How to Write a Grad School Application Essay
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Writing a graduate school admission essay can seem daunting. However, students can make the process easier by taking time to develop and organize their ideas before writing their personal statement.
Students can apply several practices to write a compelling grad school personal statement that gets readers to take notice. These steps include developing a solid outline, conveying a strong and memorable thesis, presenting specific points relevant to the topic, and taking sufficient time to edit and proofread the essay before submitting it.
What Is a Grad School Application Essay?
Graduate school admission or application essays allow graduate programs to get to know applicants better as people. Although an applicant's grade point average (GPA), transcripts, and test scores tell part of their story, grad school essays allow students to show how their personalities, achievements, and past experiences inform their career interests and potential for academic success.
Graduate schools often ask for personal statements or letters of intent from applicants. Prospective graduate students should know what distinguishes these documents.
- A personal statement allows students some freedom to discuss how their past experiences, career goals, and interest in a prospective program have shaped their likelihood of success in and fit for graduate study.
- A statement of purpose describes a student's reasons for applying to a program. The student typically explains how their career goals, qualifications, and research interests will affect their future beyond graduate school.
- A letter of intent is a brief essay describing a student's skills, accomplishments, and goals that pertain to the field of study they aspire to pursue while in graduate school.
What Are Admissions Officers Looking for in a Grad School Essay?
In general, admissions personnel review these essays to determine how well students might fit in with a graduate program and succeed academically. Reviewers also look for a sense of how well prospective students handle stress, overcome challenges, and stand up to the demands of a rigorous program.
Grad school essays should shed light on how well students respond to criticism of their work. Also, graduate school provides a setting where individuals can explore diverse theories and perspectives. To this end, admissions personnel look for clues about students' openness to different viewpoints and their ability to express their ideas in written form.
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What to Know Before You Start Writing
Review the prompt.
The prompt for the application essay gives students a sense of how to focus their writing. Before starting to write, students should read the instructions within the prompt carefully. These directions shed light on readers' expectations.
Prompts for grad school application essays vary greatly, with some offering little detail on what the statement should cover. Applicants should pay close attention to the requirements, including word count, format, and submission method.
Some graduate essay prompts offer few instructions or requirements, leaving applicants a lot of room for choosing a topic. To determine the most appropriate topic, focus, and personal examples to include, students should devote considerable time to brainstorming before they start writing.
Students should give themselves time to reflect on their strengths, accomplishments, and research interests. They should also consider the qualities they want in a graduate program and pick out benefits provided by the program so they can speak to the specific reasons they're applying.
Create An Outline
Outlining is a crucial step in creating a compelling and memorable grad school personal statement. Just as architects need a blueprint to design and build a skyscraper, grad school applicants need a roadmap to organize and write their essays.
The most effective application essays include an attention-grabbing introduction, a body with solid and concise points, and a memorable conclusion. An outline will likely change somewhat during the writing process, but it still allows the writer to stay on top of the essay's construction.
Know the Point You're Trying to Get Across
A grad school personal statement should present a clear point or thesis to help it stand out. An overall thesis statement or claim answers the question, "What is this essay about?" A reader should not have to work hard to understand the thesis. If the point of an essay is unclear or confusing, an admissions officer might stop reading.
Applicants should place their thesis in the introduction so that the reader clearly understands what the following essay will address. Students can insert their thesis immediately after an anecdote, quotation, or other attention-getter to provide a smooth transition into the main topic.
Be Aware of Topics to Avoid
Brainstorming allows an applicant to consider a variety of topics and ways of writing about them. However, some subjects may be inappropriate for a grad school application essay because they could alienate certain readers or make them lose interest.
Topics that writers should consider omitting from an admission essay include the following:
- Traumatic personal experiences
- Subjects that make the writer appear overly negative or cynical
- An exhaustive list of accomplishments
Students should also avoid using well-known phrases or expressions. For example, common cliches offer virtually no advantage because they suggest little to no originality of thought. Also, students should not use words or terms (e.g., vulgar language) that detract from their professionalism.
What to Consider While You're Writing
Grab the reader's attention.
A strong grad school personal statement starts with writing a concise introduction that gains the reader's attention. The writer can make the essay more memorable by using a brief anecdote, quotation, compelling statistic, or rhetorical question.
The introduction should also provide a clear preview or roadmap for the rest of the essay. After the attention-getter, the essay should quickly transition into the thesis statement or main idea, followed by a preview of the upcoming points.
Writers should revisit the introduction once their essay is complete to double-check that it accurately reflects the main points of the essay.
Students should not just focus on what they think admissions personnel will want to read. Instead, they should use their voice to present their ideas in meaningful ways that reflect their true selves. In other words, write with authenticity. While the essay should reflect a polished draft, it should also show applicants as they are.
Graduate school applicants shouldn't lie or misrepresent themselves in the grad school essay. In addition to strengths and accomplishments, admissions departments want to read what applicants say about their shortcomings and how they have worked to overcome them.
Be Relevant and Specific
While students can use creative anecdotes and personal examples, they need to make their points relevant to the prompt or question. Admissions personnel generally want to learn why students wish to enroll in the program and what makes them qualified. These elements can serve as the foundation when writing the main body of an essay .
Also, the main points should be specific. For example, in expressing why they are applying to a particular program, applicants can use a brief anecdote to explain their desire to work with a faculty member who shares their research interests. While stories and examples add a personal touch, they should not distract from essential information that grad schools want to know about an applicant.
Have a Strong Ending
When writing the conclusion of a graduate school admission essay, writers should restate the thesis and reiterate the main points. Rather than presenting new information, the ending should remind the reader of the statement’s main ideas. Furthermore, it should refer back to those points while giving the reader something to think about after they have finished reading.
A conclusion can also end by tying back to the attention-getting statement in the introduction. This stylistic device brings the whole essay full circle, provides a sense of closure, and strengthens the emotional connection with the reader.
What to Do When You've Finished Writing
Finishing the draft of a graduate school admission essay does not signal the end of the writing process. Rather, polishing the draft requires re-reading, editing, and getting feedback before submitting it.
Reread Your Draft
A grad school essay containing errors or reflecting poor writing does not leave a favorable impression. Re-reading the essay allows for catching mistakes, clearing up confusing sentences, and strengthening the main points.
Unfortunately, writers can gloss over errors after reading the essay just once. As a rule of thumb, when students believe their draft has gone through enough editing and proofreading, they might take a little more time and read the document one more time.
Edit Your Draft
Students should not confuse editing with proofreading — a step that involves checking for grammar, punctuation, and stylistic errors. Editing is a more substantive process that includes checking for conciseness and ensuring that ideas flow well. Proper editing also allows writers to determine whether each paragraph or section expresses a single thought and make sure that sentences are concise and clear.
Students should allow enough time to edit their essays. Also, reading the essay aloud can provide another way to catch mistakes or confusing phrases.
Students should find individuals they trust to check their personal statement for clarity, errors, and other stylistic inconsistencies. Also, having others review the essay can give the applicant a sense of how others perceive its tone, organization, and potential to engage the reader.
Trusted peers, instructors, family members, friends, and students who have recently gone through the grad school application process often provide excellent feedback. Students can also seek out others who are applying to graduate school to share their personal statements and exchange constructive criticism.
Sample Grad School Application Essay
Prompt: Why do you wish to pursue a graduate degree in communication studies at the University of Oklahoma and how does it relate to your career goals?
Three years ago, I underwent a breast biopsy after two mammograms failed to rule out a suspicious lump. I met with my oncological surgeon before she was to perform the procedure. Although her technical skills were superior, her bedside manner left me feeling scared, uncertain, and lacking confidence in my capacity to handle a possible cancer diagnosis. Moreover, my doctor's inability to relate to me personally left me feeling powerless in meeting my health needs as a patient.
In poor health, many people feel robbed of their dignity. One of the most critical settings where patients can maintain dignity is during a doctor's visit. I wish to conduct research and teach courses in an academic setting to explore how doctor-patient interactions can help patients gain more confidence and improve their health outcomes. To this end, I am applying to the Communication Department at the University of Oklahoma to pursue a master's degree specializing in health communication. This master's will then allow me to continue my studies and earn a doctorate in this area.
I first learned a great deal about doctor-patient interactions while taking an undergraduate health communication class from Dr. Edith McNulty at the University of Nebraska. Dr. McNulty's class informed the way I view my breast biopsy experience. After completing her class, I enrolled in an independent study with Dr. McNulty transcribing qualitative interviews she conducted with patients. Through this independent study, I also learned how to perform constant comparative coding of those transcripts.
My independent study has fueled my interest in researching health communication and teaching classes on the subject. My interest in the communication studies program at Oklahoma stems partly from my interest in Dr. Dan O'Malley's studies of patients' expressions of ethnicity when they encounter healthcare workers. Working with Dr. O'Malley could expand my healthcare interest to include ethnicity as a factor in these settings.
I also am familiar with Dr. Wendy Wasser's research on communication efficacy during online video appointments. Given that increasing numbers of patients rely on telemedicine to receive their healthcare, studying with Dr. Wasser can help me understand the role of new communication technologies in doctor's visits.
Although my breast biopsy from three years ago was benign, I know that other patients are not as fortunate in their health outlook. All patients have the right to quality communication during doctor visits to help them gain confidence and take proactive measures toward their healthcare. My pursuit of a master's in health communication at the University of Oklahoma can set me on a path to contributing to our understanding of the interpersonal impact of doctor-patient interactions on medical care and patient well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions About Grad School Application Essays
How long should a grad school application essay be.
Most applicants should expect to write at least 500 words for their grad school admission essay. However, length varies by graduate program. Many application materials contain specific instructions on how to write the essay, including word limits.
What should I title my application essay for grad school?
If an online application submission page includes a text box for the title, the applicant should follow the word or character limit and make the title relevant to their grad school personal statement. However, students do not need to add a title if the application does not require it.
How do I make my application essay stand out for grad school?
Prospective students should write a clear and compelling grad school essay free of errors. Also, the statement should help make the applicant stand out from their peers. It can include specific examples of unique experiences that illustrate students' strengths and abilities.
What should you not do in an application essay for grad school?
Students should not wander off topic when answering a prompt, especially if it asks a specific question. Also, an essay should not include so many personal examples that they read as a list. Instead, the applicant can provide a brief anecdote for each main point they want to make.
How do you answer grad school application essay questions?
The best graduate school admission essays have a clear thesis statement and good organization. They also grab the reader's attention right away and maintain it to the end. The best essays also reflect the writer's careful attention to the application instructions by addressing the prompt thoroughly.
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If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?
In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.
What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?
A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.
So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:
- Statement of purpose: A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
- Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.
Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.
Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:
Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.
But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.
For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.
Many schools require just one essay (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan , ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , want an essay that combines the features of both!
Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.
What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?
Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.
But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.
A Compelling Story
First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.
Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.
Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.
That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.
- Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
- Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
- Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.
Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.
Inspirations for Your Research Interests
Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also why you have these particular interests. While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.
For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.
Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.
Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School
Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.
Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:
- Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
- How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
- Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
- Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?
Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.
Strong Writing Skills
A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!
So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.
Also, remember that good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words. You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.
On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.
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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career
Lastly, the personal statement gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.
Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).
Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.
How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide
The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.
Step 1: Start Early
Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.
You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.
If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)
Step 2: Read the Instructions
Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.
Your program should give you the following information:
- What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
- How long your statement should be
- What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
- How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)
For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley . In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt :
Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.
On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona , your personal statement would follow these parameters:
Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.
Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.
Simply put, follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission. And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!
Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle
Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:
- What your grad program wants you to write about
- Your field of study and research interests
- How much experience you have in your field
As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.
Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.
No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement. How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.
On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is, be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.
More broadly, though, try to answer the question of what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?
Finally, always choose a positive angle. Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.
Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”
Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.
As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:
- What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
- How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
- What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
- What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
- Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?
Step 5: Make an Outline
Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.
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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.
Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.
Step 6: Draft Your Essay
It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.
In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.
Remember, most personal statements will be short— usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.
On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.
Step 7: Get Feedback
Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).
Ask your editors to give you specific feedback on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.
If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.
Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay
Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.
For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.
As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!
Step 9: Proofread
The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.
Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.
In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.
Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well. If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)
The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement
The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.
But more importantly, the personal statement showcases your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.
A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:
- A compelling story
- Inspirations for your research interests
- Your motivation for applying to grad school
- Strong writing skills
- Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career
Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:
- Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
- Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
- Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
- Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
- Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
- Draft your essay
- Get specific feedback from multiple editors
- Revise and edit your essay
- Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)
Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time! Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.
Do your schools require a CV or resume? If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates !
What do you need to submit for your grad school application? Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school .
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Author: Hannah Muniz
Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz
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Graduate School Application Essays
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Types of Essays
Regardless of the type of school you are applying to, you will be required to submit an admissions essay as part of the application process. Graduate programs want students with clear commitment to the field. Essay prompts typically ask applicants to discuss their previous experience, future professional goals, and how the program can help them in achieving those objectives. The essay gives the applicant the chance to articulate these goals and display strong writing skills. Remember to tailor your essay to each school and the faculty committee that reviews your application. But first, take note of what kind of essay is being requested of you. Here are the two main admission essays:
A personal statement is a narrative piece describing how your character and experiences have formed you into someone who will contribute positively and effectively to not only the department but the academic discipline as a whole. This is often achieved by detailing social, educational, cultural, and economic obstacles you have overcome in your journey to get to where you are today and your future objectives. A personal statement is also an opportunity to highlight what is unique about you and how you will advance diversity within the institution.
Check out Personal Statement Resources for Graduate School Applications in the Resources section of Handshake for a brainstorming activity and essay samples that can help you get started on your personal statement.
Statement of Purpose
Interchangeably called a “research statement”, a statement of purpose will prompt you to describe your research interests and professional goals, how you plan to accomplish them, and why a specific program is best suited for you to do so. Be specific about your specialized interests within your major field. Be clear about the kind of program you expect to undertake, and explain how your study plan connects with your previous training and future goals.
Use the Outlining Your Statement of Purpose guide in the Resources section of Handshake to get started on your statement outline.
How to Write a Powerful Admission Essay
Whatever required format, your essay should be thoughtful, concise, compelling, and interesting. Remember, admissions officers read hundreds of personal essays. Below are some tips for your admissions essay writing process:
- Read the question: Be sure you are aware of all aspects of the prompt. Failing to pay attention to details in the prompt won’t reflect well on you as a potential candidate.
- What is distinct, special, and/or impressive about me and my life story?
- Have I overcome any particular hardships or obstacles?
- When did I become interested in this field and what have I learned about it?
- What are my career goals?
- What personal traits, values, and skill sets do I have that would make me stand out from other applicants?
- Create an outline: You might have a lot that you want to say, but you will need to whittle down your many thoughts and experiences to a concrete thesis with a select number of examples to support it. Create an outline for your draft, not only to organize your points and examples, but to help tailor your essay for your readers.
- Know your audience: Consider how your narrative can best meet the expectations of admissions committee members. Will faculty be reading this? Administrators? Experts in the field? Knowing your audience ahead of time will assist you in addressing the prompt appropriately.
- Grab your reader’s attention: Start your essay with something that will grab the reader’s attention such as a personal anecdote, questions, or engaging depiction of a scene. Avoid starting things off with common phrases such as “I was born in…” or “I have always wanted to…” Consider the experiences that have shaped you or your career decision, and delve into them with a creative hook.
- Write well: Your essay is a sample of your writing abilities, so it’s important to convey your thoughts clearly and effectively. Be succinct—you don’t need to write out your full autobiography or resume in prose. Exclude anything that doesn’t support your thesis. Gentle humor is okay, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t make things up! Be honest about your experiences.
- End strong: End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis. This helps unify your essay as a whole, connecting your detailed experiences back to the reason you are writing this essay in the first place—to show your qualifications for your graduate program of choice.
- Use resources: The MIT Communication Labs have a CommKit that collects all of the Comm Lab resources relevant to the grad application process , including recommendation letters & interviews
- Revise: Give yourself enough time to step away from your draft. Return with a fresh pair of eyes to make your edits. Be realistic with yourself, not your harshest critic. Make a few rounds of revisions if you need.
- Ask for help: Have your essay critiqued by friends, family, educators, and the MIT Writing and Communication Center or our Career Services staff.
- Proofread: Read your essay out loud or even record yourself and listen to the recording, to help you catch mistakes or poor phrasing you may have missed when reading to yourself. Also, don’t rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.
What this handout is about.
This handout will help you write and revise the personal statement required by many graduate programs, internships, and special academic programs.
Before you start writing
Because the application essay can have a critical effect upon your progress toward a career, you should spend significantly more time, thought, and effort on it than its typically brief length would suggest. It should reflect how you arrived at your professional goals, why the program is ideal for you, and what you bring to the program. Don’t make this a deadline task—now’s the time to write, read, rewrite, give to a reader, revise again, and on until the essay is clear, concise, and compelling. At the same time, don’t be afraid. You know most of the things you need to say already.
Read the instructions carefully. One of the basic tasks of the application essay is to follow the directions. If you don’t do what they ask, the reader may wonder if you will be able to follow directions in their program. Make sure you follow page and word limits exactly—err on the side of shortness, not length. The essay may take two forms:
- A one-page essay answering a general question
- Several short answers to more specific questions
Do some research before you start writing. Think about…
- The field. Why do you want to be a _____? No, really. Think about why you and you particularly want to enter that field. What are the benefits and what are the shortcomings? When did you become interested in the field and why? What path in that career interests you right now? Brainstorm and write these ideas out.
- The program. Why is this the program you want to be admitted to? What is special about the faculty, the courses offered, the placement record, the facilities you might be using? If you can’t think of anything particular, read the brochures they offer, go to events, or meet with a faculty member or student in the program. A word about honesty here—you may have a reason for choosing a program that wouldn’t necessarily sway your reader; for example, you want to live near the beach, or the program is the most prestigious and would look better on your resume. You don’t want to be completely straightforward in these cases and appear superficial, but skirting around them or lying can look even worse. Turn these aspects into positives. For example, you may want to go to a program in a particular location because it is a place that you know very well and have ties to, or because there is a need in your field there. Again, doing research on the program may reveal ways to legitimate even your most superficial and selfish reasons for applying.
- Yourself. What details or anecdotes would help your reader understand you? What makes you special? Is there something about your family, your education, your work/life experience, or your values that has shaped you and brought you to this career field? What motivates or interests you? Do you have special skills, like leadership, management, research, or communication? Why would the members of the program want to choose you over other applicants? Be honest with yourself and write down your ideas. If you are having trouble, ask a friend or relative to make a list of your strengths or unique qualities that you plan to read on your own (and not argue about immediately). Ask them to give you examples to back up their impressions (For example, if they say you are “caring,” ask them to describe an incident they remember in which they perceived you as caring).
Now, write a draft
This is a hard essay to write. It’s probably much more personal than any of the papers you have written for class because it’s about you, not World War II or planaria. You may want to start by just getting something—anything—on paper. Try freewriting. Think about the questions we asked above and the prompt for the essay, and then write for 15 or 30 minutes without stopping. What do you want your audience to know after reading your essay? What do you want them to feel? Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, organization, or anything else. Just get out the ideas you have. For help getting started, see our handout on brainstorming .
Now, look at what you’ve written. Find the most relevant, memorable, concrete statements and focus in on them. Eliminate any generalizations or platitudes (“I’m a people person”, “Doctors save lives”, or “Mr. Calleson’s classes changed my life”), or anything that could be cut and pasted into anyone else’s application. Find what is specific to you about the ideas that generated those platitudes and express them more directly. Eliminate irrelevant issues (“I was a track star in high school, so I think I’ll make a good veterinarian.”) or issues that might be controversial for your reader (“My faith is the one true faith, and only nurses with that faith are worthwhile,” or “Lawyers who only care about money are evil.”).
Often, writers start out with generalizations as a way to get to the really meaningful statements, and that’s OK. Just make sure that you replace the generalizations with examples as you revise. A hint: you may find yourself writing a good, specific sentence right after a general, meaningless one. If you spot that, try to use the second sentence and delete the first.
Applications that have several short-answer essays require even more detail. Get straight to the point in every case, and address what they’ve asked you to address.
Now that you’ve generated some ideas, get a little bit pickier. It’s time to remember one of the most significant aspects of the application essay: your audience. Your readers may have thousands of essays to read, many or most of which will come from qualified applicants. This essay may be your best opportunity to communicate with the decision makers in the application process, and you don’t want to bore them, offend them, or make them feel you are wasting their time.
With this in mind:
- Do assure your audience that you understand and look forward to the challenges of the program and the field, not just the benefits.
- Do assure your audience that you understand exactly the nature of the work in the field and that you are prepared for it, psychologically and morally as well as educationally.
- Do assure your audience that you care about them and their time by writing a clear, organized, and concise essay.
- Do address any information about yourself and your application that needs to be explained (for example, weak grades or unusual coursework for your program). Include that information in your essay, and be straightforward about it. Your audience will be more impressed with your having learned from setbacks or having a unique approach than your failure to address those issues.
- Don’t waste space with information you have provided in the rest of the application. Every sentence should be effective and directly related to the rest of the essay. Don’t ramble or use fifteen words to express something you could say in eight.
- Don’t overstate your case for what you want to do, being so specific about your future goals that you come off as presumptuous or naïve (“I want to become a dentist so that I can train in wisdom tooth extraction, because I intend to focus my life’s work on taking 13 rather than 15 minutes per tooth.”). Your goals may change–show that such a change won’t devastate you.
- And, one more time, don’t write in cliches and platitudes. Every doctor wants to help save lives, every lawyer wants to work for justice—your reader has read these general cliches a million times.
Imagine the worst-case scenario (which may never come true—we’re talking hypothetically): the person who reads your essay has been in the field for decades. She is on the application committee because she has to be, and she’s read 48 essays so far that morning. You are number 49, and your reader is tired, bored, and thinking about lunch. How are you going to catch and keep her attention?
Assure your audience that you are capable academically, willing to stick to the program’s demands, and interesting to have around. For more tips, see our handout on audience .
Voice and style
The voice you use and the style in which you write can intrigue your audience. The voice you use in your essay should be yours. Remember when your high school English teacher said “never say ‘I’”? Here’s your chance to use all those “I”s you’ve been saving up. The narrative should reflect your perspective, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Focusing on events or ideas may give your audience an indirect idea of how these things became important in forming your outlook, but many others have had equally compelling experiences. By simply talking about those events in your own voice, you put the emphasis on you rather than the event or idea. Look at this anecdote:
During the night shift at Wirth Memorial Hospital, a man walked into the Emergency Room wearing a monkey costume and holding his head. He seemed confused and was moaning in pain. One of the nurses ascertained that he had been swinging from tree branches in a local park and had hit his head when he fell out of a tree. This tragic tale signified the moment at which I realized psychiatry was the only career path I could take.
An interesting tale, yes, but what does it tell you about the narrator? The following example takes the same anecdote and recasts it to make the narrator more of a presence in the story:
I was working in the Emergency Room at Wirth Memorial Hospital one night when a man walked in wearing a monkey costume and holding his head. I could tell he was confused and in pain. After a nurse asked him a few questions, I listened in surprise as he explained that he had been a monkey all of his life and knew that it was time to live with his brothers in the trees. Like many other patients I would see that year, this man suffered from an illness that only a combination of psychological and medical care would effectively treat. I realized then that I wanted to be able to help people by using that particular combination of skills only a psychiatrist develops.
The voice you use should be approachable as well as intelligent. This essay is not the place to stun your reader with ten prepositional phrases (“the goal of my study of the field of law in the winter of my discontent can best be understood by the gathering of more information about my youth”) and thirty nouns (“the research and study of the motivation behind my insights into the field of dentistry contains many pitfalls and disappointments but even more joy and enlightenment”) per sentence. (Note: If you are having trouble forming clear sentences without all the prepositions and nouns, take a look at our handout on style .)
You may want to create an impression of expertise in the field by using specialized or technical language. But beware of this unless you really know what you are doing—a mistake will look twice as ignorant as not knowing the terms in the first place. Your audience may be smart, but you don’t want to make them turn to a dictionary or fall asleep between the first word and the period of your first sentence. Keep in mind that this is a personal statement. Would you think you were learning a lot about a person whose personal statement sounded like a journal article? Would you want to spend hours in a lab or on a committee with someone who shuns plain language?
Of course, you don’t want to be chatty to the point of making them think you only speak slang, either. Your audience may not know what “I kicked that lame-o to the curb for dissing my research project” means. Keep it casual enough to be easy to follow, but formal enough to be respectful of the audience’s intelligence.
Just use an honest voice and represent yourself as naturally as possible. It may help to think of the essay as a sort of face-to-face interview, only the interviewer isn’t actually present.
Too much style
A well-written, dramatic essay is much more memorable than one that fails to make an emotional impact on the reader. Good anecdotes and personal insights can really attract an audience’s attention. BUT be careful not to let your drama turn into melodrama. You want your reader to see your choices motivated by passion and drive, not hyperbole and a lack of reality. Don’t invent drama where there isn’t any, and don’t let the drama take over. Getting someone else to read your drafts can help you figure out when you’ve gone too far.
Many guides to writing application essays encourage you to take a risk, either by saying something off-beat or daring or by using a unique writing style. When done well, this strategy can work—your goal is to stand out from the rest of the applicants and taking a risk with your essay will help you do that. An essay that impresses your reader with your ability to think and express yourself in original ways and shows you really care about what you are saying is better than one that shows hesitancy, lack of imagination, or lack of interest.
But be warned: this strategy is a risk. If you don’t carefully consider what you are saying and how you are saying it, you may offend your readers or leave them with a bad impression of you as flaky, immature, or careless. Do not alienate your readers.
Some writers take risks by using irony (your suffering at the hands of a barbaric dentist led you to want to become a gentle one), beginning with a personal failure (that eventually leads to the writer’s overcoming it), or showing great imagination (one famous successful example involved a student who answered a prompt about past formative experiences by beginning with a basic answer—”I have volunteered at homeless shelters”—that evolved into a ridiculous one—”I have sealed the hole in the ozone layer with plastic wrap”). One student applying to an art program described the person he did not want to be, contrasting it with the person he thought he was and would develop into if accepted. Another person wrote an essay about her grandmother without directly linking her narrative to the fact that she was applying for medical school. Her essay was risky because it called on the reader to infer things about the student’s character and abilities from the story.
Assess your credentials and your likelihood of getting into the program before you choose to take a risk. If you have little chance of getting in, try something daring. If you are almost certainly guaranteed a spot, you have more flexibility. In any case, make sure that you answer the essay question in some identifiable way.
After you’ve written a draft
Get several people to read it and write their comments down. It is worthwhile to seek out someone in the field, perhaps a professor who has read such essays before. Give it to a friend, your mom, or a neighbor. The key is to get more than one point of view, and then compare these with your own. Remember, you are the one best equipped to judge how accurately you are representing yourself. For tips on putting this advice to good use, see our handout on getting feedback .
After you’ve received feedback, revise the essay. Put it away. Get it out and revise it again (you can see why we said to start right away—this process may take time). Get someone to read it again. Revise it again.
When you think it is totally finished, you are ready to proofread and format the essay. Check every sentence and punctuation mark. You cannot afford a careless error in this essay. (If you are not comfortable with your proofreading skills, check out our handout on editing and proofreading ).
If you find that your essay is too long, do not reformat it extensively to make it fit. Making readers deal with a nine-point font and quarter-inch margins will only irritate them. Figure out what material you can cut and cut it. For strategies for meeting word limits, see our handout on writing concisely .
Finally, proofread it again. We’re not kidding.
Don’t be afraid to talk to professors or professionals in the field. Many of them would be flattered that you asked their advice, and they will have useful suggestions that others might not have. Also keep in mind that many colleges and professional programs offer websites addressing the personal statement. You can find them either through the website of the school to which you are applying or by searching under “personal statement” or “application essays” using a search engine.
If your schedule and ours permit, we invite you to come to the Writing Center. Be aware that during busy times in the semester, we limit students to a total of two visits to discuss application essays and personal statements (two visits per student, not per essay); we do this so that students working on papers for courses will have a better chance of being seen. Make an appointment or submit your essay to our online writing center (note that we cannot guarantee that an online tutor will help you in time).
For information on other aspects of the application process, you can consult the resources at University Career Services .
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Asher, Donald. 2012. Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice , 4th ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Curry, Boykin, Emily Angel Baer, and Brian Kasbar. 2003. Essays That Worked for College Applications: 50 Essays That Helped Students Get Into the Nation’s Top Colleges . New York: Ballantine Books.
Stelzer, Richard. 2002. How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School , 3rd ed. Lawrenceville, NJ: Thomson Peterson.
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Writing the Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose should convince the admissions committee that your achievements show promise for your success in graduate study. Think of the statement of purpose as a composition with four different parts.
Make sure to check on the appropriate departmental website to find out if your statement should include additional or specific information.
Part 1: Introduce yourself, your interests and motivations
Tell them what you’re interested in, and perhaps, what sparked your desire for graduate study. This should be short and to the point; don’t spend a great deal of time on autobiography.
Part 2: Summarize your undergraduate and previous graduate career
a) Research you conducted. Indicate with whom, the title of the project, what your responsibilities were, and the outcome. Write technically, or in the style of your discipline. Faculty are the people who read these statements.
b) Important paper or thesis project you completed, as well as anything scholarly beyond your curricular requirements.
c) Work experience, especially if you had any kind of responsibility for testing, designing, researching or interning in an area similar to what you wish to study in graduate school.
Part 3: Discuss the relevance of your recent and current activities
If you graduated and worked prior to returning to graduate school, indicate what you’ve been doing: company or non-profit, your work/design team, responsibilities, what you learned. You can also indicate here how this helped you focus your graduate studies.
Part 4: Elaborate on your academic interests
Here you indicate what you would like to study in graduate school in enough detail to convince the faculty that you understand the scope of research in their discipline, and are engaged with current research themes.
a) Indicate the area of your interests. Ideally, pose a question, define a problem, or indicate a theme that you would like to address, and questions that arise from contemporary research. This should be an ample paragraph!
b) Look on the web for information about departments you’re interested in, including professors and their research. Are there professors whose research interests parallel yours? If so, indicate this. Check the specific program; many may require you to name a professor or professors with whom you might work.
c) End your statement in a positive manner, indicating your excitement and readiness for the challenges ahead of you.
1. What the admissions committee will read between the lines: self-motivation, competence, potential as a graduate student.
2. Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in an active, not a passive voice.
3. Demonstrate everything by example; don’t say directly that you’re a persistent person, show it.
4. If there is something important that happened to you that affected your grades, such as poverty, illness, or excessive work, state it. Write it affirmatively, showing your perseverance despite obstacles. You can elaborate more in your personal statement.
5. Make sure everything is linked with continuity and focus.
6. Unless the specific program says otherwise, be concise; an ideal essay should say everything it needs to with brevity. Approximately 500 to 1000 well-selected words (1-2 single space pages in 12 point font) is better than more words with less clarity and poor organization.
How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School
- by Heidi Kerr and Paul David Terry
- November 10, 2020
You’ve made the exciting decision to pursue a graduate degree. Congratulations! There are a wide range of graduate programs to explore , and once you’ve selected the right program for you, it’s time to begin the graduate application process.
The statement of purpose and personal history statement are key components of the UC Davis graduate school application . With fewer than 4,000 characters allowed for each essay, these statements can seem particularly daunting. However, each one has a specific purpose for showcasing your academic journey and creating a holistic application.
Below, we’ve analyzed the differences between the statement of purpose and personal history statement and provided tips for writing these graduate school admissions essays.
Statement of Purpose and Personal History: What’s the Difference?
The statement of purpose shares your academic objectives with the admissions committee and explains why you want to obtain a graduate degree. The personal history statement provides background about who you are and how your experiences have shaped your interests and ability to overcome challenges. Each essay has specific goals to showcase your experience, passion and story.
How to Write a Strong Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose should highlight your academic preparation , motivation and interests, along with any specializations and career goals that contribute to your program of study. As you write your statement of purpose, it should encompass some of the following:
- Academic and research experiences - Include any relevant academic studies or research pursuits, internships or employment, presentations, publications, teaching, and travel or study abroad experiences that prepare you for this graduate program. Explain your motivation or passion for these experiences and how they can enrich your graduate study.
- Interests, specializations, and career goals - Highlight your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area(s) of specialization, and professional objectives.
- Fit - Explain how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.
The statement of purpose should also address why you want to pursue the particular graduate degree program at the university and what your goals are in pursuing a degree. Remember, the statement of purpose should explain exactly that, your purpose for becoming a graduate student. This is the primary way it stands apart from your personal history statement.
What to Include in Your Personal History Statement
The personal history statement helps the reader learn more about you as an individual and potential graduate student. Use this opportunity to describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Tell a story that includes any experiences, challenges or opportunities relevant to your academic journey. Consider how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field.
A strong personal history statement begins with an authentic voice and personal narrative. This can reflect your journey to graduate school, any obstacles you’ve encountered, and how you've overcome challenges. Talk about your personal goals and dreams. Explain what motivates and drives you toward this degree. The more your personal statement tells your school about you as an individual, the more it will stand out. Don't write something to impress someone else. This includes language, style and tone. Authenticity is important and resonates well. Tell the truth, in your voice, from your perspective. Use your story to connect.
More Tips and Resources for Applying to Graduate School
Applying to graduate school may be daunting to some, but UC Davis has a variety of resources to help you create a strong graduate school application. Check out the Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Handbook for ideas and worksheets on how to construct your essays. Or visit our Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services website for more graduate school prep resources.
Paul David Terry is the assistant director of special interest and affinity networks and alumni diversity lead at the Cal Aggie Alumni Association. He oversees the UC Davis Health Improving OUTcomes blog and enjoys cycling and brewing ginger beer.
Heidi Kerr works as the content and media manager at UC Davis’ Graduate Studies. She has worked as a communications professional at multiple higher education institutions and is passionate about promoting student success.
The authors acknowledge current and former leaders from Pre-Graduate/Law Advising in Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services, especially Annalisa Teixeira, Ph.D. and Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, Ph.D., who granted us permission to reference Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Workbook .
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How to Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School
Congrats! You’ve chosen a graduate program , read up on tips for applying to grad school , and even wrote a focused grad school resumé . But if you’re like many students, you’ve left the most daunting part of the application process for last—writing a statement of purpose. The good news is, the task doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, as long as you break the process down into simple, actionable steps. Below, learn how to write a strong, unique statement of purpose that will impress admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.
What is a statement of purpose?
A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you’ll add value to the graduate program you’re applying to.
Jared Pierce, associate director of enrollment services at Northeastern University, says a strong statement of purpose can be the deciding factor in a graduate student’s admission.
“Your statement of purpose is where you tell your story about who you are and why you deserve to be a part of the [university’s] community. It gives the admissions committee the chance to get to know you and understand how you’ll add value to the classroom,” he says.
How long is a statement of purpose?
“A statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words,” Pierce says, noting that it should typically not exceed a single page. He advises that students use a traditional font at a readable size (11- or 12-pt) and leave enough whitespace in the margins to make the statement easy-to-read. Make sure to double-space the statement if the university has requested it, he adds.
Interested in learning more about Northeastern’s graduate programs?
Get your questions answered by our enrollment team.
How to Write a Statement of Purpose: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that you understand how to format a statement of purpose, you can begin drafting your own. Getting started can feel daunting, but Pierce suggests making the process more manageable by breaking down the writing process into four easy steps.
1. Brainstorm your ideas.
First, he says, try to reframe the task at hand and get excited for the opportunity to write your statement of purpose. He explains:
“Throughout the application process, you’re afforded few opportunities to address the committee directly. Here is your chance to truly speak directly to them. Each student arrives at this process with a unique story, including prior jobs, volunteer experience, or undergraduate studies. Think about what makes you you and start outlining.”
When writing your statement of purpose, he suggests asking yourself these key questions:
- Why do I want this degree?
- What are my expectations for this degree?
- What courses or program features excite me the most?
- Where do I want this degree to take me, professionally and personally?
- How will my unique professional and personal experiences add value to the program?
Jot these responses down to get your initial thoughts on paper. This will act as your starting point that you’ll use to create an outline and your first draft.
2. Develop an outline.
Next, you’ll want to take the ideas that you’ve identified during the brainstorming process and plug them into an outline that will guide your writing.
An effective outline for your statement of purpose might look something like this:
- An attention-grabbing hook
- A brief introduction of yourself and your background as it relates to your motivation behind applying to graduate school
- Your professional goals as they relate to the program you’re applying to
- Why you’re interested in the specific school and what you can bring to the table
- A brief summary of the information presented in the body that emphasizes your qualifications and compatibility with the school
An outline like the one above will give you a roadmap to follow so that your statement of purpose is well-organized and concise.
3. Write the first draft.
Your statement of purpose should communicate who you are and why you are interested in a particular program, but it also needs to be positioned in a way that differentiates you from other applicants.
Admissions professionals already have your transcripts, resumé, and test scores; the statement of purpose is your chance to tell your story in your own words.
When you begin drafting content, make sure to:
- Provide insight into what drives you , whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both.
- Demonstrate your interest in the school by addressing the unique features of the program that interest you most. For Northeastern, he says, maybe it’s experiential learning; you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry. Or perhaps it’s learning from faculty who are experts in your field of study.
- Be yourself. It helps to keep your audience in mind while writing, but don’t forget to let your personality shine through. It’s important to be authentic when writing your statement to show the admissions committee who you are and why your unique perspective will add value to the program.
4. Edit and refine your work.
Before you submit your statement of purpose:
- Make sure you’ve followed all directions thoroughly , including requirements about margins, spacing, and font size.
- Proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Remember that a statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words. If you’ve written far more than this, read through your statement again and edit for clarity and conciseness. Less is often more; articulate your main points strongly and get rid of any “clutter.”
- Walk away and come back later with a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes your best ideas come when you’re not sitting and staring at your computer.
- Ask someone you trust to read your statement before you submit it.
Making a Lasting Impression
Your statement of purpose can leave a lasting impression if done well, Pierce says. It provides you with the opportunity to highlight your unique background and skills so that admissions professionals understand why you’re the ideal candidate for the program that you’re applying to. If nothing else, stay focused on what you uniquely bring to the classroom, the program, and the campus community. If you do that, you’ll excel.
To learn more tricks and tips for submitting an impressive graduate school application, explore our related Grad School Success articles .
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2017. It has since been updated for thoroughness and accuracy.
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Whether you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree or you want to pivot your career, grad school may be the next logical step in your educational and professional development.
But how do you apply to graduate school so you have the best chance at receiving that coveted acceptance letter? Read on to learn how to submit the perfect graduate school application to impress admissions officers. For information on due dates and a printable timeline, check out our grad school application checklist .
How Grad Schools Evaluate Your Application
The exact criteria for graduate school admissions vary depending on the school and program. Still, there are certain qualifications, including GPA and grades from specific undergraduate courses, that all admissions officers consider. Most graduate programs look for a minimum 3.0 GPA.
A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of at least 318 is considered strong and can help your application. A professional resume with work experience related to your program is often helpful or required. Programs typically ask for letters of recommendation and a graduate school admissions essay as well.
Are You a Good Fit for the Program?
Whichever program you apply for, you must first make sure it’s a good match. Consider the following questions before submitting your application:
- Do you love the field of study the program you’re applying to focuses on?
- Do you have an undergraduate degree or work experience in an area related to your graduate school program of choice?
- Will earning this degree help you advance your career or earning potential?
- Do you have the resources to pay for graduate school, either through your own funds or through loans, grants and scholarships? For more information about this, see our guide on how to pay for graduate school .
Taking time to reflect on these questions can help you decide whether graduate school is right for you. You can also reach out to professors, students and alumni to get a better feel for your prospective program. You might even schedule a tour of the campus before applying.
Do You Have Relevant Internship or Research Experience?
Internships and relevant work experience may not make or break your graduate school application, but they can help set your application apart from the rest. Once you’re in a graduate program, you may be required to complete an internship or research work to graduate.
What Does Your Statement of Purpose Demonstrate?
A statement of purpose or personal statement tells admissions committees more about you. This essay should touch on your interests, especially as they relate to the graduate school program. The statement of purpose should also describe what you can bring to the program and why you want to be a part of it.
What Do Your Letters of Recommendation Demonstrate?
Letters of recommendation are important for graduate school because they show that credible academics and professionals think highly of you and believe you would be a good asset to the program you’re applying to.
An effective letter of recommendation is written by someone who knows you well academically or professionally, such as a professor, mentor or work supervisor. It should include titles of relevant research articles you’ve written, academic awards and honors and relevant academic activities like projects, presentations or research studies.
What Do Your Undergraduate Transcripts Show?
Simply put, official undergraduate transcripts verify that you attended the school you said you did and maintained a GPA that’s consistent with the program’s requirements. Undergraduate transcripts also allow admissions officers to see whether you took courses relevant to your prospective course of study.
How Are Your GRE Scores?
Most graduate school programs require students to take the GRE as part of the application process. An overall score of 318 or higher is considered a good score, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to study and retake the test if needed before your grad school application is due.
Is Your Prior Academic Experience Relevant?
While you don’t always need an undergraduate degree in the same field as the graduate program you’re applying to, admissions officers typically consider relevant undergraduate coursework, research projects and work experience when reviewing applications.
Statement of Purpose Tips
Your statement of purpose gives you the chance to show some individuality and let your personality shine through. You should aim to leave a memorable impression and craft a well-written, concise statement of purpose to boost your application. See our tips below for writing a statement of purpose.
Follow the Prompt Carefully
Be sure to answer all of the questions in the prompt to give admissions officers all the information they need. Additionally, make sure to follow any guidelines for things like style, font and file format. While these factors may seem small, incorrect formatting can lead to your application being disqualified.
This is your chance to tell your story. Write a statement of purpose that only you could write. Does your passion for medicine date back to an injury or illness you had as a child? Did you grow up watching Law & Order and feel inspired? These details remind graduate admission committees that you are a well rounded person with much to offer.
Discuss Your Goals
Aside from how your own personal and career goals relate to the program, you should also touch on how you can contribute to your school or program of choice. Do you plan on collaborating with colleagues or contributing to your institution’s research goals? Make this known in your statement of purpose.
Know Your Audience
What is the culture of the school or program you’re applying to? What does the institution value? Spend some time on its website and social media accounts to find out. You can even reach out to current students and alumni to get a better idea so you can tailor your statement of purpose accordingly.
Proofread and Revise as Needed
Don’t just write your first draft and send it off. After writing it, take some time to sleep on it, then come back and read and revise with fresh eyes. You should also have someone like a professor or tutor read your statement of purpose and provide feedback.
The interview is a big part of the graduate school application process if your program requires one. Make sure to come ready and prepared.
Do Your Research
Read up on the university and program you’re applying to so you can sound knowledgeable and interested during the interview. Answer questions such as, how big is the program or school? What have its graduates gone on to do? What are the program requirements?
You can also read up on any academic articles or research professors in your program have created.
Prepare Questions for Your Interviewer
Remember, this isn’t just about the school interviewing you. You’re also interviewing the program to determine if it’s a good fit for you. What career and network opportunities are available to students and alumni? What about grants and scholarships? Will you be paired with a mentor or an advisor?
Practice With Mock Interviews
Practice makes perfect. Look into common graduate school interview questions, and practice with a professor, classmate or friend. You can even practice solo using these 20 Graduate School Interview Questions .
Bring a Professional Portfolio
Depending on the nature of your work, it may be helpful to bring in a professional portfolio, such as if your speciality is print graphic design. Other subject areas like writing or research lend themselves to online portfolios, which you can send to your interviewers ahead of the scheduled interview.
What Does a Grad School Application Look Like?
In addition to your transcripts, test scores, statement of purpose and portfolio, your graduate school application will require some basic background information about you.
- Full legal name
- Any previous legal names used
- Age and date of birth
- Social Security number
Ethnicity information about applicants and current students is used by the university to see if it is meeting diversity quotas and to share with stakeholders. You may select one particular ethnicity, or choose options like “other,” “multiracial” or “decline to state.”
Scholarships, grants and special services can be available to active-duty and reserve military service members and veterans.
- Current mailing address
- Current phone number
- Current email
- The program you’re applying to
- Any speciality or concentrations available as part of your program
- Specialities in your program that you want to focus on
- Research topics or projects you want to pursue
History of Education
- Undergraduate degree and major
- Academic achievements and awards
Standardized Test Information
- *GRE scores (Check with your program as some may no longer require or accept GRE scores )
- Scores from any other required tests
Deadlines for financial aid often coincide with deadlines for admissions. Make sure to submit the FAFSA to ensure you qualify for as many financial aid resources as possible. Visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information, and check out our guide on how the FAFSA differs for graduate school .
- Relevant work history related to your program
- Internship or research experience related to your program
Do you speak the primary language spoken in the area where your campus is located? Do you speak more than one language? These are things admissions officers will want to know.
- Certifications or special licenses or training
- Special Awards
- Contact information, like phone numbers and emails, for professors, mentors and work supervisors who are willing to provide a reference
When submitting your online application, make sure to upload all required documents so your application will not be disqualified.
- Graduate school application fees can range from around $60 to more than $100. You must pay this fee before you can submit your application.
Confirm and Submit Form
- Finally, make sure to confirm that all your information is correct and all necessary documents are uploaded before you submit your application.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com on Feb. 3. 2023. Author is Ryah Cooley Cole, and Editor is Brenna Swanston.
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The Role of the Essay in a Graduate School Application
The application essay is a critical component in the selection process, whether the essay is for a competitive internship, a graduate fellowship, or admittance to a graduate school program.
The essay or personal statement gives a selection committee its best opportunity to get to know you, how you think and make decisions, ways in which past experiences have been significant or formative, and how you envision your future.
The essay should have a structure: an introductory paragraph, a body that develops key themes, and a conclusion. Try to capture the reader’s interest with your opening sentences and draw the reader into the essay; avoid the temptation to be cute or contrived in writing. There should be a balance between discussion of your experience and future plans. Your essay should reflect your knowledge of the specific program to which you are applying and explain how this course of study will advance your goals and meet your needs. In addition, indicate what you will be able to contribute to the program. The essay is intended to be a focused and well-constructed presentation of your strengths and accomplishments.
Use concrete examples to describe your goals and expectations instead of relying on generalities. Relate experiences that inspired you to continue in your field, achievements that have given you satisfaction and confidence, challenges and unanswered questions that have helped you determine your path.
Answer all questions you have been asked to address. Above all, remember who your readers are and be sure that your statement speaks to their concerns and priorities. If your essay is for graduate school, what are their requirements, what are their goals? If your essay is for a fellowship or internship, who has given the funds? What are their organizational goals? What do they hope to accomplish in making the award? Any person or group offering such opportunities will want to select the individual most likely to give them a good return on their investment. They are looking for someone who will finish the program and go on to be successful in her career, someone who will enrich the experience of her peers and professors in the process.
Start writing early. For applications due in the autumn, prepare first drafts of essays during the summer before. Plan to rewrite and revise your drafts several times, making good use of the suggestions of advisors and professors, and have the essays ready for use in the fall.
Finally, proofread, proofread, proofread. Misspelled words, typos and careless mistakes will overpower the best of essays, and can be the sole cause of a candidate’s elimination from an applicant pool. A successful application requires time for research, planning, and requesting the assistance of faculty and other available resources. The application essay is your opportunity to present yourself as a strong candidate–to show that you know yourself, that you have determined your own goals and a sense of direction, that you understand the action you propose to take, and that you feel confident in this decision.
For further suggestions see Writing Personal Statements Online, by Joe Schall , and "Leave Dr. Seuss Out of It," by Female Science Professor .
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How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay
Published on January 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 23, 2023.
The length of an academic essay varies depending on your level and subject of study, departmental guidelines, and specific course requirements. In general, an essay is a shorter piece of writing than a research paper or thesis .
In most cases, your assignment will include clear guidelines on the number of words or pages you are expected to write. Often this will be a range rather than an exact number (for example, 2500–3000 words, or 10–12 pages). If you’re not sure, always check with your instructor.
In this article you’ll find some general guidelines for the length of different types of essay. But keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity – focus on making a strong argument or analysis, not on hitting a specific word count.
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Essay length guidelines, how long is each part of an essay, using length as a guide to topic and complexity, can i go under the suggested length, can i go over the suggested length, other interesting articles, prevent plagiarism. run a free check..
In an academic essay, the main body should always take up the most space. This is where you make your arguments, give your evidence, and develop your ideas.
The introduction should be proportional to the essay’s length. In an essay under 3000 words, the introduction is usually just one paragraph. In longer and more complex essays, you might need to lay out the background and introduce your argument over two or three paragraphs.
The conclusion of an essay is often a single paragraph, even in longer essays. It doesn’t have to summarize every step of your essay, but should tie together your main points in a concise, convincing way.
The suggested word count doesn’t only tell you how long your essay should be – it also helps you work out how much information and complexity you can fit into the given space. This should guide the development of your thesis statement , which identifies the main topic of your essay and sets the boundaries of your overall argument.
A short essay will need a focused, specific topic and a clear, straightforward line of argument. A longer essay should still be focused, but it might call for a broader approach to the topic or a more complex, ambitious argument.
As you make an outline of your essay , make sure you have a clear idea of how much evidence, detail and argumentation will be needed to support your thesis. If you find that you don’t have enough ideas to fill out the word count, or that you need more space to make a convincing case, then consider revising your thesis to be more general or more specific.
The length of the essay also influences how much time you will need to spend on editing and proofreading .
You should always aim to meet the minimum length given in your assignment. If you are struggling to reach the word count:
- Add more evidence and examples to each paragraph to clarify or strengthen your points.
- Make sure you have fully explained or analyzed each example, and try to develop your points in more detail.
- Address a different aspect of your topic in a new paragraph. This might involve revising your thesis statement to make a more ambitious argument.
- Don’t use filler. Adding unnecessary words or complicated sentences will make your essay weaker and your argument less clear.
- Don’t fixate on an exact number. Your marker probably won’t care about 50 or 100 words – it’s more important that your argument is convincing and adequately developed for an essay of the suggested length.
In some cases, you are allowed to exceed the upper word limit by 10% – so for an assignment of 2500–3000 words, you could write an absolute maximum of 3300 words. However, the rules depend on your course and institution, so always check with your instructor if you’re unsure.
Only exceed the word count if it’s really necessary to complete your argument. Longer essays take longer to grade, so avoid annoying your marker with extra work! If you are struggling to edit down:
- Check that every paragraph is relevant to your argument, and cut out irrelevant or out-of-place information.
- Make sure each paragraph focuses on one point and doesn’t meander.
- Cut out filler words and make sure each sentence is clear, concise, and related to the paragraph’s point.
- Don’t cut anything that is necessary to the logic of your argument. If you remove a paragraph, make sure to revise your transitions and fit all your points together.
- Don’t sacrifice the introduction or conclusion . These paragraphs are crucial to an effective essay –make sure you leave enough space to thoroughly introduce your topic and decisively wrap up your argument.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?
Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.
How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit
You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.
In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.
College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.
For example, the University of Illinois says :
"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."
As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!
Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!
How Flexible Is the Word Limit?
But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?
Can I Go Over the Word Limit?
If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:
First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim down anyways.
If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.
Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!
Can I Go Under the Word Limit?
If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.
However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.
Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.
Don't let this sinister hand stop you from writing everything you have to say!
What If There Is No Word Limit?
Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:
Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.
For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :
"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."
While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."
So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.
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Implicit Length Guideline
Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?
See, for example, this Wellesley supplemental essay prompt :
"When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the "Wellesley 100" is a good place to start. Visit The Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (Not-so-secret tip: The "why" matters to us.)"
There's no page or word limit here, but it does say to respond "in two well-developed paragraphs." This gives you an idea of what's reasonable. "Well-developed" certainly means the paragraphs can be long, but even two long paragraphs shouldn't exceed 500 words or so. That's what I mean by an "implicit" word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.
But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?
There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.
For example, the University of Chicago provides six "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.
However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays:
“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”
So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.
Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length
If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).
In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!
"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"
The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?
The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.
What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!
Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:
If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.
There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.
You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."
If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.
With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!
Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!
Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .
If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!
Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !
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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.
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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
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Articles & Advice > Graduate School > Articles
3 Great Grad School Application Essay Examples
The grad school personal statement is an important part of your application. Here are a few good graduate admission essay examples to inspire you.
Last Updated: Aug 1, 2023
Originally Posted: Jun 15, 2017
Graduate school application essays, personal statements, and letters of intent can be a major hurdle to overcome in the application process. Getting just the right words on paper to convey why you want to go to grad school and the impact you intend to have using your degree is a lot to ask. To help you get some inspiration and tell your story the right way, check out these three essay examples. Every essay here comes from a successful grad school application, and after reading the essay we break down just what makes it good. And you’re going to love their stories.
Daniel Masciello, Juris Doctor
University of Connecticut Class of 2015
T ry. To get. Some. Slee—it’s no use.
It’s 3:00 am, 90 minutes before our day at work in the landfills of rural Thailand is set to begin, and the 60-watt bulb is still shining bright overhead. It is radiant.
Directly on my left is one grown man’s bare armpit; to my right is more of the same. I keep my nose pointed at the ceiling. I can’t lift my arms because I am too big, a Caucasian beetle trying to fit into this Thai ant colony.
I’ve been lying still for the better part of six hours now, unable to determine exactly why my host family insists on leaving the brightest light in the house on all night (to this day, still a mystery). It is not for a child’s sake; I, at 22 years old, am the youngest in the home. I’m also the only American. Five grown men, lined up snugly on a queen-sized mattress, are soundly sleeping while I contemplate excuses for not working in the landfill that day.
Twelve hours later, over sticky rice and “fresh” vegetables (from the landfill), I try to call out some of my bunkmates for being afraid of the dark. Nobody laughs at my jokes, but they don’t stop smiling either. Perhaps they don’t understand my infantile Thai. From what I can understand of them, they enjoy talking about how grumpy I’ve been all day. No sleep for some 60-odd hours and putting in two grueling days in the landfill, filtering through mountains of trash from the nearby city of Khon Kaen, looking for yogurt containers and car batteries in the hot Thai sun—these things can change a man’s general disposition.
But I did wake up and go to work with my host family. No, I was not prepared physically or mentally, nor was I in the best of moods that day. But the smiling way of the Thai people is infectious, and it wasn’t long before I was smiling too that night, stomach full and ready for more...
That was back in the fall of 2008. The study abroad program I was participating in revolved around studying specific issues (damning rivers, mining minerals, razing slums, etc.), staying with a village that was negatively affected by an issue, and then working to help solve the problem. It was not uncommon to have sessions lasting eight or nine hours just to prepare for a town meeting the next day. Free time after exchanges and interviews would be spent working in the fields with the villagers or perhaps working on our program’s publications. It was not your typical study abroad experience. I have yet to learn of another like it.
It was also challenging at times. Thailand changed my view on a lot of things for the better, including what it means to truly work hard. As a waiter back home, it was a routine practice to work 40 hours a week in addition to going to class and studying. Still, sometimes I wonder if I used jobs outside of class as a crutch. I always had the excuse: I have to work to support myself. But so do a lot of people. And for some of those people, like many of the villagers in Thailand, working extra hours is not temporary. It's a way of life.
At the time I'm not sure I truly appreciated the privilege I had of going to college, as my undergraduate GPA might indicate. Part of that disappointing number is that I feel as if I was afraid of putting 100% of my effort into school. If I was to put all my effort in and still get mediocre grades, I would have considered myself a failure. Apparently I couldn’t or refused to handle that. How cowardly, not to mention foolish!
But while I was in Thailand, I developed a confidence in myself that I simply hadn’t been able to locate before. On multiple occasions I tasted the failure that comes with studying complex issues in a foreign land. Each time it tasted horrible. But I worked on these failures.
For example, I nagged my homestay families to help me with my Thai and forced myself to request constructive criticism in a group setting. Through these trials I discovered the sweetest feeling of them all: perseverance. That meal next to the landfill, described above, was one of the most deliciously memorable meals of my life for that same reason. I was exhausted and maybe a little bit grumpy, but I learned to work through it—and smile too.
I am well aware that law school will probably force me to even further revise my definition of hard work and present challenges and setbacks the likes of which I may not have yet experienced. But I would like to face these challenges, and most importantly overcome them, at your school. I hope my letters of recommendation and LSAT score give the indication that I am capable of doing so. This essay, lastly, is a chance for me to convince you that I can and will. I look forward to hearing from you.
Why this essay is great
Try to stop reading this personal statement, we dare you. The introduction grabs you and doesn’t let go. But besides spinning a great yarn that also says a lot about Daniel’s values, this application essay has an important function: it thoughtfully and maturely addresses any concerns the graduate admission committee might have regarding Daniel’s undergraduate academic performance. Showing rather than telling, he depicts a person who is prepared to do the work to overcome obstacles and learn from mistakes. And since he was admitted to the grad program, clearly it worked.
Related: How to Know If Law School Is Right for You
Bridget Sullivan, Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration
Boston College Class of 2017
I did not know higher education existed as a field until I came to college. Despite this, it has surprisingly been the field that has had the largest impact on my college experience. It has given me direction going forward.
College has been my most important experience so far, in that it has allowed me to better understand how I interact with my environment and how others experience the world around them. Without the Student Affairs professionals I have interacted with over the past four years, I would not be where I am today. I hope that in my future as a Student Affairs professional I can give students the great experience I have been privileged to receive. I will take the lessons I have learned and those that I will learn in the future to improve the college experience for many future generations going forward.
I have enjoyed being a Resident Advisor, a Parent Orientation Leader, and an Assistant Resident Director while attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell for the past four years. All of these jobs fall under the Office of Residence Life. These opportunities have been cornerstones of my college education. They have taught me the long-term and transferrable skills of organization, conflict management, and supervision.
I have most enjoyed being an Assistant Resident Director, as I get to work with the Resident Advisors and Resident Director in a more administrative capacity. The ARD works closely with the RD to get the work done and hold RAs accountable. I think my favorite part of being an ARD this year has been working with the RAs to make sure they have the best experience they can, while at the same time making sure they complete their work well and on time. I enjoy helping RAs and other students reach their full potential, and I feel that it is a learning process for me too. The ARD position has shown me how much I value helping others on the path I have set for myself through my experiences with the RAs I supervise.
Because of the ARD role I have been afforded, I have had the opportunity to see how this potential career may play out. I feel confident about my ability to transition to the professional side of the field because the ARD position has already forced me to take on many of these steps. I tested the waters of the potential career in my RA role last year; this year as an ARD has shown me that I know I can succeed.
I am passionate about student affairs and higher education because it is an opportunity to work with college students and help them grow and develop. I truly believe that there isn’t a more rewarding career than one that allows you to help others. This field allows me to assist others every day at a time in their lives when many students need it most. It was my developmental path, and I want to give that support to others.
So far my academics and daily practice have not been linked nor intentional. I am excited to be able to make this so by starting a graduate program in higher education. Understanding my former responsibilities in terms of theory and learning how to turn new theories into practice is a process I cannot wait to begin.
I know the Lynch School of Education can assist me in achieving this goal through their program in Higher Education Administration. The opportunity to study in the Boston area will give me a multitude of professional development opportunities that would be hard to find anywhere else. If I am admitted, I will work hard to maximize my time at the Lynch School and become a young professional who can innovate and improve upon current practices in the field.
This personal statement takes you on a journey, as Bridget discovers her calling as an undergrad, gets all the hands-on experience in it she can, and figures out the perfect way to make it her career: grad school. And not just any grad school—Boston College in particular! There’s no doubt in your mind that she’s going to take advantage of everything BC’s master’s program has to offer, and she has the real-world experience to back her claims up.
Related: Great Alternative Jobs for Education Majors Who Don't Want to Teach
Haviland Johannesson-Forgit, Master of Arts in Arts Administration
Castleton University Class of 2018
While contemplating how I should approach my personal and professional goals and how earning an advanced degree will support them, I came upon my application essay for Goddard College that I wrote close to three years ago:
“Oftentimes, children who lack positive, authoritative figures and emotional support end up making unwise choices that stay with them and induce prejudice and judgment from other people who may be ignorant to what caused these children to make the choices in the first place. This cultural stigmatism that exists in our society often leads to these children being segmented into a disenfranchised group as adults. The misunderstanding and neglect that occurs in communities towards socially disenfranchised children goes against everything that I was raised to take in regard when attempting to understand a person.
I envision my studies reaching children and young adults in many different communities. It is my goal to immerse myself in rural, inner-city, and lower-income communities and meet these children before or in the midst of their time when the decisions they make can influence where their life may lead. I believe that the teachings of dance as a holistic lifestyle will provide outlets of knowledge and self-expression for these children and young adults that will lead them in positive directions.”
In this essay we were expected to write about our intentions and ambitions for our studies; to address the passions that acted as the drive for our work during our attendance at the college as well as after graduation. In returning to this essay, I was pleased to discover that my ambition and dedication to using the performing arts as a source of structure and reliability for youth in this country has not changed. When applying to Goddard College for my undergraduate degree I knew that I would want to continue on to pursue my graduate degree afterwards to enhance myself as a qualified candidate working in my field. Earning my advanced degree will enable me to go forth in the world as a confident and learned individual prepared to create the positive opportunities I envisioned years ago.
While earning my advanced degree, I intend to learn the details and structure that is needed to successfully run arts organizations. The closeness that Castleton University has with the Association for Arts Administration in developing its program for the MA in Arts Administration encourages me; it assures me that the quality and rigor of the program at Castleton is the right fit for my personal and professional aspirations. The efficacy of the program combined with the professional portfolio of projects demonstrating a mastery of skills in a range of areas in the arts and the six-credit culminating internship is exactly what I am looking for in an advanced degree program.
My background in the performing arts is broad. Not only have I have spent many years performing in productions of theater and dance, but I have also devoted my time and learning to other aspects of performance arts, whether it be technical, political, or social. My time attending Goddard College has proven to be extremely educational in training me in areas of social justice and cultural realizations of privilege, class, and human rights. With an accomplished and culturally diverse faculty and staff, the College requires its students to incorporate this training into their degrees, which makes for globally conscious citizens.
What I stand to bring to Castleton University’s campus is a vibrant love for the performing arts accompanied by acute social awareness training. My dedication to improving myself as an individual in my career is resolute; earning my advanced degree is vital to my continuing as a professional in a field so important to the foundation of our culture. I look forward to the opportunity of earning my Master of Arts in Arts Administration at Castleton University.
Haviland draws a remarkable line from her undergraduate studies and goals to the present day . She’s been on a clear path for a long time, and grad school has always been part of the plan and the logical next step for her career. Her unwavering commitment to arts education and dance as a means for furthering social justice will serve her well professionally—and it probably impressed the graduate admission folks too. Haviland also references specific features of Castleton University’s graduate program, showing she’s genuinely interested in the school and its unique strengths.
Related: Careers for People Who Want to Use Their Creativity
We hope these essay examples helped you get a better idea of where to take your grad school personal statements. The most important part of writing your essay is ensuring every word you put on the page is authentically you and true to your goals. You can write a great essay and get into a good grad school; just give yourself the time and flexibility by starting early and focusing on your story. Good luck!
Need help getting the ball rolling on your graduate essays? Check out these Good Strategies for Writing Grad School Personal Essays from the experts at GradSchools.com.
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Ideal College Application Essay Length
Can you go over the Common App length limit? How long should your essay be?
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The 2019-20 version of the Common Application has an essay length limit of 650 words and a minimum length of 250 words. This limit has remained unchanged for the past several years. Learn how important this word limit is and how to make the most of your 650 words.
Key Takeaways: Common Application Essay Length
- Your Common Application essay must be between 250 words and 650 words.
- Don't assume shorter is better. A college requires an essay because they want to learn more about you.
- Never go over the limit. Show that you can follow instructions and that you know how to edit.
How Strict Is the Limit?
Many wonder whether they can go over the limit, even if only by a few words. What if you feel that you need more space to communicate all of your ideas clearly?
650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passions, and writing ability to the people in admissions offices—and the title and any explanatory notes are also included in this limit. The holistic admissions processes of most schools prove that colleges really do want to get to know the person behind your test scores and grades . Since the essay is one of the best places for showcasing who you are, is it worth it to go over?
Most experts recommend adhering to the limit. The Common Application will even prompt its applicants if they exceed the word count to prevent them from going over. Most admissions officers have stated that, while they will read all essays in their entirety, they are less inclined to feel that essays over 650 accomplish what they set out to do. In short: any of the prompts can and should be answered in 650 words or fewer.
Choosing the Right Length
If everything from 250 to 650 words is fair game, what length is best? Some counselors advise students to keep their essays on the shorter end, but not all colleges place the most value in succinctness.
The personal essay is the most powerful tool at your disposal for showing readers your personality without meeting them. If you've chosen a focus that reveals something meaningful about you, you're probably going to need more than 250 words to create a thoughtful, introspective, and effective essay. However, it isn't essential to hit the 650 mark, either.
From the Admissions Desk
"There is no need to meet the full word count  if the essay captures what the student would like to share. Visually, you want to make sure the essay looks complete and robust. As a general rule, I would suggest the essay be between 500-650 words."
–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania
Each of the Common App essay prompts creates different writing challenges, but no matter which option you choose, your essay should be detailed and analytical, and it should provide a window into some important dimension of your interests, values, or personality. Ask yourself: Will the admissions officers know me better after reading my essay? Chances are, an essay in the 500- to 650-word range will accomplish this task better than a shorter essay
In general, the length of an essay does not determine its effectiveness. If you have answered the prompt in its entirety and feel proud of your work, there is no need to stress about any particular word count. Do not pad your essay with filler content and tautologies to stretch it out, and on the flip side, don't leave important sections out in the interest of keeping the essay brief.
Why You Shouldn't Go Over the Essay Length Limit
Some colleges will allow you to exceed the limit set by the Common Application, but you should avoid writing more than 650 words in all cases for the following reasons:
- College students adhere to guidelines : If a professor assigns a five-page paper, they don't want a 10-page paper and you don't have 55 minutes to take 50-minute exams. The message that you send to a college when you write a powerful essay in 650 words or fewer, even when they accept longer submissions, is that you can succeed under any conditions.
- Essays that are too long can leave a negative impression: Essays over 650 may make you appear over-confident. The word counts have been established by experts for a reason and writing more than you are allowed might make it seem like you think what you have to say is more important than other applicants, who have to follow the rules. Avoid seeming self-important by stopping yourself from going overboard.
- Good writers know how to edit and cut : Any college writing professor would tell you that most essays become stronger when they are trimmed. There are almost always words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs that don't contribute to an essay and can be omitted. As you revise any essay you write, ask yourself which parts help you to make your point and which get in the way—everything else can go. Use these 9 style tips to tighten up your language.
College admissions officers will read essays that are too long but may consider them to be rambling, unfocused, or poorly-edited. Remember that your essay is one of many and your readers will wonder why yours is longer when it doesn't need to be.
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- Common Application Essay Option 2 Tips: Learning from Failure
- How to Write a Great College Application Essay Title
- Should an Application Essay Be Single-Spaced or Double-Spaced?
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How to Make Your Admission Essay Memorable
- Post author By Ahmed Mohamed
- Post date November 2, 2023
Most learning institutions analyze high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, and extracurricular activities when assessing student’s admission credentials. However, recent admission committees are adopting the ‘test-blind’ to add more weight to the application process.
What does this mean for applicants? It means you must dig deeper into your writing skills to bring out an authentic and well-thought-out essay.
The admission committee sorts through thousands of applications. Hence, standing out from the rest and leaving an impression takes effort. There’s much more to reveal to the admission committee than your test scores.
This post underlines the importance of crafting a stellar admission essay that evokes emotions for your audience.
What Is Important?
Part of your college application process involves delivering an essay that describes your persona. It is an opportunity for any applicant to showcase a different side to themselves far from their GPAs and test scores.
It gives the admission committee a glimpse into the applicant’s aspirations, objectives, and goals. An applicant must showcase their fortitude towards undertaking the applied course for study.
The content depends on the question posed by the admission committee. Most prompts involve divulging information about one’s past experiences. What drives you? What do you hope to achieve? Why choose this specific school?
These are some important questions an applicant must answer to the admission committee. Also, the admission committee likes it when applicants actively participate in the community. Remember to mention your work at the children’s home or community shelter for bonus points.
Professional Strategies to Employ
The high level of competition for application spots at the institution makes the writing process nervy. Here are professional tips from experts to carve a name for yourself with the admission committee:
Generic responses often bore the admission committee. They need something new and exciting that reflects their true self. Inauthenticity could be using overly flowery language with fluff that irritates your audience.
Choose an interesting subject about your life and naturally bring out experiences and how they shaped your current self. Ensure to highlight pan points that showcase your strengths and be vulnerable to note your weaknesses.
2. Attention-Grabbing Statements
The admission committee is probably accustomed to reading similar essays from other applicants. Take time to grab their attention within the first few sentences. Start with a bold statement or a quote that invokes curiosity.
Start with a clear and precise thesis statement that guides the rest of the essay. For storytelling purposes, start with an intro that naturally flows with the main agenda behind the writing.
Stay calm while trying to grab the attention. Could you keep it simple but unique? A good and solid introductory part will entice the reader to finish the rest of the document.
3. Be Unique
Imagine a thousand applicants thinking similarly about how to approach this essay. It means a thousand applications with similarities. It means your chances of acceptance get lower than expected.
Rather, try a unique approach to answering prompts. Adopt a new perspective on how to view the assignment on hand. Most applicants will choose to glorify their past life experiences and how they molded them. What about speaking about your losses and how they changed you?
The element of surprise is a rare talent most writers don’t possess. You can buy research papers online to find unique ways top writers like J.K Rowling, Leo Tolstoy, and Neil Gaiman brought out the element of surprise when reading a piece.
4. Avoid Common Themes and Topics
Over the years, most applicants have eaten into similar topics to get into the good books of the admission committee. Some exhausted topics and themes overly used include sports, immigration, obstacles/success, and volunteer stories.
It’s about more than avoiding these themes while writing completely. Moreover, it’s about avoiding the same trajectory used in these themes to drive home the message.
For example, facing life challenges such as poverty at a young age and growing up intending to change the scenario seems a sad topic. However, it’s a rerun strategy most applicants employ many times.
5. Keep the Reader in Mind
Often, we get so engrossed with our writing that we need to remember our intended audience. Picture an admission board seated on a panel sorting through thousands of applications with tight deadlines. Picture the pressure they face turning down prospective applicants based on their writing.
It gives you an in-depth look at the intense vetting process the board goes through. Hence, make it easy for the board by ticking all the expected boxes within the application. Answer the prompt correctly, and edit for any grammatical or spelling errors.
Literary Devices to Add to Your Document
One new technique to freshen up your document is the addition of literary devices. Literary devices attract your readers and catch their attention. Here are some popular literary devices to include in your essay:
Symbolism is the usage of abstract concepts or objects to represent ideas. Adopt symbolism in your essay to represent the essay’s main theme. These symbols help in conveying your main message to your readers.
Flashbacks are essential in transporting your reader from the present mode to past events. It helps the admission committee better understand yourself and your current personality. It helps them gauge your personal goals, motives, and objectives.
Incorporating dialogue into your essay creates a sense of suspense while transporting your main message within the essay. Adopt the technique strategically and avoid coming off redundant. Make it precise and ensure it fits the context within the application process.
Quotes are essential to catch your readers’ attention, especially during the introductory sentences. Use famous quotes from important people in your life. It can be idols, family, or friends. Make it powerful, original, and blend with the context of the document. However, avoid going overboard with overquoting.
The fear of failure often limits our creativity. Therefore, don’t think about the possible outcomes after sending your application. Countercheck each parameter and ensure you put your best foot forward. Other opportunities are available, which should encourage you to try again.
- Main content
Yes, ChatGPT can help with your college admissions essay. Here's what you need to do to stay within the rules.
- Students who use tools like ChatGPT to write their college essays need to walk a fine line.
- Colleges will likely penalize students who submit completely AI-generated applications.
- Using AI to edit or draft the essays may be acceptable though, a tutoring company founder says.
The education sector has had a rough ride with generative AI.
After the release of ChatGPT, some colleges and schools were quick to put a blanket ban on the bot when students began using it to write their essays. Professors and teachers were left with the difficult task of navigating the new concept of AI plagiarism.
Now, several colleges have changed their tune and are encouraging students and staff to use generative AI as a tool — as long as they don't use it to cheat. However, the guidance is still pretty vague, especially when it comes to admissions and college essays.
"The landscape is shifting, but colleges are not unified in their approach to GPT," Adam Nguyen, founder of tutoring company Ivy Link , told Insider. "If you look across the landscape of college admissions, especially elite college admissions, there are no clear rules on whether you could use GPT or not."
In February, I tested the chatbot's ability to write college application essays . The results were relatively successful , with two private admissions tutors agreeing the essays definitely passed for ones written by a real student and probably would have had a shot at most colleges, but probably not the most selective institutions.
There are telltale signs when an entire essay is AI-generated, Nguyen said. For example, there tends to be a lot of repetition, and the essays are generally mediocre.
"If an essay is clearly written by AI, I think they will penalize the student and that application," Nguyen said.
While it's clear students should be writing their own work, it's less clear if students are allowed to use the tech to help them draft or edit essays.
As colleges grudgingly accept that AI is not going anyway, Nguyen said there's a fine line for students to walk.
"If you fill in the details, restructure the essay, and provide the specific language and sentences, that will make the essay your own," he said. "I think many colleges would be fine with that."
He continued, "I would suggest not using it as a default. If you're really stuck, you could use it to start." He suggested that, as a general rule, at least 80% of the essays needed to be edited and changed to be on the safe side.
"If an essay's really good, it won't raise any suspicion, and I don't think most colleges will care that you use GPT to start, as long as they can't tell either," he added.
Watch: What is ChatGPT, and should we be afraid of AI chatbots?
The Undue Burden the Medical School Application Process Places on Low-Income Latinos
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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
The demographic of physicians in the United States has failed to include a proportionate population of Latinos in the United States. In what follows, I shall argue that the medical school admission process places an undue burden on low-income Latino applicants. Hence, the underrepresentation of Latinos in medical schools is an injustice. This injustice relates to the poor community health of the Latino community. Health disparities such as diabetes, HIV infection, and cancer mortality are higher amongst the Latino community. The current representation of Latino medical students is not representative of those in the United States.
The demographic of physicians in the United States has failed to include a proportionate number of Latinos, meaning people of Latin American origin. Medical schools serve as the gatekeepers to the medical field, and they can alter the profession based on whom they admit. With over 60 million Latinos in the United States, people of Latin American origin comprise the largest minority group in the nation.  In 2020-2021, only 6.7 percent of total US medical school enrollees and only 4 percent of medical school leadership identified as Latino.  Latino physicians can connect to a historically marginalized community that faces barriers including language, customs, income, socioeconomic status, and health literacy. I argue that the medical school admissions process places an undue burden on low-income Latino applicants. This paper explores the underrepresentation of Latinos in medical schools as an injustice. A further injustice occurs as the barriers to medical education result in fewer Latino doctors to effectively deliver health care and preventive health advice to their communities in a culturally competent way.
I. Latino Community Health Data
The terms Latino and Hispanic have largely been considered interchangeable. US government departments, such as the US Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), define Hispanic people as those with originating familial ties to native Spanish-speaking countries, most of whom are from Latin America. The term Latino is more inclusive because it refers to all of those with strong originating ties to countries in Latin America, including those coming from countries such as Brazil and Belize who are not native Spanish speakers. Throughout this work, I refer to the term Latino because it is more inclusive, although the data retrieved from US government departments may refer to the population as Hispanic. “Low-income” refers to the qualifying economic criteria for the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program Poverty Guidelines.  The AAMC Fee Assistance Program is designed to help individuals who do not have the financial means to pay the total costs of applying to medical school. For this paper, low-income refers to those who qualify for this program.
The US government gathers data about Latino community health and its health risks. The Latino community has a higher poverty rate than the non-Hispanic white community.  Latino community health has long trailed that of white people collectively. For example, the Latino community experiences higher levels of preventable diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and hepatitis, than the non-Hispanic white community does. 
The CDC collects data about Latino community health and provides statistics to the public. Latinos in the United States trail only non-Hispanic blacks in prevalence of obesity. The Latino adult obesity rates are 45.7 percent for males and 43.7 percent for females.  Of the 1.2 million people infected with HIV in the United States, 294,200 are Latino.  The infection rate of chlamydia is 392.6 per 100,000 ― 1.9 times the rate in the non-Hispanic white population.  The tuberculosis incidence rate is eight times higher than that of non-Hispanic white people at 4.4 per 100,000.  Furthermore, Latinos have the third highest death rate for hepatitis C among all races and ethnic groups.  The prevalence of total diabetes, diagnosed and undiagnosed, among adults aged 18 and older also remains higher than that of non-Hispanic whites at 14.7 percent compared to 11.9 percent. 
The high disease rate evidences the poor health of the community. Furthermore, 19 percent of Latinos in the United States remain uninsured.  Almost a quarter of the Latino population in the United States lives in poverty.  The high incidence of disease, lack of insurance, and high poverty rate create a frail health status for the Latino community in the United States. The medical conditions seen are largely preventable, and the incident rates can be lowered with greater investments in Latino community health. Considering the health disparities between Latino and non-Hispanic White people, there is an ethical imperative to provide better medical care and guidance to the Latino community.
II. Ethical and Practical Importance of Increasing the Number of Latino Physicians
Minorities respond more positively to patient-physician interactions and are more willing to undergo preventative healthcare when matched with a physician of their racial or ethnic background.  Latino medical doctors may lead to an improvement in overall community health through improved communication and trusting relationships. Patient-physician racial concordance leads to greater patient satisfaction with their physicians.  Identifying with the ethnicity of a physician may lead to greater confidence in the physician-patient relationship, resulting in more engagement on the patient’s behalf. A randomized study regarding African American men and the race of their attending physician found an increase in requests for preventative care when assigned to a black doctor.  Although the subjects were African American men, the study has implications applicable to other minority racial and ethnic groups.
The application process is unjust for low-income Latinos. The low matriculation of Latinos in medical schools represents a missed opportunity to alleviate the poor community health of the Latino population in the United States. Medical school also would create an opportunity to address health issues that plague the Latino community. Becoming a physician allows low-income Latinos to climb the social ladder and enter the spaces in health care that have traditionally been closed off to them.
Nonwhite physicians significantly serve underserved communities.  Increasing the number of Latino doctors can boost their presence, potentially improving care for underserved individuals. Teaching physicians cultural competence is not enough to address the health disparities the Latino community faces. Latino physicians are best equipped to understand the healthcare needs of low-income Latinos. I contend that reforming the application process represents the most straightforward method to augment the number of Latino physicians who wish to work in predominantly Latino or diverse communities, thereby improving healthcare for the Latino community.
III. Cultural Tenets Affecting Healthcare Interactions
“Poor cultural competence can lead to decreased patient satisfaction, which may cause the patient not to attend future appointments or seek further care.”  Latino community health is negatively affected when medical professionals misinterpret cultural beliefs. Cultural tenets like a reservation towards medication, a deep sense of respect for the physician, and an obligation to support the family financially and through advocacy affect how Latinos seek and use the healthcare system. 
First, the Latino population's negative cultural beliefs about medication add a barrier to patient compliance. It is highlighted that fear of dependence upon medicine leads to trouble with medication regimens.  The fear stems from the negative perception of addiction in the Latino community. Taking as little medication as possible avoids the chance of addiction occurring, which is why many take the prescribed medicine only until they feel healthier, regardless of the prescribing regimen. Some would rather not take any medication because of the deep-rooted fear. Physicians must address this concern by communicating the importance of patient compliance to remedy the health issue. Explaining that proper use of the medication as prescribed will ensure the best route to alleviate the condition and minimize the occurrence of dependence. Extra time spent addressing concerns and checking for comprehension may combat the negative perception of medication.
Second, the theme of respeto, or respect, seems completely harmless to most people. After all, how can being respectful lead to bad health? This occurs when respect is understood as paternalism. Some patients may relinquish their decision-making to the physician. The physician might not act with beneficence, in this instance, because of the cultural dissonance in the physician-patient relationship that may lead to medical misinterpretation. A well-meaning physician might not realize that the patient is unlikely to speak up about their goals of care and will follow the physician’s recommendations without challenging them. That proves costly because a key aspect of the medical usefulness of a patient’s family history is obtaining it through dialogue. The Latino patient may refrain from relaying health concerns because of the misconceived belief that it’s the doctor’s job to know what to ask. Asking the physician questions may be considered a sign of disrespect, even if it applies to signs, symptoms, feelings, or medical procedures the patient may not understand.  Respeto is dangerous because it restricts the patients from playing an active role in their health. Physicians cannot derive what medical information may be relevant to the patient without their cooperation. And physicians without adequate cultural competency may not know they need to ask more specific questions. Cultural competency may help, but a like-minded physician raised similarly would be a more natural fit.
“A key component of physician-patient communication is the ability of patients to articulate concerns, reservations, and lack of understanding through questions.”  As a patient, engaging with a physician of one’s cultural background fortifies a strong physician-patient relationship. Latino physicians are in the position to explain to the patients that respeto is not lost during a physician-patient dialogue. In turn, the physician can express that out of their value of respeto, and the profession compels them to place the patient’s best interest above all. This entails physicians advocating on behalf of the patients to ask questions and check for comprehension, as is required to obtain informed consent. Latino physicians may not have a cultural barrier and may already organically understand this aspect of their patient’s traditional relationship with physicians. The common ground of respeto can be used to improve the health of the Latino community just as it can serve as a barrier for someone from a different background.
Third, in some Latino cultures, there is an expectation to contribute to the family financially or in other ways and, above all, advocate on the family’s behalf. Familial obligations entail more than simply translating or accompanying family members to their appointments. They include actively advocating for just treatment in terms of services. Navigating institutions, such as hospitals, in a foreign landscape proves difficult for underrepresented minorities like Latinos who are new to the United States. These difficulties can sometimes lead to them being taken advantage of, as they might not fully understand their rights, the available resources, or the standard procedures within these institutions. The language barrier and unfamiliar institutional policies may misinterpret patients’ needs or requests. Furthermore, acting outside of said institution’s policy norms may be erroneously interpreted as actions of an uncooperative patient leading to negative interactions between the medical staff and the Latino patient.
The expectation of familial contribution is later revisited as it serves as a constraint to the low-income Latino medical school applicant. Time is factored out to meet these expectations, and a moral dilemma to financially contribute to the family dynamic rather than delay the contribution to pursue medical school discourages Latinos from applying.
IV. How the Medical School Admission Process is Creating an Undue Burden for Low-Income Latino Applicants
Applying a bioethics framework to the application process highlights its flaws. Justice is a central bioethical tenet relevant to the analysis of the MD admissions process. The year-long medical school application process begins with the primary application. The student enters information about the courses taken, completes short answer questions and essays, and uploads information about recommenders. Secondary applications are awarded to some medical students depending on the institutions’ policies. Some schools ask all applicants for secondary applications, while others select which applicants to send secondary requests. Finally, interviews are conducted after a review of both primary and secondary applications. This is the last step before receiving an admissions decision.
The medical school application process creates undue restrictions against underserved communities. It is understood that matriculating into medical school and becoming a doctor should be difficult. The responsibilities of a physician are immense, and the consequences of actions or inactions may put the patients’ lives in jeopardy. Medical schools should hold high standards because of the responsibility and expertise required to provide optimal healthcare. However, I argue that the application process places an undue burden on low-income Latino applicants that is not beneficial to optimal health care. The burden placed on low-income Latino applicants through the application process is excessive and not necessary to forge qualified medical students.
The financial aspect of the medical school application has made the profession virtually inaccessible to the working class. The medical school application proves costly because of the various expenses, including primary applications, secondary applications, and interview logistics. There is financial aid for applications, but navigating some aid to undertake test prep, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the travel for interviews proves more difficult. Although not mandatory, prep courses give people a competitive edge.  The MCAT is one of the key elements of an application, and many medical schools will not consider applications that do not reach their score threshold. This practically makes the preparatory courses mandatory for a competitive score. The preparatory courses themselves cost in the thousands of dollars. There has been talk about adjusting the standardized test score requirements for applicants from medically underserved backgrounds. I believe the practice of holding strict cutoffs for MCAT scores is detrimental to low-income Latino applicants, especially considering the average MCAT scores for Latinos trail that of white people. The American Association of Medical Colleges’ recent data for the matriculating class of 2021 illustrates the wide gap in MCAT scores: Latino applicants average 500.2, and Latino matriculants average 506.6, compared to white applicants, who average 507.5 and white matriculants, who average 512.7.  This discrepancy suggests that considerations beyond scores do play some role in medical school matriculation. However, the MCAT scores remain a predominant factor, and there is room to value other factors more and limit the weight given to scores. The practice of screening out applicants based solely on MCAT scores impedes low-income Latino applicants from matriculating into medical school. Valuing the MCAT above all other admissions criteria limits the opportunities for those from underserved communities, who tend to score lower on the exam. One indicator of a potentially great physician may be overcoming obstacles or engaging in scientific or clinical experiences. There are aspects of the application where the applicant can expand on their experiences, and the personal statement allows them to showcase their passion for medicine. These should hold as much weight as the MCAT. The final indicator of a good candidate should not solely rest on standardized tests.
There is a cost per medical school that is sent to the primary application. The average medical school matriculant applies to about 16 universities, which drives up the cost of sending the applications.  According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the application fee for the first school is $170, and each additional school is an additional $42. Sending secondary applications after the initial application is an additional cost that ranges by university. The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), the primary application portal for Medical Doctorate schools in the United States and Canada, offers the Fee Assistance Program (FAP) to aid low-income medical school applicants. The program reduces the cost of the MCAT from $325 to $130, includes a complimentary Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) subscription, and fee waivers for one AMCAS application covering up to 20 schools.  The program is an important aid for low-income Latino students who would otherwise not be able to afford to send multiple applications. Although the aid is a great resource, there are other expenses of the application process that the program cannot cover.
For a low-income applicant, the burden of the application cost is felt intensely. A study analyzing the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) data for applicants and matriculants from 2014 to 2019 revealed an association between income and acceptance into medical school. They state, “Combining all years, the likelihood of acceptance into an MD program increased stepwise by income. The adjusted rate of acceptance was 24.32 percent for applicants with income less than $50 000, 27.57 percent for $50 000 - $74 999, 29.90 percent for $75 000 - $124 999, 33.27 percent for $125 000 - $199 999, and 36.91 percent for $200,000 or greater.”  It becomes a discouraging factor when it is difficult to obtain the necessary funds.
The interview process for medical schools may prove costly because of travel, lodging, and time. In-person interviews may require applicants to travel from their residence to other cities or states. The applicant must find their own transportation and housing during the interview process, ranging from a single day to multiple days. Being granted multiple interviews becomes bittersweet for low-income applicants because they are morally distraught, knowing the universities are interested yet understanding the high financial cost of the interviews. The expense of multiple interviews can impede an applicant from progressing in the application process. Medical schools do not typically cover travel expenses for the interview process.
Only 4 percent of medical school faculty identify as Latino.  The medical school admission board members reviewing the application lack Latino representation.  Because of this, it is extremely difficult for a low-income Latino applicant to portray hardships that the board members would understand. Furthermore, the section to discuss any hardships only allows for 200 words. This limited space makes it extremely difficult to explain the nuances of navigating higher education as a low-income Latino. Explaining those difficulties is then restricted to the interview process. However, that comes late in the application process when most applicants have been filtered out of consideration. The lack of diversity among the board members, combined with the minimal space to explain hardships or burdens, impedes a connection to be formed between the Latino applicants and the board members. It is not equitable that this population cannot relate to their admissions reviewers because of cultural barriers.
Gatekeeping clinical experience inadvertently favors higher socioeconomic status applicants. Most medical schools require physician shadowing or clinical work, which can be difficult to obtain with no personal connections to the field. Using clinical experience on the application is another way that Latinos are disadvantaged compared to people who have more professional connections or doctors in the family and social circles. The already competitive market for clinical care opportunities is reduced by nepotism, which does not work in favor of Latino applicants. Yet some programs are designed to help low-income students find opportunities, such as Johns Hopkins’ Careers in Science and Medicine Summer Internship Program, which provides clinical experience and health professions mentoring.  Without social and professional ties to health care professionals, they are forced to enter a competitive job and volunteer market in clinical care and apply to these tailored programs not offered at all academic institutions.
While it is not unique to Latinos, the time commitment of the application process is especially harsh on low-income students because they have financial burdens that can determine their survival. Some students help their families pay for food, rent, and utilities, making devoting time to the application process more problematic.
As noted earlier, Latino applicants may also have to set aside time to advocate for their families. Because the applicants tend to be more in tune with the dominant American culture, they are often assigned the family advocate role. They must actively advocate for their family members' well-being. The role of a family advocate, with both its financial and other supportive roles ascribed to low-income Latino applicants, is an added strain that complicates the medical school application. As a member of a historically marginalized community, one must be proactive to ensure that ethical treatment is received. Ordinary tasks such as attending a doctor's appointment or meeting with a bank account manager may require diligent oversight. Applicants must ensure the standard of service is applied uniformly to their family as it is to the rest of the population. This applies to business services and healthcare.
It can be discouraging to approach a field that does not have many people from your background. The lack of representation emphasizes the applicant's isolation going through the process. There is not a large group of Latinos in medicine to look to for guidance.  The group cohesiveness that many communities experience through a rigorous process is not established among low-income Latino applicants. They may feel like outsiders to the profession. Encountering medical professionals of similar backgrounds gives people the confidence to pursue the medical profession.
V. Medical School Admission Data
This section will rely on the most recent MD medical school students, the 2020-2021 class. The data includes demographic information such as income and ethnicity. The statistics used in this section were retrieved from scholarly peer-reviewed articles and the Medical School Admission Requirement (MSAR) database. Both sources of data are discussed in more detail throughout the section. The data reveals that only 6.7 percent of medical students for the 2020-2021 school year identify as Latino. 
The number of Latino students in medical school is not proportional to the Latino community in the United States. While Latinos comprise almost 20 percent of the US population (62.1 million), they comprise only 6.7 percent of the medical student population.  Below are three case studies of medical schools in cities with a high Latino population.
VI. Medical School Application Process Case Studies
a) New York University Grossman School of Medicine is situated in Manhattan, where a diverse population of Latinos reside. The population of the borough of Manhattan is approximately 1,629,153, with 26 percent of the population identifying as Latino.  As many medical schools do, Grossman School of Medicine advertises an MD Student Diversity Recruitment program. The program, entitled Prospective MD Student Liaison Program, is aimed such that “students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine are welcomed and supported throughout their academic careers.”  The program intervenes with underrepresented students during the interview process of the medical school application. All students invited to interviews can participate in the Prospective MD Student Liaison Program. They just need to ask to be part of it. That entails being matched with a current medical student in either the Black and Latinx Student Association (BALSA) or LGBTQMed who will share their experiences navigating medical school.
Apart from the liaison program, NYU participates in the Science Technology Entry Program (STEP), which provides academic guidance to middle and high school students who are underrepresented minorities.  With the set programs in place, one would expect to find a significantly larger proportion of Latino medical students in the university.
The Medical School Admission Requirement (MSAR) database compiled extensive data about participants in the medical school; the data range from tuition to student body demographics. Of the admitted medical students in 2021, only 16 out of 108 identified as Latino, despite the much larger Latino population of New York.  Furthermore, only 4 percent of the admitted students classify themselves as being from a disadvantaged status.  The current efforts to increase medical school diversity are not producing adequate results at NYU. Although the Latino representation in this medical school may be higher than that in others, it does not reflect the number of Latinos in Manhattan.
The Prospective MD Student Liaison Program intervenes at a late stage of the medical school application process. It would be more beneficial for a program to cover the entire application process. The lack of Latino medical students makes it difficult for prospective students to seek advice from Latino students. Introducing low-income Latino applicants to enrolled Latino medical students would serve as a guiding tool throughout the application process. An early introduction could encourage the applicants to apply and provide a resourceful ally in the application process when, in many circumstances, there would be none. Latino medical students can share their experiences of overcoming cultural and social barriers to enter medical school.
b) The Latino population in Philadelphia is over 250,000, constituting about 15 percent of the 1.6 million inhabitants.  According to MSAR, the cohort of students starting at Drexel University College of Medicine, located in Philadelphia, in 2021 was only 7.6 percent Latino.  18 percent of matriculated students identify as having disadvantaged status, while 21 percent identify as coming from a medically underserved community. 
Drexel University College of Medicine claims that “Students who attend racially and ethnically diverse medical schools are better prepared to care for patients in a diverse society.”  They promote diversity with various student organizations within the college, including the following: Student National Medical Association (SNMA), Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), Drexel Black Doctors Network, LGBT Medical Student Group, and Drexel Mentoring and Pipeline Program (DMAPP).
The Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion of the College of Medicine offers support groups for underrepresented medical students. The support offered at Drexel occurs at the point of matriculation, not for prospective students. The one program that does seem to be a guide for prospective students is the Drexel Pathway to Medical School program. Drexel Pathway to Medical School is a one-year master’s program with early assurance into the College of Medicine and may serve as a gateway for prospective Latino Students.  The graduate program is tailored for students who are considered medically underserved or socioeconomically disadvantaged and have done well in the traditional pre-medical school coursework. It is a competitive program that receives between 500 and 700 applicants for the 65 available seats.
The assurance of entry into medical school makes the Drexel Pathway to Medical School a beneficial program in aiding Latino representation in medicine. Drexel sets forth minimum requirements for the program that show the school is willing to consider students without the elite scores and grades required of many schools. MCAT scores must be in the 25th percentile or higher, and the overall or science GPA must be at least 2.9.  The appealing factor of this program is its mission to attract medically underserved students. This is a tool to increase diversity in medical school. Prospective low-income Latino students can view this as a graduate program tailored to communities like theirs. However, this one-year program is not tuition-free.
It may be tempting to assume that patients prefer doctors with exceptional academic records. There's an argument against admitting individuals with lower test scores into medical schools, rooted in the belief that this approach does not necessarily serve the best interests of health care. The argument asserts that the immense responsibility of practicing medicine should be entrusted to the most qualified candidates. Programs like the Drexel Pathway to Medical School are designed to address the lower academic achievements often seen in underrepresented communities. Their purpose is not to admit underqualified individuals into medical school but to bridge the educational gap, helping these individuals take the necessary steps to become qualified physicians.
c) The University of California San Francisco School of Medicine reports that 23 percent of its first-year class identifies as Latino, while 34 percent consider themselves disadvantaged.  The Office of Diversity and Outreach is concerned with increasing the number of matriculants from underserved communities.
UCSF has instilled moral commitments and conducts pipeline and outreach programs to increase the diversity of its medical school student body. The Differences Matter Initiative that the university has undertaken is a complex years-long restructuring of the medical school aimed at making the medical system equitable, diverse, and inclusive.  The five-phase commitment includes restructuring the leadership of the medical school, establishing anti-oppression and anti-racism competencies, and critically analyzing the role race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation play in medicine. UCSF offers a post-baccalaureate program specifically tailored to disadvantaged and underserved students. The program’s curriculum includes MCAT preparation, skills workshops, science courses, and medical school application workshops.  The MCAT preparation and medical school application workshops serve as a great tool for prospective Latino applicants.
UCSF seems to do better than most medical schools regarding Latino medical students. San Francisco has a population of 873,965, of which 15.2 percent are Latino.  The large population of Latino medical students indicates that the school’s efforts to increase diversity are working. The 23 percent Latino matriculating class of 2021 better represents the number of Latinos in the United States, which makes up about a fifth of the population. With this current data, it is important to closely dissect the efforts UCSF has taken to increase diversity in its medical school. Their Differences Matter initiative instills a commitment to diversifying their medical school. As mentioned, the school's leadership has been restructuring to include a diverse administrative body. This allows low-income Latino applicants to relate to the admissions committee reviewing their application. With a hopeful outlook, the high percentage of Latino applicants may reflect comprehension of the application process and the anticipated medical school atmosphere and rigor among Latino applicants and demonstrate that the admissions committee understands the applicants. However, there are still uncertainties about the demographics of the Latino student population in the medical school. Although it is a relatively high percentage, it is necessary to decipher which proportion of those students are low-income Latino Americans. UCSF School of Medicine can serve as a model to uplift the Latino community in a historically unattainable profession.
VII. Proposed Reform for Current Medical School Application
One reform would be toward the reviewing admissions committee, which has the power to change the class composition. By increasing the diversity of the admissions committee itself, schools can give minority applicants a greater opportunity to connect to someone with a similar background through their application. It would address low-income Latino applicants feeling they cannot “get personal” in their application.
These actions are necessary because it is not just to have a representative administration for only a portion of the public. Of the three medical schools examined, the University of California San Francisco has the highest percentage of Latino applicants in their entering class. They express an initiative to increase diversity within their medical school leadership via the Differences Matter initiative. This active role in increasing diversity within the medical school leadership may play a role in UCSF’s high percentage of Latino matriculants. That serves as an important step in creating an equitable application process for Latino applicants.
An important consideration is whether the medical school administration at UCSF mirrors the Latino population in the United States. The importance of whether the medical school administration at UCSF mirrors the Latino population in the United States lies in its potential to foster diversity, inclusivity, and cultural competence in medical education, as well as to positively impact the healthcare outcomes and experiences of the Latino community. A diverse administration can serve as role models for students and aspiring professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. It can inspire individuals who might otherwise feel excluded or underrepresented in their career pursuits, including aspiring Latino medical students. Furthermore, a diverse leadership can help develop curricula, policies, and practices that are culturally sensitive and relevant, which is essential for addressing health disparities and providing equitable healthcare.
It is also important to have transparency so the public knows the number of low-income Latino individuals in medical school. The Latino statistics from the medical school generally include international students. That speaks to diversity but misses the important aspect of uplifting the low-income Latino population of the United States. Passing off wealthy international students from Latin America to claim a culturally diverse class is misleading as it does not reflect income diversity. Doing so gives the incorrect perception that the medical school is accurately representing the Latino population of the United States.
There must be a change in how the application process introduces interviews. It needs to be introduced earlier so the admissions committee can form early, well-rounded inferences about an applicant. The interview allows for personal connections with committee members that otherwise would not be established through the primary application. The current framework has the interviews as one of the last aspects of the application process before admissions decisions are reached. At this point in the application process, many low-income Latinos may have been screened out.
I understand this is not an easy feat to accomplish. This will lead to an increase in interviews to be managed by the admissions committee. The burden can be strategically minimized by first conducting video interviews with applicants the admission committee is interested in moving forward and those that they are unsure about because of a weakness in a certain area of the application. The video interview provides a more formal connection between the applicants and admission committee reviewers. It allows the applicant to provide a narrative through spoken words and can come off as a more intimate window into their characteristics. It would also allow for an opportunity to explain hardships and what is unique. From this larger pool of video-interviewed applicants, the admission committee can narrow down to traditional in-person interviews. A form of these video interviews may be already in place in some medical school application process. I believe making this practice widespread throughout medical schools will provide an opportunity to increase the diversity of medical school students.
There must be an increase in the number of programs dedicated to serving as a gateway to clinical experience for low-income Latino applicants. These programs provide the necessary networking environment needed to get clinical experience. It is important to consider that networking with clinical professionals is an admissions factor that detrimentally affects the low-income Latino population.
One of the organizations that aids underserved communities, not limited to Latinos, in clinical exposure is the Summer Clinical Oncology Research Experience (SCORE) program.  The SCORE program, conducted by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, provides its participants with mentorship opportunities in medicine and science. In doing so, strong connections are made in clinical environments. Low-income Latinos seek these opportunities as they have limited exposure to such an environment. I argue that it is in the medical school’s best interest to develop programs of this nature to construct a more diverse applicant pool.
These programs are in the best interest of medical schools because they are culturing a well-prepared applicant pool. It should not be left to the goodwill of a handful of organizations to cultivate clinically experienced individuals from minority communities. Medical schools have an ethical obligation to produce well-suited physicians from all backgrounds. Justice is not upheld when low-income Latinos are disproportionally represented in medical schools. Programs tailored for low-income Latinos supplement the networking this population lacks, which is fundamental to obtaining clinical experience. These programs help alleviate the burden of an applicant’s low socioeconomic status in attaining clinical exposure.
VIII. Additional Considerations Affecting the Medical School Application Process and Latino Community Health
A commitment to practicing medicine in low-income Latino communities can be established to improve Latino community health.  Programs, such as the National Health Service Corps, encourage clinicians to practice in underserved areas by forgiving academic loans for years of work.  Increasing the number of clinicians in underserved communities can lead to a positive correlation with better health. It would be ideal to have programs for low-income Latino medical students that incentivize practicing in areas with a high population of underserved Latinos. This would provide the Latino community with physicians of a similar cultural background to attend to them, creating a deeper physician-patient relationship that has been missing in this community.
Outreach for prospective Latino applicants by Latino medical students and physicians could encourage an increased applicant turnout. This effort can guide low-income Latinos who do not see much representation in the medical field. It would serve as a motivating factor and an opportunity to network within the medical field. Since there are few Latino physicians and medical students, a large effort must be made to make their presence known.
IX. Further Investigation Required
It is important to investigate the causes of medical school rejections of low-income Latinos. Understanding this piece of information would provide insight into the specific difficulties this population has with the medical school application. From there, the requirements can be subjected to bioethical analysis to determine whether those unfulfilled requirements serve as undue restrictions.
The aspect of legacy students, children of former alumni, proves to be a difficult subject to find data on and merits further research. Legacy students are often given preferred admission into universities.  It is necessary to understand how this affects the medical school admissions process and whether it comes at a cost to students that are not legacy. It does not seem like these preferences are something universities are willing to disclose. The aspect of legacy preferences in admissions decisions could be detrimental to low-income Latino applicants if their parents are not college-educated in the United States, which often is the case.
It would be beneficial to note how many Latinos in medical school are low-income. The MSAR report denotes the number of Latino-identified students per medical school class at an institution and the number of students who identify as coming from low resources. They do not specify which of the Latino students come from low-income families. This information would be useful to decipher how many people from the low-income Latino community are matriculating into medical schools.
It is an injustice that low-income Latinos are grossly underrepresented in medical school. It would remain an injustice even if the health of the Latino community in the United States were good. The current operation of medical school admission is based on a guild-like mentality, which perpetuates through barriers to admissions. It remains an exclusive club with processes that favor the wealthy over those who cannot devote money and time to the prerequisites such as test preparation courses and clinical internships. This has come at the expense of the Latino community in the United States in the form of both fewer Latino doctors and fewer current medical students. It is reasonable to hope that addressing the injustice of the underrepresentation of low-income Latinos in the medical field would improve Latino community health. With such a large demographic, the lack of representation in the medical field is astonishing.
The Latino population faces cultural barriers when seeking healthcare, and the best way to combat that is with a familiar face. An increase in Latino medical students would lead to more physicians that not only can culturally relate to the Latino community, but that are a part of it. This opens the door for a comprehensive understanding between the patient and physician. As described in my thesis, Latino physicians can bridge cultural gaps that have proven detrimental to that patient population. That may help patients make informed decisions, exercising their full autonomy.
The lack of representation of low-income Latinos in medicine is a long-known issue. Here, I have connected how the physician-patient relationship can be positively improved with an increase in low-income Latino physicians through various reforms in the admissions process. My hope is to have analyzed the problem of under-representation in a way that points toward further research and thoughtful reforms that can truly contribute to the process of remedying this issue.
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Jason Sanchez Alonso
MS Bioethics Columbia University, IRB Specialist Columbia Research
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .
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FACT SHEET: President Biden Issues Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence
Today, President Biden is issuing a landmark Executive Order to ensure that America leads the way in seizing the promise and managing the risks of artificial intelligence (AI). The Executive Order establishes new standards for AI safety and security, protects Americans’ privacy, advances equity and civil rights, stands up for consumers and workers, promotes innovation and competition, advances American leadership around the world, and more. As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s comprehensive strategy for responsible innovation, the Executive Order builds on previous actions the President has taken, including work that led to voluntary commitments from 15 leading companies to drive safe, secure, and trustworthy development of AI. The Executive Order directs the following actions: New Standards for AI Safety and Security
As AI’s capabilities grow, so do its implications for Americans’ safety and security. With this Executive Order, the President directs the most sweeping actions ever taken to protect Americans from the potential risks of AI systems :
- Require that developers of the most powerful AI systems share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government. In accordance with the Defense Production Act, the Order will require that companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model, and must share the results of all red-team safety tests. These measures will ensure AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy before companies make them public.
- Develop standards, tools, and tests to help ensure that AI systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set the rigorous standards for extensive red-team testing to ensure safety before public release. The Department of Homeland Security will apply those standards to critical infrastructure sectors and establish the AI Safety and Security Board. The Departments of Energy and Homeland Security will also address AI systems’ threats to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and cybersecurity risks. Together, these are the most significant actions ever taken by any government to advance the field of AI safety.
- Protect against the risks of using AI to engineer dangerous biological materials by developing strong new standards for biological synthesis screening. Agencies that fund life-science projects will establish these standards as a condition of federal funding, creating powerful incentives to ensure appropriate screening and manage risks potentially made worse by AI.
- Protect Americans from AI-enabled fraud and deception by establishing standards and best practices for detecting AI-generated content and authenticating official content . The Department of Commerce will develop guidance for content authentication and watermarking to clearly label AI-generated content. Federal agencies will use these tools to make it easy for Americans to know that the communications they receive from their government are authentic—and set an example for the private sector and governments around the world.
- Establish an advanced cybersecurity program to develop AI tools to find and fix vulnerabilities in critical software, building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing AI Cyber Challenge. Together, these efforts will harness AI’s potentially game-changing cyber capabilities to make software and networks more secure.
- Order the development of a National Security Memorandum that directs further actions on AI and security, to be developed by the National Security Council and White House Chief of Staff. This document will ensure that the United States military and intelligence community use AI safely, ethically, and effectively in their missions, and will direct actions to counter adversaries’ military use of AI.
Protecting Americans’ Privacy
Without safeguards, AI can put Americans’ privacy further at risk. AI not only makes it easier to extract, identify, and exploit personal data, but it also heightens incentives to do so because companies use data to train AI systems. To better protect Americans’ privacy, including from the risks posed by AI, the President calls on Congress to pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids, and directs the following actions:
- Protect Americans’ privacy by prioritizing federal support for accelerating the development and use of privacy-preserving techniques— including ones that use cutting-edge AI and that let AI systems be trained while preserving the privacy of the training data.
- Strengthen privacy-preserving research and technologies, such as cryptographic tools that preserve individuals’ privacy, by funding a Research Coordination Network to advance rapid breakthroughs and development. The National Science Foundation will also work with this network to promote the adoption of leading-edge privacy-preserving technologies by federal agencies.
- Evaluate how agencies collect and use commercially available information —including information they procure from data brokers—and strengthen privacy guidance for federal agencies to account for AI risks. This work will focus in particular on commercially available information containing personally identifiable data.
- Develop guidelines for federal agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of privacy-preserving techniques, including those used in AI systems. These guidelines will advance agency efforts to protect Americans’ data.
Advancing Equity and Civil Rights
Irresponsible uses of AI can lead to and deepen discrimination, bias, and other abuses in justice, healthcare, and housing. The Biden-Harris Administration has already taken action by publishing the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and issuing an Executive Order directing agencies to combat algorithmic discrimination , while enforcing existing authorities to protect people’s rights and safety. To ensure that AI advances equity and civil rights, the President directs the following additional actions:
- Provide clear guidance to landlords, Federal benefits programs, and federal contractors to keep AI algorithms from being used to exacerbate discrimination.
- Address algorithmic discrimination through training, technical assistance, and coordination between the Department of Justice and Federal civil rights offices on best practices for investigating and prosecuting civil rights violations related to AI.
- Ensure fairness throughout the criminal justice system by developing best practices on the use of AI in sentencing, parole and probation, pretrial release and detention, risk assessments, surveillance, crime forecasting and predictive policing, and forensic analysis.
Standing Up for Consumers, Patients, and Students
AI can bring real benefits to consumers—for example, by making products better, cheaper, and more widely available. But AI also raises the risk of injuring, misleading, or otherwise harming Americans. To protect consumers while ensuring that AI can make Americans better off, the President directs the following actions:
- Advance the responsible use of AI in healthcare and the development of affordable and life-saving drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services will also establish a safety program to receive reports of—and act to remedy – harms or unsafe healthcare practices involving AI.
- Shape AI’s potential to transform education by creating resources to support educators deploying AI-enabled educational tools, such as personalized tutoring in schools.
AI is changing America’s jobs and workplaces, offering both the promise of improved productivity but also the dangers of increased workplace surveillance, bias, and job displacement. To mitigate these risks, support workers’ ability to bargain collectively, and invest in workforce training and development that is accessible to all, the President directs the following actions:
- Develop principles and best practices to mitigate the harms and maximize the benefits of AI for workers by addressing job displacement; labor standards; workplace equity, health, and safety; and data collection. These principles and best practices will benefit workers by providing guidance to prevent employers from undercompensating workers, evaluating job applications unfairly, or impinging on workers’ ability to organize.
- Produce a report on AI’s potential labor-market impacts , and study and identify options for strengthening federal support for workers facing labor disruptions , including from AI.
Promoting Innovation and Competition
America already leads in AI innovation—more AI startups raised first-time capital in the United States last year than in the next seven countries combined. The Executive Order ensures that we continue to lead the way in innovation and competition through the following actions:
- Catalyze AI research across the United States through a pilot of the National AI Research Resource—a tool that will provide AI researchers and students access to key AI resources and data—and expanded grants for AI research in vital areas like healthcare and climate change.
- Promote a fair, open, and competitive AI ecosystem by providing small developers and entrepreneurs access to technical assistance and resources, helping small businesses commercialize AI breakthroughs, and encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to exercise its authorities.
- Use existing authorities to expand the ability of highly skilled immigrants and nonimmigrants with expertise in critical areas to study, stay, and work in the United States by modernizing and streamlining visa criteria, interviews, and reviews.
Advancing American Leadership Abroad
AI’s challenges and opportunities are global. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working with other nations to support safe, secure, and trustworthy deployment and use of AI worldwide. To that end, the President directs the following actions:
- Expand bilateral, multilateral, and multistakeholder engagements to collaborate on AI . The State Department, in collaboration, with the Commerce Department will lead an effort to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI’s benefits and managing its risks and ensuring safety. In addition, this week, Vice President Harris will speak at the UK Summit on AI Safety, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
- Accelerate development and implementation of vital AI standards with international partners and in standards organizations, ensuring that the technology is safe, secure, trustworthy, and interoperable.
- Promote the safe, responsible, and rights-affirming development and deployment of AI abroad to solve global challenges, such as advancing sustainable development and mitigating dangers to critical infrastructure.
Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI
AI can help government deliver better results for the American people. It can expand agencies’ capacity to regulate, govern, and disburse benefits, and it can cut costs and enhance the security of government systems. However, use of AI can pose risks, such as discrimination and unsafe decisions. To ensure the responsible government deployment of AI and modernize federal AI infrastructure, the President directs the following actions:
- Issue guidance for agencies’ use of AI, including clear standards to protect rights and safety, improve AI procurement, and strengthen AI deployment.
- Help agencies acquire specified AI products and services faster, more cheaply, and more effectively through more rapid and efficient contracting.
- Accelerate the rapid hiring of AI professionals as part of a government-wide AI talent surge led by the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Digital Service, U.S. Digital Corps, and Presidential Innovation Fellowship. Agencies will provide AI training for employees at all levels in relevant fields.
As we advance this agenda at home, the Administration will work with allies and partners abroad on a strong international framework to govern the development and use of AI. The Administration has already consulted widely on AI governance frameworks over the past several months—engaging with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the UAE, and the UK. The actions taken today support and complement Japan’s leadership of the G-7 Hiroshima Process, the UK Summit on AI Safety, India’s leadership as Chair of the Global Partnership on AI, and ongoing discussions at the United Nations. The actions that President Biden directed today are vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI. More action will be required, and the Administration will continue to work with Congress to pursue bipartisan legislation to help America lead the way in responsible innovation. For more on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to advance AI, and for opportunities to join the Federal AI workforce, visit AI.gov .
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