Graduate School Essay Tips You Should Know

personal statement tips

6 Graduate School Personal Statement Tips You Should Know

Personal statements for graduate school are your chance to show the admissions committee who you are and why you’d be a great addition to their school. Of course you want an application essay to shine and, as a result, take your application to another level.

But how do you write a good personal statement for graduate school? Here are 6 personal statement tips that might just help you achieve that goal.

1. Think About Your Strategy

When you’re writing a personal statement, you’re not just telling any old story. You have a specific reason for telling it. What is that reason? Why that story? What is your reader supposed to take away from it? Often this is informed by a prompt telling you what a personal statement should include, but that’s not the whole picture. There might also be other instructions. These could indicate how long a personal statement should be, format, and other details.

But knowing all of that is only the first step. A bigger one is figuring out how. Identify the tone you think you’ll need, the details that matter, and the ideas you’re planning to focus on. Doing this early in your process could help you create a more workable draft. Holding a clear picture of your strategy could also help guide your efforts throughout the revision process.

2. Don’t re-purpose the same personal statement essay

It might seem tempting to reuse a personal statement you already wrote for another application. After all, the graduate school application process can be time consuming! However, it’s best to write unique personal statements for each application. For one, it ensures that you’re following the specific instructions on that application, and answer whatever question they’re asking. It also demonstrates that you care about that school enough to do your research and put in the effort. Finally, it reduces the likelihood of careless mistakes—like sending one with the wrong school name on it.

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.                                                               

 

3. 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.

A strong introduction achieves a few important things. It…

  • Makes Your Central Message Clear
  • Creates Context For Your Argument
  • Makes The Reader Want To Keep Reading

How you choose to do this depends on what you’re writing about and your preferred style. Whether you’re taking a more academic or narrative approach, keep those three elements in mind when you write.

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 ….                                                          

 

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

One inarguable fact about personal statements: they display your writing chops. They don’t just show the school who you are, and elaborate on your CV or resume. They’re a concrete demonstration of your ability to communicate your thoughts effectively and in a compelling way. Be sure to write in a clear, concise and well organized manner.

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…

 

5. Create a Memorable Reading Experience

Engaging with your reader isn’t just what you say, though that is important. It’s how you say it. After all, you don’t want to send application committee the same old clichés they’ve read a hundred times. But it’s also important how you say it. An effective essay should balance your inherent creativity with a compelling story and clear, effective communication.

One way you could achieve this is through poetic devices and other writing techniques. Set the scene with vibrant (but relevant) imagery. Use metaphors to make your point. Use phrasing and word choice to create a sense of emotional buy-in for the reader, to help them engage and empathize.

However, make sure it’s actually readable. It’s easy to get carried away with creative ideas, and complex word choice. But your reader needs to know what you’re trying to say. Unnecessarily complicated language creates a barrier for the reader, and prevents them from understanding you. Resist that temptation and instead focus on getting your message across. 

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.

 

6. Review and Get a Second Opinion

You’re going to want to reread your essay more than once. First, make sure that your overall message is being communicated and the essay is understandable from a reader’s perspective. You’ll also want to look at the finer details of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Don't always trust your computer's spellchecker. After all, “their” and “there” are all spelled correctly, even if they’re not always right! Ultimately, the essay you submit needs to be as flawless as you can make it.

In that interest, it could be useful to share your essay with more than one person who can look it over with a critical eye. You may especially want to share your essay with people who have an eye for writing and editing, whose opinions you trust. While your essay may make sense and be easily readable on your end, that might not be true across the board. Your readers won’t be as familiar with what you’re trying to say—and neither will be the application committee. Outside opinions could help you better prepare for your intended audience’s response. It could even help you create something really special that wows the admissions officials at your chosen school.

Put These Personal Statement Tips into Action

Now it’s time to start writing. Of course, this list of personal statement tips to write a isn’t exhaustive. You might have collected other ideas and advice! If that’s the case, feel free to add those personal statement tips to the list. Then reference all of them during your writing process!

Find Schools