How To Write An Application Essay For Grad School

Some schools may require a succinct personal statement – a couple paragraphs about who you are as a student. But, other schools/programs may require multiple admissions essays, typically between 500-1,000 words. Possible prompts include: career plans, academic interests, research experiences, academic objectives, clinical and field experience, academic achievements and personal experience.

But, ultimately, what grad schools really want to know is if you will be successful. Follow these steps to prove that:

 Establish a clear purpose: What do you want to do? Do you want to find the cure for cancer or help small children overcome psychological illnesses? Whatever your purpose is, it should be as specific as possible. Make sure you use that as your consistent theme throughout your essay. State your purpose early, and match it to the programs at your prospective schools. Write about how that school will help you achieve your goals. Without a clear purpose, your school will not be able to position you or understand exactly why you’re applying…and that is not good.

 Write five essays, pick one: We're not talking about just writing multiple drafts of each essay (that's a given). But, actually writing five separate essays and selecting one as the winner. Just think, how many books did J.D. Sallinger write before he just dug up The Catcher in the Rye? He wrote lots of short stories, and only one of his works is truly famous. The point being, the more essays you write, the more chances you will have of writing a great essay. It seems so tedious and unnecessary, but grad schools/departments are very competitive. There will always be handful of students who are willing to do anything to get in, and at some schools there are only a handful of seats. Do the math.

 Use first person voice: This essay is about YOU and what YOU are capable of; so make it all about you. It’s okay to brag a little, but not a ton. Try to use an ambitious tone. But, make sure you maintain the first person voice (using “I, me, my”) consistently throughout your essay.

 Use standard format: Introduction paragraph, a few body paragraphs (depending on the word limits) and a conclusion. State your purpose/goal in the intro, use the body paragraphs to support what you have already done to accomplish your goal/what you plan to do and use the conclusion to sum it all up. It’s very similar to the essays you wrote in high school.

 Strong first sentence: What is the most important thing you will do in your career? Maybe you want to dedicate your career to engineering better automobile safety. Your first sentence could be something like: “Someday, I will save someone’s life, maybe even yours. As an aspiring engineer planning to specialize in automobile safety, I will use the degree earned at _________ to achieve that goal.” And then you’re on your way.

 Research project: This is basically a must on your application and in your essay, especially if you are applying to a science department. Most students will have some type of research project. Your essay is the perfect time to elaborate on the quality of your project, how it was conducted and what your findings were. Make sure you write about how your findings can have major industrial effects.

 Do not write about your grades: Grad schools already have your transcript. They know that you got an "A" in Physical Chemistry. Focus on your real-world accomplishments either through internships, research projects or even in-class projects that had practical applications. It may even be helpful to make a list of your accomplishments before you start.

 Grad schools are not as “scholarly” as undergrads, meaning the focus at these schools is to produce career-ready students. For example, if you are pursuing an physics degree, you can write about what you “helped create and design at age 20 – and just imagine what I’d be able to do with your degree in 10 years, 15 years?” 

 Prove your worth: The credentials will be different at every grad school and even every individual department. But the bottom line at most schools is: will you be successful? Try to get in contact with the students who have been accepted to your prospective school. Your undergrad college should have that information on file. Ask those students if you can read their essays. See what stands out to you, and try to emulate (not copy) their style and structure. Most likely, they wrote about the industrial impacts of their previous/future work. Stay to that theme, and you will be golden.

 Tailor your essay to the program: Does the program you’re applying to have a specific mission or philosophy? What are the programs goals and interests? And what type of students are accepted and succeed there? A ton of essays fail because they are too generic, and could be written for just about any other school. Although it’s important to write about yourself, you still need to match your skills/abilities with the school’s philosophy. You could even place the school’s mission statement in your essay. Try to find professors at your prospective school you would enjoy working with and include them in your essay too.

 Enlist proofreaders: Your English professors, parents, friends, roommates, etc, etc. The more people you can have proofread your essay before submission, the better. Make sure you allow plenty of time for proofreading and revisions.