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Writing Graduate Admission Essays

Most graduate and professional school programs require applicants to submit an essay, or personal statement, along with the other application materials. A graduate admission essay should be a statement of your interests, goals, motivations, and experience, relevant to the program to which you are applying. It should demonstrate a clear sense of purpose for entering the graduate program, and clear goals for your career path following graduate school. The length and content of the essay can vary widely from one program to the next. Some will ask applicants to address a series of very specific questions or topics, while others will simply request a general statement of interest in the program. It is important to follow the directions and guidelines of each school or program, to ensure you are providing the information they need to assess your application.

Where To Begin

You want to grab the reader’s attention in the first paragraph, and identify why you are applying to graduate school. It is often effective to begin by describing a personal or educational experience that influenced your decision to pursue this particular field of study. In other words, tell the reader what it is about your life or background that has motivated you to choose this path. You do not need to relate your whole life story, just the elements and events that are most relevant. Be careful that you are not overly personal, providing information that could be used to discriminate against you, such as a criminal record, history of substance abuse, or other information that could be viewed negatively by the admissions committee. For example, you would not want to write, “I became interested in a career in law several years ago, but I had to wait until my bankruptcy case was settled before I could apply for financial aid.”

What To Include

If asked to respond to a specific set of questions, the structure and content of your essay should correspond to those questions. Otherwise, when writing a general statement of interest, be sure to address the following topics:

  • Interest/motivation for graduate study in your field (as described above)
  • Why you are interested in the particular school/program to which you are applying (not because it is less expensive, or closer to home!)
  • Educational background, and ability to perform graduate level course work
  • Specific areas of interest within the field of study, and why you are interested
  • Related experience (work, internships, research, volunteer, student teaching, etc.)
  • Short-term and long-term career goals
  • Personal qualities or characteristics that will enable you to make a unique contribution to the program and the career field (i.e., what makes you different from the other candidates?)


Your closing paragraph should be an expression of confidence and enthusiasm about your pursuit of graduate study and your career path. Briefly summarize why you should be admitted to the program, and what you will contribute.

Additional Guidelines

  • Remember that your essay is also being evaluated as a sample of your writing ability; it must be well written and free of grammatical errors.
  • Be sure to have your personal statement reviewed and critiqued by a faculty or staff member and/or a Career Development Center counselor.
  • If no length is specified, 500-1000 words (1-3 pages, double-spaced) is appropriate.
  • Keep a positive tone throughout the essay, focusing on the relevant skills and experience you have, rather than on what you lack.
  • You can read books of sample essays in the Career Development Center, but your personal statement should be a reflection of your own ideas, goals, and writing style.

Career Development Center

Buffalo State College  •  1300 Elmwood Avenue  •  Cleveland Hall 306
Buffalo, New York 14222  •  Phone: (716) 878-5811  •  Fax: (716) 878-3152