Great news! Everything on your application is ready to go, you feel great! You just have one little task left...those pesky essays and the motivational statement. But you tell yourself, "It's fine, no big deal. I've written PLENTY of essays, this won't take me long. Please! I finished my senior thesis in time, this won't be an issue. Plenty of time to check out this next episode on Netflix." (Bonus alum story, David Wells, Netflix CFO is a Harris Alum, MPP'98.) For some this may be true, but we saw students who missed, or nearly missed, the Early Action deadline because of missing essays, and with the high volume of started applications for Round One we don't anticipate having any flexibility with the deadlines. So, to help with the writer's block or combat the internal dialogue supporting procrastination, we'd like to share a post from one of our student workers, Esha. As a University of Chicago graduate student she is familiar with the process and offers someone helpful tips below.
So you have filled out your name, last name, academic information, work experience etc; all done with the obvious bits of the application, and now you face the Herculean task of writing the motivation statement. What to write? How to start? How do I fit everything in so few words (or for some how do I write so much about myself)? Should I start with a quote or is it too cliché?
As you keep staring at the blank screen in frustration, with the cursor constantly blinking as a reminder for you to write something, consider these few words of advise from a fellow sufferer.
1. Essays shouldn’t be a one-night or all-nighter task
These essays tend not be something you can just ace in one night. It is the essence of you that needs to be presented to someone who has never known you personally and has limited information to assess your admissions profile. Give yourself enough time to work through drafts and reflect on your writing. Do not panic if you haven’t started the process earlier, learn to pace yourself well and set personal deadlines.
2. To finish, you have to start
When you start, it’s easy to get bogged down by the whole scheme of things, how the essay is going to turn out, how it would all fit in, would there be a continuous flow to it? Just be confident and type down those first few words, write whatever that comes to your mind. Don’t be afraid of hastily scribbling down words, you can ruthlessly edit later. Throw in small paragraphs of whatever you feel is relevant, it will make sense in the end.
3. Google is not the answer for everything
Google might help you with facts, but this is something that you have to do on your own. Do not be tempted by sample essays on the internet or the essay that your senior so helpfully provided you. By all means, seek advice from people but do not try to build up on an existing essay. Your essay needs to be as original as you are! Admission committees value honesty and have an uncanny knack for detecting botchy work.
4. To write is human, to edit is divine
Edit mercilessly, while editing try to get rid of redundant words and paragraphs that do not make sense when placed one after the other. Do not be afraid to reorganize and reorder. Detach yourself from your essay and judge it as an observer. Treat your life as a movie and think of the viewer. Does it make sense to them? If you find it lacking, go back and start over. While the next bit of advise is obvious, it is often overlooked in haste: make sure your writing is free from grammatical and spelling errors and the formatting looks good. Stick to standard fonts and font sizes.
5. Feedback is the breakfast of champions
Let someone who knows you well or someone who is in the same field as you intend to be look over your essay. Sometimes, we tend to miss achievements and aspects of our life that our well-wishers might be quick to point out. Do not be depressed or defensive about feedback, it is what will make your writing better!
Good luck and happy writing!
PS. Try going over you resume too when you write your essay. Explain gaps or career changes or bad grades (anything that cannot be explained in a resume) in you essay. Never make the cardinal mistake of forgetting to edit the name of the school you are writing the essay for!