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Tips: Writing a Personal Statement For Grad School

Remember:

  • It’s what you say and how you say it
  • It’s not an autobiography, but it’s the story only you can tell
  • This is your opportunity to: (1) let them know things about you they’re not going to learn through other parts of the application process (i.e., don’t focus on grades and classes which they’ll see in your transcripts), (2) fill in the blanks, (3) connect your past, present and future and (4) synthesize or tie all the pieces of your application together
  • It’s an essay: have a clear intro, conclusion and smooth transitions
  • Answer the questions asked
  • Follow the rules – especially those relating to length

DON’T:

  • Wait until the last minute.  Give yourself plenty of time to make and review several drafts over time
  • Bring up controversial topics, such as strong political viewpoints
  • Focus on high school experiences/accomplishments
  • Use clichés and gimmicks (quotes, “I always wanted to be x….”)
  • Incorporate too much overt self-congratulation (“I’m very compassionate”)
  • Be overconfident to the point of arrogance
  • Start off each sentence with “I…”
  • Waste space detailing what x field is (the reviewers know this and probably know more than you), but do tell them what x field means to you
  • Get too personal or too private – you want it to be a personal statement, but keep it positive and professional.
  • Blame others
  • Focus on negatives. If trying to explain a negative occurrence (i.e. a low GPA, poor test scores, etc.), make sure the problem is in the past, it’s resolved, it’s sympathetic and unlikely to happen again in grad school. You may also consider addressing some problems/negatives in an addendum
  • Use pseudo-academese; you want it to sound like you (tape record yourself reading a draft)
  • Just say what you think the committee wants to hear
  • Include your hobbies/interests unless relevant
  • Write a list of all your hobbies and interests without explaining them

DO:

  • Focus on what makes you unusual, distinctive, impressive – events, experiences (research, internships, hardships overcome), qualities, skills and other things that enhance your probability of success in x field (prove it, though, don’t just say it)
  • Discuss when and how you became interested in the field and what (and how) you’ve learned since
  • Give a sense of your motivations and commitment –  for/to applying to this program and pursuing this field – let your enthusiasm show
  • Capture their attention in the opening paragraph – find an angle, tell a story, make it memorable
  • Keep it clear and concise – be selective
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Get personal – it’s a personal statement after all
  • Put your name and identifying information on all pages
  • Use positive, confident and upbeat language (i.e., “I’m productive with my time” opposed to “I don’t waste time”)
  • Proofread
  • Get feedback (faculty, Career Center staff, Writing Center, etc.)
  • Be concrete – avoid generalities
  • Be honest – committees want personal insight, to get a sense of the real person. They admit people, not credentials
  • Do your homework – research the program, faculty and their research, the institution (catalog, website, etc.). Address compatible areas of interest. Don’t stroke their egos (too obvious)
  • Self-reflect
  • Discuss your goals. What you mention is not a binding contract
  • Sell yourself – discuss how you’ll be an asset to the program/school, what you can contribute, how’ll you add to the program’s legacy and reputation

 

For more general guidelines for writing a Personal Statement see our Document Section.

 

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