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Writing Effective Graduate School Admission Essays

The Purpose of Admission Essays

Through your essays, the admissions faculty will predict:

  • Can you handle the work?
  • Will you have sufficient motivation to do the work and complete the program?
  • Will you fit the program?

How to Prove that the Answers to Those Questions is "Yes"

Know Yourself
In your essay, effectively identify your interests, abilities, values, and personality characteristics. An excellent way to demonstrate your motivation is to summarize what triggered your interest in the occupational field of interest and describe the choices you made that led you to pursue a graduate degree in that field.

Getting Started
Anxiety and intimidation about writing an essay is normal. Yet, it's not necessary. Begin with a rough draft that you can polish later. Be sure to avoid procrastination!

An essay should not simply list each activity in which you participated in college. Instead, it should be more specific and memorable. The following are seven good essay topics identified by Zilber*:

  • The history of your career interests
  • Coursework related to the program
  • Experiences or research related to the program
  • Research or specialization interests and goals
  • Future career goals
  • Answers to any specific questions the application asks
  • Why that particular school or program fits you - this would be an excellent conclusion to an essay

In addition to content, your writing style (that is, how you communicate) is another criterion on which you are being evaluated. Your writing should display confidence (action verbs are a must!), have specific examples, and be well thought-out.

Your essays should be one to two pages in length. In the editing process, you can eliminate any unnecessary wording to shorten the essay and make it more concise.

Proofread until your essay is flawless. A good technique is to proofread the essay backwards, word by word. Ask the Career Center, the Writing Center, and your professors to provide feedback.

*Zilber, Suzanne. (October 2000.) "Graduate and Professional School Application Essay Guide." Presentation at Graduate and Professional School Networking Days, Ames, IA.