As any graduate school admission officer will tell you, numbers don’t always tell the complete story. If that was the case, students would be admitted or denied solely on their numerical grades and test scores. Instead, graduate school applications usually require an essay component so that school officials can get a sense of a student’s personality, ideals, and commitment to their studies.
Depending on the type of program you wish to enter and the essay question itself, the writing portion of your application could be a chance to tout your achievements, offer a lighthearted glimpse into your personality and writing style, and/or explain what contributions you’d make as a student.
Don’t fret: you don’t have to write the great American novel to get into grad school. On the contrary, you probably have to share your thoughts in 500 words or less. Here are six ways to make those words count.
1. Don’t become a graduate school essay cliché
Grad school essays may require you to answer a specific question (i.e., Discuss a piece of literature that changed your life.); ask you for a general statement (Tell us about yourself.); or about your goals (What do you hope your graduate studies will help you achieve?). No matter the question, you don’t want to end up boring the admission committee with a clichéd response. They have already read thousands of submissions detailing how a traumatic childhood experience influenced your career goals or how a volunteer endeavor changed the way you see the world. Don’t write about lofty ideals or brag about academic triumphs either, just because you assume it’s what admission officers want to hear. Instead, write about something that’s honest, reveals your personality in some way, and makes you a standout applicant.
2. Follow the directions
Forget about the content of your essay for a second. The quickest way to blow it is to ignore the directions. If there is a suggested word count, aim to come as close to it as possible. If there is a direct question, answer it without veering off on a tangent. If you are asked to submit the essay as a single-spaced document in Comic Sans font (okay, probably not, but you never know), then so be it.
3. Keep it clean
You should have impeccable spelling, grammar, and punctuation throughout your essay, and avoid texting slang or vulgar language unless there is an absolutely compelling reason why it needs to be in your story. (Hint: there’s probably not.) If you’re sending in a hard copy, it should be on also be on crisp, white paper without fold marks, crumples, or pizza stains. If you’re e-mailing or attaching a file, be sure it’s named appropriately, and keep the formatting simple (or as directed).
4. Tell your story, in your words
Ditch the thesaurus. Admission folks will not be impressed by a litany of 14-syllable words or Shakespearean quotes, unless there is a reason why they tie into your story. Use conversational language and a consistent, friendly tone. Try reading your essay out loud to make sure it sounds natural. And this probably goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder anyway—never, ever plagiarize or lift words from another source in your personal essay. With the exception of a quote, which you’ll attribute appropriately, the words in your essay must come from your brain. Better yet, they should come from your heart. Try these brainstorming techniques to help get past writer’s block.
5. Take the Instagram approach
No, we’re not saying to use photos and hashtags in your essay. It’s just a modern way of telling you to “show, don’t tell” (remember that from creative writing 101?). In other words, be descriptive and detailed, use colorful metaphors, and avoid superlative terms. You want to try to take your reader to a place or time, and help him or her understand who you are and what makes you tick. Generalized statements like “attending BLANK University will help me achieve my dreams” or “BLANK made me the person I am today” are throwaway sentences.
6. Know your audience
You should never write a one-size-fits-all essay if you’re applying to multiple programs and schools. Even if the topics are similar, you still want to tailor your writing so that each university your applying to feels like you’re writing it for them. For instance, you might take a different approach for a small Christian university like Olivet Nazarene in Illinois as opposed to a large, urban public institution like New York University or a more specialized program like at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Now that you’re armed with these prose pointers, put them into practice and wow some grad school admission officers. Happy writing!
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How to Write a Personal Statement
Welcome to EssayEdge's Graduate School Statements 101! Our experts have assembled the most comprehensive course on the Internet to help you compose successful graduate school essays. A personal statement or autobiographical essay represents a graduate school's first qualitative introduction to the way you think and to the way you express yourself. The personal statement must serve as a reflection of your personality and intellect. You must sell yourself through this statement, just as you would through a successful job interview. Preparation and personal reflection are essential.
If you find it difficult to write about yourself, don't be discouraged. Having assisted tens of thousands of applicants, we can assure you that everyone has problems composing these statements. If you have a friend who finishes one in two hours flat and doesn't agonize over what he or she is writing, chances are it's not a statement that will do much to enhance his or her prospects for admission. Good essays take time. Bad ones can hurt your chances for admission.
The essays required of graduate school applicants fall into two major categories. First, there is the general, comprehensive personal statement, which allows the applicant more latitude in what he or she writes. The second category encompasses essays that are responses to specific questions. Here the applicant might have less latitude in terms of your topic, but it is still possible and prudent to compose a thoughtful and compelling response that holds the reader's interest.
No matter what type of application form you are dealing with, it is extremely important that you read each question carefully and respond to it fully. Some applications are more vague or general in their instructions than others; for these, it is often possible to compose almost any sort of essay you wish. You have virtually total control, and you also have a remarkable opportunity that you can either maximize or squander—the choice is yours.
The purpose of this guide is not to teach formulas, but rather to give the necessary direction for you to create an original and effective essay. We will teach you how to choose appropriate topics and themes, how to structure your essay as a coherent and flowing piece, and how to convey your ideas through engaging and active language.
Next:Lesson One: Preparation
See how EssayEdge experts from schools including Harvard, Yale and Princeton can help you get into graduate school! Review our services.