By Laura Morrison, February 2014
As you gather application materials for graduate school, you will be required to include a written statement as part of the process. These written statements are often called "letters of intent", "personal narratives", "personal statements", or "statements of purpose". While the essays are personal in nature, the school is not looking for your life story. Your statement should focus on your specific interests and goals as they pertain to academics.
Many people dread writing an essay of any kind, especially when it is part of an application process. However, you have no need to be concerned as long as you know how to construct the statement and what must be included. Your statement may be in response to questions posed by the graduate program in your application documents, or you might simply be responding to a brief directive to write about the area of study you intend to focus on and why.
Your statement will likely be between 250 and 750 words, depending upon the school and its requirements. You will need to determine: your purpose in writing your statement, what it will contain, and the style you will use to write it. Before you begin, be sure to research the school and the program to which you are applying. Conducting that research will help you decide how to approach writing your statement.
The statement you write gives you the opportunity to sell yourself to the graduate program of your choice. Your goal and purpose is to persuade the school that you will be a positive addition to its student body. The relevant experiences you have gained through your undergraduate work, as well as through field and employment experiences, are precisely what you want to highlight.
Your purpose should be clear and concise, and you should ensure that you keep your audience in mind as you write your statement. Explain your academic goals, how you developed them and how being a part of that graduate program will help you reach those goals. The tone of your statement should be very direct and you should answer any and all questions posed by the application.
Do your best to express how the graduate program matches your educational goals. Be sure to discuss both short- and long-term goals. While you are introducing yourself to the graduate program, your statement should be as objective as possible. Be as specific as you can and refrain from using too many big "academic" words.
As for content, you will want to include any academic achievements that distinguish you as a student. For instance, if you have had work published, have completed an internship or studied abroad, you should mention those experiences as they relate to your graduate education goals. The area of study that you wish to focus on should be clear, as should your plans to use your education to enrich your future.
If any inconsistencies exist in your records, this is your chance to explain them in a positive way. If, for example, you had to drop out of school for a year to earn money to finance your education, talk about that, briefly.
If you worked full-time during your undergraduate education, you would certainly want to mention that in order to put your achievements in perspective.
The school may ask you to write about why you have chosen their particular program, which will be much easier to answer if you have done your research.
Do not forget to include any special skills you have developed that will make you a better candidate for acceptance into the program. These skills may include computer, laboratory and foreign language skills. If you have research skills, it is important to highlight them as well.
The style of your statement is individual to you as a person. Just be sure that your statement is clear, organized and specific. Try to use good transitions between your paragraphs to enhance the flow of the statement. The use of an active voice is important, so avoid the use of passive verbs. For example, rather than saying that your goal "was achieved", say "I achieved my goal". (Don't shy away from using the "I" first-person pronoun.)
No matter what, be accurate. The last thing you want to do is include anything in your statement that is unsubstantiated or untrue. When you do your final editing, which should be extensive and detailed, check your facts.
When you reach the conclusion of the statement, treat it like the concluding paragraph of a persuasive essay. Your final paragraph should tie everything together and make that last stab at selling yourself to the graduate program. The most important message to get across in your statement is that you will excel in your study and research at the particular graduate program you have chosen.
One last bit of advice
When you've finished your statement: get others to read it and help you revise. Don't hesitate to go to your favorite professor, and ask him or her to read the statement and help you improve it.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.