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Writing the Personal Statement


  • Turn something distinctive about yourself into an interesting way to launch your essay
  • Remember who and what your intellectual influences have been:
  • What writers/articles in your field of study have influenced you
  • Favorite professor
  • Best paper or exam you ever wrote and why
  • Most important book, play, article, film you ever read/saw. How has it influenced you?
  • Single most important concept you learned in college
  • Define your career goals
  • When and how you first became interested in this career and how this interest has evolved
  • Academic and non-academic influences
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Experience from family life
  • Your motivation for a career as a…
  • 1 year, 5 year, ultimate goals

Academic Background

  • How have you prepared yourself to succeed in graduate school?
  • What body of relevant knowledge will you take with you?
  • Significant study or lab skills
  • Research or publications completed to date
  • Influence of family/early experiences

Personal Philosophy

  • Be careful of stating opinions that are too strong or controversial
  • Any problems and/or inconsistencies in your record
  • Address GPA issues related to personal or academic problems, including change of major
  • Account for gaps in time or a sporadic school or work history

Special Conditions

  • Disadvantaged background; large (35 hours/week) workload outside school

A Successful Statement…

  • Has great opening lines or paragraphs
  • Conveys at least a glimpse of the applicant's personality
  • Substantiates specific academic preparation and knowledge of subject matter
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of a chosen career
  • Gives a sense of maturity, compassion, stamina, teamwork skills, leadership potential and general likeability usually without addressing these issues directly (tells a story rather than gives a list)
  • Says what you really mean by describing an event or emotions and thoughts in detail
  • Gives specifics, with DETAILS
  • It's far better to give your essay a complete description of one incident than to cram it full of activities and accomplishments without any hint of what they meant to you, your motivations for doing them, what you learned, or emotions evoked.
  • Shows how you will use the graduate education in your planned career and establishes that you understand your place in the "big picture"

Writing Tips

  • Writing the statement will take a lot of time. Begin early.
  • Demonstrate that you've read the catalog carefully, researched the program, and considered your reasons for applying to the particular school.
  • Direct your focus at that specific program; refer to faculty with whom you have been in contact.
  • Get the name of the program you are applying to into the statement. Know the exact name.
  • The committee is looking for diversity that extends beyond ethnic/racial. This could also mean people who have had different life experiences and people who have unusual career plans.
  • The essay doesn't have to be chronological, and it doesn't have to cover your entire life.
  • Write the essay for your first choice school first. Then modify it as needed for your other targeted schools.
  • Don't mail the first choice application until you've finished several complete applications (this won't work for AMCAS, etc.)
  • Ideas used in other essays can help fine tune the application of your first choice school.
  • Use the essay to explain weaknesses or deficiencies, but if you do, it's best to keep everything positive. Explain how the experience has enlightened you or revealed positive traits.
  • Grammar, spelling, and punctuation must be perfect.
  • Spelling errors in a specialized, technical vocabulary of your field are deadly.
  • Don't begin all paragraphs with my or I. Vary sentence structure and length. Use active voice.
  • Get multiple readers, considering how many and who. Select some readers to check grammar and spelling, style, and adherence to guidelines.
  • Print out on laser quality printer, with easy to read fonts. Fit text in space available without altering or shrinking it to fit to the point where it's not readable. Don't print on both sides.
  • All the best essays will be both honest and direct.
  • Don't attempt to guess at what you think people want to hear.
  • Sincerity and truthfulness should be clearly evident.
  • Read your essay carefully before an interview. Be prepared to discuss and defend as called for.
  • Keep copies of everything.

Things to Not Consider

  • Say you "always" wanted to be a…
  • Write something maudlin or overly sentimental
  • Fake it or have someone else write it
  • Criticize, state opinions that could be offensive, make political statements or raise religious issues
  • Overly self-promote; understatement is good
  • Be flip, flighty, glib or "cute." Be careful about using humor
  • Write a laundry list or catalog of achievements
  • Tell them what they already know about their program or profession


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