Writing Your Graduate School Application Essay
Generally speaking, there are two types of application essays for graduate school: the statement of
purpose (SOP) and the personal statement. (Refer to FAQs to find out how the two types are different.)
Both types let you convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the program and can
contribute to the department.
Although different graduate schools may ask you to answer different prompts, most ask that you write
no more than a two-page application essay. The application essay is difficult to write because you must
pitch your candidacy to a few department faculty members who read through hundreds – or sometimes
thousands – of other essays. In this handout, you will learn how to show these busy readers that you will
contribute meaningfully to the university and their department.
1. Relate your past and present experiences to the future.
In their application essays, many applicants make the mistake of underemphasizing the future. But it’s
important that you show how your past experiences have informed your present work, and how your
present work can be extended to the future or raise new research questions.
Admissions committees assess many qualified applicants based on whether their research will reflect
positively on the university and their department. Committees will think your past and present work
is relevant only if it relates directly to your plans for the future. If you don’t know exactly where your
current work will take you, you should at least mention how you could develop it. Committees want to
see that you have a sense of direction and motivation to pursue issues specific to your field.
Note: Your application essay is not a binding contract, and you don’t have to list your qualifications in
chronological order like a résumé or CV. It may be better to order them according to importance.
I am an ideal candidate due to the knowledge I have gained thus far in my Master’s
Doesn’t show how
program at Carnegie Mellon University. I have completed courses in multiple fields of
qualifications will benefit
chemical engineering, as well as increased my knowledge in engineering techniques
applicant in the future
and lab research. I further honed these techniques from participating in a lab research
project. My first lab experience started when I joined Professor Annette Jacobson’s
Doesn’t explain how
team to determine the electrophoretic mobility of colloidal contaminants in water, which
past experiences are
is useful in water treatment processing. Moreover, I have acquired scientific research
relevant to graduate
skills, for instance, searching literature, designing experiments, analyzing results and