COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester

Writing Effective Application Essays

Working on application essays for grad school, fellowships or research opportunities? Thinking you might be applying for these in the future? Writing application essays is harder than it looks!

Tips for Writing Effective Application Essays

  • Give yourself enough time to research, write, seek help, rewrite, and submit on time.
  • Do your research.  
  • KNOW who they are and what they offer.  What do they want from you? What do you want from them? What can you offer them? Specificity matters.
  • Identify information essential for this application.
  • Read questions carefully and answer them all specifically.
  • Consider the story behind your resume. The personal statement is where the facts on the resume happen to a real person-- you.
  • Identify key ideas and experiences that have shaped you as individual.
  • Identify anecdotes and stories that are worthy of detailed retelling.
  • Identify concrete details that make the writing lively and original.
  • Identify an arc that connects your past experience to future goals.
  • Get in front of anything that doesn't paint you in a good light.  Have you grown, learned from this?
  • Engage in writing exercises to start writing immediately and to dwell in the concrete versus the abstract.
  • Kill clichés. Move beyond them. This committee will have heard them all and won't appreciate hearing them again.  You'll probably have some clichés in your first draft.  Take them out in your next draft.  
  • Remember this hard fact: your first draft is probably going to be boring.  That's O.K. You need to get your information down, and then you can work on an arc that captures highlights and makes your statement engaging.   
  • Make your first paragraph compelling. Don't let the first paragraph put your readers to sleep.  Look for a better first paragraph somewhere else in your draft.  
  • Be specific. Be specific. Be specific.
  • Proofread all essays carefully.
  • Meet deadlines promptly.

External sources for great advice regarding graduate school essays:

Also see the Writing Center's Resources for Student Writers.