Essay Writing Guide for Grad School

No matter what kind of graduate degree you plan to pursue, there is one essential skill by which all applicants will be judged: writing. Although a majority of people wouldn’t consider themselves writers, it is still a skill that every graduate student should have some competency in. If you write a research report, a letter to a client or emails poorly, it will not reflect well on you as a professional.

This is, in part, why admissions committees require essays as part of the application process. After all, if you can’t express yourself in a clear, concise, grammatically correct and typo-free manner, then you may lack the skills to succeed in whatever program you are aspiring to pursue.

There are various types of essays that graduate programs require, but personal statements and statements of purpose are the most common. The purpose of these essays is for admissions committees to get to know you better and determine what kind of student you will be in the program, as well as your professional goals as a graduate.

Before you start writing

Here are some ways to plan ahead and improve the quality of your essays:

  • Allow enough time. It takes time to produce a well-written final product worthy of submitting; you don’t want to write something quickly the day before the due date.
  • Look up essay examples. Search for other essays online to get a feel for format and content structures. Avoid any essay writing services that write essays for you, which could be considered unethical. Writing your own essay is a good test of the skill, integrity and hard work you’ll need once you’re in the program.
  • Read and understand the assignment. One of the things that admissions committees are looking for in these essays is the ability to follow directions. Be sure to include all elements the program has required in your essay. You can write a prize-worthy essay, but if it doesn’t address the assigned question, you likely won’t receive that acceptance letter.
  • Brainstorm and reflect. Think about your overall goals, why you want to attend this program and what you want to get out of it; then free write ideas that you want to include in your essay, such as life and work experiences, challenges you overcame, goals, accomplishments, and unique qualities and skills you have.
  • Outline. Turn that brainstorming session into an outline so that your essay is organized and has an easy-to-read flow.
  • Connect. Talk with a program advisor or faculty member. A little inside information on what they are really looking for will go a long way.

How to structure your essay

Now that you’ve done all of that planning and brainstorming, it’s time to write your essay. Be sure to follow the basic structure of an essay by organizing into three main parts:

  1. Your first paragraph should introduce yourself, but also gain the reader’s attention. This can be something like a significant experience in your life that influenced your decision to pursue your current field; for example, a parent who suffered a serious illness led you to want to become a biomedical researcher.
  2. Your middle paragraphs should expound upon that introduction. Use detail from your experience and then move into how your prospective degree will be integral in finding success in those goals.
  3. Your final paragraph, or conclusion, should bring it all together to give the admissions committee a full picture of who you are, what your goals are and why, and how this degree is imperative to accomplishing them. Think of this as the bow on top of the package that ties everything together.

Review and revise

Make sure to read and revise your essay because your first draft is never your final draft. This includes proofreading each draft thoroughly. Give your essay to someone else to proofread as well. People tend to read their own work as it was intended in their minds, so it is easy to miss a mistake. If your essay contains typos, grammatical mistakes and spelling errors admissions officers will likely overlook the quality of the content you have written and no longer consider you as a viable candidate.

Be sure to customize

Customize each essay to the specific program to which you are applying. This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. You may use some of the same elements and experiences, but each one should be individually crafted to a specific program. The more programs you submit applications to, the more writing you will be doing, but since writing is a universal skill required for just about every profession, remember that practice makes perfect.