student in media lab

Essay Tips

  • Be yourself, not a person you think the committee seeks.
  • Be careful that your essay is not generic/could go to any school (unless you are, in fact, using a centralized application service and have no choice but to write one essay for all schools).
  • You do not want your essay to sound dry and boring. Is the information you are choosing to include interesting, relevant, and memorable?
  • The essay is not a simple list of accomplishments; reflect on your accomplishments, showing depth and self-awareness in your evaluation of experiences and the personal meaning of accomplishments.
  • This is a personal statement; thus it is often appropriate and useful to include personal information as context for learning and growth.
  • Make sure you are including what is important, in light of your plans for graduate study and career.
  • Write in a positive and upbeat tone; project confidence and enthusiasm. Reframe any negativity as a positive statement.
  • Be clear about why you want to be at that particular school
  • Be honest. Are you being yourself and revealing yourself? Sometimes it is helpful for the committee to hear about setbacks, and what it took to rebound.

Refine, Simplify, and Polish

When you have written a first draft, start the work of editing: refine, simplify, and polish! 

  • Do you say exactly what you mean and mean exactly what you say?
  • Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward?
  • Are your verbs strong and active?
  • Have you removed most, or all, of the qualifiers? (no apologies, no whining)
  • Have you removed any apologies, whining, or inflation of your accomplishments?
  • Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas?
  • Remember that the reader has a record of your activities and your transcript readily at hand; be sure you have added qualitative information so as not to be redundant.
  • Write as an adult, a peer, and potential contributor, someone they'd want in their academic community.

Your thoroughness demonstrates that you have learned and mastered the language and that your future peers will not be troubled by illiteracy or sloppiness.

Feedback and Proofreading

Get feedback from a few trusted readers. Does the essay relay your strengths, passion, enthusiasm, uniqueness?  What about the grammar? Do they notice any glaring errors?

The final details:

When you send in that application, it is the program's only representation of you. 

  • Check and recheck spelling, subject-verb agreement, and syntax.   
  • Keep uniform margins; you do not wish to create a crowded impression.
  • Proofread very carefully before you send it. We suggest you let it rest a day so you can proof it once again when you are fresh. Reading it out loud to yourself or another is a great way to catch errors.

You are a serious student and a thoughtful and interesting person. You have enjoyed a fabulous undergraduate education and have completed a Div III project that helps you to stand out. You will be an asset to your graduate program and to your chosen profession. A beautifully prepared essay will confirm this.


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