Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.
It is not uncommon for employers to request writing samples. Writing samples are simply good examples of your writing skills. They are designed to ascertain whether you have the necessary writing and often research skills to complete required tasks of the position you seek.
You may want to start developing a portfolio of well-written pieces so you can quickly refer to them when needed. You might want to select pieces that show your full range of talents. Some samples might include how well you summarize complex ideas, research papers, editorials, critiques (be sure to omit names), articles, journals, and blogs.
On rare occasions the employer may request a specific kind of writing sample (e.g., a case study). If you have to create one, stick very closely to the guidelines provided.
If a writing sample is requested, here are some guidelines to help you prepare:
First and foremost, make sure the sample is well-written and of the highest quality! Ask yourself if your sample has a clear, well-articulated thesis; is it concise and to the point; does it follow a logical structure; and can the reader easily understand and follow it. Other suggestions and tips:
- It is understood that as an undergraduate student or recent graduate, you will likely use a section of a graded assignment from a class. If sending a graded paper, make sure you received a decent grade, but do not necessarily rule out your "B" papers. Some "B" papers may have potential if you revise them.
- Unless otherwise stated, a good length is 2-5 pages. If you want to send a sample of a larger document, select a 2-5 page section and introduce it with a paragraph that puts the selection into the proper context. Avoid sending 10-15 page research paper even if you received a good grade.
- Provide your own work; if it was a collaborative piece, make sure you state so and indicate which part was your responsibility.
- Assignments related to the industry or subject matter can significantly aide your job search. For example, a case study from a political science or law related course would be an excellent writing sample for a position in a law firm or with an elected official. If you are applying for a job in journalism, you may want to submit an article you wrote for the campus newspaper. For a job that involves research, submit a research paper. For non-profits, you can submit a research paper relevant to the organization's mission.
Preparing the Sample (if not a published article or book)
- Put your name on it!
- Do not try font or margin tricks to make a 2-page paper into a 5-page paper.
- Double and triple check for errors. If you wrote the paper for a class, incorporate any suggestions from your professor or peers.
- Submit a clean copy without a professor's grades or marks.
- If you cited works in the sample, include the bibliography.
- Include a brief note about the context of the sample. For example: "This writing sample is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for my Women's Studies class 'Gender and American Society.' I worked with a partner on this assignment, so I have included only the section of the paper on 'Gender and the Family,' which represents my individual work."