How To Write A Strong Personal Statement For Graduate School

Examples of Successful Statements

Below are samples of personal statements. You may also select "Sample Statement" in the Media Box above for a PDF sample.

Statement #1

My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A. It seemed only logical that I pursue a career in electrical engineering.

When I began my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the full range of engineering courses, all of which tended to reinforce and solidify my intense interest in engineering. I've also had the opportunity to study a number of subjects in the humanities and they have been both enjoyable and enlightening, providing me with a new and different perspective on the world in which we live.

In the realm of engineering, I have developed a special interest in the field of laser technology and have even been taking a graduate course in quantum electronics. Among the 25 or so students in the course, I am the sole undergraduate. Another particular interest of mine is electromagnetics, and last summer, when I was a technical assistant at a world-famous local lab, I learned about its many practical applications, especially in relation to microstrip and antenna design. Management at this lab was sufficiently impressed with my work to ask that I return when I graduate. Of course, my plans following completion of my current studies are to move directly into graduate work toward my master's in science. After I earn my master's degree, I intend to start work on my Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Later I would like to work in the area of research and development for private industry. It is in R & D that I believe I can make the greatest contribution, utilizing my theoretical background and creativity as a scientist.

I am highly aware of the superb reputation of your school, and my conversations with several of your alumni have served to deepen my interest in attending. I know that, in addition to your excellent faculty, your computer facilities are among the best in the state. I hope you will give me the privilege of continuing my studies at your fine institution.

(Stelzer pp. 38-39)

Statement #2

Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to concentrate on English and American literature.

I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized in nineteenth century novels by and about women. The relationship between "high" and folk literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for publication.

In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.

Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.

In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your teaching assistant ship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional stepping stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.

(Stelzer pp. 40-41)

Think of your personal statement as the meat of your application to grad school: everything around it – from your GRE scores to your two letters of recommendation – is accompaniment. Without a strong personal statement, you simply will not stand a chance of getting through to the next stage.

Adopt the right tone

It’s important that you get the tone right – and you may find that different countries and graduate schools will expect varying degrees of familiarity from a personal statement, but it’s always a good idea to avoid either being negative, or being overly informal.

It can be very tempting to overshare, but remember, this is graduate school. Admissions officers will expect you to sound like a budding academic. Don’t risk trying to crack a joke, as the admissions officer may not share your sense of humor. Avoid personal anecdotes and leave out the cheesy celebrity quotes! The admissions committee won’t care that your interest in civil engineering began back in 199X when you were playing Lego Star Wars with your cousin.

Welcome to College Admission Pet Peeves 101: clichés. Admissions officers have to read through piles and piles of personal statements, and you need to make sure that you stand out from the rest, so don’t write that you have always been ‘passionate’ about your subject. Don’t waffle, but do back up each claim you make with specific examples.

Plan

You should aim to write a side of A4 or 500 words, but check content and style guidelines with your university first so that you are not unduly penalized.

Your statement needs to be tailored to the course and university you are applying to, and painfully precise and specific. Some universities will advise students on what information to include in their statements, but as a good rule of thumb you should aim to outline your career and research goals, your existing education and skillset, and explain your interest in the course, university and department.

Before you set pen to paper, make sure you have outlined an essay plan detailing everything you will include in your introduction, body and conclusion.

One way to structure your essay is:

  • Outline your goals and dissertation idea in the first paragraph;
  • Describe how your previous degree has prepared you for your research in the following paragraphs, giving a rundown of any relevant modules or internships you have completed;
  • Conclude by explaining why you think the university in question would be the best place to undertake your research, listing any resources, staff members and facilities you would like to make use of.

Of course, one size does not fit all and you might find a different structure would work better for you. That’s fine – after all, you don’t want your statement to be indistinguishable from all the others.

Proofread several times

Remember: your personal statement needs to be absolutely perfect – especially at PhD level or if you are applying for a scholarship! Get your friends, family and professors to proofread it for you as many times as needed and watch out for those misplaced commas and typos! It might be worth leaving your statement to the side for several days, and then returning to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

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