As a grad school applicant, you may think that the grad school "statement of intent" or "personal statement" is just a rehash of your undergraduate application personal essay. This is perhaps the biggest trap that graduate students-to-be fall into when applying for grad school. There are very specific differences between these two essays, and knowing the differences in what admissions committees want will make all the difference. Here are a few tips for writing the best grad school application essay you can, based on my experience applying to grad school:
1. Be as focused on your desired field of study as you can
While undergraduate essays are meant to chronicle different experiences that need not be academic, the graduate school personal statement is meant to give admissions committees an idea of what you would like to research specifically and why. Since research is the cornerstone of any graduate-level program, this should be your focus. If you'd like to include teaching experience as well, that's fine, but the graduate school essay should always discuss your research experience and how you'd like to extend that experience in a more focused way in graduate school. Even if you aren't yet sure what you want to study in graduate school, discuss the possibilities.
2. Be aware of clichés when proofreading your essay
One thing that may help you as you write your essay is to try NOT to be creative. I know this sounds somewhat counterintuitive, but sometimes the worst clichés are born from attempts at creativity. Don't talk about your "dreams" and "passions" that came about when you were young because of an inspiring book you read. Don't start your essay with a supposedly "deep" quotation. As Female Science Professor notes in her blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education:
"At the risk of sounding like a cranky old science professor, I will state emphatically that when I read an application to our graduate program, I do not want to hear about your second-grade teacher (with all due respect to excellent second-grade teachers). Neither do I want to read about a star-gazing experience at age 8 (even on a cold, windswept hill), a childhood chemistry set (no matter how beloved), a fantastic documentary that someone happened to find when a televised golf match was canceled (serendipity!), or anything that is supposed to convince the graduate faculty that you have really, truly, profoundly loved science for a long time."
3. Establish a strong connection between your academic interests and their possible professional application after you graduate.
Whether or not you see it this way, the point of a graduate school program is to train you for a specific profession. If you are enrolling in a graduate journalism program, you will train to be a journalist. If you are enrolling in a humanities doctorate program, you're training to be a professor. If you apply to law school, you're training to be a lawyer. As such, admissions committees want to know as much as possible about your career plans once you graduate, and how you'll achieve those plans through the specific academic program to which you are applying. Again, if you don't know all this information now, that's fine. But do your best to indicate your specific professional goals, even if you don't have it all worked out yet.
Perhaps the best way to write an exceptional graduate school application essay is to ask your professors for advice. After all, once upon a time, they applied to grad school just like you did, and they did so successfully. Better yet, ask a professor at your school who may read grad school application essays for different grad school programs at your undergraduate institution.
Nancy Wood is a freelance writer and blogger. As a former professor, Nancy is particularly interested in trends in higher education, college life, and advising her readers on paying off student loans.Read more of Nancy's writing on www.onlinecollegeclasses.com
Writing a Convincing Personal Statement for Grad School: Part 1 of 5
Make Your Personal Statement for Grad School a Winner
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