We often stress that, to present oneself effectively in one’s application essays, it is critical to think carefully about what a given question is asking and what this might indicate about a specific school’s admissions priorities. Of course, it’s also imperative to communicate clearly and appropriately regardless of the target program or particular inquiry. Today, we’re going back to basics and offering a few broadly applicable tips on tone and style to keep in mind when drafting written materials for your applications.
1. Be Professional. While a number of schools ask fun questions and most urge applicants to be themselves rather than submitting “overly polished” materials, it’s important to remember that this is a graduate school application and you should approach your essays with a degree of formality. You do want your unique narrative voice to come through, but even professional writers know to vary their tone based on their audience. As such, you should avoid using slang and conversational speech patterns in your writing.
2. Emphasize Action. A common pitfall for many applicants is lapsing into the passive voice, constructing sentences about how some unseen force or agent acted upon something or someone else (e.g. “we were required to” or “the project was completed”) rather than putting their own thoughts and actions at the fore. By making a conscious effort to write “I/he/she did x” rather than “x was done to y” you can make your comments more informative, dynamic and, often, more concise.
3. Avoid Repetition. It’s often a good idea to give the reader a sense of an essay’s direction through an introduction and to sum up the key ideas through a conclusion, but ideally each sentence of an essay will add some new information to the document or build the reader’s understanding of what you’ve already written. Keeping this rule in mind as you revise can help trim a response down to the word limit and ensure that you are including as much relevant information about your candidacy as you can within the allotted length.