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Many colleges and universities require a statement of purpose as part of their admission application, and scholarship applications often include one or more essays in addition to such objective information as grades and test scores.The typical question asks you to share personal information—allowing the selection committee to get to know you—such as your plans or goals, an important event in your life, your philosophy and/or beliefs, or your financial situation. Writing this statement of purpose is an opportunity for you to stand out among the applicants and to prove you’re the most deserving candidate. Be sure to keep certain things in mind as you write this essay:
Consider exactly what the question asks. Then list some relevant main ideas; use this list as an informal outline for your essay.
Don’t write a “generic” essay that could pass for one that any other applicant could have written. Everything in the essay should reveal something about YOU and your unique situation. Any reader of your essay should feel as if he or she knows you personally.
Remember that committee members are seeking the applicant who fits the mission of their institution and is worthy of their award. Tailor your college admission essay topic with their perspective in mind, and work to convince them that you’re the right candidate.
If you have trouble thinking of ideas, be resourceful. Ask people who know you well what they would say about you. If someone has written a letter of recommendation for you, re-read it. Which accomplishments listed on your résumé might interest the committee?
Don’t simply repeat information that is already on your application form or in your résumé. Your essay should include specific incidents and concrete examples.
Don’t use long words and obscure vocabulary simply to impress the committee; doing so will come across as artificial and showy.
Follow guidelines regarding such things as font size and essay length. Sometimes a typed essay is required; other times, you are required to hand-write it. Sometimes it should be on the application form; other times, it must be on a separate piece of paper. No matter how good your college admission essay is, failure to follow instructions will make a negative impression and may actually disqualify you.
The appearance of your essay is important. Spell all words correctly; follow grammar and punctuation rules; and keep your paper neat. The committee may not meet you personally; this essay may be the sole basis for their selection. A messy paper or an essay full of errors will cause them to see you as uncaring or unqualified, despite the inaccuracy of this judgment.
Save your essay! There is nothing wrong with using the same ideas—and occasionally even the same college admission essay—for several applications. Each time, make revisions so that the essay topic responds specifically to the question(s). Although you have used it for other applications, the committee should not be able to tell that this essay wasn’t originally written as a response to their question.
For most people, the idea of completing a lengthy statement of purpose is somewhat intimidating, and when the assigned topic is you—your goals, experiences, and potential—the stress can become overwhelming. But don’t fret! Even if writing isn’t your strong suit, with a little planning your college admissions essay can be an articulate and convincing reflection of you.
Before You Begin
Give yourself plenty of time to research the program. Chances are if you’re gearing up to complete application materials, you already know why you want to attend a particular school or program. You can tighten your understanding of the program—and subsequently, your case for acceptance—by browsing published text, visiting institutional Web sites, and conferring regularly with program representatives.
The Nuts and Bolts of Writing
The personal essay should be a relaxed, confident expression of the factors that make you a good candidate for the program, but these components are meaningless if they’re not presented well. Make sure that your essay is seen by every fresh pair of eyes possible—this includes friends, family members, colleagues, and writing/editing professionals.
Here are the five most important things to cover in your essay:
The big picture. First and foremost, explain to the admissions committee why you’re pursuing their program. Tell them where you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years, and address the role that they can play in making your dream a reality.
Specifics. Point out the aspects of your field that interest you most and explain why you believe that their school or program will be the best fit. If you considered other schools before applying to this one, tell the admissions board specifically why the others didn’t stack up.
Your “goods.” Though you’ve alluded to them throughout your essay already, take a moment to talk about some of your past accomplishments, both professional and personal, that have led you down this path.
Plan of attack. Your credentials don’t always speak for themselves. In this case especially, it’s important to tell the admissions council precisely how you will succeed in the program. Talk about some of the personal characteristics that you will utilize, and reiterate the fact that your future goals rely on earning this degree certification.
The hook. Possibly the most important thing to remember while writing your admissions essay: Keep it fresh. The review board could be reading several essays at a time, so you don’t want yours to get lost in the shuffle. Supplement your credentials with personal stories, anecdotes, and current-events parallels where it feels comfortable and appropriate to do so.