Of all the elements of a graduate school application, the personal statement may be the most intimidating. After all, grades and test scores are cut-and-dried, but the personal essay is almost completely subjective and some prospective students might not know where to start.
The open format of the admissions essay can be a great thing - it can provide students with a way to showcase their creativity and personality as part of their application. Of course, the other side of that coin is that the lack of direction may feel confusing, and unwary students may risk turning in a sub-par or, worse, irrelevant essay if they aren't prepared. While each school and program has different requirements, there are a few general tips to keep in mind.
Grad School Admissions Essays Typically Ask You to Answer 2 Main Questions
On the whole, a good personal statement should answer two basic questions: Why are you applying to graduate school, and what makes you qualified? UsingEnglish.com expanded on this strategy by outlining a few key points to help make your statement as directed as possible. While you want to be as informative as you can, keep in mind that countless such essays cross the admissions board desk every day, so being concise and interesting are just as important as being informative and direct.
Even if you're applying for a research-heavy field, reading through your statement shouldn't feel like research to the board. Strive to find a tone that's both respectful and engaging, approaching your essay like a conversation rather than a treatise. To gauge this, have friends and family read through your essay to see how it's received by readers.
Integrity is a key component of graduate studies, and the same is true of your admissions essay. This means being honest and sincere about everything from your qualifications to your reason for applying. As USA Today pointed out, if any specific features drew you to the program in question, mention that. It can help convey a genuine interest that is a refreshing change from the stock answers many essays contain.
It's also important to be honest about yourself as an applicant. The temptation to paint yourself in the best light possible may be strong, but nobody's perfect, and colleges know this. An essay that covers up or omits potential weaknesses or areas of concern is less impressive than one that acknowledges such factors. Instead, address how such instances have become opportunities for you to improve as a student, and outline steps you have taken to better yourself.