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Admissions Essays

Also called a personal statement, letter of intent, letter of purpose, and other titles, the admission essay is your chance to influence the admissions committee beyond what is apparent in a transcript or resume. While most schools want you to address such basic questions as “Why are you interested in the field?”, “Why are you interested in this program?”, and “Why do your experiences make you a qualified candidate?”, be aware that the wording of the essay question varies from school to school. Pay very close attention to how the question is worded and be sure to answer the question that is asked. Do not make the mistake of trying to write one essay to cover all your applications. For more help writing essays, utilize these resources and consider having a professional review your drafts at the Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration and/or UT’s Writing Center.

General Tips

  • The essay should be typed, not handwritten, and error-free.
  • Read the questions! Make sure you respond to the questions asked. Follow instructions regarding the length of the essay. If there is no limit, two double-spaced pages is a good rule of thumb.
  • Essays range from a general comprehensive personal statement to responses to very specific questions.
  • Use a strong opening sentence or paragraph. Try to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Be clear and concise. Organize your essay effectively.

Content tips

  • Include a combination of personal and academic information.
  • Discuss the history of your interest and your goals for obtaining the graduate degree.
  • When talking about yourself, use examples rather than just stating facts.
  • Do not simply repeat information found elsewhere in your application, such as extracurricular activities. Go beyond the obvious and indicate how these activities have impacted you or your choice of career.
  • Substantiate your academic preparation and ability to perform. Be as specific about your career goals as possible. Emphasize your passion for the field.
  • Indicate some knowledge of the program to which you are applying, the more specific, the better.
  • Be yourself. Don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.
  • Be positive and enthusiastic. Help the admissions committee learn who you are beyond the “numbers.”
  • Avoid controversial topics like politics and religion. Don’t criticize the profession that you plan to join. Avoid clichés, for example, “I want to be a doctor because I’m good at science and I like to help people.”
  • The statement can include some explanation of less-than-stellar grades or test scores.

Before you mail it

  • Ask yourself and others if your essay is relevant, interesting, and memorable.
  • Always have someone proofread your essay—particularly a professor or someone familiar with admission essays.
  • Don’t send the same essay to several schools if the questions asked are different.
  • Never send an essay to one school with the name of another school in the text! This happens, and it’s a serious turn-off to admission committees.


There are several books and numerous websites that contain general information about writing a personal statement as well as examples of graduate admission essays. Among them are these good ones:

  • Graduate Admission Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice by Donald Asher, Ten Speed Press, 2000
  • How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School by Richard Stelzer, Petersons, 1997
  • – Grad School


Self-assessment questions

Before you start writing, organize your thoughts, goals, and experiences by answering the following questions:

  • What is the most unusual/unique thing about you?
  • Who and what were intellectual influences on you?
  • Which writers, articles, or books in your field of study have impacted you?
  • Who were your favorite college professors, and why?
  • What is the best paper, exam, or lab you wrote in your major, and why?
  • What is the most important concept you have learned in college?
  • Define your career goals as specifically as possible.
  • What are your plans?
  • How will graduate education facilitate those plans?
  • What is your five-year goal? 10-year goal?
  • What is the historical background to choosing those goals?
  • When and why did your interest in the field begin?
  • What work/volunteer experiences influenced your choice?
  • How has your family impacted your choice?
  • How have you prepared yourself to succeed in graduate school?
  • What personal attributes make you likely to succeed in your chosen profession?
  • Discuss any research you’ve been involved in.
  • What were the outcomes?