Presenting Your Best Self: Essay Writing and Applying to Grad School

When you apply to graduate school, the autobiographical essay or personal statement and your letters of recommendation can make or break your chances of moving forward in the admissions process. These are critical pieces of the application because they give the clearest picture of who you are.

Adler University senior admissions counselor Janet Lamas offers these tips to help you hone your essay writing and deliver your best possible application package.

Lamas_150x150Getting Strong Letters of Recommendation

Finding the right people
Your mother loves you and believes in you no matter what. That’s exactly what makes her a great mother—but not a strong, objective, professional reference, even if you’ve worked for her. Instead, choose people who can speak to your professional and academic qualities from a relatively unbiased position.

If you choose a professional reference, make sure that person was in a supervisory role; avoid recommendations from peers. If you ask a professor, it’s ideal if he or she teaches subject matter related to your next degree program but not necessary. What’s important is that they can speak to your interpersonal skills, ethical standards, personal drive, and academic performance.

Making the ask
Professors and managers are busy people, so asking for a letter of recommendation is no small favor, even if they’re inclined to help you. To do it well takes time and attention, so give them the courtesy of several weeks’ notice before you must submit your materials.

Help them as much as you can by giving direct guidance: Let them know where you’re applying, to what program, and what qualities and achievements you want them to highlight. For example, maybe you want Admissions to know about your work on a research project or that you have volunteered in your professional field or worked full time while going to school. Some professors will ask for your resume and transcripts to have more context. It’s a great idea to offer these proactively as it helps them paint a more detailed picture of you.

Writing a Solid Personal Statement

Make it personal…
By personal statement, we mean: “Tell us, in your own words, why you want to go to school here.” That means the essay should sound like you. The key is to write how you talk. After you’ve written a draft or two, read it aloud to yourself and listen for your voice, which is mostly your natural cadence and diction.

…But not too personal
A personal statement could address an infinite number of beliefs and experiences, so keep it relevant to your professional and academic aspirations. Remember, this is a professional introduction. We understand that your most harrowing life experiences may have sparked your passion for social justice or made you interested in working with survivors of trauma. But be aware that this subject material can easily read as grandiose and can quickly get inappropriate. This is definitely an area where less is more.

We’re looking for the right fit
No matter what the degree program, we’re very much about social justice. Are you? Do your personal and professional goals align with our mission? A graduate degree program is a big investment of time, money, and energy. Make sure we know why you’re choosing Adler.

Get a second opinion
Similar to applying for a job, everything you submit should be flawless. Ask a trusted friend to proofread your statement. If you’re currently in school, utilize your writing center to review it for appropriate tone and message. They’ll be great for giving perspective on what your audience is hearing vs. what you think you’re saying.

Still have questions? Contact our Admissions team at