Graduate School Application Essays

Types of Essays

Regardless of the type of school you are applying to, you will be required to submit an admissions essay as part of the application process. Graduate programs want students with clear commitment to the field. Essay prompts typically ask applicants to discuss their previous experience, future professional goals, and how the program can help them in achieving those objectives. The essay gives the applicant the chance to articulate these goals and display strong writing skills. Remember to tailor your essay to each school and the faculty committee that reviews your application. But first, take note of what kind of essay is being requested of you. Here are the two main admission essays:

Personal Statement

A Personal Statement is a narrative piece describing how your character and experiences have formed you into someone who will contribute positively and effectively to not only the department but the academic discipline as a whole. This is often achieved by detailing social, educational, cultural, and economic obstacles you have overcome in your journey to get to where you are today and your future objectives. A personal statement is also an opportunity to highlight what is unique about you and how you will advance diversity within the institution.

Statement of Purpose

Interchangeably called a “Research Statement”, a Statement of Purpose will prompt you to describe your research interests and professional goals, how you plan to accomplish them, and why a specific program is best suited for you to do so. Be specific about your specialized interests within your major field. Be clear about the kind of program you expect to undertake, and explain how your study plan connects with your previous training and future goals.

How to Write a Powerful Admission Essay

Whatever required format, your essay should be thoughtful, concise, compelling, and interesting. Remember, admissions officers read hundreds of personal essays. Below are some tips for your admissions essay writing process:

Before Writing

  • Read the question: Be sure you are aware of all aspects of the prompt. Failing to pay attention to details in the admission essay prompt won’t reflect well on you as a potential candidate.
  • Brainstorm: Within the context of the question, make a list of your interests, personal passions, past experiences, hardships, successes, etc. to give yourself some writing topic options. Some questions to ask yourself: What is distinct, special, and/or impressive about me and my life story? Have I overcome any particular hardships are obstacles? When did I become interested this field and what have I learned about it? What are my career goals? What personal traits, values, and skill sets do I have that would make me stand out from other applicants?
  • Create an outline: It can be difficult because you will have so much you want to say, but you need to whittle down your many thoughts and experiences to a concrete thesis with a select number of examples to support it. Create an outline for your draft, not only to organize your points and examples but to help shape your essay to meet the needs of your readers.
  • Know your audience: Consider how your narrative can best meet the expectations of admissions committee members. Will faculty be reading this? Administrators? Experts in the field? Knowing your audience ahead of time will assist you in addressing the prompt in the correct tone and vocabulary.

While Writing

  • Grab your reader’s attention: Start your essay with something that will grab the reader's attention such as a personal anecdote, quote, questions, or engaging depiction of a scene. Avoid starting things off with common phrases such as “I was born in…” or “I have always wanted to…” Consider the experiences that have shaped you or your career decision, and delve into them with a creative hook.
  • Write well: Your essay is a sample of your writing abilities, so it’s important to convey your thoughts clearly, effectively, and grammatically. Be succinct—you don’t need to write out your full autobiography or resume in prose, and be sure to exclude anything that doesn’t support your thesis. Gentle humor is okay, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t make things up! Be honest about your experiences.
  • End strong: End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis. This helps unify your essay as a whole, connecting your detailed experiences back to the reason you are writing this essay in the first place—to show your qualifications for your graduate program of choice.

Final Touches

  • Revise: Give yourself enough time to step away from your draft. Return with a fresh pair of eyes to make your edits. Be realistic with yourself, not your harshest critic. Make a few rounds of revisions if you need.
  • Ask for help: Have your essay critiqued by friends, family, educators, and the MIT Writing and Communication Center or GECD Career Services staff.
  • Proofread: Reading your essay out loud or into a tape recorder and playing it back can help you catch mistakes or poor phrasing your tired eyes may have missed. Also, don’t rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.