“What is the most important part of my application?” ask many of my clients applying to graduate programs in STEM fields. They, like you, want to know where they should exert the most effort.
The Most Important Part of Your Application is…
My response: All parts of the application are of interest to an admissions committee. However, certain factors are facts that you have little control over by the time you are actually applying. Your GPA is a fact—you cannot change it unless you are still a student and working hard to raise your grades. You can only take the GRE or GMAT so many times, and what you submit is a fact you can no longer change. If you have a great GPA and GRE you are competing with other applicants with similar scores. Your resume is a list of facts.
Another section of the application gives you the opportunity for some control or at least influence: Letters of recommendation. You can provide detailed information to your references to make it easier for them to write an excellent letter. You can give them a list of bullet points highlighting your accomplishments under their guidance—what were your actions and the results? You can also inform them of what the programs are seeking in candidates and remind them of your skills, offering examples of leadership, team collaboration, initiative, creative thinking, and innovation, etc.
The Unique Role of the Essay
However, it is the essay that allows you to present who you really are to the admissions committee. It is where you can write about your motivations—the “whys” supporting your decisions to major in what you did, to focus on the research you conducted, or to explain why you chose the jobs that comprise your work experience. And, the essay is the one element that you now have total control over.
In the statement of purpose, you can also distinguish yourself through clear, realistic goals and explain why this particular program and school is the best fit for you—how it will help you meet your goals. You can discuss which classes you look forward to and which faculty you would like to learn from or to conduct research with. You can reach out to current students and recent alumni to learn more about the program than you can find on the website. You can include what you learn from them in your essays. In these ways, you can stand out from other applicants who may not offer as thorough or compelling a narrative.
Although I wouldn’t conclude any one application element is always more important, the essay is where you have the most power to persuade and provide a complete picture of who you are beyond your grades and standardized scores. Having sat in on admissions committee meetings for years, I can say that the essays were frequently the most memorable and effective parts of an application. Alternatively, the essay could be the element that earned applicants a rejection. As an experienced Accepted consultant, I can confidently say that strategizing and editing the essays is where my Accepted colleagues and I add the most value.
If you would like the guidance and support of experienced admissions consultants as you work on your statement of purpose or other parts of your grad school application, Accepted is here to help. We offer a range of services that can be tailored exactly to your needs.