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5 Ways to Highlight Your Strengths in a Liberal Arts Grad School Essay
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Last year, graduate school applications were up to the largest amount since the end of the Great Depression. At prestigious programs, the competition for a spot is fierce.

One key to demonstrating that you are a good fit for the program to which you are applying is the application essay. The two kinds of essays you may encounter are the statement of purpose and the personal statement. The statement of purpose is more geared toward your focused plans while the personal statement is broader in scope. There may or may not be a specific prompt to answer.

Either of these types of essay is a critical instrument to convincing the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the program. However, it can be hard to know where to begin.

1. Recollect and reflect. Take time to think about your skills. Liberal arts students often overlook or underestimate the skills they have outside of their specific critical field. These may actually underpin a more relevant quality so don’t be afraid to include them.

2. Make a list and check it twice. List out all of these strengths on paper. Then brainstorm specific anecdotes from your academic career, or extracurricular work that highlight them. Remember that you want to differentiate yourself from hundreds of candidates. You likely have more than descriptive event per representative quality. Choose the story where you can give the most detail and that could have happened to the fewest number of people.

3. Get a second opinion. Have a trusted friend or, better yet a qualified admissions professional—one who has specifically guided liberal arts candidates, evaluate your profile. Compare their observations of your assets and weakness to yours. You may find some surprises. Reconcile these and in the overlap begin to draw out the important narrative points of your essay.

4. Keep if brief. Many grad applicants—especially those coming from Liberal Arts majors who are used to writing—think they need to write a long tome. Make sure to follow the requested formatting and wordcount guidelines. You should never submit something over the specified length. Depending on the question and program most grad school application essays are from 500-1500 words or 1-2 pages.

5. Connect the dots. Make sure that you clearly tie your past and present experiences to the future. You need to properly emphasize your academic and professional trajectory. Liberal Arts programs are interested in how you have been shaped by the past, how it has influenced your present work and how you plan to extend these things into the future whether in your research, your projects or your perspective. The adcom wants to know how you will contribute not only to the individual program, but how you will contribute to the university as a whole. Make sure you tell them in your essay.

Using these 5 steps will help you write an admission essay that truly stands out. Admissions officers for liberal arts grad programs are used to reading a high caliber of writing, so make sure to go big or go home!

Laurie Martin is the Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Consulting at Stratus Prep. She she has ten years of experience in admissions consulting, including work at one of the country’s top college preparatory schools. She has her B.A. from Columbia and a master’s degree from NYU. A former journalist and published author; Laurie is also a former All-American athlete who understands the most important aspects of the college process and how to get an edge on the competition. Learn more about Stratus Prep’s Graduate School Admissions Consulting here.
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