How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School?

writing an essay for graduate school admission

Deciding that you want to get a master’s degree is a big step for your career. You can already see yourself on campus, going to classes and learning new things. However, before you get carried away, know that there are a few steps you need to take before you start your degree. These mainly relate to first applying at the universities of your choice.

The application procedure about how to get into grad school is long and stressful. You will have to send documents such as:

  • application forms
  • request transcripts and recommendation letters
  • prepare for interviews, and so on.

But one step which many students stress mostly about is writing the graduate school personal statement. The personal statement for graduate school is required by almost all universities. This article will cover details about the personal statement and how to go about writing a great one.

What Is A Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an essay, which will be used to evaluate you as a potential candidate. The essay highlights facts which show that you will be a successful grad school student:

  • your personal and academic achievements
  • your goals
  • traits of your personality

Your essay or personal statement should reflect how your story and your experiences until now have led you to choose that particular field of study and that specific university.

A personal statement is a story that should convince the university that you deserve a spot in their graduate program. You should be able to relate your past experiences, how they influence your present goals, and your future career. As such, this essay should include the following:

  • Your personal story – This can be an explanation about how you came to be the person you are and the experiences that have shaped your personality. It should tie into why you want to get a graduate degree in your field of study and why you are choosing that particular university.
  • Your academic achievements – A personal statement is not necessarily about your achievements, but you can mention a few things that are relevant to your field of study. Especially, if the university is asking for a statement of purpose, you should include the academic achievements in that essay, instead of the personal statement.

Since getting into a master’s program is highly competitive, your personal statement should make a great impression of you. You cannot change your grades, but you have complete control over your personal statement.

How To Start And Write A Personal Statement For Grad School?

Your personal statement will make you stand out amongst other applications that the university gets. To compile a great one, you should keep in mind a few things before you start this essay.

Think about what you want to say

Go through your experiences, and write a few things that are relevant to your field of study. You should know what you want to say and what your message to the admissions board will be. Knowing what you want to say will help you get started with a clear message on your mind.

Think about how you will say it

Since this is a written essay, you should try to express yourself as best you can. It is the only impression you can make to the university before you even have the chance to talk to them through an interview. Because of this, you need to think about the language you want to use. You are directing your essay to a university, so you should sound academic and formal. However, you also want to add in a touch of your own personality through stories and narration.

This means that the language of your statement should be a mix of formal and informal. You should sound scholarly and be a storyteller. You are the one who decides how your story will come across those who read it and should find a balance between the two.

Think about how to structure it

Your personal statement format will then tie in what you want to say and how you will say it. So you’ll have to decide how to structure it. If you’re unfamiliar with the standard essay formats, here is a refresher. Any essay, must have the following three parts:

  • Introduction – the part where you captivate your audience and tell them what you will talk about in a few sentences or a paragraph
  • Body – is the main part of the essay, where you go through your main points or story with more detail in a few paragraphs
  • Conclusion – where no new information is presented, but you put together all the points you made throughout your essay in a paragraph. The conclusion is how you end a personal statement.

Tips On Writing A Personal Statement

Besides the structure, you should also look at a few tips  on how to write a great personal statement.

Start early

When you pick the universities you want to apply to, you will see their deadlines for application. Knowing this, you must plan ahead for compiling all the documents. Many applicants focus on ordering their supporting documents and going after recommendation letters. This is good, but you also have to focus on your personal statement. You don’t want to realize in the last few days before the deadline, that you haven’t started yet.

You should realize that your personal statement is as important, if not more important than your grades. That is why you should start as early as possible, since you’ll have more time to write and revise it.

Write a draft

Since you’ve already thought about how your statement will look, you can write an outline and draft. These will help you analyze your points and see whether you’ve related them to your main message. Your main message will be that you are a great candidate for that grad school and that you will show success. All your points should reinforce that message. An outline and a draft will help you stay organized and focused, so you don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to say.

Mention strengths and weaknesses

Students think that they should paint a perfect picture of themselves. They think that they should show schools that they will never fail.  This is humanly impossible, so besides your strengths and successes, you should also mention a few weaknesses and failures. The weaknesses and failures should always have explanations and lessons learned. Never leave a failure without a bit of justification of what you learned from it.

If you say “my grades were not stellar”, you should have a reason why that happened. You could say you tried to focus on extracurricular activities, that you sometimes feel anxious when taking tests, or that you had a personal injury or family reason. This sends the message that you were also involved in other activities and you failed with a reason.

Don’t embellish

Your personal statement should include facts and no fiction at all. Students are tempted to embellish their stories so that they stand out more. Remember that admissions boards are experienced people and they can spot if you’re making up things.  So stick to the truth and you’ll sound more believable and credible. This will increase your chances of getting an offer from the grad school.

Avoid stating excessive personal beliefs

Personal statements are an opportunity for you to express who you are, but it is a good idea to stay out of stating controversial beliefs. This includes religious and political views, which you should definitely avoid. If you mention these personal beliefs, you send the message that you are not accepting of beliefs that are different from your own. Universities portray themselves as accepting spaces, so anyone who opposes this will not fit in.

Tailor it to the specific university

You might be applying to 10 universities, but each one has different requirements. So writing one personal statement and sending the same one to all of them might not be a good idea. You should tailor the essay to each university. One way you can do this is write a template and then change it to match different requirements.

Get to the point

Another question applicants usually have is how long should a statement of purpose be? Well, unless otherwise specified by the university, the personal statement should be between 250 and 750 words. This is from half to a full page of a Word document. If you have a lot to say, try not to exceed two pages as it becomes too long

The restriction on length means that you do not have much space to go into lengthy elaborations. Try to make your case by getting to the point. Do not over share and explain things in more detail than necessary. Avoid the passive voice and words that do not add anything to the story. Write short sentences and your essay will be more understandable and easier to read.

Keep revising

You cannot write a great essay on one try. You must keep revising and changing it a few times before it takes its final form. The personal statement will evolve from your outline and draft, as you will refine and revise it. After you finish it, leave it for a few days and get back to it. You’ll notice mistakes and places where you need to make changes.

Read it many times, even backwards to see if it makes sense and if you have strayed from your main message. Pay attention to grammar and punctuation, as these details also reflect your attention to detail and your ability to write for graduate school.

Get others’ opinion

By the time you finish your personal statement, you will have read it so much, you might even know it by heart. You will notice fewer and fewer places to correct, so that’s why it’s important to seek other people’s opinions. Send it to your professors or advisers, your friends and family, and anyone who you think might give you helpful tips. Professors and advisers, especially, have experience in academic settings so they will always have good advice.

Grad School Personal Statement Examples

To have a better idea of how to write a good personal statement for grad school, it is better to look at a few examples. You can find successful personal statements from various sources, such as:

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