There is a wealth of resources on the market for helping students get into graduate school. Some books are better and more thoughtfully put together than others. Here are a few, with some brief notes on their strengths and their shortcomings.
This is the best resource currently on the market. Author Donald Asher conducted hundreds of interviews with graduate school applicants, members of graduate school admissions committees and professors to put together this extremely well written guide. It focuses on the essay specifically, but also gives great advice on other aspects of the application process, such as requesting letters of recommendation and meeting with potential future advisers. The book is meant to be read front-to-back and is designed for someone starting out well ahead of the applications rush. Chapters take you through the entire writing process, including editing, and ends with a collection of sample essays. The essays are wide-ranging, from MBA hopefuls to Law School applicants to humanities. He even includes a few non-graduate application essays, such as scholarship essays.
This guide was put together by Kaplan, the study-guide powerhouse. Unfortunately, Kaplan’s prowess with the GRE and MCAT do not extend to other elements of the application. While occasionally useful, this book pales in comparison to other available options. Nuggets of application wisdom are buried in an irritatingly verbose writing style. This book contains all the same information as its peers, but doesn’t organize it quite as well, or deliver it in a felicitous way.
Focusing on three key areas of the application process, How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement is a fine choice for students looking for insight on the application process. In addition to the Statement of Purpose section (which provides real-life examples of prompts and suitable answers) this guide also includes sections on Letters of Recommendation and interviews. Its author, Mark Alan Stewart, has penned several other guides on exams such as the GRE, LSAT and MCAT, that are considered market leaders. Stewart’s success with guides that focus on the exam portions of the application is perhaps not perfectly translated to the genre of the essay, though. The advice given is often more “common sense” than “insider tips” and the exercises to help guide you towards a crafting your statement tend to hedge towards conservative rather than creative.
This book is an exhaustive review of all aspects of the application process. It has some very helpful tips, especially when it comes to writing the essay. It focuses primarily on undergraduates applying to graduate school, though, and can feel exclusionary for other types of candidates, eg. working professionals considering a return to academia. The author of this book also runs a website where he writes on the application process, mygraduateschool.com, that applicants might find helpful.
While focused on the undergraduate admission essay, this book is still full of helpful suggestions to get applicants writing. Alan Gelb is a contributor for the New York Times and a college essay coach. This guide is organized into 10 steps that Gelb has outlined for writing an original and thoughtful essay. Heavily based in creative writing techniques, this approach is designed to help candidates think of engaging ways to answer application prompts while allowing their individual strengths to shine.