Home Student & Career Tips How to Write your Personal Statement for Grad School

How to Write your Personal Statement for Grad School


It is every university graduate’s desire to earn a masters or even a PhD for budding academics and out of the numerous requirements in a personal statement also called Purpose of Study or Statement of Purpose.

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Statement of purpose focuses more on a student’s reasons for applying to that particular graduate program and may address topics such as career and research goals, how his or her academic track record demonstrates qualification for that particular school or program of study and how a given program will impact the student’s future. This task usually poses a challenge to many graduates, especially the challenge of putting the words in their heads together on paper.

Personal statements are not in themselves the only documents that can determine your admission into graduate school, they help the academic review committee know about you, your goals, experiences and how the school, faculty, facilities would aid you achieve the goal. Other metrics such as GPA and test scores can give an admissions committee an idea of a student’s qualifications and abilities, they are however impersonal and don’t indicate whether a candidate would be a good fit for a given program.  That is why it is important you do thorough research before making a choice on the type of school that suits your professional aspirations.

The following are guides to help you write a thorough and compelling personal statement for graduate school.


1. Read instructions.

Before taking a pen and paper or desktop to type, it is important you go through the application guides provided by the institution of your choice. Some applications provide guidance, frequently asked questions, content, format, word count and submission method. It’s imperative that applicants read and understand thoroughly every item that is expected of their personal statements. If you write a compelling statement and ignore the prompts such as number counts, you can imagine the first impression?

2. Reflect

After digesting the requirements for the statement of purpose, you should spend a good amount of your time reflecting on what makes you unique- your personal brand. What qualities do you possess that the faculty doesn’t know they need? When you are able to articulate these qualities, it would be seamless convincing the selection committee of the value you are about to offer them. Apart from self-reflection, you can ask friends, family members and co-employees who know you and have been with you for a while especially through your undergraduate programme.

3. Introduction

Your first sentence should be attention-grabbing because it would determine if the readers would go ahead till the end or not. Remember that the review committee has hundreds of documents to review. It would take more than good grades to keep them locked to your note.  To achieve this, you would have to make an outline of how you want to write it, this would determine what would come up first. Your introduction can be a noteworthy accomplishment in your career or during your undergraduate study. You can also share a memorial event that led you into your career interest which is your reason for applying for further competencies.

4. Explain succinctly your reasons for selecting your chosen career.

After your introduction, the next paragraph should provide evidence on the reason you have chosen this career and not another and how earning an advanced degree will help you reach your goal. This evidence could be in the form of a particular course you did in school, your internship experience, articles you’ve read, most admired professors, research endeavours, projects and other extracurricular activities. Remember that it is not an autobiography, hence you need to use one or two experiences that relates to your goal. Avoid cliches like  “I have always wanted to be a pharmacist”. That is very boring to read. And if you must demonstrate your knowledge on an issue, do that briefly and intelligently. You can sound really offensive, putting the readers off, if you sound very excessive

5. Be specific.

No one has the luxury of time to read unnecessary things about you. Don’t try to fit all your life experiences here. Give your point, explain when need be. For instance, as a lawyer, it is not enough to say you are interested in re-sharpening the judiciary system in your country. You earn the credibility of the readers when you demonstrate your passion by showing through your article how your experiences have helped you and how relevant is a masters or P.hD degree to achieving your aim. This would stand you out from other applicants! Personal statements are generally no more than two pages.

6. Your course  interest

Every institution has its unique values, mission and faculty. In fact, the faculty has its major courses and minors. For example, for the faculty of Engineering, a school can have a faculty with just a concentration of mechanical and civil engineering. As an engineering student, you would have to consider that before making a choice because your statement would include why you selected the particular programme over others? Was it an emphasis in a particular area or the research interests of a professor? Was your interest heightened by a conversation with its alumni?

7. Be sincere.

While trying to give a good notion of yourself and providing every noteworthy accomplishment, remember to be as sincere as possible. Admissions personnel can tell when you’re exaggerating what an experience meant to you because they read thousands of personal statements per year. Briefly mention any noteworthy and appealing features that attracted you to the program or institution, but do not go overboard. Selection committee member know very much about their schools and the prestigious awards they have won. So do not be overbearing by giving excessive praise.

8. Describe your professional interests as they relate to research.

Graduate school is research inclined. So your statement must reflect that. You do this by identifying faculty members who share your interest in a topic or thesis. In your statement, you can tersely describe your desire to work with them and how your research endeavour would contribute to theirs. Be specific but keep your options open. In order words, do not be interested in every research area of the faculty and on the other hands, do not be too narrow about your interest. The committee members can question your ability to collaborate with other professors.

9. Your motivation and capacity to succeed.

No one goes through the rigour of graduate school only to return with nothing. Selection committee select prospective students who in the future would flourish in their respective fields and represent their program and school anywhere. Harvard University is regarded as one of the prestigious schools in the world because it has produced a variety of scholars and world-renowned professionals in diverse fields up till this day. This is their valid reason for been very intentional in admitting students. Hence, your statement must be able to convince them of your ability to succeed and be worthy ambassadors of the school. Provide them with relevant publications, presentations, employment experiences and project endeavours that have made you stand out. For example, if your collaborated with your colleague on a research topic or community project, describe your own contribution. It is advised you give examples of research endeavours if you have any especially as a PhD candidate. The more you are able to tailor your personal statement to a particular school, the higher your chances. You can achieve this through thorough research, campus tour and consultations from current or former students and faculty members of the school.

10. Address your shortcomings.

When you do this with wisdom, it makes your writing even more sincere and natural especially for those who had poor grades during their undergraduate studies or are ex-convicts. The personal statement is an excellent opportunity for a candidate to plead his or her case. However, this is optional if you are not comfortable with it. Students should be cautious not to allow their weak points suggest excuses but should be framed in a way that demonstrates perseverance, openness and the ability to improve against all odds.

11. Proofread your essay.

In your first two drafts, errors are inevitable. Read over again as often as you can to check for correct use of transition words, sentence structure, commas, first person and active voice, elimination of weak words like “in order to, I believe” for more professional alternatives. That is why it should be given adequate time. Take careful note at your introduction, they serve as leads for your readers. Get another set of eyes such as a consultant, professional or other outside sources to aid you critique the essay.

Writing a personal statement can be very challenging especially as a novice, but when you follow these aforementioned tips, you would be glad at the outcome of writing about yourself in less than 1,000 words.

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