Sample Graduate Application Essay - After
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As a single mother who has confronted homelessness and poverty, I am committed to reforming public education. I have a particular interest in improving the accessibility of schooling to homeless individuals, single mothers, and disadvantaged women of color. As a result of my own experiences, I am familiar with the despair and frustration endemic to individuals struggling to survive. I am convinced that increasing individuals' access to education can make the difference between despondency and hope. I am applying for my doctorate in educational leadership so that I can pursue my life-mission: to make education accessible to all.
I began preparing for this mission by volunteering as an intake coordinator at the Christian Assistance Ministry (CAM). Although I had many responsibilities, the role that consumed most of my time and energy was interviewing clients and assessing their physical and emotional needs. One of my greatest contributions was streamlining and updating the paperwork associated with CAM's intake process. I also generated an updated resource list that included many service agencies in the Houston area. By personally contacting each agency to acquire contact information and to learn about its services, I facilitated greater communication between service organizations and ensured that my clients had access to necessary aid.
In my present position as Research Analyst at SeaNet, my primary role is ascertaining the needs of client networks. As an umbrella group, SeaNet has only limited contact with small business development centers, and my job is to ensure that our organization meets these centers' needs. When I took the initiative to send out surveys asking agencies to rate our group's effectiveness, I received an overwhelming response. The information I compiled was so revealing that it was published in the quarterly report that is sent to our funding agency in Washington, D.C. In addition, I have been involved in a number of special, innovative projects. Recently, I analyzed the availability of renewable energy resources in Southern Texas in tandem with The Economic Development Center, Solar Energy, Brooks Air Force Base, and research universities in Texas.
As part of my master's thesis, I collaborated with Upward Bound, Peace Center, and the Davis Education Foundation to underline the importance of community cooperation in public schools. I also provided informational brochures and handouts detailing other such organizations that could assist with the individualized needs of schools. I was gratified when my efforts resulted in teachers and administrators contacting several of the organizations I had mentioned so that the organizations could start outreach in their educational districts.
Although I have not yet been employed in the educational sector, my master's work, as well as my life experiences, has given me a nuanced and sophisticated knowledge of the educational field. I have acted as a mentor at Davis Middle School for many years and have tutored a number of home-schooled children. When my own children attended school, I was involved in their schools' organizations and often took on a leadership role on educational committees. I served on many boards and was active in assisting both instructors and administrators. Fifteen years of experience has familiarized me with the diverse needs of Houston's students, and it has prepared me to act on their behalf.
My short-term goals include advancing my knowledge of quantitative research using programs such as SPSS and Microcas, and acquiring a sophisticated understanding of how to become a leader in the educational field. I wish to use these skills to promote empirical studies in education that can help direct educational reform.
I am attracted to the doctoral program at Texas A&M for precisely this reason. Only Texas A&M offers the kind of collaborative experience that suits my personal needs and professional goals. Over the past four years, I have seen the department blossom into a challenging and innovative program. I am excited about the program's direction and its emphasis on practical application. I appreciate that every course offers the opportunity for independent research, and that the faculty is open to student suggestions for improvement. The flexibility and patience of the faculty and the talent of the students makes Texas A&M a singular choice for my doctoral degree.
My long-term goal is to use my past experience and Texas A&M training to help make education accessible to all, particularly the underprivileged. Whether I am working in the public or private sector, I look forward to addressing the nation's urgent need to educate its citizens efficiently and comprehensively.
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Click Here for the Edited Version.
I read your personal statement with great interest. You do a good job of showing the reader your diligent preparation for a career in education. By emphasizing your research-oriented background and your practical experience in the educational sector, you show that you have the knowledge and resolve to excel in a doctoral program.
However, there are ways in which your essay could be improved. My comments in this critique describe ways to make your writing more vivid and offer recommendations on how to make your statement more convincing.
Many of the changes I made to this essay were confined to the sentence level. I reworked awkward phrases, varied your vocabulary, adjusted diction, and improved the direction and flow of your writing. I also made subtle but significant changes such as eliminating redundant sentences like, "My purpose for seeking a [doctorate in education] is to expand my knowledge of theory and research as it pertains to education."
I also read your essays with a careful eye toward whether you effectively answered the question. In addition, I closely examined your statements, determining whether more detail or a fresh approach was needed to improve the effectiveness of your essay. Upon review, I feel confident that you addressed all the aspects of this multi-pronged topic, but I have made a number of suggestions for how to improve your essay's delivery.
The overall content of your essay was strong, but its expression was awkward at times. I agree that your essay needs a "stronger sense of purpose," and I believe that the reason your essay feels "wishy-washy" is that you do not have strongly-articulated goals. Broad career objectives like, "establishing a network of scholars and future administrators participating in a rigorous intellectual process," are too vague; you need to give your reader a precise sense of what you want to do.
Your essay will be much more persuasive if you articulate specific intermediate and long-term career goals. Because you have already accomplished significant work in the educational field, the committee will expect you to have clearly-defined objectives in your doctoral studies. Given your experience, you may want to discuss your specific plans for your dissertation.
Here are my specific comments on each individual paragraph of your essay:
Your introduction suffered from an excessive reliance on circular logic ("I seek an education because I am interested in education. I want to fine-tune my research skills because research skills are important to a career in education."). Sentences like these obscure rather than clarify your goals, and I sought to make your writing more active and transparent. I eliminated your entire first paragraph and incorporated your discussion of "purpose" into a new engaging introduction.
I also liked this paragraph's allusion to your role as a "reformist." Nonetheless, I felt that this passage would be stronger if you did more to define this term. What do you want to reform? Can you give concrete examples?
"I have struggled hard to get myself out of this situation..."
I liked the passion you convey in this sentence, but you need to maintain a formal, almost reserved voice in academic writing. See my suggestion for alternative wording that does a better job of capturing your experience and of demonstrating how that experience has influenced your decision to seek an advanced degree.
This paragraph did a good job of describing your work at the Christian Assistance Ministry. Nonetheless, your argument digressed somewhat during your discussion of the difficulties faced by social workers. This paragraph is most effective if you focus on your accomplishments and on the needs of your clients.
Also, please note that even though the refined paragraph is more concise than your original, it still retains all the significant content. The ability to condense and synthesize information is highly prized by admissions committees.
This paragraph required more up-front details. You mention some diverse research experiences, which is good, but you should also cite the title of your position and describe your primary responsibilities.
Because the name of your company implies that you do small business development, a reader might be confused by your research in seemingly unrelated fields. Be sure that I accurately conveyed the essence of your professional responsibilities in my revised version of this paragraph.
To ensure that your description of the learning center is intelligible, I added more details to place this discussion in context.
"I am also an advocate of 21st Century Learning Centers that would provide a safe refuge for the millions of latch-key children in this country that go home to an empty house on any given school day."
You need to be more exacting in your transition sentences. By using a transition sentence like this, the reader assumes your entire paragraph will describe your work with latchkey children. As a result, your treatment of other topics catches the reader off guard.
"I also provided information in the form of brochures and handouts about other such organizations that could assist in the needs of their own schools."
This sentence does not tell the reader enough about your experience. Whenever you write, be sure that a reader who is unfamiliar with your accomplishments will understand the subject, object, and action of each sentence.
Please note that the term "advocate" could apply to either paid or unpaid work. You should specify the exact capacity in which you worked, especially as this is important to placing your accomplishment in perspective.
Finally, if you have time, you may wish to rework this section. A thorough description of one particular project (perhaps your thesis topic) would be much more persuasive than a list of numerous activities.
I do not think this paragraph adds much to your essay. You need to prove your qualifications through examples rather than simply describe them to reader.
"I have a very hard working and decisive character that has earned me a 4.0 GPA."
This sentence is a good example of an uncorroborated assertion. Although you are undoubtedly hard working and decisive, you need to prove it to the reader through concrete examples.
Paragraphs 6 to 8
As I mentioned in the first section of my critique, your essay will be stronger if you cite more specific goals. See my suggestions in the text, and be sure to elaborate on your specific areas of interest.
I suggest concluding your essay with the description of your long-term goals. Reemphasizing your desire to make education accessible to all is a great way to conclude your essay, and it brings your statement to a resonant close.
Overall, this is an excellent start to a compelling essay. Keep in mind that although the committee allows you to write up to five pages, three double-spaced pages is usually adequate. Feel free to add more detail, but make sure your text is concise and transparent. You might consider "writing" ideas and then "rewriting" them. Too often, authors put ideas onto the page, but do not render those ideas compellingly. Giving your sentences a bit of extra effort, and giving your experiences a bit of extra reflection, will result in a persuasive essay that compliments your accomplishments and character.
I wish you the best of luck in the admissions process.
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Editor's Note: Since this article was re-posted several days ago, we have learned that our description of Yale's Common Application form is not accurate: it does not contain the "diversity" question attributed to it in our original piece. Instead, as pointed out to us by Jeffrey Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale, the question is actually one among several options used in a supplementary scholarship application which select schools sometimes administer to low income applicants. It is not, however, part of Yale's regular undergraduate Common Application form. NAS regrets the error, and we are grateful to Dean Brenzel for bringing it to our attention.
"Diversity" admissions essay questions teach students, before they even arrive on campus, how to bow to an anti-intellectual idol. The essay question at Berkeley, described below, is the same one in use today.
To renew conversation on ongoing themes in higher education, NAS occasionally re-posts one or two of the best and most popular articles from the same month a year ago. This article was originally posted here.
Many colleges and universities require applicants for undergraduate admissions to write an essay describing the ways in which they’ll bring “diversity” to their hoped-for alma mater. This procedure isn’t especially new. The diversiphiles first launched the tactic in the early 1990s. But required diversity essays have been getting renewed attention recently as they spread to graduate programs. In that light, we recently decided to examine the practice a bit more systematically.
We surveyed the application criteria at 20 of the most selective schools in the annual rankings of U.S. News & World Report. Many of those included in this small sample no longer maintain individualized applications, but use the Common Application Online (CAO) instead. The CAO doesn’t have a required diversity essay, but provides a diversity question as an option. Some of the colleges that use the CAO, however, make the question de rigueur. The CAO at Yale, for example, asks prospective students:
A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
That’s virtually identical with what you can expect to find at dozens of other institutions, where “diversity” is cultivated with tedious uniformity.
Let’s weigh this question. The first sentence simply asserts that the “range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences” adds to the “educational mix.” Few people would doubt that, and the sentence is no doubt written to command bland assent. But if we force it to stand up for inspection, it displays a remarkable intellectual slovenliness. When we go to college, we do indeed benefit from encountering people with views and experiences other than our own. But that encounter depends on something else: a shared commitment to the broader purposes of education. The enlivening “mix” that Yale would like to foster requires students, at some level, to put aside differences at least long enough to consider one another’s views.
The “diversity” doctrine doesn’t necessarily prevent that deeper sharing from taking place, but it does cut against it and urges students instead to huddle inside their pre-chosen identities. The Yale CAO question is the first of a long series of subtle steps that teach students to lead with their particularities and to cultivate a kind of group vanity. The second sentence in the assignment (“Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.”) is a masterpiece of question-begging. What of the student who has slowly and painfully worked his way out of psychological isolation or social alienation to achieve a sense of identification with the larger community? Such a person would seem to have no acceptable answer to the task of explaining “the importance of diversity” to his own life. Would the Yale admissions office look favorably on the student who answered, “I have found ‘diversity’ to be a cudgel by which self-appointed elites attempt to enforce their preferences over others. Diversity to me has been the experience of having my individuality denied, suppressed, and demeaned. It is a word that summarizes a smarmy form of oppression that congratulates itself on its high-mindedness even as it enforces narrow-minded conformity.”
No, any student really seeking admission to Yale wouldn’t say such a thing. But chances are very good that a great many students harbor insights very much like that. They know their ethnic or racial categorization, their socio-economic status, and other such characteristics matter far more to admissions offices than their actual thoughts about who they are.
These “diversity” essay questions are never innocent. They are a tool to keep college applicants aligned with the dominant ideology on campus, which continues to favor group categorizations over both individuality and the broader claims of shared community.
A recent poster at our blog alerted us to the spread of the diversity essay to graduate program admissions as well. As destructive as these essays are at the undergraduate level, their seepage into graduate study is even more alarming. Surely graduate study should be about learning to participate fully in a discipline. The appearance of the diversity essay on this shore suggests that the ideology of group difference is making a bid to trump even that.
At the University of California, Berkeley – and irrespective of the specific program you’d like to pursue – all applicants to graduate programs must provide a Personal History Statement, according to the following criteria:
Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access opportunities in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.
Note that if you want to be a graduate student at Berkeley, it’s not nearly enough that you personally add to the “diversity” of the graduate student body. You must also demonstrate that you have been out dynamiting social barriers to liberate others. You need a story about what you have done so far “to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities and individuals from other groups.”
Would Berkeley really reject a brilliant astrophysics student or a promising philosopher who replied, “Sorry. Not my thing. I have focused on my studies and advancing the frontiers of knowledge and inquiry in my field, not on social reform. In any case, I would have thought that ‘advancing equitable access’ isn’t relevant to my application."
Chances are that, as with the undergraduate applying to Yale, no one would be foolish enough to say this. We learn to go through the motions, appease the bureaucratic bullies that need to be appeased, and make up the stories necessary to pass gates like this. Most people accommodate. But that’s not to say that these rhetorical choke points have no effect. They teach the would-be student to whom and to what to bow. They enunciate the doctrines towards which the privately dissenting must be hypocritical and that the rest learn to accept as the piety of the age.
The Berkeley graduate application amounts to a requirement that the applicant prove his record as a pro-diversity activist if he want to get in. It’s a silly idea, and it is profoundly at odds with intellectual freedom, freedom of conscience, and the real purposes of education. Because of that, it is a requirement that probably won’t stand forever. “Diversity essays” are a First Amendment case waiting to happen.
Image: "Numbered notes" by Denise Chan // CC BY-SA