entrepreneurial ideas that you’re passionate about.
Demonstrates How Well You Handle a Challenge
Graduate school is no easy task and admissions officers want to know that you’re up for the challenge. Talking about other times in your life that you’ve struggled, but persevered through hard work and dedication, can assure school officials that you’ll rise to the occasion at their program if given the chance.
Indicates How You Respond to Criticism
Receiving positive and negative feedback is important, especially in an environment of growth like grad school. Including experiences like rewriting a paper after getting a bad grade or stepping it up at a job after getting tips from a boss can show an admission committee that you’re able to hear hard things and learn from them.
Exhibits Open-Mindedness and a Desire to Learn
No one likes to know it all and going to graduate school is all about learning more. You want to convey that you’ve had previous academic success, while also admitting that you still have more learning and growing to do.
How to Write a Strong Admissions Essay
You’ve researched and brainstormed, but now it’s time to actually write the admissions essay. Make sure your personal statement is strong and stands out by understanding the prompt, outlining your essay, including a clear thesis statement, personalizing your essay and making it relevant to your desired program.
Understand the Prompt
Most schools will want to know about your academic and professional experiences as well as how you will add value to the program. However, every program and application is unique and your school might have a unique prompt or specific questions they want you to answer in your statement of purpose. Be sure to read the prompt carefully several times so you answer all of the questions it asks.
Outline Your Essay
Before you start writing, make a plan for your personal essay by creating an outline. Not only will this make the writing process easier and faster, but it will likely add to you thoroughly addressing the prompt in a clear and cohesive way.
Include a Clear Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is the central idea or argument of your personal statement. Essentially, your thesis statement should preview the arguments for why you would be a good candidate for a particular program.
Personalize Your Essay
Applying to veterinary school? Be sure to include your lifelong love for animals or your time spent working in an animal shelter. Or perhaps you’re pursuing graduate studies in psychology. Experience with, say, a peer counseling program in high school or college, will help you stand out. The point is to make your essay so personal it only could have been written by you.
Make It Relevant
Admissions officials for a healthcare administration program will be perplexed if you talk about the time you set up a lemonade stand as a child. Similarly, a graduate engineering program probably isn’t too concerned about your recent dance recital. Make sure the information you include in your personal statement is relevant to the program and school you’re applying to.
Finalizing Your Grad School Admissions Essay
After writing your statement, it’s time to perfect and refine it before you attach it and click submit on your application.
Edit the Essay
Now it’s time to edit. Editing is different from proofreading as it focuses on structural changes and even content revisions. Read the prompt again. Make sure you’ve addressed all questions asked by your program. Then look at the structure. Try reading it out loud. Does the information flow in a way that makes sense? Are there parts that should be moved up or down? Could sections be cut and new parts added?
Proofread for Grammar, Punctuation and Style
Run a spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word or Google Docs or even use a program like Grammarly to make sure your personal statement is free of typos and errors and adheres to the formatting required by your application.
Get Feedback From Peers and Mentors
Fresh eyes will only improve your writing. Ask classmates and professors to read your personal essay and provide you with feedback. They might see something you missed or have ideas for ways to improve. Make sure you give any readers enough time to go over your personal statement before it’s due.
Revise as Needed
Writing is really all about editing and rewriting. No one gets it right on the first try and sometimes not even on the second try so don’t be afraid to revise your statement of purpose as needed before your grad school application deadline.
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Ryah Cooley Cole is an award winning writer and a high school English teacher based on the Central Coast of California. She is most interested in bringing diverse stories to her readers and students.
Five elements of a killer graduate school essay
So you’ve taken the GRE/GMAT/TOEFL, got your recommendations lined up, and picked your list of top schools. Now comes the part some people get really nervous about: translating your story into a really powerful application essay that convinces the admissions committee that they just have to have you. Below are five key elements of a strong graduate school application essay that are universally transferable across all graduate degree programs.
1. A defining moment, personal anecdote, or vision
Right now, your application is a lot of numbers, words and bullets. The admissions committee is reading thousands of these. Bring yourself to life by sharing what is most meaningful to you, or a transformative time in your life that has made you who you are or driven you to pursue this path. Make it personal. Humanize yourself. Maybe it’s a lofty vision to change something about a certain industry, or make yourself a better leader. Maybe it’s a personal struggle or that of a family member. Maybe it’s a story that highlights why you’re passionate about your field. Whatever it is, bring it to life and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. That shows courage, self-awareness, and leadership - huge standouts to any admissions committee.
2. The accomplishments that have prepared you to excel
Although your resume is undoubtedly among your application materials, it is critical to underscore some of your most relevant and noteworthy professional, extracurricular, or personal accomplishments. Instead of listing your job titles and responsibilities that are similar to what’s on your resume, highlight the skills it took to achieve some of your biggest outcomes, as well as any obstacles or barriers you overcame to achieve success. You can talk about how you had to bring together diverse team members with differing views to finish a complex project, or how you learned that empathy was a powerful skill in connecting with someone you had conflict with, or whatever it is that you accomplished in your past experiences. This is your chance to provide context behind your resume bullets and help the admissions committee see why your accomplishment was even more impressive, and how you can bring teamwork, leadership, and dedication to their school.
3. Why you need to go to graduate school to achieve your career vision
Paramount to any great application essay is a critical path analysis - why you made the big decisions you made in your professional career, and how they weave together to paint a complete picture of why this next step for you makes sense. You can mention things like why you chose your undergraduate school, why you chose certain internships, why you moved from your first job to your second, why you switched industries or careers, etc,. Highlighting the motivations behind these decisions will help the admissions committee see how you have approached your career and life so far, and see that you are thoughtful about applying to graduate school. Most important to highlight is why you need to go to graduate school to further your long-term goals (this piece may be less relevant to medical school applicants), and what skillsets, experiences, or networks in this degree program will be useful to your future.
4. Why this graduate school is the ideal place to help you get there
This section is particularly important to show the admissions committee that you are serious about their school. Do your research. Be able to name specific courses, research projects, professors, extracurricular activities, experiences, capstone components of the program, and other elements unique to the school/program that have especially appealed to you and that fit into the skills you want to develop at this school. This section doesn’t need to be long, but a couple of sentences are crucial to demonstrating your understanding of the school’s culture and academic and social offerings and highlighting what you want to get out of the experience.
5. What you will bring to the community
It can’t all be about what you will take from the experience. You should also share what you will give back and bring to the school’s community. For example, you could talk about your own diverse perspective on a certain topic, your unique work experience, your background, your plans to create student clubs, or your skills at bringing classmates together. The list is endless. Think about the three things that really define who you are and what you’ve done, and use that to show the admissions committee that investing in you will bring a different voice to the class they are crafting.
Good luck! Remember to always be authentic and honest in your essays. You will find the right school who really values you.
Review the Prompt. The prompt for the application essay gives students a sense of how to focus their writing. · Brainstorm Ideas · Create An Outline · Know the
Although different graduate schools may ask you to answer different prompts, most ask that you write no more than a two-page application essay.
A well-written essay tells the admissions committee that you have the capacity to write coherently, think logically, and do well in grad school.
4 SAMPLE GRADUATE SCHOOL ESSAYS. #1. "From Working Poor to Elite Scholar". One of the proudest accomplishments of my life was earning my college degree
Statement of Purpose Format and Structure Outline · Introduction – State your goals and introduce yourself · Main Body – Academic and career
Before Writing · What is distinct, special, and/or impressive about me and my life story? · Have I overcome any particular hardships or obstacles? · When did I
A. Sometimes, the graduate program will provide specific instructions regarding the ... A. A personal statement is your opportunity to tell the Admissions
Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admissions Essay · Why Does It Matter? · Shows You're a Good Fit for the Program · Demonstrates How Well You
Five elements of a killer graduate school essay · 1. A defining moment, personal anecdote, or vision · 2. The accomplishments that have prepared you to excel · 3.
The answers below are meant to give some general guidelines, but may not be applicable to the particular program to which you are applying. Is it all right to