Composing a personal statement is arguably the most stressful aspect of the graduate school application process.
Should you emphasize the academic awards you’ve received? Discuss the research project that made you decide to pursue higher education? In just a couple of pages, what is the best way to convince admissions committees that you are the right choice for the program you’re applying for?
Although the writing prompt for a personal statement may vary from program to program, most universities are looking for similar information: It’s likely that all the programs that require an essay will require you to write in depth about who you are, how you came to be the person you are today, and how grad school will get you to where you want to go.
In this post, we’ll outline some tried-and-true tips that can help future graduate students write a personal statement that stands out.
1. Showcase your writing skills.
It’s common knowledge that good writing abilities are essential to success in graduate school, so you should use your personal statement to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you’re capable of writing articulate and persuasive research papers.
What’s also important to realize, however, is that the way that you write can reveal other qualities about you. Strong writing skills can convey your ability to think critically, creatively, and strategically. Moreover, writing well demonstrates effective communication skills and strong organizational abilities, both of which are essential to the success of a graduate student.
2. Be clear about why are you choosing this school.
A personal statement isn’t just an essay for you to brag about your accomplishments and explain why you’re the most qualified applicant. You could be a stellar applicant with a perfect GPA, but unless the admissions committee is convinced that you’ll be a good fit for the program, qualifications can only do so much. Is there a particular emphasis of this school’s program that you’re interested in or a professor whose work you admire? Why do you think you’ll flourish in this university’s environment, and what will you bring to this program of study?
3. Give concrete examples of your best qualities.
If you want the admissions committee to know that you’re dedicated, creative, and have strong problem-solving skills, don’t simply list out these skills and expect them to take your word for it. Instead, illustrate examples of times when you demonstrated these qualities, and incorporate these examples smoothly into your essay.
In addition to making your essay a more interesting read, writing this way helps to paint a picture for the admissions committee of your personality and who you really are — personally and academically.
4. Tell a compelling story.
How did you get to where you are? If your undergraduate degree or your current job doesn’t seem related to the graduate program you’re applying for, explaining your academic and professional path may seem difficult. The good news, however, is that your unique background can help you stand out in a positive way — if you know how to explain it.
You can describe how your current job inspired you to pursue a related career path, for example, or you could explain how you eventually came to realize that your skills and talents would be put to better use in the career that you’re hoping to pursue with this graduate degree.
5. Get a second opinion — or a third, or a fourth!
Friends and family are invaluable resources during the writing process. Not only can they help with proofreading (you can read something of your own dozens of times and still miss that one typo!) but often they can give you much-needed perspective.
Although you may think you know yourself best, a good friend can remind you of the qualities and experiences you might otherwise forget to include. An outside perspective can also help you improve other aspects of your personal statement, such as tone and clarity.
6. Do your research.
You’re not in this alone: There are a vast array of online resources that offer advice on writing a personal statement for grad school. How do you ensure that you come across as confident — but not arrogant? What are the five fatal flaws to avoid in your statement of purpose? What are the best ways to describe your passion for your chosen career path? On this website, you’ll find no fewer than 48 different articles, videos, blogs, podcasts, and webinars that address these issues (and many more).
7. Strategically address less-than-favorable facts about you.
Maybe you didn't ace a couple of classes that you wish you had. Or maybe you don't have quite the extracurricular/volunteer experience you wish you had. You should use your personal statement to offer a very brief explanation for any less-than-favorable information about you. Keep in mind: It can certainly help to do so but any more than a couple sentences draws focus to information you'd rather mask rather than favorable points about your candidacy. So, be strategic, be smart, and be confident in your abilities!
There's no time like the present to advance your education and accelerate your career. If you're passionate about lifelong learning, we hope you'll consider pursuing a graduate degree at Marymount University.