You now have a clear sense of what makes an essay effective. You have reflected on the questions that helped you identify and develop your theme. Now it’s time to start writing.
Before you begin, draft an outline, even if it’s only a very informal list of the main points you want to cover. Based on the answers you jotted down to the questions from the second blog post in this series, you should have a robust list of experiences, anecdotes, and ideas for possible inclusion in your essay. If you have more examples and ideas than you can use, so much the better. You can “spread the wealth” among different essay questions and for different schools. This will also keep the task of writing a fresher experience for you.
Now let’s break the job down further to keep the task manageable. First, how long is your essay? Grad school application essays can range from as short as 250 words to more than 700. Ironically, it’s much harder to write a very short, very good essay than it is to write a very good, longer one. Writing a super-short essay is like being six feet tall and stuck in a coach airline seat – you’re going to feel cramped even when writing as economically as possible. You have little room to add the colorful context and details that can be so helpful. On the other hand, you must pare your story to its essence, and there is strength in that.
Assuming you have more leg room, so to speak, and have 700 words, you still have to divide that real estate among your introduction, the main body, and conclusion. Dividing your essay like this will help you gauge how much you can afford to write in each section. However, while keeping that in mind, do not worry too much about overwriting at first. Your first drafts can have a “relaxed” length, because it’s important for you to write what you feel you want and need to say. As you edit, you will trim and pare down to the most essential material that fits, including only the most salient, compelling experiences, insights, and anecdotes.
It is hard to edit yourself, however. Having an expert editor on hand to help you with the trimming can be a huge asset, saving you time, helping you make final content decisions that will work in your best interest.
In post #1 and post #3 we admired some strong introductions. But don’t get hung up on crafting the perfect introduction before moving on to the rest of the essay. Many people freeze up if they don’t know how to start their essay. Then guess what happens? Nothing. Days go by and they still haven’t begun. Here’s a writing secret: you don’t have to start at the beginning. Start with any section of the essay where you feel confident – start in the middle where you know a story you want to tell, or start with a conclusion you have in mind. Often, the perfect introduction will come to you when you are well into writing the rest of the essay.
Finally, keep in mind the picture you want to paint of yourself to the admissions committee. What three adjectives do you want them to connect with you after they have read your application? As you read your draft, are those same adjectives (determined, focused, empathetic, clear-thinking, etc) shouting out at you? Stay focused on how best to paint the picture of that talented, purpose-driven individual through your own lively, meaningful examples.
And of course, never, ever simply claim to be something without backing it up with evidence.
- Make an outline, even if it’s informal.
- Feel free to overwrite your first drafts–within reason. Capture on paper all the important experiences, ideas, insights you want to share. As you edit you will get to the essence of your message. Engaging a skilled editor to support you can be a wise investment.
- If you are stuck on the opening of the essay, skip it. Start wherever you feel confident about what you want to write. The introduction does not have to come first!
- Keep in mind the image you want the adcom to have of you when they finish reading. Does your narrative suggest that image to you?
In the next and final post in this series, you’ll learn how to revise and polish your exemplary essays.
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By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!