Your graduate school application essay is your best chance to make a great impression on admissions officers and to distinguish yourself from other candidates. So use that opportunity to write an outstanding essay that highlights your personality and your qualifications – the ones that will make you a stand-out candidate for the university or B-school you want to attend.
What follows is some good advice for you to utilise your time and energy in a way that will be most effective in convincing an admissions officer that you not only will be an asset to their Master’s or MBA programme, but also that you have the personal motivation and commitment to succeed.
Purpose of a graduate school application essay
Your transcripts and standardised test scores demonstrate your ability to handle coursework and study, but that is only part of your story. To get a more complete picture of you as a candidate, admissions officers will often ask for a personal graduate school application essay, which may also be called a statement of purpose or a motivation letter. Whatever it is named, its purpose is clear.
You are investing in a university or B-school by enrolling in its Master’s or MBA programme, and the school is making an investment in you as a student and potential alumnus. So they want to be sure you are prepared, willing, competent, and motivated to make the best of the opportunity you have been given to excel, both academically now and professionally throughout your life.
It is not unusual for a student or professional to evolve in knowledge and skill beyond what earlier transcripts or test scores can reveal. If you fear your transcripts or test scores do not accurately reflect your capabilities, the graduate school application essay is also a perfect opportunity to supplement your academic record.
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Before you begin writing your graduate school application essay
By the time you apply to a Master’s or MBA programme, you have probably done enough self-analysis that you know what your career goals are and how further education will support them. If not, that is certainly your first step. Do you know what you hope to achieve with a post-graduate degree? Are you certain you want to invest this time and money in that particular programme? Have you studied the various career options this degree will allow, and are you committed to this particular path of study? You cannot convince an admissions committee of your commitment if you have trouble convincing yourself. Neither would you want to.
To crystallize what you want to communicate in your essay, start by listing your professional goals and noting exactly how this degree programme will further them. For example, if you are deeply interested in applying for higher-level jobs for which only degreed candidates are eligible, that demonstrates an obvious need for the programme. If you begin the writing process with a clear picture of what the degree will add to your life professionally, you will have a much easier time communicating those points in your graduate school application essay.
Next, think of the experience you hope to have during your Master’s or MBA studies. What amenities, student groups, and career services do you want from the school you select? Illustrating how a particular school meets all your needs and wants demonstrates a fully thought-out decision-making process, which is fundamental to the entire application.
Finally, think of your personal goals. How will your personal life benefit from the degree and experience you will receive by graduating from a challenging Master’s or MBA programme? Search within yourself to find what motivates you most and what that degree will mean to you on a personal level. For example, if you would be the first person in your family to receive a post-graduate degree and that would bring you great pride and fulfillment, or if you think it would demonstrate to your children that anything is achievable with dedication and hard work, that is certainly a personal detail you would want to include.
Writing process for your graduate school application essay
Ideally, by this time in your education or career, you will have learned that procrastination works against you. If not, heed this warning: start early. Allow yourself enough time to make several drafts and to have people with vastly different experiences and viewpoints to read it and offer suggestions.
Overall, you want your essay to reflect your own ideas and ambitions, so it needs to be – above all else – authentic and sincere. Do not attempt to flatter the institution in the hope of winning over the committee, but instead personalise the experience ahead of you with your goals and dreams and how they will motivate you to succeed.
Begin the actual writing process by determining the essay topics available to you. Does the university or B-school to which you are applying have one specific topic or a series of questions from which to choose? Whether you are given a topic or you can pick from a list, make sure your essay stays on topic throughout. Keep a focus on your objectives for the essay, and be careful not to ramble or include too much extraneous information.
Once you have a topic in mind, go back to your initial brainstorming about your personal and professional goals as well as what you want to gain from the experience itself. Where can you draw parallels between what they want to know and what you want them to know? Try to call to mind specific examples in your life that have led to your decision to obtain this Master’s or MBA degree, and include those in your text.
Getting stuck in the writing process is rather common. If it happens, set it aside for a day or week and come back to it with a fresh perspective. Once your mind has time to digest the information, you will be surprised at how easily new ideas will come to you.
Set a goal for a first draft long before the essay is due. Ask friends and relatives with diverse experiences and opinions to critique it, and be open to their suggestions. Once you have a new draft, take it to them again. Chances are they will welcome the opportunity to assist you in pursuing such an important goal.
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Your graduate school application essay is your chance to supplement impersonal transcripts and test scores with interesting information about who you are as a student, as a professional, and as a person. Selling yourself as a candidate in a succinct yet informative way, without being boastful or insincere, can be tricky, but it can be done well if you allow yourself enough time for thorough reflection and multiple drafts. It may be that one opportunity you have to impress the admissions committee that you are the right candidate, and to get the degree you want so badly.
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Your graduate school personal statement may initially get only five minutes of an admissions officer's attention. In those five minutes you have to show that you are a good pick for the school.
Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren't looking for gimmicks. They're looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay. If you're looking for one-on-one assistance, check out EssayEdge.com.
Know what the admissions officers are seeking
Don't make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.
What should you do if the program doesn't give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they've read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.
Personal, personal, personal
Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, 'In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.'
Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college
It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.
Know your program and make connections
Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program's minimum requirements, they'll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn't seem to know much about their program.
During your graduate studies, you'll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.
Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick
This doesn't necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren't persuasive, and generic essays won't help your application package. If you can't sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.
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