Thought your 40-page senior thesis on post-colonial lit was tough? Meet the graduate admissions essay. This 500-word statement-of-purpose holds the key to your future — and is also really hard to write. Not only do you need to cram a (quarter)-life’s worth of info into such a tight space, you need to dazzle the admissions board without sounding like you’re bragging.
Metro asked Colleen Reding—author of “Grad’s Guide to Graduate Admissions Essays: Examples From Real Students Who Got Into Top Schools”— for her advice on penning the perfect admissions essay. Here are the 6 things she says you need to land that spot at your top-choice program.
Follow the instructions
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“This is something that people tend to forget,” Reding says. “There are lots of differences between personal statement and statements of purpose, not only in word limit but in what the school is looking for. Did they want you to say what you’re interested in academically, or do they have it more open-ended so you can tell more about yourself? Even if you’re applying to the same program across different schools, make sure that you’re giving each individual school what they want.”
“Even if you’re coming right out of undergrad and don’t have any work experience, demonstrating that you have both academic and emotional maturity to go on with studies is very important,” Reding says. “It shows that you’re not going through the motions.”
Modesty is the best policy
“You want to show your positive qualities, but you also don’t want to brag,” Reding says. “It’s a tricky balance to maintain. Try and stay humble by recognizing that you want to go to a certain program to learn more and that you’re open to these educational opportunities.”
“Even if you are switching careers and you hate your current job, you don’t want to say that in your essay,” Reding says. “Say what you’ve learned from your experience while keeping a positive, upbeat tone.”
“Conveying passion for what you want to study is key,” Reding says. “I think that this is one of the tips that goes across the board; being excited about what you want to do. That way admissions can see where you’re coming from and where you want to go with it.”
“It is a really hard essay to write,” Reding says. “Don’t wait until the last minute to do it; start early so you can play with ideas.”