Application essays and personal statements
Use the links below to learn about writing application essays and personal statements.
- Application Essay Home
- Frequently asked questions
- Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay
- Guided brainstorming exercises
- Get more help with your essay
These pages will give you some general guidelines and an opportunity to start writing.
There is no substitute, however, for talking to people in the program to which you're applying and to admissions committee members if possible.
The most effective essays develop from a good understanding of what is required for each particular program.
When possible, have others read your essay, especially people who have some familiarity with this type of essay.
Conducting Peer Reviews
For further information see our handout on How to Proofread.
Before you read and while you read the paper
Find out what the writer is intending to do in the paper (purpose) and what the intended audience is.
Find out what the writer wants from a reader at this stage.
Read (or listen) to the entire draft before commenting.
What to include in your critique
Praise what works well in the draft; point to specific passages.
Comment on large issues first (Does the draft respond to the assignment? Are important and interesting ideas presented? Is the main point clear and interesting? Is there a clear focus? Is the draft effectively organized? Is the sequence of points logical? Are ideas adequately developed? If appropriate, is the draft convincing in its argument? Is evidence used properly?). Go on to smaller issues later (awkward or confusing sentences, style, grammar, word choice, proofreading).
Time is limited (for your response and for the author's revision), so concentrate on the most important ways the draft could be improved.
Comment on whether the introduction clearly announces the topic and suggests the approach that will be taken; on whether ideas are clear and understandable.
Be specific in your response (explain where you get stuck, what you don't understand) and in your suggestions for revision. And as much as you can, explain why you're making particular suggestions.
Try describing what you see (or hear) in the paper--what you see as the main point, what you see as the organizational pattern.
Identify what's missing, what needs to be explained more fully. Also identify what can be cut.
How to criticize appropriately
Be honest (but polite and constructive) in your response
Don't argue with the author or with other respondents.