How to write strong essays…

Customize your admissions essaysRTFQ – read the full question. Identify the individual parts of the question and build a pre-submit checklist to be sure you have answered it.

Recycling can be obvious

Admissions committees review lots of applications every year and develop pretty good intuition about essay writing. Please don’t recycle an essay you used for another school – it is obvious when an essay was written directly for the school and is a better presentation on your behalf.

Tailor to the school and program

Writing about how the unique aspects of the program will benefit your career growth and help you achieve your goals is always welcome.  It shows you have a better than superficial understanding of the program, and importantly, how it meshes with your career goals and plans.  Emphasis on this will be noticed in the admissions committee review.

Don’t be like everyone else

Most people work hard for a core essay and then will tailor it to each school, or even append a paragraph to tie it to a particular school.  Be proactive, assertive about why you want a particular school, and avoid the temptation to use the write and adapt approach.  If the first time you mention the school you are applying to is in the last paragraph, you have written an essay that can seem disingenuous and will leave the admissions committee unsatisfied.

You must work hard to be unique

The general guidance I’ve given on this blog come back to this point.  If you treat each school as a unique and prepare a custom package for each one, you are more likely to come across as authentic to the admissions committee.  This will garner a higher number of admission offers than homogeneous applications sent to a large number of schools.  It is also harder to do.  Just as you are unique, so is each school – your job is to show the potential of your unique qualifications with the school’s unique learning opportunity.


Submit an error free essay.  Don’t allow simple spelling errors or gramatical errors to represet your best effort.  It can seem like you didn’t care or were unable to put forward a well written essay.  This is easy to get right and is very disappointing when a student doesn’t.

Presubmit questions

  • Is this essay tailored to the specific school?
  • If you blanked out the name of the school and inserted another one, would this essay be submissable to the second school?
  • Have there been two rounds of review by other people (and have they RTFQ when reading your essay draft?
  • Has someone else read the essay looking for gramatical and spelling errors?
  • Does this represent your absolute best effort for this school?

If presubmit questions uncover weaknesses, address them before submitting the essay.  Remember that the application package must represent you in the admissions committee meeting without your input.  You want high quality representation to maximize your chance of admission.

PS: For more about how to interpret essay questions and some differences between specific and vague essay questions, see the previous post: How to interpret essay questions and instructions.