It's the moment you've been waiting for. You're ready to start applying for graduate school.

You've done your research on the best schools in your field, you asked your professors to write letters of recommendation for you, you received high scores on the GRE, and your CV is ready to be sent!

A man with glasses, bow tie, black vest and bald head steps out saying Only one thing left to do: finish up your applications.

As you sit in front of the computer, you look at the screen, where you see this prompt:

"Please write a personal statement describing yourself to the admissions committee."

Animated hands in front of a computer screen, nothing is typed on the screen, background changes from day to night quickly

Why am I being asked to write a personal statement?!?

After staring at that computer screen for a long period of time, you may be wondering, "Why am I being asked to do this?!"

Graduate applicants are asked to write a personal statement for the following reasons, including:

  1. To get to know the person (you) behind the application, exclusive of GPA (grade point average) and other academic qualifications.

  2. To make your case as to why you should be admitted to their program.

    A student with a blue pack walking on a path leading towards an academic building

What a Personal Statement IS NOT

Some graduate school applications ask you to write either a Personal Statement or a Statement of Purpose, while other graduate school applications ask you to write both!

So, what are the differences between these two forms of statements? A man in glasses using his fingers to calculate numbers with images of equations floating around him.

A Statement of Purpose:

  • Why you want to attend graduate school

  • Focuses on career and research goals

  • How you are academically prepared for graduate school (classes, papers, conferences)

A Personal Statement:

  • Who you are as a person

  • Focuses on personal goals

  • How your personal experiences prepared you for graduate school (volunteering, hardships)

Quiz

You're about to sit down and write a draft of your personal statement. What are some potential topics that you could write about in your personal statement?

4 Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

Now that you know what a personal statement is and why you are being asked to write one, let's learn the 4 tips for writing a personal statement to get you into the school of your dreams!

A woman dressed in a white sparkly gown twirls in front of an old woman dressed in a blue cape and purple ribbon.

  1. Read the directions

  2. Brainstorm

  3. Build a theme

  4. Mind your tone

1. Read the Directions

You need to know what you're writing about!

Woman in black and white wearing white headphones pointing to the words

Some schools provide you specific prompts and questions to answer, while other schools provide word limits on how long your personal statement should be.

Reading the directions will help you make sure you're on the right track and help you customize your personal statement to what the committee wants to read!

2. Brainstorm

Although tempting, you can't write about every personal experience! It's best to focus on 2-3 key pivotal moments.

Do the following:

3. Build a Theme

You've narrowed down your topics, and now you can start writing!

Try to build a specific and clear theme that can drive the personal statement forward.

For instance, if your love of science came from visiting a science museum as a child, talk about how that love of science has impacted you in your life and life choices!

Animated image of personw with blue glasses brown hair sticking up on end and lab bottles merging into a purple explosion.

Quiz

You want to attend graduate school in the area of leadership. What are some topics or experiences that could be mentioned as a theme?

4. Mind Your Tone

Sometimes we can disclose very personal topics in personal statements, but you want to make sure that you remain professional.

Old man with gray hair, glasses, and black clothes pointing fingers with a disapproving expression

As Becca Van Sembeck from USCOnline reminds us, you SHOULD NOT:

  • Overshare

  • Reveal too personal or intimate details

  • Make sexist or racist comments

  • Use jokes that can be misinterpreted

Take a look at some examples of personal statements and see how they follow the four tips described.

Take Action

Woman dressed in black and white holding a white notebook and yellow pencil, signaling she is ready to write.

Ready to write? Follow these steps to write your personal statement for your dream school:

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This Byte has been authored by

SB

Suzanne Bardasz

Instructional Designer