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You’ve filled out every application, decked out your resume, polished your portfolio, and gathered all your reference letters from your professors--now all you need to do is write your (dreaded) admission essay in order to submit your graduate school application. Although it may seem like a completely daunting task, writing your admission essay can actually be the easiest step in the process if you know how to piece it all together.
The first piece of this writing puzzle find out what the graduate program’s big “question” or prompt is. Some schools are vaguer than others, but you can use that to your advantage--with schools that all generally have the same prompt you’ll only have to write one version of your essay to fit all of their needs (obviously changing the program name and a few other specifics, too).
Most essay prompts have to do with why you think the graduate program is specifically right for you, how you will be a good fit for the program because of your undergraduate background, and how you attending the school will enhance the program as a whole. For these kinds of prompts, you’re going to want to do your research and focus on the details of the school and the program you’re applying to. You need to show how great of a candidate you are by outlining what, exactly, you will bring to the table as a student, what your future career plans are, how the school will prepare you for the workforce, and what you plan to accomplish in the program.
This section of your essay is a great place to discuss what you’re most passionate about as a student--what are your dream projects? What kind of effect do you wish to have on the industry you’re entering? What kind of change do you want to promote in that industry? What innovative projects or ideas are you planning to develop while in the program? Let these questions guide you into talking about what you would do for a master’s thesis or project--get into as much detail as you can.
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Some essay prompts also ask about your personal life, like “describe a time you overcame a challenge or life struggle and how that made you who you are today,” or something like that. It’s easy to get lost in these personal questions; many people ramble or focus on their life story, rather than focusing on what qualities they gained from significant life events. The school wants to know who you are as a person, so make sure to highlight your specific attributes, your character, and your work ethic when they want you to tell a story about yourself--don’t get lost in the narrative. Also, take the time to bring up things from your resume or experiences you had as an undergraduate that qualified you for the program in the first place; perhaps you overcame a challenge as head of the school magazine or while doing research for a professor.
It is my personal belief that one of the most important parts of an admissions essay is the first few opening lines--but that’s just me. When I was writing my essay, my advising professor told me that when she applied to her master’s program, the admissions board had been “captivated” by her opening line about a bombing in London that connected smoothly to her essay, so I followed her lead. I began my own essay with the names of LGBTQ+ characters in YA novels who were killed off for no reason in order to set up my later point that I wanted to explore how queer YA literature is operating in the publishing industry and whether these old, tried queer tropes are actually dying off.
Take whatever makes your essay the most unique and push it to the very beginning--create some quirky, intelligent opening lines to pull the admissions board right in. They are reading so many essays a day--why not make yours one that they will easily remember?
Sarah DeLena is currently studying for her masters in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. She hopes to become an editor of YA literature, her favorite genre, own at least two golden retrievers, and further the legacy of the Oxford comma.