Writing a Personal Statement
Applications for graduate or professional schools often include a section requiring you to write a Personal Statement which outlines your background and your reasons for wanting to pursue an advanced degree in the field or profession you have chosen. If the application asks you to respond to certain questions or cover certain topics in your statement, make sure that you do so.
Your essay should be clear, concise, and well written. Talk about yourself and your experiences in positive terms. The Personal Statement is important to admission selection committees; it provides them with a sample of your writing skills and your ability to present ideas in a clear and coherent way. Before submitting the statement, seek constructive comments from advisors, faculty and from career counselors at the Career Center.
The following is a simple outline which might be used in writing a Personal Statement:
Opening Paragraph: State your general reasons for pursuing graduate study and introduce yourself to the selection committee. Make it interesting; the committee members will read many applications, so be sure that you give them a sense of your particular talents, individuality, experience, and uniqueness.
Background: Concentrate on those experiences that have served as a foundation for your upcoming graduate work. Describe your community and family background and tell how your interests in, and knowledge of, your chosen field developed. Describe any personal attributes and qualities that would help you complete your graduate study successfully, examples are very helpful. Focus on your determination to achieve your goals, initiative and ability in developing ideas, and capacity for working through problems independently.
Qualifications: Describe those experiences that will serve as a foundation for your forthcoming graduate work. Discuss (1) your expertise and accomplishments in your major field, (2) your undergraduate studies in general and how they relate to what you intend to do in graduate school, (3) specific learning experiences that demonstrate your motivation and inspiration for continued study, and (4) other relevant experiences such as jobs, internships, community activities, volunteer experience and other related experience.
Goals and Objectives:
- Short term- What specific area do you want to study in graduate school?
- Long term- How do you intend to combine your knowledge and experience with your graduate work to achieve your career goals?
- What impact will you have on society, the community, or your field of study with your advanced degree?
Closing Paragraph: Leave the reader with a strong sense that you are qualified and that you will be successful in graduate school. (You should combine this with your qualifications).
Tips for Developing a Personal Statement
- Write an individual and unique letter for each school.
- Make sure you follow the instructions accordingly.
- Candor-honesty, sincerity, and authenticity
- Grammatical accuracy and clarity
- Good writing is writing that is easily understood
- Have three or four people read your Personal Statement and critique it
- Maintain the proper tone
- Stick to the length that is requested
Advanced Personal Statement Theory
- Make yourself stand out.
- Find your unique angle- ask yourself "Who am I?" "Why am I different?" "What distinguishes me from others?"
- Always consider your audience.
What to Leave Out and What to Avoid
- Don't repeat information from other parts of your application.
- In general, avoid, generalities.
- Don't try to be funny unless it's actually funny.
- Stay away from anything remotely off-color.
- Circumvent political issues if possible.
- Don't make religion the focal point unless you're applying to a graduate school or law school with a religious affiliation
- Put the fraternity bake sale behind you- make sure that whatever you did rises to the level of having an actual impact on your life
- No gimmicks; no gambles- avoid tricky stuff. Don't rhyme; don't write a satire or a mock-up front page newspaper article
Subject Matter to Avoid in Your Personal Statement
- "My LSAT/GRE score isn't great, but I'm just not a good test taker."
- "My college grades weren't that high, but…"
- "I've always wanted to be a lawyer."- the admissions committee wants to know why
- "I want to become a lawyer to fight injustice."- this is a very common topic, you want to make sure you stand out
- If a school welcomes an addendum, consider including one if you feel that there is additional information you would like to include
- Please consult with a mentor, advisor, faculty member, or the career center before you consider adding an addendum