How to Write a Great Personal Statement for Grad School

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Last updated on June 12th, 2018 by our Product Team

Most graduate programs require some sort of personal essay. Some program administrators provide a prompt, but others are so open-ended that the sky is the limit for topics. The rest of your applications will likely ask questions that only allow for literal answers, so the personal essay is both your chance to introduce yourself in a creative way—but also your chance to shine. So, rather than stressing about this aspect of the application, see it as a chance to share parts of yourself you likely couldn’t elsewhere.

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For example, if you bombed a fellowship or internship because of an emergency, you might want to show the admissions committee your perseverance by addressing the situation. Or if something mundane played an unexpected role in shaping your identity, you could share this transformative tale. At the end of the day, we can't create the perfect story to convey your unique traits and skills, so you're going to have to do some introspection.

Start with this question: What makes you… you? Think about this in the context of your education and skills and how graduate school will help you become who you want to be in the future. As you probably know, you are not your resume. You are not your extracurricular activities. You are not, essentially, your Facebook profile or your LinkedIn page. There is room for much of this information elsewhere in the application. The most important part of the personal statement is that it is personal. Be real and honest, but save those bits that might be too much information for happy hour.

What’s your voice and purpose? Dig deep. The decision to attend graduate school is a purposeful choice; it means that there is a career you see in your future and you need education and experience to reach this goal. You need to ask yourself: Why have I chosen this path? What am I hoping to attain through this graduate level education? And finally, why am I the right person to fill a seat in this program?

Remember this while you’re writing: this is your chance to not just tell, but show your story. Think in meaningful narratives and make a list of potential themes to draw upon. You have very little space with which to work, so choose your details and anecdotes wisely. Relate these components to why you are in pursuit of a graduate degree, and how your desired program will help you achieve your goals. Furthermore, choose a topic that can carry the reader through the essay—the admissions offices will easily detect fluffing and space filling. Not to mention your essay will be lackluster.

Identify your goals and share them. It is important to demonstrate that you have plans and, again, purpose for graduate school. People apply to graduate school for a number of reasons: some, because they aren’t ready for the real world—but that’s not you, right? Identify the aspects of the program you are applying to—courses, faculty, or location—that are essential to meeting your career goals. Show that you have done your research and that you are particularly passionate about this graduate program.

Ask friends, family, and mentors you trust to read your personal essay once you have a draft written. Take their feedback into consideration, trust your gut, and finalize your essay. A final word of advice: proofread! Typos are as unflattering as Uggs in the summer.

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