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Graduate School is just the beginning

General Essay

You probably know already that getting into grad school is going to be tough. It gets tougher every year, as the number of applicants keeps rising. The competition for the best programs and the best schools is fierce, and if you're serious about getting an advanced education you should be prepared to do anything you can to maximize your chances of getting admitted. By now you've probably made the best grades you could as an undergraduate, gotten good scores on standardized tests, and acquired a pile of recommendations to send with your application. Is there anything else you need to do to ensure that you find a slot in the program of your choice? Yes. You can write the best possible graduate school essay to go with your grad school application. The school will suggest questions that you can write an essay about. Here are two important essay questions that are typically asked on applications and some suggestions about how to approach them.

Why do you want to earn a higher degree? This sounds like a simple question. You probably have specific reasons for wanting to get an advanced degree, but communicating to someone else what those reasons are and why they're important to you isn't a simple task. What the admissions committee will be looking for on your graduate school essay is a person who is passionate about his studies and who will be willing to work hard as a member of the department. Through your essay, you should make clear how strongly you feel about the subject you'll be studying and how committed you are to getting your degree. Stress that you will be focused on achieving your goals and that you aren't applying simply because you have nothing better to do. The admissions committee needs to know that you'll be the kind of hardworking, dedicated person that will become an asset to the department. Let them know that you have a solid and compelling reason for your decision, some experience or philosophy that is motivating you to seek an education beyond your undergraduate degree. Once you've decided the story you want to tell, make it interesting and readable, avoiding hackneyed phrases and turgid prose. Find an opening sentence that will grab the reader's interest immediately and write the essay in a way that will hold that attention. When you're finished, read it over and decide if what you've written is something you'd want to read yourself. A boring essay will hurt your chances of acceptance. Write it in a voice that is uniquely your own, one that will give the reader a sense of who you are. If you can do that, you have a good chance of having your essay read all the way through and being accepted to the program.

Graduate School Essay

Why do you think you're a good candidate for graduate school? The last question was about what kind of person you are. This one is about what kind of skills and personal qualities you'll bring to the table. Obviously, the members of the admissions committee will already have part of the answer. They'll know what kind of grades you got as an undergraduate and what kind of scores you made on standardized tests, because that information will be part of your application. Now they want to know what sort of track record you have for surmounting difficult challenges. Life as a graduate student is going to be a much more intense experience than life as an undergraduate was, and the admissions committee wants to know if you'll be up to it. You can show them that you are by writing an essay about a time in your life when you were faced with a difficult, seemingly insurmountable challenge and rose to meet it. Talk about how you might have been tempted to ignore the challenge and perhaps would have suffered no serious consequences in doing so, yet chose to meet it anyway and eventually succeeded in overcoming it. Perhaps you were flunking a course in high school, but chose to buckle down and get a passing grade. Try to remember what that struggle was like and describe it vividly in your essay. If the occasion that you're writing is one that is meaningful to you, then it will be meaningful to the reader as well. Tell it clearly, keep it interesting, and the admissions committee will find a reason to invite you to their school.

Last Updated: 05/25/2014