Doctoral Entrance Essays

Sample Graduate Application Essay - Before

My purpose for seeking a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership is to expand my knowledge of theory and research methods as it pertains to education. I especially want to fine-tune my research skills as I feel that the importance of gaining research skills is imperative to becoming a lifelong learner and developing intellectual self-actualization as I prepare myself for a career in Education. I realize the importance of gaining credibility among my future colleagues and people that I will be serving in the field.

My view of Education is that of a reformist. I have a particular interest in the improvement of homeless individuals, single mothers and women of color. Because of my own experience with both homelessness and single motherhood, I know the feeling of helplessness as you are sinking deeper and deeper in desperation that you feel that you will never recover from it. I have seen how generations of these people have become prisoners by being illiterate and /or insufficiently educated around our city with little or no hope of getting free from their bondage. Although I have struggled hard to get myself out of this situation I refuse to forget.

I have strove to make a difference wherever I can. As volunteer at Christian Assistance Ministry I witnessed the overworked conditions that the social workers and volunteers faced. Worn from these conditions these dedicated workers had no respite from their daily work of feeding, clothing and providing funds for the homeless and families who have found themselves in a desperate situation. Although I had many job responsibilities at Christian Assistance Ministry the most common was that of interviewer where I assessed the clients situation and offered help either monetary or that of food and clothing. I soon found that intake and interview forms as well as information that was distributed to the patrons. I took it upon myself after approval from the Director to redo and modernize these forms and lists. Also I had initiated lists of other agencies that would assist clients find additional help that they needed in the Greater Houston Area. One of theses lists that I have generated has been used by City Public Service to refer customers that are in need of financial assistance to pay their utility bills. I had contacted each of the agencies personally to get up to date hours, addresses and contact names and numbers before adding them to the list. Many patrons of Christian Assistance Ministry were included in my project as I compiled lists of job hotlines, shelters and affordable housing options. This inclusion also gave many of the patrons a sense of community collaboration, as I would discuss information with them.

In my present job at SeaNet I felt that it was necessary to know what our clients, Small businesses Development Center and Small business administration Counselors felt about the services we were providing them since in the job we do we don't have personal contact with them. With my directors approval I sent out surveys asking various questions about the service we provide and got an overwhelming response. This information was used in a quarterly report that is submitted to our funding agency in Washington DC. At SeaNet I am known as an individual that prides herself in thorough research techniques. I am often being asked to do research for special projects that are beyond our usual information requests. Most recently I have done research on the availability of renewable energy sources in South Texas. This research was for a consortium of various Universities in Texas, The Economic Development Center, Solar Energy and Brooks Air Force Base investigating who are examining the feasibility using various energy sources.

I am also an advocate of 21st Century Learning Centers that would provide a safe refuge for the millions of latch-key children in this country that go home to an empty house on any given school day. Along with that thought are full service schools that would provide many of the health and social services so desperately needed in many school districts. I have and continue to research community programs that are available to school children and their families. I recently collaborated with three such agencies (Upward Bound, Peace Center, and Davis....) in Houston to present to my fellow classmates the importance and impact community collaboration makes on our schools in our city. I also provided information in the form of brochures and handouts about other such organizations that could assist in the needs of their own schools. I feel that it is imperative that every teacher, principle and administrative staff in all schools be aware of these resources in our community. After the presentation many of my classmates who are teachers and administrators contacted several of the organizations that I had introduced them to in that hour presentation and have started programs within their schools.

Although I have not yet formally been employed in the educational work environment I have been a mentor for many students attending Davis Middle School as well as a tutor for several home-schooled children. During the years of my own children attending school, I was very involved in their schools both private and public and took on many organizational and leadership roles. I served on many boards and was very active in assisting instructors and administrators in the schools my children attended. Because of these 15 years of experience, I am very familiar with the diverse educational system in Houston.

I have helped develop leadership in others by serving as an example of how far you can go in education with dedication and hard work. By being a student I have been example to others who didn't feel they could juggle school with work and raising a family. I have a very hard working and decisive character that has earned me a 4.0 GPA. I have never been one to do anything halfway but instead show the dedication and integrity it takes to finish a project to its fullest.

My short-term goals include: establishing a network of scholars and future administrators, participating in a rigorous intellectual process.

My short-term goals include taking full advantage of the Doctorate program to fine-tune and learn more about research and writing skills. I want to use and improve my knowledge in quantitative research using programs such as SPSS and Microcase, in tandem with qualitative researching techniques. I want to develop a clear and concise understanding of leadership and the education profession and how the two mesh as one while enjoying the opportunity to develop a network of scholars. To experience the community and closeness that my fellow cohort mates can provide enjoy the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss pressing issues in our schools today and how we/I/they plan on changing them for tomorrow. After researching many doctorate programs in the area I feel that Texas A&M is unique in the standpoint of wanting to create a bonding collaborative experience among all the Educational Leadership Students and especially among cohort mates. I feel that the young and innovative program suits the fresh outlook on Educational Leadership that I am in search of. I have seen the department of education blossom in the last 4 years that I have been involved with it. I can appreciate the effort and future seeking work that is going on in the department, everyone has the attitude of moving forward and evolving with the times. To me this is the true example of reform, there is no lip service in this program, and it is practicing what it preaches. I know that in the classes that I have taken there is open invitation for research and suggestions for improvement solicited. Although I have no trouble working independently on projects it is reassuring that there will be others to inspire the creative juices that comes from group interaction that this program invites. I will look forward to working with professors that I have worked with before and I am anxious to meet those I have not. There is camaraderie in the Education Department that I do not feel is quite like any other at Texas A&M.

My long-term goals take what I have learned in my master's courses in combination with the doctorate courses that will well have prepared me to enter any job in Education. I intend to prepare much of the research using the foundations for a higher level of research I have established at Texas A&M and be published and make a difference in how the underprivileged will be educated. I know that the preparation for that higher plane of achievement that has been instilled in me will serve me well in any Educational or Governmental Occupation I will find myself in. Above all I will be secure in my ability to someway participate in the nation's urgent need to educate moor efficiently and comprehensively.

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Remember when you sat down to write your undergrad application essays? It was your chance to show colleges the real you—and the world was your oyster! You could talk about your favorite book character, a beloved hobby, or a cause near to your heart.

Now you’re ready to apply to grad schools, with another application essay (or 10) to write. Like so much of the application process, grad school essays are similar to undergrad…but not quite the same. You need to take a more strategic approach. Here’s how, plus an awesome real-world graduate admission essay example.

The grad school application essay—aka letter of intent, personal statement, statement of purpose, etc.—is your chance to breathe some life and personality into your application. But unlike your undergraduate essay, where you might’ve offered a quippy story, your grad school application essay should be more focused on your academic and professional goals, and why grad school is essential to achieving them. Oh, and it should also give the admission committee a good sense of who you are and what you value at the same time. (No big deal, right?)

All that being said, a lot of the advice that helped you write your undergrad essay still applies: tell a unique story, use vivid examples, be genuine, and, perhaps most importantly, explain why you’d be an asset to the program—and why the program would be an asset to you.

Essay requirements will vary from school to school, but you will likely be asked to write 250–750 words. Common graduate application essay prompts include the following:

  • Describe a situation where you overcame adversity/exhibited leadership/learned from failure/experienced an ethical dilemma.
  • Why do you need this degree at this juncture in your life?
  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • And the big one: why this school? 

Regardless of the prompt you choose, the graduate admission committee should come away from your application essay knowing these three things:

  • What you want to study in grad school
  • Why you want to study it
  • Why their institution is the best place for you

Dedicate a paragraph to each one of those ideas, add an attention-grabbing opener and a tidy conclusion, and you’re almost there! The following best practices will take you the rest of the way to a winning grad school application essay.

Be specific

Stay focused on your academic field and use specific, discrete examples. Was there a clear moment when you knew you had found your calling? Did a particular class assignment, volunteer experience, or work project solidify your interest? Why exactly do you need grad school to achieve your goals? 

Demonstrate passion

You’re trying to give the graduate admission committee a sense of who you are and what you value. Show them your passion for your field of study. Why do you love it? Why do you want to contribute to it? What about it challenges and excites you?

Know your audience

Thoroughly research your potential graduate programs (if you haven’t already!), and tailor your essay to each school. Admission counselors want to know why you want to enroll in their program, and you can’t speak to the merits of their program if you don’t know what their program is all about! What specifically attracted you to the school? What would you contribute to the program as a graduate student and eventual alumnus? Take a look at press releases, blog posts, and big events on campus to get to know the school’s personality and what it values.

Stand out

In a crowd of candidates who also love this field (presumably), what sets you apart? As you consider possible graduate admission essay topics, look for the story only you can tell. Just remember, even some personally meaningful experiences, like the loss of a loved one or a life-changing volunteer experience, don’t really stand out in graduate admission—they’re too common. So if you are considering a potentially well-tread topic, try to approach it in a unique way.

Show, don’t tell

Whenever possible, use stories to illustrate your interest. You shouldn’t fill your graduate personal statement with anecdotes, but you can be straightforward and still infuse some personality into your writing. After all, what’s more engaging: “I frequently left the campus CAD lab just as the sun was rising—and long after I had completed my architecture assignments. I got hooked on experimenting with laser cutting and hardly noticed as the hours passed” or “I really love working with Auto CAD”? No contest.

Be relevant

You can talk about special skills, like a foreign language, computer programming, and especially research in your essay. And you can talk about your academic achievements, internships, published work, and even study abroad experiences. They all make great graduate personal statement fodder. But relevancy is also key. Before stuffing your application essay with every accomplishment and experience from your time as an undergrad, make sure you’re only highlighting those that pertain to your intended graduate studies and future goals.

Explain any gaps

Your grad school application essay is also an opportunity to explain anything in your academic record that might raise an eyebrow among the admission committee, like a semester of poor grades, time off in your schooling, or a less-than-perfect GRE score. For example, if you worked part or full time to help fund your undergrad education, that lends some important context to your experience and achievements; maybe your undergrad GPA isn’t quite as high as it might’ve been otherwise, but graduate admission counselors will likely appreciate your hard work and dedication.

You can also use the essay to own your mistakes; perhaps you didn’t take college as seriously as you should have freshman and sophomore year, but you got your act together junior year. But whatever you do, don’t use your essay to make excuses or blame others.  

Strike the right tone

You’ll have four (or more) years of collegiate writing under your belt, and your grad school statement needs to reflect that. Use active language, smooth transitions, an attention-grabbing opening, and a strong conclusion. And even though your graduate personal statement should be focused on your academic goals, it’s not a research paper—and it shouldn’t be full of jargon. Your essay’s tone will ultimately depend on the prompt you choose, but don’t be afraid to infuse it with personality, even humor. People relate to stories; tell yours and tell it well.

Edit—and have others edit too

Set aside time to edit your graduate application essay, checking for style, tone, and clarity as well as grammatical mistakes. (Here are my copyediting tips!) Is your graduate personal statement clear, concise, and well organized? Also revisit the essay prompt to make doubly sure you’ve answered it fully and accurately. Then have other people read your essay to check for these things too. Undergrad professors or mentors are great for this, but you can ask trusted friends too. And don’t forget about any career, writing, and/or tutoring centers at your undergraduate institution; they may be able to review your essay and application, and their services are often available long after you graduate.

Final tips

For a truly polished graduate essay, remember the little things too, like making sure your files have easily identifiable names. And it might go without saying, but make sure you follow the directions! If the word limit is 600, don’t send in 750. And last but never least: don’t forget that the essay is about you! Any examples or experiences you cite should relate back to you and why you want to go to grad school.

BONUS! Grad school personal statement don’ts

Beyond following the advice above—all do’s, by the way—keep these grad school personal statement don’ts in mind.

  • Don’t volunteer potentially damaging information. If you were suspended, arrested, etc., you probably don’t need to discuss it. Why cast aspersions on your character?
  • Don’t repeat other parts of your application. Your GPA, test scores, and most activities are covered sufficiently in the rest of your application.
  • Don’t be negative. You want the admission committee to see you as an enthusiastic addition to their program, not a grouch.
  • Don’t write about controversial topics. You don’t want to risk offending the admission committee. And touchy subjects rarely make good personal statement essays anyway.
  • Don’t go for gimmicks. Even though you want to stand out, a gimmicky essay isn’t the way to do it. (For example, submitting a song instead of a personal statement…when you’re not studying music.)
  • Don’t stuff your essay with big “smart” words, and don’t use flowery language either. Use clear language to tell a compelling story.
  • Don’t lift your personal statement from an existing academic essay or—worse—from someone else entirely. Besides plagiarizing being, you know, wrong, if you can’t get through your personal statement, you definitely aren’t cut out for the writing demands of grad school. Fact.

PS You can apply these tips to scholarship and grant application essays too...

Graduate letter of intent: a real-world example

Danielle Dulchinos
Master of Education in Instructional Design
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Danielle completed her master’s in 2016. Her studies in Instructional Design were heavily influenced by one of her life’s great passions: Girl Scouts. In fact, while in the midst of earning her graduate degree, she accepted an offer to join the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts full time as their Associate Director of Volunteer Support—a role that distinctly benefits from her graduate studies.

BTW: you'll find even more great grad school application essay examples here.

I wish to pursue graduate study to build a stronger foundation in a skill set I love. I have been using Instructional Design in my volunteer role with Girl Scouts as a Council Facilitator for nearly four years. However, I am only mimicking the best practices set forth by the organization. Working toward a graduate degree in Instructional Design will give me the background knowledge to answer the “why” of creating and delivering adult trainings. I am also interested in UMass Boston’s program specifically because of the strong media and technology focus. Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts (GSEM) volunteers would benefit from greater variety and flexibility in our training offerings, and I would like to help bring that to them. One key area that I would like to work on is creating and delivering more online webinars or hybrid trainings, which would meet the growing demand for more diverse and accessible content.

Aside from my volunteer interests, I believe that an MEd in Instructional Design will also help my current job. I work full time for a small independent financial research company. In addition to research reports, we offer daylong training sessions to our clients in our proprietary analysis methodology. My company’s account management team has expressed interest in modifying some of our core training sessions into an online format. With the skills and knowledge I will acquire through this program, I will be able to help my company expand and diversify our training business line while reducing our capacity constraints.

However, my passion for adult learning truly blossomed through my work with GSEM. As a lifelong Girl Scout, I knew I wanted to stay involved after I graduated from Northeastern University, where I was the President of Campus Girl Scouts and a troop leader. I became involved as a Council Facilitator because I knew each adult I got excited about and prepared to volunteer with Girl Scouts could reach five or 10 more girls.

I remember the day I realized I truly loved this work. After a particularly long day in my office reading reports, I had to deliver a three-hour course on leadership essentials. As I took the subway across town to the training location, all I could think about was how I’d rather be doing anything else. But after I got there and the attendees filed in, I could feel my energy rising. Sharing my knowledge of Girl Scouts with them and watching their enthusiasm to help their girls recharged me. I left the training with 10 times more energy than when I started. I’m looking forward to following this passion and developing a more robust understanding of how adults learn and what makes the content “sticky” so it stays with them when they go back to their girls.

This year I was also selected for a national-level Girl Scout committee, Girl Scouts University Leadership Cadre. The Cadre is comprised of some of the most talented Girl Scout facilitators nationwide and charged with creating personal, professional, and career development learning opportunities for Girl Scouts’ staff and volunteers across the United States, especially online learning assets. We recently had a weeklong conference where I was able to take some video production and storyboarding for webinar sessions that whet my appetite for more learning in this field.

When I chose my undergraduate major, I picked journalism because it was practical. Now that I have more life and career experience, I am ready to go back to school for something else, something I love. I have a passion for learning and sharing that learning with others, as I’ve demonstrated by volunteering my time doing it. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone have an “aha” moment or rekindle a lost spark. I know in my heart that adult training and development is my calling because nothing makes me happier than helping others get excited about learning.

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