Essays are a great opportunity to demonstrate your interests and express personal strengths in a college or university applications. Student written documents including essays - parts of the graduate application - can vary by university, program, and level of study. The essay requirements could be in the form of a personal statement, statement of purpose and diversity statement. Other written documents required are writing samples, and requirement could also vary depending on the of program and level of study. Some universities have added newer components such as video essays to holistically assess the applicant.
Application essay prompts could be open or semi structured. In an open application essay, you have relative freedom to design the structure. In a semi-structured essay, the university will provide you a series of questions, keys words will have to be addressed in the narrative. For Business school application, universities may require multiple short essays on themes related to short and long-term career goals, leadership experience, the need for an MBA at this point, ethical dilemma and decision making.
Reflect: Your academic, professional and personal life
Your first step should be to make a personal inventory and identify the successful or not so successful experiences which have marked your life, both academically and professionally. Secondly, you should analyze your professional and personal journey to help you substantiate why you would have chosen a specific academic or career path. This exercise can help you personalize application essays and contextualize your academic and professional trajectory. Use your essays to explain setbacks and share your learning from experiences. Avoid the trap of a bland and boring recital of your experiences alone.
The easiest way to analyze and reflect on your life situation would be to pose questions to yourself and seek answers. What is the motivation for my choice of a specialization? What are the significant academic experiences in my life which reinforce my subject/disciplinary interests? Which experiences and moments have been valuable to me during my learning process? What are the outcomes of the academic and professional experiences on my life? What are the projects that I have been involved in that will showcase my other skill-set such as team work and leadership? Are there any setbacks in my life that are reflected in the application that needs an explanation?
Write: Bring your ideas together in your essay
You must write in your own voice and be original and be careful to not reproduce or copy from another person’s ideas, hence maintaining integrity in the writing process. Plagiarism or academic dishonesty is easily detectable now using online software. Avoid using quotes that don’t connect with the rest of your essay. If you want to use a quote, contextualize it, and attribute it to the original author.
It would be ideal for you to start with a structure to help manage ideas and the flow of words. You could also pen your thoughts freely and then organize them later. Both these styles have their own advantages. The former will help you stay focused and help you write paragraphs that stay with the theme. The latter will give you an opportunity to express ideas freely and be spontaneous.
The next few steps are about refining your essay. By the second draft, focus on making paragraphs cohesive units of thought. Each paragraph should be carefully thought out and should seamlessly transition into the next. In the third draft, try to adjust the style and presentation. The introductory paragraph should be powerful to hook the reader. Your conclusion should bring together your ideas and reinforce what you have expressed in the earlier paragraphs.
Balancing the content
The graduate statement of purpose or application essay should have the right balance of information on diverse aspects of the applicant’s profile. You should endeavor to balance information on academic and professional experience, technical skills, goals, current interests, reason for graduate education, choice of school, any other information such setbacks and change of career. Too much emphasis on any one aspect in your statement of purpose could tip the balance and make the reader lose focus. It is important to prioritize ahead of writing so that you manage to write the right amount of information under each category.
Students often go overboard stating their technical knowledge and skills and forget to include details of interpersonal skills that they have gained through their experiences. While it is important to mention your technical knowledge and skills, it is also important to contextualize them and share learning, impact, and outcomes. And, when you share information about what interests you about a specific university’s program, do your research about the university’s program and be genuine.
Timeline, Tone, and Language
An essay reflects the timeline of your activities. It would be best to include more recent experiences unless previous activities have played a major role in your decisions for grad education. Students usually play safe and use a chronological timeline to project their experiences and this helps avoid confusion in the reader’s mind. If you have had a very long career and diverse project experiences, be selective about what you want to highlight.
The tone of the statement of purpose is usually serious and professional. Try to include anecdotes and personal experiences that would enrich the narration and ‘show’ rather ‘tell’ about your achievements. Evidence through action rather than listing the activities will make the essay more interesting and vibrant.
The statement of purpose should articulate your thoughts clearly. Take care to avoid verbosity and bombastic language. Students should avoid abbreviations and use technical jargon judiciously. Write your sentences in active voice, keep them short and allow them to flow logically so that you communicate information about yourself clearly. Choose either American or British English and maintain consistency in the use of language.
You should proofread your essay to check for errors and consistency. Proofread with a different focus each time. The first proof -read could focus on structure, ideas and tone , the second on grammar, the third on punctuation and so on. Revisit your essay several times to ensure there is no confusion or contradiction anywhere. You may want to share the essay with a person who understands the technical information that you have shared and identify gaps if any. Take a break between editing drafts. You will be surprised that there may be a better approach to something you had written earlier. One exercise you could consider is to read the essay aloud to check for language and flow.
There are no mantras for a perfect essay. Set aside dedicated time for writing multiple drafts. This would ensure that the essay is not rushed or written under stress. What’s important for students is to always keep the objective of writing the essay in mind- ADMISSIONS.
Dr. Zafeena Suresh