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How to Pick the Perfect Writing Sample that Will Land You Admission into Grad School

Updated: Dec 26, 2023


Table of Contents:


What Is a Writing Sample for Grad School?

Assessment Criterias for a Grad School Writing Sample

Style and Length

Revision and Feedback



Writing a writing sample for grad school - pen and paper


Preparing an outstanding application to succeed in the graduate school admission process often requires a writing sample that highlights your abilities and research attitudes. Whether your dream is to pursue a master's or a Ph.D., this document can have a crucial role in presenting you as a compelling candidate. Having made these premises, some questions on this topic still need to be answered. Continue reading to find out what is the purpose of a graduate school writing sample, what criteria are assessed by the admission committees when evaluating it, and what style requirements and type of writing you should follow.

What Is a Graduate School Writing Sample?

A writing sample is your ticket to demonstrate your writing skills, your ability to think critically and analytically, and the knowledge you have on specific subjects.

This document needs to be relevant to your dream degree and faculty because it shows the admissions committee that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in their program. For example, if you are applying for a environmental science program, it would be beneficial to submit a writing sample that demonstrates your ability to analyze and discuss environmental science concepts and research.

If you are concerned about writing a completely new piece, I can reassure you that there is no need to do that. Prospective students are often welcomed to use previous papers they have worked on during their undergrad studies. These include research papers, essays, extracts from senior thesis or honors thesis, newspaper articles, white papers, policy briefs, and many others academic or professional works. You can also rehelaborate one of those and tailor it based on your porgram and its core values.

Assessment Criterias for a Grad School Writing Sample

This second section delves deeper into what criteria are usually assessed when the admission committee evaluates a student's writing sample. Although there is no fixed rule and each applicant's situation is evaluated separately, you could use these guidelines as a compass to help you choose the most suitable writing sample among your academic works:

Relevance to the Program

Choose a writing sample that matches with the field of study you're applying for and with the research skills that you will be required to use once admitted. For example, if you are applying for a PhD in Economics, you could consider sending a paper where you used statistical models to study the impacts of low government spending in a certain country. On the other hand, if you would like to apply for a master's degree in Italian Studies, you would need to showcase your ability to research and compare previous Italian literature.

Depth and Quality

Choose a piece of writing that shows your best work and that expresses your analytical skills and critical thinking. It should reflect your ability to construct a clear, coherent argument and exhibit a strong command of the subject matter.

To give you a better idea of what you should and should not aim for, I would like to show you also what a bad writing sample would be. When lacking depth, the document may simply scratch the surface of the topic without providing any substantial analysis or critical thinking. Meanwhile, a writing sample with low quality may have grammatical errors, poor organization, weak arguments, or lack of proper evidence to support claims. It is important to choose a writing sample that excels in both depth and quality in order to impress the admissions office.

Recent Work vs. Experience

When it comes to showcasing your qualifications and expertise, finding a balance between recent work and experience is crucial. While recent work may be indicative of your current skills and knowledge, there are instances where your past experience and accomplishments may better demonstrate your expertise in a certain field.

It is important to consider the relevance and impact of your past work, especially if it aligns closely with your goals and aspirations. A strong track record of past achievements can carry significant weight and may be more impressive to certain graduate programs. If you have produced outstanding work in the past that directly connects with your dream degree, it is worth highlighting and leveraging that experience. On the other hand, recent work can also demonstrate your current abilities and knowledge, especially if there have been significant developments or advancements in your field. It is important to assess the currency and relevance of your recent work in relation to the program or job you are pursuing.

Ultimately, the decision to prioritize recent work or experience should be based on the specific requirements and preferences of your dream program, as well as the relevance and impact of your past work. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can effectively showcase your qualifications and expertise in the best possible light.

Style and Length

The style of your writing sample should be chosen carefully based on the subject and field you are interested in studying. For example, the APA format is good for social sciences, while the Chicago style is used mostly for history papers. Once you have decided what guidelines to follow, apply them consistently, from the introduction and literature review to the references and eventual appendices.

Secondly, the length of your sample can vary and this depends on the program's guidelines. In general, aim for a sample that demonstrates your skills without being overly long. For master's and PhD programs, most samples range between 5 to 25 pages, but this can differ across disciplines.

Revision and Feedback

Having already access to a good paper that you wrote doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement. Firstly, if your piece was written for a specific course and was already evaluated by one of your professors, don't be afraid to go over the feedback they gave you and incorporate it in your work. Also, you could reach out to the professor to discuss further adjustments.

Lastly, remember to check any single mistake or misspelling in your sample and always ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and compelling. To make this process easier, you can use online writing assistance and AI-based tools.


In this article, we have seen how crafting a perfect writing sample can boost applicants' admission chances to grad programs. By understanding its aim and assessment criteria, applying a consistent writing style, taking care of formal requirements and seeking feedback from your professors, you can create a piece that sets you apart from other candidates. Your writing sample is like an open window into your capabilities. Take the time to polish it and refine it carefully, and the admissions office would simply be admired by your skills and intellect.

Good luck with your graduate school applications!

Writing grad school writing sample - computer

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