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Application Essays

The admissions essay is a part of the application that can make you stand out as unique even among a large group of similarly qualified applicants. It may be called a letter of intent, personal statement, or personal narrative, but always provides an occasion to establish your own personal voice and to explain why you are well suited for the program.

Content

When you begin the writing process, start by reading the prompt. Neglecting to address a specific question or failing to follow directions about page or word limits, are unlikely to impress. Usually you will be asked fairly generic questions about your qualifications and aims for graduate school and a common page length for a personal statement is 2 pages.

Your aim is to convince those reading your application that you are prepared to be successful and to contribute to the graduate program of study.  While all of your accomplishments are important, it is best to focus on a few specific ideas, experiences, or themes. For example, rather than merely claiming to be interested in research, it is better to explain a research project you have produced or participated in.  Rather than just saying you are committed to the betterment of humanity, show how you have demonstrated that commitment.

In addition to the specific prompt, it is important to include the following:

  1. Your preparation and background in the field of study
  2. Your specific area of interest in the field: you should explain what area of the profession you see yourself getting into, and how you see the degree helping you to get there.
  3. Your research ambitions in the field
  4. Why this Program/School?: Before you apply to graduate or professional schools you should have given a lot of thought to why you are seeking a particular degree, and why the specific institutions to which you are applying. You should explain to the schools or departments why you are a good fit with them. This means saying something about the school that could not be said about most other schools. For example, instead of writing "you have a very strong faculty," mention some examples of faculty research that interest you.
  5. Future career goals
  6. Positively Addressing Inconsistencies: If you know there is some striking weakness in your application (perhaps a GPA or score that is glaringly low or some long gap in your resume) you will want to account for it in your statement.  If, as a result of suddenly needing to work a 40-hour week to support yourself, your grades slipped significantly, that might well be something to address. You should make sure to explain it in terms as positive as possible.  For any personal struggles that you have worked through, express that it is safely in the past and will not recur in graduate school. If you struggled at first in school, but your grades have improved every year, or your grades in your major are particularly outstanding, these are things you could point out.  Some people suggest including such explanations only in a separate addendum, in order that the tone of your essay is uniformly positive.

Tips for Writing

When you first sit down to write, start by creating a list of your goals, achievements, strengths and weaknesses, interesting experiences you have had, and how you plan to continue your academic or professional development. Once you have your list of ideas, you should begin creating a general structure for your essay without committing to sentence structure and grammar.  Once you are satisfied with a structure of content for your essay, begin writing your first draft.  Make sure your tone is enthusiastic and positive.  Also, be sure to display all of the reasons why you are an excellent candidate; this is not the place for excessive modesty.

Consider carefully how to open your essay. Bear in mind that you do not have to narrate your experiences and achievements chronologically; you can start with some intriguing recent moment of inspiration, and then move backwards. Open with a bold, declarative statement, or an interesting detail or anecdote.  It is recommended to conclude with a statement that connects back to your introduction or the theme of your essay.

Drafts

When you consider editing your statements, we recommend seeking as much feedback as possible.  Expect to complete a minimum of 3 drafts.  Pre-Grad advising is committed to editing your first draft and final draft.  In between those drafts, you can have the Writing Center (THH 216), a peer, or faculty member review your statement. Including an editor working in your field of interest is also advised.  Be sure to give a draft to your recommenders.  It will help them understand how you are presenting yourself in your application, and they may also provide you with useful feedback.  When you have completed your final draft the Pre-Grad advising team is happy to take one last read through your statement.