Personal Essay Work Experience

Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:

  • First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
  • Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.

Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest

Overview of Short Essay Samples

Geological Sciences Samples

In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.

Geography Student Sample

The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.

Materials Sciences Student Sample

For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.

Teach for America Student Sample

The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.

Neuroscience Student Sample

The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.

Medieval Literature Student Sample

This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.

Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample

The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.

Online Education Student Sample

Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.

Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample

This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field.  Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.

Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.

Writing about work experience

29 July 2016

If your child has been fortunate enough to gain relevant work experience or voluntary work then they should mention this in their personal statement.

Work experience can really help to demonstrate passion and enthusiasm for an academic subject, and can help to show that the applicant is driven and hard working.

While for some programmes work experience is not essential, for others, it is absolutely key to securing an offer.  It is important for your child to research their course choices to find out how much emphasis the university places on work experience when assessing applications.

Less is more

A personal statement is limited to 4,000 characters (or 47 lines of text), so your child will need to be concise when writing about work experience.

They should aim to write a brief but insightful summary of their work experience placement, and it may help to write, read and then to re-write their account several times.

When writing about work experience, the most important points to cover are:

  • which duties, tasks and responsibilities were undertaken during the placement?
  • what was gained or learnt from these experiences?

What and where

The first thing to mention when writing about work experience is where the experience was gained, and what the key responsibilities of the role were.

Providing some brief background information on the organisation will help admissions officers to understand the type of experience that your child has gained. Even if the company is known to the admissions tutor, a little extra information can help to give your child’s account of work experience additional credibility.

Once your child has briefly introduced where the work experience has been gained then they will need to briefly describe the responsibilities that they were given.

It is important that, rather than just stating a generic job title (which could mean different things to different people), your child provides a clear summary of their key responsibilities so that the admissions officer understands the specific experiences that your child has gained during the work placement.

To demonstrate the above, compare these two accounts of the same placement:

" During July of this year I completed a two week work placement with Bruce and Carry Ltd as an Accounting Assistant"

" During July of this year I completed a two week work placement with Bruce and Carry Ltd, a national insurance company with an annual turnover of £24 million, as an Accounting Assistant where I was given responsibility for financial reporting and for assisting the senior credit controller by sending invoices to debtors"

While these accounts summarise the same work placement, the second account provides a much better understanding of the type of organisation where the applicant carried out the work placement and the specific experience that has been gained.

Admissions officers read a large volume of applications each year, many of which include references to very similar types of work experience, so the more specific that your child can be in detailing their experience then the more interested the admissions officer is likely to be.

Learning from work experience

The most important part of their account will be writing about what has been gained or learnt from the work experience. The account needs to be brief so your child should focus on the parts of the placement that they found to be particularly enjoyable or beneficial.

Here are a few examples of the types of detail that your child may wish to include:

  • how the placement has further inspired them to study the subject
  • what the placement has taught them about the subject that they have applied to study (this could be specific knowledge or more general insight)
  • how the placement has helped to demonstrate in practice what they have learnt previously (or alternatively how the placement has made them question what has previously been learnt!)
  • how the placement has further inspired them to seek a long-term career within the subject
  • how their abilities or previous experience fit with the demands of a career related to the subject.

Here are two examples of how your child may wish to articulate the above:

"I gained experience of double entry book keeping, which is something I really enjoyed. The realisation that this type of work fits well with my methodical and analytical nature has further inspired me to study a degree in accounting"

" By being able to interact with panic disorder patients, I was able to see first-hand how SSRI’s and other antidepressants can be used to effectively manage severe anxiety, and seeing the effect of such treatments on the quality of life of patients has made me even more motivated to pursue a career within clinical psychology"

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