The Graduate School Essay: Not Any Easier than Undergrad

Posted: April 30, 2015


Perfect standardized test scores and grades are not enough to gain entrance to the most selective colleges. Due to grade inflation and test prepping, quantitative perfection is becoming commonplace. To be successful, you must also show the school what kind of person you are. This is why getting the admissions essay right is so important.

While the undergraduate essay is the focus of many books, the graduate school essay is equally, if not more, important to your acceptance into graduate level programs. Colleen Reding has helped to fill that gap with her new book Grad’s Guide to Graduate Admissions Essays, published by Prufrock Press. This collection of essays provides grad school applicants with models of successful medical school personal statements as well as successful essays from law school, business school and general graduate school students, all of whom attended Georgetown with Ms. Reding for their undergraduate degrees.

Why do higher education programs even ask for essays? A good essay will give a sense of who you are as a person, and what you may contribute to the school’s student body. Are you a leader? Do you have an interesting background? Are you able, and willing, to make a contribution to the intellectual and social life of the college and the particular program to which you are applying?

The examples in the book go beyond the standard “I have always wanted to be a lawyer” and “I really just want to help people” essays, instead weaving personal experiences into the story of why the applicant is the ideal candidate for admission. Readers will get a good sense of what competitive graduate programs are looking for in applicant essays, and models they can use when drafting their own. Equally helpful are the writing tips provided throughout explaining why the essay was particularly effective—writing style, use of theme, choice of examples, approach to the prompt, etc. I especially like the notes about using a unifying theme for your essay. Don't believe them when they say the writing is fantastic, however. A word to the wise: if every noun needs an adjective to make it sparkle, you should use stronger nouns.

TALK BACK! Have you read this book? Did you find it helpful? Let us know in the comments!

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