I was profiled on my alma mater’s sociology department blog earlier this month in their running Alumnus Spotlight series where they interview past program graduates about what they’re doing post-graduation and where we, the students, get to give advice about our post-graduate careers. Given that I’ve made the jump from undergraduate to graduate student in the past year, I took the opportunity to talk about the work I’m doing at Indiana University and give advice to other perspective PhD students.
Last month, I also had the opportunity to sit on a panel with some of my fellow PhD students and a couple professors to talk to undergraduates at IU about what it’s like applying to, and eventually choosing, graduate programs. At that panel, I spoke about many of the same things as I did in the Q&A. One of the things that came up in both the post and the panel was how undergraduates should handle the writing sample requirement of the graduate school application.
I was really lucky in that when I was applying to programs I had already been working on my senior thesis for a year. In that project, where I had collected all my own data, I performed an extensive content analysis of over 100 Community Development Loan Fund websites over four time different points. So, by the time I was applying to programs, I already had a pretty impressive project underway and was able to convey my ability to perform original research to the admissions committee right out of the gate.
I mention this because during the panel, the two professors pointed out that the writing sample was a memorable part of my application and a selling point for my admission to the program. My experience isn’t unique. I have to assume that everyone in my incoming cohort had some pretty impressive writing samples. The reason for pointing it out, is that for prospective PhD students, it’s telling that the writing sample is something people remember and seemingly it should be seen as a large part of your application.
Next week, our department is having its first group of prospective graduate students for a campus visit. Students who would like to apply next year should start thinking about what in their application packet will be the selling point. For many, having a memorable writing sample will be an important part of that process. I highly encourage potential students to use the writing sample as a how of their ability to perform creative and original sociological research. It can be a great opportunity to learn something about your research interests and show that you will be an asset to your future department as a graduate student.