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woman writing down Writing Personal Statements

An Impression. Your personal statement should produce a picture of you as a person, student, and potential scholarship or assistantship recipient.

An Invitation. The reader must be invited to get to know you, personally. Bridge the distance and make your reader feel welcome.

A Good Indication of Your Priorities and Judgment. What you choose to say in your statement tells the committee what your priorities are. What you say, and how you say it, is crucial.

A Story, or More Precisely, Your Story. Everyone has a story to tell, but we are not all natural storytellers. Before you do any writing, spend some time in self-reflective conversation with friends, family, and mentors.

An Academic Paper with You as the Subject. The papers you write for class are typically designed to interpret data, reflect research, or analyze events all at some distance. We are taught to eliminate the “I” from our academic writing. In a personal statement your goal is to close the distance between you and the reader. You must engage on a different, more personal level than you have been trained.

A Resume in Narrative Form. An essay that reads like a resume of accomplishments and goals tells the reader nothing he/she could not glean from the rest of the application. This type of essay reveals little about the candidate and is a wasted opportunity.

Writing a personal statement is challenging and will take many drafts and much reflection. Don’t wait until you have it complete before you share it with others; their input will make it stronger, clearer, and focused.

Know Yourself

    • What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life?
    • What details of your life (personal/family, history, people/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 in this field? What insights have you gained?
    • What have you learned about the field—through classes, readings, seminars, research, work/internship experiences, or conversations with professors or people already in the field?

Describe Your Unique Talents and Goals

  • If you have worked during your college years, what have you learned (leadership, managerial, teamwork skills, etc.) and how has that work/internship experience 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 or a distinct upward pattern to your recent GPA)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (economic, familial, or physical) in your life?

Know and Discuss Why You’re the Best Candidate

  • What skills (leadership, communicative, analytical, etc.) do you possess? Use examples.
  • What personal characteristics (integrity, compassion, persistence, etc.) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school and more successful in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the selection committee to be interested in you?
  • Identify a specific program or faculty member you might like to work with and why.
  • Plan on devoting a significant amount of time writing this essay. It is common to write several drafts of your personal statement.
  • Proofread your essay several times. Make sure you have no punctuation or grammatical errors.
  • Solicit comments from your Career Coach, professors, graduate students, and English majors whom you know well.
  • Keep it brief. Most instructions specify how long the essay should be. If length is not mentioned, stick to one to two pages, single-spaced (unless the instructions specify otherwise).
  • Mention a specific program or faculty member you might like to work with and why.

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  1. Why did you choose to apply to our program?
  2. What are your career goals? How will this program help you achieve your goals?
  3. What skills do you bring to this program? How will you help your mentor in his or her research?
  4. Describe a research project you've worked on.
  5. How would your professors describe you?
  6. In what ways has your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our program?
  7. What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
  8. If you aren't accepted into graduate school, what are your plans?
  9. How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
  10. Why should we accept you over another applicant?