Writing your Best MLIS Application Essay

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Morgan Adle, MLS.

Writing application essays can be intimidating and a complete mystery to most of us. Having spent the last 4 years reading every single application that came through the MLIS Program at the University of Maryland, here is what I would want future applicants to know.

Your Essay is a part of your Application Package

If we had time to sit down and interview everyone who applied to library school, we would! But since we can’t, your application package and all of its pieces help us get to know you; who you are, what your goals and aspirations are, and why you want to get an MLIS degree. Use your essays to introduce yourself without repeating what’s in your transcripts and resume.

Programs want you to Succeed

We don’t want to set anyone up for failure, especially with the high cost of graduate school. 

So when reading applications, I wanted to make sure someone could be successful in graduate school. Use your essays to address a low undergrad GPA or anything that might give the reviewer doubts. If your GPA is particularly low, you might consider taking a graduate class as a non-degree seeking student or completing a professional development course to show that you can succeed.

Explaining a low GPA

The UMD Graduate School requires admitted graduate students to have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, BUT having under a 3.0 doesn’t automatically disqualify you from being accepted. It just means that we have to write a letter of justification to the graduate school explaining why we’d like to admit you despite your low GPA. So if you do have a GPA under 3.0, help us write that letter to the graduate school! Offer us an explanation (maybe a personal hardship or you were in a rigorous STEM program) and talk about other classes you’ve taken and experiences (work or otherwise) that have given you the skills you need to succeed in graduate school.

Universities like “Grit” 

Grit means we want to see that you can persevere when things get difficult, and graduate school can definitely be difficult. In many ways, it’s much more unstructured than undergraduate programs, especially where you choose your own LIS career path and electives. Online classes also require a lot of self-generated motivation and time management, and making friends can be downright hard. While we have policies built in to help you if things become difficult or unmanageable (like taking a semester off) we want to know that you can weather the storm, push through, graduate, and successfully find work in the field.

What are your Interests?

You don’t have to enter library school knowing what you want to be when you graduate; most of us don’t! But we don’t want to see that you have an interest somewhere. The MLIS prepares you for a lot of different careers and institutions. Which are you most interested in? Why is that? Take a look at current job postings for MLIS grads, which could you see yourself doing?

Know what You’re Getting Into

We all love libraries and books, but we sometimes have a misplaced idea of what librarianship is like based on being patrons rather than staff. In reality, archival work can be a little boring (removing staples, redacting documents, sleeving photographs, etc.), and working the front desk of a public library can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. If you have experience working in a library or archive, you probably know this. If you don’t have any experience, that’s fine! But you might want to do a little legwork (job shadowing, interviewing a local librarian/archivist, etc.) to not only show us that you’ve seriously explored the field but also to make sure that you can be sure this is what you want to do.

The Bottom Line

Most importantly, follow the instructions and write something authentic that shows who you are. There is no right answer, no checklist we’re using to grade your essays. Look at your application package as a whole and use the essays to fill in the blanks so that we can get to know you, make sure you’re a good fit for our program, and make sure the program is a good fit for you. And please remember, If you aren’t accepted into your dream school, there’s no reason why you can’t work on your application, build some experience, take another class, or seek stronger recommendations and apply again.

Morgan Adle received her MLS degree in 2015 and managed the MLIS Program at the University of Maryland for 4 years before stepping down in Summer 2022 to pursue her Ph.D. in Information Studies full-time. Her research interests include LIS curriculum, information literacy, and internet search behavior.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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