Applying to Grad School: Writing Your Personal Statement
While many aspects of the admissions process for graduate school focus on grades, your personal statement is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition, to become more than just a grade point average. While your language should remain professional, a well thought-out and carefully written statement can tell admissions officers more about your unique personal story than any other part of the application. And sometimes it’s that personal story that can get you accepted. To that end, here area few things to keep in mind when writing your personal statement for graduate school:
If you want to make writing your personal statement a nerve-racking experience, starting the night of the application deadline is a great strategy. Otherwise, it’s best to allow a few weeks for brainstorming and drafting, so that you can feel confident your statement represents you as well as it possibly can. Think about what sort of obstacles you have overcome on your path to graduate school, which personal traits or achievements will set you apart from other applicants and exactly why you want this education. Writing a first draft well in advance of each application deadline will give you time to revise for content, in addition to proofing your final draft carefully.
Depending on which graduate schools you apply to, you may be asked to write a personal statement that answers a specific set of questions or you may be allowed to write the statement as you wish. If the application poses questions, you should answer them clearly and completely. But regardless of whether or not specific questions are asked, most admissions officers are looking for three basic pieces of information:
- How has your personal and professional life prepared you for graduate school?
- What makes you a good fit for this particular program?
- How do you envision your future after you have earned this degree?
You might be able to write a generic statement that answers these questions in general terms, but you will still have to tailor it for each school. Admissions officers read enough statements to recognize formulaic writing that doesn’t contain specific references to their institutions, and they want to know that you have done your homework, not attempted to skate by.
By telling a story in your personal statement, you can present your achievements in concrete, relatable terms while making it clear what you have learned from your experiences. This storytelling doesn’t call for lyricism or oversharing, just enough information to pique a reader’s interest in you as a person. Remember: The goal is to remain professional, while clearly expressing your passion and individuality.
Writing a personal statement can be an intimidating undertaking, but if you take your time, cover the basics and tell the story that only you can tell, it can also be an empowering process. After all, writing a personal statement for graduate school has as much to do with understanding your own story and how you want to shape its future as it does with writing well. Ground the statement firmly in where you’ve come from and where you want to go, and you’ll be sure to stand out.