30 Graduate School Admissions Essay Tips


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: These are GENERAL graduate school admissions essay tips*; always weigh your unique situation and advice from your adviser before blindly following any of the below. Happy writing!


*Many of the below tips are based on the masterful book Graduate Admissions Essays.

(Note: The above is an Amazon affiliate link and I earn a commission if you purchase things through it. However, any commission I earn comes at no additional cost to you, and you pay nothing extra.)

Why buy: An excellent guide to the entire admission process, not just the essay. Read the whole damn thing from cover to cover if you're serious about getting into a particular program.

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Ok, on to the tips!



Note: pre-writing is just that: PRE-writing. Just do these drills without censoring yourself or worrying whether you'll include any particular thing in your final draft.


1. Write down 20 unusual things about yourself. Yes, I said 20. Ask your friends or family to help if you get stuck.

2. In your field of study, who has been your biggest influence?

3. Who was the best professor you had in college, and why?

4. What academic accomplishment are you the most proud of and why?

5. Write down 20 reasons why you want to go into your desired field.

6. What is the best compliment you've ever received in an academic setting?

7. Can you identify a major turning point in your life that directed you towards your desired field? What was it?

8. What are the top 10 reasons you personally are suited to succeed in your desired graduate program? Rank these.

9. What research have you been involved in so far, if any?

10. What are you interested in outside of your academic life?

11. What makes you likeable?

12. What are you going to be doing between the time you apply and the time you matriculate?

13. After graduate school is over, what are your immediate and longer-term goals?

14. What places, situations, or people are better now than they were in the past because of you?


First Draft

15. Do not edit as you write. You can edit later.

16. Start trying out some interesting opening lines for your essay.

17. Be completely honest. Write like you talk and speak from the heart.

18. Answer the question directly, as it's written. Do not let the committee think you either didn't understand or dodged the question in any way.

19. It's better to fully describe one important experience than to try to cram in 4 or 5.

20. Make sure there's a clear connection for the reader between you and the program / professors. Why is this a mutually beneficial fit?

21. What might you include in your essay that would teach the reader something interesting?

22. Do not make excuses for poor academic performance or low test scores, but do briefly explain IF there is a good reason, and that reason is unlikely to recur.


Later Drafts

23. Your spelling and grammar must be 100% perfect.

24. Strike a balance between being too informal and too stiff and stilted.

25. Do not show your essay to more than a few people or you may be pulled in conflicting directions from the criticism and suggestions.

26. Avoid referencing your childhood or using quotes from famous people.

27. A formula I like is to mention a couple of things briefly, then expand on a third thing: "I enjoyed learning about x and y, but what REALLY got me excited was when we studied z."

28. Show, don't tell. Let the reader conclude things about you as a result of the stories you share - as opposed to saying "I'm hardworking" (for example).

29. Once you've responded fully to the program's essay prompt, you can inject some things YOU want them to know, but make sure you've fully responded before adding those.

30. Think about a person on the admissions committee for your program. Who are they? What might be their background. Now put yourself in their shoes while reading your draft. How are they going to react to each part?

I hope these helped! Good luck getting those essays done. :)


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