Hiatt Career Center

Graduate School Essays and Written Materials

The two essays most commonly associated with graduate school applications are the statement of purpose and the personal statement. This is an opportunity for you to connect more deeply with both the school and program to which you are applying. Each program will have different requirements, so it is essential to review the specific components for every application and take your time! Proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure are a must!

Before you begin to write, you should:

  • Carefully research the program and consider how your professional and academic goals align with what is being offered.
  • Review program application requirements, make note of the application deadline and reach out to the admissions office with any questions.
  • Read all application instructions and identify the prompt(s) provided for your essay(s).
  • Review the tips below for the type of writing you are being asked to produce.

Before you submit your application, you should:

  • Proofread your work, then have a trusted friend or advisor proofread your work.
  • Schedule an appointment with Hiatt to discuss your application materials.

Sample Grad School Essay:

Below is a sample essay from “Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into The Graduate School Of Your Choice,” 3rd Edition, by Donald Asher that demonstrates many of the key elements that graduate admissions committees look for when reviewing an applicant’s personal statement.

"What is the most important difference between tobacco mosaic virus and the Eiffel Tower?" my professor asked on the last day of my introductory biochemistry class as he put two slides of the structures up on the screen. "Both are made of precise building blocks which elegantly come together to form the whole unit," he explained, "but only the virus knows how to put itself together." This was the point I had a Eureka! response. I truly recognized the beauty and complexity of life at the molecular level. That's when I first knew that I wanted to undertake biomedical research.

"Since then, my decision to pursue graduate study has been confirmed by both my undergraduate course work and my research experience. While studying immunology in my sophomore year, I learned for the first time not only the facts about the workings of the immune system but also the ideas and experiments that led to their discovery. As I became exposed to the experimental side of the information found in the textbook, I began to appreciate the sophisticated thought processes and energy required by scientific research.

"The most influential experience in persuading me to attend graduate school, however, has been my current independent research project, which will culminate in an honors thesis. I am examining the antigenicity of a protein in a novel drug delivery system. (Please see the accompanying research summary.) I am eager to bring the concepts I have learned in my project to the level of a graduate program of study.

"First, I discovered how the power of perseverance can overcome obstacles. When my experimental system, the ELISA, suddenly stopped working, careful troubleshooting led to the discovery of a minor technical problem. Through this experience, I learned how to critically dissect an experiment to find the root of error. In addition, the graduate student with whom I have been working for almost two years has taught me the ability to take an idea and follow it while at the same time demonstrating to me the balancing act involved in allocating time, money and energy to a project when the direction your results will take you is unknown.

"My research sponsor, with her contagious energy, has also influenced me with her enthusiastic approach to attacking new research areas, and has motivated me to work harder to reach my goals and the goals of the lab."

"The pathobiology graduate program at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University is of interest to me for several reasons. First, the affiliation of the University with Presbyterian Hospital, Milstein Hospital, the Institute for Cancer Research and the Institute for Human Nutrition provides students with the opportunity to combine basic scientific studies with clinical applications. The resources available at the hospitals and centers aid students in immediately applying what they learn in the classroom and laboratory to situations where disease demands immediate attention.

"In addition, the location of the college in Manhattan is attractive because of its proximity to other research institutions and medical schools. Such a dynamic group of scientists provides many opportunities for the exchange of fresh ideas and collaborative efforts. Finally, the range of research conducted by the faculty is appealing. The studies of Nicole Sucio-Foca are of particular interest to me because they involve the creation of peptide vaccines, an area of immunological research which has much potential for the treatment or prevention of many diseases."

"Once in graduate school, I hope to pursue studies related to the development of vaccines. My interest in this topic stems not only from my course work specific to immunology but also from an additional academic experience in the course, 'The Burden of Disease in Developing Nations.' In this class, I learned that although vaccines are currently available to treat a myriad of diseases, some of these vaccines are useless to people in the developing world because they degrade under the conditions of high temperature or humidity which are often found in these countries. Multiple lines of research can thus address both the development of new vaccines and the improvement of currently existing vaccines so that they may be useful to the greatest number of people.

"In trying to create new vaccines for diseases for which they are currently not available, several approaches from immunology, biochemistry, molecular genetics, and organic chemistry can be considered. For example, an understanding of whether a humoral or cell-mediated immune response is best suited to fight a particular disease is needed. Immunologic techniques involving animal models and cell cultures studies can be used to determine how B and T cells interact to fight disease.

"Furthermore, specific pathogenic macromolecules can be used as the antigen in a vaccine rather than an entire protein. This method requires isolation and purification of protein subunits using biochemical assays such as gel electrophoresis, column chromatography, and protein sequencing. In addition, the gene encoding an antigen can also be used to develop a vaccine. Recombinant DNA techniques such as screening of genomic cDNA libraries, gene sequencing, and the polymerase chain reaction can be used to isolate, characterize, and amplify a specific gene.

"Finally, specific protein antigens can be chemically synthesized. This method requires not only a rigorous use of synthesis design from organic chemistry, but also principles of biochemistry to determine protein sequence and folding, as the conformation of a protein domain and not just its amino acid sequence is often recognized by antigen-presenting cells. Thus, x-ray crystallography and FTIR must be employed. All of these lines of research can lead to the development of new vaccines."

"After graduate school, I will consider a career in the pharmaceutical industry. The ability to see an idea about a molecular process evolve into a product which will help make people’s lives healthier is my motivation for this choice. However, I am also considering a career in academia because I am interested in the possibility of combining research with teaching and interacting with undergraduates.

"I am currently tutoring genetics students and have previously tutored organic chemistry students, and the one-on-one interaction has enabled me to teach and learn at the same time. Through my involvement in Women in Science and Engineering as a biochemistry affinity group leader, I have been able to advise students about the selection of courses, summer jobs and potential professors with whom to do an independent study.

"The teaching experience which has proven to be the most challenging is serving as a ninth-grade religious education instructor for the past three years. I have prepared my own lessons and led discussions with a group of twenty sometimes less than enthusiastic 14-year-olds. Trying to capture their attention has forced me to be creative in my style and presentation of material. Thus, my involvement with students may persuade me to enter the academic research world."

"My past experiences have well-prepared me to pursue graduate education at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. My undergraduate education in the competitive atmosphere at Brandeis has enabled me to not merely reiterate ideas stated by my professors, but to apply the concepts I have learned to unfamiliar situations. During my four years here, both my study skills and my ability to process information have sharpened, as evidenced by an improvement in my grades within my major from a 3.0 grade point average my freshman year to a 3.6 junior year.

"The lack of self-confidence which plagued me during my first two years here was induced by both insufficient study skills and an unusually rigorous course load, wherein I completed my inorganic and organic chemistry courses in three semesters rather than four. I also took physical chemistry, usually reserved for upperclassmen, my sophomore year.

"In addition, my interactions with people within the Brandeis community outside the classroom have prepared me for the intellectual atmosphere at Columbia. The need to write and speak effectively on issues of importance, whether it involves a change in the housing policy or creating a new concentration, are requisite to enact positive change.

"One initiative which I undertook was the creation of a website for Women in Science and Engineering to help create better communication among women scientists both at Brandeis and at other universities. Therefore by combining my diverse undergraduate experience, I will be able to grow as a researcher in your pathobiology graduate program while contributing my ideas about both the research interests of my colleagues and issues facing the Columbia community."

Additional Types of Essays