Preparing your personal statement or statement of purpose for your grad school application can seem like a daunting task. It’s your chance to tell the admissions committee who you are and how their program fits into your career plans. But as long as you give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and prepare, you will be able to write a successful statement of purpose, also commonly called a statement of intent or a personal statement. Below we’ve outlined a few points to help you create an effective essay.
Before you sit down to write your personal statement, you’ll want to think about the following questions to help you organize your thoughts:
- Why do you want to go to graduate school?
- Is this the right time to go to graduate school?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- Why does a particular graduate school appeal to you?
- Why is a particular department and program a good fit?
- How will your background contribute to your success?
- What is important for the committee to know about you? What strengths do you
want to exhibit?
Once you’ve thought about and formed solid answers to these questions, you’ll be ready to start writing your personal statement. Focus is important — you want to make sure you remain on topic and present yourself, your achievements and your goals in the best light possible. To help you do that, we’ve come up with a few checkpoints that’ll keep you on track.
- Describe relevant qualities/accomplishments and connect them to your program.
- What are your strongest qualities that will help you to be successful in this program? What are your future aspirations, and how will this program help you accomplish them? Make sure to share your enthusiasm for the journey ahead.
- Highlight how you will achieve your goals at our school. Demonstrate that you know why our program is a good fit.
- There are two questions you must answer: Why you? Why us? Be sure to research your prospective graduate institution. A good way to do this is to check out their website and learn more about faculty and staff, as well as alumni.
- Watch the length of your essay, and follow all guidelines provided. If the admission requirements don’t specify a word or page count, we suggest approximately 300 words. Essays should be clear, concise and memorable.
- You are responding to a prompt. Follow it and keep your statement succinct. You may be the oldest of 10 children or a proud pet parent — those are interesting details, but they may not be relevant.
- Avoid large blocks of text. Aim for paragraphs that are approximately five to seven sentences. Edit for run-ons.
- A paragraph is your best friend. Break-up the text. Indent. Vary the length of your sentences. Good technique keeps us interested.
- Create a compelling opening that grabs our attention. Conclude by reiterating why you are a good fit for our program.
- Tell a story. Why are you choosing to go into this career field? Was there a specific moment, event or person that sparked your interest in this topic?
- Cohesion is key. A well-told story impacts us only when you connect it to your goals. And don’t reiterate everything on your application, transcript(s) and resume.
- We’ve already been over your application, transcript and resume. Your goal here should be to tell us what these three documents do not.
- Aim for a balance between confidence, humility and respect. Avoid making excuses, shifting blame or bragging.
- Example: “I would like to talk about a personal challenge I had that affected my grades. During my time at [University], I had two major deaths in my family. I had lost my grandmothers and it had a huge impact on my life. My grades started to slip while I went through my grieving process.”
- Avoid the constant repetition of “I” statements. Variety in sentence structure is key to interesting, readable prose.
- Example: “Although a career in business might have led to financial stability, I began to recognize the importance of having an enjoyable career path.”
- Reference the correct school. Yes, applicants sometimes use the wrong name — a clear indication that they have submitted the same essay to multiple institutions.
- Grammar, punctuation, mechanics and spelling count. Your essay is a professional document. It should be error-free.
- Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! Make sure to utilize the resources available to you. This can include your writing center, family members and friends. It can also be helpful to read your statement out loud to yourself. This is a good way to identify any awkward phrasing and make sure your statement reads well.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Your personal statement is an important component of your application and isn’t something you want to rush. This is the one part of your application you have complete control over — take advantage of that. Follow the tips outlined above and you’ll be sure to create a well-written, focused and effective statement of purpose for your graduate application.