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Graduate & Professional School Online Guide

Admissions Essays

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Admissions Essays/Personal Statements

A Specific Method for Approaching your Essays

Free Writing
1. Free write for 10-30 minutes.
2. Extract the main points and list them at the top of another page.
3. Free write on these points or some of them for 10-30 minutes.
4. Again list the main topics and add subtopics.

Preliminary Organization
1. Choose the ideas you will use. Keep in mind:

a. The desired length
b. The relative importance of ideas
c. The specific instructions given on your application

2. Put your ideas into a preliminary sequence.
3. Consider specific examples and/ or details (avoid generalizations)

Writing, Organization, and Editing
1. Write a draft of the essay:
2. Read the essay out loud to yourself

  a. Are you really addressing your audience?
b. Would you say it this way to the audience?
c. Do your written words reflect your exact, detailed intention?
3. Rewrite.
4. Analyze your organization.
  a. Is the form clear?
b. Is your sequence logical?
c. Do you have good connections between sequence and paragraph organization?
5. Rewrite.
6. Edit. Try to:
  a. Avoid wordiness, generalizations (use specific examples and details), and clichés or even words that sound like clichés.
b. Watch for overuse of the passive voice (“is going”) and verbs of being (“is”, “was”). Use action verbs whenever possible (“I thought” as opposed to “it was thought”).
c. Make sure your grammar and spelling are perfect.
7. Read it out loud again.
  a. Is it clear to whom you are “speaking”?
b. Do the written words “say” exactly what you want them to? Remember you will not be there to explain what you “really meant”.
c. Are you being preachy, pompous, condescending, or know-it-all?
d. Do your sentences flow from one to the other?
e. Is this essay interesting? Would it keep you awake if you were on the committee? Why? Why not? If it is boring, how can you change this? (Hint: think about how are you an interesting person!)

8. Rewrite and edit it some more.
9. Get a friend, professor, and career counselor to read it
10. Make some final revisions.
11. Proofread the essay. There should be no errors.
12. Have one last person proofread your final version – pick someone who is good at details and who hasn’t read it yet.
13. Keep a copy of it and of everything you send.
14. Reread the essay right before your interview.

Some “Big Picture” Writing Suggestions
1. Be aware of your relationship to your audience.

  a. Make sure you have a clear picture of your audience. Reread each draft, and imagine that you are a member of the admissions committee.
b. Write in your own voice as a candidate for graduate/ professional school. Make sure it sounds like you.
2. Make sure your essay reflects your intent. Remember you will not be there to translate or explain what you “really meant”. Do not expect the committee member to read your mind.
3. Be as specific and detailed as you can. Avoid generalizations and clichés!
4. Think of your background, interests, goals, accomplishments, failures, etc., as part of the whole process.
5. Think of three basic stages in your writing:
  a. You in relationship to your audience
b. Organization and selection of content
c. Details of style and grammar
Consult on-line resources for additional guidelines about writing graduate school essays and to see examples of essay styles for different programs. is one such resource.
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