Admission Essay For Psychology

Top 10 Tips for College Admissions Essays


In the admissions process, US colleges and universities generally use three criteria for determining which students to accept and which to reject:

  1. Previous coursework – your college preparatory work and grade point average (GPA)
  2. Standardized test scores – SAT and ACT are the two most respected.
  3. Admission/Entrance essays

Of the three criteria, the college entrance essay provides you with the greatest opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competition and show off the person behind the statistics. This article will help in writing a college essay and help you boost your chances of being accepted by an American university or college

Section 1: Planning Your Essay

Tip #1: Understand the Admissions Board Psychology

When you have compiled all the pieces of your application and sent it to the college/university of your dreams, all of your hard work gets placed in a pile with hundreds of other applications. Then a small group of admissions officers will review each application, looking over the scores and coursework and reading the college application essays.

The key to convincing the admissions officers is in understanding what they are looking for. They want students who will:

  • Succeed once they are admitted;
  • Contribute to the educational experience of other students; and,
  • Bring honor and prestige to the university once they graduate.

In your college admissions essay, you want to portray yourself as a student who will meet those needs. Of course, the specifics of what qualifies as “succeed” or “bring honor” will depend a bit on the particular university, but all admissions officers share these three goals.

Before you write your college admissions essay, take a few minutes and jot down some answers to the following questions:

  • How can I reassure the admissions board that I will succeed in their school?
  • How will I show that I am determined and ambitious; that I will not get poor grades or drop out?
  • How can I contribute positively to the educational experience of other students?
  • How might I bring honor and prestige to the university?
  • What are my long-term goals? Might I win an award someday, or start a business, or improve a scientific process?

Your answer to these questions will help you frame the content of your essay.

Tip #2: Determine Your Essay Goals

Along with the three questions above, you should contemplate how you want the admissions officers to perceive you. After reading your college admissions essay, what should they think of your personality and activities?

Most students want the college admissions board to view them as responsible, dependable, and academically ambitious. These are excellent essay goals, but you should also consider the essay in relation to your classwork. If your classwork already shows that you are studious and determined (because you have taken a wide variety of advanced classes), then you may want to highlight another feature of your personality.

Along with developing an image of your character, writing the college admissions essay allows you to feature other aspects of your life that are not reflected in your pre-college coursework. Some aspects to consider:

  • Have I worked at an interesting or relevant job?
  • Do I belong to any clubs or organizations?
  • Have I demonstrated leadership or teamwork?
  • Have I demonstrated compassion or community-responsibility?

Tip #3: Distinguish Yourself from the Other Applicants

This bit of strategic thinking should be fairly easy. As an international student, you by definition are different from the bulk of American citizens who apply to American universities. However, it is not enough to simply say, “Well, I’m not from around here.” Instead, you need to reference the strengths of your home culture. You don’t need to elaborate at length; a sentence or two should be enough to ensure that the admissions board pays attention to you.

Remember that you are more than just an international student from an interesting background; you are a complete person with a lifetime of experiences. You should take some time to think about what else makes you different from most the other hundreds of students writing college admissions essays. Add those features (plays piano, excellent at football, speak five languages) to your growing list of essay goals.

Tip #4: Contribute to the University

Remember that one of the goals of the admissions board when reading college admissions essays is to find students who will enhance the educational experience of other students. In other words, how can you contribute to other students’ learning? As with tip #3, you already have an edge by being an international student.

One of the general goals of education is to broaden people’s experiences, so that they come to realize the limits of their own intellect, and then grow beyond those limits. As an international student, you offer other students an opportunity for cultural diversity. As with Tip #3, it is not enough to assume the college admissions board will recognize this benefit. You need to highlight it in your essay. Again, a sentence or two should be enough to accomplish this goal.

Again, remember that you are more than just an international student. You have so much more to contribute to the campus social and learning environment than just your home culture. Take a few moments to consider what else you may contribute.

  • Maybe you are excellent at study groups or other forms of collaborative work.
  • Maybe you will join a student organization or athletic team.
  • Maybe you will write for a student newsletter or blog.

Whatever you feel you can contribute, add that to your list of essay goals.

Tip #5: Understand and Answer the Essay Prompt

At this point, you’ve come up with more ideas than you can possibly fit into one essay. Now you need to focus your goals to only three or four ideas – the ones that will make you the most attractive to the college admissions board. No matter what the prompt asks, you want to ensure you include those three or four ideas in your college admissions essay.

The concept is to present a few ideas very well, rather than list all your ideas poorly. A narrowly focused essay will be much more effective than a general, vague one.

Reading and answering the prompt may seem a bit obvious, but it’s often the obvious that people ignore. You should take the time to read and re-read the essay prompt, so you can answer it fully. Don’t be intimidated; unlike some college exams, the college application essay prompt is not designed to trick you. However, you must demonstrate that you can read and follow directions. Think of that great pile of applications. The admissions officers are looking for a reason to disregard candidates. Don’t let them reject you because you hastily overlooked a sentence in the essay prompt.

On the other hand, the prompt is designed to give you some freedom for creativity, which will allow you to work in those three or four key ideas that you have developed through tips 1 through 4. You are encouraged to find novel ways of answering the prompt, so long as you do indeed answer the questions provided.

If you need more help choosing a topic, you can find some tips on our Choosing a Topic for Your College Essay page.

Section 2: Writing Your Essay

At this stage in the college admissions essay writing process, you have considered the goals and psychology of the college admissions board. You have produced a list of ideas/attributes/details about yourself that colleges will find appealing. You have narrowed that list to the three or four most important ideas – the ones that will get you into your preferred college/university. Now it is time to actually write the essay.

Tip #6: Write with Specific Details

The key to excellent and memorable writing is to write in fine detail. The more specific your essay, the stronger an impression it will make on the admissions board. If you are trying to show that you are a dedicated scholar, don’t write: “I never missed an assignment deadline, no matter how poorly I was feeling the night before.” Instead you write: “In my junior year, I came down with a terrible case of pneumonia. Despite having a 103 degree fever and being required to stay in bed, I still completed my draft speech on the possible impacts of global warming on agriculture.” The latter will make a stronger impression; and people vote for the people they remember.

As you are writing your essay, ask yourself:

  • Is there a specific instance or example that shows this?
  • Can I add imagery (colors, shapes) to make it more interesting?
  • Can I replace general nouns (“class” or “car”) with something specific (“Honors Geometry” or “Honda Civic”)?

You may be thinking, “I don’t really like to boast about my personality; I prefer to let my record speak for itself.” While you should try to avoid sounding too arrogant, the college application essay is not the time for modesty. The admissions officers are expecting you to celebrate yourself, to underline your strengths and personality, so they can make a quick, accurate judgment about you.

Tip #7: Demonstrate College-Level Diction

Diction (word choice) is the fundamental structure of writing. Your word choice reveals a great deal about your personality, education and intellect. Furthermore, as an international student, you want to reassure the college admissions board that you have an excellent command of the English language (remember: they want you to succeed; they need to know that you can actively participate in English-only instruction).

With this in mind, you should replace lower-level words (bad, sad, thing, nice, chance) with higher-level words (appalling, despondent, phenomena, comforting, opportunity). You might consider looking up SAT/ACT vocabulary words and working a handful of those into your essay.

You should also remove any slang or casual diction; the university is not interested in casual language in their admissions essays.

Tip #8: Demonstrate College-level Style

An American proverb states, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” In other words, you want to present yourself as being ready for the next job. In this instance, you want to show that you already have college-level writing skills. So, in writing your college application essays, you should write with the following features in mind:

  • Write primarily in complex sentences, rather than simple or compound sentences;
  • Include figurative language such as a metaphor, a simile, personification; and
  • Include a trope or scheme, such as chiasmus, oxymoron or anaphora.

As with tip #7, this serves two functions: 1) it distinguishes your essay from those that are poorly written; and 2) it reassures the admissions board of your excellent command of written English.

Tip #9: Have Someone Proofread Your Essay

This is one of the most important tips on this list. Everyone who writes knows that the words in your head don’t always make it onto the page the way they should. Because you know what it should say, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking the essay says something that it doesn’t. For this reason, you should ask a friend or a relative (or an English teacher) to look over your essay and check your:

  • Grammar: did you write in complete sentences? Do all your subjects and verbs agree?
  • Diction: are all the words used properly for an American audience?
  • Organization: have you grouped sentences together coherently?

Tip #10: Pay Attention to Deadlines

College admissions essays require a tremendous amount of work. As you work and rework the essay, pay attention to the admission deadlines and requirements. Every school has their own system for how and when to file your application. Do not assume that, because one school uses e-mails and PDFs, that another school does as well.

The best way to stay organized through the college admissions process (and at the university when courses begin) is to rigorously maintain a calendar that includes:

  • Final deadlines
  • Reminders of upcoming deadlines
  • Process deadlines (breaking larger tasks into smaller steps)

Bonus Tip: Post, but Don't Panic

At some point, you will file your college admissions application. After you post it, please don’t panic. With these tips, and your determined intellect, you have an excellent chance of being accepted to an American university.

Take a look at our college essay samples to get an idea of what colleges are looking for in your essay.

Admission Essays

Related Content:

Application Tips & Samples

Sample Graduate School Psychology Application

Sample Dental School Application

Sample MBA Application

The following three samples represent a synthesis of some of the elements of successful applications made by our clients in the past. Of course, client confidentiality is a hallmark of our service, and therefore particular information that may identify individual clients have been removed and/or altered in the applications below.

Each sample is followed by a brief analysis allowing you to understand the editorial choices made by our professional writers in designing each sample application, and which may serve as tips in crafting your own application. As the following samples illustrate, the selective and careful presentation of an applicant’s life history and experiences is a strong element in many successful applications. This is a feature that our custom application writing service offers to our clients.

Sample 1 – Application for Graduate School (Psychology)

In applying for admittance to the Master of Arts in Counseling at the Adler School of Professional Psychology I am completing a professional career trajectory that began almost two decades ago in Lebanon. I believe that my demonstrated commitment to humanitarian causes and therapeutic care, leadership skills, and personal qualities of patience and empathy make me an excellent candidate for this program.

I acknowledge that my shift of professional focus from the medical to the psychological fields may appear unusual. However, one must understand the context in which my career path was shaped. Lebanon, and the Middle East in general, have tragically experienced more than their share of civil disturbance, war, and human suffering over their recent history. As long as I can remember, I have desired to help the sick and injured, and alleviate their suffering. In the context of Lebanon, the only professional opportunity to express this personal orientation was in the field of medicine. For this reason, I successfully pursued my medical degree leading to years of experience in hospital and clinical environments.

However, in the course of my career as a medical clinician I began to develop an awareness of how much of the human suffering I saw around me was psychological rather than physiological in origin. In a society torn apart by generations of war and civil strife, the wounds and scars that one cannot see are just as important, and often more important, than those that one can see.

This awareness crystallized upon my arrival in the West, and in my work as a volunteer with social service organizations caring for mentally and physically abused women and children. Although life in the United States may seem far removed from that in the Middle East, I have discovered - to my surprise - how many members of the American population live with psychological scars and mental illness as integral components of their lives. Given how my professional career has been shaped by my personal commitment to alleviating the suffering of other human beings, my shift in interests from medicine to psychology can therefore be seen as the logical fulfillment of a long career trajectory.

It is for this reason that I am applying to the Masters Program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. I believe that both my professional and life experiences render me a very suitable "fit" with your School. Furthermore I intend, upon completion of the M.A. Program, to go on to pursue the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degree at the Adler School. The knowledge and experience that I would acquire in the course of my studies at the Adler School will give me the tools and opportunities to fulfill my career goals of working on alleviating adult mental health problems through counseling. In the process, I will be able to give back to communities in the United States something of what this generous and diverse land has given to my family and me. Finally, as the fulfillment of a personal "dream," becoming a certified professional in psychological counseling will allow me to address the inner sufferings of my fellow human beings as I once alleviated physical sufferings.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Analysis

The above sample illustrates the importance of the integration of personal history into a successful application. As applications will be accompanied by some form of grades transcript or CV, admissions officers will already be aware of an applicant’s academic performance, awards etc. which are fixed and cannot be significantly improved at this stage. Thus, the attached admissions/application essay becomes an element of prime importance to an application, and often can make the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Note how the above essay differs from traditional academic essays or term papers in its paragraph structure. Admissions officers must review countless applications, and thus traditional long paragraphs frequently result in the “EGO” (eyes-glaze-over) effect, and quick rejection. At the same time, the use of “bullet points” and “negative space” as in business report writing would be seen as inappropriate in such a context. Thus, brief paragraphs – each dealing with a particular aspect of the applicant’s history and reason for applying – are preferred.

In the above sample, note how weaknesses or problems in the application have been addressed. As admissions officers will usually have already read the applicant’s transcripts/academic documentation, the successful applicant must make use of this opportunity to address any weaknesses that the reader will already have noted. In the above sample, the applicant’s decision to move from an apparently successful career as a medical clinician to return to school to study psychology would have been “flagged” by the reader. In the above sample, this problem is addressed immediately after the introductory paragraph, and the explanation plays an important role in the presentation of personal history in the following paragraphs.

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Sample Graduate School Psychology Application

Sample Dental School Application

Sample MBA Application

 

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