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What is a Personal Statement?

Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010


When it comes to graduate school applications, your personal statement deserves extra time and attention. Your transcripts and your test scores are important; they’ll determine if you make the first cut. But your essay will distinguish you from other candidates, and hopefully win you an acceptance letter from your top-choice graduate program. Here are some tips for writing an A+ personal statement. Here are the Dos and Don'ts.

 

 


Create distinct, topic sentences, and back them with concrete examples

Admissions committees are interested in who you are, but they’re also interested in how you write. Graduate students – in any discipline – should be able to craft ordered and coherent paragraphs.

Do Don't
I have always been a leader. I spent two years on a Peace Corps assignment in Ghana, where I rebuilt the community’s youth services organization, tripled the NGO’s annual funding, and trained fifty volunteers.  Psychology has always been a dream of mine, even when I was very young. To study something so important and to help others with their problems in a time when many people are struggling with external pressures, including the bad economy and threats of swine flu…

  Don’t use flowery or stilted language

Grad school committees can see right through fancy rhetoric. If you have to use a thesaurus, don’t opt for synonyms you’ve never heard before. 

Do Don't
Two months after I graduated from my undergraduate business program, I was a huge success. But I was miserable. Financial sales consulting proved to be nothing like I’d expected… An MBA emblematizes triumph and Éclat. These distinctions are exigent. Lamentably, the bulk of our populace toils against a hapless fate.

Don’t repurpose the same essay

If you’re applying to multiple graduate programs (and you should be!), make sure that each of your personal statements is written to address the specific questions on each application. 

Do Don't

I’m confident that the gamma ray equipment at University XYZ provides an ideal platform for astrophysical experimentation. I hope to study smooth particle hydrodynamics, so I’d be thrilled to assist Dr. Smith with her research on colliding disk galaxies.

I would be honored to be a part of your program. Your faculty has a stellar reputation, and I’m excited to work alongside such bright and talented people.                                                               

Don’t neglect your introductory paragraph

Your introduction should draw readers in, and it should provide a natural segue into your body paragraphs. It should not sound gimmicky or arbitrary.   If you don’t think you’re interesting enough to write a straightforward introduction, ask friends and family to remind you of examples that illustrate your intellectual curiosity. 

Do Don't

I wasn’t prepared to find a dying bird in my kindergarten playground, but for years afterward I felt like I should have been. At age seven, I worked my way through all the kids’ biology books in the local library. By age eight, I was begging to attend bird watching camp…

Snow globes can be beautiful, but someone has to shake them first. If they sit on the shelf, their contents remain dormant and trapped under water. Up until now, my head has been a snow globe ….                                                          

Now DO it!

 

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