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How do I Write a Graduate School Personal Statement?

Amanda Dean
Amanda Dean

Your graduate school personal statement is your opportunity to express your interests, goals, and achievements to your graduate schools of choice. This document is your introduction to the faculty and staff that will be reviewing your application materials, so it should not resemble a resume or extensive autobiography. Your writing should be clear, concise, and painstakingly proofread. The writing style you use reflects as much about your abilities as a student as the content you include.

The first step in writing a graduate school personal statement is to catalog your abilities and achievements that are relevant to your future educational endeavors. You should mention any works that you have had published or prestigious conference presentations. Graduate directors look for experiences that may have helped you build character and grow as a person such as relevant employment, honors, and volunteer work.

It may be helpful to begin writing a graduate school personal statement while completely the final year of undergraduate studies.
It may be helpful to begin writing a graduate school personal statement while completely the final year of undergraduate studies.

Avoid irrelevant details of your life and education in your graduate school personal statement. Most graduate programs are not interested in your family life, level of popularity, or irrelevant hobbies. If your work experience is in an unrelated field like retail or the fast food industry, you should mention that you worked to help fund your education thus far. Most application packets also include letters of reference from former instructors and employers that will confirm your experience.

You should also include your educational and career goals in your graduate school personal statement. Graduate schools are looking for students who can clearly state their purposes in pursuing higher levels of education. Let the reviewers know that you are driven to achieve academic and professional success.

Each application packet should include a specially-tailored statement that indicates you have researched the program to which you are applying. Most programs offer guidelines that will help you focus your graduate school personal statement. Some schools ask for a letter of intent while others ask for a personal narrative or a statement of purpose. Inform the reviewers how you believe you will fit in with their existing faculty and students. This will help the reviewers to determine if you are right for their program.

The writing style you chose should be appropriate for your intended discipline and represent your best possible effort. Use “I" statements and active voice to keep the reader engaged. Clever use of adjectives and adverbs can make your graduate school personal statement shine above your competition. As you describe yourself, you should strike a balance between being boastful and humble. Focus on your strengths when you write your graduate school personal statement. Be sure that the assertions you make about your talents and your past are true.

When you have finished a good draft of your personal statement, ask your family and instructors to edit your work. They should look beyond simple grammar and structure to style and content and help you to ensure that your writing is expressive and accurate. Take their comments and criticism seriously as you rework your draft. Before you send your graduate personal statement off with your application packet, read it out loud to yourself to make sure that it flows smoothly.

Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - Well, there is a saying in writing that people should try to "kill their darlings" (meaning they should get rid of the bits they think are wonderful) so I wouldn't get too attached to anything in a piece of writing like this. You might think your long, heartfelt discussion about helping orphans sounds perfect, but it might come across as trying too hard.


@irontoenail - I agree, but I also think the person writing the statement should make sure that they have cleaned up the writing as much as possible before giving it to their friends. I have a few people who always get me to check their work and one of them in particular thinks of me as a free editing service and hardly even tries with his spelling and grammar before asking me to fix it.

I would also be ready to fight for what you want in the statement. These pieces can be very personal, particularly medical school personal statements, because you're essentially telling them your reason for the biggest decision in your life. And presumably you have studied other personal statements before writing yours and know what works, so stick by your decisions if you have to.


I really think the most important thing here is to give your work to others to be proof read. It might feel even scarier than giving it to the university to read, because, after all, those people are faceless and your family and friends are not, but you would be amazed how easy it is to miss bad grammar and spelling and other mistakes when you're too close to the work.

And people hardly ever give themselves months when writing a personal statement for graduate school in order to be able to re-read and catch those mistakes themselves with the distance that time will give them. The next best thing is to have a friend do it.

Almost everyone has at least one friend who loves writing or reading and who catches all kinds of grammar errors and sighs with annoyance when watching the news or whatever. Use those talents to your advantage.

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    • It may be helpful to begin writing a graduate school personal statement while completely the final year of undergraduate studies.
      By: mimagephotos
      It may be helpful to begin writing a graduate school personal statement while completely the final year of undergraduate studies.