Key Attributes

To a large degree, the particular graduate program you are applying to will dictate the content of a successful application essay. However, certain qualities of these essays apply equally to all fields. Admissions committee members are looking for interesting, insightful, revealing, and non-generic essays that suggest you have successfully gone through a process of careful reflection and self-examination. Your essay should offer a very thorough, probing, and analytical look at yourself and your objectives.

Insight Into Your Character

When we say "non-generic" above, we mean a personal statement that only you could have written, one that does not closely resemble what other applicants are likely writing. You achieve this type of statement by being personal and analytical. Don't waste space on superficial generalizations about your life. Instead, give the reader specific, personal details so that he or she will be able to understand your character and motivation. Then analyze those details in a way that drives home clear, illuminating points.

Sincerity

Don't focus too heavily on what you think admissions officers want to see, at the expense of conveying your own message in your unique way. Be yourself rather than pretending to be the "ideal" applicant. Inundated with countless cliché-ridden essays, admissions committees respond very favorably to honesty. Don't be afraid to reveal yourself. Admissions officers are interested in finding out about who you are, and they appreciate candor.

Sincerity is important to stress because it's hard for most of us to achieve, despite the fact that it seems so simple. The pressures and anxieties of the situation have locked us into a mindset that prevents us from writing honestly. Further, because we are not used to writing about ourselves and being so close to the subject, we cannot assess the sincerity of our own writing. Thousands of students every year will read this same advice, whether in a guidebook or even in the application instructions themselves, but they simply will not be able to put it into practice. If you can be one of the few who truly understand what it means to be sincere, then you will already have separated yourself from the pack in a crucial way.

You might question how a reader who doesn't know you can judge your statement's sincerity. The basis for judgment usually lies in the context your reader has developed from reading hundreds or thousands of other essays. Assessing your essay against others is one essential area in which EssayEdge can offer a more critical eye than your friends, relatives, or teachers who have not accumulated the expertise specific to the personal statement. Moreover, our perspective in reading your essay is just as objective as your admissions reader's perspective will be.

Background and Motivation

Detail your interest in and exposure to your particular discipline in a thoughtful way. You are aspiring to become a professional in your field; therefore, you should express an interest in contributing something novel to it. Make clear that you have a realistic perception of what this field entails. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other sources of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited for it. Remember not to make this a laundry list in which you rattle off impressive names or theories. Any specific people or ideas you mention should be thoughtfully addressed and seamlessly interwoven into the essay as a whole.

Goals

When you were applying to colleges, no one expected you to be certain about your future. At the graduate level, however, you need to demonstrate a more mature sense of what you want to do, and how the program you're applying to fits in with that intended path. Although admissions officers are well aware that people's goals will change, they at least want to see some sense of direction so they can evaluate your self-awareness and commitment.

"I seek a sense of commitment, a sense of discipline, and a sense specifically of what the student wants to do. I don't think it's advisable for anyone to write that he or she just loves English literature and wants to read and write. People have to know what field they want or are most likely to work in, or what specific kinds of projects they want to pursue in a field."—Graduate English Department, UCLA
"I think the main thing is to see whether the student is aware of and has thought about the field to which he or she is applying."—Graduate Engineering Program, California Institute of Technology

Attributes of the Program

Explain why the particular school's unique features attract you. Again, graduate study is much more focused than undergraduate work; it's not a time for unbounded exploration. For your own sake, you need to determine whether a specific program meets your needs, and sharing what you discover with the schools can show them why you're a good fit. Do the research necessary to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs.

Do not, however, waste space on empty praise. For example, don't cite the "world-renowned faculty" and "diverse student body" as your main reasons, because these are trite, obviously prepackaged points that you could say about any school. Instead, refer to specific courses or unique aspects of the curriculum, and show an interest in specific clubs or organizations.

"You really have to let the admissions committee know what it is about this program in particular that interests you."—The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
"It helps for the student to have done some research on the university being applied to. It is easy to differentiate an applicant who really wants to come here because of our special resources from someone whose knowledge of the program comes simply by way of the brochure we send to all interested applicants."—Graduate English Department, UCLA

Writing Ability

Again, the importance of writing ability varies according to different programs. A great flair for language will not get you admitted into a biochemistry program, but it's still essential to demonstrate strong written communication skills. On the other hand, you should also keep in mind that a well-written essay makes its points clearly and forcefully, so your content benefits as well.

Good writing means more than the ability to construct grammatical sentences. You also must create a coherent structure and ensure proper flow as the piece progresses. Because the process of developing ideas and putting them down on paper is so intimate and personal, all writers end up needing editors to assess the effectiveness of their product. You should consult people whose writing you respect for advice or even more hands-on help. Having been trained specifically in the nuances of admissions essay writing, EssayEdge editors are the best equipped to provide assistance in this crucial area.

Next: Common Flaws

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