4 Steps to a Winning Admission Essay

A college admissions essay is perhaps one of the most important documents a person will ever write. Believe it. Admissions committees (typically made up of the very professors with whom you want to work) will absolutely read your submission—and then happily use your words for or against you in the selection process.

Any university professor will tell you that a search committee relies on the admissions essay for the insights it provides in helping to measure the “fit” of an applicant to a particular program. A smart search committee member evaluates the attributes of both candidate and school to estimate whether or not an applicant will succeed at the institution.

So with that in mind, how do you develop just the right tone and message for the essay? Consider what follows as a guide toward putting your best essay forward. Your academic success might depend on it.

Do Your Homework

Feed into the ego of the admissions committee members by noting their accomplishments, which obviously shape the reasons you want/need to study at that particular place. Make it clear that “thanks to Dr. Y’s recent published study on X,” there is no better place on the planet for you to come do your work and subsequently make your own brilliant contributions to the field—all filtered through their genius, of course. Are you getting me here? Don’t pander, and don’t wallow. But by all means, speak directly to and about the target school, acknowledging that behind every desirable academic program are instructors, researchers, and administrators making it shine.

Get Personal

Think of the admissions essay as a portrait of you (minus the fake smile and perfect hair) that reveals something about your personal truth. Heavy, I know, but a candidate must relate particulars about just why they want to attend a designated school—and you can do so by setting up some amount of a personal history. Are you the first of your family to go to college or pursue a graduate degree? Maybe your childhood was fraught with varying levels of pain related to financial realities, health problems, or other “issues” you’ve managed to overcome? Say so. Build your case—but don’t go crazy on this front. No need to pull the sympathy card, but if there lurks in your past a legitimate “shadow” which somehow fueled your desire to get into this school, then tell that story.

Build Up Your Story

Now, don’t simply accumulate a list of bullet points; instead, write prose that sequences from one idea to the next via logical transitions and vivid, descriptive wording. Try to offer the admissions committee readers a narrative flow, so that they come away with a sense of where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you plan to go. In other words, structure the essay on a sort of past-present-future platform, and always anchor your “plot” in how this school—how this program—is the only logical jumping-off point for your next phase.

Pay Attention to Details

Have two or three people (who have a grasp of the language) read your essay before you submit! It’s imperative to get feedback on content, readability, and even “mechanics” (errors in punctuation are more distracting than you might think). It’s critical that you pad the writing-editing-revising-submitting sequence with the time necessary to do all of the above.

As you craft the essay, always remember that a school cares about who it accepts; after all, a student’s academic trajectory should result in his or her entry into the professional arena, where that now former student will make a distinguished mark in the field. That mark will soon enough reflect positively back onto the school, the program, and yes—on the professors themselves, which bring us full circle: know your audience.

There it is. The road to a truly outstanding admission essay is not that long. The truth is, it does require diligence, creativity and perseverance. However, destination is worth it.

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