Guide to Writing the Personal Statement
You will find that the personal statement can have various names: personal statement, statement of purpose, autobiographical statement, objectives of graduate study, etc.
The personal statement is an extremely important part of your graduate school application. Admissions committees go through countless stacks of applications from applicants with similar test scores, grades, and academic backgrounds. The personal statement gives you an opportunity to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicants. It provides admissions committees with an opportunity to get to know you on a more personal level.
Once you have a rough draft, we suggest you meet with your career advisor to make sure your personal statement content matches what the graduate program is looking for. We also suggest taking it to a faculty member to ensure that it is perfect before sending it off.
What kinds of things will I be asked to write about?
Some graduate programs donít specify a topic for you to write about; they might simply request an essay and wonít give you any guidelines. Others will provide more firm guidelines or topics for you to compose your personal sattement around.
While each school will have their own guidelines, most admissions committees are looking for the same pieces of information:
- What you want to study while in graduate school: What are your academic interests?
- Why you want to study it: How did you get interested in the field? What do you hope to get out of graduate school?
- Why you are applying to this particular program: How will this particular graduate program contribute to your career goals?
- What experiences you have in the field: What kinds of relevant research, academic, clinical, personal, or field experiences have you had that have prepared you for graduate study?
- What you plan to do with your degree once you finish it: What are your career goals? What do you hope to contribute to your field?
- Address anything that is less than flattering in the rest of your application: For example, did you receive a poor grade in a significant class? Are your GRE scores below average? Is your GPA less than ideal?
Although most graduate programs are looking for similar information, this doesnít mean that you should write a generic essay for all the programs to which you are applying. Tailor your essay to match the specific essay requirements of each program. Make sure you address each part of the question that they ask. Personalize each essay to include why you have chosen to apply to that particular program/school. Also be careful to keep within the page limit or word number limit asked of you.
How do I get started writing my personal statement(s)?
When you are considering what sorts of things to write about to address the pieces of information listed above, consider the following questions to brainstorm some ideas:
- What are the experiences that have brought you to this point in your life? When did you become interested in the field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and made you well-suited for this field?
- Whatís special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story? What sets you apart from other applicants?
- Have you been inspired by any people, classes, readings, research, experiences, etc. related to your field?
- Do you have any special skills or experiences that could increase your likelihood of success?
- What personal characteristics do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or the profession?
- Are there any problems or inconsistencies in your application materials (test scores, grades, etc.) that you should explain?
- Why do you want to attend graduate school?
- What are your career goals? What do you hope to contribute to your field?
- Does the program offer specialized training, course sequences, research opportunities, or opportunities for practical experience related to your goals?
- What makes you a stronger candidate for graduate school than other applicants?
How should my personal statement be structured?
As mentioned before, the requirements for personal statements differ. However, essays can generally follow this structure:
Many personal statements begin with a catchy opening, often a distinctive personal example, as a way of gaining the readerís attention. From there you can connect the example to the actual program for which you are applying. Mention the specific name of the program, as well as the title of the degree you are seeking, in the first paragraph.
Detailed Supporting Paragraphs
Subsequent paragraphs should address any specific questions from the application, which might deal with the strengths of the program, your own qualifications, your compatibility with the program, your long-term goals, or some combination thereof. Each paragraph should be focused and should have a topic sentence that informs the reader of the paragraphís emphasis. Remember that the examples from your experience must be relevant and should support your argument about your qualifications.
Tie together the various issues that you have raised in the essay, and reiterate your interest in this specific program. You might also mention how this degree is a step towards a long-term goal in a closing paragraph.
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