Writing for Graduate School Applications


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These slides address the process of writing an effective personal statement or essay for a graduate school application. The presentation addresses understanding the audience and the expectations, brainstorming, and developing your essay.

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Writing for Graduate School Applications

  1. 1. Writing for Admission andScholarships: Letters of Intent and Short Essays A Dalhousie Writing Centre Seminar
  2. 2. Introduction This PowerPoint addresses the type of writing that many graduate schools expect as part of an application packet. Schools often request an essay or statement that tells about you as an individual. This piece of writing should include aspects of your experiences that are not addressed in other material the university will receive, such as test scores, transcripts, and recommendations. The essay is an opportunity for you to express who you are, what your goals are, what the program to which you are applying offers you, and what you can offer the program. Perhaps most importantly, the essay or statement is an opportunity to convey your passion for your field.
  3. 3. Understanding therequirement The requirements of written pieces vary depending on university and discipline. Some programs will ask for an essay on a specific topic while others offer no clear prompt or are very general. If there is no clear prompt, assume that the essay requires you to discuss how your experiences and skills have lead you to this career path.
  4. 4. Understanding therequirement Personal statements are normally 500- 1000 words Know your audience; know the program to which you are applying– the philosophy, the courses, and its ability to cater to your interests. Read the directions carefully.
  5. 5. Topic examples – Law School The following examples are typical of the types of essays you may be asked to write: “Personal Statement. In this statement you should describe your reasons for applying to law school and indicate any qualifications, qualities or circumstances which you consider to be significant and which you wish to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee.” (Dalhousie Law School 2004-2005)
  6. 6. Topic examples –Interdisciplinary Program“General Statement outlining research proposal and its objectives: What is the essential question that your research is addressing? Why is this worth doing?Critical Assessment: Provide a critical assessment of the proposed research from the point of view of each of the contributing disciplines.Interdisciplinarity: Why does this research require an interdisciplinary approach? How do you propose integrating the contributing disciplines to achieve your objectives? Could you achieve your goals through any existing programs at Dalhousie, perhaps as a special stream of interest?Background: What are you bringing to the research? What are you missing and how do you propose to fill those gaps?Methodology: What general methodology are you intending to follow for this research? Why? How does this decision reflect the interdisciplinary nature of your research?Results: How do you anticipate that your research results will affect the knowledge of the contributing disciplines?”Interdisciplinary PhD Program – Dalhousie University, 2006
  7. 7. Additional topic examples Write a one-page essay explaining who you are. From history, who would you most like to meet? Explore why you would like to enter this field of study. Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
  8. 8. Additional topic examplesDiscipline specific questions: Should the British pound sterling be abandoned? Should Canada join the European Union?Other pieces, statements of intent, statements of reasons for graduate study, proposals, and so on may require a combination of both the personal essay and the discipline-specific essay in that they must include research and personal commentary. The students identifies the field of interest, topic or area of interest, reasons for studying, personal traits and background to show that he or she is able and willing to complete the work.
  9. 9. Brainstorming Freewriting (writing with the goal of getting ideas on paper without concern for form or structure) or listing are appropriate brainstorming techniques for preparing to write a personal statement. Use whatever type of brainstorming activity is comfortable and effective for you and answer the questions on the following slide.
  10. 10. Brainstorming What academic background or experiences have lead you to apply to this program? When and how did you develop an interest in this field? In what ways have you been pursuing this interest? What are the most special or notable or interesting things about you? Why do you want to enter this program? What does this program offer you? Why would this program be a good fit for you? What do you plan to do with the education you receive from this program? What research, if any, needs to be conducted in order to write the essay? What types of sources will you need?
  11. 11. The form of the personalessay A personal statement or essay presents the reader with a persuasive argument. As with any argument, your aim is to convince your audience; in this case, your aim is to persuade your audience that you belong in the program. Use the information created in your brainstorming session to develop your argument.
  12. 12. Developing an effectiveargument Select the details that you would like to include from your brainstorming session. Categorize these ideas. Determine what elements fit together and how. Decide on an arrangement for these categories, keeping in mind that you are writing a persuasive argument.  For example, will you proceed largely chronologically, beginning with your background and culminating in your application to this program, or will you arrange the information according to specific abilities or talents?
  13. 13. Creating an effective essay Throughout the writing process, keep your audience and purpose (persuasive writing) in mind. In addition, Use active verbs. Verbs reveal action and life. Rather than writing “ I was responsible for investigating bullfrogs,” write “I investigated bullfrogs.” Write persuasively and concisely. Get feedback from the people who are writing the recommendations.
  14. 14. ChecklistIn terms of content, did you Clearly address the topic or question? Emphasize your strengths? Discuss your goals? Address how your goals match the goals of the program? Include what skills and traits you offer the program? Discuss relevant experience outside of academia? Write about yourself as a part of your discipline rather than write about the discipline itself? Provide specific detail? Distinguish yourself? Convey your passion for your field?
  15. 15. ChecklistIn terms of form and mechanics, did you Have a clear organizational strategy? Spell check? Proofread? Avoid beginning every sentence with “I”? Adhere to any page or word limits?
  16. 16. Some tips Read the directions carefully. Don’t skip questions or creatively change the topic. Do any research that is necessary. (Show them that you’re a reader, a citizen of the world.) Engage the reader. Develop a theme/perspective or point of view. Use concrete examples to bring the piece to life. Use transitions between paragraphs. Use a variety of sentence structures and lengths. Avoid being either overly casual or overly formal. Get feedback by asking others to read your work.
  17. 17. Resources Online sources http://rpi.edu/web/writingcenter/gradapp.html http://www.psywww.com/careers/applicat.htm University resources under departments writingcentre@dal.ca Dalhousie Career Services career.services@dal.ca Handbooks:  Instant Access  A Canadian Writer’s Reference  Fit to Print