How To Write Graduate School Essays

You're applying to graduate school in the hopes of earning an advanced degree and joining the ranks of professionals in a field about which you're passionate. You have the grades, the scores, the recommendation letters, and in a few months time, you'll have that bachelor's degree. Right now, it seems like smooth sailing, with no obstacles between you and your goal. Then the actual application arrives in the mail and asks essay! Don't be afraid; if you can get through college, you can get through an application essay. Here are some tips for writing graduate school essays.

  1. Choose the best question for you. Every grad school asks different questions. Many are variations on the same "Why do you want to do this..." theme.  Others are questions more specific to your field of interest, such as "What would you like to research..."  Or you may find that you get to choose from among several different questions. If this is the case with your application, read the questions carefully and find the one that you can best answer. For instance, if you can go on and on about your research interests but don't have any internships or field work to talk about yet, opt for the question asking about the future, and not the past. You want to put your best foot forward. Sometimes, choosing the right essay makes a big difference.
  2. Read and answer the question carefully. Once you have selected your question, or had it selected for you by a "MUST RESPOND" notation, read it carefully, seeing how it's broken down. You want to write a complete essay, answering all parts thoroughly. So don't rush to write parts "a" and "b" to the point that you fail to notice parts "c" and "d."  Most essay questions are straightforward. But if you read the essay question and are still unsure about what the question really wants, consult a professor or a trusted peer for a second opinion. Don't try to answer something if you have no clue as to what it is really asking.
  3. Remember the basics of good writing. Are you a good writer? Maybe, maybe not. If not, a brush up on the basics of good writing can be a good thing before you begin to write. Remember, it's an essay, so you want to keep it concise--meaning, short, to the point, without a lot of digression. You want to be sure to have a clear sentence describing your main idea--think of it as a mini-thesis statement--that drives your whole essay. You also want to stick to the fundamentals of good grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage. A good book to consult is The Elements of Style by Strunk & White.
  4. Be honest and specific. Your essay is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions committee:  Give your thoughts on your field, show how well you can express yourself, indicate your passion, dedication and creativity. So be honest in your essay; don't try to sound like someone you're not or write things you think they "want to hear." Answer the question in your own words and be sincere. Also be as specific as possible. Talk about specific things you have accomplished, and specific goals you have set. Give the admissions committee a clear view of who you are and what you want.
  5. Have a second set of eyes look it over. Though the essay should be your own work, there's nothing wrong with having someone do some proofreading for you. If you have spent a lot of time on writing the essay, you may be blind to mistakes or places where you could reword for better effect. An important piece of work like a grad school essay definitely deserves at least one rewrite. So, don't just rely on yourself; have a trusted person read your essay and make sure it's the best it can be.


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