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How to Write a Winning 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."

how to title a personal statement for 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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  • 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!)

how to title a personal statement for graduate school

Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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how to title a personal statement for graduate school

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

how to title a personal statement for graduate school

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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

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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Gre prep online guides and tips, how to write a stand-out personal statement for grad school.

how to title a personal statement for 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:

 

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.

Formal

 

 

 

Varies, but usually 1-3 double-spaced pages

 

Less formal

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?

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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

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Preparing your personal statement for graduate school applications

Nearly all doctoral programs and many master’s degree programs in psychology require submission of a personal statement as part of the application package. In my experience advising students as well as serving as a graduate dean for many years, few things in the application process cause students as much anxiety and prompt so many questions.

Why so much concern? Several reasons. First, what we generically call the personal statement goes by different names at different institutions: “statement of goals,” “purpose and interests” and a host of other terms. Second, institutions have varying requirements for length and specific topics. Third, you have to compose it from scratch, in contrast to your transcript (which the registrar sends), your letters of recommendation (which other people compose) and any required test scores (which the testing agency sends).

Here are answers to students’ four most common questions.

Is the personal statement important?

Absolutely yes. Summaries of research on what is important in the application process, particularly for doctoral programs, show that the statement of purpose plays a key role in admission decisions — often more important than such standbys as your GPA and GRE scores. Admission committees really do pay attention. Each program in APA’s (2018) Graduate Study in Psychology  provides a rating of the importance of the statement of purpose, so you can check for your target programs. This is where you display your:

  • Fit with the program.
  • Especially desirable qualifications.
  • Clarity of plans.
  • Writing skill. 

Do I use the same one for all?

Absolutely not. 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. Another program may want 1,500 words covering topics A, B, D and E. Pay attention to these directives. If, as program director, I want the latter and you give me the former, you have just done yourself a great disfavor — and irritated me. If you are applying to many programs, make a little spreadsheet showing what each program wants in the statement. Then, cross-check your customized statements against your spreadsheet.

What do I include?

Despite the latter advice about customizing, many programs ask about similar topics. The most common topics include your professional/career plans, academic objectives related to a particular program, research experience and other applied experience (for example, internships). Doctoral programs (but not usually master’s programs) often ask for your interest in or fit with particular faculty members (just two or three — not everyone). Of course, that fit relates to your objectives and the faculty members’ areas of expertise/research.

Because these topics appear frequently in programs’ requests, a useful strategy calls for developing a boilerplate statement covering the latter topics. Thus, you don’t have to start from scratch for every program. Construct the boilerplate, the common statement, first. Get it in good shape. Then customize it as needed for different programs.

You should certainly have a paragraph or two focusing on what you want to do in terms of career goals, academic specialty and research interests. And sift through your experiences to see which might set you apart and make you especially attractive as a candidate. Perhaps you have a strong research record, an exceptionally meaningful field experience or a few advanced undergraduate courses. Maybe all three of these.

When writing about your goals and experiences, aim for precision and detail. Avoid generic statements (“I have a lot of research experience,” “I did an internship”). Provide details, as space permits. What exactly did you do in your research, and what did you learn from it? What did your internship entail, and, again, what did you learn from it?

While on the topic of what to include, let’s identify a few things to not include. Norcross and Sayette (2016) call these the 3 Hs: humor, hyperbole, hard luck . No jokes or funny stories in the personal statement. Watch out for hyperbole in your statement: I’m the most qualified; I had the greatest major; I never have interpersonal conflicts. And don’t describe your own depression, substance abuse or family turmoil. Appleby and Appleby (2007) included such items among their “kisses of death” for applicants’ personal statements.

Will you read it for me?

The answer will vary for different faculty members and your relationship with them, but many will be happy to help. Please, however, do not ask a faculty member to read your first rough draft. Get it cleaned up. No half-sentences, no typos. Your institution may have a writing center that will prove helpful. When you have it in pretty good shape, ask a faculty member for feedback. 

Finally, proofread your statement before hitting the submit button. Remember, it’s used partly to evaluate your writing skill.

Watch this free video series for more information on graduate school applications.

American Psychological Association. (2016). Graduate study in psychology: 2017 edition . Washington, D.C.: Author.

Appleby, D.C., & Appleby, K.M. (2007). How to avoid the kisses of death in the graduate school application process. Eye on Psi Chi, 11 (3), 20-21.

Norcross, J.C., & Sayette, M.A (2016). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology: Revised 2016/2017 edition . New York: Guilford.

About the author

Thomas P. Hogan, PhD

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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.

  • 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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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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How To Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

How To Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

Congratulations! You’ve chosen a graduate program , read up on tips for applying to grad school , and even written a focused grad school resumé . But if you’re like many students, you’ve left the most daunting part of the application process for last—writing a statement of purpose. The good news is that the task doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, as long as you break the process down into simple, actionable steps. Below, learn how to write a strong, unique statement of purpose that will impress admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

What is a statement of purpose?

A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you’ll add value to the graduate program you’re applying to.

Jared Pierce, former associate director of enrollment services at Northeastern University, says a strong statement of purpose can be the deciding factor in a graduate student’s admission.  

“Your statement of purpose is where you tell your story about who you are and why you deserve to be a part of the [university’s] community. It gives the admissions committee the chance to get to know you and understand how you’ll add value to the classroom,” he says.

How long should a statement of purpose be? “A statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words,” Pierce says, noting that it should typically not exceed a single page. He advises that students use a traditional font at a readable size (11 or 12 points) and leave enough white space in the margins to make the statement easy to read. Make sure to double-space the statement if the university has requested it, he adds. 

How to write a statement of purpose: a step-by-step guide

Now that you understand how to format a statement of purpose, you can begin drafting your own. Getting started can feel daunting, but Pierce suggests making the process more manageable by breaking down the writing process into four easy steps.

1. Brainstorm your ideas.

First, he says, try to reframe the task at hand and get excited for the opportunity to write your statement of purpose. 

“Throughout the application process, you’re afforded few opportunities to address the committee directly,” he explains. “Here is your chance to truly speak directly to them. Each student arrives at this process with a unique story, including prior jobs, volunteer experience, or undergraduate studies. Think about what makes you you and start outlining.”

When writing your statement of purpose, Pierce suggests asking yourself these key questions:

  • Why do I want this degree?
  • What are my expectations for this degree?
  • What courses or program features excite me the most?
  • Where do I want this degree to take me, professionally and personally?
  • How will my unique professional and personal experiences add value to the program?

Jot these responses down to get your initial thoughts on paper. This will act as your starting point for creating an outline and writing your first draft.

2. Develop an outline.

Next, you’ll want to take the ideas that you’ve identified during the brainstorming process and plug them into an outline that will guide your writing. 

An effective outline for your statement of purpose might look something like this:

  • An attention-grabbing hook
  • A brief introduction of yourself and your background as it relates to your motivation behind applying to graduate school 
  • Your professional goals as they relate to the program
  • Why you’re interested in the specific school and what you can bring to the table
  • A brief summary of the information presented in the body that emphasizes your qualifications and compatibility with the school

An outline like the one above will give you a roadmap to follow so that your statement of purpose is well organized and concise. 

3. Write the first draft.

Your statement of purpose should communicate who you are and why you are interested in a particular program, but it also needs to be positioned in a way that differentiates you from other applicants. 

Admissions professionals already have your transcripts, resumé, and test scores; the statement of purpose is your chance to tell your story in your own words.

When you begin drafting content, make sure to:

  • Provide insight into what drives you , whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both.
  • Demonstrate your interest in the school by addressing the unique features of the program that interest you most. For Northeastern, he says, maybe it’s experiential learning; you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry. Or perhaps it’s learning from faculty who are experts in your field of study.
  • Be yourself. It helps to keep your audience in mind while writing, but don’t forget to let your personality shine through. It’s important to be authentic when writing your statement to show the admissions committee who you are and why your unique perspective will add value to the program.

4. Edit and refine your work.

Before you submit your statement of purpose:

  • Make sure you’ve followed all directions thoroughly , including requirements about margins, spacing, and font size.
  • Proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Remember that a statement of purpose should be between 500 and 1,000 words. If you’ve written far more than this, read through your statement again and edit for clarity and conciseness. Less is often more; articulate your main points strongly and get rid of any “clutter.”
  • Walk away and come back later with a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes your best ideas come when you’re not sitting and staring at your computer.
  • Ask someone you trust to read your statement before you submit it.

Making a lasting impression

Your statement of purpose can leave a lasting impression if done well, Pierce says. It provides you with the opportunity to highlight your unique background and skills so that admissions professionals understand why you’re the ideal candidate for the program that you’re applying to. If nothing else, stay focused on what you uniquely bring to the classroom, the program, and the campus community. If you do that, you’ll excel.

To learn more tricks and tips for submitting an impressive graduate school application, explore our related grad school success articles .

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2017. It has since been updated for thoroughness and accuracy.

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About shayna joubert, related articles, grad school application advice: what prospective students need to know.

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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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USC Price School of Public Policy Online

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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.

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How to Start a Grad School Personal Statement: The Killer Opening

how to title a personal statement for graduate school

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

In personal statement tips & advice.

Consider this: you have two friends who shared their personal statements and asked for your feedback on the opening paragraphs.

Friend A’s opening paragraph:

“I am writing this personal statement to express my interest in pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. Psychology has always fascinated me, and I am excited about the opportunity to further my education in this field. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have taken various psychology courses and participated in research projects that have solidified my passion for the subject. I believe that pursuing a graduate degree will help me achieve my career goals and make a positive impact on society.”

Friend B’s opening paragraph:

“Nietzsche’s quote, “that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” captures my life’s journey. Lying in a hospital bed as a sixteen-year-old cancer patient, I resigned to accepting my inevitable death. Yet, as the annihilating poison from chemotherapy went through my veins and into every fiber of my living body, I experienced an unfamiliar pain. As I lay there, I contemplated questions about life, death, God, souls, love, and pain. My parents and siblings would try to provide comfort. Sometimes it worked. At other times, I would wonder if this is all my life would be. Where the title of my life story could have been “Endless Possibilities,” would this story now be just a few pages long, ending with an unfinished sentence? And then I would freeze into a crippling stupor for hours.”

Which one would you predict is more likely to be accepted into a top grad program? 

Friend A’s bland and generic introduction, or Friend B’s gripping and emotional story about overcoming cancer and contemplating life’s biggest questions?

The answer is obvious – it’s the latter one because it tells a story.

Personal statements that start with intrigue and capture the reader’s attention are more likely to make an impact. A strong opening can build the foundation for a compelling narrative that paints your personality, experiences, and goals.

So, if you’re struggling to find the right words, let’s explore 5 ways to write an opening paragraph for your grad school personal statement.

In this Article

Formative or Relatable Experiences

Overcoming challenges, moments of epiphany, quotes from influential figures, rhetorical questions to engage the reader, demonstrating relevance to current debates, showcasing your passion for addressing real-world problems, aligning your goals with societal needs, industry trends or forecasts, relevant data supporting your research interests, unique insights into your field of study, creating a vivid scene or description, using a personal anecdote.

Starting your personal statement with a well-designed personal anecdote can humanize you. It can make you more relatable to the admissions committee and show that you have a personal connection to the field you are applying to.

For instance, an applicant to a psychology program could start with a personal story about how their experiences with mental health sparked their interest in the field.

Another example could be that of a student applying to a journalism program. He could begin with a personal story about how he discovered his love of storytelling while reporting on a local event for their high school newspaper.

Such stories help the admissions committee see the applicant’s potential and their commitment to pursuing a specific career.

To create an impactful opening, there are three different types of personal anecdotes that can be used. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Sharing a formative experience helps build an instant connection with the reader. By highlighting a meaningful event or encounter, you reveal your personality and values, making your statement more relatable.

You should make sure that your chosen experience is relevant to your field of study or career aspirations.

Let’s take a look at an example opening paragraph that starts by sharing a relatable experience:

“Growing up, I have always heard my parents tell me that empathy is intrinsic not only in contributing to others’ well-being but also in fostering self-expansion. But being a child that never learned simply from listening but by actively doing things, I knew that I would come to comprehend my life’s purpose through my own experiences, and this realization would happen at its own pace. A large part of my childhood was spent taking care of my sister, who had an autoimmune skin condition that grew worse and left her bedridden for months. My mother and I always worked to improve her living space and lift her spirits by adding plants and sheer curtains to her room, and I often painted for her. Through these minor spatial changes, I came to realize the powerful impact that our physical environment can have on us. While I initially believed this experience had only led me to develop an interest in architecture, it later became apparent that the care I extended is going to make me resilient in fighting my own battle with the same disease.”

The writer shares a personal story about their experience taking care of their sister who had an autoimmune skin condition, which left her bedridden for months. The writer’s experience of making small changes to their sister’s living space, such as adding plants and sheer curtains, led them to realize the powerful impact that the physical environment can have on a person’s well-being. Through this experience, the writer gained insight into their own resilience and how their experience can be applied to their future career aspirations. This personal story effectively demonstrates the writer’s passion and motivation for pursuing a career in architecture while also establishing a personal connection with the reader.

This is another persuasive way to begin your personal statement. Anecdotes about overcoming challenges can show your resilience, determination, and problem-solving skills. By discussing a challenge you’ve faced, you can show the admissions committee how you adapt to adversity and learn from setbacks.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that use this ploy:

“Growing up in Poland, I was known in my circle of friends as “the understanding one.” I had a natural curiosity about human behavior and a desire to study Psychology, but the stigma attached to the field in my country made it socially unacceptable. Despite my interest, I succumbed to the pressure of my parents and enrolled in Computer Science. However, I quickly realized that this was not my true passion, and I struggled to find fulfillment in my studies. One day, on the brink of a freshman exam, I broke down in tears and realized that I needed to confront the inner hurdles that kept me from pursuing Psychology. I mustered the courage to convince my parents to let me switch my major, and since then, I have excelled academically and found greater fulfillment in my studies. Pursuing Psychology has not only been a personal triumph but has also prepared me for a fulfilling career in the field, one where I can use my natural ability as “the understanding one” to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”

This opening effectively conveys the applicant’s passion for Psychology and her struggle to pursue it due to the stigma attached to it. The use of the term “the understanding one” helps to emphasize her natural curiosity and empathy, which are valuable qualities in the field of Psychology. Her decision to switch their major to Psychology, despite the pressure of her parents, demonstrates her determination and commitment to pursuing her true passion. Overall, this personal anecdote demonstrates determination to overcome challenges and societal pressures.

“Growing up in a village that was rife with conflict and violence, I faced immense challenges that threatened to derail my aspirations. The beauty of nature that surrounded me was polluted by the weapons of warfare and the sounds of machine guns and missiles were the first things I heard. Despite this bleak environment, I remained determined to succeed and to make a difference in the lives of others. I was drawn to the field of public health policy, where I saw an opportunity to help those who had been affected by the violence and conflict in my village. Through my perseverance, I earned a scholarship to attend university, where I continued to excel academically and gained valuable skills and experiences that have prepared me for a successful career in public health policy. Despite the challenges of my upbringing, I have emerged stronger and more determined than ever to make a positive impact on the world through my work in shaping policies that promote health equity, access to care, and social justice.”

The paragraph paints an image of the applicant’s upbringing in a village plagued by violence and strife. It highlights the stark contrast between the expected beauty of countryside life and the harsh reality she faced. It also demonstrates the difficult circumstances the applicant had to overcome, which can be used to emphasize her resilience and determination in pursuing her goals despite such a challenging environment.

Moments of epiphany are those instances when you had a sudden realization or a transformative insight that shaped your path. By talking about such moments, you will be able to reveal your passion and commitment to your field of study. When talking about it, you should describe the situation, the insight you gained, and how it inspired you to pursue graduate studies.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that discuss some applicant’s moments of epiphany:

““Quo non Ascendam” – “to what heights can I not rise.” This is the motto of Ethiopia Aviation Academy, my Alma Meta, and my inspiration. Last year, while ascending Adams peak during a voluntary AIESEC internship at Colombo University, Sri Lanka, I saw a poor boy suffering from muscular dystrophy dangerously perched behind the railings at the corner of the tortuous path. “Excelsior,” my Australian, American, Lebanese, and Chinese comrades exhorted me to go on. But I was transfixed by the utter disparity I saw – was it right to give him a coin, or could I have done something else to change his destiny? How lucky I am to have everything on my plate.”

This opening shares a powerful moment during the applicant’s voluntary internship in Sri Lanka, where she witnessed a boy suffering from muscular dystrophy, sparking a realization about the disparities between the haves and have nots. This story serves as a foundation for explaining the applicant’s interest in addressing social inequalities and working toward the betterment of disadvantaged communities.

“The day I dared to tell my parents, with a transcript in my hands with excellent grades in humanities, that I had decided to study Biology rather than Philosophy… the day I dared to ask my supervisor to change my research focus to fish virology, which had a high risk of failure… the day I dared to stand in front of an audience attending an international zoology congress, barely prepared to present my very first paper … are the moments that made me realize my daring nature and my passion for my domain.”

This second example highlights the key moments in the applicant’s life that led to important realizations about her passion for Biology and her daring nature. By sharing these anecdotes, the applicant demonstrates her commitment to her chosen domain.

Starting With a Powerful Quote or Question

Starting a personal statement with a powerful quote or question not only engages the reader but also adds authority to your writing. 

In fact, starting with a quote is the most common way to begin a grad school personal statement. 

By referencing a well-respected individual in your field, you are indirectly borrowing their expertise and reputation to enhance your own message. Starting with a question prompts the reader to think about the topic in a new manner. 

Let’s discuss the different ways that you can use a quote or a question to create a thought-provoking opening.

Using a quote from an influential figure can help to capture the reader’s attention and provide a strong introduction to your personal statement. Let’s see a couple of examples in action.

“As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” I have always been a curious soul and find that my passion for learning drives my pursuits. From a young age, I was fascinated by the inner workings of the world around me, from the dense network of nuts and bolts in my dad’s car engine to the intricate complexities of the natural sciences. This insatiable curiosity led me to pursue a degree in the field of biology, where I have continued to delve deeper into the fascinating world of molecular biology and genetics. Through my studies and research experiences, I have developed a strong understanding of the intricate mechanisms that drive life and have honed my skills in problem-solving and critical thinking.”

The quote about curiosity immediately engages us and creates an emotional connection by tapping into a shared human experience. By linking the personal experiences and interests to the quote, the applicant establishes a strong connection between his personal story and the field he wishes to pursue.

Let’s look at a sample that effectively uses a thought provoking quote that also directly resonate with the applicant’s goals.

“In our society, it’s natural and encouraged to accept without questioning; given this cultural norm of blind following, we accept without thinking about the social and spiritual contract we enter once we are of sound mind. However, reason can only stay unconscious as long as it doesn’t actively think, but when it does, everything we once did robotically becomes a question of why. Something similar happened during my first year when a professor started questioning religion on philosophical grounds. Although shattered because nothing I said or thought defended my religious beliefs, my mental state became what James Baldwin once said. “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Thereon, I started questioning everything in our community, including religion.”

The quote from James Baldwin about the paradox of education and becoming conscious reflects the writer’s own experience of questioning his beliefs and the society in which he was educated. The quote is used to introduce the writer’s personal experience of questioning religion and cultural norms in his society, which ultimately led to a transformative period of self-discovery and critical thinking.

This creates a sense of intrigue by posing a thought-provoking question about blind acceptance in society. The writer then follows up with a personal anecdote that demonstrates the importance of critical thinking and questioning cultural norms. By doing so, the writer is able to establish his credibility as a critical thinker and engage the reader in his journey of self-discovery.

“It was a bright sunny afternoon. I was reclining in my office chair while surfing randomly on the internet. In another few minutes, I was to deliver the last lecture of the day when I came across a fascinating quote by Henry Wadsworth: “Something attempted, something done”. Reading this transported me back to my college days. Back then, I was clueless about what to do or what subjects to choose. Even worse, I had to forgo subjects that intrigued me, just because they did not have a dazzling prospect.”

The paragraph discussed a quote by Henry Wadsworth that serves as a catalyst for the applicant to reflect on his college days and the difficult decisions he had to make about his academic interests. It effectively discusses the applicant’s journey and how he navigated the challenges of choosing between subjects he was passionate about and those with better career prospects.

Rhetorical questions can engage the reader by inviting them to think critically about a topic or issue. These questions can also help you transition into discussing your own motivations. Additionally, rhetorical questions can be used to introduce a topic or concept that the writer will explore in more detail throughout the personal statement.

Now, let’s look at an example opening that uses a series of rhetorical questions to engage the reader.

“My passion for venturing into the intricacies of supply chain roots back to a rather unusual jaunt on a very ordinary night. While searching for a particular brand of infant formula milk for my first child, I found that stocks were depleted at all local stores and that fresh consignments would reach in around three weeks. As a customer, I felt disappointed. As a business graduate, I began to contemplate, and a volley of unsettling questions came to my mind: How could companies afford to be complacent in managing their supply networks? How could they not mitigate risk to their supply chain? This episode kindled my interest in Supply Chain Management and its absence in a flourishing market.”

The writer presents a series of rhetorical questions that encourages the reader to consider the importance of supply chain management. This approach effectively hooks us and sets the tone for the rest of the personal statement.

Connecting to Current Events or Societal Issues

Unlike undergraduate personal statements, which often rely on dramatic narratives to capture attention, a graduate school personal statement requires a more mature and thoughtful approach. One effective strategy is to begin with a societal issue that is relevant to your field of study.

For instance, if you are interested in healthcare policy, you might open your personal statement by discussing recent debates on healthcare access and affordability. You could explain how these issues have inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare administration, and how you hope to make a positive impact in this field. By demonstrating your awareness of the larger conversation surrounding your area of interest, you can show admissions counselors that you are a thoughtful and engaged candidate who is committed to making a difference.

Similarly, if you are passionate about environmental sustainability, you could begin by sharing how recent reports on climate change have motivated you to pursue a degree in environmental science. You might discuss your long-term goals in this field, such as developing sustainable energy solutions or implementing policies to reduce carbon emissions. By framing your personal statement in the context of a larger societal issue, you can demonstrate your commitment to addressing real-world problems and making a positive impact on the world around you.

Here are some of the ways that you could do this.

You can begin by connecting your field of study to contemporary debates. This approach will demonstrate your awareness and highlight the importance of your research interests. Make sure that you choose a well-known issue that is relevant to your field of study and discuss how it has influenced your goals or motivations. 

Here are a couple of example opening para’s that use this approach:

“Mexico now has an overall literacy rate of only 29%, with rural literacy at a staggering low of 11%. Last year, over two million children dropped out before secondary school, nearly twice Washington, DC’s total population. Even worse, we do not have enough qualified teachers to fill the void in every village or district. This bankrupt education system is ripe for creative disruption, and I plan to do that. Universal quality education is an unattainable dream for rural children because they do not have access to quality teachers and resources. Worse, most of them cannot attend school regularly because they must support their family by working in agricultural fields or households. This work commitment at such a ripe age makes formal education impossible.”

This paragraph highlights the critical issue of low literacy rates and educational disparities in Mexico, particularly in rural areas. The applicant demonstrates awareness of the contemporary challenges in education and presents a strong case for the need for creative disruption to address the problem. By mentioning his intention to contribute to solving this issue, the applicant is aligning his personal and professional goals with broader societal needs and demonstrating his commitment to making a meaningful impact on the world.

“In August, the Prime Minister of Greece chaired a meeting with me regarding the development of poor areas of South Greece. Among other things, the Minister of Finance persuaded me that the upcoming budget would alleviate the plight of deprived regions of Southern Greece due to population-based allocations. Suddenly, I realized where I had started, what I had achieved, and where I wanted to go. A point at which I could make informed opinions and be confident about them. A point at which I could present my assertions. A point at which my views would be weighed against others, at the least, even if not accepted. A point where I could be of some benefit to the masses.”

The paragraph discusses a meeting with the Prime Minister of Greece regarding the development of poor areas of South Greece and highlights the author’s desire to be of benefit to the masses. By connecting his goals to a contemporary issue such as regional development, the author is able to demonstrate relevance to a current societal issue and showcase his passion for addressing real-world problems.

You can also begin by discussing your passion for addressing real-world problems. By doing so you will be able to show your commitment to making a positive impact on society through your work.

Here are a few examples:

“I initiated a project named ‘Lightening up the Lives’ to provide cheap power for households of the country’s biggest slum – the Nagasi colony, with 20,000+ minorities living without electricity. The low-income level of the colony dwellers left them without access to government-supplied electrical connections, which had high installation costs and tariffs. Additionally, the residents could not borrow from conventional banks without any collateral. Living in the heart of the country, the irony of their helplessness triggered the desire in me to create meaningful change in their lives.”

The paragraph describes the applicant’s involvement in the ‘Lightning up the Lives’ project, which aimed to provide affordable electricity to a large slum in his country. This story shows the applicant’s interest in addressing real-world issues, particularly those related to poverty and access to resources. It also shows his motivation to create meaningful change in the lives of marginalized communities, which can lead to a discussion of his goals later on in the personal statement.

Example 2: 

“My personal and professional experiences have exposed me to the harsh realities of the glass ceiling that women have to shatter in order to excel in their careers. My journey with human resources in organizational development and communications has strengthened my understanding of the role that capability development and effective organizational design can play in breaking these barriers. This has led to one of my biggest accomplishments – launching and leading the Women’s Club chapter at Coca-Cola. Here, I united 200 female colleagues onto a single platform that offered them company-wide mentorship through workshops and seminars. Now, I am more dedicated than ever to establishing a learning and development firm. This firm would advocate gender parity and will break barriers through a two-pronged approach. First, it will help organizations build gender-inclusive work environments. Second, it will dispense world-class leadership capacity-building for women. This two-pronged strategy will thus sustain a healthy pipeline of talented women leaders.”  

This opening discusses the applicant’s experiences related to gender barriers and her commitment to promoting gender parity. By highlighting her accomplishments, such as launching and leading the Women’s Club chapter at Coca-Cola, and outlining her dedication to establishing a firm focused on gender-inclusive work, she showcases her passion for addressing a significant real-world problem.

Another great approach to starting off a grad school essay is by discussing how your goals align with current societal needs and how your graduate studies will contribute to addressing these challenges.

Here is an example:

“My long-term goal is to create a Fintech investment platform, an area with vast potential, to provide innovative products designed especially for the low and middle-income segments. For this, post-MBA, I want to expand the reach of my start-up, Alpha Financial, further. Specifically, I aim to introduce novel microfinance products like the first privately managed future derivative trading terminal with the lowest spread to ensure that the masses can access this opportunity.”

This sample outlines the applicant’s long-term goal of creating a Fintech investment platform designed for low and middle-income segments, portraying a commitment to addressing societal needs. By discussing the expansion of his start-up and the introduction of novel microfinance products, the applicant demonstrates how his goals align with the goal of financial inclusion and access to opportunities for underrepresented populations.

Presenting a Surprising Fact or Statistic

Starting a personal statement with a surprising fact or statistic can immediately capture the adcom’s attention and create a sense of intrigue.

For example, a personal statement for a graduate program in public health could begin with the fact that “according to the World Health Organization, more than 3 million people die each year due to air pollution.” This statistic immediately highlights the urgency and importance of the field and shows the reader that the applicant is aware of the global impact of public health issues.

Another example could be a personal statement for an MBA program that starts with the surprising fact that “only 50% of businesses survive past their fifth year.” This fact can help to emphasize the importance of strong business skills and the need for effective management and strategy in order to ensure the longevity and success of a business. By beginning with a surprising statistic like this, the applicant can immediately grab the reader’s attention and make a compelling case for their interest in the field.

Here are a few ways you can incorporate this in your opening paragraph of the personal statement.

You can begin by presenting industry trends or forecasts. This shows that you are well-informed and up-to-date with the latest developments and changes in your field of interest. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of example openings that effectively use a trend or forecast to show knowledge and awareness of the field:

“In the 243 years of America’s existence, no systemic, holistic study has ever been undertaken on the hardships faced by the non-heteronormative population. However, recent industry trends show a growing interest in addressing these issues. For example, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has been tracking workplace policies and practices for LGBTQ employees since 2002, with the number of businesses achieving a perfect score increasing each year. Additionally, in the field of healthcare, research shows that LGBTQ individuals face significant health disparities and may have unique healthcare needs that are not currently being met. As society becomes more aware of these issues, it is increasingly important to study and address the challenges faced by the queer community.”

This opening immediately draws the reader in with its bold statement about the lack of research on the non-heteronormative population. The addition of industry trends or forecasts, such as the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights and the increasing need for comprehensive research in this area, enhances the intro even further. Overall, the writer’s passion and drive for shedding light on this important issue is clearly communicated in this powerful introduction.

Starting a grad school personal statement with relevant data demonstrates that you have conducted research. It also shows that you have a strong foundation in the subject matter. Here is an example that demonstrate this:

“Last year, IT services exported from Denmark totaled US$ 2.6 billion. With steady IT enrollment and a startup culture being ferociously promoted, the situation is expected to get better. But let us take a step back and compare these numbers to those of Israel. Israel’s software exports alone exceed US$ 165 billion. In an industry with practically no entry barriers nor infrastructure requirements, here is a country with a population less than 50% of my country, exporting 70 times more value. There are a lot more Danish IT professionals registered on a single freelancing website than the total size of Israel’s software industry. So, the problem is not one of quantity. As a percentage of GDP, Israel is the second largest research and development spender in the world and has top-notch universities with excellent research culture. Leading global tech companies have R&D offices in Israel. As a result, most of Israel’s software industry has higher-end, IP (intellectual property) based revenue models as opposed to the services-based models of Denmark. We have attempted to produce programmers in bulk when we should have been looking for inspiration elsewhere. As someone with a strong passion for exploring innovative solutions in the tech industry, I find the statistics presented here both fascinating and challenging. It highlights the potential for my research interests in examining the factors that contribute to the success of Israel’s software industry, particularly in terms of its higher-end, IP-based revenue models. My goal is to explore how Denmark’s IT industry can adopt similar strategies to achieve greater value and competitiveness in the global market.”

By presenting the stark contrast between Denmark and Israel’s IT industries, this opening draws attention to the challenges that Denmark faces in the global market. The addition of the research interests at the end of the paragraph shows how the applicant plans to address the challenges. Overall, this introduction can be seen as a strong one that demonstrates the applicant’s analytical and research skills, as well as his ability to think critically about industry trends and opportunities for growth.

By sharing unique insights, you can show your depth of understanding and critical thinking skills. Ideally, you should choose a fact or statistic that is not widely known but is relevant to your research interests and goals. Let’s again take a look at an example.

“As an aspiring architect, I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of design and sustainability. While many may assume that modern sustainable architecture is a relatively new concept, my research has shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, ancient civilizations such as the Anasazi and Pueblo people of the American Southwest built homes and communal spaces that were not only aesthetically stunning but also inherently sustainable. Their use of natural materials and passive solar design principles is still studied and celebrated by architects today. This little-known fact has inspired me to explore the ways in which ancient sustainable design principles can inform and enhance modern architecture, particularly in the context of urban environments.”

This opening engages the reader by highlighting a lesser-known fact about the field and then goes on to connect it with the applicant’s personal journey and aspirations. This approach is effective as it not only provides the reader with an interesting piece of information but also creates a sense of curiosity and interest in the applicant’s perspective and research interests. Overall, it is a strong opening that sets the stage for the rest of the personal statement.

A vivid scene allows the reader to visualize the situation and become emotionally invested in the experience being shared. By setting the scene, you can immerse the reader in your world and provide a context for your experiences and goals.

For example:

“If you ever have a candid conversation with a male transgender sex worker in Bangkok, you shall be left both wiser and disquieted. Wiser because you will realize that she is performing gender; she walks, talks, and acts in a way that reinforces an impression of her being a woman. And disquieted because you will become aware of the acute lack of sexual health education and the omnipresent danger of HIV and AIDS among the members of this population.”

This opening uses descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of a conversation with a male transgender sex worker in Bangkok. By sharing this scene, the applicant discusses the importance of sexual health education and the challenges faced by marginalized populations. This opening could then lead to a discussion about the applicant’s interest in public health, social work, or a related field.

Let’s look another example:

“I’ve always had a penchant for creating things to solve problems. The first time my proclivity utilized computers was when I made a simple quiz program in Visual Basic for my school Mathematics class at age 11. I still remember the accomplishment I felt, followed by imaginative thoughts of what else I could do with a computer. In retrospect, this was probably when it was decided that computers would somehow be well-woven in my career.”

This opening describes a significant moment in the author’s life when he first discovered his passion for computer programming. The author vividly remembers the feeling of accomplishment and the imaginative thoughts that followed, indicating that this experience was meaningful and had a lasting impact on them.

Here is another example:

“I’ll never forget the day my father sat me down at the kitchen table and told me that our family was moving to a new country. It was a shock to my system, as I had spent my entire life in our small town in the Midwest. My father had accepted a new job opportunity in Europe, and we would be leaving everything I knew behind. As a teenager, it was a difficult transition, but it opened my eyes to the world beyond my bubble. It ignited a desire in me to explore new cultures and perspectives, which ultimately led me to pursue a degree in international relations.”

Conclusion:

A captivating opening is essential for setting the tone of your personal statement and engaging your reader. By exploring different approaches such as personal anecdotes, powerful quotes or questions, surprising facts or statistics, vivid scenes or descriptions, or connections to current events or societal issues, you can create a memorable introduction that will leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.

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How to write a personal statement for grad school.

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At Seattle University, a personal statement is not required to apply for our Online Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) or Online MBA . However, it can be a powerful tool in making your case to be admitted.

Read below for our tips on making your personal statement stand out, and if you are applying to the MSBA program, what questions you should consider addressing in the essay.

First, ask the right questions.

The one thing your personal essay should not be is just a copy of your resume. The admissions team will already have that, so this is your opportunity to tell them something they cannot find out from your job history or GMAT score.

Is there a reason why you’re interested in this program at Seattle University? What do you hope to accomplish with your degree? You can also consider examining the unique perspective you can bring to the program.

When applying to the Online MSBA at the Seattle Albers School of Business and Economics , we encourage students to respond to one of the following suggestions:

  • Describe any work you have done analyzing data to solve a problem, the process used, and software you may have used.
  • The Online MSBA program is very quantitative in nature. Highlight your experience with quantitative analysis.
  • How might your Online MSBA experience assist your future organization?

Remember, this is your chance to let the admissions team learn more about your past accomplishments, current experience, and future goals.

Create your talking points.

Now that you have had a chance to reflect, it's time to create an outline of your essay. It might be easier to think of these as your talking points, at first. What are the main points about yourself that you want the admissions committee to know? Write them down and then consider examples or beliefs you can use to support each of those points.

For example, you might want to highlight that using data to solve problems has been something you've wanted to pursue for some time. To support that statement, you can explain why you believe big data is changing your industry. Or, give an example of how you have taken the initiative in your current role to use data to influence strategies or went the extra mile to better understand a new programming language or analytics tool.

As you do this, you might find that you don’t have enough information to back up an assertion you’ve made about yourself. If this point is more of a goal or a skill you’d like to develop, you can phrase it as something you hope to learn from the program. You can also decide to combine two related talking points into a single stronger one.

Write your essay.

Now that you have an outline drawn up, it's time to sit down and get to work. Many writers find it helpful to initially start on a "first draft," meaning a very rough version of their essay. Instead of trying to make each word choice and sentence perfect, they give themselves the freedom to just get their thoughts on the page, no matter how rough or disjointed. If you do not consider writing to be your strong suit, a rough draft can help ease the pressure of staring at a blank page.

Once you have completed your rough draft, editing begins. It will be easier now to see how you can complete those half thoughts and half sentences; you will also be able to see if you left out any important information or if you failed to describe something as clear as you thought you had.

Take a break and look again.

One key thing for a personal statement is to give yourself plenty of time to write. Of course, the act of writing an essay requires a certain amount of time, but you need to make sure you give yourself enough space to reflect and review what you have written.

Ideally, that means looking at your personal essay more than once. Being able to take a day or two to clear your head and then look at it again with a fresh pair of eyes is a crucial step.

Further, it's also important to ask a trusted friend or colleague to read through your personal statement. Having someone else’s opinion and perspective can be invaluable for proofreading and for content. What seems perfectly clear to you may read as confusing to someone not familiar with your background. Also in many cases, a colleague can point out skills that you failed to highlight or remember a situation where your input made a real difference.

Submit your application to SU today.

As you're finalizing your essay, be sure to double check that you've not only responded to the prompts given to you, but that you also have the other required materials for admission including transcripts, application fees, and your GMAT or GRE score . 1 Be sure to confirm you need to submit those materials in the first place. For our Online MBA and MSBA programs, test waivers are available and certain Seattle University graduates are eligible for the alumni admissions pathway .

Before you get started, learn more about the admissions process to Seattle University’s Online MSBA program .

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the GMAT/GRE testing requirement is now considered optional for anyone applying to a non-law graduate program that begins in the 2020-21 academic year (summer of 2020 through spring of 2021).

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Career Center

Division of student affairs, tips: writing a personal statement for grad school.

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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”)
  • 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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Level-Up Your Grad School Application: How to Write a Winning Personal Statement

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This 2-day program is an interactive writing workshop for recent and upcoming college graduates who want to polish their personal statements for post-graduate applications (law, medicine, MA, MFA, PhD). In this workshop, participants will refine their essays and personal statements so that they can successfully market themselves and be strong contenders in the application review process. Program spots are limited to 15 participants and the registration fee includes snacks/refreshments on Day 1. Payment will be used to reserve each student’s slot on a first-come, first-served basis.

Course instructor David LeGault. David is a Presidential Fellow at the University of Cincinnati, where he is pursuing his PhD in English. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Minnesota, as well as a B.F.A. in Writing and English from Grand Valley State University. He is the author of the essay collection One Million Maniacs, and his writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, journals, and literary publications. His essays have also frequently appeared on the annual "Notables" list of Best American Essays.

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  • Academic Statement of Purpose

The Academic Statement of Purpose is an opportunity for you to share information that will help reviewers understand your academic interests and objectives, assess your academic background, preparation, and training, and determine if you are a good match for the program to which you are applying.

The graduate application allows applicants to select up to two graduate campuses and/or majors per application. If you are applying to a 2nd choice program, you are only required to submit one academic statement of purpose with your application. Be sure your academic statement of purpose is all-inclusive, and supports your suitability for your enrollment in all the graduate programs listed on your application.

A statement, not exceeding two pages in length, is encouraged.  The following topics should be addressed in your Academic Statement of Purpose.

  • What are your professional plans and career goals? How will pursuing graduate studies assist you in reaching those goals?
  • Describe your research, scholarly, or creative interests. What topics are of particular interest to you? Reviewers know that interests change over time but try to be as specific as possible.
  • Discuss how your experiences, skills, and abilities have prepared you for graduate study. Relevant topics may include coursework, work and research experiences, internships, presentations, exhibits, publications, and community service. If you describe a research or scholarly experience, include information on the topic, research mentor, your role, and outcomes.
  • Describe how your skills, preparation, and interests are a match for the program to which you are applying. Identify faculty who share your research and scholarly interests. Reviewers will want to know that you have researched the program, faculty, and key focus areas.

The Academic Statement of Purpose and the Personal History Statement are two of the most important documents in your graduate application. The documents should be concise, clear, and free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. You should have others review your document for content, organization, and to ensure that there are no errors. Information in the Personal History Statement should complement but not duplicate information in the Academic Statement of Purpose.

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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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!)

Hannah Muniz Posted on August 27, 2017

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An application will not be reviewed until the application fee is paid. Applicants should pay within the application as the final step after all other sections of the application are completed. In unique situations where an applicant or another individual needs to pay for a previously submitted application, this can be done by credit card via the Graduate School Payment Portal , or by check/money order using the Application Fee Form below. To request an application fee waiver, contact your intended graduate program directly.

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To apply to a degree program, you will select your intended program and campus on the application form and you will need to submit all required materials that are listed on your intended program's website . Applicants may apply to only one graduate degree program and campus at a time. If you submit more than one degree application, only your most recently submitted application will be reviewed.

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Pursuing a postbaccalaureate or graduate certificate may broaden your education, advance your career, or provide specialized knowledge. Currently enrolled graduate students can apply for a certificate program by completing the graduate application, including paying the application fee. Undergraduate students are not eligible for postbaccalaureate or graduate certificates.

If you are applying for admission to a degree program and a graduate certificate, you must complete two online applications.

Applying as a nondegree student allows you to take graduate-level courses for personal enrichment or professional development. Please be aware of the following:

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Learn more about resuming study and changing programs .

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All applicants to a Penn State graduate program must hold a degree from degree-granting institution that is officially recognized in the country in which it operates. See below to search by country for accepted documents from institutions in that country. The degree must be one of the following types:

  • Baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution
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Check your intended graduate program’s website for specific requirements. These may be higher or more stringent than the general Penn State graduate program requirements.

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When applying for any graduate program, you will need to upload a scanned copy of official transcripts from institutions you attended previously. Note that there is a difference between “official” and “unofficial” transcripts, and only some documents will be accepted in the application process.

Applicants will be required to upload copies of official transcripts or documents from all post-secondary institutions attended, whether the degree was completed or not.

For institutions outside the U.S., acceptable documents may include:

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Acceptable English translations must be completed by one of the following sources:

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International applicants who successfully complete Penn State’s non-credit Intensive English Communication Program by earning the certification will be exempted from the English proficiency test requirement. Similar programs at other institutions are not provided exemption.

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The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

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Yale University

A compelling personal statement is a critical component of an Ivy League application, as it offers students the unique opportunity to showcase their personality, experiences, and aspirations. Kickstarting the writing process in the summer can give students a critical advantage in the admissions process, allowing them more time to brainstorm, edit, and polish standout essays. However, as students begin drafting their essays this summer, they should bear in mind that selecting the right topic is crucial to writing a successful essay. Particularly for students with Ivy League aspirations, submitting an essay that is cliche, unoriginal, or inauthentic can make the difference between standing out to admissions officers or blending into the sea of other applicants.

As ambitious students embark on the college application process, here are the personal statement topics they should avoid:

1. The Trauma Dump

Many students overcome significant hurdles by the time they begin the college application process, and some assume that the grisliest and most traumatic stories will attract attention and sympathy from admissions committees. While vulnerability can be powerful, sharing overly personal or sensitive information can make readers uncomfortable and shift focus away from a student’s unique strengths. Students should embrace authenticity and be honest about the struggles they have faced on their path to college, while still recognizing that the personal statement is a professional piece of writing, not a diary entry. Students should first consider why they want to share a particular tragic or traumatic experience and how that story might lend insight into the kind of student and community member they will be on campus. As a general rule, if the story will truly enrich the admissions committee’s understanding of their candidacy, students should thoughtfully include it; if it is a means of proving that they are more deserving or seeking to engender pity, students should consider selecting a different topic. Students should adopt a similar, critical approach as they write about difficult or sensitive topics in their supplemental essays, excluding unnecessary detail and focusing on how the experience shaped who they are today.

2. The Travelogue

Travel experiences can be enriching, but essays that merely recount a trip to a foreign country without deeper reflection often fall flat. Additionally, travel stories can often unintentionally convey white saviorism , particularly if students are recounting experiences from their charity work or mission trips in a foreign place. If a student does wish to write about an experience from their travels, they should prioritize depth not breadth—the personal statement is not the place to detail an entire itinerary or document every aspect of a trip. Instead, students should focus on one specific and meaningful experience from their travels with vivid detail and creative storytelling, expounding on how the event changed their worldview, instilled new values, or inspired their future goals.

3. The Superhero Narrative

Ivy League and other top colleges are looking for students who are introspective and teachable—no applicant is perfect (admissions officers know this!). Therefore, it’s crucial that students be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and open about the areas in which they hope to grow. They should avoid grandiose narratives in which they cast themselves as flawless heroes. While students should seek to put their best foot forward, depicting themselves as protagonists who single-handedly resolve complex issues can make them appear exaggerated and lacking in humility. For instance, rather than telling the story about being the sole onlooker to stand up for a peer being bullied at the lunch table, perhaps a student could share about an experience that emboldened them to advocate for themselves and others. Doing so will add dimension and dynamism to their essay, rather than convey a static story of heroism.

Colombia Beat Uruguay To Set Up Copa América Final With Argentina

Nyt ‘strands’ hints, spangram and answers for thursday, july 11th, kawhi leonard withdraws from u.s. olympic team because of knee issues, 4. the plan for world peace.

Similarly, many students feel compelled to declare their intention to solve global issues like world hunger or climate change. While noble, these proclamations can come across as unrealistic and insincere, and they can distract from the tangible achievements and experiences that a student brings to the table. Instead, applicants should focus on demonstrable steps they’ve taken or plan to take within their local community to enact positive change, demonstrating their commitment and practical approach to making a difference. For instance, instead of stating a desire to eradicate poverty, students could describe their extended involvement in a local charity and how it has helped them to discover their values and actualize their passions.

5. The Sports Story

While sports can teach valuable lessons, essays that focus solely on athletic achievements or the importance of a particular game can be overdone and lack depth. Admissions officers have read countless essays about students scoring the winning goal, dealing with the hardship of an injury, or learning teamwork from sports. Students should keep in mind that the personal essay should relay a story that only they can tell—perhaps a student has a particularly unique story about bringing competitive pickleball to their high school and uniting unlikely friend groups or starting a community initiative to repair and donate golf gear for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to play. However, if their sports-related essay could have been written by any high school point guard or soccer team captain, it’s time to brainstorm new ideas.

6. The Pick-Me Monologue

Students may feel the need to list their accomplishments and standout qualities in an effort to appear impressive to Ivy League admissions officers. This removes any depth, introspection, and creativity from a student’s essay and flattens their experiences to line items on a resume. Admissions officers already have students’ Activities Lists and resumes; the personal statement should add texture and dimension to their applications, revealing aspects of their character, values and voice not otherwise obvious through the quantitative aspects of their applications. Instead of listing all of their extracurricular involvements, students should identify a particularly meaningful encounter or event they experienced through one of the activities that matters most to them, and reflect on the ways in which their participation impacted their development as a student and person.

7. The Pandemic Sob Story

The Covid-19 pandemic was a traumatic and formative experience for many students, and it is therefore understandable that applicants draw inspiration from these transformative years as they choose their essay topics. However, while the pandemic affected individuals differently, an essay about the difficulties faced during this time will likely come across as unoriginal and generic. Admissions officers have likely read hundreds of essays about remote learning challenges, social isolation, and the general disruptions caused by Covid-19. These narratives can start to blend together, making it difficult for any single essay to stand out. Instead of centering the essay on the pandemic's challenges, students should consider how they adapted, grew, or made a positive impact during this time. For example, rather than writing about the difficulties of remote learning, a student could describe how they created a virtual study group to support classmates struggling with online classes. Similarly, an applicant might write about developing a new skill such as coding or painting during lockdown and how this pursuit has influenced their academic or career goals. Focusing on resilience, innovation, and personal development can make for a more compelling narrative.

Crafting a standout personal statement requires dedicated time, careful thought, and honest reflection. The most impactful essays are those that toe the lines between vulnerability and professionalism, introspection and action, championing one’s strengths and acknowledging weaknesses. Starting early and striving to avoid overused and unoriginal topics will level up a student’s essay and increase their chances of standing out.

Christopher Rim

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  1. 3 Successful Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

    Read our graduate school personal statement examples and in depth analysis of a sample personal statement for graduate school for tips on your own essay.

  2. How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Grad School

    A strong personal statement is an essential piece of a graduate school application. Learn more about personal statements and get expert tips to help write an acceptance-worthy statement for your application.

  3. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    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:

  4. How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School

    Follow these tips on how to write a personal statement for grad school to get your application to the top of the admissions pile.

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

    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.

  6. The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Killer Personal Statement for Graduate

    You're organizing and preparing to go to graduate school, you've narrowed down your list, and now it's time to tackle your personal statement (sometimes referred to as a letter of intent, personal essay, or statement of purpose). Writing a strong personal statement is essential for your graduate school application and will reflect your passion and potential, but also will show the ...

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

    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.

  8. Preparing your personal statement for graduate school applications

    Tips on how to formulate a personal statement for graduate school applications.

  9. Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    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 ...

  10. Writing Your Personal Statements

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  11. How To Write a Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

    A statement of purpose (SOP), sometimes referred to as a personal statement, is a critical piece of a graduate school application that tells admissions committees who you are, what your academic and professional interests are, and how you'll add value to the graduate program you're applying to.

  12. 5 Questions Everyone Has When Writing a Statement of Purpose

    The hardest single page you will write during your graduate school experience is your statement of purpose. The statement of purpose for graduate school, or your personal statement, is required by most graduate schools during the application process.

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

    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.

  14. PDF Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School. Your personal statement is your introduction to a university admission committee. The aim of your statement is to communicate that you are intelligent, and literate, and that you have interests and abilities in common with the program in which you are interested.

  15. PDF Writing a Personal Statement for Graduate School

    What is the Personal Statement? A brief narrative of your past experiences and future goals and opportunity to: • Describe the special strengths you offer the field. • Make a positive first impression. • Show why you are a good match for the field. • Present goals. • Reveal how your interests in the field evolved.

  16. How to start a personal statement for grad school

    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.

  17. How to Start a Grad School Personal Statement: The Killer Opening

    Discover how to write the perfect opening paragraph for your grad school personal statement with over 20 examples.

  18. How to Write a Personal Statement

    A personal statement is an essay that allows you to share who you are and why you'd like to study at this particular university—details the selection committee won't find in your resume or transcript. The information you provide in your personal statement can set you apart from other candidates.

  19. PDF Graduate School Personal Statement

    The personal statement is a chance for your graduate program to get a feel for you as a person and as a student. This guide is designed to give you tips about how to craft a personal statement that both describes yourself while also meeting the personal statement criteria that graduate school admissions committees are looking for.

  20. Personal Statement (Graduate)

    A personal statement is a short essay that explains why you want to be admitted into a graduate or professional program, how your experience makes you a qualified candidate, and how you hope the program would contribute to your life professionally and academically.

  21. How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

    Discover tips on how to write a personal statement for grad school by showcasing your strengths and experiences to make a lasting impression.

  22. Tips: Writing a Personal Statement For Grad School

    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.)

  23. Level-Up Your Grad School Application: How to Write a Winning Personal

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  24. Academic Statement of Purpose

    The Academic Statement of Purpose and the Personal History Statement are two of the most important documents in your graduate application. The documents should be concise, clear, and free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. You should have others review your document for content, organization, and to ensure that there are no errors.

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

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  26. PDF Personal Statement Examples: Statement #1

    Personal Statement Examples: Statement #1 My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A.

  27. Preparing to Apply

    Learn more about how to complete your application and apply to attend Penn State for your graduate education. All applicants meet minimum eligibility requirements for both the Graduate School and your intended program.

  28. The Personal Statement Topics Ivy League Hopefuls Should Avoid

    A compelling college essay is a critical component of an Ivy League application, as it offers students the opportunity to showcase their personality and aspirations.