When you’re applying to graduate school, picking academic writing that displays your high level of academic excellence can be hard. Don’t panic! While your writing sample is an important component of your graduate school application, it does not have to be perfect. What it does have to do is communicate effectively, illustrate your potential for advanced academic work, and (importantly!) convey your potential to focus in a field of interest within the the program. We can can help with these tips to pick writing sample works best for your application.
First of all, here are some general tips that can help you select–or guide you in improving–a writing sample for graduate school applications:
- Use an appropriate professional style guide– Your writing sample should show topical expertise, but also an understanding of professional research. Find the standard style guide for your chosen field, and make sure it’s applied consistently–not just citations, but also any formatting for cover pages, pages numbers, and bibliographies.
- Keep it relevant– Select a sample that closely reflects your areas of potential interest. This means the sample with the highest grade may not be the best. It may be worthwhile to revise a B+ paper and use it a writing sample if it’s more relevant to the field you want to study than that A paper from a different academic area.
- Take your time– If there’s no obvious pick that’s OK. Don’t rush when selecting a writing sample. Instead, take some time to review your options–pick something that will make an impression on the admissions committee, and dont be afraid to revise.
- Make sure it is free of errors – As already hinted, you may need to edit the sample you choose. Remember you want to express your professional readiness for advanced studies with your writing sample, so triple check for typographical and other errors before submitting it with your application package.
- Follow guidelines for length– Pay close attention to any requirements set out for you application materials, and make sure you meet the required length. (Typically, you don’t want to exceed them either–more is not always better.)
- Make sure your sample is well structured – Even academic writing should be a well written essay with a concise beginning, clear middle and an effective end. Make sure that each part of your essay is clear, compelling, and, well, present in your writing sample.
- Showcase your research skills – This can take different forms depending on your field. If you’re applying to an experiment-driven program in physics or sociology you may need to demonstrate your grasp of research best practices in field. In a scholarly program such as history or literature you may need to demonstrate a meaningful grasp of research with primary documents, or applying specific methodologies in analysis.
- Demonstrate your critical thinking – A good writing sample demonstrates your ability to think critically about a topic. You’ll find all sorts of definitions of critical thinking, but in this context it means considering the strengths and weaknesses of a prevailing view, and drawing meaningful conclusions based on evidence. Your writing should interact with work in the field.
- Reveal yourself as an effective communicator – A well-written academic paper communicates complex ideas and concepts in written form–the ideas may be your own, or come from others (with proper attribution of course!). The best writings samples strike a balance between engaging the idea of others while bringing up some of your own for consideration. In the end, this balance is essential for success in grad school, and the writing sample is your opportunity not only show that balance, but to bring your reader along.
We know that applying for graduate school can be a stressful process and selecting a writing sample can be one of the most daunting tasks. That’s why we’re so glad you found our blog post on tips for selecting an academic writing sample for PhD graduate school applications. With this article, we hope to provide you with helpful advice and information about what types of samples are suitable for different programs.