How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School
Learn tips on how to impress the admissions committee with your personal statement.
If you've been doing your research on applying for graduate school, you have probably read that one of the standard requirements for every application is writing a personal statement, or admissions essay. The personal statement is a one to two page essay detailing why you want to pursue the masters degree or Ph.D. program and why you are a good fit for the graduate school you are applying to. Before you begin planning your personal statement for graduate school you must first understand the purpose of the personal statement.
The process of applying to graduate school is competitive, regardless of whether you are applying to a masters degree program or a doctoral program. When a graduate school admissions committee is reviewing applications, they often have hundreds of applications to sift through. Many applicants will have similar academic history and GRE test scores. In order to distinguish who is the better candidate, the committee will review each personal statement.
Brainstorm Your Personal Statement
The personal statement is where you should toot your own horn, prop yourself up, and emphasize why you are a good match for the program. Students need to find a balance between making themselves look good and appearing overly confident. Be realistic about your goals and your abilities.
Begin brainstorming and outlining your personal statement before you dive into the writing process. If you start planning your personal statement around the same time that you start looking for graduate programs, you will be in good shape. This will help you keep track of the points you need to make as well as make writing the essay much easier in the long run.
Structure of your Personal Statement for Graduate School
You should structure your essay in the standard essay format, which includes an introduction, three paragraph body and a conclusion. The introduction should give a brief summary of why you want to pursue the masters degree or Ph.D. program. The body should cite specific examples that support your introduction. In your conclusion, state how attending the program will help you achieve your career goals.
The first sentence of your personal statement is crucial, as it is the hook that will keep the reader interested and engaged throughout your essay. It is also your first personal introduction to the graduate school committee, and it is always in your best interest to make a good first impression. The first sentence should say in the most concise and clear way why would are interested in the program and why you are a good fit for the program.
Content of Your Personal Statement
You will need to tailor each personal statement to meet each graduate school's requirements. Some schools will have specific questions, while others will ask for a general biography and expect you to know what to include. Regardless of the specifics of the question, your main goal with every personal statement should be to explain why you are a good fit for the program and exactly why you should be accepted. Use personal examples of your academic and career accomplishments to distinguish yourself from other applicants.
It is important to briefly highlight specific examples of how your previous education and career experiences have prepared you for graduate school. You might be pursuing a masters degree to change careers and worried that you don't have enough experience for the program, but there are probably similarities in the two careers that you have overlooked. For example, if you are applying to be a candidate for a masters degree in health services, but have been working as an early childhood teacher for the past ten years, describe how your experience in caring for children has prepared you for your perpective career.
Your personal essay should include information on what you want to research for your thesis or dissertation, but you are not expected to have all of the details planned out. Give a broad overview of the type of research you are interested in, and mention any professors whose supervision you would like to work under. Be sure not to limit your professor wishlist to one person, as this will decrease your chances of being accepted.
Personal Statement Tips & Tactics
- When describing your past job and volunteer experiences, be sure to only mention those that are applicable to your major. You only have a limited amount of space for your essay, and none should be wasted on irrelevant information.
- Only use humor if it is appropriate. The admissions committee is looking to read a mature and well thought out essay, not a comedy routine. A little humor is okay, but make sure there is a reason.
- If you are having trouble with the body of your essay, try making a list of your qualities and experiences to help jog your memory of how you used them in the past.
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