Tag Archives: essay

Submitting a Writing Sample

A reader writes:

“Good day!

Will it help or hurt an application to submit a writing sample from undergrad?

I am applying to the Master in International Development program at PSIA. A friend there now told me she’s never met anyone who’s submitted a writing sample of anything other than their undergrad thesis. However, my thesis was about migrating geese, a topic totally unrelated to international development.

Does it matter whether or not my thesis is related to what I want to study for my master’s? Is it better to attach a sample work of, say, short assignments from related courses such as economics? Thanks much for any help you can provide. And wonderful blog.


Sample Writer”

Dear Sample Writer:
Great question!
No, you do not have to send in your undergraduate thesis. After all, not everyone even writes an undergraduate thesis.
You should choose the best writing sample you have that shows your skill in writing and analysis. It’s a good idea to choose something at least tangentially related to what you want to study. That said, it is more important that the writing be well-written (clear, coherent, and analytical) than that it be about any one particular subject.
If you are proud of the writings you did in economics, then they are probably a good choice.
Looking for a second pair of eyes to review your application? I can help!

Starting A Formal Letter: College Essay Grammar

Starting a formal letter for a job or college application is difficult. It’s true.

Your teacher will tell you that the best thing to do is to address an individual. But unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

In fact, since college admissions essays are often written for a team of admissions representatives, there may not be a single person to address. So, what do you do?

Here are a few options to consider (along with my personal opinions about them).

Starting A Formal LetterTo Whom It May Concern
  • Very impersonal – while this may be considered as technically “correct” it shows very little thought
  • Outdated
cross-1769870_1920Dear Sir/Madam
  • Reads like a translation from another language
  • Impersonal yet gendered, making for an awkward feel
  • Outdated
Starting A Formal LetterDear Admissions Committee
  • Although impersonal, this allows you to avoid outdated and gendered terms while remaining vague about the letter’s recipients
check-1769866_1280Dear University of Minnesota
  • Although still impersonal, stating the university’s name at least lets the read know that this isn’t a mass letter that you sent to every job/school
  • Feels somewhat more modern
check-1769866_1280Dear Department of English Studies
  • Shows that it isn’t a mass letter sent out to every school
  • Shows that you understand which department you will be joining

Oftentimes, you can start your college essays directly, without addressing a letter to anyone. However, certain schools (like Sciences Po) ask specifically for a letter. Moreover, you will find the issue of starting a formal letter is a recurring issue when you start applying for jobs after graduation.


More help with college essay grammar and writing:
Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter