How Do I Prepare a Graduate School Writing Sample?

Among the various parts of your application for a post bachelor degree, you may be asked to prepare a graduate school writing sample. While not every school will ask for such a sample (certain types of degrees are more likely than some others to require it) it can be a good idea to be prepared to present one. Even if you do not have to provide a specific writing sample, you will be asked to do some writing for your graduate school applications, usually in the form of answering essay questions or providing a kind of statement of purpose regarding what you hope to accomplish with your degree. Some of the following guidance may help you to prepare those types of application writing as well.

The Purpose of a Writing Sample

Why do graduate schools require writing samples in the first place? In general, they want to see that you are ready for the level of work that their program requires. A good writing sample can show them a number of things: your ability to think clearly and critically, your attention to detail, your interest in or passion for a given topic of area of study, and your ability to carefully follow through on directions. You may think that the writing sample is simply icing on the cake, but admissions committees take it seriously and sometimes use it in their decision making regarding students who have already made it through the initial cut in the application process.

On the other hand, don’t assume that adding a writing sample, if it’s not required, will necessarily give you an advantage. If the school didn’t ask for one, you may just be giving yourself extra work that won’t even be considered, especially if you are submitting your application electronically.

The Importance of Following Directions

In fact, giving a school what they ask for, no more and no less, may be the best advice you can follow. Most career centers and others who give graduate school application guidance seem to agree: you should carefully follow the parameters set out for you regarding the requested writing sample. Different types of grad schools will ask for different types of writing. This can vary from a brief essay to a screenplay or even a poem (if you’re applying to a field where you need to show creative work). Sometimes you can re-purpose a paper you wrote in your undergraduate years, but if you do, make it sure it fits the style and length requirements set out in the application. Some judicious revising to make sure you’re meeting their requirements is a smart idea. If you’ve been out of school for a while, you might not have a paper you can fall back on, but it’s possible you might be able to re-purpose a piece of writing you’ve done within your profession.

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If you have any questions about what a school is asking for, or if a certain type of writing is suitable, ask an admissions counselor just to be sure. The more clearly you understand their requirements for a graduate school writing sample, the more likely you will be able to give them what they’re looking for.