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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This article, Psychology graduate school essay, was previously written to guide my undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon UniversityWhy do graduate school admissions committees ask for essays?
Contrary to popular belief, their intention is not to add to the torture-some, uncertain graduate application process. Most members of these committees can still vividly recall the anxiety associated with the application process. They remember what it was like to be uncertain about the future. They may recall the anxiety inherent in the prospect of choosing between career and loved ones. Some may even remember having felt, “my self-worth can be measured by the outcome of this process.” So anxious were they that, in an effort to avoid the final judgment, many, if not most, “put off” writing their applications until the last possible moment.
If they recall the anxiety and the pain, why then do graduate committees insist, year after year, that another cohort of anxious undergraduates endure this process? At most institutions, the committee is providing the applicant with a chance to become more than “just a number”. Although many schools do have “cut-offs,” they may still have a mechanism for identifying the extremely promising exception. Those who do have rigid “cut-offs” use the essay to help identify which applicants they will invite for interviews.
How can you use the graduate essay to your advantage?
It may sound trite, but the essay is a place where you can help the committee to understand, “who you are”. What are your special, unique qualities? And, what struggles have you overcome? If your application has some apparent deficiencies, such as a bad year–a puzzling hiatus in your education–or low GRE’s, the committee will be trying to justify overlooking these weaknesses. In your essay, you provide a realistic, mature rationale for your “difficulties.”
So, for what exactly are graduate committees looking?
While the answer to this question varies from school to school and faculty member to faculty member, some general statements can be made. The committee is using the application to understand how you comport yourself. Just what does the application look like? Is it neat? Is it proofread? Is it clean? Despite the all too common anxiety endemic to the application process, committees tend to assume that applicants are “putting their best foot forward” when they write their applications. After all, committees know that you know that they use the application to get an “impression” of you.
Is this psychology graduate school essay well written?
People who write well tend to think well. Moreover, graduate students are required to do a considerable amount of writing in a short period of time. So, the committee will want to know, can you complete the writing requirements in a timely fashion? Obviously, this is more problematic for people who have difficulty writing.
Is your decision to enter graduate school an informed one?
The process you used for making the decision to go to graduate school is relevant for two reasons: First, it is indicative of the kinds of processes that you will use in making other important decisions. Second, a carefully informed decision is more likely to be a correct decision. Regarding the former, clinical psychology graduate students are required to make many important, even at times critical, decisions regarding the welfare of others. Therefore, it is important to admit graduate students with good judgment. Regarding the latter, graduate education is extremely costly. The general attitude at graduate schools tends to be to support students in completing their degrees. Nevertheless, some students do not complete their training. Often these are students who naively entered their training with very little understanding of the field. Students without experience have no basis for an informed decision. The committee will want to know that you have had more than a cursory experience with research and clinical work and that you derived a great deal of value from your experiences.
Is this student an enjoyable person with whom to work?
A graduate student and his/her advisor often have a close, in some sense intimate, relationship. The committee will want to know, is this person stimulating, challenging and enjoyable to have around? Is this person someone who I would like as a colleague?
Will this student help me get me research done?
Graduate faculty are devoted to carrying out programmatic research. Many graduate students are funded as research associates. Faculty will want to know, does this student have the requisite technical and creative research skills to be a meaningful collaborator? Can s/he help me get my papers out in a timely fashion? Can s/he make a meaningful contribution to my research program? Is s/he entering graduate school with any well developed research skills?
Can I trust this student to develop into a thoughtful, responsible, respectful clinician?
Is she knowledgeable about ethics and thoughtful in his/her approach to clinical situations? Does s/he have any clinical skills? Does s/he know what she is getting into? Does s/he appreciate the limits of her skills? Is s/he able to operate independently when appropriate, and to seek out supervision when necessary?