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Writing Centre Online Resource Guide


Putting Together an Application

by Mady Gillespie, Dalhousie Writing Centre

Post-undergraduate applications can vary wildly depending on the type of program. Graduate school programs (to obtain a Master’s or doctoral degree) have a few common styles of application, but these differ from those found in applications for professional degrees, such as for law school, or medical school. This section will explain some of the most common types of applications, expand on what kind of writing is looked for in these applications, and provide some helpful links to other sites with information about the various application processes.

*Remember, grammar and mechanics are important in any document! Read over your work carefully, get a friend to read it over, and/or come into the Writing Centre! You don’t want to miss an opportunity because of a typo or spelling mistake. Here’s a link to our pages on Grammar and Punctuation*

Personal Statements and Letters of Intent

by Mady Gillespie, Dalhousie Writing Centre

Applying for a graduate degree can be tough; Graduate programs have high academic standards, and some require excellence in work or community involvement as well. Most applications require you to write some sort of statement, most commonly called a Personal Statement or Letter of Intent. While many of the conventions are similar, there are some key differences between the two. This McMaster University resource highlights the differences and provides further advice on how to frame your statement for the program at hand

Additional Resources

The Bissett Student Success Centre has tips on how to write Statements of Intent, as well as guidelines for putting together a CV (which may be required for some applications). 

The Grade Cafe forum is invaluable if you want to read about the experiences of other applicants to graduate programs in Canada. Advice abounds from successful -- and less successful -- applicants. Though this can be a very useful resource, remember to take any tips with a grain of salt. The most important thing is to write what the program requests, so make sure you’re including what is required first and foremost. 

Research Proposals

by Mady Gillespie, Dalhousie Writing Centre

Many graduate programs require applicants to write research proposals. This resource from Cornell University is aimed at first-time proposal writers, and is meant to provide a general outline of the steps of proposal writing. 

This source from McGill University offers “Ten Tips for Writing Your Research Proposal.”

This source from the University of Edinburgh has a detailed breakdown of the sections of a research proposal and what each section could include. 

Research proposals may also be required for graduate funding. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) are both national institutions that offer funding to student in a graduate degree, and both require research proposals. Make sure to follow the explicit instructions in the application, as proposals (or other documents) that are incorrectly formatted can and will exclude you from consideration. For tips on writing grant proposals, check out this resource from the University of Toronto

Many sources will mention that proposals are not promises. If your research varies slightly – or in some cases, wildly – from what is written in an initial proposal, that’s usually fine! Make sure to review the regulations and policies surrounding any programs, grants, etc. that require a proposal, but the general rule remains that a proposal is not a binding contract. 

Finally, this is a sample research proposal from the Graduate Law program at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Please note, this sample proposal was written to meet the guidelines for a specific application process, and, as such, may not be applicable to all programs at all universities: Sample Research Proposal: University of Birmingham

Law School Applications

by Mady Gillespie, Dalhousie Writing Centre

Law school applications also require something called a personal statement, though these will differ from those of graduate programs. Law schools are interested in who you are beyond your grades and LSAT scores, and a good personal statement is useful for admissions (and scholarship opportunities). Here is a link to the LSAC (Law School Admissions Council) webpage about Personal Statements, with tips that will help you frame yourself and your story to best appeal to admissions committees. The University of Toronto has also helpfully shared two example statements from previous years that may aid you in getting started. Your statement won’t necessarily look or sound like these ones – and it shouldn’t!—but pay attention to how the writers structure their statements, the kinds of experiences they draw on, and the connections they make to the school and to the study of law.

These forums may provide some guidance on what other successful applicants have done (you’re most likely to find Personal Statement advice under “General Discussion”). Many of the participants are current law students, or law school hopefuls like yourself. That does not mean, however, that they are experts. If you find yourself floundering or are looking for some general tips, start here, but remember that any personal statement will be unique. If your approach differs from someone else’s, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. They may be law students, but their word isn’t law – yet!

Medical School Applications

by Mady Gillespie, Dalhousie Writing Centre

Medical school applications tend to differ more in their requirements than those for other post-undergraduate programs. Most will require a detailed CV (curriculum vitae) and many will ask for some form of a personal statement. The Bissett Student Success Centre has links to explanations and examples of a CV, and some tips on statements of intent. The school you are applying to may have their own specific formatting for certain aspects of the written submission – in that case always follow the directions provided by the school.

Personal essays are less common in medical school applications, and they are often specific to the school itself. For example, Dalhousie Medical School has a specific question students must answer. For Fall 2018 admission, that question was as follows:

“In a 1500 (max) word essay, describe how your experiences have shaped your desire to become a physician. In particular, explain how your experiences have helped to develop qualities and skills applicable to medicine and shaped your interest to pursue medicine. The Admissions Committee is interested in your experiences in group settings as well as hearing about your challenges (both strengths and weaknesses) that make you an outstanding applicant for Dalhousie Medical School.” (source: Dalhousie School of Medicine)

However, many other schools will have different and equally specific questions to address or information to provide. Read the directions very carefully, and pick out the key information you must include. If you are concerned about missing some of the information, come into the Writing Centre, or have a friend or family member look it over. They can reference back to the list of instructions and see if you have hit all the points. If you are ever confused about what is required, email the school in question, or come into the Writing Centre for another opinion (or both!).

The Pre-Med forums may also be helpful. These forums are populated by applicants and current students of Medical school programs. They may offer some advice on what worked for them, answer questions about admission requirements, or point to other resources you can use your application process. Remember to take what they say with a grain of salt! Not every application is identical, and there is no guarantee that this person is correct. Double check any factual information with the school, and evaluate the quality of their advice before following it. 

Additional Useful Resources