Writing an Acceptance-Worthy Statement for Grad School
Most graduate school admissions officers will tell you that admissions committees value all pieces of the application, and no single thing has more weight than the other. And this is true, to an extent.
What I have seen happen before is an application with great everything (grades, test scores, and letters) and then a poorly written statement that falls flat. Don't let this be you! Here are the top 8 mistakes I'd read every admissions cycle:
TMI, also known as too much information. I once read an application where the student said they didn't score well on their standardized test because they had food poisoning from bad sushi. And as one of their application's supporting documents, they included a hospital admittance form. You should not use precious text space, where the reviewer is trying to assess your strength with a paragraph on food poisoning!
Too Vague. You like the school or the program because it's the best in the country. Or you like the program because you want to be around other brilliant minds. Isn't this stating the obvious? Please don't use this space to make vague statements. A strong statement of purpose is specific and mentions the names of the brilliant minds you want to be around.
Be specific.Mentions only one or two experiences that led them to their field of interest. You should mention specific research projects and technical skills you gained to show how they relate to the program you're applying to. I always recommend 3 or 4 for building a strong case.
Too theatrical. I get it. You want your statement to stand out and you want to inject some of your personality. Think about the program you're applying to - do you think storytelling is the best course of action for a group of researchers? Medical doctors? Lawyers? I can tell you the answer is usually not.
Length. And this is important. If a statement reads lengthy, the reviewer will wonder if you're unable to convey thoughts succinctly. And trust me, you want a reviewer to know you are capable of being succinct. Reviewers have several applications to read and a long statement becomes boring, so keep things to a healthy minimum.
Your statement is all over the place. You've had a lot of different experiences and are interested in a lot of overlapping fields. Hold back. You don't want your application to lack focus.
You didn't do your homework. You are interested in a subject not offered at the program or school to which you are applying. Submitting an application, no matter how strong, to a department, school or program that doesn't offer training in your subject matter is a sure way to weaken your case for acceptance.
You avoid addressing shortcomings in your application. Applying to school is like going to your doctor's - they have your records so don't lie (or avoid) the truth! Did you screw up your GRE score? Did you have a semester where you really struggled? You can briefly address your shortcomings here (emphasis on briefly), and indicate how you improved.
If you avoid these missteps, your application will be in a much stronger place!