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Graduate Admission Projects: How to Beat the Odds

EF_Team [Moderator] 41 / 222 15  
Aug 8, 2006   #1
It is no secret that in the world of higher academics, competition is fierce and many more applicants apply than can ever be accepted. When you come to apply for a coveted position, several important criteria for success have already been determined: your grades, standardized test scores, publications, relevant work and teaching experience, and the vitally important letters of reference. However, since so many of the applicants have very similar transcripts, scores, and references, the admission essay becomes the factor which can elevate you above the competition. It is often the only sample of your writing the evaluation committee will see, and so gains an exaggerated importance in determining admissions.

The admission essay for graduate school must describe your academic interests in the most explicit terms possible within the specified length, as well as showing how your previous experience has led you to the present, and how these have qualified you for future studies in your field. Linking your past to the future serves to "prove" the statements you are making about your qualifications and potential for success in the program; many applicants thoughtlessly make statements about their potential without reference to their previous accomplishments, resulting in an essay that sounds hollow and cliché. Be sure to reference relevant courses you have taken, as well as papers you have written, and any presentations or publications you have produced. All of these show you are qualified to continue researching in your area, and that you are committed to your chosen field.

Fluency for your subject area is vitally important to convey in the essay, and to achieve this it is useful to mention, and even briefly cite, academics whose research your project will build on. Remember that in such a short paper, using an authority as a base from which to build your own ideas is an efficient way to lay out your foundational premises, leaving you more time to focus on the uniqueness of your proposal. Further, by situating your project in established research, you convey the impression that you understand the field and will contribute to the discussion of your chosen issue. Creativity of thought is important, but unless it is moored in previous research, it will seem tangential at best, irrelevant at worst.

Another often-neglected aspect of the graduate admissions essay is the work you need to do before you ever put pen to paper, or more properly, finger to key. One of the primary reasons nearly identical applicants have varied rates of success is that some match the school and department they want to attend, while others do not. The same application essay will find eager and enthusiastic readers in one department, and yawns or frowns at another, independent of the quality of the school. Make sure to evaluate the department carefully before you apply. What are their strengths, and which areas seem to be the focus? Make your project fit the thrust of the department, or choose departments which are a match for your own interests. Contact two or three professors in your area you might like to work with, and allow them to read your proposal. If they like it, they may well agree to supervise you if you gain admission, which is a fact you can proudly mention in your admissions essay. Further, some will even be willing to suggest improvements, meaning your essay can only get better.

These tips, learned though personal experience, will help you maximize your chances for admission, and may even compensate for a weakness in another aspect of your application. Remember, many others are in your shoes, and every edge you can give yourself will help you land on the top of the pile.


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