Perfect standardized test scores and grades are not enough to gain entrance to the most selective colleges. Due to grade inflation and test prepping, quantitative perfection is becoming commonplace. To be successful, you must also show the school what kind of person you are. This is why getting the admissions essay right is so important.
While the undergraduate essay is the focus of many books, the graduate school essay is equally, if not more, important to your acceptance into graduate level programs. Colleen Reding has helped to fill that gap with her new book Grad’s Guide to Graduate Admissions Essays, published by Prufrock Press. This collection of essays provides grad school applicants with models of successful medical school personal statements as well as successful essays from law school, business school and general graduate school students, all of whom attended Georgetown with Ms. Reding for their undergraduate degrees.
Why do higher education programs even ask for essays? A good essay will give a sense of who you are as a person, and what you may contribute to the school’s student body. Are you a leader? Do you have an interesting background? Are you able, and willing, to make a contribution to the intellectual and social life of the college and the particular program to which you are applying?
The examples in the book go beyond the standard “I have always wanted to be a lawyer” and “I really just want to help people” essays, instead weaving personal experiences into the story of why the applicant is the ideal candidate for admission. Readers will get a good sense of what competitive graduate programs are looking for in applicant essays, and models they can use when drafting their own. Equally helpful are the writing tips provided throughout explaining why the essay was particularly effective—writing style, use of theme, choice of examples, approach to the prompt, etc. I especially like the notes about using a unifying theme for your essay. Don't believe them when they say the writing is fantastic, however. A word to the wise: if every noun needs an adjective to make it sparkle, you should use stronger nouns.
TALK BACK! Have you read this book? Did you find it helpful? Let us know in the comments!
By senior year, you've had at least 13 years of writing instruction and at least 13 different ideas of what good writing is. You know you should "show, don't tell" and "use 5 paragraph essay structure" and maybe even "kill your darlings," if your writing teacher was particularly savvy. But those tips will only get you through revision. Then what? Use these four tips to make all your writing sing.
1) Abolish adjectives and adverbs. No, really, if every noun needs an adjective and every verb needs an adverb to paint your picture, your nouns and verbs are not strong enough. Sure, the character in your story could live in a "cozy little house." Or she could live in a "cottage," which is a house with the "cozy" and "little" built right in. The difference is denotation vs connotation. A word's denotation is its dictionary definition--a house is a structure people live in. The connotation is what the word makes you think of--cottage, hovel, mansion, hut, lean-to, cabin, foxhole--all of these words connote different things, but they are all "structures people live in." Similarly, "'That's awful,' she said mournfully" is weaker than "'That's awful,' she moaned." Strong verbs put us in the story, instead of you as narrator telling us what is happening.
2) Control your thesaurus. Use those SAT words, but use them correctly, sparingly and for effect. It's fine to talk about the "vagaries of the tax code" but don't get carried away. “To me, my education, activities, and community service are more than trite and monotonous undertakings of everyday life. I view these as intellectual and philanthropic cultivators of colloquial individuals in order to create the beautifully unique"* is all kinds of nope.
Have you heard about this high school girl in Florida who was so naked on Spring Break that the cops tracked her down? Many drunk. Such waste. Wow. When photos from Panama City, showing her wearing nothing but Mardi Gras beads, were posted on Twitter, the photos went viral and someone asked Florida police to find her to make sure she was okay. (She was.)
The point here has nothing to do with Spring Break and everything to do with social media. Posting pictures of yourself (or friends) doing things that are illegal (underage drinking is a crime), immoral, or otherwise showing spectacularly bad judgment can lead to repercussions so much worse than a four-day hangover and an STD. Yes, you want to share your good times with friends who couldn't be there, but what happens on the internet, stays on the internet. When the time comes to apply for college admissions--for undergrad or for grad school--you, doing keg stands or half-naked with a red cup in your hand, is not the picture you want admissions officers or job recruiters to see.
Four Rules for Social Media:
And The One Rule for regular media on Spring Break:
The Bottom Line: Never assume that once you've been accepted at a college you're home free. Students have lost athletic scholarships and admissions offers when the schools found pictures of drunken graduation parties or offensive memes on private group chat. Deleting pictures is no guarantee they haven't gotten out and won't go viral some day. (Like when you're famous, maybe?) Control your image, even when you're a little out-of-control.
Not only could your pictures be seen by admissions officers, future bosses and other strangers, but those strangers might take your images and sell them for $90,000 without even asking your permission. An artist named Richard Prince took screen shots from Instagram, blew them up poster-sized and then sold them for $90K each. How's that for creepy? I don't think I could be as cool with it as doedeere.
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