Tips For Undergrad and Grad School Essays


Summer break long and relaxing. For many students it’s the only significant amount of free time they have. Whether you’re a high school senior preparing to send off college applications or an undergrad student looking to earn that master’s degree, summer is the perfect time to get a head start on applications before your fall term begins and you’re bogged down with school work. One of the most important parts of the admissions process is the essay and it takes the most time to complete.

Schools vary in their requirements for the essay. Some want two while others only want one. Some ask you to write about a specific topic while others give you free reign. Whatever the case, it’s good to always keep your best writing practices in mind.

Tips for undergraduate admissions essays.

Follow directions. It sounds simple enough, but you can never be too careful. Read your instructions thoroughly and make sure your essay answers the question, no matter how broad or specific it is.

Proofread. Remember that spell check can’t catch everything, so read over your essay a couple times for those easy to miss errors.

Let your personality shine. This is probably the most important part to remember. Unlike the application where you’re simply filling out information, the essay is the place for you to show how you’re different from other applicants. One of the essays I wrote detailed a particular experience I had during my exchange trip to China. Of course, not everyone has a unique study abroad experience, but maybe you’ve overcome a lot of struggles in your life or maybe you’ve been involved in a lot of organizations. Keep in mind that everyone has a special perspective on something, so don’t get discouraged if you think your life so far has been mundane. Focus on your passions and channel that into your essay.

Show don’t tell. This is the number one rule of creative writing, but it also applies to application essays. It’s one thing to say “My mother always pushed me to get involved,” but it’s another to say “My mother told me I could move out of the house if I didn’t join that club. She was joking, of course, but she wanted me to succeed.” Notice how the second example is more engaging and describes a specific incident.

Have others look at your essay. Proofreading and self-editing can do a lot, but an outside perspective will always catch your blind spots. Ask a teacher or a couple other adults in your life to give you some feedback.

Keep calm and do your best. You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s impossible to be perfect. As long as you know that you put in your best effort, that’s all that matters in the end.


Tips for grad school admissions essays.

All of the tips above apply here too, but with grad school essays you have a little bit more to prove. You’ve finished a four year degree and maybe you’ve gotten some relevant work experience. You also know how to write a killer paper. Combine all of that knowledge into an essay that will impress admissions officers.

Show why you’re interested in this particular field. If you’re going to grad school, obviously you’re passionate about whatever field you’re studying and your reasons are likely very personal. Let that show so your audience will get a taste of who you are.

State your qualifications. Hone your writing to prove that you meet your school’s requirements. If there are obvious weaknesses anywhere in your application (and there probably will be because no one’s perfect), be honest about it and put a positive spin on it. How did you improve after that class you failed or that semester when your GPA dropped so drastically?

Keep the formal academic language to a minimum. I know, you just spent four years learning that everything you write has to be academic, but like the undergrad essays these are more personal. You’re not writing your master’s thesis at this point.

Be concise and stay focused. It’s easy to go off on tangents, especially if you’re a good writer, and English majors especially tend to stretch out their sentences. Avoid these pitfalls. The more concise you are, the easier it is for your audience to understand your ideas. Reduce those tangents to a one sentence side note if you simply can’t get rid of them.

Ask for thorough feedback from professors and career counselors. Professors have gone to grad school and some of them have even earned their PhDs. They’ll be able to help you make your essay the best it can be. Career counselors are extremely knowledgable of what to show off and what schools are looking for today.

The application process can take a long time, but the more advice you can get the better off you’ll be. Stay confident in your skills and experiences and let your essay be your best representative.