JustStartApplications.com Releases a Top 5 Tip Sheet for Graduate Application Essay Mistakes to Avoid

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As graduate school applications deadlines approach, JustStartApplications.com releases a top 5 tip sheet advising graduate applicants on common mistakes to avoid in their written materials.

Just as they would in the workplace, applicants across disciplines will be expected to communicate professionally.

With deadlines impending and those grad school dreams just over the horizon, it’s time for graduate school applicants to make sure those applications are not just complete but also working as hard for the applicant as possible. That means not just sending that graduate school application off with a kiss and a prayer, but avoiding a number of common but easy to fix mistakes. JustStartApplications.com, a graduate application consultancy based in Austin, TX, has released the first part of a two-part tip sheet on graduate application dos and don’ts, focusing first on written materials and then on application strategies.

1. Confusing the Graduate Essay with the College Essay
When advising students on their college essays, experts often suggest a number of creative approaches that will capture the attention of admissions officers. But the graduate application essay isn’t the college essay. In fact, for graduate studies the admissions office is only the gatekeeper, ensuring applicants have met the bare minimum requirements. Instead, it is the targeted department -- the one staffed by the very subject matter experts with whom a candidate will actually be studying -- that will pay close attention. While graduate essays should tell a story and communicate an applicant’s unique personality and voice, the structure of the personal statement should be more direct and goal oriented than in a college essay, highlighting the applicant’s interests as a thinker and demonstrating a clear concentration for their time during graduate school and potentially beyond.

2. Sounding Too Cliche/Generic
It is important, however, as graduate applicants try their best to highlight their professionalism, not to sound too much like something Googled from the term “graduate essay template.” Applicants can slip in little glimpses of personality with a well-placed (and brief) anecdote and apt reflective moments, as well as by writing their experiences like a true journey and by deeply contemplating a pressing issue within their field.

3. Staying in Undergrad Mode.
Once on campus, the graduate experience will differ greatly from what applicants may have experienced as undergraduates. Graduate students, though very low on the totem pole, will be working towards being the colleagues of those that teach them. Knowledge of this progression should be evident in written materials throughout graduate applications, while avoiding pomposity. Applicants should pose thoughtful, interesting questions and always ask themselves, “How would a colleague phrase this?”

4. Failing to specify why the program is a good fit.
Too often, graduate school applicants are so concerned about making a good impression, they forget that they are interviewing their perspective programs just as much as the programs are interviewing them. Graduate applicants should do their research ahead of time, taking a deep look at the work of the professors on faculty as well as at any supplemental services and programs. They should also see if they can speak to current grad students to gain more insight into what the experience will be like. These findings should be made clear in the statement of purpose as a means of articulating the applicant’s goals.

5. Having grammatical or style errors and typos in written materials.
Just as they would in the workplace, applicants across disciplines will be expected to communicate professionally. While sounding like a master wordsmith won’t be essential to most disciplines, keeping writing free of grammatical and style errors and typos will give an application a professional and serious tone. At the very least, it will show that graduate applicants are committed enough to have their family and friends edit their work.

Applicants who follow these top 5 tips for written graduate application materials will stand out from their peers and go much further in the process.

Founded in 2009, the mission of JustStartApplications.com is to help students applying to college, graduate, medical and law school tell the kind of authentic, compelling stories that will get them into the programs of their choice. Headquartered in Austin, TX, Just Start Applications operates entirely online through Skype and Google Docs, providing access to expert writers and admissions coaches to anyone in the world at the click of a button.

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Leah Kaminsky
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