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10 Great Essay Writing Tips

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.

Prepare to Answer the Question

Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Plan Your Essay

Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.

Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable

You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

View It as a Conversation

Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Provide the Context in the Introduction

If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Explain What Needs to be Explained

Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Answer All the Questions

After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Stay Focused as You Write

Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread

When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Avoid Filling the Page with Words

A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.


how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admissions Essay

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Updated: Nov 1, 2022, 12:08pm

Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admissions Essay

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.

Graduate School Application Essays

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:

Personal Statement

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:

Before Writing

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Final Touches

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how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application

How to write a personal statement for grad school

While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.

One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.

A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.

What Is a Personal Statement?

The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.

Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.

Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.

“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .

Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.

Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.

Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.

“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.

Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.

Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .

Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.

For more information, visit the  Office of Graduate Admission at USC  and explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

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Home / Blog / Grad Schools / Write a Graduate School Essay that Will Knock Their Socks Off

Write a Graduate School Essay that Will Knock Their Socks Off

Woman typing her graduate school essay on a very small keyboard.

Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren’t looking for gimmicks. They’re looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay.

Know what the admissions officers are seeking

Don’t make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.

What should you do if the program doesn’t give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they’ve read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.

Personal, personal, personal

Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, ‘In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.’

Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college

It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.

Know your program and make connections

Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program’s minimum requirements, they’ll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn’t seem to know much about their program.

During your graduate studies, you’ll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.

Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren’t persuasive, and generic essays won’t help your application package. If you can’t sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.

Need help getting started on your grad school search? Search by location, major, admission difficulty, and more with Peterson’s Graduate School Search .

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5 Tips for Writing Your Graduate School Admission Essay

Woman sitting at a computer, writing in a notebook

While your graduate school application provides the admissions team with information about your grades and experience, many programs at William James College also require an essay. The requirements may differ by program, but the goal is the same: to get to know you and your aspirations beyond the information on your resume and/or transcript.

The William James College Clinical Psychology PsyD, Leadership Psychology PsyD, MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MA in Psychology, MA in Organizational Psychology, MA/CAGS in School Psychology, Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching, Graduate Certificate in School Leadership, and Applied Behavior Analysis programs all require that you submit an essay as part of your application. Please view the specific essay details for your program here .

Read (and Reread!) the Prompt

As you begin to work on your graduate school essay, you may notice you’ll need to address several topics in your writing. Don’t overlook these details. Before you begin, as you revise, and after you’ve finished your final draft, make sure to double-check all the essay requirements including questions to answer, word or page counts, and any formatting specifications.

Review Your Resume, Qualifications, and Goals

You are the best expert on yourself, and you should use your application essay to display that. Before you start writing, brainstorm ideas for how you can best respond to the prompt. Jot down bullet points for each required topic, and try looking back over your resume, or thinking about answers to questions like the following, for some ideas.

Think About Your Audience

At William James, our admissions team, potential interviewers, and future faculty members will be reading your essay. Think about what you would like to tell them or what you hope they learn about you through your writing. Remember, this is not an academic essay for class—it is a personal narrative that tells your story.

Don't Get Bogged Down by Your First Draft

Starting an essay can be overwhelming, especially when it is part of your graduate school application; don’t worry, however, about making your first draft perfect. Think about what writing process works for you. Do you want to start with an outline? Is it easier for you to write out everything that comes to mind, then pare it down? Whatever your writing style is, remember it will be easier to edit than to create, so just start writing!

Proofread, then Proofread Again

After you’ve spent time crafting a detailed narrative about yourself and your goals, the last thing you want is for the admissions team to find a typo or grammatical error. Don’t let yourself look unprofessional by forgetting to review your final essay before submitting. Here are some tips.

Don't Forget

The essay is only one part of your application. Review your program’s application requirements to make sure you have submitted everything else.

Still need your transcripts? Reach out to your institution’s Registrar’s Office or check the National Student Clearinghouse listing here .

Stuck on finding letters of recommendation? Get tips and a template for reaching out to recommenders here .

Have other questions? Contact the William James College Admissions Office at [email protected] or sign up for a 1/1 conversation here . The admissions team would be happy to walk you through the application process.

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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.

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How to Write Your Graduate School Admissions Essay

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.



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.

how to write an admissions essay for graduate school

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Your graduate school essays serve as the human dimension in your entire application. The essays hold your application together and truly show the adcom the one thing they want to know: WHO YOU ARE. It is for this reason that your graduate school admissions essays need to be authentic and exceptional.

The following resources will walk you through the process of creating a captivating, thoughtful, and well-written grad school personal statement or statement of purpose:

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