Applying to Graduate School, Part Five: Written Sample

by kathleenljackson

Determine what the school you are applying for wants in a written sample; it’s pretty common to submit a single written sample that is 20 pages, maximum. Check the program’s website.

Obviously you need to submit your best piece of work BUT it needs to be your best piece of work that showcases your ability to research; use a written sample that is primary source heavy, not a historiographical paper. They want to see that you are capable of original thinking (and according to the graduate officers and historians I have met, historiographical papers are less compelling and considered less creative).*

Try and submit a written sample that relates to your proposed research for graduate school.

Less is more. Keep it short (they’re reading hundreds). If it says 20 pages, 20 pages should be your absolute maximum.

If you want to use a thesis chapter, craft a coherent showcase of that work, simply add:

  • Introduction to the topic
  • Scope of the paper

Always, always proofread and edit the work you are submitting. Even if you got 100% for that essay, you need to double check that everything is right (grammar and punctuation), nothing has changed (facts and concepts) and that you are happy with it (because it is supposed to be a representation of your brain at work).

Written Sample


Writing Sample (College of Letters & Science, University of California, Berkeley)

Writing Sample (Department of History, University of Washington)

* This advice is, obviously, most applicable to people in history.