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Why do Grad School Applications Require Admission Essays?

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It's part of every graduate school application and a source of stress for every applicant: The admissions essay. Why is it required by all graduate programs? The admissions essay benefits both graduate admissions committees and applicants to grad school.

First, let's consider the admissions committee's perspective. Graduate programs receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of applications - many from students with stellar qualifications. How does a committee choose among many applicants who are very similar to one another? They look to an applicant's own words.

Here's what the admissions committee considers when reading an applicant's admissions essay:

  • How well does the applicant address the assigned question?
  • If no specific topic is assigned, how well does the applicant manage the ambiguous assignment and construct an essay that is relevant and informative?
  • How well does the applicant write?
  • Does the applicant attend to details, such as spelling and presentation?
  • Does the essay illustrate critical thinking?
  • Does the applicant demonstrate abstract and complex reasoning?
  • Is the essay appropriate? Is it too informal?
  • Does the applicant reveal appropriate personal details and avoid sharing irrelevant and overly personal information (e.g., mental illness, childhood experiences, family tragedies, etc.)?
  • Is the essay free of careless errors (e.g., listing the wrong school)?
  • How well is the essay organized? Is it easy to read and to follow the author's ideas?

In short, graduate admissions committees look to the admissions essay as a way to learn about the applicant - apart from GPA and standardized test scores. How the applicant think and communicate?

Now, the admissions essay also serves a function for applicants. It is an opportunity for you to stand out. Show your analytical, writing, and communication skills. Reveal something about yourself, your experience, your aspirations, and your match to the program.

The success of your application often rests on the quality of your admissions essay. Yet many students avoid writing the admissions essay, waiting until the admissions deadline looms.Writing an effective essay takes time. You must  consider the topic, plan your points, organize and structure your argument, draft the essay, evaluate whether you have addressed all of the above issues, seek feedback, and write a final version. Your admissions essay is an important opportunity to stand out. Take the admissions committee's perspective and you'll write an essay that wins you entry to grad school.

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