How to Write a Grad School Application Essay

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What Is a Grad School Application Essay? | What Are Admissions Officers Looking for? | Before You Start Writing | While You're Writing | When You've Finished Writing | Sample Essay | Grad School Essay FAQs

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. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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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.

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.

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.

Brainstorm Ideas

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:

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.

Be Authentic

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.

Get Feedback

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.

Reviewed by:

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Lonnie Woods III

Lonnie Woods III is a student affairs administrator, professor, and professional development practitioner whose research examines the career competencies of college students studying arts-related majors. Woods holds a BS in fine art photography from Towson University and an MA in higher education and student affairs from New York University . He has 10-plus years of experience working in higher education, with professional experience spanning various institutions, including Pratt Institute, New York University, The George Washington University , and Columbia University.

Lonnie Woods III is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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Home / Blog / Grad Schools / Write a Graduate School Essay that Will Knock Their Socks Off

Write a Graduate School Essay that Will Knock Their Socks Off

Woman typing her graduate school essay on a very small keyboard.

Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren’t looking for gimmicks. They’re looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay.

Know what the admissions officers are seeking

Don’t make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.

What should you do if the program doesn’t give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they’ve read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.

Personal, personal, personal

Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, ‘In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.’

Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college

It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.

Know your program and make connections

Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program’s minimum requirements, they’ll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn’t seem to know much about their program.

During your graduate studies, you’ll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.

Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren’t persuasive, and generic essays won’t help your application package. If you can’t sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.

Need help getting started on your grad school search? Search by location, major, admission difficulty, and more with Peterson’s Graduate School Search .

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Writing a Graduate School Essay

Hello and welcome to the grad school essay help guide. Today’s guide is brought to you by a graduate school graduate and subsequent admissions department committee member. There are many guides out there on the Internet, but this one was written by a professional who has seen thousands of applications. The advice given here is sometimes hard to take, but it is battle-tested.

Your application will be read by faculty members in the department to which you are applying. Thus, describing a desire to study your major is not specific enough. You need to research the specific department to which you are applying, the exact wording of someone’s research interests, and the titles of a professor’s most recent publications. If CVs are posted, skim those as well. Ideally, you will be able to express fascination with a specific professor and research area.


Take a moment to think about which traits you demonstrate:

These characteristics compose your scholarly temperament, which is not the same as your personality. Next, consider the possible academic and professional experiences that you might detail in your statement. What sparked your interest? How have your interests focused over time? How have you distinguished yourself in your major, beyond your GPA? What research projects have you pursued? When brainstorming, avoid crafting full sentences. Jot down ideas, take quick notes, recall details and dates. Some people even speak their initial thoughts aloud.

Elements of the Statement

Your statement of purpose should answer five basic questions:

Plans for Graduate School

Detail what you plan to study and research; explain with whom you plan to study and research. Unlike applying as an undergraduate, do not survey the university website in general. You are applying to a department rather than a university. Professors are not pleased to see too much text about opportunities outside the department. Also, try to avoid the “top topics of the day.” For example, too many applicants in 2021 will be writing about COVID-19. A topic that does not come from news headlines signals a serious, thoughtful, long-term interest.

Apply to programs that fit. The name of the faculty member who mentors you is arguably more important than the name of the university. Do not look at rankings online and never mention them in your statement. Instead, try to be gently self-effacing in expressing your admiration for the program and its faculty. Don’t praise or flatter, but express interest in their work.

Professional Goals

Sketch out your professional goals. For example, if you have a genuine interest in teaching at a community college or are seeking to earn an EDD or other graduate degree in education, you can explain that.

Structuring the Statement

Having answered the basic questions and identified your skills and goals, you are ready to begin structuring your statement. The two common approaches are chronology or argument. Those applying as undergraduates or within a few years of earning a bachelor’s degree should default to chronology. If you are applying with many years of professional experience, then the argument might work for you. Whichever you choose, stress simplicity and comprehensibility over fanciness. Readers want to get a sense of you, not muddle through a disorganized thought experiment.

The Two Approaches

A chronological structure in an essay improves readability and demonstrates your development over time. It is conventional wisdom that you start with your work in your major at college, perhaps picking a research experience that particularly moved you. Rather than dwelling on personal growth, you should write about your academic development.

If you’ve been out of school for more than a few years and especially if you have five or more years of professional experience, you need to structure your essay as an academic argument. Academic papers always have a claim or thesis. Yours? It must answer this prompt: Why are you coming back to school? You will relate a key experience that brought you to the realization that it’s time to return to school for a graduate degree. The body of your statement is structured like an academic essay, each paragraph taking up one of the reasons in your thesis.

Purposeful Paragraphs

Each paragraph should focus on a specific quality or characteristic, something you’ve identified as key to explaining your background and suitability for graduate study. Describe an event, offer more details that serve as evidence, and conclude by explaining why the event was significant in terms of what you learned. Here are some verbs to think about how to describe your experiences:

pursued / focused / cultivated / challenged myself / developed / devoted myself / seized the opportunity / taught /researched / applied / explored / explained / argued a thesis / calculated / tested / analyzed / quantified / deliberated / struggled / defined / refined / drafted / revised / attended / worked / assisted / collaborated / contributed / deliberated / advanced

Don’t just repeat items from your résumé. Instead, explain how each experience affected you, focusing on what you learned that is relevant to your success in your field. Compare:

Bad: “I served as a volunteer teaching women about the importance of breastfeeding.”

Better: “My experience helping women access breastfeeding information and empowering them to use that information has convinced me that information alone is not nearly as useful as information plus a skilled and compassionate guide.”

Detail your experience and what it means, always thinking about which qualities you want to illustrate, plus how it all serves as evidence you are a match for the program.

Introductions and Conclusions

Open your essay as if announcing yourself to your potential graduate advisor because that’s exactly what you’re doing. For example:

“I have been involved in research since the start of my college career: from designing an independent project synthesizing a conductive molecular wire with self-insulating properties, to industrial research on the kinetics of polyurethane chain extension reactions, to my most recent project investigating a protein transport phenomenon in transgenic mushrooms.”

Conclusions exist in order to explain your career plans beyond graduate school. Many Ph.D. applicants imagine becoming a professor, but you need to convey that goal with humility. Securing a tenure-track job is increasingly difficult. At the same time, you don’t want to dismiss the possibility of an academic career.

“I am committed to pursuing a scholarly career in curriculum development focused on K-12 multicultural literacy while recognizing the realities of the academic job market. I would hope to secure a postdoctoral or visiting position…”

“After earning my Master’s in public administration, I hope to work in the area of economic development in Latin America. The setting might be a private (possibly church-based) development agency, the UN, the OAS, a multilateral development bank, or government agency.”

Style & Mechanics

The tone of your statement should be professional. Strive for sobriety and precision. Use the terminology of your discipline but avoid jargon and don’t try to impress anyone. Try to be clear, concise, and engaging. Here, from UC Berkeley, are words and phrases to avoid:

significant / challenging / satisfying / appreciate / invaluable / exciting / appealing / it’s important / I can contribute / stimulating / gratifying / fascinating / meaningful / helping people / remarkable / valuable / helpful

Tricky Topics

Did you have poor undergraduate grades, exceptionally low standardized testing scores, lack of work experience, gaps in your chronology, disciplinary action, or a criminal record? In explaining a deficiency, be very careful with your tone. Avoid sounding defensive. Explain the situation dispassionately and move quickly to note how you recovered from a setback. Bad grades don't have to be explained if it’s a matter of one course in an otherwise outstanding record. Moreover, you don’t have to go into detail about a plagiarism issue if you emphasize what you’ve learned. Move on to highlight later successes.

Scholars have identified “kisses of death” in a statement of purpose. Generally:

Finishing Strong

Once you’ve drafted and polished your statement, take a few days away from it. Read your statement one last time, with this checklist in mind:

Consider printing out your essay and editing with a pen or pencil. It will change your view of the essays. Submit your essay to sites such as Grammarly. Look for errors such as repetitive language, lack of transitions, conditional phrasing, and capitalization errors.

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Five elements of a killer graduate school essay

So you’ve taken the GRE/GMAT/TOEFL, got your recommendations lined up, and picked your list of top schools. Now comes the part some people get really nervous about: translating your story into a really powerful application essay that convinces the admissions committee that they just have to have you. Below are five key elements of a strong graduate school application essay that are universally transferable across all graduate degree programs.

1. A defining moment, personal anecdote, or vision

Right now, your application is a lot of numbers, words and bullets. The admissions committee is reading thousands of these. Bring yourself to life by sharing what is most meaningful to you, or a transformative time in your life that has made you who you are or driven you to pursue this path. Make it personal. Humanize yourself. Maybe it’s a lofty vision to change something about a certain industry, or make yourself a better leader. Maybe it’s a personal struggle or that of a family member. Maybe it’s a story that highlights why you’re passionate about your field. Whatever it is, bring it to life and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. That shows courage, self-awareness, and leadership - huge standouts to any admissions committee.

2. The accomplishments that have prepared you to excel

Although your resume is undoubtedly among your application materials, it is critical to underscore some of your most relevant and noteworthy professional, extracurricular, or personal accomplishments. Instead of listing your job titles and responsibilities that are similar to what’s on your resume, highlight the skills it took to achieve some of your biggest outcomes, as well as any obstacles or barriers you overcame to achieve success. You can talk about how you had to bring together diverse team members with differing views to finish a complex project, or how you learned that empathy was a powerful skill in connecting with someone you had conflict with, or whatever it is that you accomplished in your past experiences. This is your chance to provide context behind your resume bullets and help the admissions committee see why your accomplishment was even more impressive, and how you can bring teamwork, leadership, and dedication to their school.

3. Why you need to go to graduate school to achieve your career vision

Paramount to any great application essay is a critical path analysis - why you made the big decisions you made in your professional career, and how they weave together to paint a complete picture of why this next step for you makes sense. You can mention things like why you chose your undergraduate school, why you chose certain internships, why you moved from your first job to your second, why you switched industries or careers, etc,. Highlighting the motivations behind these decisions will help the admissions committee see how you have approached your career and life so far, and see that you are thoughtful about applying to graduate school. Most important to highlight is why you need to go to graduate school to further your long-term goals (this piece may be less relevant to medical school applicants), and what skillsets, experiences, or networks in this degree program will be useful to your future.

4. Why this graduate school is the ideal place to help you get there

This section is particularly important to show the admissions committee that you are serious about their school. Do your research. Be able to name specific courses, research projects, professors, extracurricular activities, experiences, capstone components of the program, and other elements unique to the school/program that have especially appealed to you and that fit into the skills you want to develop at this school. This section doesn’t need to be long, but a couple of sentences are crucial to demonstrating your understanding of the school’s culture and academic and social offerings and highlighting what you want to get out of the experience.

5. What you will bring to the community

It can’t all be about what you will take from the experience. You should also share what you will give back and bring to the school’s community. For example, you could talk about your own diverse perspective on a certain topic, your unique work experience, your background, your plans to create student clubs, or your skills at bringing classmates together. The list is endless. Think about the three things that really define who you are and what you’ve done, and use that to show the admissions committee that investing in you will bring a different voice to the class they are crafting.

Good luck! Remember to always be authentic and honest in your essays. You will find the right school who really values you.

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Application Essays for Masters and Doctoral Degree Programs

Criteria for admission in graduate application essays.

You must write and submit the required essays. The application review committee weighs the quality of your essays very heavily in their decision about whether you will be admitted to the program. The criteria considered in their review include:

The assigned essays must be original to this application and responsive to the specific questions (they are not intended to be writing samples drawn from previous undergraduate or professional writing assignments). If you use any material from other sources/authors, you must include appropriate academic documentation and citation.

Business, Management, and Leadership

Mba in management.

In an essay of approximately 600 words, describe your interest in SUNY Empire State College’s MBA program. Include your short-term and long-term post-MBA professional goals and how the MBA program will help you to achieve those goals.

MBA in Healthcare Leadership

In an essay of approximately 600 words, integrate a self-assessment of your readiness to meet the rigors of the graduate-level healthcare courses with your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the M.B.A. in healthcare leadership will help you achieve these goals. In addition, indicate how your experience and skills would help you be successful in this program.

M.S. in Finance

In an essay of approximately 600 words, describe your motivation for applying to the Master of Science in Finance at SUNY Empire State College. Include your short-term and long-term professional goals and how the MS in Finance will help you to achieve those goals. In addition, indicate how your experience and skills would help you be successful in this program.

Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Change

In an essay of approximately 600 words, describe your interest in SUNY Empire State College’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Change. Include your short-term and long-term professional goals and how the Ed.D. will help you to achieve those goals.

Essay #2 Ed.D. Program Research Essay Guidelines

The purpose of this essay is mainly for us to learn about your research background and the topics you may be interested in researching. We do not expect you to be experts in research, or lock in yourselves into a specific topic for your dissertation at this stage.

There are many different ways to write a research essay, and you are free to submit the research essay in any format you like. The following guidelines provide one way of structuring your research essay, and indicate the content we would normally expect to see. There is no fixed word limit, but we would usually expect around 1500-2000 words.

Literature review

List of references

M.A. in Adult Learning

Two essays required.

The following quotes take a variety of positions concerning the purposes and roles of adult learning. 

Quote A: 

"I started looking at the word neutral and it became very obvious to me there can be no such thing as neutrality. It's a code word for the existing system. It's following the crowd...being what the system wants us to be. It was to me a refusal to oppose injustice. So, I discarded that word. When I think more about educational ideas and about changed society, it became more and more obvious that you've got to take sides." -Myles Horton, We Make the Road by Walking (1990)

Quote B: 

“What we want to do, what we must do, is ensure that every person currently in the workforce or approaching working age has access to the resources to achieve employability on his or her own terms. That is, all must have not only the skills and competencies to fulfill the needs of their present jobs but the ability, flexibility, and means to learn new skills and competencies as required.” -Pamela Tate, “Forward,” Barry Sheckley, Lois Lamdin, and Morris Keeton, Employability in a High-Performance Economy (1993)

Choose one of the quotes from above or a quote related to adult learning which resonated with you, and write a 500-word academic response. You may choose to agree or disagree with the quote, discuss the quote in greater depth, or use it as a point of departure for developing ideas of your own. You may draw on your professional knowledge, your reading, and/or your general understanding of adult learning. You will not be judged for your opinion. You will be evaluated for the ways in which you construct and sustain a coherent, well-organized argument.  If you use secondary sources (not required) in the essay, use APA citations.

M.A. in Learning and Emerging Technologies (MALET)

Submit a small sample of work using one or more digital tools (provide a link to the electronic sample as part of this essay), and a brief reflective essay (approximately 600 words, typed, double-spaced) on the intended purpose of the sample, and critique of the final result which would include thoughts of what you would change or do differently to improve it.

The faculty are interested in seeing an applicant’s capability and potential, and they understand the possible range of experiences and proficiencies that individuals may bring to the MALET program. Particular attention will be paid to the brief essay of critical reflection on the purpose, design and potential of the chosen sample.

Examples of possible digital samples include, but are not limited to:

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Subjects

Thinking clearly about issues and expressing these thoughts in writing are important aspects of graduate study at Empire State College. So that we can learn more about your interest in becoming a teacher, we would like you to discuss the following question in a coherent, well-organized essay of 600-800 words, typewritten, double-spaced pages.

What is your motivation to become a middle or high school teacher (or agricultural education teacher*) and what do you think will make you a successful student in this program?

Your essay might include some of the following points:

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Special Education, Adolescent Education (initial certification)

In a 600-800 word essay (typed and double-spaced), respond to both questions.

Discuss your position on the inclusion of special needs students in general education classrooms and how you would respond to a situation in which parents of some of your students are complaining that a student with a disability is holding back the learning and progress of the rest of the class?

M.Ed. in Special Education (additional certification)

Please respond to Question 1 and choose either Question 2 or 3. The essay should be 600-800 words per question (in one document), double-spaced and appropriate use of APA 6th edition formatting.

M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction

In a 600-800 word essay (typed, double-spaced), explain why you are interested in the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and how you will contribute to the learning among your peers in the program. What do you hope to achieve as a result of earning this degree?

M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis

In a 600 to 800-word essay (typed, double-spaced), explain why you are interested in the M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis, and how you will contribute to the learning among your peers in the program. What do you hope to achieve as a result of earning this degree?

Graduate Liberal Arts and Science

M.s. in applied analytics.

In an essay of approximately 600 words, describe your motivation for applying to the Master of Science in Applied Analytics (MSAA). Include your short-term and long-term professional goals and how the MSAA will help you to achieve those goals. In addition, indicate how your experience and skills would help you be successful in this program.

M.A. in Community and Economic Development

Explain how the graduate program-with specific reference to its policy emphasis and your chosen area of study-will help you achieve your purposes for pursuing a master's degree. Please include any other information about your needs and goals that might give us insight as to why our program will serve you well. The essay should be approximately 800 words, typed, double-spaced.

M.S. in Information Technology

In an essay of approximately 600 words, describe your motivation for applying to the Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) at SUNY Empire State College. Include your short-term and long-term professional goals and how the MSIT will help you to achieve those goals. In addition, indicate how your experience and skills would help you be successful in this program.

M.A. in Liberal Studies (MALS)

The M.A. in liberal studies is specially designed for those who wish to explore a particular question, theme, problem or issue from multiple points of view. Unlike a vocationally focused degree or a degree in a single discipline, it allows you to explore the various ways in which your area of interest can be approached and analyzed.

For example, a narrowly defined vocational degree in health care management might look at health care from the legal, administrative and financial framework alone. An interdisciplinary master's degree in liberal studies, on the other hand, would understand health care as an arena for contending social interest and political ideologies and view health as a cultural preoccupation, a theme of literature and a spiritual and philosophical concern.

Similarly, a typical professionally-oriented master's degree in education might focus on applied teaching methods in a particular discipline, age group or student population. Thus, the focus might be on "teaching science in elementary school," for example or on "teaching developmentally challenged adults." An interdisciplinary master's degree in liberal studies requires a different approach, one that views teaching within a broad framework of history and social relationships and might explore the meaning of such concepts as childhood, pedagogy, normalcy and difference and encourages students to think broadly about their interests and to explore them from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.

With these examples in mind, tell us about your area of interest in the following essays:

In a 700-1000 word essay, explain what question, theme, problem or issue do you wish to explore? How have you come to have this interest? What has shaped your curiosity? How do you see using the breadth and freedom of interdisciplinary study to organize your studies to achieve your goals for your master's degree?

According to the following quotes, our minds and our bodies, our attitudes and dreams, are molded by experience and by the cultures in which we live. Those cultures strongly influence not only what we know about also what we value and, indeed, who we are. We invite you to use one of these quotes as a basis for your essay.

As you craft your essay, you should keep a number of points in mind:

The body – what we eat, how we dress, the daily rituals through which we attend to the body – is a medium of culture. In no case is this more strikingly true than in that of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, barely known a century ago, yet reaching epidemic proportions today. Far from being the result of a superficial fashion phenomena, these disorders reflect and call our attention to some of the central ills of our culture.

-Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body

We lived in the country where roads were not paved. Every day it seemed we complained about the long walk to the little white wood frame schoolhouse and our father told us again and again about the many miles he had walked to attend school. Generations of black people have known what it means to see education as the practice of freedom. Growing up in a community where I would be sent here and there to read the bible to Miss Zulu because she does not know how, to read this and that, a letter, words on a detergent box – to read – to write for others. How could I not understand the need for literacy? How could I not long to know? And how could I forget that fundamentally the purpose of my knowing was so I could serve those who did not know, so that I could learn and teach my own – education as the practice of freedom.

-bell hooks, Talking Back

The various disciplines that make up the arts and sciences are the cultural frames in terms of which attitudes are formed and lives conducted. The interpretive study of culture represents an attempt to come to terms with the diversity of the ways human beings construct their lives in the act of leading them.

-Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge

M.A. in Public History

Essay #1 In an essay of approximately 600 words; describe your motivation for applying to the Master of Arts in Public History (MAPH). Include your background in public history and your goals for your work in the program.

Essay #2 In an essay of approximately 600 words, please respond to this prompt.

In recent years, monuments and memorials to the past have come under increased scrutiny.  Increasingly people are calling for the removal of memorials that they find offensive from Theodore Roosevelt's statue in front of the New York Natural History Museum to the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol England to the statue of General Lee in Richmond Virginia. As a public historian, how would you approach the issue of representation and commemoration in our public spaces?  What would you propose for these controversies and why?  How and what should we commemorate in the future?

M.A. in Social and Public Policy

Explain how the graduate program – with specific reference to its policy emphasis and your chosen area of study – will help you achieve your purposes for pursuing a master's degree. Please include any other information about your needs and goals that might give us insight as to why our program will serve you well. The essay should be approximately 800 words, typed, double-spaced.

M.A. in Work and Labor Policy

Explain how the graduate program-with specific reference to its policy emphasis and your chosen area of study will help you achieve your purposes for pursuing a master's degree. Please include any other information about your needs and goals that might give us insight as to why our program will serve you well. The essay should be approximately 800 words, typed, and double-spaced.

M.P.A. in Public Administration

In a double-spaced typewritten essay of approximately 800 words, please explain how the SUNY Empire MPA Degree will serve your personal and professional goals and objectives. In what ways will achieving an advanced degree contribute to your ability to serve the public good? Be sure to discuss briefly whether you are primarily interested in public administration or not-for-profit administration.

Graduate Nursing

M.s. in nursing administration or m.s. in nursing education.

M.S. in Nursing (Education and Administration) Admission Essay - The MS in Nursing degree prepares graduates to advance nursing practice and education in a complex and evolving healthcare environment. Please address your personal and professional goals. In addition, provide examples of how you have exemplified professionalism as a registered nurse in at least four of the following domains, delineated by the AACN Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education(2021):

American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2021).  The essentials: Core competencies for professional nursing education.

Your essay should be a minimum of 500 words. Feel free in this essay to write in a personal, informal voice.

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Statement of Purpose Format for Graduate School (SOP)

master's degree essay word

When it comes to applying to graduate school, there are many things students must prepare, including a  graduate school recommendation letter  and graduate school CV.

However, the most important element in your graduate school admissions package is the Statement of Purpose, also known at many universities as the “personal statement.”

In this article, you will learn why the Statement of Purpose is so important for graduate school admissions, how the Statement of Purpose format differs from  college application essay formats , and how to format a successful Statement of Purpose for graduate school–with examples!

Table of Contents

What is a statement of purpose.

In graduate school applications, a  statement of purpose (SOP) (or personal statement) is the one part of the application that allows applicants to construct a narrative of their choosing that includes all relevant parts of their academic and personal histories. This includes academic and professional interests and accomplishments, personality, values, and worldview, as well as how both the student and graduate program can add value to each other. 

Difference between the Statement of Purpose and college admissions essays

At the graduate school level, students often have years of research and academic experience. In the case of MBA programs, applicants also often have years of work experience they can include in their essays. 

This makes graduate school admission essays or personal statements distinct from undergraduate application essays. Graduate school applicants have a significant amount of material and context with which to differentiate themselves and stand apart from other applicants. The scope (how much is covered) and depth (how detailed the experiences are) are both much more complex for a Statement of Purpose.

Do I need to write a Statement of Purpose for college?

The graduate Statement of Purpose allows applicants to summarize non-quantifiable qualities for consideration by an admissions committee. This may include an applicant’s personal or professional strengths, as well as goals or passion for certain subjects. 

The graduate school application process is often competitive. In addition to being academically qualified, students must demonstrate a commitment to the program. Remember, one concern graduate programs have is that students will drop out and not continue to pay tuition.

Effect of Covid-19 on the Statement of Purpose

COVID-19 has reduced the feasibility of standardized testing, and there are increased concerns by wider society over the equitable nature of standardized testing in general. 

For example, NYU Stern School of Business on June 15th became the fourth top-25 business school to announce that its full-time MBA program would  not consider the GMAT or GRE any longer . 

Further, Michael Hunt, director of the University of Maryland McNair Scholars Program has gone on record stating that 

“[My] goal is to “remove barriers and not maintain obstacles under the guise of academic freedom or other university policies. I pray that one day, we will not need committees or a pandemic to determine if something is equitable.”

This leaves the Statement of Purpose, academic background,  resume/CV , and  letters of recommendation  as the primary determinants of graduate admission.

How long should a Statement of Purpose be?

Generally, a Statement of Purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words long and should not exceed a single page. But this can depend on the school or program to which you are applying, as well as on the extent of your academic experience.

Graduate Statement Of Purpose Format Guidelines

We have already covered  how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school (with examples).

Read over these resources and watch our Wordvice Webinar Series for  how to write a winning Statement of Purpose :

General Statement of Purpose Formatting Rules

Unlike a college admissions essay, a grad school Statement of Purpose is generally  not  uploaded in a text box or input field in some platforms, as the Common Application essay is.

Applying to graduate school means applying directly to the graduate program and its parent department. Graduate programs are separate entities within their universities. Applying to the College of Arts & Sciences is different than applying to a university’s College of Engineering. 

As a result, most graduate school applications are simply uploaded directly to the program. So, you will likely be uploading a Word .doc or Adobe .pdf file.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

Typical file types for a Statement of Purpose are .doc or .docx. There is a downside to Word files being editable, and there are sometimes conflicts among the different Word versions (2010 vs 2016. vs Office365). One benefit of Word files is that anyone can view them.

If maintaining the visual aspects of your essay is important, this is a safe choice. PDFs prevent formatting issues that might arise with older versions of Word documents.

To make the statement easier to read, applicants should follow the following rules:

Additional Statement of Purpose Format Tips

Statement of Purpose Format and Structure Outline

One of the most important characteristics of a strong Statement of Purpose is its structure. Layout the information in such a way that the reader can easily understand it. Well-organized statements keep readers interested.

In general, a Statement of Purpose should follow the  format of an academic essay .

Introduction – State your goals and introduce yourself

The first section of the application should clearly and concisely explain what the student hopes to achieve by completing the program. For a history student, the goal may be to earn a PhD that allows them to take a historian position at a major non-profit institution or museum upon graduation. For a chemistry student, the goal may be to move into a postdoctoral research position at a major university with the hope of becoming a professor later. 

Or perhaps an applicant has goals of going into the private sector. Regardless of the field of study, your professional experience, academic history, prior internships or jobs, and goals should be introduced here.

Tips for writing the Introduction for the Statement of Purpose

Main Body – Academic and career history

In the first part of the body, you must support the idea of you being a qualified candidate with details about your academic and career history as well as examples of projects, accomplishments, and learning experiences.

Start with a brief history of your undergraduate experience and academic results. Then, move on to extracurricular, professional, and career experiences and achievements. As a graduate studies applicant, professional and career experiences will naturally be more diverse and therefore help you stand out. 

You should of course emphasize your academic experience and grades. Mention how you took advantage of your university’s resources and if you developed any special relationships with professors–that is especially what PhD advisors are looking for!

In the second part of the body, support your assertions with examples.

Tips for writing about academic and career history and goals

Main Body – Why you are a fit for the program ?

Students’ goals and interests must align with the mission and values of a college or university when being considered for admissions. A common tactic is to highlight a few professors in the department, which demonstrates that the applicant has done the research, whereas other students discuss the accomplishments of prominent alumni they admire. 

Students can use this space to create an impressive application by creatively demonstrating their knowledge of the school and department while matching it with their goals. 

Tips for writing about fit with the program

Conclusion – Summary

The conclusion must accomplish two goals: package everything together and leave the reader interested in knowing more. If you can accomplish the second part, you will likely get a passing grade on your Statement of Purpose.

Reflect on what attending the program would mean to you, both professionally and personally, as you give one final thought or insight. Write about both the impact you hope to have on the world and the impact attending the program would have on yourself. 

Tips for writing the Statement of Purpose conclusion

Statement of Purpose Format: Structure and Summary

statement of purpose infographic

Be sure to check our article on how to write a Statement of Purpose for grad school.

We also have recommendation letter templates and dozens of other useful resources to help you prepare your admissions essays. 

If you need editing or proofreading, you can start by checking out our professional proofreading services , including admissions editing services , SOP editing services , and college and graduate essay editing services .


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