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Which sample should I submit?


MAbound
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Hi everyone,

I would really appreciate some advice from the smart people here about which paper I should submit as my writing sample for master's programs. I was an Art History major in college and the AH department has a competition each year for the best written undergraduate research paper. i have won twice--junior year and senior year. I would like to use one of the papers I submitted for this as my sample because I feel confident that they represent my best writing.

I have a close relationship with the professor I wrote the first winning paper for and she has agreed to write a recommendation for me. However, the second paper (the one from senior year) is, in my opinion, a tad stronger. Unfortunately, I do not feel comfortable contacting the second professor about a recommendation since he was only a semester long faculty member at the school and actually no longer works in academia.

SO--I am torn as to which I would be better off submitting. A paper that is a smidgeon less good, but is work from a class with a professor who knows me well and can write about the paper (she nominated me for the competition after all) or the second, which is a tiny bit better but has no recommendation to go along with it. :(

I'm sorry if this is confusing to anyone--I would be happy to clarify if necessary. Thank you for your help!

Edited by MAbound
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I'm not sure why you think you need a LOR to go along with your paper. The paper should speak for itself. What's more, if you have two strong papers it seems to me that submitting the one that won't be described by the professor in her letter is the better choice - that way the adcom will know that you have at least two strong papers, not just one. But regardless, you should submit your best work.

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Thank you for your thoughts, fuzzylogician. I know I don't need a letter of recommendation to go with them or anything, but I thought that maybe I might have a stronger application with a letter from someone who can talk about my writing in very specific terms. Since I wrote the paper for one of her classes, she is familiar my writing style, research methods, and organizational skills. And she clearly liked the paper. The point you make however is a good one--submitting the other one shows it wasn't a one time thing.

Just a question to everyone--has anyone actually submitted different writing samples to different programs within the same field? I am not necessarily going to do that, but am curious nonetheless.

Edited by MAbound
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I agree: submit what you think is your best work, full stop.

I submitted a number of different writing samples. The primary reason was that I applied to both Canadian and US universities, and didn't think submitting papers on Canadian politics to US programs would be advisable, even though it was probably the better work. I wasn't accepted to any US programs, if that means anything.

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I agree with the above posts: submitting what you consider to be the stronger of the two essays is by far your best bet. Your LoR writer will inevitably talk about the first paper in her letters, which to me implies that she'll practically have to include the fact that it won a top award, and that at the very least. She sounds as if she'll have lots of good things to say about you, so I wouldn't fret about this part if I were you.

The only thing I feel compelled to add to the unanimously solid advice you've received thus far is that you should try to figure out as best you can if there is a program--or, for that matter, more than one--for which you're planning on applying where even one faculty member under whom you'd like to study has a focus/specialty/concentration that fits especially well with the subject you explored in the first paper.

If there is, you might consider an alternative for your WS such as submitting portions of both papers to the specific programs where the first one would likely be just as relevant. However, the policies each school outlines concerning the details about the writing sample(s) requested vary from program to program, as I'm sure you know. Ones that specify their demand for 20-25 pages from a single paper could make this more difficult than it needs to be. Call or email the right people at whichever programs that problem might arise, and I think you'd be surprised how many might be perfectly fine with 2 shorter samples instead.

If a program where the faculty member (who you also would presumably name in your SoP) specializes in a subject or topic that he or she then reads about in the sample consisting of your first paper, that factor alone could be what gets you into that program at the end of the day. It's not uncommon for individual faculty members to fight for certain candidates with whom they feel strongly about in regards to how well he or she would do in the program. Not to suggest that such circumstances always or even typically end with the applicant getting accepted; often that faculty member loses the fight for whatever reason and a rejection letter follows despite how close the acceptance notification had been.

Of course, perhaps you'll find that the second paper you want to submit anyway is actually more conducive to matching you with specific faculty members' concentrations and personal research. : )

Edited by ThePoorHangedFool
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  • 4 weeks later...

On a case by case basis, submit the essay that best strengthens your application to a specific program.

This. 1000x.

If you are applying for a Ancient art and your lesser paper is in that subject matter but the stronger paper is on contemporary art, you'd do best by submitting the one relevant to your application.

If you are so concerned with this, maybe you should tackle the paper best suited for the application to make IT your strongest paper. You ARE allowed to do that :P

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This. 1000x.

If you are applying for a Ancient art and your lesser paper is in that subject matter but the stronger paper is on contemporary art, you'd do best by submitting the one relevant to your application.

If you are so concerned with this, maybe you should tackle the paper best suited for the application to make IT your strongest paper. You ARE allowed to do that :P

^ Thank you for the advice! I decided to do this. I am applying mostly to decorative arts MA programs and decided to use the one that was an object based research paper. I figured it would be more appropriate than a paper about a series of 17th century paintings.

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