If you're thinking of applying to graduate schools, you might be combing through the required elements you need to include in your application. One crucial component of the graduate school application process is the personal statement. This is one area of your application where you can shine, showing graduate schools more than what appears on your transcript and CV. While your recommendation letters bring new life to your application, nothing captures your personality quite like the statement you make on your own behalf.
We've compiled a list of tips to keep in mind when you start drafting and writing the personal statement.
Adhere to specific requirements
Some graduate schools have specific rules for how they'd like to receive personal statements. Many programs have required word counts that prospective students' pieces must fall into, usually between 500 and 1000 words, while others are more flexible. In other instances, grad schools specify that applicants must submit their personal statements in the form of a Word Doc or PDF. When you're drafting up your personal statement, make sure you look at the rules the schools you're applying to have set. You don't want your essay tossed aside just because it was 100 words too long.
Be specific about your passion
If you're applying for a master's degree in Law, you most likely want to become a lawyer. If you're looking into graduate programs in Education, there's a chance you want to be a teacher, school administrator or someone else instrumental in the education system. Graduate admissions officers will anticipate the basic careers associated with most programs. Now, that doesn't mean it's not worth acknowledging that you'd like to join a certain career. However, you'll need to go deeper than just "I'm passionate about law" or "I want to be a teacher."
What inspires you about the field that you're pursuing? Why exactly are you drawn to a certain type of role? It's not enough to just say that you're passionate about a certain vocation. When you're writing your personal statement, make sure you specify why you're passionate about the field. Perhaps you're interested in joining the education industry because you want to get to the bottom of systemic inequities in education, or perhaps you're passionate about working with students, helping them develop their skills and seeing their progress. No matter what your reason is for wanting to join your desired field, it's paramount that you include the "why."
Yale College's writing center provided some insightful tips to guide students in the personal statement writing process. The center strongly suggests prospective students avoid the use of cliché or overused remarks, such as "I've always wanted to help people" and "I love reading novels" in their personal statements. Not only are these a given for individuals applying to specific graduate programs, they don't reveal any detailed information about you. Instead of using these vague, overarching statements, make sure you provide anecdotes when they are necessary or relevant.
Explain prior experience in the field
Another significant component to include in your grad school personal statement relates to any previous experience you've had in the subject matter you plan on pursuing. For instance, if you're currently working in marketing and would like to advance your skills by pursuing a master's degree, you should specify the skills you've gained throughout your career.
This can be tricky if you're a career-changer, as you may not have had much (if any) experience in your desired profession. If this is the case, figure out ways you can translate how what you're currently doing points to success in your future occupation, and link it to your graduate program of interest. We're certain that you can transfer skills you use in your current day-to-day – whether you're an undergrad, working at a desk or even waiting tables – to your future, desired field.
Make the most of limited space
Whether you need to meet a specific word count or not, it's imperative that you make the most of the words you're putting into the statement. This is not the time to fill a document with filler words and descriptive adjectives. Be as terse as you can while still providing adequate details about your interests and experiences.
Proofread, proofread, proofread
It's called a rough draft for a reason. Once you've finished going over the first draft of your personal statement, you may want to have a second set of eyes look over your work. If you have a trusted professor, family member or colleague, you might ask them to take a look at your work to see if they have any edits or suggestions. Someone who has gone through the graduate school application process – especially someone in your subject area – will provide you with invaluable guidance that can translate into an exceptional second draft.
Finally, have fun writing the personal statement. It's all about you, so personalize it and make it unique!