Every year, hundreds of thousands of students apply for admission to colleges and graduate schools in America. It’s impossible for each school to consider every applicant in full; they just don’t have the time, people, or money for such an endeavor. For this reason, they use academic profiles to help them in their selection process. They’ll look at an applicant’s grade point average, how rigorous a school or college they graduated from, and their results on one or more nationally recognized standardized tests. These things have all been shown to be very strong indicators of how well a person will do in school. They’ll determine their own criteria for acceptable GPA’s and test scores, and they’ll use this to immediately eliminate a very large percentage, often the vast majority, of their applicants. Anyone who doesn’t make the basic cutoff is denied admission. But that still leaves most colleges and universities with far more applicants than they can accept. To further narrow down the field to the best possible students, they also require an essay upon application. They will then read the essay of those students whose applications made the cutoff in order to get some insights into what kind of a person the applicant is, beyond what the numbers say. A badly written graduate school application essay can disqualify even a student with the best GPA and test score, and a terrific essay can be the ticket to admission for someone who barely made the cutoff. For these reasons, you’ll want to write the very best essay you possibly can if you’re hoping to go to college or graduate school. In this section, we’ll tell you about the different types of essays you might be asked to write, and give you some tips on how to write an excellent one, and really make yourself stand out from the competition. But first, here are some helpful tips on writing graduate school application essays in general.
The quality of your graduate school application essay is crucial to your chances of getting into graduate school. This can’t be stressed highly enough. It would be completely reckless and foolhardy to simply write something on the spur or the moment and send it in. You’ve got to give your essay a lot of thought, and you’ll want to thoroughly edit and rewrite it before submission. You’ll also want to have some pages of raw material written down before you even begin your essays. On these pages, you’ll be writing down things, books, ideas, events, and people of significance to use as essay material. Think back on your life so far. Think of five books that have profoundly affected you. Think of five people who have inspired you. Write them down. What are your five best qualities? What are your five greatest accomplishments? What are the five biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve overcome? What are the five adjectives people would most commonly use to describe your personality? What are the five highlights of your life so far? What are your five biggest failures in life? What are the five most memorable events of your life? Write all these down, and think of some questions of your own to ask yourself, and to ask your family and friends. When you’re done, you’ll have the basic building blocks upon which to write a good essay. You certainly won’t use all the material, but you’ll have a lot to work with, and you can pick and choose what you need as you see fit for the various essays you’ll be writing. And don’t get hung up on the number five-if you can only think of a couple or three for some categories, that’s fine. The goal is to get you thinking. And here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when you sit down at your keyboard:
You’ll also want to demonstrate good writing skills. Your essay should be written with the reader in mind. If it doesn’t grab and hold their attention, then they may not even bother to read the whole thing. That would ruin your chance of being accepted. So make in interesting. Use some style. You don’t want your essay to sound like everyone else’s. And write logically and with good sentence and paragraph structure. You should outline your thoughts after you’ve selected your topic, and then make sure you follow the outline. You don’t want a rambling, discordant essay, which can easily result if you don’t outline the structure ahead of time. Don’t forget to check for typos and other errors. And read the essay out loud, because doing so is the only way to catch some errors. Use varying sentence lengths, and break them up-long sentences divided by short and medium ones. Avoid slang, and avoid using big words just to impress. If a longer or more unusual word is necessary, by all means use it, but if you’re just using it to show that you’re very intelligent it will be obvious to the reader, and their reaction won’t be positive. And don’t use “I” over and over, especially at the beginning of sentences. Also, as you hopefully learned in high school English but have probably forgotten, do not overuse the passive voice in your essay. In fact, don’t use the passive voice much at all. Active verbs are much more interesting to read. Don’t use your first sentence or two as a summary of what you’re about to write. They should be introductory sentences, where you set the stage for the rest of your essay. Likewise for your conclusion. It shouldn’t be a rehash of your main points, but a way to wrap things up and state some lessons learned or insights gained. Of course, you’ll want to avoid phrases like “lessons learned” and “I gained insights”, just as you most definitely don’t want to say something like “in conclusion”. Remember, avoid clichés. Your essay reader has seen thousands of them, and will lump you in with the rest of the unoriginal writers they’ve seen. And, one more time, because it can’t be stressed enough-proofread your graduate school application essay. Then have others proofread it. Then read it out loud to make sure it sounds right.
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Last Updated: 10/01/2013