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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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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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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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.
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Grad school personal statement examples.
Get accepted to your top choice graduate school with your compelling personal statement.
You are a thoughtful, intelligent, and unique individual. You already know that – now you just need to convince top grad school adcoms that you’re a cut above the rest.
By reading the sample graduate school essays provided above, you should get a clear idea of how to translate your qualifications, passions, and individual experiences into words. You will see that the samples here employ a creative voice, use detailed examples, and draw the reader in with a clear writing style. Most importantly, these personal statements are compelling – each one does a fine job of convincing you that the author of the essay is a human being worth getting to know, or better yet, worth having in your next top grad school class. Grad school statement of purpose sample essays should be engaging and attention grabbing.
Here are the 5 things to include in a grad school personal statement:
- Engaging opening
- Consistent use of opening imagery
- A clear theme that ties the essay together
- Solid structure
- Good use of transitions
Grad school essay example #1: The environmental studies student
Two scenes stand out in my mind from my visit to Brazil’s Wetland: Forests burning before seed planting and trees as hedgerows. Before the planting season, I could see the leafless remnants of burnt trees still standing. READ MORE>>>
- Attention-grabbing opening: The author immediately grabs your attention by placing them in the midst of the scene and vividly conveying what the author saw.
- Vivid, visual opening: You can almost smell the burnt trees and see the ranches and farms thriving behind their protective forests.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together: The writer clearly states an interest in the clash between economic and environmental concerns throughout the essay. Discussion of coursework taken and how it influenced the author’s decision to pursue both master’s and PhD in Environmental Studies also flows through the essay.
- Solid structure: Thanks to the continued theme of the clash between economic and environmental concerns, this is a very easy essay to read. Mentions of different courses that piqued the writer’s interest also help to hold this essay together.
- Good use of transitions: Transitions help your reader move from one topic to the next as you connect the topic in the preceding paragraph to the topic in the next. They can consist of a few words or a phrase or simply the repetition of the topic by name as opposed to using a pronoun. The writer used the terminology connecting economics and the environment at the end of the first paragraph, and uses the same words at the beginning of the second one.
Grad school essay example #2: The engineering student
A simple bridge truss was the first structure I ever analyzed. The simple combination of beams that could hold cars, trains, and trucks over long spans of water fascinated me. Having the tools to analyze the loads on the truss further increased my interest in structures. READ MORE>>>
- Attention-grabbing opening: This writer immediately shared his fascination with bridge truss designs and makes the reader want to learn more about structural engineering.
- Consistent use of opening imagery: The writer begins his essay with the image of the first structure he ever analyzed – a simple bridge truss. This bridge truss becomes the basis for all of his future study of structural engineering and design. Toward the end of the essay, he states that design structure has fascinated him since he saw that first image of a bridge truss for his first engineering class.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together: The theme of structural design runs throughout the essay. It is mentioned right at the beginning of the essay, in following paragraphs and in the final paragraph as well. Toward the end of the essay, the writer discusses how a grad degree in engineering will help him reach both his short- and long-term goals.
- Solid structure: Since the theme of structural design and engineering are so strong throughout the essay, it is easy to follow along as the writer talks about different classes he has taken, an internship he did, and even an experience as a student volunteer.
- Good use of transitions: The author ends his first paragraph talking about the textbook for his first engineering class, and continues on this theme in the next paragraph. He then transitioned from classes he took to student volunteer research he participated in. When discussing what he plans to study in grad school, the same terminology is used again, joining the whole essay into one cohesive whole.
Grad school essay example #3: The public health student
What if people lived healthier lives, practiced preventive medicine, and took precautions against illness and disease? My days in the physical therapy department often made me think about the prevention of injuries as well as the injuries themselves. I was already doubting my future career choice as a physical therapist. READ MORE>>>
- Attention-grabbing opening: The author of this essay makes an early case for why he wants to leave the field of physical therapy and move to the public health arena. You can almost feel the writer’s frustration with physical therapy and their need to find a way to reach a broader population, provide primary care to them, while challenging and motivating the writer to improve.
- Consistent use of opening imagery: The idea of providing primary care to large populations and the benefits the population could get from this care are woven through the whole essay. Finding ways to improve the health of underprivileged populations is also found throughout the essay.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together: Provision of primary care to large communities is a theme that runs throughout the essay. The author’s work at a county health clinic cemented this idea and led to him choosing to pursue an education and career in public health.
- Solid structure: The theme of providing primary care to large underprivileged populations is a theme that ties this personal statement together.
- Good use of transitions: The words “public health” occur in every paragraph. The author ends the second paragraph talking about work in the field, and begins the next paragraph by mentioning field experience. This makes it easy to follow the flow of the essay.
Grad school essay example #4: The physician assistant student
I was nine years old and in the middle of Mrs. Russell’s third grade class when my stomach began to itch uncontrollably. I remember thinking to myself, “Did I get bitten by a bug?” Completely distracted by the incessant itching, I asked Mrs. Russell if I could go to the nurse’s office. When the nurse lifted my shirt, I saw the biggest “bug bites” I had ever seen covering the majority of my stomach. READ MORE>>>
Note: The character limit for the CASPA PS is 5,000 characters with spaces. You need to keep this limit in mind as you write your personal statement.
- Attention-grabbing opening and consistent use of opening imagery: The writer of this essay immediately grabs the reader’s attention by making them feel her fear and frustration of having an undiagnosed medical condition. You can also feel her relief when she is finally diagnosed – and treated – by a PA.
- Vivid, visual opening and consistent use of opening imagery: Your heart beats a little faster as you read how a 9-year-old girl’s medical condition couldn’t be diagnosed until a visit with a PA who helped her discover her passion. She continues to illustrate her love of all things medical throughout the essay.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together: Her essay has a clear theme – her interest in medicine and healthcare, and her connection with PAs. This theme is touched upon in every paragraph of her personal statement. Whether discussing her love of learning or the skills learned through sports, the ultimate goal of becoming a PA comes through.
- Solid structure: The author’s themes of love of learning and medicine, and the desire to become a PA to help others flow through this essay. They make it cohesive, readable, and interesting.
- Good use of transition: The writer shows how her interest in being a PA grows throughout her life through a series of events – her illness, attending a youth leadership forum where she first saw infected human organs, and finally her mother’s own illness and the care given by the same PA who diagnosed the author at the age of 9. The imagery of the “itchy little” girl from the first paragraph appears again in the last paragraph, pulling the entire personal statement together.
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The Role of the Essay in a Graduate School Application
The application essay is a critical component in the selection process, whether the essay is for a competitive internship, a graduate fellowship, or admittance to a graduate school program.
The essay or personal statement gives a selection committee its best opportunity to get to know you, how you think and make decisions, ways in which past experiences have been significant or formative, and how you envision your future.
The essay should have a structure: an introductory paragraph, a body that develops key themes, and a conclusion. Try to capture the reader’s interest with your opening sentences and draw the reader into the essay; avoid the temptation to be cute or contrived in writing. There should be a balance between discussion of your experience and future plans. Your essay should reflect your knowledge of the specific program to which you are applying and explain how this course of study will advance your goals and meet your needs. In addition, indicate what you will be able to contribute to the program. The essay is intended to be a focused and well-constructed presentation of your strengths and accomplishments.
Use concrete examples to describe your goals and expectations instead of relying on generalities. Relate experiences that inspired you to continue in your field, achievements that have given you satisfaction and confidence, challenges and unanswered questions that have helped you determine your path.
Answer all questions you have been asked to address. Above all, remember who your readers are and be sure that your statement speaks to their concerns and priorities. If your essay is for graduate school, what are their requirements, what are their goals? If your essay is for a fellowship or internship, who has given the funds? What are their organizational goals? What do they hope to accomplish in making the award? Any person or group offering such opportunities will want to select the individual most likely to give them a good return on their investment. They are looking for someone who will finish the program and go on to be successful in her career, someone who will enrich the experience of her peers and professors in the process.
Start writing early. For applications due in the autumn, prepare first drafts of essays during the summer before. Plan to rewrite and revise your drafts several times, making good use of the suggestions of advisors and professors, and have the essays ready for use in the fall.
Finally, proofread, proofread, proofread. Misspelled words, typos and careless mistakes will overpower the best of essays, and can be the sole cause of a candidate’s elimination from an applicant pool. A successful application requires time for research, planning, and requesting the assistance of faculty and other available resources. The application essay is your opportunity to present yourself as a strong candidate–to show that you know yourself, that you have determined your own goals and a sense of direction, that you understand the action you propose to take, and that you feel confident in this decision.
For further suggestions see Writing Personal Statements Online, by Joe Schall , and "Leave Dr. Seuss Out of It," by Female Science Professor .
How to Write a Grad School Application Essay · Review the Prompt. The prompt for the application essay gives students a sense of how to focus their writing.
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