To get accepted into a graduate program, many prospective graduate students experience the following when viewing the school’s prerequisites:
Above-average GPA on transcript? Check. Strong extra circulars? Check. Letter of recommendation from a faculty member? Check. A personal essay that wows the admissions committee? Not quite.
It seems that although many incoming graduate students have all the makings of an outstanding application, they have a tendency to drop the ball on the personal essay. Typos, disregard for the given prompts, and other easy-to-fix problems often leave much to be desired as our Alliant admissions committee review applications.
What is a letter of application anyway?
Sometimes referred to as the personal essay, a letter of application is a written statement about why the institution should select you among a pool of hundreds—sometimes, thousands—of applicants. Delivering a knock-out application that effectively represents you, your goals, abilities, experience, and passion is a major requirement to step foot into not only an Alliant graduate program but virtually any other graduate school.
Don’t count on your impressive GPA and internship to get you through the door. Here’s how to write a personal essay that helps you stand out in the applicant pool.
Review the Basics
Before jumping into the writing phase, it’s important to conduct some cursory research on the institution, the program, the faculty, and the student population at your school of choice. What are the school’s core values, philosophy, and mission? Gaining some insight into these characteristics can help you better describe why you’re a good fit for the program.
Take some notes on some of the key attributes the institution seems to value. Demonstrate your attention to detail in the essay by explaining how your own values align with the school’s. For example, if you are applying to Alliant’s marriage and family therapy program, you might expound on your —all traits that match the specific program’s objectives.
Also, if it’s clear a particular person will be reading your essay, address them in your salutation. It adds a nice touch.
Answer the Prompts
Next up is to contemplate how you will answer the prompts. This is a given, but you’d be surprised how many prospective students overlook these questions in favor of writing about their own topics. Consider this a fundamental test in following directions. In fact, you might even dive in from the very first word addressing these questions.
Common prompts include:
- Explain your career aspirations.
- Why do you think ____ is the right program for you?
- How has your education, research and/or job experience prepared you for graduate study?
- What are your post-graduate plans?
- Why do you want to study this particular subject?
Your response should answer each and every prompt in a clear and succinct fashion. Keep in mind that directly answering the questions will often win you more points than attempting to be flamboyant.
Thirdly, you want to use your experiences to demonstrate your readiness for graduate study. Do you have volunteer experience that you can use to highlight your commitment to international studies? Share this in your essay. Did you help an undergrad professor as a teaching or research assistant? The committee should know that.
Rather than going into vivid detail about how you have wanted to work in this field since elementary school, offer a strong and distinct reason—with supporting details—as to how and why this field sparked your interest.
It may even be practical to elaborate on a specific idea or research concept that drives your career passions. This directly shows the committee what you know and how you might be an asset to their program.
Get a Second (or Third) Reader
After several rounds of proofreading and editing, you should get a fresh pair of eyes on your essay. Carefully select one or two secondary readers to review your statement before sending it in. Avoid asking your roommate or sorority sister for their feedback. Choose someone with practice, like a current graduate student you respect or a professor with whom you’re on friendly terms. Ask them to verify that you have effectively answered all the prompts, and check for a misplaced comma or misspelled word you may have missed.
Don’t let a few grammatical errors and substantive issues in your personal essay stand in the way of your graduate career. This application is perhaps one of the most important applications you will ever complete. Follow these basic steps to create an exceptional personal essay that rounds out your graduate application package. Do this and you’re more likely to nail your chances of gaining admission into your desired institution!