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personal statement tips graduate school

If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?

In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.

What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.

So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:

  • Statement of purpose:  A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
  • Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.

Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:

Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.

But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.

For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering  considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.

Many schools require just one essay  (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan , ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as  Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , want an essay that combines the features of both!

Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you  submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.

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What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?

Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.

But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.

A Compelling Story

First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.

Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.

Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.

That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.

  • Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
  • Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
  • Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.

Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.

Inspirations for Your Research Interests

Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also  why you have these particular interests.   While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.

For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.

Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.

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Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School

Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.

Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:

  • Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
  • How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
  • Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?

Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.

Strong Writing Skills

A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!

So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.

Also, remember that  good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words.  You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.

On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.

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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career

Lastly, the personal statement  gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.

Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).

Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide

The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.

Step 1: Start Early

Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.

You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.

If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)

Step 2: Read the Instructions

Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.

Your program should give you the following information:

  • What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
  • How long your statement should be
  • What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
  • How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley . In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt :

Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona , your personal statement would follow these parameters:

Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.

Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.

Simply put,  follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission.  And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!

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Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle

Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:

  • What your grad program wants you to write about
  • Your field of study and research interests
  • How much experience you have in your field

As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to  read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.

Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.

No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement.  How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.

On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is,  be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.

More broadly, though, try to answer the question of  what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?

Finally, always choose a positive angle.  Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.

Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”

Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.

As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
  • How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
  • What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
  • What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
  • Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?

Step 5: Make an Outline

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.

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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.

Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.

Step 6: Draft Your Essay

It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.

In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.

Remember, most personal statements will be short— usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.

On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.

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Step 7: Get Feedback

Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).

Ask your editors to give you  specific feedback  on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.

If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.

Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay

Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.

For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.

As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!

Step 9: Proofread

The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.

Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.

In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.

Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well.  If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)

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The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.

But more importantly, the personal statement showcases  your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.

A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:

  • A compelling story
  • Inspirations for your research interests
  • Your motivation for applying to grad school
  • Strong writing skills
  • Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career

Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:

  • Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
  • Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
  • Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
  • Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
  • Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
  • Draft your essay
  • Get specific feedback from multiple editors
  • Revise and edit your essay
  • Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)

What’s Next?

Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time!  Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.

Do your schools require a CV or resume?  If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates !

What do you need to submit for your grad school application?  Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

personal statement tips graduate school

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

personal statement tips graduate school

How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School

  • by Heidi Kerr and Paul David Terry
  • November 10, 2020

A student sits on his laptop at the Silo at UC Davis.

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?

A student examines chemicals through a beaker while wearing a lab coat and goggles.

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

A student smiles as she inspects yellow liquid underneath a microscope, while her professor watches on.

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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  • Knowledge Base
  • Applying to graduate school
  • 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 Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

personal statement tips graduate school

Congratulations on finishing your bachelor’s degree, and starting the next chapter! You might be thinking about applying to graduate school, and fortunately, it’s very similar to applying to an undergraduate program. However, it’s probably been a few years since you’ve had to write an application essay, so you might be wondering how to write a personal statement for graduate school. If so, this guide is the perfect resource for you! Keep reading below to find out more, and don’t forget to check out the example of a graduate school personal statement.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an essay that encapsulates your personal journey and how that’s shaped who you are as an applicant. They are typically 400-600 words, but can be longer or shorter. 

Be sure not to confuse a personal statement with a statement of purpose as they are two different types of admissions essays. Use this as an opportunity to show colleges what you value and what’s turned you into an ideal student for your desired school. 

What should I write about?

Personal statements are your chance to get, well, personal. While you should answer the prompt in its entirety, you should also write about yourself. Bring a personal element into your essay like family or a story of you overcoming an obstacle. 

Ideally, your story should relate to what you’re trying to accomplish at your graduate school of choice. Tie it all together: your personal experiences, your desired major, and your ideal outcome. 

Tips for writing a personal statement for graduate school

It’s important to start your graduate application as soon as you’re able. Usually, the first round of applications receive the best financial aid packages, so start early! 

Starting sooner can also give you the time to outline your essay and get it read over by your support system. You’ll want it all to be perfect, so don’t rush.

Be transparent

Instead of telling admissions what you think they want to hear, be open and honest about yourself. You want them to understand you, and the only way to do that is to show who you actually are. Offer up personal stories or things that genuinely interest you so that you can show off your sparkling personality!

Be original

Graduate programs are often very competitive since there’s a smaller admissions pool. As a result, your essay should be as original as possible to stand out from the crowd. Tell your story in an organic way, and approach the given prompt with an open mind. 

Related : How to write an essay about yourself

Check your work

It’s extremely important for you to proofread and check for correct spelling and grammar throughout your personal statement. Even simply reading your statement out loud can help you catch any errors and make sure your words flow together. You should also consider having mentors or people within your support system read over your essay to ensure your message is clear.

Common mistakes when writing a graduate school personal statement

Reusing your undergraduate essay .

Reusing your first supplemental essay as a template is a big mistake you want to avoid. Years have passed since then, and you’ve learned new skills and grown as a person and a student. 

The experiences you previously wrote might not resonate with who you are today or tell the graduate team what they want to know about you. It may also have grammatical errors that you might not have noticed before, so take a little extra time to start from scratch and create something new.

Repeating what’s in your resume

It’s likely that your graduate school of choice will require you to upload a copy of your resume as part of your application. Therefore, the admissions committee will already know your professional background, so tell them something else about yourself or provide further depth to a job experience. Repeating yourself only tells them one thing, and you want to be the most well-rounded applicant that you can be.

Graduate school personal statement example

Prompt: Please discuss how your experiences, both personal and professional, have led you to pursue a graduate business degree at this time. What are your short- and long- term goals and how will this program and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business help you achieve these goals? (750 words max)

While many of the applications you receive will detail the many ways that person has been the first to do something, I pose a different perspective: hope to be the last. In other words, you might see me as a first-generation college student, but I see the makings of becoming the last generation to worry about generational wealth in my family. 

Though it is true that I would be the first in my family to get my master’s degree, I’m hoping that my future success means I’ll be the last “first.” It’s not lost on me what this title means, but most of all, it signifies the dawn of an era. A dynasty bred from the struggles and achievements of those before it.

These are big shoes to fill, but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and the things I’ve learned have helped me secure my future. For example, by observing different business models throughout the years, I found a secret about marketing: people love a product that loves them back. In my case, a product that’s always loved me back were books. I’d fallen in love with bookshelves and bookstores alike, so it only makes sense that a culmination of my love of marketing and books is the goal of one day working in book publishing. I want to know the inner workings of book promotion including design decisions and book tours. Eventually, I plan on working at one of the big publishers such as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Macmillan.

Fortunately, I’ve been given opportunities to decide on my own path, which I hope to execute at Georgia State University. This school’s unique curriculum will be an asset to me since there are classes that specifically cater to buyer behavior, and that’s an area of study I’m particularly interested in. The Social Media Intelligence Lab and social media marketing class will hopefully give me an inside look into influencer marketing and its impact on product profitability. According to your mission statement, GSU educates future leaders, and I want to be a part of that.

As a mentor of mine once said, knowledge is meant to be shared, and if it isn’t, it’s control. I hope to build up the people around me with knowledge and experiences as I go out into the professional world just as I hope this program will do for me. If I’m accepted into this program, I plan on using my creativity and drive for not only my success, but for my family’s as well. There may be times I fall short of a goal, but failure isn’t an option. Each benchmark professors put in front of me will be conquered, and one day, I’ll be one of your notable alumni. 

Why this essay works:

  • The writer clearly researched the school and understands its values
  • The prompt is answered completely and seamlessly
  • The applicant knew their goals and thought of ways to achieve them at the college 
  • This statement communicates not only what the college gains from this applicant’s admission, but also what the applicant gains
  • It’s also well within the word limit

Frequently asked questions about how to write a graduate school personal statement

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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."

personal statement tips graduate school

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
  • Individuality

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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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

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Personal Statements

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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How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School

Lisa Marlin

This article focuses on how to write a personal statement for graduate school. After all, it’s an important part of the admissions process. There’s no doubt that your grades matter when applying for grad school. However, your GPA is not the full picture. That’s where personal statements come in handy.

While getting into grad school, especially Ivy League grad schools , is highly competitive these days. Selection committees look at a variety of factors when choosing between the huge numbers of qualified candidates who apply each year. We’ve discussed grad school requirements , so let’s talk about personal statements.

Even if you have a great GPA, you’ll be competing against a larger number of other students with similar GPAs. So a strong personal statement is essential to help you stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately, this also means that you can strengthen your application with a phenomenal personal statement if your GPA is not quite up to scratch. In fact, some committees pay special attention to your personal statement.

Sure, your GPA and test scores say a lot about your academic performance. However, they are only formal documents. Selection committees also want to understand your academic goals and your motivations, and for this, they look to your personal statement.

So, what should be included in your personal statement for graduate school? Most importantly, how do you write a winning personal statement that will help you get into your dream program?

Read on to learn everything to know!

Table of Contents

What is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Though the requirements vary depending on the institution and the program, generally grad school selection depends on:

  • An admissions test or exam
  • Your GPA or academic record
  • Your personal statement
  • Recommendation letters

When applying for grad school, you’ll need to submit a personal statement along with the other requirements. Your personal statement helps the selection committee understand your goals, passion, and ambitions.

Unlike undergraduate admissions which largely rely on academic performance, grad school selection considers a broader range of factors. We evaluated this document from the University of Washington, for example.

Admissions committees know that success at grad school is about more than just academic performance – prospective students also need to be motivated, disciplined, and driven.

Some programs have very strict requirements for what should be included in their personal statements for graduate school, while others leave it more open. Regardless, you’ll need to demonstrate that you are a strong candidate and will excel in their program.

Related: When to Apply for Grad School .

Someone writing their personal statement for grad school.

Many applications for graduate programs require a personal statement, and your application will not be considered without one.

Even if it’s not mandatory, including a personal statement when applying to grad school can be highly advantageous and help to convince the admissions committee to move you forward to the next stage.

Your academic resume and the rest of your grad school application will typically focus on your previous academic experience, grades, and other technical elements. Your personal statement is your chance to let your personality shine through and have the selection committee see you as an individual. It’s your opportunity to explain your goals, motivations, and what you have to offer.

Many grad school programs receive hundreds and even thousands of applications. Therefore, a compelling personal statement is one of the most important elements that can help you stand out and move forward to the next stage!

Tips for Writing a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Your personal statement could make all the difference in getting into your dream grad school and setting you on the path for an exceptional career. Although the best personal statement can vary depending on where you’re applying, there are some things that all the best personal statements examples for graduation school have in common.

So let’s take a look at some top tips on how to write a personal statement for graduate school.

     1. Check the Guidelines

First things first – look at the grad school’s individual requirements and guidelines. Every institution has different guidelines for how they want the personal essay to be formatted and what it should include. Check the required format, maximum word count, information that must be included, and other guidelines.

Most grad schools will post the requirements on their website – if not, contact the admissions office. You don’t want to spend hours writing an essay only to be disqualified just because you didn’t follow the guidelines properly!

     2. Be Genuine

You are wrong if you think exaggerating your experiences or achievements will get you admission to your dream university. The selection committee reads a large number of personal statements on a regular basis.

They’ll quickly see if your assertions are too good to be true. Likewise, it’s not hard for them to tell the difference between a fake and real statement. It’s all about framing your own experiences and motivations in a certain way, rather than exaggerating or fabricating anything.

     3. Keep it Short

Aspiring grad students often feel pressured to write everything about themselves in their personal statement. You don’t need to explain all of your interests, ambitions, and achievements in this document. Instead, it should be short, relevant to the graduation program, and engaging.

The exact length will depend on the programs’ guidelines, but generally speaking, a good personal statement for grad school is around one page. Furthermore, you should make sure that every paragraph and sentence has a purpose. If there isn’t a good reason to include it in your personal statement, cut it out!

     4. Keep it Relevant

A trip to Iceland might be super meaningful to you, but it’s probably not relevant to your application for a computer science program . When writing your personal statement, keep it to experiences and qualifications relevant to the particular program you’re applying for.

However, keeping things relevant doesn’t mean you have to be limited to academic qualifications and professional experience. Some of your personal experiences and even family history may be appropriate and add value.

Furthermore, adding personal elements can make your application more authentic and persuasive, as long as they are relevant to the program you are applying for.

     5. Be Unique

Grad school selection committees read hundreds, if not thousands of personal statements. So it’s important to stand out from the crowd and make a good impression, and anything that is a little different will help.

This could be a unique and engaging opening sentence, or finishing your personal statement with a dramatic line. You can also make your application stand out with unique personal experiences or exceptional qualifications. These will be your point of difference, so be sure to emphasize them in your personal statement!

     6. Strike a Balance

If you look at the best graduate school personal statement examples, you’ll see how the writers manage to strike the right balance between a professional and an informal tone. The goal is to keep the tone neutral — neither too stiff and formal, nor overly friendly. Remember that this is a personal statement and so it is supposed to reflect your personality.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that you are writing it for your dream graduation program, so it must also be professional. If you are having trouble striking the right tone, consult with a professional writer or editor.

     7. Pay Attention to Grammar and Structure

As part of preparing a professional document, it’s critical that the text has proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout. At grad school, you’re expected to be able to write to a high professional standard, and this means having perfect grammar.

The last thing you want is for your application to be rejected because of poor sentence construction. One way to avoid this is having your essay proofread and edited. If you can’t afford this, ask a qualified friend or family member to look over it.

What Makes a Compelling Grad School Personal Statement

The best graduate school personal statement examples have certain things in common:

  • They start with a strong opener that grabs the attention of the selection committee.
  • This flows into a compelling narrative that clearly demonstrates the student’s passion and motivation.
  • They include specific examples which show the student’s discipline and work ethic.
  • They encompass family history, goals, education, and professional background all within a short statement.
  • They are well-written, well-structured, and flow well.
  • They are well-organized, each paragraph having its own message and belongs in the personal statement.

By applying these rules to your own experience and motivations, you’ll be able to write your own personal statement that will greatly strengthen your grad school application.

Key Elements of a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Writing personal statements is a critical part of applying to grad school . Let’s take a deep dive into what to include in a personal statement for grad school, how to refine the writing process, and what will help make your application stand out!

Demonstrate Why You’re Right for the Program

When evaluating applications, selection committees look for a potential graduate student who will be a good fit for the program. They want candidates who fit with the school’s culture, have the right attitude, and have the same drive and passion as faculty and other students.

Before writing your personal statement, do your research. Learn about the values and culture of the grad school, as well as their faculty and alumni. Throughout your personal essay, be sure to clearly demonstrate how your own ideology aligns with the school to show that you’ll be a good fit. It can also be powerful to cite a particular piece of research that inspires you, or describe your interest in the work of a particular faculty member.

Ensure your Personal Statement is Well-Written

Of course, it’s not just about what you say. How you say it is also important. Your personal statement serves as a writing sample that will demonstrate your written communication skills (or lack thereof).

Whether a masters program personal statement or a personal essay for a doctorate program, the selection committee wants to see that you can write. This shows them that you’ll be able to produce high-quality written work. This is most relevant for master’s and advanced degrees that contain a thesis component, but all courses require some level of written communication.

Strong and Consistent Messaging

It’s essential that your personal statement builds a clear, compelling narrative to convince the admissions committee that you’re an excellent candidate for their program. You need to clearly communicate your key messages, such as your academic and career goals, what you can bring to the program, and what you want to get out of grad school.

This will be most compelling if you are consistent with your messaging throughout your statement by returning to the same key themes. In the same way, avoid contradictory statements and don’t include elements that don’t fit with the narrative you’re trying to build.

Don’t Oversell

Sure, it’s important to present your strengths and describe your most impressive experience and qualifications. However, a personal statement is not a cover letter for a job application: it shouldn’t be sell, sell, sell.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses and faults. The selection committee will appreciate your honesty and humility, and this will help you to come across as a human rather than a faceless name on an application.

Include Examples

To create the strongest grad school personal statement you can, you’ll need to include examples. Just like a job interview, examples give more weight to your statements, and help you to demonstrate the claims you’re making are true. Peppering your personal statement with examples also helps to capture the reader’s attention and avoid generic-sounding text.

Be as specific as you can with these examples. Rather than just saying you’re passionate about a subject, demonstrate your interest and dedication to the topic by describing volunteer activities or internships you’ve done in that field. Mention awards you’ve received, or simply just detail a certain life event that sparked your motivation to pursue a certain career.

Share Personal Stories (But Don’t Overshare)

Some of the most powerful examples and anecdotes in a personal statement are just that, very personal. Some of the best personal statements for grad school are those that show the writer’s individuality. You could share how your family history has inspired your passion for a certain subject, or how a particular experience or life event spurred you to pursue a certain career. Not only does this make things more interesting for the reader, but vulnerability can be very compelling.

However, be careful not to overshare. Remember that your personal statement is part of an academic application, so it’s essential to keep things professional. Use a professional tone and appropriate language, and only include necessary details.

Refine and Polish your Application

As one of the key parts of your grad school application, it’s important to ensure your personal statement is refined and polished. Most selection committees will outright disregard applications with spelling mistakes or typos. With such a high volume of applications, a few missed commas or grammatical errors are an easy way to cull a set of candidates. MIT, for example, sends offers of admission to just over 10% of its grad school candidates.

Before submitting your application, proof read your personal statement. Then proofread it again. Ask a friend, colleague, or family member to look at it – it’s amazing what a second set of eyes can pick up.

How Long Should a Grad School Personal Statement Be?

The ideal personal statement for grad school is somewhere between 500 and 1000 words in length.

Any aspiring graduate student wants to make sure that they put in a comprehensive personal statement that includes all the elements they need to win over the selection committee. At the same time, it’s important to not make your personal essay too long, as key information may get lost in lengthy, tedious pieces.

However, don’t worry about being too firm on the length. The most important thing is to write a strong graduate application personal statement that shows your personality and presents a compelling message.

Related: How to Pick a Grad School .

Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

Though writing a personal statement for grad school is a very personal endeavor, the best personal statements for grad school share certain elements. Here are some successful personal statement examples from fictional graduate school applicants that show some of the key things that make a compelling personal statement.

personal statement for graduate school

Earning a college degree has been one of the proudest achievements of my life, despite the fact that my life’s trajectory long suggested that a college education would never be a part of my future. After falling pregnant at age 17 and dropping out of school, I found myself living as one of the “working poor”, balancing two minimum-wage jobs and caring for my child. Through my 20’s I picked up a string of low-paid, low-skill jobs: cleaner, retail clerk, server. I found none of these roles to be fulfilling, and, looking back, I can see that my talents and potential were going to waste.

However, I never gave up on my dream of going to college. I found work that would allow me to support myself and my family financially while giving me the flexibility to go back to school, and at 27, I enrolled at the local community college. At college, I was exposed to a whole new world which was supported by a thirst for learning, and I excelled academically. There were many long nights of studying after a day working at the local distribution center, followed by helping my kids with their homework and putting them to bed.

Working a 36-hour week while caring for a family and working towards a degree only motivated me to work harder. The better my performance and the more outstanding my results, the more I felt that my sacrifices had been worth it. I took inspiration from my mother, who came to this country as a 19-year old single mother from Nicaragua and worked three jobs to support her six children so that we could have a better life. Although I don’t come from a studious or academically-minded family, I have been able to take examples from other facets of my mother’s life and apply these to become an exceptional student.

It was during my time at community college that I truly embraced my lifelong passion for science. I have always been interested in how things work, and through my college studies I have developed an intense interest in physics. I find it fascinating to discover how things work on a molecular level, and I’m driven by the enormous potential of this field to shape human history into the future.

I feel a great part of my success as a student has been in how I have approached my studies. I approach study as if I am already a professional in the field, rather than a student, working diligently to excel and put in the strongest performance I can, which is reflected in my excellent academic record. I always chose the most challenging courses, and sought a broad range of subjects to broaden my knowledge and challenge my thinking. One of my greatest academic milestones to date was when my research paper on sub-atomic mass was published in the campus scientific journal, The Modern Scientist .

My undergraduate journey has not only cultivated a love of learning in me, but a strong desire to pursue a graduate degree. I have prepared for the rigors of graduate study by taking extra credits in not only my chosen field of physics, but also biology, chemistry, and ethics, in order to broaden my knowledge base. Additionally, for the past several years I have been an active member of my school’s physics club, and I have served as the club president for the past 12 months. I feel that my motivation, drive, and diverse life experiences would make me a valuable addition to the University of Virginia’s Master’s in Physics program. I am in awe of Virginia’s impressive and exciting interdisciplinary program and I feel that it is the ideal program to help me pursue a successful career in the world and make a valuable contribution to the scientific community, as society more generally.

Word count: 636

What makes this a strong personal statement:

  • The applicant uses memorable examples that are outside the ordinary to stand out from others
  • It shows a powerful level of self-reflection, including acknowledging the candidate’s own weaknesses
  • The applicant lets their individual personality shine through

I’ll never forget the day when I first held a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in my hands. I was in the dusty library at UCLA, a wide-eyed undergraduate student curious to learn more about this thing called “feminism”. At that time, I had no idea the impact that book would have on me, or how it would shape my life.

Reading de Beauvoir’s masterpiece set off a chain reaction that inspired me to learn more about feminism and women’s issues. I moved on to Germaine Greer, Mary Woolstonecraft, Margaret Atwood, Octavia E. Butler, and Audre Lorde, devouring their works and absorbing their ideas. I chose Women’s Studies as my undergraduate major, and interned at the Young Women’s Legal Service in downtown LA for two summers. After finishing my junior year with a 6.0 GPA, I went to Cambodia for three months, where I volunteered with The Purple Ribbon Project, a local, grassroots non-profit supporting female victims of sex trafficking. These diverse experiences inspired me to dedicate my life to advocating for women’s rights.

I am applying my passion for the field to two major projects this year.

First, I received a $2,700 grant under the Women’s Liberation Fund. I propose to expand on a prior research project, looking at the incidence of FGM within remote communities in Malaysia. For this thesis I am studying the cultural factors that contribute to the practice, and how this local practice is illegal at the national level, but ignored by authorities. I plan to expand on this theme as part of my senior thesis. My experience working with local communities in developing countries has been invaluable, as this has not only given me insights into cultural differences, it has also made it easier for me to connect with local communities on the ground as part of my research.

My second major project this year is a self-designed research project as part of my final year of Women’s Studies at UCLA. I am investigating modern perceptions around feminism. I am focusing on my observation that many younger women today seem to be openly hostile towards the concept, and I’m interested in learning whether this reflects a misunderstanding of the underlying theories, or a misalignment with the core values of traditional feminism.

For years I have been working towards graduate study in the field of Women’s Studies, but my approach to the field has been enriched with my double major in Women’s Studies and Development Studies. My interest in development has spurred me to study the particular challenges and opportunities faced by women in low-income countries.

My interest in studying at Brown University has grown out of conversations I’ve had with several people, including Professor Anne Spacek who shared many insights based on her time teaching there. My supervisor Janne Bauer also suggested I connect with Professor Marianne Patel. I reached out to Prof. Patel and we had an inspiring conversation that confirmed I would very much be at home in Brown’s Women’s Studies department.

Word count: 502

  • The personal statement has a unique and interesting beginning to capture the reader’s attention. If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement for grad school, begin with a compelling statement.
  • The applicant uses several examples to show their passion for the subject and how they will be a great fit for the program
  • The personal statement builds a compelling, well-structured narrative

What Sets the Best Personal Statements for Graduate School Applications Apart?

A personal statement is a crucial element of your grad school application. Your GPA alone will not get you into your dream graduate program, especially if you’re seeking admission to a leading institution.

Writing a personal statement for graduate school can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first try. It’s important to come up with a succinct statement that is also unique, authentic, and professional. Keep it short, simple, compelling, and most importantly relevant to the program.

For more tips on putting together a winning grad school application, check out our tips for getting into Ivy League grad school and GRE preparation tips .

Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin

Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.

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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)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

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.

Jaime Fine's portrait

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 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?

General advice

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.

Be specific

  • 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.

Avoid clichés

  • 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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How to start a personal statement for grad school

Prospective student writing a personal statement for graduate school with a cat

A well-written personal statement showcases an applicant’s unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations to the admissions committee. This guide will help you start the process of writing an effective personal statement for grad school, providing valuable tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

Get started

Begin the writing process early to allow ample time for brainstorming, drafting, and revision. This is your chance to explain why you are a capable candidate for the program and how it aligns with your aspirations. Take the time to reflect on your strengths, achievements, and what sets you apart from other applicants.

Research the graduate program thoroughly so you can understand its specific requirements, values, and objectives. For example, with USC Price’s Master of Public Administration program online it is important to recognize how your personal experiences, background, and interests have shaped you and will shape your engagement in the program and USC Price community. This knowledge will help you tailor your personal statement, highlighting why it is an ideal fit for your academic and career goals. 

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to start the brainstorming process. For example:

  • What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
  • What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
  • What have you learned about this field already? 

For a full list of prompts visit USC Online’s guide on How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application .

How to format a personal statement for grad school

It’s important to first read the essay prompt on the university’s website and follow the specific requirements listed. For example, USC Price’s Master of Publication Administration Online’s Admissions section explains that statements should be approximately 1,000 words and address the following questions: Why are you interested in pursuing the Master of Public Administration degree? How will a Master of Public Administration degree affect or enhance your career aspirations and goals?

To ensure a well-structured and cohesive personal statement you should plan and outline your ideas before you begin writing. Consider the prompts you’ve already asked yourself, the research you’ve done on the program, the main points you want to address and the order in which you will present them. This will help maintain a clear and logical flow.

Start with a captivating introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and provides a glimpse into your story. Then, develop the body paragraphs to highlight your academic background, relevant work experiences, and skills. Finally, conclude by summarizing your goals and emphasizing how you will contribute to the field.

Remember, the personal statement serves two functions – it allows the admissions committee to get to know the applicant better, and it serves as a sample of your writing skills. 

The Introduction

Perhaps the most important part of your essay is the introduction. This is your opportunity to hook the reader. Attempt to offer a unique perspective and avoid clichés. Here are some ways to start your personal statement: 

  • Reflect on your motivations and interests : Share the experiences or moments that sparked your interest in the subject. Explain why you find the field meaningful and how your previous academic or professional experiences have contributed to your decision. By showcasing your genuine passion and dedication, you can create an engaging opening that demonstrates your commitment to the field.
  • Start with a thought-provoking question: Pose a relevant and specific thought-provoking question that encourages the reader to contemplate the topic. This approach instantly grabs attention and shows your eagerness to explore complex issues within your field. Ensure that the question seamlessly connects to your experiences or interests.
  • Tell a compelling story: Share a personal anecdote or transformative experience that highlights your journey, challenges faced, and lessons learned. Connect your story to your field of study. By narrating a compelling story, you make your personal statement memorable and provide the admissions committee with a deeper understanding of your character and motivation.
  • Begin with a bold statement: Start with a bold claim or surprising fact that challenges conventional thinking within your field of study. Support such statements with evidence or personal experiences that validate your viewpoint, positioning yourself as a forward-thinking and motivated candidate.

Finish strong with a compelling conclusion

A strong conclusion for your graduate school personal statement is crucial for leaving a positive and lasting impression on the admissions committee. Here are some tips to help you craft a compelling conclusion:

  • Recap your key points: Summarize the main ideas you have discussed throughout your personal statement. Highlight your achievements, skills, and experiences that make you a strong fit for the program. However, avoid simply restating what you’ve already mentioned. Instead, offer a concise recap that reinforces your qualifications.
  • Connect to future goals: Transition from discussing your past experiences to emphasizing your future goals. Demonstrate how the graduate program aligns with your aspirations and explain how the knowledge and skills you’ll gain will help you achieve your career objectives. This shows that you have a focused and clear vision.
  • Express enthusiasm and commitment: Convey your excitement and enthusiasm for the program and your chosen field of study. Highlight why you are genuinely interested in pursuing further education in this area and how you plan to contribute to the field. For example, a Master of Public Administration applicant could express enthusiasm for helping nonprofit organizations connect with their constituents. This demonstrates your dedication and readiness to make a significant impact.

Remember to keep your conclusion concise and focused, as you have limited space to make your final case. Ensure that your conclusion aligns with the overall tone and theme of your personal statement and reinforces the key messages you have conveyed throughout the essay. By following these tips, you can craft a compelling conclusion that strengthens your application and leaves a positive impression on the admissions committee.

Tips to make you stand out from the crowd

In addition to nailing down the right grad school personal statement format, you also have to ensure you are using an appropriate tone and highlight relevant key points that enhance your chances of being selected for the program. Below are some tips to consider:

  • Be reflective and authentic: Admissions committees seek personal statements that are authentic and reflective of your unique qualities and experiences. Avoid generic statements and clichés, instead focusing on specific examples that illustrate your strengths and abilities. Reflect on your journey by sharing personal anecdotes, experiences, or research projects that demonstrate your commitment to the field.
  • Highlight relevance: Based on your research, emphasize the relevance of your professional experiences, skills, and academic background to the program. Draw connections between your academic achievements, research projects, internships, or work experience and the skills and knowledge required in your field of study. Clearly articulate how your past experiences have prepared you for the challenges of the program and how they align with your future goals. For example, a successful applicant to the MPA online program cited how their experience working remotely during the pandemic prepared them to collaborate on group projects in the program. 
  • Demonstrate motivation and fit: Admissions committees are interested in understanding your motivation for pursuing graduate studies, why you are passionate about the field, and what drives your intellectual curiosity. Highlight specific faculty members, courses , research opportunities, or unique aspects of the program that attract you. This demonstrates that you have done your research and have a genuine interest in the program.
  • Revise and seek feedback: After completing your first draft, take the time to revise and edit your personal statement. Ensure that your writing is free from grammatical errors and that you are within the word count. Read your statement aloud to check for flow and coherence. Once you feel like it is ready, seek feedback from trusted mentors and peers who can provide suggestions.

A compelling personal statement is crucial for making a lasting impression on the admissions committee. This guide on how to start a personal statement for grad school is the first step in helping you stand out from the crowd. Remember to allow ample time to prepare, craft a strong introduction and conclusion, and follow our tips to make a compelling case for why you are the perfect fit for the program. 

Learn more about the Master of Public Administration online admissions requirements by registering for an information sessions here , or connect with a USC admissions counselor at [email protected] who can help guide you through the application process.

Related Articles

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  • MPA Q&A: Alum Erica Robles shares her capstone experience
  • Q&A with EMUP Alum, Colin Montoute

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples: Good, Bad, & Everything In Between

A student smiling while holding a pen

Your personal statement should demonstrate that you have thought deeply about why you are making the decision to go to grad school and that your decision is one that will endure the challenges that graduate school presents. Sounds a little challenging? Don’t worry, this blog post will break down the strategy of writing a strong personal statement for graduate school.

Comparing Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

Below I will share types of personal statement examples: one with a strong writing approach and one that lacks clarity and may cause confusion for an admissions committee reader. Then I will describe the strengths and weaknesses of each example.

Introduction Paragraph Examples:

Ex. 1-Strong) The ocean is as fundamental to our lives as any other ecological habitat, so why don’t we have systems in place to treat it that way? Growing up in Monterey, California I was first introduced to marine biology through my advanced placement biology class. While in community college I helped form a student-led monthly beach clean-up team. This rewarding experience led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biology with an emphasis in ocean preservation. My passion for developing innovative and culturally informed approaches to marine preservation on a global scale have led me to pursue a doctorate in the field of marine biology. My desired research focus will explore solutions to the impacts of micro plastics in our ocean.

Ex. 2-Weak) Yea sure, the ocean is in a devastated condition, but what are we going to do about it? Well, with my degree in bio I plan to get a PhD in marine biology to help figure out how to address micro plastics in our ocean. I know so much already, and I just know that with a PhD I will be able to contribute on a greater scale. I know the PhD is a lot of work, but I am pretty sure I will be able to complete the program and have a great time doing so. I have always wanted to live in Santa Barbara, and that is definitely a part of my decision to apply to your program.

Conclusion Paragraph Examples:

Ex. 1-Strong) As a first generation college student, and an English language learner, my journey to receive my bachelors of science in marine biology has been tough. Along the way I have developed leadership skills, research and lab experience, as well as a refined passion for the work that marine biologists are able to do when informed by the local community members. I desire to continue my studies with an emphasis on ocean preservation research through the innovative and unique PhD program offered at UC Santa Barbara. It would be an honor to work with Dr. Jonas Mendoza and Dr. Raquel Pacheco, two professors whose work aligns with my research interests and who have been welcoming and encouraging through our email correspondence. While my research goals are ambitious, I am confident that your program offers the resources and mentorship required for a unified effort to resolve the impact that microplastics have on not only human life, but all marine animals and ecosystems.

Ex2. -Weak) I think it’s a miracle that I even completed my B.S degree! That’s how I know that with the funding and laid back atmosphere at UC Santa Barbara I can definitely complete the PhD. I’m not so interested in the teaching part, or the amount of course work I would be required to take, but I just know that once I get out there and get into the water, it will all be worth it. My research experience is competitive and top-notch, I am a great person to work with and easily make friends. I am hopeful to hear back and excited for the next steps! Thanks for reading this far.

Diving Deeper Into Personal Statement Examples

So, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the examples above!

  • Throughout the paragraph the applicant demonstrates that they have been involved with marine biology since high school, this is important because it demonstrates their commitment to the field early on in the essay
  • The applicant mentions a desire to live in Santa Barbara, while it may be true, it is not a strong enough reason to pursue a PhD and signals to the admissions committee that you may be pursuing the program for the wrong reasons. Keep details like this out of your personal statement and focus on reasons for applying that are academically motivated.
  • The applicant concludes by mentioning the importance of a “unified effort” for their research goals. This goes a long way to demonstrate that they understand how important collaborative effort is. This helps make an applicant more attractive in the eyes of an admissions committee that must also consider the work ethic of all applicants.
  • The applicant describes their research experience as “competitive and top-notch”, even if you have the most impressive curriculum vitae focus on instead listing what you have done, with who and what they outcomes were and let the admissions committee decide how they interpret it.

So, what makes a good personal statement?

Your personal statement will be one amongst many that a committee of real people will read to assess who you are. you have to remember that the committee members do not get to meet you before they read your application materials. you cannot risk leaving out crucial information. oftentimes, students struggle to talk about themselves, they see it as “bragging” or “showing off”. it is important that you overcome your discomfort and realize that the personal statement is essentially the first impression you will make on the committee. make the most of the opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure to address the following:.

  • Why now? Admissions committees have been through graduate school. They know better than anyone that graduate school is not a choice one makes simply because “you don’t know what else to do”. Demonstrate that you are prepared for the commitment and the work by specifying why you have decided that graduate school is the best option for you at this time and that your current and past experiences align with your intentions if admitted into the program.

A good personal statement will address all of these questions and be mindful about appropriate boundaries with each. Ultimately, it will demonstrate to the committee that you are prepared for the program, that you are likely to succeed if admitted, and that you are passionate about and committed to pursuing a career in which the training and the degree that you will receive is imperative to your future goals.

The importance of a clear narrative:

A clear narrative will allow for the admissions committee to extract the necessary information about you without any hassle. Remember that you are one applicant amongst many, when writing your personal statement do not assume that your reader will know the importance of any information or the necessary context if you do not provide these details for them. Consider these tips when writing:

  • Do not overestimate the importance of proofreading! Read your essays out loud and record the audio while doing it. Does it flow? Does it answer every question provided in the prompt (if provided one)? I recommend finding at least one person who is in graduate school and preferably within your field to read your essay.

Summary and Major Takeaways

The personal statement is usually just 1-2 pages. With a document this short and with so much importance towards your chances of admission, every word matters! Consider these takeaways as you prepare and always remember you can reach out to us at Magoosh for more in-depth and personalized support.

Do this before you get to writing. Gather information from this blog post, the programs official website, any correspondence between you and professors or graduate students at each program you will be applying to, and develop a document that lists every experience and detail you wish to include. Use this as a reference as you write so that you are certain you are hitting every point.

Do not skip this step! Seek out support from current graduate students or a writing service for some feedback. Double check for any language that is too casual, or can be off putting or concerning to anyone who will review your application.

Remember that admissions committees are made up of real people who read an unbelievable amount of applications. Do your best to stand out, really think about what sets you apart and what skills you have developed throughout your life that are relevant to the program you are pursuing. After you have your first draft, focus on language and phrases that are both professional and captivating to your reader. Sprinkle in some flare!

Verónica Mandujano

Verónica Mandujano is an Admissions Instructor at Magoosh. She supports students throughout their application process in various forms including live classes on an array of topics, writing support and coaching. She is excited to be able to share from her past and current experiences as a PhD student and as an instructor at the University of California, Santa Barbara where her research employs interdisciplinary methods to address birthing justice, the colonial impacts of obstetrics, and the re-matriation of ancestral plant birthing medicine. She is a creative writer, a proud chihuahua momma, and a firm believer in never putting your taco down once you take the first bite.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School? Ultimate Guide with Examples

personal statement tips graduate school

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement tips & advice.

One of the most important components of your application is your personal statement. A survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that 64% of graduate admissions officers consider the personal statement to be the most important factor in the admissions process.  Moreover, in another survey by Kaplan Test Prep, a well-written personal statement can increase an applicant’s chances of acceptance by up to 50%. 

Your personal statement is a chance to showcase your personality, motivations, and qualifications, and to convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the graduate program you are applying to.

But what should a personal statement for graduate school include? 

In this blog post, I’ll go over the key elements that you should consider when writing your personal statement and offer some tips and examples to help you craft a compelling statement that sets you apart from the competition. Furthermore, this blog post also introduces an 8-point framework designed to assist you in evaluating and rating your personal statement draft. 

To ensure a well-rounded and effective personal statement, it is essential to also review my other blog post, which covers the 10 things to avoid when crafting your personal statement. These two blog posts complement each other and should be used in tandem to create an exceptional personal statement.

Whether you’re applying for a master’s degree in psychology, a PhD in engineering, or any other graduate program, this guide will help you make the most of your personal statement and increase your chances of getting accepted to your dream school.

In this Article

1) Research the Program

2) outline your content, 3) start with a compelling introduction, 4) highlight your achievements and interests, 5) explain your motivation, 6) showcase your unique qualities, 7) address any weaknesses or gaps (if applicable), 8) write a strong conclusion, 9) edit and revise, 10) stick to the word limit, sample 1: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, sample 2: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, sample 3: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, how to write a personal statement for graduate school.

Summary: Understand the specific requirements, values, and objectives of the graduate program you are applying to. Tailor your personal statement to demonstrate how you align with the program’s goals and can contribute to its community.

Researching the graduate program you are applying to is crucial for crafting a tailored and persuasive personal statement. By understanding the program’s requirements, values, and objectives, you can effectively demonstrate your fit and commitment. Here are some steps to guide your research: 

  • Visit the program’s website: Start by thoroughly exploring the program’s official website. Pay close attention to the program’s mission statement, curriculum, faculty, research areas, and any unique features or opportunities it offers.
  • Review the admissions criteria: Understand the specific requirements for admission, such as minimum GPA, standardized test scores, prerequisite courses, or relevant work experience. Knowing these requirements will help you emphasize your qualifications in your personal statement.
  • Identify the program’s values and culture: Read about the program’s philosophy, teaching style, and community values. This information will help you align your personal statement with the program’s expectations and show how you would fit into the program’s culture.
  • Research faculty members and their work: Familiarize yourself with the faculty members in the program and their areas of expertise. Mention any professors whose research aligns with your interests, and explain how their mentorship would support your academic and professional growth.
  • Reach out to current students or alumni: Connecting with current students or alumni can provide valuable insights into the program’s culture, expectations, and experiences. Their perspectives can help you understand what the program values in its applicants and what makes it unique.
  • Attend information sessions or webinars: Many graduate programs host informational events, both in-person and online, for prospective students. These events can provide further details about the program, faculty, and application process and give you an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Reflect on your goals: Consider how the specific program aligns with your career goals, research interests, and personal values. Make note of the aspects that make the program an ideal fit for you.

Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the program, incorporate your findings into your personal statement. Explain why the program’s focus, values, and opportunities align with your goals and how you would contribute to and benefit from the program. Demonstrating your knowledge of the program and its unique features will show the admissions committee that you are a well-informed and committed applicant. 

Summary: Organize your thoughts and ideas before you start writing. Create a rough outline with an introduction, main body, and conclusion. This will help you structure your personal statement effectively.

Outlining your content before writing your personal statement helps you organize your thoughts, maintain a coherent structure, and ensure that you cover all the relevant points. Here’s a suggested framework for outlining your personal statement: 

  • Introduction:
  • Start with a hook: Begin with an engaging anecdote, quote, or statement that captures the reader’s attention and sets the tone for your personal statement.
  • Introduce your main theme: Briefly mention the primary focus of your personal statement, such as your passion for the field, motivation for graduate study, or unique qualifications.
  • Academic background and achievements:
  • Summarize your academic history: Provide an overview of your undergraduate (and, if applicable, graduate) studies, emphasizing your major(s), minor(s), and any relevant coursework.
  • Discuss research experiences: Describe any research projects or publications you have been involved in, highlighting your contributions and the skills you gained.
  • Mention awards or honors: List any academic awards or honors you have received that demonstrate your aptitude and commitment to your field.
  • Relevant work and internship experiences:
  • Describe your work experiences: Detail any professional or internship experiences related to your field, focusing on the responsibilities you held, the skills you developed, and any accomplishments.
  • Explain the impact: Discuss how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies and how they have shaped your career goals.
  • Motivation for graduate studies:
  • Explain your interest: Share the reasons behind your decision to pursue graduate studies in your chosen field.
  • State your long-term goals: Describe your professional aspirations and how obtaining a degree from the specific program will help you achieve them.
  • Personal qualities and strengths:
  • Highlight your unique traits: Emphasize your personal strengths, such as leadership skills, resilience, or work ethic, and provide examples of how these qualities have contributed to your success.
  • Demonstrate your fit: Explain how your personal qualities align with the program’s values and culture, and how they will contribute to your success as a graduate student.
  • Addressing weaknesses or gaps (if applicable):
  • Acknowledge the issue: Briefly mention any potential concerns in your application, such as low grades or gaps in employment.
  • Provide context and resolution: Explain the circumstances behind the issue, what you have learned from it, and what steps you have taken to overcome the challenge.
  • Conclusion:
  • Summarize your main points: Reiterate the key aspects of your personal statement, such as your motivation, goals, and qualifications.
  • Express enthusiasm: Convey your excitement about the prospect of joining the graduate program and how it will support your academic and professional growth.

By creating a detailed outline, you can ensure that your personal statement has a clear and logical structure, making it easier for the admissions committee to follow and understand your story.

Summary: Begin your personal statement with an engaging opening that captures the reader’s attention. It could be a relevant anecdote, a powerful quote, or a statement about your passion for the field.

A strong introduction is crucial to capturing the reader’s attention and setting the tone for your personal statement. Your goal is to engage the admissions committee from the very beginning and encourage them to read further. Here are some tips for crafting a compelling introduction: 

  • Use a hook: Start your personal statement with an engaging hook that will grab the reader’s attention. A hook can be a thought-provoking question, a surprising fact, a powerful quote, or a brief anecdote related to your academic or professional journey.

Example: “As I stood at the edge of the coral reef, witnessing the vibrant colors and diverse marine life, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to preserving these delicate ecosystems.”

  • Introduce your main theme: Briefly mention the primary focus of your personal statement. This may be your passion for the field, your motivation for pursuing graduate studies, or the unique qualifications you bring to the program.

Example: “My passion for marine biology, fueled by years of fieldwork and research, has led me to pursue a graduate degree in order to contribute to the conservation of these vital ecosystems.”

  • Create a connection: Draw a connection between your hook and the main theme of your personal statement. This will help create a smooth transition into the body of your essay and provide a coherent narrative.

Example: “My experiences diving in coral reefs around the world have not only deepened my love for marine biology but also motivated me to explore innovative solutions for coral reef conservation through graduate research.” 

Remember that your introduction sets the stage for the rest of your personal statement. By crafting a compelling and engaging introduction, you can create a strong first impression and encourage the admissions committee to read your personal statement with interest and enthusiasm.

Summary: Discuss your academic background, research experiences, internships, or work experiences that are relevant to the field. Explain how these experiences have prepared you for graduate study and how they align with the program’s objectives.

In your personal statement, it’s important to showcase your academic and professional accomplishments to demonstrate your preparedness for graduate school. Here are some tips for discussing your achievements effectively: 

  • Focus on relevant experiences: Select academic and professional experiences that are most relevant to your chosen field and the specific graduate program. This will help demonstrate your commitment and expertise in the subject.
  • Describe your roles and contributions: For each experience, briefly describe your role, responsibilities, and contributions. This will help the admissions committee understand the scope of your involvement and the skills you have developed.

Example: “As a research assistant at XYZ University, I collaborated with a team of marine biologists to study the effects of ocean acidification on coral growth. My responsibilities included collecting and analyzing data, as well as presenting our findings at a regional conference.”

  • Highlight your achievements: Emphasize any accomplishments or positive outcomes that resulted from your work. This can include publications, conference presentations, awards, or the successful completion of projects.

Example: “Our research was published in the Journal of Marine Biology, and our findings have contributed to the development of new strategies for coral reef conservation.”

  • Explain the impact: Discuss how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies and how they have influenced your academic and professional interests. Explain what you have learned from these experiences and how they have shaped your goals.

Example: “Through my research experiences, I have developed a strong foundation in data analysis and experimental design. These skills, combined with my passion for marine biology, have inspired me to further my education and pursue a career in coral reef conservation research.”

  • Show progression: When discussing multiple experiences, arrange them chronologically to demonstrate your growth and development in your field. This will help create a coherent narrative and show the admissions committee how your interests have evolved over time.

By effectively highlighting your academic and professional achievements, you can demonstrate your preparedness for graduate school and your commitment to your chosen field. This will help convince the admissions committee that you are a strong candidate for their program. 

Summary: Share your reasons for pursuing graduate studies in your chosen field. Discuss your long-term goals and how a degree from the specific program will help you achieve them.

Explaining your motivation for pursuing graduate studies is crucial in your personal statement, as it helps the admissions committee understand your passion, commitment, and long-term goals. Here are some tips to effectively convey your motivation: 

  • Discuss your passion: Describe how your interest in the field developed, whether through personal experiences, academic pursuits, or professional opportunities. Share specific moments or events that have influenced your decision to pursue graduate studies.

Example: “My fascination with marine biology began during my childhood visits to the local aquarium, where I was captivated by the diversity and beauty of marine life. This passion only grew stronger as I pursued my undergraduate studies and participated in various research projects.”

  • Identify your long-term goals: Clearly articulate your long-term academic and professional goals. This demonstrates that you have a well-defined plan and are committed to your chosen field.

Example: “My ultimate goal is to become a leading researcher in coral reef conservation, working with international organizations to develop innovative strategies for protecting these vital ecosystems.”

  • Explain the program’s role in achieving your goals: Describe how the specific graduate program you are applying to will help you achieve your goals. This can include the program’s curriculum, faculty expertise, research opportunities, or unique resources.

Example: “The Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University offers a cutting-edge curriculum and access to world-class research facilities, which will provide me with the necessary knowledge and skills to make a meaningful impact in coral reef conservation.”

  • Show alignment with the program’s objectives: Explain how your goals and motivations align with the program’s mission, values, and objectives. This demonstrates that you have done your research and are a good fit for the program.

Example: “The program’s focus on interdisciplinary research and collaboration aligns with my belief in the importance of combining diverse perspectives to address complex conservation challenges.”

By clearly explaining your motivation for pursuing graduate studies, you can demonstrate your commitment, passion, and long-term vision to the admissions committee. This will help convince them that you are a dedicated and focused candidate who will contribute positively to the program and the field.

Summary: Emphasize your personal strengths, such as your work ethic, leadership skills, or resilience. Explain how these traits will contribute to your success as a graduate student and future professional.

In your personal statement, it’s important to highlight your personal strengths and qualities that make you an ideal candidate for graduate school. Showcasing these traits helps the admissions committee understand how you will contribute to the program and succeed in your studies. Here are some tips for highlighting your unique qualities: 

  • Identify your strengths: Reflect on your personal attributes that have contributed to your success in your academic and professional endeavors. These may include leadership skills, resilience, work ethic, creativity, or problem-solving abilities.
  • Provide examples: Support your claims by providing specific examples of situations where you have demonstrated these qualities. This can include academic projects, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or professional experiences.

Example: “During my time as president of the Environmental Club at my university, I demonstrated my leadership skills by organizing events, managing a team of volunteers, and successfully securing funding for our initiatives.”

  • Connect your qualities to your goals: Explain how your unique qualities will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. This will show the admissions committee that you possess the necessary traits to succeed in graduate school and beyond.

Example: “My strong work ethic and ability to collaborate with diverse teams will enable me to excel in the interdisciplinary research environment of the Marine Biology graduate program and make a meaningful impact in coral reef conservation.”

  • Align your qualities with the program’s values: Demonstrate how your personal traits align with the values and culture of the graduate program. This can help show that you are a good fit for the program and its community.

Example: “The program’s emphasis on collaboration and innovative thinking resonates with my own approach to problem-solving and my belief in the importance of working together to address complex environmental challenges.”

By showcasing your unique qualities and providing concrete examples of how you have demonstrated these traits, you can help the admissions committee understand your potential to succeed in graduate school and contribute to the program’s community. This will make your personal statement more compelling and persuasive, increasing your chances of being accepted into your desired program.

Summary: If you have any potential concerns in your application, such as low grades or gaps in employment, briefly address them and explain what you have done to overcome these challenges.

If your application has potential weaknesses or gaps, such as low grades, gaps in employment or education, or other concerns, it’s important to address them in your personal statement. Here’s how to approach this effectively:

  • Be upfront: If there is an issue that could raise questions or concerns for the admissions committee, it’s better to address it directly rather than hope they won’t notice. Briefly acknowledge the issue in a straightforward manner.
  • Provide context: Explain the circumstances behind the weakness or gap, but avoid making excuses or dwelling on it excessively. Instead, focus on providing context and insight into the situation.

Example: “During my junior year of college, my grades suffered due to a family crisis that demanded much of my time and emotional energy. This was a difficult period, but it also taught me the importance of resilience and adaptability.”

  • Highlight growth and resolution: Emphasize what you have learned from the experience and any steps you have taken to address the issue. Show how you have grown from the situation and how it has made you a stronger candidate.

Example: “In the semesters following the family crisis, I redoubled my efforts in my coursework, resulting in significant improvement in my grades. This experience has ultimately made me more focused and determined in both my academic and professional pursuits.”

  • Demonstrate your strengths: Counterbalance the weakness or gap by drawing attention to your strengths and accomplishments. This can help reassure the admissions committee that you are well-prepared for graduate school, despite any potential concerns.

Example: “Despite the temporary setback in my academic performance, I have consistently demonstrated my commitment to marine biology through research projects, internships, and extracurricular activities.”

By addressing weaknesses or gaps in your application thoughtfully and strategically, you can demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a resilient and adaptable candidate who can overcome challenges and succeed in their graduate program.

Summary: A strong conclusion is essential for leaving a lasting impression on the admissions committee and reinforcing the main points of your personal statement. Here are some tips for crafting an effective conclusion:

  • Summarize your main points: Briefly reiterate the key aspects of your personal statement, such as your motivation, goals, and qualifications. This will help remind the admissions committee of the main takeaways from your statement.

Example: “Through my academic achievements, research experiences, and commitment to marine conservation, I have developed a strong foundation to excel in the Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University.”

  • Reaffirm your enthusiasm: Express your excitement and enthusiasm about the prospect of joining the graduate program. This will show the admissions committee that you are passionate about the opportunity and motivated to succeed.

Example: “I am eager to contribute my knowledge, skills, and passion to the program’s research efforts and collaborate with faculty and peers to address pressing conservation challenges.”

  • Connect to the program: Reiterate how the specific program aligns with your goals and interests, and emphasize the unique aspects of the program that make it an ideal fit for you.

Example: “The program’s interdisciplinary approach, renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art research facilities provide the perfect environment for me to deepen my understanding of marine biology and make a meaningful impact on coral reef conservation.”

  • End on a positive note: Conclude your personal statement with a positive, forward-looking statement that demonstrates your confidence in your ability to succeed in the program and achieve your goals.

Example: “I am confident that my background, passion, and determination will enable me to thrive in the Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University and contribute significantly to the field of coral reef conservation.”

  • Keep it concise: Your conclusion should be concise and focused, as it serves to wrap up your personal statement and leave the reader with a clear understanding of your qualifications and motivations.

By writing a strong conclusion, you can reinforce the main points of your personal statement, demonstrate your enthusiasm for the program, and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee. This will help increase your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

Summary: Write multiple drafts of your personal statement, refining your language and content with each iteration. Check for grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies. Ask a trusted mentor, friend, or family member to proofread your statement and provide feedback.

By carefully editing and revising your personal statement, you can ensure that it is polished, well-written, and effectively communicates your qualifications and motivations to the admissions committee. This will improve your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

Summary: Adhere to the required word count or character limit specified by the program. Be concise and make every word count.

Adhering to the word limit set by the graduate program is crucial for several reasons. It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, shows respect for the admissions committee’s time, and indicates your skill in presenting your ideas concisely.

By sticking to the word limit, you demonstrate your ability to follow guidelines and present your ideas effectively within the given constraints. This can create a positive impression on the admissions committee and improve your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

An 8-point Framework for Evaluating your Grad School Personal Statement

Based on the above key elements of a grad school personal statement, now I will present an 8-point framework for evaluating and rating your personal statement. This comprehensive framework will help you create a strong and compelling personal statement by focusing on key aspects such as researching the program, crafting a compelling introduction, showcasing your achievements, and addressing any weaknesses. By following this framework, you’ll be well-equipped to write a personal statement that stands out and leaves a lasting impression on admissions committees.

Let’s break down each point to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what they entail:

Research the program: Demonstrating a deep understanding of the program you are applying to shows the admissions committee that you are genuinely interested in their program and have taken the time to investigate how it aligns with your interests and goals. Mention specific courses, faculty members, and research projects that appeal to you, and explain why they are a good fit for your academic and professional aspirations.

Start with a compelling introduction: A strong opening paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your personal statement. Introduce your main theme, passion, or goal and provide a glimpse of the experiences and achievements that will be discussed in more detail later in the statement.

Highlight your academic and professional achievements: Discuss your educational background, internships, research projects, and work experiences that are relevant to the program you are applying to. Be specific about your accomplishments and the skills you have developed, and explain how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies.

Explain your motivation: Clearly articulate why you are pursuing this particular program and field of study. Discuss the experiences, passions, or goals that have led you to this point in your academic and professional journey, and explain how the program will help you achieve your objectives.

Showcase your unique qualities: Highlight the personal qualities, strengths, and characteristics that set you apart from other applicants. Discuss any leadership roles, community involvement, or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your unique perspective and ability to contribute to the program’s intellectual diversity.

Address any weaknesses or gaps (if applicable): If there are any weaknesses or gaps in your academic or professional background, be honest and address them head-on. Explain the circumstances that led to these issues and describe any steps you have taken to overcome them. This shows self-awareness and a willingness to learn from your experiences.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: Including coherence as the another point in the framework will help ensure that the statement flows well, is easy to follow, and effectively connects the applicant’s experiences, interests, and motivations.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: While the other points focus on content and structure, it’s essential to ensure that the personal statement is well-written and free of errors. A polished personal statement leaves a positive impression on the admissions committee, indicating the applicant’s attention to detail and strong communication skills.

By addressing these 8 points in your personal statement, you can effectively convey your suitability for the program and demonstrate your commitment to your chosen field of study.

Here is a sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the MIT PHD program. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program: 5/5

The personal statement demonstrates an understanding of MIT’s Operations Management program and mentions specific professors and their research interests, showing that the applicant has done their research.

Start with a compelling introduction: 4/5

The introduction highlights the disparity between educational opportunities and sets the stage for the applicant’s motivation. It’s engaging and provides context for the applicant’s journey.

While the introduction provides context for the applicant’s journey, it could be more personal and focused on the applicant’s experiences or background that led them to pursue graduate studies in Operations Research. This would create a stronger connection with the reader.

Highlight your academic and professional achievements: 5/5

The statement effectively outlines various research internships, coursework, and professional experiences that have shaped the applicant’s interests and qualifications for the graduate program.

Explain your motivation: 5/5

The applicant’s motivation is clear, as they have been inspired by their experiences in industry and teaching to pursue a PhD in Operations Research.

Showcase your unique qualities: 4/5

The statement showcases the applicant’s ability to work on novel projects, their initiative in problem-solving, and their experience in teaching, which sets them apart from other candidates.

The applicant has touched upon some unique qualities, but they could elaborate on their personal traits, such as resilience, creativity, or adaptability, which are important for success in a PhD program. Providing specific examples or anecdotes that demonstrate these qualities would make the statement more engaging.

Address any weaknesses or gaps: N/A

The statement does not have any evident weaknesses or gaps in the applicant’s academic or professional journey. It demonstrates a consistent interest and growth in the field of Operations Research.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 5/5

The personal statement maintains coherence throughout, with a logical progression from the applicant’s academic experiences to their professional experiences and, finally, to their decision to pursue a PhD.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 5/5

The statement is well-written and free of any glaring grammatical errors or punctuation mistakes. It is clear and easy to follow.

Overall, this personal statement is strong and effectively showcases the applicant’s qualifications, motivation, and unique qualities. It demonstrates a deep understanding of the target program and the applicant’s alignment with the research interests of the faculty.

Here is another sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the Cambridge grad school. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program: 4/5 

The applicant mentions specific research groups and faculty members at Cambridge, indicating research on the program. However, more details about the program’s unique features or resources could further demonstrate understanding and interest.

Start with a compelling introduction: 5/5 

The introduction starts with a personal anecdote and a quote that helped shape the applicant’s mindset, making it engaging and setting the tone for the statement.

Highlight academic and professional achievements: 5/5

The applicant outlines their academic achievements, including the Dean’s Honor List, merit scholarship, and relevant coursework. Professional experiences as a teacher assistant and software engineer at Apple are also highlighted.

Explain motivation: 5/5

The applicant shares their personal experiences with Type 1 Diabetes and societal challenges they’ve faced, which have driven their determination and ambition in their academic and professional pursuits.

Showcase unique qualities: 4/5 

The applicant’s resilience and determination to succeed despite hardships stand out. However, discussing more unique qualities or experiences could make the applicant more memorable.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 5/5  

The statement follows a logical progression, from personal motivation to academic and professional experiences, leading to the applicant’s goals and fit with the program.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 5/5 

The statement is well-written and free of glaring grammatical errors or issues with clarity.

Overall, the personal statement is strong, with a compelling introduction and a clear demonstration of the applicant’s motivation and achievements. Additional information about unique qualities and specific program features could make the statement even more effective.

Here is another sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the Oxford grad school. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program:3.5/5

The personal statement does not show extensive research about the specific program at Oxford, but it does mention the desire to access world-class facilities and resources, such as dedicated GPUs at Advanced Research Computing. More details about the specific program and how it aligns with the author’s goals would strengthen the statement.

Start with a compelling introduction: 5/5

The introduction effectively captures the reader’s attention by highlighting the author’s achievements as a Software Developer and Data Scientist, and then proceeds to provide context about their background.

The statement effectively showcases the author’s academic and professional achievements, including their strong foundations in programming, various successful projects, and top-of-the-class graduation in their Master’s program.

The author provides an in-depth account of their personal journey, overcoming challenges, and their passion for programming, which serves as a strong motivation throughout the statement.

Showcase your unique qualities: 5/5

The statement highlights the author’s resilience, determination, and ability to learn and adapt to new technologies quickly, which sets them apart from others.

Address any weaknesses or gaps: 5/5

The author openly discusses their struggles with OCD, medication side effects, and low undergraduate GPA, and demonstrates how they overcame these obstacles to succeed in their academic and professional life.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 4/5

The personal statement maintains coherence by consistently focusing on the author’s journey, from overcoming personal challenges to their achievements in the fields of programming and data science. However, it could benefit from a more concise structure, as it is quite lengthy.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 4/5

The statement is well-written with no significant issues in grammar, punctuation, or clarity. Minor proofreading may be necessary to ensure a polished final version.

Overall, the personal statement is strong in many aspects, but it could be improved by researching the specific program at Oxford and providing a more concise structure.  

In conclusion, crafting an effective graduate school personal statement requires thoughtful reflection, research, and attention to detail. As you embark on this journey, remember to connect your passion for your field of study with your academic and professional experiences, showcasing your unique qualities and motivations. By addressing the specific program you are applying to, demonstrating your strengths, and carefully proofreading your work, you can create a powerful and memorable statement that will leave a lasting impression on admissions committees. Ultimately, a well-written personal statement is an essential step towards achieving your graduate school goals and making a positive impact in your chosen field.

WANT MORE AMAZING ARTICLES ON GRAD SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENTS?

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  • Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Personal Statement
  • Writing a Killer Opening Paragraph for Your Personal Statement
  • Ideal Length for a Graduate School Personal Statement
  • 100 Inspiring Quotes to Jumpstart Your Personal Statement

How to Format & Structure Your Personal Statement for Grad School – The 5 Paragraph Approach

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How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

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Things to Avoid in a Grad School Personal Statement? Ultimate Guide with Examples

In my earlier post, I shared an ultimate guide on how to write an effective graduate school personal statement and introduced an 8-point framework to guide you in evaluating your personal statement. Building on that foundation, in this post, I'll delve into the things...

100 Quotes to Kickstart Your Personal Statement (with examples)

Starting your personal statement for university admissions can be a daunting task. It's the first thing the admissions committee will read about you, and it needs to capture your unique voice, experiences, and aspirations in just a few words. So, where do you begin?...

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Writing a Personal Statement

Student sitting outside doing research.

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 Top MBA Personal Statement (With Examples)

how to write an mba personal statement with examples

Working on your MBA application? You aren’t alone. In 2021, over 200,000 students graduated with an MBA degree making it the number one choice for graduate students for the 10th year in a row. And there’s good reason for this. According to the National Center for Education Statistics , post-MBA, grads can earn significantly more at work—experts estimate an additional $20,000 each year depending on the industry. 

During the application process, you’ll want to stand out. A well-crafted personal statement will help distinguish you from other applicants. It serves as a powerful tool to showcase your unique experiences, skills, and aspirations to admissions committees. To make a lasting impression, tailor your personal statement to each MBA program you’re applying to, highlighting how your background aligns with their values and goals. For additional support, keep reading for some MBA personal statement examples and guidance. 

Understanding the Foundations – Word Count, Templates, and Pricing

When you start your personal statement, keep the word count in mind. Make sure to write your statement succinctly. Templates can give crucial structure to a first draft and make sure you hit necessary points. Finally: is it worth it to hire a professional proofreader? We break down the pros and cons. 

Word Count Considerations

A well-written personal statement is often the deciding factor in the business school admissions process. Conveying your thoughts concisely is a crucial skill in the business world, and future peers will be grateful for your brevity.

One strategy is to start with a longer draft and edit it down when revising. Remove unnecessary details and tighten wordy language. Focus on improving the quality of your content over meeting the maximum word count. 

Templates as a Starting Point

Templates can help to organize your thoughts. Use them to provide structure and give your writing direction. By planning ahead, you can decide how much space you want to dedicate to each element—this can also help you meet the word count.

Remember: popular templates are popular for a reason, and following them too strictly can make your statement feel rigid and unoriginal. To avoid that pitfall, personalization is key. Your individual experiences, goals, and perspectives are all unique. What would a Master’s in Business Administration mean to you? Don’t be afraid to customize any template to fit your voice. 

Professional Proofreading

Graduate schools know what a well-written personal statement looks like—and so do professional proofreaders. Experts can help catch small grammatical errors and improve clarity in your writing. It can be challenging to review personal writing from an objective standpoint. A good proofreader will streamline your writing and ensure overall coherence, improving your odds with your preferred school of business. 

Unfortunately, this can be expensive. Pricing for these services can easily cost hundreds of dollars. If hiring one isn’t in the budget, here are some alternatives: 

  • Find writing groups online or in person. Not only will you receive feedback, you’ll get a better idea of what other personal statements look like. Be prepared to help edit other statements.
  • Reach out to peers and mentors. Turn to people who know your voice and can tell when your writing is authentic. Make sure they aren’t afraid to give negative feedback.
  • Utilize free online resources. Writing tools like Grammarly or Hemingway help check grammar and sentence structure. They won’t help with essay format and aren’t infallible; double-check any changes they might suggest.
  • Read your statement out loud. This can help make sure your statement has a good rhythm and flows naturally.
  • Take breaks. Be your own set of fresh eyes. When you’re in the thick of writing, you might glaze over easy-to-spot details while you’re thinking of the big picture. Allow yourself to recharge and clear your head before you get back to it. 

proofreading mba personal statement

Tailoring Your Personal Statement to Top MBA Programs

Make sure to personalize your essays to specific MBA programs . Include details about specific classes and faculty, unique opportunities, and the strengths that make this program stand out. 

Then, tie yourself into the narrative. What role would you fill as a graduate student or an alumnus? Consider your own strengths and where they align with this specific program. What career goals could this opportunity help you achieve? 

Remember to mention your soft skills and other details that may not show up elsewhere on your application. Finally, shine a spotlight on your unique contributions in past roles. 

Write a Captivating Introduction

A beautiful personal statement will be overlooked unless the introduction captivates the audience. You can begin with compelling anecdotes, personal stories, or influential quotes. Tie this introduction into your reason for pursuing an MBA. Make the reader care before launching into your achievements. Then, clearly state why you’re pursuing an MBA. Example: “From the dynamic intersections of global markets to the intricate strategies driving corporate success, the realm of business has always beckoned to me as a realm of boundless opportunity and perpetual evolution..” 

Discuss Academic and Professional Background

Now it’s time to discuss what you’re bringing to the table. It’s okay to brag! Think about any key achievements or acquired skills that are transferable to an MBA program. What motivated you to apply? Example : “As a project manager at XYZ Corp, I navigated intricate challenges, demonstrating resilience and strategic thinking – skills I am eager to refine in a top-tier MBA program.” 

Answer the Questions: Why an MBA? Why Now? 

What does an MBA mean for your career goals ? Break down your short and long-term goals to answer this essay question. How do the skills you gain from earning an MBA connect to your plan? Research the program you’re applying for and use examples from the curriculum. Example : “My immediate goal is to transition from project management to strategic consulting, and Crummer’s MBA program’s focus on experiential learning and global business strategy perfectly complements my aspirations.” 

Emphasize Soft Skills

Think about moments you demonstrated personal growth or teamwork. Are there any moments you stepped up to lead a project or team? Your past experiences will influence your habits in a graduate school setting. Example :  “Leading a cross-functional team on a high-stakes project not only honed my leadership skills but also taught me the importance of collaborative problem-solving, a cornerstone of Crummer’s MBA program. “

Spotlight Unique Contributions

What sets you apart from other applicants? Moreover, what impact will your unique perspective bring to the MBA cohort? Explain how your background will enrich the learning environment. Detail personal qualities and experiences that showcase your value. 

how to make an mba personal statement engaging

Key Elements for a Powerful Personal Statement

Take a holistic approach to strike the right chord in your personal statement. Give admissions committees a more concrete impression of you. Weave in your qualifications, experiences, and aspirations. Don’t just mention your professional achievements—detail all of your positive qualities. 

Showcase Work Experience 

Be strategic when discussing your real-world work experience. If you can, including measurable results is a great way to show your professional impact. Earnings numbers, statistics, and other metrics will show off your professional experiences. 

Articulate Career Goals and Aspirations

When discussing career goals for an MBA application, detail your short and long-term objectives clearly. Ambiguity can weaken your statement’s impact. Whether you’re joining a family business, starting your own business, or looking to go abroad for international business you should discuss how you see yourself navigating the business world. Connect these career aspirations to the MBA program. 

Incorporate Extracurricular and Real-World Experiences

Touch on any extracurricular experiences like internships or entrepreneurship. Explain how these real-world experiences impacted your analytical skills, business acumen, and decision-making. If you’re an entrepreneur, touch on your journey or discuss the vision for your next startup. 

You can also talk about moments where you demonstrated leadership and communication skills. Teamwork is critical to business leaders. Reflect on your leadership experience—the successes you’ve won and the lessons you learned. 

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Maintain Authenticity

Write authentically. Admissions officers want genuine stories. Give readers a reason to empathize with you. Overly formal and generic language can depersonalize your statement and keep readers at arm’s length. 

Also, use conversational language. If something sounds clunky or unnatural, it probably also reads that way. Plus, the way you speak naturally showcases your personality. While you should always use proper grammar, don’t suck the life out of your statement in the name of sounding more “academic.” Use this opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills. 

Navigating Common Challenges

Crafting your personal statements can be challenging! Let’s answer some FAQs. 

How Do I Balance the Personal and Professional Aspects?

Be intentional about what you choose to mention from your personal life. Use elements that either contrast or emphasize your professional experience. How does your background influence your business philosophy? Make sure to keep a professional tone and align your statement with the admissions committee’s expectations and be prepared for any questions the interviewer could ask.

How Do I Handle Sensitive Topics?

If you’re writing about a sensitive topic, do so thoughtfully. You don’t know what type of people will be reading your statement, so be considerate and intentional about any details you choose to share. 

However, your application essay should be a reflection of you. Sensitive subjects often play a major role in personal growth and development. Discuss what you learned from this challenging experience and how it influenced you. 

How Do I Make My Writing Stand Out? 

We’ve touched on all of the story elements you need—now trim the fat. Avoid common clichés and generic statements. Common phrases will dilute the unique perspectives in your personal statement. Make sure the language aligns with you. Avoid language that could apply to everyone when possible. 

Other MBA Application Process Essentials – GMAT Score, GPA, and Statement of Purpose

The MBA application process is multifaceted and holistic. Alongside your statement, admissions committees also consider your GMAT scores and GPA. GMAT scores are used to gauge applicants’ aptitude for business studies, while GPA showcases your readiness for MBA rigor. If you have a lower score in either category, address these challenges by highlighting your other strengths, relevant experience, and resiliency. Remember: committees consider the entire application, not just scores. 

The other factor in the application process is your Statement of Purpose or SOP. This will complement your personal statement. Make sure your SOP articulates your academic and career goals without echoing your other application essay. Avoid redundancy. Focus on the future: link the MBA program to your long-term plan. Take a forward-looking perspective and demonstrate how the MBA will work as a natural progression in your life. 

Your personal statement should be as unique as you are. Start with a compelling narrative and a plan. Proofread your essay, and don’t be afraid to seek help from peers or professionals. Explain how your personal and professional life gives you the necessary skills to thrive at your desired program and be specific about what you want to do there. This is your chance to differentiate yourself from other applicants—take advantage!

Crummer is the #1 ranked MBA program in Florida. You can learn more about what we offer and when you’re ready, start working on your application . 

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How to Choose and Prioritize Extracurricular Activities as a Premed Student

Engage in activities that reflect your passion and commitment to serving others, and choose quality over quantity.

Premeds and Extracurricular Activities

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Extracurriculars are a great way explore what kind of field you want to go into.

Extracurricular activities can help to differentiate your application in the medical school admissions process and require thoughtful decision-making and careful planning.

Here's some advice on choosing and prioritizing extracurriculars, plus some examples of activities that may impress med school admissions officers.

Identify and Understand Your Career Goals 

The best extracurricular activities will be personally tailored to your specific goals in medicine and in your career. It is essential to align extracurriculars with your goals, so dedicate some time to reflecting on your personal interests, values and career aspirations. Work to identify areas of genuine passion . Try not to bend to outside pressures or negative comparisons with other premedical students, but instead pursue opportunities that excite you. 

For example, if you have no interest in research but a proclivity for service and volunteering, pursue those activities at the expense of joining a laboratory. If you feel particularly excited by a medical or surgical subfield, it is never too early to get involved in specialty-specific interests, such as clinical volunteering in an emergency department or dialysis unit, as a sitter in a psychiatry department, etc. 

A great way to gain exposure to a specific field, and validate your early interest, is by joining a clinical research laboratory. Many clinical labs and trials are run by practicing clinicians. Select ones in your area of interest and ask for opportunities to contribute.

You will likely dedicate significant time to two or three extracurricular activities as an undergraduate premed student, so be sure they align with your actual interests. 

Carefully Select and Manage Commitments to Extracurricular Activities 

Assess your personal time constraints and prior commitments. When you know you have available time, reach out to several possible opportunities, such as clinical work, service, basic or translational research projects, or leadership activities. Don’t be shy – cold email to get your foot in the door! 

Start a single extracurricular activity at first, and verify that you can balance your academics and personal life before you take on more responsibilities. It can reflect poorly if you back out of a commitment soon after it was made, so begin only activities you know you can commit to.

Admissions committees value significant, longitudinal time investments in a single activity more than brief involvement in many extracurriculars, and you will find sticking with activities more personally rewarding in the long term, as well. 

Don’t underestimate the time required to meaningfully contribute to a research endeavor. Expect to commit significant time to lab work in order to gain meaningful skills or contribute to a project.

At the same time, if you enjoy the work, advocate for yourself to present an abstract, contribute to a publication or write an honors thesis. Purposeful involvement in any extracurricular activity will shine through in your application. 

Describe Your Extracurriculars With Purpose in Your Application 

When it comes time to apply to med school, spend significant time on the extracurricular activity descriptions. Describe explicitly and concisely what you did, but also craft a compelling narrative around your decision to pursue each activity. Highlight any personal growth that has come as a result, lessons you’ve learned and any impact you’ve been able to have on others.

Even if an activity is common, your experience is unique. Describe a unique clinical encounter you had, a memorable patient or mentee you helped or a service experience that changed the way you see your career. 

You did the legwork and spent many, many hours on a research project, volunteering in a free clinic or leading a tutoring program, so be sure to present these experiences thoughtfully. You want your application to read like a coherent and engaging story, and you want admissions committees to feel that they have gotten to know you through your decisions and experiences presented in your application. 

What Are Meaningful Extracurricular Activities? 

Many possible extracurricular activities can be meaningful on a medical school application. 

If clinical work interests you, working in a free clinic, volunteering in an ER or other hospital department, "sitting" in a psychiatric department or shadowing physicians in any specialty can be significant experiences. 

If you find yourself drawn to service, consider opportunities such as mentoring underprivileged youth, organizing preventative health care fairs in underserved communities and working in shelters or soup kitchens. 

Leadership opportunities can be less easy to find, but serving as president of a student organization, leading an initiative to address a health disparity or coordinating a team of volunteers are realistic examples of meaningful leadership experiences that can be attained before medical school. 

If you’re excited by the possibility of expanding your understanding of biology and medicine, then basic, clinical or translational research is a substantial activity readily available at most major academic centers and universities. The only limit is how much available time you have, as this is a significant investment.

Nonetheless, if research excites you, many faculty members are eager to have an enthusiastic undergraduate premed student join their laboratory. All you need to do is reach out.

Additional Tips for Success 

Engage in a diverse range of activities, if possible. Exploring different interests is an essential aspect of the undergraduate premed experience, and you may not know what interests you until you try.

Avoid subconsciously boxing yourself into a career plan too early, and don’t be afraid to take the leap and explore a new extracurricular activity. It is never too late to gain experience and discover a passion. 

Within extracurricular activities, seek out opportunities to showcase initiative and demonstrate leadership potential. The more you show that you can do, the more responsibilities you are likely to be given, and the more meaningful the experience will be to you and your application. 

Above all, pursue activities that align with your long-term career goals and personal values. While exploring new avenues is important and exciting, if you want to pursue a career centered on service , for example, try to build up significant experience in service-oriented extracurriculars so that you are prepared for such a career. The same goes for research, clinical subspecialty work, etc. 

Don’t force yourself to continue in an extracurricular activity you don’t enjoy, just because “everyone is doing research” or because of an existential need to “check the box." Your time is much too valuable to make decisions in this manner. Pursue opportunities that make you excited and will help prepare you for a career in medicine, and you will be well positioned to be a great medical school applicant. 

Thoughtfully select extracurricular activities that reflect genuine passion and commitment to serving others, focus on quality over quantity and describe your activities with purpose and thoughtfulness throughout your application. With hard work and commitment, you should be able to leverage extracurricular experiences to learn, expand your skill set and stand out in the medical school admissions process.

Medical School Application Mistakes

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Tags: medical school , graduate schools , education , students

About Medical School Admissions Doctor

Need a guide through the murky medical school admissions process? Medical School Admissions Doctor offers a roundup of expert and student voices in the field to guide prospective students in their pursuit of a medical education. The blog is currently authored by Dr. Ali Loftizadeh, Dr. Azadeh Salek and Zach Grimmett at Admissions Helpers , a provider of medical school application services; Dr. Renee Marinelli at MedSchoolCoach , a premed and med school admissions consultancy; Dr. Rachel Rizal, co-founder and CEO of the Cracking Med School Admissions consultancy; Dr. Cassie Kosarec at Varsity Tutors , an advertiser with U.S. News & World Report; Dr. Kathleen Franco, a med school emeritus professor and psychiatrist; and Liana Meffert, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine and a writer for Admissions Helpers. Got a question? Email [email protected] .

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IMAGES

  1. How to Make/Create a Personal Statement for Grad School [Templates

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  2. Grad School Personal Statement Examples

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  3. How to Make/Create a Personal Statement for Grad School [Templates

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  4. FREE 20+ Sample Personal Statement Templates in MS Word

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  5. Graduate School Personal Statement

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: Tips & Samples

    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 ...

  2. 3 Successful Graduate School Personal Statement Examples • Pr

    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 ...

  3. How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Grad School

    Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle. Your "angle," or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors: What your grad program wants you to write about. Your field of study and research interests. How much experience you have in your field.

  4. How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School

    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.

  5. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    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 ...

  6. How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

    Ideally, your story should relate to what you're trying to accomplish at your graduate school of choice. Tie it all together: your personal experiences, your desired major, and your ideal outcome. Tips for writing a personal statement for graduate school Plan ahead. It's important to start your graduate application as soon as you're able.

  7. How to Write 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.

  8. PDF Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    An interesting, well-written, and polished personal statement represents the confident, intelligent, and grounded professional you will become. Initial Preparation: • Thoroughly research the schools and departments to which you plan to apply. Other than business, law, medical or other professional schools, most graduate programs enroll twenty

  9. Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    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. By Yale Office of Career Strategy. Day of the week. Academic Year. Summer Hours. M. Monday.

  10. How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School

    6. Strike a Balance. If you look at the best graduate school personal statement examples, you'll see how the writers manage to strike the right balance between a professional and an informal tone. The goal is to keep the tone neutral — neither too stiff and formal, nor overly friendly.

  11. Writing Your Personal Statements

    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 ...

  12. 6 Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

    Here are six tips that can help your personal statement memorable: 1. Research requirements. Find out whether the university has a specific format for a personal essay. Some schools provide a prompt that candidates can use, such as "Write about an accomplishment of which you're particularly proud.".

  13. How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

    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.

  14. The Personal Statement

    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.

  15. How to start a personal statement for grad school

    A strong conclusion for your graduate school personal statement is crucial for leaving a positive and lasting impression on the admissions committee. Here are some tips to help you craft a compelling conclusion: Recap your key points: Summarize the main ideas you have discussed throughout your personal statement. Highlight your achievements ...

  16. Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School 2022+

    6 Tips for Graduate School Personal Statement Examples. Make sure your personal statement is unique; Find out what the requirements are before you start writing. Be sure to answer your prompt entirely (if you received one). If there is no prompt, select a central idea and stick to it.

  17. Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Applications

    A personal statement is a short essay between two and three pages long explaining why you're applying to the program and what makes you a strong applicant. A personal statement allows you to differentiate yourself by sharing a little bit about what makes you unique. Writing your personal statement for grad school is the best way to show off ...

  18. Graduate School Personal Statement Examples: Good, Bad ...

    Comparing Graduate School Personal Statement Examples. Below I will share types of personal statement examples: one with a strong writing approach and one that lacks clarity and may cause confusion for an admissions committee reader. Then I will describe the strengths and weaknesses of each example. ... Consider these tips when writing:

  19. How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School? Ultimate Guide

    A survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that 64% of graduate admissions officers consider the personal statement to be the most important factor in the admissions process. Moreover, in another survey by Kaplan Test Prep, a well-written personal statement can increase an applicant's chances of acceptance by up to 50%.

  20. Writing a Personal Statement

    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 ...

  21. PDF Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for Graduate School and Fellowships

    academic achievement, but also evidence of academic and personal leadership. Your essay/personal statement needs to reflect that.) Approach writing a personal statement in the same way you would approach an assignment: When you begin a paper for a college course, you have an awareness of your need to write formally, proofread, and address

  22. How to Write a Top MBA Personal Statement (With Examples)

    This can help make sure your statement has a good rhythm and flows naturally. Take breaks. Be your own set of fresh eyes. When you're in the thick of writing, you might glaze over easy-to-spot details while you're thinking of the big picture. Allow yourself to recharge and clear your head before you get back to it.

  23. Grad School Personal Statement Tips

    Our personal statement style guide provides further tips and advice to help you through the writing process, and secure places on your chosen programs.. When putting together your statement, think about the following points: 1. Don't procrastinate! Start writing it early to give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and write as many drafts as you need to.

  24. Preparing your personal statement for graduate school applications

    Customize your statement for each program to which you apply. Each program will provide a brief description of what it wants in the applicant's statement of purpose, the length and topics. One program may want 500 words covering topics A, B and C.

  25. Medical School Personal Statement

    This personal statement format has become a go-to choice because it's usually quite effective. 6. Answer the Questions. If you've ever researched medical school personal statement examples, you've likely noticed the essays that stand out to admissions teams clearly introduce the topic and tell a cohesive narrative.

  26. How to Choose and Prioritize Extracurricular Activities as a Premed

    Describe explicitly and concisely what you did, but also craft a compelling narrative around your decision to pursue each activity. Highlight any personal growth that has come as a result, lessons ...