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  • Writer's pictureEllen Gardner

The old college essay

Applying to graduate school is nerve-wracking and time-consuming. You’re committed to this further course of study and yet know you’re competing with many other equally passionate candidates. To add to the stress is the requirement to submit an essay. How to sum up your hard-won years of experience and coveted wish to make a dent in this professional universe in 350 words?

I help many students with this essay as they grapple with the looming deadline and a first draft that feels rough (as it should) and is usually way over the word limit. After reading many submission requirement tips, I’ve landed on a formula I’m pretty sure will lift your application to the top.

Here are my time-tested tips:

1 – Go simple – Most schools say this in their guidelines and they mean it: write in plain, simple language. No jargon, no fancy buzzwords or business terms to show your impressive knowledge of the field.

2 – Have a bigger vision - Don’t just write about what you’ve done and where you’ve been – what relevant story (or stories) highlights why you’re uniquely suited for this program and how you’ll use it. In her application essay to a Masters of Healthcare Quality and Safety program, my friend Allie described a medication error event she was involved in and how that experience crystallized her passion for medication safety. She knew she wanted to change the way medication errors are reported not just in Canada, but everywhere. What is your big vision for change?

3 – Do your homework – Schools want to know why you’re choosing them so do your research – name the school and the program in your essay and the specific courses that align with your professional desires. Talk about your interest in casework, team projects and interacting with other students and industry professionals. Show your value as a team player.

As a final step, don’t wait until the last minute to write it (you want to give yourself time between the first draft and editing) and proofread a few times, reading it out loud to catch the errors you might have missed.

Schools look at these essays as a way to determine ‘if you’re a good fit for us’. The ‘for us’ part is critical – don’t be deceived into thinking this is only about you; it’s as much about them.

Have a good day!


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