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Looking for grad school personal statement examples? Look no further! In this total guide to graduate school personal statement examples, we’ll discuss why you need a personal statement for grad school and what makes a good one. Then we’ll provide three graduate school personal statement samples from our grad school experts. After that, we’ll do a deep dive on one of our personal statement for graduate school examples. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of other grad school personal statements you can find online.
Why Do You Need a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is a chance for admissions committees to get to know you: your goals and passions, what you’ll bring to the program, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program. You need to sell the admissions committee on what makes you a worthwhile applicant. The personal statement is a good chance to highlight significant things about you that don’t appear elsewhere on your application.
A personal statement is slightly different from a statement of purpose (also known as a letter of intent). A statement of purpose/letter of intent tends to be more tightly focused on your academic or professional credentials and your future research and/or professional interests.
While a personal statement also addresses your academic experiences and goals, you have more leeway to be a little more, well, personal. In a personal statement, it’s often appropriate to include information on significant life experiences or challenges that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your field of interest.
Some programs ask for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose/letter of intent. In this case, the personal statement is likely to be much more tightly focused on your life experience and personality assets while the statement of purpose will focus in much more on your academic/research experiences and goals.
However, there’s not always a hard-and-fast demarcation between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The two statement types should address a lot of the same themes, especially as relates to your future goals and the valuable assets you bring to the program. Some programs will ask for a personal statement but the prompt will be focused primarily on your research and professional experiences and interests. Some will ask for a statement of purpose but the prompt will be more focused on your general life experiences.
When in doubt, give the program what they are asking for in the prompt and don’t get too hung up on whether they call it a personal statement or statement of purpose. You can always call the admissions office to get more clarification on what they want you to address in your admissions essay.
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What Makes a Good Grad School Personal Statement?
A great graduate school personal statement can come in many forms and styles. However, strong grad school personal statement examples all share the same following elements:
A Clear Narrative
Above all, a good personal statement communicates clear messages about what makes you a strong applicant who is likely to have success in graduate school. So to that extent, think about a couple of key points that you want to communicate about yourself and then drill down on how you can best communicate those points. (Your key points should of course be related to what you can bring to the field and to the program specifically).
You can also decide whether to address things like setbacks or gaps in your application as part of your narrative. Have a low GPA for a couple semesters due to a health issue? Been out of a job for a while taking care of a family member? If you do decide to explain an issue like this, make sure that the overall arc is more about demonstrating positive qualities like resilience and diligence than about providing excuses.
A great statement of purpose uses specific examples to illustrate its key messages. This can include anecdotes that demonstrate particular traits or even references to scholars and works that have influenced your academic trajectory to show that you are familiar and insightful about the relevant literature in your field.
Just saying “I love plants,” is pretty vague. Describing how you worked in a plant lab during undergrad and then went home and carefully cultivated your own greenhouse where you cross-bred new flower colors by hand is much more specific and vivid, which makes for better evidence.
A strong personal statement will describe why you are a good fit for the program, and why the program is a good fit for you. It’s important to identify specific things about the program that appeal to you, and how you’ll take advantage of those opportunities. It’s also a good idea to talk about specific professors you might be interested in working with. This shows that you are informed about and genuinely invested in the program.
Even quantitative and science disciplines typically require some writing, so it’s important that your personal statement shows strong writing skills. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and that you don’t have any grammar and spelling errors. It’s helpful to get other people to read your statement and provide feedback. Plan on going through multiple drafts.
Another important thing here is to avoid cliches and gimmicks. Don’t deploy overused phrases and openings like “ever since I was a child.” Don’t structure your statement in a gimmicky way (i.e., writing a faux legal brief about yourself for a law school statement of purpose). The first will make your writing banal; the second is likely to make you stand out in a bad way.
While you can be more personal in a personal statement than in a statement of purpose, it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries in your writing. Don’t overshare anything too personal about relationships, bodily functions, or illegal activities. Similarly, don’t share anything that makes it seem like you may be out of control, unstable, or an otherwise risky investment. The personal statement is not a confessional booth. If you share inappropriately, you may seem like you have bad judgment, which is a huge red flag to admissions committees.
You should also be careful with how you deploy humor and jokes. Your statement doesn’t have to be totally joyless and serious, but bear in mind that the person reading the statement may not have the same sense of humor as you do. When in doubt, err towards the side of being as inoffensive as possible.
Just as being too intimate in your statement can hurt you, it’s also important not to be overly formal or staid. You should be professional, but conversational.
Graduate School Personal Statement Examples
Our graduate school experts have been kind enough to provide some successful grad school personal statement examples. We’ll provide three examples here, along with brief analysis of what makes each one successful.
Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 1
PDF of Sample Personal Statement 1 – Japanese Studies
For this Japanese Studies master’s degree, the applicant had to provide a statement of purpose outlining her academic goals and experience with Japanese and a separate personal statement describing her personal relationship with Japanese Studies and what led her to pursue a master’s degree.
Here’s what’s successful about this personal statement:
- An attention-grabbing beginning: The applicant begins with the statement that Japanese has never come easily to her and that it’s a brutal language to learn. Seeing as how this is an application for a Japanese Studies program, this is an intriguing beginning that makes the reader want to keep going.
- A compelling narrative: From this attention-grabbing beginning, the applicant builds a well-structured and dramatic narrative tracking her engagement with the Japanese language over time. The clear turning point is her experience studying abroad, leading to a resolution in which she has clarity about her plans. Seeing as how the applicant wants to be a translator of Japanese literature, the tight narrative structure here is a great way to show her writing skills.
- Specific examples that show important traits: The applicant clearly communicates both a deep passion for Japanese through examples of her continued engagement with Japanese and her determination and work ethic by highlighting the challenges she’s faced (and overcome) in her study of the language. This gives the impression that she is an engaged and dedicated student.
Overall, this is a very strong statement both in terms of style and content. It flows well, is memorable, and communicates that the applicant would make the most of the graduate school experience.
Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 2
PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 2 – Musical Composition
This personal statement for a Music Composition master’s degree discusses the factors that motivate the applicant to pursue graduate study.
Here’s what works well in this statement:
- The applicant provides two clear reasons motivating the student to pursue graduate study: her experiences with music growing up, and her family’s musical history. She then supports those two reasons with examples and analysis.
- The description of her ancestors’ engagement with music is very compelling and memorable. The applicant paints her own involvement with music as almost inevitable based on her family’s long history with musical pursuits.
- The applicant gives thoughtful analysis of the advantages she has been afforded that have allowed her to study music so extensively. We get the sense that she is insightful and empathetic—qualities that would add greatly to any academic community.
This is a strong, serviceable personal statement. And in truth, given that this for a masters in music composition, other elements of the application (like work samples) are probably the most important. However, here are two small changes I would make to improve it:
- I would probably to split the massive second paragraph into 2-3 separate paragraphs. I might use one paragraph to orient the reader to the family’s musical history, one paragraph to discuss Giacomo and Antonio, and one paragraph to discuss how the family has influenced the applicant. As it stands, it’s a little unwieldy and the second paragraph doesn’t have a super-clear focus even though it’s all loosely related to the applicant’s family history with music.
- I would also slightly shorten the anecdote about the applicant’s ancestors and expand more on how this family history has motivated the applicant’s interest in music. In what specific ways has her ancestors’ perseverance inspired her? Did she think about them during hard practice sessions? Is she interested in composing music in a style they might have played? More specific examples here would lend greater depth and clarity to the statement.
Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3
PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 3 – Public Health
This is my successful personal statement for Columbia’s Master’s program in Public Health. We’ll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I’ll highlight a couple of things that work in this statement here:
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- This statement is clearly organized. Almost every paragraph has a distinct focus and message, and when I move on to a new idea, I move on to a new paragraph with a logical transitions.
- This statement covers a lot of ground in a pretty short space. I discuss my family history, my goals, my educational background, and my professional background. But because the paragraphs are organized and I use specific examples, it doesn’t feel too vague or scattered.
- In addition to including information about my personal motivations, like my family, I also include some analysis about tailoring health interventions with my example of the Zande. This is a good way to show off what kinds of insights I might bring to the program based on my academic background.
Grad School Personal Statement Example: Deep Dive
Now let’s do a deep dive, paragraph-by-paragraph, on one of these sample graduate school personal statements. We’ll use my personal statement that I used when I applied to Columbia’s public health program.
Paragraph One: For twenty-three years, my grandmother (a Veterinarian and an Epidemiologist) ran the Communicable Disease Department of a mid-sized urban public health department. The stories of Grandma Betty doggedly tracking down the named sexual partners of the infected are part of our family lore. Grandma Betty would persuade people to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, encourage safer sexual practices, document the spread of infection and strive to contain and prevent it. Indeed, due to the large gay population in the city where she worked, Grandma Betty was at the forefront of the AIDS crises, and her analysis contributed greatly towards understanding how the disease was contracted and spread. My grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me, and the reason why a career in public health was always on my radar.
This is an attention-grabbing opening anecdote that avoids most of the usual cliches about childhood dreams and proclivities. This story also subtly shows that I have a sense of public health history, given the significance of the AIDs crisis for public health as a field.
It’s good that I connect this family history to my own interests. However, if I were to revise this paragraph again, I might cut down on some of the detail because when it comes down to it, this story isn’t really about me. It’s important that even (sparingly used) anecdotes about other people ultimately reveal something about you in a personal statement.
Paragraph Two: Recent years have cemented that interest. In January 2012, my parents adopted my little brother Fred from China. Doctors in America subsequently diagnosed Fred with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My parents were told that if Fred’s condition had been discovered in China, the (very poor) orphanage in which he spent the first 8+ years of his life would have recognized his DMD as a death sentence and denied him sustenance to hasten his demise.
Here’s another compelling anecdote to help explain my interest in public health. This is an appropriately personal detail for a personal statement—it’s a serious thing about my immediate family, but it doesn’t disclose anything that the admissions committee might find concerning or inappropriate.
If I were to take another pass through this paragraph, the main thing I would change is the last phrase. “Denied him sustenance to hasten his demise” is a little flowery. “Denied him food to hasten his death” is actually more powerful because it’s clearer and more direct.
Paragraph Three: It is not right that some people have access to the best doctors and treatment while others have no medical care. I want to pursue an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia because studying social factors in health, with a particular focus on socio-health inequities, will prepare me to address these inequities. The interdisciplinary approach of the program appeals to me greatly as I believe interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective way to develop meaningful solutions to complex problems.
In this paragraph I make a neat and clear transition from discussing what sparked my interest in public health and health equity to what I am interested in about Columbia specifically: the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and how that focus will prepare me to solve complex health problems. This paragraph also serves as a good pivot point to start discussing my academic and professional background.
Paragraph Four: My undergraduate education has prepared me well for my chosen career. Understanding the underlying structure of a group’s culture is essential to successfully communicating with the group. In studying folklore and mythology, I’ve learned how to parse the unspoken structures of folk groups, and how those structures can be used to build bridges of understanding. For example, in a culture where most illnesses are believed to be caused by witchcraft, as is the case for the Zande people of central Africa, any successful health intervention or education program would of necessity take into account their very real belief in witchcraft.
In this paragraph, I link my undergraduate education and the skills I learned there to public health. The (very brief) analysis of tailoring health interventions to the Zande is a good way to show insight and show off the competencies I would bring to the program.
Paragraph Five: I now work in the healthcare industry for one of the largest providers of health benefits in the world. In addition to reigniting my passion for data and quantitative analytics, working for this company has immersed me in the business side of healthcare, a critical component of public health.
This brief paragraph highlights my relevant work experience in the healthcare industry. It also allows me to mention my work with data and quantitative analytics, which isn’t necessarily obvious from my academic background, which was primarily based in the social sciences.
Paragraph Six: I intend to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in how social factors affect health, particularly as related to gender and sexuality. I intend to pursue a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual Health, and Reproduction. Working together with other experts to create effective interventions across cultures and societies, I want to help transform health landscapes both in America and abroad.
This final paragraph is about my future plans and intentions. Unfortunately, it’s a little disjointed, primarily because I discuss goals of pursuing a PhD before I talk about what certificate I want to pursue within the MPH program! Switching those two sentences and discussing my certificate goals within the MPH and then mentioning my PhD plans would make a lot more sense.
I also start two sentences in a row with “I intend,” which is repetitive.
The final sentence is a little bit generic; I might tailor it to specifically discuss a gender and sexual health issue, since that is the primary area of interest I’ve identified.
This was a successful personal statement; I got into (and attended!) the program. It has strong examples, clear organization, and outlines what interests me about the program (its interdisciplinary focus) and what competencies I would bring (a background in cultural analysis and experience with the business side of healthcare). However, a few slight tweaks would elevate this statement to the next level.
Graduate School Personal Statement Examples You Can Find Online
So you need more samples for your personal statement for graduate school? Examples are everywhere on the internet, but they aren’t all of equal quality.
Most of examples are posted as part of writing guides published online by educational institutions. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones here if you are looking for more personal statement examples for graduate school.
Penn State Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School
This selection of ten short personal statements for graduate school and fellowship programs offers an interesting mix of approaches. Some focus more on personal adversity while others focus more closely on professional work within the field.
The writing in some of these statements is a little dry, and most deploy at least a few cliches. However, these are generally strong, serviceable statements that communicate clearly why the student is interested in the field, their skills and competencies, and what about the specific program appeals to them.
Cal State Sample Graduate School Personal Statements
These are good examples of personal statements for graduate school where students deploy lots of very vivid imagery and illustrative anecdotes of life experiences. There are also helpful comments about what works in each of these essays.
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However, all of these statements are definitely pushing the boundaries of acceptable length, as all are above 1000 and one is almost 1500 words! Many programs limit you to 500 words; if you don’t have a limit, you should try to keep it to two single-spaced pages at most (which is about 1000 words).
University of Chicago Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples
These examples of successful essays to the University of Chicago law school cover a wide range of life experiences and topics. The writing in all is very vivid, and all communicate clear messages about the students’ strengths and competencies.
Note, however, that these are all essays that specifically worked for University of Chicago law school. That does not mean that they would work everywhere. In fact, one major thing to note is that many of these responses, while well-written and vivid, barely address the students’ interest in law school at all! This is something that might not work well for most graduate programs.
Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 10
This successful essay for law school from a Wheaton College undergraduate does a great job tracking the student’s interest in the law in a compelling and personal way. Wheaton offers other graduate school personal statement examples, but this one offers the most persuasive case for the students’ competencies. The student accomplishes this by using clear, well-elaborated examples, showing strong and vivid writing, and highlighting positive qualities like an interest in justice and empathy without seeming grandiose or out of touch.
Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 1
Based on the background information provided at the bottom of the essay, this essay was apparently successful for this applicant. However, I’ve actually included this essay because it demonstrates an extremely risky approach. While this personal statement is strikingly written and the story is very memorable, it could definitely communicate the wrong message to some admissions committees. The student’s decision not to report the drill sergeant may read incredibly poorly to some admissions committees. They may wonder if the student’s failure to report the sergeant’s violence will ultimately expose more soldiers-in-training to the same kinds of abuses. This incident perhaps reads especially poorly in light of the fact that the military has such a notable problem with violence against women being covered up and otherwise mishandled
It’s actually hard to get a complete picture of the student’s true motivations from this essay, and what we have might raise real questions about the student’s character to some admissions committees. This student took a risk and it paid off, but it could have just as easily backfired spectacularly.
Key Takeaways: Graduate School Personal Statement Examples
In this guide, we discussed why you need a personal statement and how it differs from a statement of purpose. (It’s more personal!)
We also discussed what you’ll find in a strong sample personal statement for graduate school:
- A clear narrative about the applicant and why they are qualified for graduate study.
- Specific examples to support that narrative.
- Compelling reasons why the applicant and the program are a good fit for each other.
- Strong writing, including clear organization and error-free, cliche-free language.
- Appropriate boundaries—sharing without over-sharing.
Then, we provided three strong graduate school personal statement examples for different fields, along with analysis. We did a deep-dive on the third statement.
Finally, we provided a list of other sample grad school personal statements online.
Want more advice on writing a personal statement ? See our guide.
Writing a graduate school statement of purpose? See our statement of purpose samples and a nine-step process for writing the best statement of purpose possible .
If you’re writing a graduate school CV or resume, see our how-to guide to writing a CV , a how-to guide to writing a resume , our list of sample resumes and CVs , resume and CV templates , and a special guide for writing resume objectives .
Need stellar graduate school recommendation letters ? See our guide.
See our 29 tips for successfully applying to graduate school .
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Author: Ellen McCammon
Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon
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- How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples
How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples
Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.
A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.
To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:
- Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
- Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
- Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?
This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.
Urban Planning Psychology History
Table of contents
Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.
Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.
For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.
There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.
The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.
Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene
An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:
- A personal experience that changed your perspective
- A story from your family’s history
- A memorable teacher or learning experience
- An unusual or unexpected encounter
To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.
Strategy 2: Open with your motivations
To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.
Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:
- Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
- Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
- How does it fit into the rest of your life?
- What do you think it contributes to society?
Tips for the introduction
- Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
- Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.
Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.
To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.
Strategy 1: Describe your development over time
One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.
- What first sparked your interest in the field?
- Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
- Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?
Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.
My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.
Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles
If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.
- Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
- Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.
Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.
Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.
Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field
Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.
- Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
- Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
- Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.
The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.
In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.
Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions
Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.
- If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
- If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
- If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.
Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.
One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.
Tips for the main body
- Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
- Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.
Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.
Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.
Strategy 1: What do you want to know?
If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?
If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.
Strategy 2: What do you want to do?
If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?
Tips for the conclusion
- Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
- Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.
You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.
Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.
Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.
A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.
A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.
However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.
The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.
Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.
If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.
Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.
If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.
If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.
If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.
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How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application
While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.
One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.
A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.
What Is a Personal Statement?
The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.
A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement
Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.
- What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
- What personal characteristics or skills do you have that make you a strong candidate for this field?
- What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
- What have you learned about this field already? When did you first choose to follow this path, and what do you enjoy about it?
- What do you think is important for the admissions board to know specifically about you?
- Are there any discrepancies or causes for concern in your application you need to address? For example, is there a career and schooling gap, or a low GPA at one point? This is the time to discuss whether a personal hardship may have affected your academics or career.
- Have you dealt with any unusual obstacles or difficulties in your life? How have they affected and shaped you?
- What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
- What factors in your life have brought you to where you are today?
Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.
Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.
Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.
“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .
Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.
Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.
Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.
“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.
Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.
Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .
Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.
For more information, visit the Office of Graduate Admission at USC and explore USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.
How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School
- by Heidi Kerr and Paul David Terry
- November 10, 2020
You’ve made the exciting decision to pursue a graduate degree. Congratulations! There are a wide range of graduate programs to explore , and once you’ve selected the right program for you, it’s time to begin the graduate application process.
The statement of purpose and personal history statement are key components of the UC Davis graduate school application . With fewer than 4,000 characters allowed for each essay, these statements can seem particularly daunting. However, each one has a specific purpose for showcasing your academic journey and creating a holistic application.
Below, we’ve analyzed the differences between the statement of purpose and personal history statement and provided tips for writing these graduate school admissions essays.
Statement of Purpose and Personal History: What’s the Difference?
The statement of purpose shares your academic objectives with the admissions committee and explains why you want to obtain a graduate degree. The personal history statement provides background about who you are and how your experiences have shaped your interests and ability to overcome challenges. Each essay has specific goals to showcase your experience, passion and story.
How to Write a Strong Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose should highlight your academic preparation , motivation and interests, along with any specializations and career goals that contribute to your program of study. As you write your statement of purpose, it should encompass some of the following:
- Academic and research experiences - Include any relevant academic studies or research pursuits, internships or employment, presentations, publications, teaching, and travel or study abroad experiences that prepare you for this graduate program. Explain your motivation or passion for these experiences and how they can enrich your graduate study.
- Interests, specializations, and career goals - Highlight your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area(s) of specialization, and professional objectives.
- Fit - Explain how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.
The statement of purpose should also address why you want to pursue the particular graduate degree program at the university and what your goals are in pursuing a degree. Remember, the statement of purpose should explain exactly that, your purpose for becoming a graduate student. This is the primary way it stands apart from your personal history statement.
What to Include in Your Personal History Statement
The personal history statement helps the reader learn more about you as an individual and potential graduate student. Use this opportunity to describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Tell a story that includes any experiences, challenges or opportunities relevant to your academic journey. Consider how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field.
A strong personal history statement begins with an authentic voice and personal narrative. This can reflect your journey to graduate school, any obstacles you’ve encountered, and how you've overcome challenges. Talk about your personal goals and dreams. Explain what motivates and drives you toward this degree. The more your personal statement tells your school about you as an individual, the more it will stand out. Don't write something to impress someone else. This includes language, style and tone. Authenticity is important and resonates well. Tell the truth, in your voice, from your perspective. Use your story to connect.
More Tips and Resources for Applying to Graduate School
Applying to graduate school may be daunting to some, but UC Davis has a variety of resources to help you create a strong graduate school application. Check out the Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Handbook for ideas and worksheets on how to construct your essays. Or visit our Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services website for more graduate school prep resources.
Paul David Terry is the assistant director of special interest and affinity networks and alumni diversity lead at the Cal Aggie Alumni Association. He oversees the UC Davis Health Improving OUTcomes blog and enjoys cycling and brewing ginger beer.
Heidi Kerr works as the content and media manager at UC Davis’ Graduate Studies. She has worked as a communications professional at multiple higher education institutions and is passionate about promoting student success.
The authors acknowledge current and former leaders from Pre-Graduate/Law Advising in Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services, especially Annalisa Teixeira, Ph.D. and Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, Ph.D., who granted us permission to reference Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Workbook .
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Writing Your Personal Statements
Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.
The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.
Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.
1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.
- Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
- Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?
My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.
The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.
— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History
Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects
- Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
- Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset or grit and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
- Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
- Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
- Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
- Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.
2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.
- Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
- Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.
I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.
— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature
Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects
- Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
- With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
- Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
- Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
- Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
- You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
- Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.
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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School
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Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in crafting these statements. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open-ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.
Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader, remembering that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Writing your statement will take time; start early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation Prezi and our three-minute video on Writing Personal Statements .
- What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
- Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
- Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
- What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?
After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Provide specific examples that will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning .
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Writing a Personal Statement
Many applications will include a personal essay, in which you describe "where you're coming from" – your interests, why you want to obtain a graduate degree, career goals, and so on. To personalize your application, you may wish to state your motivations for wanting to do graduate work and describe any particularly formative experiences (for example, an undergraduate research project) that led you to decide to enter graduate school. The essay should be of reasonable length, commonly one or two pages; do not write an autobiography that continues for many pages. People screening these essays may have hundreds to read, and long essays are not generally well-received.
Also, check your spelling and grammar carefully. An essay that is full of grammatical and spelling errors can automatically doom your application because such an essay denotes carelessness and a lack of commitment to doing things well. Identify faculty members with whom you would consider working in your essay. This will help route your application to appropriate faculty members who will be reading through applicant files. Be sure to contact the individuals to whom you refer in your essay.
Personal Statement Resources
Purdue Online Writing Lab: Writing the CV
University of California Berkeley: Graduate School Statement of Purpose
University of Washington: Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School (PDF)
Peterson's: What Should I Write About In My Graduate Personal Statement?
USA Today: 10 Tips For Writing A Grad School Personal Statement
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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re eager to pursue a graduate degree, but a little apprehensive about writing a personal statement for your application. Don’t be frustrated if you’re stumped at how to start this task. Many smart and talented people have trouble telling stories about their own lives — but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
If you’re questioning how to write a personal statement for grad school, look no further. We enlisted Dr. Elizabeth Churchich, director of graduate and adult recruitment at Creighton University, to help us compile this comprehensive list of tips for composing a standout grad school personal statement.
First, what is a personal statement?
The personal statement for grad school is an essay that tells the story of a candidate’s unique motivations and aspirations for entering a chosen field or program. It is a requirement when applying for most graduate programs in the United States.
In Dr. Churchich’s experience, a personal statement is the student’s way of introducing themselves to the committee. “While your resume and transcripts can speak to your accomplishments, your personal statement allows you to speak more to your goals and the way in which this next degree can help you reach those goals,” she explains.
How long should a personal statement be for grad school? This depends on your specific program, but it’s typically one to two pages in length, double-spaced. The personal statement format and requirements can vary significantly depending on the university and field of study.
Tips for crafting a compelling personal statement
“The best personal statements are well-written and informative, while simultaneously reflecting a bit of the personality of the applicant,” Dr. Churchich explains. She’s seen thousands of examples of personal statements for graduate school — both good and bad — so she’s picked up plenty of pointers along the way.
“Steer clear of generalizations or statements that could be true of any applicant,” she recommends. “Focus on your individual skills and experience.”
While there’s no official personal statement template or type of essay that’s guaranteed to impress an admissions team, you should approach this as a storytelling assignment. In any good tale, the main character has talents, flaws, challenges and triumphs. For this story, you have to identify a narrative from your own life that highlights why you’re right for the program.
Dos and dont's of writing a personal statement for grad school
Now that you know about its purpose, you may be wondering how to start a personal statement for grad school. Review the following tips before you begin.
What to do:
- DO read the instructions carefully. This is especially important if you’re applying to multiple programs. The requirements vary from school to school, so don’t assume that you can write one personal statement and submit the exact same document several times.
- DO have your essay reviewed by someone else. For something as important as a personal statement for grad school, you should have at least two other people assess it. Seek out people you trust and/or people who are stronger writers than you. This is a great opportunity to practice receiving and implementing feedback and constructive criticism.
- DO strive to be concise yet illustrative. Choose your words carefully, there’s not much room for long anecdotes or repetitive sentiments. Your goal is not to hit a minimum word count; it’s to tell the story in a way that is interesting, succinct and complete.
- DO consider talking about a failure, error or disappointment. Showing humility and the ability to learn from mistakes is an underrated quality. “It’s tempting to gloss over the parts of your professional or academic history that you’re not proud of, but it’s important to address them,” Dr. Churchich advises. “If your transcripts or resume are likely to give a committee pause, this is your chance to get ahead of those questions.”
- When did I become interested in this topic/field and why?
- What motivated me to apply for this program specifically?
- What challenges or setbacks did I have to overcome to get where I am today?
- Are there unique or noteworthy aspects of my life story that influenced my decision to earn a graduate degree?
- What have I learned through work experience that will help me thrive in grad school?
- How might I set myself apart from other applicants?
- What are my career goals and how will this degree help me achieve them?
- Which traits or characteristics (compassionate, hardworking, organized, etc.) do I have that will help me thrive in this field?
- What am I most excited to learn and do in this program if I’m accepted?
What NOT to do:
- DON’T begin your statement with an inspiring quote. No matter how much inspiration you get from the words of a famous leader’s speech, starting your essay off this way is a huge cliché. Think twice before going this route.
- DON’T wait until the last minute. For something as important as a grad school personal statement, procrastination is NOT your friend. Give yourself at least two weeks to write and edit multiple drafts. Don’t forget to build in time for others to give feedback.
- DON’T write extensively about achievements from high school. Generally speaking, you want to focus on more recent experiences and accomplishments. Of course, if you did something incredibly noteworthy in high school and it’s directly relevant to your motivations for earning a master’s degree, that might merit inclusion.
- DON’T exaggerate or invent something you think the committee wants to hear. There’s a big difference between carefully crafting a narrative and fabricating a story. Honesty is the best policy in these situations. “Committees always appreciate candor,” Dr. Churchich affirms. “Addressing strengths or weaknesses head on allows us to see a well-rounded picture of you as an applicant.”
- DON’T send your statement with typos or grammatical errors. This is your chance to stand out and make a positive first impression — don’t let that be “the person who didn’t proofread.”
Put your best foot forward
Now that you have a better idea of how to write a personal statement for graduate school, you’re more prepared to apply. If you haven’t found your ideal program yet, start your research with one of Creighton University’s award-winning graduate programs . With dozens of on-campus, online and hybrid courses to choose from, you just might find your perfect match.
Want to know more about what else goes into building a top-notch graduate school application? Review the requirements for Creighton University by visiting our How to Apply page .
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Regardless of where you are in your journey, our admissions advisors are ready to help you take the next step.
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- Resources Writing a Winning Personal Statement for Grad School
Writing a Winning Personal Statement for Grad School Tips and Advice for Standing Out as a Graduate Program Candidate
Applying to graduate school can be a significant step toward reaching academic and career goals, which can make the admissions process even more intimidating. Along with gathering letters of recommendation, taking exams and submitting transcripts, prospective graduate students typically have to write personal statements to include with their applications. The personal statement is an oft-elusive element of the grad school application, but it fulfills a specific and significant need in the eyes of admissions committees. By learning about the personal statement and its role, getting familiar with this essay's key elements and soaking in tons of advice from an admissions expert, graduate school applicants can prepare to write outstanding personal essays that can help them land spots in their ideal graduate programs.
- What is a Personal Statement?
- Personal Statement Components
- How to Write a Winning Statement
Personal Statement Example
Additional resources, what's the personal statement on a grad school app.
Graduate school applications often have prospective students include personal statements. These help admissions committees get to know the person behind each application. A personal statement is a short essay that introduces a grad school candidate and his or her personal reasons for applying to a particular program. While metrics such as GPA and test scores can give an admissions committee an idea of a student's qualifications, they are impersonal and don't indicate whether a candidate would be a good fit for a given program. "Metrics only show one small part of the entire picture," says career coach and former university admissions representative Meg Radunich. "Graduate programs care about the person behind the standardized test score and grade point average. A personal statement is the only part of the application where a candidate gets to make their own case for what they can add to the cohort of incoming first year students."
Students may get applications that ask for statements of purpose, or statements of intent, as well as personal statements. With such similar names, it's no surprise that many students wonder whether there is a difference. Depending on the program and writing prompt, a personal statement and a statement of purpose may fill the same need in the eyes of the admissions committee. In cases where both are required, however, things can get a little tricky. In general, the statement of purpose focuses more on a student's reasons for applying to that particular graduate program and may address topics such as career and research goals, how his or her academic track record demonstrates qualification for that particular school or program of study and how a given program will impact the student's future.
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By contrast, personal statements usually lend more freedom when it comes to content and form and are intended to give the admissions committee a glimpse into a candidate's personality. This narrative essay combines specific, self-reflective anecdotes with details about past experiences (internships, volunteer experiences, etc.) and a clear delineation of a student's goals and interest in the prospective graduate program to provide a fuller picture of the applicant. This combination, often unaccompanied by an explicit writing prompt or set of instructions, can make even the most practiced essay writers freeze up. Familiarizing themselves with the ins and outs of writing strong personal statements for graduate school can alleviate stress and ease the process of sending out those applications.
Components of a Successful Personal Statement
Because personal statements are individual to the applicant, there is no one-size-fits-all way to write them. However, there are a few key elements of strong personal statements that prospective graduate students should keep in mind as they write.
- Broad Understanding
- Vulnerability and Sincerity
- Awareness of Audience
When writing personal statements, students may feel pressured to tell admissions committees everything about themselves. People are multifaceted, and it seems extra important to hit all your personality highlights and accomplishments. However, the personal essay isn't meant to be an autobiography or a long-form reiteration of the applicant's resume. "One major mistake I see all the time is students who try to tell too much in the personal statement," says Radunich. "Tell one or two specific stories or scenarios really well instead of having a broad focus and attempting to tell your life story. The goal of the essay is to get an interview, one-on-one face time that will you allow you to divulge more. Use that personal statement to tease them just enough so they feel like they need to get you in for an interview to learn the rest of your story."
- An MFA program applicant could build his statement around a sculpture class reluctantly taken during sophomore year of undergraduate study that encouraged him to experiment and ultimately changed his art style and approach. This is more telling and interesting than meandering through a lifelong love of art that began at childhood.
- Students should try to keep the scope of their personal statements within the past few years, as admissions committees are generally most interested in applicants' undergraduate experiences.
The best personal statements have clear purposes and easily draw readers in. Students should be cautious about turning their personal statements into risky or edgy creative writing projects and instead maintain a strong narrative structure using anecdotes for support when necessary. "Everyone loves a coming-of-age story," Radunich says. "Remember that the faculty have a vested interest in admitting students who will be fun for them to work with and watch grow." Applicants should determine which key points about themselves are most important to make and then choose situations or experiences that demonstrate those points. This serves as the main content of the personal statement. It's important that students remember to keep anecdotes relevant to the specific programs to which they are applying and to make it clear how the experiences led them to those programs.
- A prospective engineering student who volunteered abroad might set the scene by writing about how working with members of the local community who had their own innovations based on supplies that were readily available in their area, like flip phone batteries and dismantled mopeds, challenged her exclusively Western understanding of infrastructure and exposed holes in her knowledge.
- She could follow up with brief but concrete examples that showcase both hard and soft skills relevant to her program of study, like how experience as a resident assistant affirmed her desire to help people, and her senior thesis project pushed her to reach out to others and collaborate for the sake of better research.
Along with a focused narrative, grad school applicants should demonstrate for the admissions committee why they want to attend this program and how doing so relates to their place academically, locally and globally. Radunich notes that strong personal statements show that candidates understand the "big picture" of the profession and the true meaning and impact they will have in their communities.
Applicants often feel as if they have to show how highly accomplished and impressive they are in their personal statements, but Radunich stresses the significance of being honest and vulnerable. "It helps the reader connect. Admissions deans read enough essays from 23-year-old applicants who brag about their accomplishments and think they have life figured out." Acknowledging faults or weaknesses shows the committee that an applicant is self-aware, teachable and eager to grow.
- "One medical school candidate I worked with wanted to become a psychiatrist due to her own personal experience with anxiety in high school," recalls Radunich. "Instead of hiding this experience, she owned it. Her personal statement was phenomenal as a result."
- Vulnerability should be presented as something that leads to growth rather than an excuse for doing poorly in certain academic areas.
Strong personal statements demonstrate awareness of audience and how content may be received. Radunich advises applicants to think about their essays from admissions deans' perspectives: What would and wouldn't you want to read it if you were in their shoes? As they write, students should remember that admissions personnel must read many personal statements and sort through thousands of applications. Being conscious of how words or stories may be perceived by those with experiences different from their own can be invaluable to students.
- Radunich cites a time when she worked with a student who wrote about her experience providing medical care in a developing country as part of her medical school application: "The student had good intentions, but in writing she sounded patronizing and even condescending when describing her interactions with patients. She had no idea. Remember that people who see the world differently from you will be reading this essay."
One of the biggest keys to writing a successful personal statement is in the name itself. This essay is meant to be personal and completely unique to the writer. "You have full control over this part of your application," Radunich says, urging students to avoid coming across as desperate in their essays. "Fight the urge to ‘shape shift' into whom you think that program wants you to be. You're not going to be a perfect fit for every single graduate program. Be you, and if a graduate program doesn't get it, you most likely aren't going to be happy in that program for the next three or more years." Many applicants may have similar metrics, but each student has different experiences to write about in a personal statement. Students should commit to their experiences and own them rather than err too far on the side of safety, something Radunich says is a common pitfall.
- "Students also make a mistake when they play it safe and write personal statements that have been played out. For example, medical students tend to cite experiencing illnesses, watching family members struggle with their health or wanting to help people as the reason why they want to become a doctor. Admissions deans have to read thousands of these. Make it personal and offbeat. Give them something new to read."
Applicants must take time to ensure their personal statements are tight and free of errors. Radunich stresses the importance of proofreading. "Do not even bother sending in an application with a personal statement that has spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. This personal statement is a reflection of the quality of work you will submit for the program."
One of the hardest parts of writing a personal statement is getting started. These steps and strategies can help prospective graduate students push through the initial hesitation and get on their way to writing winning personal statements.
- Read the instructions. Some applications provide little in the way of guidance, asking prospective students to expand on why they want to apply to the program or supply information on their backgrounds and interests. Others, however, give specific guidelines on content, format, word count and submission method. It's crucial that applicants read and understand what is expected of their personal statements. It won't matter how beautifully crafted the statement is if it doesn't address the prompt or disregards stated length requirements.
- Self-reflect. Before sitting down to write, students should spend a good amount of time thinking about their strengths and what they want to convey to admissions committees. Radunich says it's essential for students to really dwell on what makes them special. "Take time to reflect on your personal brand. What qualities do you bring to a cohort of graduate students that this program doesn't know they need?" When students are confident in their positive qualities, it can make it easier to convince admissions officers the value they bring to any given graduate program.
- Talk to friends and family. Sometimes figuring out how to write about oneself or what elements to highlight can be tough. Radunich says that this is where friends and family can be extremely helpful. She recommends talking those who know you best. "Ask the people who have been with you throughout your journey to provide feedback on who you are and what they've observed. Use them to provide feedback on what you have to offer a graduate program. How would they describe you in five words? This is your ‘essence self' — what makes you stand apart from others."
- Be authentic. "We hear this all the time, but it's the best advice," says Radunich. "Admissions personnel can smell a phony. They know when you're using words outside of your vocabulary or when you're exaggerating what an experience meant to you. They read thousands of personal statements per year and also see which applicants show up as the people they said they were once they're admitted. Don't sell yourself to an admissions panel; present a polished yet real account of who you are and what you care about. This way, the right school will recognize what you bring to the table."
- Keep it relevant. The focus should remain on why the student is qualified and wants to apply to that particular program. Admissions personnel want to get familiar with their applicants, but they mostly want to make sure they choose students who value the program and have specific reasons for applying. For instance, a student may be drawn to a program because one or two faculty members conduct research that aligns with that student's interests. That is something worth mentioning in a statement. Anecdotes and stories bring a personal element, but it's also important to include practical, academic- and career-focused details, too.
- Get feedback from outside sources. It's helpful for students to ask other people to read their personal statements. As Radunich points out, this can help students see how their statements may be perceived by others, and another set of eyes can help a student determine whether or not the essay is engaging and well-organized. Friends, family members, teachers and writing center staff can all be great resources.
- Use specific examples. Grad school applicants should do their best to avoid using general statements or listing their experiences and qualifications. "Use specific examples and strong storytelling to pull the reader into your life and care about you by the end," suggests Radunich. "For example, if you're applying to medical school, give us one specific, personal story about something that happened while volunteering at the hospital that changed your worldview, challenged you and confirmed your goal of being a doctor."
- Address potential shortcomings. The personal statement is an excellent opportunity for a candidate whose metrics aren't top notch to stand out and plead his or her case. "If the student earned less-than-stellar grades during their undergraduate education," notes Radunich, "(the student) can provide some context in the personal statement." Students may not feel this is necessary or be comfortable with this, but it is an option. Applicants should be cautious about how they address any weak points; explanations should not sound like excuses but should be framed in a way that demonstrates perseverance, improvement or the learning that followed those challenges.
- Use space efficiently. Personal statements are generally pretty short, often ranging between 500 and 1,000 words. This means that filler words and phrases, such as "the truth is," or "it's my personal belief that," take up valuable space that could be used to compel admissions into requesting an interview. It's important to convey a clear image in a few paragraphs, so be both concise and precise. In statements allowing longer word counts, keep in mind that more isn't always better. Admissions committees read thousands of personal essays each year, and longer ones may be at greater risk of being skimmed through rather than thoroughly read.
- Draft, edit, repeat. Depending on the program, a student's personal statement can carry considerable weight. It shouldn't be thrown together at the last minute. Allowing for adequate time to write multiple drafts, edit and thoroughly proofread is a must. Have other people proofread and check for grammar before sending in the application; they may catch errors that were glossed over in earlier drafts.
Writing a personal statement can be intimidating, which may make it difficult for applicants to get started. Having enough time to ruminate and write is also valuable and can give students the opportunity to choose a strong point of view rather than feel pushed to write about the first thing that comes to mind. Radunich emphasizes that students who aren't sure what to write about or how to approach writing about themselves should do some considerable brainstorming and get input from those who know them well. Students are often self-critical, especially in high-stakes situations, and they may not realize the positive qualities they may have that stand out to others.
Radunich also offers tips for getting in the mindset of admissions personnel: "They're reading the personal statement and gauging the candidate's fitness for the program. Can this person deal with stress and persevere? Does he/she have grit? Has this person overcome adversity, and does that give us confidence that they can handle the three demanding years of law school? Can this person handle receiving feedback, or will he/she drop out after the slightest bit of challenge or criticism? Can this student tolerate differing viewpoints and be open to growth?" Considering these questions can help guide students through the writing process.
It may also help students to look at example personal statements and see how these key considerations play out in an actual essay. Take a look at this example personal statement from a prospective grad student.
As I approached the convention hall, I wondered if I had gotten the room number wrong. I couldn't hear any signs of life, and I was losing my nerve to open the door and risk embarrassing myself. As I imagined a security guard striding up and chiding me for being somewhere I shouldn't be, a hand reached past me and pushed the door open, jolting me back to the real world. I peeked in. More hands. Hundreds of them. Hands were flying, waving, articulating, dancing . I was at once taken by awe and fear.
You can do this.
I had never planned on taking American Sign Language, and I certainly hadn't planned on it taking my heart. In my first term of college, I signed up for German, a language I had loved the sound of since I was a child. A week before classes began, however, the course section was cut. In my frustration, I decided I would take the first available language class in the course register. In hindsight, that probably wasn't the smartest approach, but it was a decision that completely altered my supposedly set-in-stone plan of becoming a linguist. The complexities of nonverbal language floored me, and I found myself thinking about hand signs while writing essays on Saussure's linguistic signs. I rearranged my schedule so I could take improv classes to help with my facial and body expressions. Theater! That was completely out of character, but I suddenly found myself compelled toward anything that would help immerse me in ASL and deaf culture.
Except actually getting involved in the community.
I knew going to my first deaf convention would be intimidating. My hands shake when I'm anxious, and nothing brings on nerves quite like throwing yourself into a situation where you are a total outsider. Between my limited vocabulary, quaking fingers and fear-frozen face, would anyone be able to understand me? What was I doing here? I had been studying American Sign Language for nearly three years and had somehow managed to avoid spontaneous conversation with the deaf community, and I was terrified. Workbook exercises and casual conversations with classmates — who had roughly the same ASL vocabulary and relied on the same linguistic crutches as I did — had become increasingly comfortable, but immersing myself in deaf culture and community was something entirely different. I was afraid. However, American Sign Language and deaf studies had captured my heart, and I knew this fear was a huge barrier I needed to get past in order to continue working toward my goal of becoming an advocate and deaf studies educator.
It must have been pretty obvious that I was both hearing and petrified, because I was immediately greeted by someone who, very formally and slowly, asked if I was a student and offered to accompany me. This small gesture is representative of how I became so fond of deaf culture in such a short period of time. The hearing community tends toward posturing, indirect communication and a sometimes isolating emphasis on individualism, and my limited experiences within the deaf community have been the opposite. The straightforward communication that exists in a beautifully nuanced and perspicacious language and the welcoming enthusiasm to grow the community is something I intend to be part of. I am an outsider, and I have much to learn, but I want to do everything I can to encourage understanding and exchange between the deaf and hearing communities and make hearing spaces more inclusive, especially for those who have more experience as outsiders than I do.
My devotion to language and learning about culture through communication hasn't changed, but the path by which I want to pursue that passion has. My foray into deaf studies and American Sign Language may have started as an accident, but no matter how nervous I still get when my fingers fumble or I have to spell something out, I am humbled and grateful that this accident led me to a calling that could have remained unheard my whole life.
Brainstorming is an important step in writing a convincing personal essay, and Coggle may be just the tool to help. Coggle is a mind-mapping app that helps users organize their thoughts in visual, nonlinear ways. Users can easily share with collaborators, such as writing coaches, advisers or friends.
Inspiration may strike at any time. Students can make sure they're prepared to jot down any personal statement ideas, gather inspiration and organize their thoughts with Evernote , a popular note-taking app.
Writing personal statements requires distraction-free writing time. However, most students do their writing on their most distracting devices. FocusWriter is a simple tool that helps mitigate the distraction problem by hiding computer interfaces and substituting a clean, clear digital writing environment.
This web browser add-on makes checking grammar quick and easy. Grammarly scans users' text and provides context-specific suggestions and corrections. Detailed explanations of each suggestion help users improve their writing over time.
This subject-specific book is a guide to writing personal statements for graduate school. It includes tons of tips and examples to help students write their application essays.
Microsoft's OneNote app is one of the most popular among those who like to use outlines to gather and organize their thoughts, but its many features make it a great prewriting tool for writers of all organizational preferences.
Mindomo can help grad school candidates brainstorm and pinpoint key elements to include in their personal statements. The app's mind maps, concept maps and outlines help users easily visualize and organize their ideas.
Students who are looking for an advanced editing tool to help them power through their grad school applications might want to look into ProWritingAid , a comprehensive application that helps with basic and advanced editing and addresses issues in style, word choice and structure.
The academic writing standby, Purdue OWL , weighs in on the 10 essential dos and don'ts of personal statement writing.
The UNR Writing Center offers this extensive, alphabetized list of tips on writing, from academic voice to writing introductions, to help with the writing process. Students should also consider consulting their own undergraduate schools' campus writing centers for help as well.
UNC provides specific guidance for students writing personal statements and other significant academic essays. The guidance on this page is not exclusive to UNC, so students from many different schools may find these tips helpful.
Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences provides this online manual to help students understand and successfully write personal statements and other graduate admissions and scholarship essays. The easy-to-navigate chapters provide many examples and tips to meet a range of criteria.
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How to write your personal statement for graduate school.
Drafting a personal statement for graduate school can be a challenging prospect for even the most confident writers. Your “why” for pursuing a specific career path or for wanting to attend a specific school might be clear in your mind, but can be harder to put into words. Personal topics are often more challenging to structure and can easily go off the rails, meaning you will miss out on hitting key points that will demonstrate why you are a good fit for a particular program.
To make this process less daunting, let’s break it down into actionable steps that will help you shine.
Follow These 6 Steps to Write Your Personal Statement
As you consider your application to William & Mary’s Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling program, follow these steps to ensure you hit the mark with your personal statement.
Know the ins and outs of the program you are applying to, including the admissions requirements, curriculum and faculty before you start writing. The more you know about the program, the more you can highlight what stands out to you about the program and what seems relevant to your career goals. Note that the faculty members of the William & Mary School Education will be reviewing your application materials. You can get to know the specific faculty members involved with our online program by visiting the M.Ed. in Counseling faculty page .
As you research, you will want to make sure you understand what is being asked of you when it comes to the personal statement. Are there specific prompts you should be answering? Is there a page or world limit you need to be mindful of? Gather this information in the research step. We have outlined the specifics of the personal statement along with the other admission requirements in a useful guide .
It is also important to do your homework about the career you plan to pursue with this degree. What type of counselor do you want to be? Who do you want to work with? You will want to speak about why you want to pursue this career and what you hope to accomplish, and the more you know about your intended career path, the more specific you can be in your writing. Specifics will help your personal statement stand out.
Once you have gathered your external research, it’s time to look inward and reflect. This is the stage where you can put your thoughts on paper without worrying about structure. Review any prompts given and get your ideas around these on paper. Also, think about your career aspirations, past academic, professional and volunteer experience, leadership potential, collaborative skills and propensity to engage in reflective practice.
The guiding questions for your application to the M.Ed. in Counseling program are:
- What has led you to become interested in becoming a _____ (Clinical Mental Health, School, Clinical Mental Health – Military & Veterans) counselor?
- Why are you interested in pursuing your counselor education at William & Mary?
- How will your graduate degree in Counseling at William & Mary help you achieve your career goals?
- What strengths would you bring to your graduate studies at William & Mary?
- What do you think would be the greatest challenge(s) for you in your graduate studies at William & Mary? How would you address the challenge(s)?
Based on these prompts, you can see how the research step pays off, as you can address specifics in the program and in your career aspirations. You also have the opportunity to address your strengths here and in turn what you will bring to the program with those strengths.
Now that you have all of your thoughts on paper (or typed up on your computer), it is time to get organized. There are thousands of articles about how to create an outline online, but this does not have to be a big, formal process. The goal here is to get your notes from the research and reflection steps placed in a logical order that will take your reader from the introduction to the conclusion, leaving them convinced that you will be a great fit for the program.
Generally, you will want to hook your reader in the introduction. This is a great place to share a story that relates to your “why” for pursuing counseling and/or the program. Your body paragraphs will continue on what you have set up in the introduction, giving evidence of why the reviewers should admit you to the program. And then finally, you will wrap everything up in your conclusion.
Take your time with the outline to ensure you are hitting the points you want to cover within the ideal page range. For the William & Mary person statement, we are looking for two to three pages.
You may be surprised how fast this step can go if you have given ample attention to the proceeding steps. With your notes and outline in hand, sit down and tie everything together into a cohesive paper. You have already made it through your undergraduate career (or are in the home stretch to graduation). Lean on the skills you have used to write your papers up until now and trust yourself.
Generally, write your personal statement at a time and in an environment that is conducive to getting the words on to the page. Do you write better at night, or are you more of an early bird? Do you need silence when writing, or do you thrive in a busy cafe while listening to your favorite music? Set yourself up for success in the drafting process and know that getting started is often the most challenging part.
Reviewing your draft can be broken down further into two parts: 1. Reviewing for content, and 2. Reviewing for spelling and grammar.
Enlist someone you trust, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague or supervisor, to review the content itself. Do your ideas make sense and flow and in logical order? Can the reader follow your thoughts? Is the takeaway clear? The reviewer can pinpoint areas where you might have missed a key part of the prompt or did not explain yourself very well. If you are struggling with a certain section, talking through it can be a big help.
Once you have the content nailed down, it is time to proofread. You do not want to leave any careless errors on the page. If you do not consider spelling and grammar as strengths, enlist the help of someone you trust to handle this part of the review. It can be the same person who read for the content review, or someone entirely new. Fresh eyes never hurt when it comes to proofreading. When faculty and administrators read a personal statement, they want to see true excitement and a strong level of professionalism without being distracted by errors.
Charles “Rip” McAdams, professor of Counselor Education at William & Mary, explained what faculty members are looking for when reviewing an applicant’s personal statement: “The goal is to determine if an applicant's decision to pursue graduate education in counseling reflects a realistic understanding of the professional counselor's role, as well as a genuine commitment to engaging in the rigorous academic and clinical preparation that will be required.”
If you feel you have demonstrated this in your statement, it is time to stop writing. You have put in the work, and after one final proof, your personal statement is ready to be sent off with the rest of your application.
Set Yourself Up for a Successful Application Process
As you prepare to apply for William & Mary’s Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling , know that our admissions advisors are always on standby to answer your questions, clarify admissions requirements and review the list of materials we need from you. We have also compiled a number of resources to set you up for success throughout this process.
Visit the main admissions page to find the requirements. Check out our step-by-step How to Apply guide , which walks you through the process of applying through our online portal. You can also view the admissions timeline to get a better idea of how long the application process may take. Additionally, here is a blog post to help you consider what time of year you might want to start your graduate school journey.
We compiled a helpful list of admissions FAQs to assist in this process, but please reach out if you run into any questions. You can schedule a call with an admissions advisor here .
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Graduate School Personal Statement
Criteria for success.
- Your personal statement convinces a faculty committee that you are qualified for their program.
- It convinces them that you are a good fit for their program’s focus and goals.
- You show a select group of skills and experiences that convey your scientific accomplishments and interests.
- Your experiences are concrete and quantitative.
- Your personal statement is no more than 2 pages.
The graduate school personal statement tells your story and demonstrates that you are a good match for a particular department or program. Matching goes both ways: they should be interested in you, and you should be interested in them. Your personal statement should make this match clear.
Analyze Your Audience
Your personal statement will be read by a graduate committee: a handful of faculty from the program. They’re trying to determine if you will be a successful graduate student in their department, a positive force in the department’s intellectual life, and a successful scientist after you graduate. They are therefore interested in your qualifications as a researcher, your career goals, and how your personality matches their labs and department.
The graduate committee probably reads hundreds of applications a year. To make it easy for them to figure out that you are a good fit, make direct, concrete statements about your accomplishments and qualifications. To make it easy for them to remember you, create a narrative that “brands” you.
Create a personal narrative
PhD programs invest in the professional and scientific growth of their students. Get the committee excited about investing in you by opening your essay with a brief portrait of what drives you as a scientist. What research directions are you passionate about, and why? What do you picture yourself doing in 10 years?
Close your essay with a 2-3 sentence discussion of your career interests. No one will hold you to this; this just helps your committee visualize your potential trajectory.
Describe your experiences
Experiences are the “what” of your essay. What experiences led you to develop your skill set and passions? Where have you demonstrated accomplishment, leadership, and collaboration? Include research, teaching, and relevant extracurriculars. State concrete achievements and outcomes like awards, discoveries, or publications.
Quantify your experiences to show concrete impact. How many people were on your team? How many protocols did you develop? How many people were in competition for an award? As a TA, how often did you meet with your students?
Describe actions, not just changes in your internal mental or emotional state. A personal statement is a way to make a narrative out of your CV. It is not a diary entry.
Explain the meaning of your experiences
Meaning is the “why” or “so what” of the document. Why was this experience important to your growth as a scientist? What does it say about your abilities and potential? It feels obvious to you, but you need to be explicit with your audience. Your descriptions of meaning should also act as transition statements between experiences: try to “wrap” meaning around your experiences.
Demonstrate match to your target program
Demonstrate an understanding of the program to which you’re applying and how you will be successful in that program. To do this:
- Read the program’s website. See what language they use to describe themselves, and echo that language in your essay. For example, MIT Biological Engineering’s website lists the department’s three objectives.
- Get in contact with faculty (or students) in your target program. If you have had a positive discussion with someone at the department, describe how those interactions made you think that you and the department may be well-matched.
- State which professors in the program you would plan to work with. Show how their research areas align with your background and your goals. You can even describe potential research directions or projects.
This content was adapted from from an article originally created by the MIT Biological Engineering Communication Lab .
Resources and Annotated Examples
Annotated example 1.
Selected sections from the personal statement a graduate student wrote in a successful application to MIT BE. 536 KB
Annotated Example 2
Personal statement from a graduate student’s successful application to the MIT BE program. 9 MB
How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School
Finally, you’ve begun the search for that ideal graduate school program! That journey may have started while you were earning work experience, learning more about the industry you’re involved in, and about the educational paths that can help you reach promotions, better salaries, and more responsibility at your job. Then, the enjoyment begins with researching suitable schools and determining why their offered graduate school program is a good fit for your aspirations.
Then comes the dreaded personal statement. Perhaps the most challenging part of graduate school admissions is the writing requirement. Learning how to write a personal statement for grad school doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking — if you follow the steps below, you will be well on your way to writing an impactful personal statement and impressing the admissions committee members. Note: A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose. You can learn more about them here .
What exactly is a personal statement?
A personal statement is usually a required written document that contains the reasons for applying to any graduate program and is over 1000 words long. Oftentimes, the school will provide bullet points, making their expectations clear in regards to the content of your personal statement. These bullet points will probably remind you to draw the connection between the graduate school program you’re applying to and your short or long-term goals, why you’re choosing that specific concentration or track, the reasons for choosing the university, some background information, and more. The personal statement should sound convincing, display the level of research you’ve done into a program, and be able to strongly convey why you belong at the institution. Consider it a combination of descriptive and persuasive writing, one that will play a large part of helping you gain admission into a graduate school program, besides any required test scores (GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc.) and GPA.
Step 1: Study Your Resume and Work Experience.
Most schools limit the length of your personal statement to around 1000 words. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that your resume and work experience says a lot more than the space you are provided. Go over your resume and connect your past experiences with the degree program you’re applying to. Can you draw any connections between working with others, learning more about management, and reaching goals, when it comes to your MBA application? Being able to elaborate on certain experiences will help solidify the reasons for pursuing a graduate program. With so little space, you want to make sure that every word counts. Study your resume and work experience, and make notes on what you can implement into your personal statement.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Goals and Research Degree Programs.
Before learning how to write a personal statement for grad school, you have to reach the point on why you want to attend a specific program. You will definitely need to include that in writing in some part of your personal statement – Why do you want to pursue a JD? MBA? EdM? MSW? There are numerous graduate school programs and degrees, and you need to connect your goals with a specific type of degree. This will then allow you to find a suitable school and program that aligns with your goals.
Step 3: Research the School.
An expected conclusion for any personal statement wraps up your writing and confirms your decision to apply to a specific school. Sometimes, the penultimate paragraph will also contain information about the program. For example, are you pursuing an EdM? This could mean having to decide from various concentrations – Curriculum Design, Educational Policy, Social Studies Education, and more. Which concentration applies to you, and why? The schools’ curriculum and program and whether it includes hands-on experience, a practicum, a research capstone, and more, could be a reason for applying to the program. Displaying that you did your research in any school you’re applying to is an important contribution to any personal statement. In short, be ready to write about the school, and connect their program and resources to your goals.
- Proofread. Re-read your writing out loud more than once. This will give you a good idea of how it sounds in the mind of an admissions reader. Then, go through the document multiple times to ensure it is free of grammatical errors and follows a logical structure.
By following these steps and tips, you will surely have a great final piece and a strong personal statement to contribute to the rest of your graduate school application. For more tips and examples of well written personal statements, click here . Happy writing!
For over a decade, Chris has supported students across the globe in fulfilling their college aspirations. Chris started out as a college admissions consultant, where he helped community college students reduce their loan obligations by constructing comprehensive transfer strategies, maximizing the use of CLEP and AP credits, and scoring scholarships. During his graduate studies at Harvard, Chris held numerous roles in education, including working as a research assistant and advising students on the college admissions process. Chris holds extensive experience in essay development and preparation for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. His guidance has enabled students to gain admission into diverse programs at institutions including UC Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Michigan, Harvard, Fashion Institute of Technology, Embry-Riddle, Notre Dame, and Duke. Chris holds an Master’s in History from Harvard University and is currently working towards a Master’s in Education at UIUC. He also received a College Advising Program Certificate from Columbia University, completed the Independent Educational Consultant Certificate from University of California Irvine, and earned the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) from Cambridge. Nowadays, Chris continues to serve a full-time role as a College Counselor for WeAdmit, write insightful articles for Magoosh, and teach at Education First summer camps!
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Writing the Personal Statement
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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .
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Articles & Advice > Graduate School > Articles
Advice for Writing Your Grad School Personal Statement
The graduate personal statement isn't just another essay. Here's what to keep in mind as you're writing this important part of your grad school application.
by Kim Lifton President, Writing Workshop
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023
Originally Posted: Apr 1, 2020
Applying to law school? Med school? PA school? Business school? No matter what type of graduate program you choose, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement (or multiple essays) to get in.
Why? Personal statements help admission committees get to know the person behind each grad school application. They also give applicants an opportunity to express their reasons for applying to a particular graduate program. For many candidates, this task can be intimidating. To make it a little less so, here’s some advice to get you through this big task.
What makes a good personal statement?
There is no rubric for a good personal statement for grad school, but the ones that stand out all share a few common features. Regardless of the prompt, they:
- Answer the question;
- Showcase a positive trait or characteristic;
- Sound like a graduate-level student;
- Illustrate something meaningful about the applicant;
- Explain why the applicant wants to be part of this particular school and program; and
- Demonstrate reflection.
There’s a lot of competition for limited spots in graduate-level programs at the most selective schools in the United States, and personal statement can indeed make a difference. It won’t rescue lousy transcripts or mediocre test scores, but the personal statement can help set an applicant apart from the crowd.
Writing the essay may not be the easiest task for everyone, but it certainly doesn’t need to be daunting. Look at it like an elevator pitch that can help get you to the next phase of the admission process.
“Approach your personal statement as a five-minute conversation with a normal human being at the end of which you hope the normal human being is thinking, ‘This person would be well suited to be at XYZ Law School when fall comes,’” suggests Sarah Zearfoss, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission, Financial Aid, and Career Planning at the University of Michigan Law School.
Related: Engaging Ways to Open Your Personal Statement
Develop a plan for your personal statement
The graduate admission committee wants to get a glimpse of who you are beyond the basics. You can give them what they want by developing a plan before you start writing. At Wow Writing Workshop, we’ve been working with undergraduate and graduate applicants on their college essays and grad school personal statements for more than a decade. During this time, we’ve found that applicants who plan out which characteristics and experiences are most important to share do a much better job writing their essays—so don’t just dive in with no plan.
How to get started on your personal statement
Start the process by making a list answering these three questions:
- Who are you?
- What are your best traits and characteristics?
- How are these traits and your experiences relevant to the program you’re applying to?
Next, look at the prompt. Let’s use this prompt for Harvard Business Schoo l’s MBA program as an example: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”
To answer this prompt, ask yourself:
- What do I want Harvard to know about me beyond my test scores, undergraduate transcript, and résumé ? Think about traits and characteristics, not just experiences and accomplishments.
- How are my traits and experiences relevant to this specific MBA program?
- Why am I a good fit for this program?
I recently worked with an applicant who responded to this prompt with a beautiful story that focused on his father’s business success rather than himself. His father was a beloved surgeon who volunteered in the community where he grew up. The applicant wanted to follow his dad’s lead and wrote about that. Unfortunately, he made a huge mistake: he didn’t answer the prompt. To answer a prompt, applicants must write about themselves , not about people they admire or want to mimic.
While the story was heartfelt, it missed the mark. We helped him reframe his experience to focus on his ability to seize opportunities and showcase his traits—he is hard working, determined, and focused. The applicant was admitted to Harvard’s MBA program.
Related: Should You Write Your College Essay Now?
Can I use one personal statement for every school?
Grad school personal statements vary. Some provide clear instructions, while others are more general. Some prompts are designed to get to know you better, while others are more specific and look for clear ideas about what you plan to do after the program. Before you begin planning your essay, read the prompt and make sure you understand it thoroughly. You can also search the school website to see if there are specific items you need to include in the personal statement.
“Read the prompt carefully,” warns Manhattan-based independent educational consultant Janet Stark, a Harvard Business School graduate who counsels college and grad school candidates. “You may be applying to five schools for graduate work in Physics, but they may give slightly different personal statement prompts and word counts. Do not answer the ‘Why this school?’ question if that school doesn’t ask for it.”
If a particular graduate or professional school does use the “Why this school?” prompt, what should you do? “Make sure that it is very specific to that school,” Stark says. “The reader should know that you know the school and have reasons specific to that school.”
But don’t write the piece like a brochure, she cautions. If you’re applying to a school in New York City, don’t tell them you want to go to a school that’s located in New York City. They already know that! Rather, tell them what it means to you that the school is located in the city.
Common mistakes on the personal statement
Besides writing about someone other than themselves, students at the graduate level tend to quote famous people and professors in their personal statements. But graduate admission teams prefer to hear about your life, your story.
Remember that the personal statement is a narrative about your life, your successes, your best characteristics; it’s not about someone famous. At Wow, we say the only person to quote in any essay or personal statement is you , the applicant. You don’t have a lot of words to use, so you need to make every word count.
It’s critical that your personal statement be written in your own voice, using your own words— never copy someone else’s ideas. Don’t duplicate information from your résumé, and don’t tell the school you have no clear idea of a career path. Tell them what you hope to do with this advanced degree.
“The story has to be your own,” Stark says. “Just because someone else you know got accepted with a certain story doesn’t mean you should tell that same one.”
In the same vein, an essay that has good ideas but is poorly written will not help you. At this point of your educational journey, admission committees expect clean copy that flows well. It should include great content and be free from spelling and grammatical errors, incorrect sentence structure, and inconsistent verb tenses. Your grad school personal statement should show that you can write well enough to succeed at the grad school level. Proofread, and make sure to have another reader proof it as well before you click send.
Personal statement best practices
- Focus on you. Highlight your unique traits and key values. Are you resourceful? Funny? Creative? Philosophical? Decide what you want your prospective grad school to know about you that they can’t learn from the rest of your application.
- Pick a meaningful topic. You don’t have to be the editor of the college newspaper, work overseas, or be a TA to write a good personal statement for grad school. This essay should be meaningful, reflective, and connected to the program you want to study.
- Know your audience. You’re writing for graduate admission committees, not your parents, teachers, or Instagram followers. These folks want to know how you think and if you’ll be a good fit for the school (and vice versa), so write with that in mind.
- Be yourself. How would you tell your story to a friend? Write it that way, in your own words and voice. Trust yourself. Don’t try to sound “professional,” like your favorite author, or the kid whose essay went viral after he was admitted to all the Ivies. And write it yourself! Your personal statement has to sound like you .
- Don’t treat it like a college class paper. There is no “formula” for writing a good personal statement, but it shouldn’t sound like an academic essay. If you reflect on your life experiences and relate them to the program, you’re applying to then write and revise, your best story and a structure will emerge through the writing process.
- Take your time. Do not start your personal statement the night before it’s due! You need to brainstorm, write, and edit. Give this important piece of writing the time and care it deserves by starting a few months before your application deadlines . This also makes the process easier to manage because you’re not as rushed.
- Follow the directions. Grad schools will often give you specific application instructions, so follow them! If they ask for 500 words, don’t write more. You don’t want the admission committee to question your ability to follow directions.
- Proofread. After you’re done writing your personal statement, set it aside for a day or two, then read it again with fresh eyes. Look for typos, misspellings, and punctuation errors. Also make sure you’re conveying the message you wanted and answering the prompt accurately. It needs to show you’re capable of grad school–level writing.
Related: Essential Grad School Search and Application Timeline
The most important things to remember when writing your grad school personal statement are to be authentic and to not treat it like just another essay. With care and intention, you’ll be able to write a great statement that will impress admission representatives and get you into the graduate program of your dreams. Good luck!
Do you know we have a whole section dedicated to Graduate School ? Check it out now to learn more about the admission process or find the right program for you.
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How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Graduate School
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A personal statement for graduate school is an opportunity to showcase what you will bring to the graduate program and to explain how the program fits into your larger career goals.
Some programs will ask you to write a single essay covering both your personal background and what you wish to study in graduate school. Others, however, will require both a personal statement and a statement of purpose . The personal statement should focus on you and your background, while the statement of purpose should focus on your research or what you plan to study in graduate school. Follow these strategies to craft a stellar personal statement that will stand out in admissions offices.
- The personal statement provides an opportunity for you to share information about yourself and your academic interests to graduate admissions committees.
- The personal statement should discuss your academic background as well as relevant work and research experiences.
- When talking about your previous experience, be sure to highlight the skills that you learned and how your past experiences have led you to be interested in graduate study.
- Your first draft of your personal statement doesn’t need to be perfect. Give yourself time to revise and proofread your essay, and be sure to seek feedback on your draft from others.
Structuring a Personal Statement
Your personal statement should include an introduction and a summary of your previous experience (including your coursework, research experience, and relevant work experience). Additionally, if you’re not covering these topics in a separate statement of purpose, you should also discuss why you want to go to graduate school, what you wish to study as a graduate student, and why this particular graduate program is right for you.
Starting Your Essay
Personal statements can begin in a few different ways. Some students start their essay by discussing their personal background or sharing a compelling anecdote that explains why they are interested in graduate school. Other students simply begin their essay by talking plainly about their academic experiences and interest in graduate school. There’s no “one size fits all” answer here, so feel free to choose the introduction that works best for your essay.
Sometimes, the introduction of a personal statement is the toughest part to write. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, remember that you don’t have to start with the introduction. By the time you’ve finished writing the rest of the essay, you may have a much better idea of the type of introduction your essay needs.
Summarizing Your Previous Experience
In your personal statement, you’ll want to talk about your previous academic experience and how it has prepared you for graduate school. You can talk about courses you’ve enjoyed (especially any advanced coursework), research projects you may have worked on, or internships and work experience that are relevant for graduate school.
When describing your previous experience, be sure to not just write about what you did but also what you learned and how the experience contributed to your interest in graduate school. For example, if you gained research experience by assisting a graduate student with their research project, don’t just describe what the project was about. Instead, be as specific as possible about skills you picked up (for example, gaining experience using lab techniques or a particular academic database). Additionally, write about how your past experiences sparked your curiosity and helped you decide that graduate school is the right choice for you.
Remember that you can also talk about non-academic experiences such as volunteer work or part-time jobs. When you mention these experiences, highlight how they show transferable skills (i.e. skills that will also be valuable in your graduate program, such as communication skills or interpersonal skills). For example, if you supervised a group of students as a camp counselor, you might talk about how this experience helped you develop leadership skills. If you had a part-time job while in college, you might talk about challenges you resolved at work and how they demonstrate your problem-solving ability.
If you faced significant obstacles while in college, your personal statement can also be a place to discuss the experience (if you feel comfortable doing so) and its influence on you.
Writing About Why You Want to Attend Graduate School
In your personal statement, you should also talk about your future goals: what you want to study in graduate school, and how this ties into your larger goals for your future career. Graduate school is a big commitment, so professors will want to see that you have thought through your decision carefully and that graduate education is truly necessary for the career you want to pursue.
When talking about why you want to go to graduate school, it’s good to be as specific as possible about why the school you’re applying to would be a good match for your career goals. If you’re applying to a program that involves a significant amount of research (such as PhD programs and some Master’s programs), it’s important to talk about the research topics you’re most interested in studying while in graduate school. For programs involving research, it’s also a good idea to read the department’s website to learn about faculty members’ research topics and then customize your personal statement accordingly for each school. In your personal statement, you can mention several professors you might want to work with and explain how their research matches up with what you’d like to study.
Mistakes To Avoid
- Not proofreading. In graduate school, writing will be a big component of your academic career, especially if your program involves writing a Master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Taking the time to proofread shows professors that they can be confident in your writing ability.
- Sharing overly personal information. While sharing a personal anecdote can help to illustrate your interest in graduate school, disclosing information that is too personal can backfire. In a survey of psychology graduate admissions committee chairs, some professors pointed out that sharing overly personal information can make applicants look unprofessional. And as Harvard’s Office of Career Services points out, interviewers may ask you follow-up questions about your personal statement in interviews. So if it’s not something you’d feel comfortable sharing in a face-to-face setting, it’s best left out of your personal statement.
- Writing too much. Keep your essay brief: if the essay prompt doesn’t give a specific word/page limit, 1-2 pages is generally a good length. (However, if the program you’re applying to specifies a different length, be sure to follow their instructions.)
- Vague language. Be as specific as possible about why you want to pursue graduate school and which topics you want to study. As UC Berkeley’s Career Center explains, you should avoid using words like “interesting” or “enjoyable” unless you elaborate on them further. For example, don’t just say that you find a topic interesting—share a compelling research finding you learned about or explain why you’d like to contribute to knowledge in this area as a graduate student.
- Not asking for help. You don’t need to write a perfect essay on the first draft. Seek out trusted mentors, such as professors and graduate students, and ask for feedback on your essay draft. You can also seek out on-campus resource centers at your college for additional personal statement feedback and support.
What A Successful Personal Statement Looks Like
Some of the most compelling admissions essays are ones in which students are able to draw a clear connection between their past experiences (coursework, jobs, or life experiences) and their motivation for attending graduate school. If you can show readers that you're both well-qualified and passionate about your proposed course of study, you’re far more likely to capture the attention of admissions committees.
If you’re looking for inspiration, read sample graduate admissions essays . In one sample essay , the writer talks about the shift in her academic interests—while she initially studied chemistry, she is now planning to go to law school. This essay is successful because the writer clearly explains why she is interested in switching fields and demonstrates her passion for studying law. In addition, the writer highlights transferable skills that will be relevant to the legal profession (such as explaining how working as a resident assistant in her college dorm helped her to develop interpersonal skills and gain experience resolving conflicts). This provides an important take-home lesson for writing a personal statement: you can talk about past experience that isn’t directly related to academics, as long as you explain how this experience has helped to prepare you for graduate study.
Writing a personal statement for graduate school can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By demonstrating your qualifications and enthusiasm and seeking feedback on drafts from professors and other on-campus resources, you can write a strong personal statement that shows who you are and why you’re a good candidate for graduate school.
Sources and Further Reading
- “4 Sample Graduate School Essays.” CSU Channel Islands: Career & Leadership Development . https://www.csuci.edu/careerdevelopment/services/sample-graduate-school-admissions-essays.pdf
- Appleby, Drew C., and Karen M. Appleby. “Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process.” Teaching of Psychology 33.1 (2006): 19-24 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/246609798_Kisses_of_Death_in_the_Graduate_School_Application_Process
- “Applying to Graduate School.” Undergraduate Resource Series, Harvard University: Office of Career Services (2017). https://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/files/ocs/files/applying_to_grad_school_0.pdf
- Brown, Joseph L. “‘Tell Them Who You Are and Why You’ve Applied’: Personal Statements.” Stanford University: Office of Multicultural Affairs. https://oma.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Personal_Statements.v6_0.pdf
- “Graduate School – Statement.” UC Berkeley: Career Center . https://career.berkeley.edu/Grad/GradStatement
- “Personal Statement.” Harvard University: Office of Career Services. https://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/personal-statement
- “What’s a Good Statement of Purpose?” Stanford University: Graduate School of Education. https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Statement-of-Purpose.pdf
- “Writing the Personal Statement.” UC Berkeley: Graduate Division . http://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/apply/personal-statement/
- “Writing Your Graduate School Application Essay.” Carnegie Mellon University: Global Communication Center . https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts-and-resources/grad-app-sop
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How To Write A Grad School Personal Statement
Writing a personal statement for graduate school is an important part of the application process.
Our guide will ensure you start drafting in plenty of time, and help you create a successful, well-rounded statement that gives you the best chance of being accepted on to your chosen programs.
What is a personal statement?
You may be wondering what a personal statement is exactly, and why you have to write one for each program application.
A personal statement is a way for graduate admissions teams (usually consisting of faculty) to learn more about you as a candidate. It is a piece of creative writing that allows you to sell your abilities, skills and experience to others, much like a covering letter for a job application.
Admissions tutors not only want to see why you are interested in their program, but also what you can bring to them and their university. Think about the following as a starting point:
- What interests, skills, experience and qualifications make you a great applicant for this program?
- How will you contribute to the program through research, seminars, conferences and other opportunities?
- Why have you chosen a career in this particular field?
- Why does this university’s program appeal to you and how can it help you fulfil your ambitions?
Check the application requirements for each program carefully, as some may require you to write multiple admission essays.
Some programs might ask you to upload a personal statement to a centralised system which is then read by admissions faculty at several different universities.
Normally, there are two types of personal statement you could be asked to write:
1. A general, comprehensive personal statement
This will ask you to respond to a general prompt, and may or may not have a word or character limit imposed.
2. A personal statement that responds to a specific prompt
This type will often include several questions, and again, it may or may not have a word or character limit attached.
What are graduate admissions staff looking for in my personal statement?
When the admissions faculty look at your personal statement, they are likely to be asking two main questions: 1. Do we want this student on this program? 2. Do we want this student at this university?
These questions can then be broken up further to make it easier to answer them thoroughly:
- Is the student suited to the program that they are applying for?
- Does the student have the necessary qualifications and personal qualities for the program?
- Is the student conscientious, hardworking and unlikely to drop out?
- Will the student do their best and cope with the demands of grad school?
- Can the student work under pressure?
- Will the student be able to adjust to their new environment?
- What are their communication skills like?
- Are they dedicated to this program and have they researched it well?
- Do they have a genuine interest in the subject and a desire to learn more about it?
These are the sorts of questions you need to answer in your personal statement .
Unfortunately you cannot answer them directly with a simple 'yes' or 'no' - you need to provide evidence and make it sound believable.
Ultimately, grad school admissions tutors are human too, and may well have hundreds of program applications to sift through, so even if you think you've answered all these questions really well, you may still be unlucky.
The rest of this guide will show you can give yourself the best chance of being noticed through your personal statement, and get accepted onto your chosen programs.
Remember that your statement is like a personal job advert, where you are selling yourself by highlighting your skills, experience and life goals.
Programs want to know more about:
- Current achievements in your college degree
- Experiences outside of the classroom that have inspired you to pursue a career in this field
1. Pull together some ideas
The best way to begin putting together a successful personal statement is to sit down and have a brainstorming session. First, think about the following points and jot down some notes:
- Personal achievements - what relevant attributes and interests make you a special candidate? These can be either inside or outside of the college classroom.
- Extracurricular activities - have you completed any volunteering work or got involved with any charities or other groups/organisations that help the community? You could also include any leisure or sports activities you participate in during your spare time, providing the skills you gain from these are relevant to the program.
- Academic success - are there any appropriate projects or other pieces of college work that you scored highly in and are particularly proud of? Have you received any awards or other type of recognition for your studies?
- Work experience - what professional skills can you bring to the program? How have work placements helped shape you into an ideal applicant?
2. Formulate a plan
Next, build up some vocabulary that will allow you to establish a comprehensive, yet coherent statement that represents a true reflection of yourself and portrays you in the best possible light.
Try using the following words as category headings and see if you can put at least two or three words in each:
- Communication - e.g. speaking, writing, collaborating, explaining, discussing, listening.
- Research - e.g. analysing, collecting, investigating, interpreting,examining, collecting, evaluating, concluding.
- Creative - e.g. imagining, designing, illustrating, original, envisioning, artistic, inventive.
- Leadership and management - e.g. coordinated, delegated, responsible, teamwork, directed, assigned, negotiated.
- IT and Technical - e.g. networking, programming, web development, hardware, software, operating, engineering.
Other headings you might wish to use include: Clerical/Administrative, Problem Solving, Training, Media, Financial and Human/Public Relations . Feel free to add any of your own headings that you feel are relevant to your application, too.
Hopefully you should now have a nice long list of keywords that demonstrate all of your skills and personal qualities. For each one, write down:
- How you have demonstrated this skill or trait - try to think of a specific experience that provides evidence you possess this skill. As mentioned earlier, your personal statement will be much more solid and believable if you backup everything with examples.
- When you began to develop it, e.g. high school, college - again, try to be as specific as possible.
- How it will benefit you during the program - tutors will want to see how your skills will make you a successful student.
- How you might use it once you have completed your graduate studies - think beyond your program and show your commitment to your chosen career path by demonstrating how you plan to use your skills and attributes in the field later on.
- Any related skills or traits you hope to gain during your time at grad school - recognise that there are still areas you could improve on, and tell the admissions faculty how the program can help you with these.
At this stage you should have a whole host of skills and personal qualities that you can demonstrate through a particular experience. Now you need to begin constructing actual sentences with all the information you have gathered.
3. Write a first draft
It helps to write an opening paragraph that will grab the admission tutor’s attention straight away. A good way to do this is to start by conveying an experience that tells a relevant story, e.g. jetting off on holiday abroad as a child sparked an interest in engineering.
As this will form the opening to your personal statement, choose your experience carefully and think about the following once you have decided what to write about:
- Does the story provide clues about your personality, and if so, how?
- Will the reader get a sense of enthusiasm for the subject?
- Does it explain why you have chosen to pursue this field of study?
- Are your long-term career plans or professional hopes indicated?
The rest of the first draft of your personal statement should follow a similar pattern, with further skills addressed using specific examples from your past. The final paragraph should form a memorable conclusion that will again attract the admission tutor’s attention and make you a memorable candidate. After all, you need to stand out from the crowd if you want to have a chance of being accepted.
4. Review and edit
Once you have completed the first draft of your personal statement, you will need to analyse it critically and evaluate how it might be improved. There are two ways you should do this:
1. Critique it yourself
Read through it carefully and ask yourself the following questions to help you highlight its strengths and weaknesses:
- Is the opening paragraph interesting enough to make you want to read further?
- Have you provided specific examples for all of the skills and personal attributes mentioned?
- Have you talked about your work and/or voluntary experience in detail, and how this will be useful during the program?
- Is your statement engaging throughout? If not, how could you change the vocabulary, sentence structure and/or content to improve this?
- Is your statement focused enough that it explains why you have chosen to pursue a career in this particular field, rather than a related one?
- Are there any spelling, grammar or formatting issues that need to be fixed? Check the word or character count, and make sure you have addressed all the points you have been asked to (if necessary).
2. Ask for feedback from family, friends, college professors and career counselors
It’s often hard to be objective about your own work, so it’s always a good idea to show your statement to at least several other people if possible. Ask them to comment on the strengths and how it could be improved (it’s best to give them a printed copy and let them write on it).
Read through all the feedback and take it all on board - are there any common areas people have noted could be improved?
Next, go through each point and see if it would make the statement better overall. If you feel it doesn’t, don’t incorporate that particular suggestion into your new draft. Although other people’s views are essential here, it’s also important that you are happy with the statement. Never let someone else rewrite your statement - it should only be your own writing.
5. The final draft
Write as many drafts as you feel are necessary, until you have a polished statement that you are completely happy with sending off to your programs.
Check carefully for any spelling and grammar mistakes, as these errors are likely to be noticed and will make you look incompetent. Don't just rely on a spell checker for this - you should read your final statement several times and do these checks by eye.
Also make sure that your statement meets any word or character limits, as well as any other requirements outlined by the graduate school. Otherwise it will look like you couldn't be bothered to read the application process and you may be rejected straight away.
Need a little extra help? Check out our Grad School Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips Guide .
Good luck with your program applications!
For more tips and advice on applying to graduate school, please see:
- Why apply to grad school?
- Choosing a graduate school
- Application timeline
- Personal statement tips
- Personal statement examples
- Admissions tests
- Grad school interviews