Posted September 29, 2014 by

3 Tips For Writing A Grad School Essay

Portrait of a serious young student writing an essay in a library

Portrait of a serious young student writing an essay in a library. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Applying to graduate school can be a stressful process, and one reason is that it can get personal. Once you’ve completed your undergraduate education, your transcript isn’t going to change—from a numbers perspective, you’ve done your job. But when applying to grad schools, you’re faced with the tricky task of framing that job while presenting yourself and demonstrating your accomplishments in the most appealing way possible.

In this process, one of the biggest chances applicants have to express themselves is in personal statements and essays. They vary in nature depending on the program one is applying for, but they’re almost always present in some capacity. Here are a few tips on how to best represent yourself in these essays.

Simplify The Introduction

We all want to start our application essays with a bang. There’s a temptation to impress right off the bat. However, there’s a lot of advice from experienced people and publications telling you to do just the opposite by keeping the intro concise and to the point. You can always go back and add a little expression to it later, if you have the space. However, as Delece Smith-Barrow of U.S. News pointed out in a 2013 article about business school essays, a concise intro makes you less likely to ramble. As a result, you’re more likely to answer the prompt! This is advice well worth considering as you’re starting out.

Hopefully these tips help you in creating the best possible essay for your grad school application. Good luck!

Know How To Address Weaknesses

Often applicants will be asked to address failures or weaknesses, and this is never easy. Most of us want to be honest and humble without revealing any actual weaknesses! But in tackling this topic for grad school applicants, Menlo Coaching’s Alice van Harten makes a strong argument for delving into a genuine challenge or failure. She argues here that if you skirt around the topic or spin a failure into being something you did well, you’re less likely to engage the reader. Instead, when faced with a prompt like this, it’s best to make an effort to express a true setback you’ve faced in life. This answers the prompt honestly and gives you a valuable opportunity to show how you learned and grew from a negative experience.

Use Facts, Not Language

This is a crucial concept to keep in mind as you present yourself in the context of your ambitions and professional interests. USA Today’s Billie Streufert uses the example of an applicant with an interest in law who merely articulates that interest, as opposed to demonstrating work toward that interest (such as previous work at a law firm or in student government). Of course, you can’t use experiences you don’t actually have and you want to be careful not to simply repeat bullet points from a résumé. However, in elaborating on your own interests, you can demonstrate passion and drive more effectively through experiences than through pretty language about how deep your interest is.

This is a guest post by freelance writer Patti Conner. She holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business and lives in Seattle, Wash. with her husband. When she’s not writing her latest article, she can be found at her local library and kayaking through the Puget Sound.

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