February 9, 2016 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I am working on my grad school application essay and am freezing up. I haven't had to write an application essay since 2002 and I'm not sure how to begin. Help!

I am working on my application for grad school. I'm applying to MS programs in hospitality. The thing is, I graduated from college in 2007 and have been working full time more or less ever since, so I'm completely out of practice at anything related to school. The last time I wrote an application essay was in 2002 when I was applying to colleges, but the requirements and expectations for a college application essay are pretty different from what is expected for a professional grad program.

I literally have no idea how to begin writing this thing - I am blocked. I know generally I am supposed to convey why I would be a good candidate for the program but I have no idea how to do that. I keep procrastinating. The application due date isn't for a couple of months but I don't want to put this off till the last minute since I also need to study for and take the GMAT and I don't want to do this all half-assedly. Does anyone have any tips for how I can get started on this essay, how I should be thinking about crafting the writing, and what, honestly, I should be trying to say? I feel like my perfectionism is rearing its ugly head and I don't want to self-sabotage.

Thanks in advance.
posted by thereemix to Education (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It would be helpful if you provided the prompt. But for the purposes of the essay, set that aside first and brainstorm about how you got here.

I think a good place to start is to think about first why you want to apply to this program to start with and think about the potential jobs you see yourself moving forward with that degree. Was there a specific moment? Someone you spoke with? Something you're doing now that's related?

From there, think about your relevant life experiences and skills you've developed that are relevant to why you think you'd be successful in those jobs.

That's usually a good first step to get you the things youd want to include in your essay.
posted by Karaage at 10:25 AM on February 9, 2016

I literally have no idea how to begin writing this thing - I am blocked.

Try starting in the middle, at random points where you have an idea you can bang out based on what you know you need to convey.

I feel like my perfectionism is rearing its ugly head and I don't want to self-sabotage.

You're at the brainstorm stage. Just get your thoughts down - if they come to you randomly, great.

Start with a sheet of paper.

Write down: "Why am I a good candidate for this program?"

Then just start writing down point form reasons why. There should be a few of them that come to mind. There are no bad ideas at this stage.

Not due for a few months? Carry this paper around with you for the next few days or weeks. Keep it beside your bed. Ideas will percolate when you're not thinking about this too hard. Add them to the brainstorm list.

Maybe go back and read more about the specific program or the general area of study. Let that marinate. This should get the juices flowing about why you're a good fit.

If the paper fills up, repeat until you think you have a good running list that seems weighty.

Ever built a campfire? Before you start, you always assemble your tinder, kindling and fuel so you don't have to run around trying to feed the fire once it's going.

Once you have enough of these ideas laid out in front of you, your firewood is all stacked.

Then you can sit down and get the fire going as you start writing the essay itself.

Worry about ordering your thoughts and writing the introduction at the end of the process. Then the perfection monster can have at it to expand on all of the reasons they should admit you, structure them so they flow, edit for clarity and concision and, finally, write the introduction.

Good luck!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:28 AM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Imagine that you randomly meet some acquaintance in a bar (or at some other thing you would go to). They ask what you're up to. You say you're applying to grad school. They ask why, using language suspiciously close to the prompt.

Tell that person why.
posted by Etrigan at 10:29 AM on February 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I cannot more highly recommend the book Graduate Admissions Essays. There are a few chapters leading you through brainstorming and drafting, and then a ton of samples.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

My experience is in a different field (humanities), so this may not be applicable, but...

I know that my program bases admissions decisions on a balance of "Is this person right for this program?", AND "Is this program right for this person?", so you should maybe think about addressing both in your essay. Not only does it break up the monotony of awkwardly writing about how awesome and qualified you are (though I'm certain you are both awesome AND qualified, that shit's just hard to write for ANYONE), it also show that you've thought through the specifics and particularities of their program and have actual reasons (beyond "this is a school that exists") for wanting to spend the next X years of your life there. Grad programs' admissions committees are really not just choosing students, but ultimately choosing colleagues for themselves, and a potential colleague who can already imagine where they fit is a good head start.

Think about what that particular school offers (special library collections? Interdisciplinary program options? A specific prof or researcher who does what you do? Particular relationships with business or industry? A theoretical or practical focus on X aspect of your field that is right up your alley? A pedagogical approach that you ascribe to?), and write about why those resources will help you achieve your educational goals. Talk about how work you've done already (whether during your previous degree or in the real world) fits in with work you plan to do in the future. Talk about how those future plans will be better/more effiecient/more rewarding because of the individuals and resources at this institution (this is not "sucking up", but rather a demonstration of how your work fits with theirs). This kind of specificity and thoughtfulness means much more to admissions committees, I've been told, than elaborate prose about how passionate and committed you are to following your dreams of being X (though obviously you also want to demonstrate your passion and readiness).

Of course, if you're applying to several schools it means you can't you a one-size-fits-all essay, and that you really have to do your research...but it's TOTES worth it, in the end, if you end up in a program where the "fit" is mutual.

Good luck!
posted by Dorinda at 11:22 AM on February 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another tool that can help with brainstorming: draw pictures. Just... sit, with some paper, and draw pictures. Doodle.

Drawing pictures lowers the anxiety related to the project. You're not even writing down words, so you're more at ease to just be creative, think about the topic and figure out what's important about it. Your thoughts become clearer to yourself, and you get a clearer picture of what you want to write.
posted by meese at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2016

I would just google examples and use those as inspiration in terms of structuring and starting it. The thing is, starting is the hardest part. I would not overthink it, start writing and let it flow. You can always (and should) go back and edit/re-write, but I think getting a first draft down will really unclog your brain a little bit and help you understand what you'd like to say. The opening of anything is always the hardest part, so don't be afraid to start with a part other than the intro too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2016

Get with some friends (in person or on the phone) and talk about why you want to go to grad school. Tell them things you're nervous about, and then convince them that it's still a good idea. Tell them what you're most excited about, explain what the difference is between your favorite grad program and your second favorite, and why you do/don't want to go to the geographically most convenient school. Talk about what you'd like to be doing with your life in the big picture, why that's important to you and why grad school is your next step on that path. Be as honest as possible. Bring a notepad and when you've fumbled around talking until you finally found the words you're trying to express, write them down.

Basically, it's easy to lock up on an essay. It's hard to remember all your positivity and excitement when you're staring at text sentences and trying to get the right words in the right order. So start by practicing your words. Talk about grad school a lot, and keep telling friends your story until you have it smooth in your head. Then writing it down will be much easier.
posted by aimedwander at 11:57 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

My advice to my students who are writing statements of purpose is to address the following:

1. What you intend to study, and why you're interested in it.

2. How your education and experience up until now have prepared you for graduate study in the field/area.

3. Why the program to which you're applying is a good fit for your interests and goals.

4. If necessary, address any weaknesses in your record and explain why they aren't a problem. (Example: your GPA might be low because you had a disastrous semester due to illness/divorce/whatever; in that case, point out that your GPA excluding that semester was much higher.)

Brainstorm answers to each of those questions—what aspect of the hospitality industry interests you? What career do you have planned, and how will the program help you prepare for it? Why did you choose that program? What experience do you have, either in hospitality or in related fields?

Good luck!
posted by brianogilvie at 12:21 PM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Graduate Admissions Essays - most important $20 I spent towards my PhD.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2016

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