Writing Your Graduate School Admissions Essay Career Services Office 202 Pryzbyla Center 202-319-5623 http://careers.cua.edu
First Things First The first thing you should know is that graduate school applications require essays that fall into two major categories: the general comprehensive personal statement, which allows maximum latitude when you write. the essay, which requires responses to very specific questions. Getting Started Your essay will be just one of hundreds read by members of an admissions committee. Admissions committees want essays that stand out and are thought provoking. In order to set yourself apart from others, it's important to base your essay on an in-depth and analytical look at who you are. Start by trying to answer the following questions as clearly as you can: What are your career goals? Why are you pursuing this specific career? What do you hope to gain by fulfilling these goals? How will a graduate education facilitate these plans? What are your long-term life goals? What makes you different and unique? Taking these factors into consideration, you also want incorporate other important information, such as: your academic background your non-academic experiences (i.e., volunteer work, job experience, world travel, recreational activities, etc.) your most significant accomplishment to date, whether it be academic, vocational, athletic. Also, it is important to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have: read the school catalog carefully; researched the program; and thoughtfully considered your reasons for applying to this particular school. It may help to think about what attributes you want to demonstrate to the readers (for example, effective communication, self-confidence, flexibility, maturity, etc.). What do you want the admissions committee to remember about you? Find Your Voice Review your personal history: You want to reveal facts that illustrate a unique dimension about yourself, or relate to your professional goals. In defining yourself, turn to family and friends for their perspective.
Find an angle: Everyone has an individual style of writing, or a unique way of expressing themselves. Identify yours before you begin writing. Be positive and confident, BUT avoid sounding arrogant or condescending. It's okay to be proud of your accomplishments but don't overdo it. Be selective in your wording and tone- don't be too extreme: its good to be original, but don't alienate the reader(s). Remember- everything in moderation. Try to stay away from controversial issues such as politics and religion. It is safer to err on the side of being conservative. Be articulate and concise: An essay full of multi-syllabic vocabulary isn't always impressive, and can even be boring. Write for clarity. Develop a theme for your essay, elaborate on it. Make it a point to use active verbs like "organized," "managed," and "researched." Most of all be logical, organize your thoughts, and be specific. Deal with your weaknesses: By this time in your life you have probably realized that you have a few, but don't dwell on them. Instead offer reasonable and informative explanations (e.g., a death in the family, working to finance one’s own education, illness, immaturity, etc.) Remember though, it is very important not to whine or make long, drawn out pleas. If you have a major problem or inconsistencies to explain (plagiarism, a semester or year of bad grades, etc.) it may be best to address this in a separate addendum and keep your essay positive. Be interesting: Just because it’s a graduate school essay doesn't mean that it has to be boring. Tell a story and keep your writing fresh and upbeat. Getting started: Take notice of any specific instructions included in your application packet. Think of three to five important ideas for your essay. Organize your main ideas into paragraphs: -Introduction -Body: three to six paragraphs with main ideas -Closing Edit, edit, edit: Most importantly, take your time and go over the details. Grammar and spelling must be perfect. Remember that this essay is the first personal look at you a school is going to have. A successful essay is one that has been well thought out, critiqued, and revised. Getting Assistance Turn to others for help. Ask faculty, especially your advisor and/or those who teach in the area in which you are interested, to read and critique your document. Get more than one opinion, too, as different people will see different things. Expect to write several drafts before you have the one that you want to use with your applications. A word of caution: make sure that through all of your edits you don’t let others put their voice into your essay. Use your own words to express yourself. Finally, Career Services has two publications that can be of considerable help through this process. They are: Stelzer, R.J. How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School. Asher, D. Graduate Admissions Essays – Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice.