Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.
Sample Graduate Application Essay - After
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As a single mother who has confronted homelessness and poverty, I am committed to reforming public education. I have a particular interest in improving the accessibility of schooling to homeless individuals, single mothers, and disadvantaged women of color. As a result of my own experiences, I am familiar with the despair and frustration endemic to individuals struggling to survive. I am convinced that increasing individuals' access to education can make the difference between despondency and hope. I am applying for my doctorate in educational leadership so that I can pursue my life-mission: to make education accessible to all.
I began preparing for this mission by volunteering as an intake coordinator at the Christian Assistance Ministry (CAM). Although I had many responsibilities, the role that consumed most of my time and energy was interviewing clients and assessing their physical and emotional needs. One of my greatest contributions was streamlining and updating the paperwork associated with CAM's intake process. I also generated an updated resource list that included many service agencies in the Houston area. By personally contacting each agency to acquire contact information and to learn about its services, I facilitated greater communication between service organizations and ensured that my clients had access to necessary aid.
In my present position as Research Analyst at SeaNet, my primary role is ascertaining the needs of client networks. As an umbrella group, SeaNet has only limited contact with small business development centers, and my job is to ensure that our organization meets these centers' needs. When I took the initiative to send out surveys asking agencies to rate our group's effectiveness, I received an overwhelming response. The information I compiled was so revealing that it was published in the quarterly report that is sent to our funding agency in Washington, D.C. In addition, I have been involved in a number of special, innovative projects. Recently, I analyzed the availability of renewable energy resources in Southern Texas in tandem with The Economic Development Center, Solar Energy, Brooks Air Force Base, and research universities in Texas.
As part of my master's thesis, I collaborated with Upward Bound, Peace Center, and the Davis Education Foundation to underline the importance of community cooperation in public schools. I also provided informational brochures and handouts detailing other such organizations that could assist with the individualized needs of schools. I was gratified when my efforts resulted in teachers and administrators contacting several of the organizations I had mentioned so that the organizations could start outreach in their educational districts.
Although I have not yet been employed in the educational sector, my master's work, as well as my life experiences, has given me a nuanced and sophisticated knowledge of the educational field. I have acted as a mentor at Davis Middle School for many years and have tutored a number of home-schooled children. When my own children attended school, I was involved in their schools' organizations and often took on a leadership role on educational committees. I served on many boards and was active in assisting both instructors and administrators. Fifteen years of experience has familiarized me with the diverse needs of Houston's students, and it has prepared me to act on their behalf.
My short-term goals include advancing my knowledge of quantitative research using programs such as SPSS and Microcas, and acquiring a sophisticated understanding of how to become a leader in the educational field. I wish to use these skills to promote empirical studies in education that can help direct educational reform.
I am attracted to the doctoral program at Texas A&M for precisely this reason. Only Texas A&M offers the kind of collaborative experience that suits my personal needs and professional goals. Over the past four years, I have seen the department blossom into a challenging and innovative program. I am excited about the program's direction and its emphasis on practical application. I appreciate that every course offers the opportunity for independent research, and that the faculty is open to student suggestions for improvement. The flexibility and patience of the faculty and the talent of the students makes Texas A&M a singular choice for my doctoral degree.
My long-term goal is to use my past experience and Texas A&M training to help make education accessible to all, particularly the underprivileged. Whether I am working in the public or private sector, I look forward to addressing the nation's urgent need to educate its citizens efficiently and comprehensively.
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Click Here for the Edited Version.
I read your personal statement with great interest. You do a good job of showing the reader your diligent preparation for a career in education. By emphasizing your research-oriented background and your practical experience in the educational sector, you show that you have the knowledge and resolve to excel in a doctoral program.
However, there are ways in which your essay could be improved. My comments in this critique describe ways to make your writing more vivid and offer recommendations on how to make your statement more convincing.
Many of the changes I made to this essay were confined to the sentence level. I reworked awkward phrases, varied your vocabulary, adjusted diction, and improved the direction and flow of your writing. I also made subtle but significant changes such as eliminating redundant sentences like, "My purpose for seeking a [doctorate in education] is to expand my knowledge of theory and research as it pertains to education."
I also read your essays with a careful eye toward whether you effectively answered the question. In addition, I closely examined your statements, determining whether more detail or a fresh approach was needed to improve the effectiveness of your essay. Upon review, I feel confident that you addressed all the aspects of this multi-pronged topic, but I have made a number of suggestions for how to improve your essay's delivery.
The overall content of your essay was strong, but its expression was awkward at times. I agree that your essay needs a "stronger sense of purpose," and I believe that the reason your essay feels "wishy-washy" is that you do not have strongly-articulated goals. Broad career objectives like, "establishing a network of scholars and future administrators participating in a rigorous intellectual process," are too vague; you need to give your reader a precise sense of what you want to do.
Your essay will be much more persuasive if you articulate specific intermediate and long-term career goals. Because you have already accomplished significant work in the educational field, the committee will expect you to have clearly-defined objectives in your doctoral studies. Given your experience, you may want to discuss your specific plans for your dissertation.
Here are my specific comments on each individual paragraph of your essay:
Your introduction suffered from an excessive reliance on circular logic ("I seek an education because I am interested in education. I want to fine-tune my research skills because research skills are important to a career in education."). Sentences like these obscure rather than clarify your goals, and I sought to make your writing more active and transparent. I eliminated your entire first paragraph and incorporated your discussion of "purpose" into a new engaging introduction.
I also liked this paragraph's allusion to your role as a "reformist." Nonetheless, I felt that this passage would be stronger if you did more to define this term. What do you want to reform? Can you give concrete examples?
"I have struggled hard to get myself out of this situation..."
I liked the passion you convey in this sentence, but you need to maintain a formal, almost reserved voice in academic writing. See my suggestion for alternative wording that does a better job of capturing your experience and of demonstrating how that experience has influenced your decision to seek an advanced degree.
This paragraph did a good job of describing your work at the Christian Assistance Ministry. Nonetheless, your argument digressed somewhat during your discussion of the difficulties faced by social workers. This paragraph is most effective if you focus on your accomplishments and on the needs of your clients.
Also, please note that even though the refined paragraph is more concise than your original, it still retains all the significant content. The ability to condense and synthesize information is highly prized by admissions committees.
This paragraph required more up-front details. You mention some diverse research experiences, which is good, but you should also cite the title of your position and describe your primary responsibilities.
Because the name of your company implies that you do small business development, a reader might be confused by your research in seemingly unrelated fields. Be sure that I accurately conveyed the essence of your professional responsibilities in my revised version of this paragraph.
To ensure that your description of the learning center is intelligible, I added more details to place this discussion in context.
"I am also an advocate of 21st Century Learning Centers that would provide a safe refuge for the millions of latch-key children in this country that go home to an empty house on any given school day."
You need to be more exacting in your transition sentences. By using a transition sentence like this, the reader assumes your entire paragraph will describe your work with latchkey children. As a result, your treatment of other topics catches the reader off guard.
"I also provided information in the form of brochures and handouts about other such organizations that could assist in the needs of their own schools."
This sentence does not tell the reader enough about your experience. Whenever you write, be sure that a reader who is unfamiliar with your accomplishments will understand the subject, object, and action of each sentence.
Please note that the term "advocate" could apply to either paid or unpaid work. You should specify the exact capacity in which you worked, especially as this is important to placing your accomplishment in perspective.
Finally, if you have time, you may wish to rework this section. A thorough description of one particular project (perhaps your thesis topic) would be much more persuasive than a list of numerous activities.
I do not think this paragraph adds much to your essay. You need to prove your qualifications through examples rather than simply describe them to reader.
"I have a very hard working and decisive character that has earned me a 4.0 GPA."
This sentence is a good example of an uncorroborated assertion. Although you are undoubtedly hard working and decisive, you need to prove it to the reader through concrete examples.
Paragraphs 6 to 8
As I mentioned in the first section of my critique, your essay will be stronger if you cite more specific goals. See my suggestions in the text, and be sure to elaborate on your specific areas of interest.
I suggest concluding your essay with the description of your long-term goals. Reemphasizing your desire to make education accessible to all is a great way to conclude your essay, and it brings your statement to a resonant close.
Overall, this is an excellent start to a compelling essay. Keep in mind that although the committee allows you to write up to five pages, three double-spaced pages is usually adequate. Feel free to add more detail, but make sure your text is concise and transparent. You might consider "writing" ideas and then "rewriting" them. Too often, authors put ideas onto the page, but do not render those ideas compellingly. Giving your sentences a bit of extra effort, and giving your experiences a bit of extra reflection, will result in a persuasive essay that compliments your accomplishments and character.
I wish you the best of luck in the admissions process.
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