How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School
If you're here, you may be wondering how to write a personal statement for grad school. I know first-hand how time-consuming grad apps can be, but you mustn't slack on your personal statement. It is an important factor for your graduate school application.
Oftentimes, your application depends on it, especially if you're applying for a competitive graduate program that offers graduate scholarships. Personal statements give you the opportunity to showcase to the admissions committee your unique experiences, aspirations, and the reasons why you wish to attend the school's program.
In this guide, I'll walk you through ways to craft a strong personal statement that will make you stand out from other graduate school applicants, and I'll also share some tips I learned from my university's career center.
Starting Your Personal Statement
Choosing the Right Topic
The first step in crafting a compelling personal statement is choosing a topic that allows you to showcase your strengths and skills. Reflect on your academic journey, research projects, internships, and your personal experiences where relevant. You want to select a topic that highlights your passion and aligns with your career goals but also showcases who you are.
Some personal statements request specific details about a project or research you wish to pursue. Discuss how this project will enhance your understanding of the subject matter and why their program is the best for you and your project.
Highlight any challenges you've faced and how you overcame them. Many graduate programs know you're enrolling in the program to learn. Focus on how their graduate program is the best for you and how you'll contribute to their community.
Setting the Tone and Style
Striking the right tone is key. Aim for a balanced approach that is both professional and introspective. Avoid using overly formal or casual language. Instead, opt for a conversational tone that reflects your genuine personality.
As you set the tone for your personal statement, consider incorporating anecdotes that showcase your character and values. For instance, you can share a life story about a time when you faced a significant challenge and how it shaped your perspective on life and your chosen field of study. By sharing personal experiences, you can connect with the reader on a deeper level and make your statement more memorable.
Discuss how your experiences have fueled your desire to contribute to the field and how you plan to use your knowledge and skills to address real-world problems. By highlighting your dedication and sense of purpose, you can demonstrate your readiness to take on the challenges of further education and professional growth.
A key tip for a successful personal statement: Writing personal statements is personal. Make it about you and showcase your potential as a graduate student. This is a place to share what other elements of your application cannot.
Crafting a Grad School Personal Statement
1. Start Early, Breathe Easy
Believe me, procrastination won't be your ally here. Begin brainstorming and drafting your personal statement well ahead of the application deadline. This allows you to take your time and perfect your narrative without feeling rushed.
2. Find Your Unique Story
What sets you apart from the sea of applicants? Reflect on your experiences, challenges, and moments that shape you. Did that semester abroad change your perspective? Did overcoming a hurdle teach you resilience? These personal anecdotes give life to your statement and help you stand out.
3. Show, Don't Just Tell
Rather than just stating that you're passionate or hardworking, illustrate it through vivid examples. Share stories that highlight your dedication, leadership, or problem-solving skills. This not only engages the reader but also validates your claims.
4. Tailor it to the Program
Admissions officers appreciate applicants who've done their homework. Explain why you're drawn to their specific program. Highlight courses, professors, or research opportunities that align with your interests and goals.
5. Be Concise and Clear
Word limits are real. Your personal statement isn't the place for flowery language or excessive jargon. Keep your writing clear, concise, and easy to follow. Admissions folks have a lot to read, so make their job as painless as possible.
6. Proofread Like Your Future Depends on It
Spelling and grammar mistakes are like cringe-worthy typos in an otherwise great Instagram caption – they distract from the awesomeness. Proofread meticulously or even ask a friend to give it a once-over. Attention to detail matters!
7. Connect the Dots
Bridge the gap between your past experiences and your future aspirations. Explain how the grad program is the logical next step in your journey. Demonstrating this connection showcases your intention and commitment.
8. Be Yourself, Seriously
Authenticity shines through. Don't try to fit into a mold of what you think admissions wants. Let your true personality come through. Remember, they're not just selecting students based on achievements but also on who you are.
9. Seek Feedback
Don't be shy about sharing your draft with mentors, professors, or peers. Constructive feedback can offer fresh perspectives and catch things you might have missed.
10. Revise, Revise, Revise
Writing is rewriting. Don't settle for your first draft. Review, revise, and refine until your personal statement reflects your best self.
Structuring Your Personal Statement
Structuring your personal statement effectively is just as important as the content itself. Let's take a look at key elements of a well-structured personal statement to make yours stand out.
Introduction: Grabbing Attention from the Start
The introduction of your personal statement is one of the most important parts. It sets the tone of your statement and immediately determines whether or not your personal statement will be impactful and memorable.
Consider starting with a compelling anecdote that relates to your field of interest or a personal experience that has shaped your passion for your field of interest. Sometimes, quotes can be impactful as long as they are utilized creatively and meaningfully. By doing so, you will immediately grab their attention and make them eager to continue reading.
For example, if you are applying for a program in environmental science, you could begin your personal statement with a vivid description of a moment when you witnessed the devastating effects of pollution on a local ecosystem. This anecdote will not only demonstrate your passion for the subject but also create a sense of urgency and importance.
Body: Showcasing Your Skills and Experiences
The body of your personal statement is where you have the opportunity to showcase your academic and professional achievements. This section should provide specific examples that illustrate your skills, experiences, and accomplishments.
Avoid making general statements, and instead, focus on the impact your achievements have had and how they have shaped your aspirations. Brevity and specificity are key!
When discussing your academic achievements, highlight any research projects, coursework, or academic honors that are relevant to the program you are applying to. Relate them to the program of study you are applying for.
Additionally, if you have any professional experience, such as internships or jobs, emphasize the skills you have gained and how they have prepared you for the program or career you are pursuing. However, only include this information if relevant!
Remember to provide concrete evidence to support your claims. Instead of simply stating that you are a strong leader, provide an example of a time when you successfully led a team or organized an event. By using specific examples, you will make your personal statement more compelling and memorable.
For even more information about personal statements, check out this information from the Career Center of Education at Columbia University from 2021.
Seeking Feedback on Your Personal Statement
Who to Ask for Feedback When Writing Personal Statements
It's always beneficial to get feedback from others before finalizing your personal statement or really any writing. Seek input from professors, mentors, or individuals who have experience in your field of interest, as well as friends. They can provide valuable insights and help you refine your writing.
Incorporating Feedback Effectively
When incorporating feedback, carefully consider the suggestions provided. Evaluate if they align with your overall objectives and make changes accordingly. Remember, the final version should still reflect your authentic voice and convey your unique story. Suggestions are not at all prescriptive, so take them with a grain of salt.
Key Elements Admissions Committees Look For
When reviewing personal statements, admissions committees look for certain key elements that can help them gauge your suitability for their program. These elements include:
- Clarity of thought and expression: Your personal statement should be well-organized and coherent. It should demonstrate your ability to convey your ideas effectively and concisely.
- Passion and motivation for your chosen field of study: Admissions committees want to see that you have a genuine interest in the field you are applying to. They look for evidence of your passion, whether it be through relevant experiences, research, or personal anecdotes.
- Relevant academic and professional experiences: Your personal statement should highlight any academic or professional experiences that are relevant to your chosen field of study.
- Demonstration of critical thinking and problem-solving skills: Admissions committees want to see that you can think critically and analytically. Your personal statement should showcase your ability to approach problems, analyze information, and propose innovative solutions.
- Unique perspectives and personal growth: Admissions committees value diversity and want to see how your unique perspectives and experiences have shaped you as an individual. Your personal statement should reflect personal growth, self-reflection, and a willingness to learn and attune.
Incorporating these key elements into your personal statement can increase your chances of standing out and impressing the admissions committee. Remember to be authentic, showcase your strengths, and demonstrate your potential as a graduate student, and only include relevant information.
To gain further insight into what admission committees seek, I recommend reviewing a sample personal statement provided by Vanderbilt University. This document features annotations from an admissions committee member sharing the strengths of the statement.
Personal Statement Don't's
- Don’t merely summarize your resume. If you want to talk about an experience on your resume, be sure to go in depth.
- Don't refer to high school unless highly relevant, which oftentimes is not.
- Maintain humility. Don’t assume you’re going to get into the school you’re applying to or that your statement is superior.
- Don’t make statements about yourself and your knowledge without providing supporting evidence.
- Steer clear of contentious topics like politics.
- Avoid language that can come across as arrogant.
- Don't use clichés or gimmicks. Everyone cringes at these.
- Don’t preach to your reader. In fact, your reader is most likely very knowledgeable in the field you're applying to. Don't give them a bad impression.
I'm sure you're wondering about examples. Well, there are hundreds of personal statement examples to be found online, including specific ones for grad school. To find a graduate school personal statement example simply look for colleges and universities that have shared grad examples with annotations. MIT shares strengths and improvements on three grad personal statements.
While you're exploring graduate programs, it is also a great time to look for graduate scholarships. Many programs offer awesome funding depending on the graduate program. Find out how to get scholarships for graduate school to reduce your college costs!
Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Statements for Graduate School
What questions are asked in a personal statement for graduate school?
When writing a grad school personal statement, you'll likely face questions about why you're interested in your field, your background, future plans, and how the program fits in. They might ask why you're drawn to the field, about your experiences, your research ideas, and your career goals.
They also want to know how you've tackled challenges and if the program's values match yours. Thoughtful answers to these can really make your application shine.
What should the last sentence of a personal statement be?
Wrap up your grad school personal statement by sharing your excitement for the program and your determination to make a meaningful impact. This is your chance to show how your experience so far aligns perfectly with your future goals in your chosen field.
Make this sentence resonate with your passion, and let it leave a lasting impression on the readers. Also, thank the admissions committee for taking the time to read your personal statement. Think about it: they're reading hundreds of these. Show some appreciation!
What is the purpose of a personal statement?
A personal statement enables the admissions committee to assess your potential as a graduate student and helps them determine if you are the right fit for their program.
Through your personal statement, you can demonstrate your ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and articulate your academic and career goals. Moreover, a well-crafted personal statement can provide context to your application.
It allows you to explain any gaps in your academic record, highlight any challenges you have overcome, and showcase your growth and development over time. It is an opportunity to tell your story and provide a comprehensive picture of who you are as a candidate.