Writing admissions essays can be one of the most difficult parts about applying to graduate schools. SIPA asks for not one, but two essays, plus that optional third essay that some of you may want to add. If you are like me and spent some time working before applying to SIPA your writing skills may be a bit rusty. Or maybe writing has always been a stressful process for you, prompting painful all-nighters and excessive amounts of caffeine. Fear not, we are here to help with your writing woes!

There are some great posts with advice on How NOT to write your personal statement, and offering 6 Quick-and-Dirty tips for and outstanding admissions essay. This post is meant to help with your essay-writing strategy so you don’t find yourself spending too much time stressing about the essays, or scrambling to change the focus of your essay at the last minute.

1. Start early.

Seems like easy enough advice, but this is for those chronic procrastinators out there (I’m one too), and basically anyone juggling multiple things at once. Sure the application isn’t due until January 5th for fellowship consideration, or February 5th without, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a great admissions essay. As soon as you create your application in the online system you should be brainstorming ideas for your essays. This gives you enough time to edit or rewrite your essay if you don’t like it. Submitting your best application means taking as much time as possible to write your essays and make sure you are following all instructions in the prompt and answering the question.

2. Create an outline.

Even if you don’t normally outline when you are writing papers, having a general layout of what you want to write helps to organize your thoughts. Make sure you have a clear idea of how you plan to answer the question and points to back up that answer. The word limits restrict your answers to only the most important information, so you want to make sure you hit each point in your outline. There is no need to spend hours writing up multiple drafts of essays if you have already planned out what you will write. Plus, creating an outline makes the actual writing of the essay go by faster when all you have to do is flesh out points you already wrote!

3. Be yourself.

We all want to make ourselves look amazing in our applications, and I’m sure everyone applying to SIPA has something great to offer, so just be yourself. It can be tempting to want to embellish your essays with language or quotes that show-off your knowledge, don’t overthink it! The admissions committee wants to know about you and how SIPA can get you where you want to go. The essays are a chance for you to show SIPA what you’re made of, all that extra stuff won’t help your essay, or your stress levels. You chose SIPA for a reason, so just elaborate on that reason in your essay.

4. Ask for help.

I know we are all strong independent adults forging our own paths in this world, but sometimes we need to reach out for some help or advice. Whether it is using friends and family as sounding boards to bounce ideas off of, or to proofread your essay after you write it, asking for help can take some of the stress out of writing an admissions essay. Having another set of eyes look at your essay can make sure mistakes are caught before you submit. They can also provide feedback about weak areas in your essay, or even point out something you didn’t know about yourself that would make you a strong candidate.

5. Take a breather.

Just step away from the essay for a few days or even weeks if you have the time. Sitting down for a marathon writing session to just get things over with and submit may seem like a good idea initially, but we’re all human and it can be easy to miss small (or even large) mistakes the first time around. Applying for graduate school in general is stressful with all of the boxes that have to be checked off, so don’t let that get in the way of putting your best application forward. Reward yourself for the great work you have done, and then go back to it at a later time to make it even better!

[Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658225516. CC BY-SA 2.0.]