What do a surgeon, a lawyer and a professor have in common? They all had to write an essay for their graduate school application. The graduate school essay can be incredibly stressful, but here are a few tips to make it more manageable.
1) Make sure you are going to grad school for the right reasons: Do you get overly excited when talking about myths and rituals of the 18th century Borneo tribes? Perfect! Grad school seems to be the right place for you. Are you going to medical school because your parents dictated at birth your profession as a heart surgeon? An admissions committee can tell through your essay if you are uncertain about the program through your language, tone and diction. Go to grad school for you; other people will not provide the internal motivation necessary to earn your degree.
2) Talk to people who are in your prospective program: Connect with university alumni and your Alpha Phi network! They can give you writing samples, advice concerning your essay’s content, put you in contact with professors that teach at your dream school and even edit your essay. The possibilities are endless.
3) You’re smart, so show it: Write about your fridge-worthy research paper, or discuss what you learned in the lab that you practically slept in while running all those experiments. Describe your mentors and how they influenced your academic career. Talk about the moment you knew that you had to go to graduate school. Don’t be shy about discussing your academic achievements. You are trying to convince a graduate program that your intellect would be beneficial to their program.
4) Add some spice to your essay: By adding colorful details, you will maintain your reader’s interest. Feel free to incorporate your ethnic, religious or cultural background. This will allow the admissions committee to fully understand your individuality and any obstacles you have encountered. In addition, tie in your other passions and hobbies with your motivations for attending graduate school. For example, I incorporated my lifelong dream of becoming a batboy for a baseball team into the reasons why I wanted to study gender inequity within religious institutions. If you decide to take this route, make sure that all details relate back to your thesis.
5) Edit, Edit Edit: The graduate admissions process has no room for typos. Ask professors, your friend who has memorized Strunk & White and your parents to read over your essay. Remove any details that are superfluous to your argument. At times, graduate school essays can have too much information; try to find a balance between academics and your personality. Each school should have a personalized essay. Your reasons for attending University X will vary from your reasons for attending University Y; let your essay reflect that.
Above all, do not underestimate your academic prowess! Be confident about your abilities. If you are excited by the prospect of pursuing a subject that interests you, it will show in your essay. Have fun with this process, plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to review your essay. Good luck!
Devin Denny is a senior at University of Rochester (Theta Kappa).