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Graduate Admission Essay Format

There is really no excuse for careless errors. Having even one in your grad school essay can affect the way you are perceived. Learn about how to avoid these errors with this article.

When you're ready to write your graduate school essay, keep in mind that there are certain things you definitely should do as well as common pitfalls to avoid. Graduate school essays tend to be very specific to the school and program. Because of this, you might simply be told to include a personal statement in your application package or be given a paragraph-long prompt as well as formatting guidelines. Regardless of whether you are applying to an EdD program, an MPA, or med school, follow these guidelines to create your best grad school application essay.

Your graduate school essay should have great content and be free from errors

The first step in writing your best grad school essay is to brainstorm content. What were the pivotal events that led you to the point in your life that you are applying to grad school? Pick anecdotes that you can clearly express to the reader as well as demonstrate analytical skills in your reflection on the meaning of those events. Help the admissions officers experience these events alongside you so that they can gain insight into your background and potential.

Additionally, you'll need to budget enough time to proofread and have others look over your essay. We can all become blind to errors in spelling and grammar that will become obvious when a new set of eyes reads your essay. Also, be selective in who you choose to read your essay. Too many opinions will only confuse you and leave you with an essay that is actually worse than it was before. Pick people who are either professionals or have had success in gaining acceptance to your chosen school or program.

Your grad school essay should be more than a summary of your resume

When writing graduate school essays for admissions committees, strive for depth. It is likely that, now that you are applying to graduate school, you will have numerous experiences in your background that attest to your qualifications for the program. However, instead of briefly writing about many experiences, it is better to go in depth about a handful or even just one.

The admissions officers are looking for much more than just further details on your resume. In your essay, they want you to demonstrate self-reflection, critical thinking skills, the ability to apply what you learned across broad real world scenarios, and what you would do differently if you encountered a similar situation in the future. Although you don't need to cover every one of these aspects within your essay, this can give you an idea of what is important to the admissions officers. Along with the facts of a situation, the essay also needs to include your perspective.

Know your GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT level vocabulary

While your graduate school essay should be written in straightforward language, it should also reflect a command of graduate level vocabulary. However, you need to be able to use those words with precision. If you're not sure, look online for examples. If you're still not sure, leave it out. Better to use plain language well than advanced vocabulary incorrectly. Even so, higher vocabulary gives you a chance to add shades of meaning and streamline your phrasing. Can you substitute one word for a phrase? Can you use an advanced vocabulary word instead of an idiomatic expression? Look for opportunities to include a broader variety of word choices in your graduate admissions essay.

A graduate school personal statement should be concise

Whether your grad school essay is 500 words or three pages, effective graduate school personal statements are succinct. Everything should fit together and flow smoothly within the context of an overarching theme. Decide what you think is most important for the admissions officers to know about you, and then focus on those experiences within the essay. Concise essays demonstrate respect for the admission's officers' time, and that tacit message will be received by the reader. Moreover, writing in this manner lets the admissions officers know that you can organize your thoughts well and express them clearly to others.

Learn more about admissions to graduate school with articles, tips, and strategies from Peterson's.

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Examples of Successful Statements

Below are samples of personal statements. You may also select "Sample Statement" in the Media Box above for a PDF sample.

Statement #1

My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A. It seemed only logical that I pursue a career in electrical engineering.

When I began my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the full range of engineering courses, all of which tended to reinforce and solidify my intense interest in engineering. I've also had the opportunity to study a number of subjects in the humanities and they have been both enjoyable and enlightening, providing me with a new and different perspective on the world in which we live.

In the realm of engineering, I have developed a special interest in the field of laser technology and have even been taking a graduate course in quantum electronics. Among the 25 or so students in the course, I am the sole undergraduate. Another particular interest of mine is electromagnetics, and last summer, when I was a technical assistant at a world-famous local lab, I learned about its many practical applications, especially in relation to microstrip and antenna design. Management at this lab was sufficiently impressed with my work to ask that I return when I graduate. Of course, my plans following completion of my current studies are to move directly into graduate work toward my master's in science. After I earn my master's degree, I intend to start work on my Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Later I would like to work in the area of research and development for private industry. It is in R & D that I believe I can make the greatest contribution, utilizing my theoretical background and creativity as a scientist.

I am highly aware of the superb reputation of your school, and my conversations with several of your alumni have served to deepen my interest in attending. I know that, in addition to your excellent faculty, your computer facilities are among the best in the state. I hope you will give me the privilege of continuing my studies at your fine institution.

(Stelzer pp. 38-39)

Statement #2

Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to concentrate on English and American literature.

I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized in nineteenth century novels by and about women. The relationship between "high" and folk literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for publication.

In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.

Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.

In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your teaching assistant ship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional stepping stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.

(Stelzer pp. 40-41)

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