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Personal Statement for Graduate School

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On June 1, 2023

A personal statement for graduate school is a piece of writing that shows who you are and what motivates you; it is something you need to produce when you apply to graduate school. Whether you are applying for a scholarship or pursuing a PhD programme, your personal statement should include:

  • Your skill sets, abilities, and interests
  • Your passion for the programme
  • A tale that explicitly shows your personality

You need to understand that your personal statement for graduate school is different from your resume, where a summary of your experience is presented, usually using a preset format. A personal statement is not just about listing your information, it requires an explanation and elaboration of your experiences as well as your motives.

It helps if you tell a story that inspires the readers and shows why you satisfy all the requirements of the programme.

Read the Instructions Carefully

Before you start writing a personal statement for graduate school, make sure you have carefully read the instructions. A thorough reading of the instructions, also known as the prompt, becomes that much more important when you are asked to respond to a specific question or when you need to write freestyle.

When dealing with a prompt, you might be asked to address a specific part of your experience. This might include aspects such as your past challenges, your strengths, etc. Ensure that you answer within the specific domain and do not provide the same answer to several different questions.

A prompt provides you with the freedom to write freely about who you are, what you do, and the reasons why you are interested in the programme.

It is similar to freestyle rapping, where rappers express their views comprising lyrics and poetry, telling their stories in an unorthodox way. Here the rappers focus more on the lyrics rather than the beats.

Personal Statement Vs Statement of Purpose

So, what is the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose?

If you are required to write a statement of purpose rather than a personal statement, it could be difficult to figure out the difference between the two as both of these terms are often interchangeable. Yet, there is a significant difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose.

The key differences between a statement of purpose and a personal statement are provided in the below table.

General Rules Personal Statement Statement of Purpose
Professional and academic interests The personal statement allows you to write freely. Hence, you will have the opportunity to showcase your personality. A formal way of writing is required to present the statement of purpose.
Achievements, skill set and experience It demonstrates your past experiences and achievements, which you can relate to within the topic’s context. You can describe your plans related to your professional or academic career, but make sure to avoid irrelevant information.

The difference should be clearly visible if both documents are required. If just a personal statement is needed, you can include the content of both documents, which can clearly help you achieve the objective.

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Strategies for Starting your Personal Statement for Graduate School

There is no specific model or template for a personal statement for graduate school. However, it is important to remember that the admission committee does not want to see any irrelevant content.

They would like to get to know about you, including your personality traits. There are some key points that you should consider when writing your personal statement.

An approach that is guaranteed to work is to start your personal statement by telling a story that describes your strengths and character. That might include:

  • A distinctive or unexpected experience
  • Learning from your academic background
  • Any story related to your family
  • Learning through your failures and experiences

This story does not necessarily need to be directly related to the programme you are applying for, but make sure to include significant life experiences and challenges that made you what you are!

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Craft a Story of Development or Growth

You need to provide a sequential overview of your journey until a recent point in time. This will allow the readers to understand how you have gradually made progress and become aware of your self-worth. You might consider the following questions while narrating the story:

  • What moved you to take an interest in this field? How long have you been involved in it?
  • How did you approach an expert in this field? Which assignments, classes, training, internships, work experiences, and projects have helped you attain skills and knowledge in the relevant field?
  • Where do you want to see yourself in this specific domain in the years to come? How do you plan to achieve this?
  • What gaps did you figure out in the field? How do you plan to overcome those gaps?

You do not need to include every detail of your experience and projects in the related field. Such details might help write a CV, but not a personal statement.

Try to be precise and relevant to the subject you want to discuss. Also, demonstrate your personal growth by sharing how you have gradually developed certain skills/strengths and overcome weaknesses.

State the Challenges you Have Faced

If you have faced many difficulties in your academic career, it would be ideal to portray them as strengths. Explaining how you handled yourself in difficult times will show how strong your character is.

Writing a personal statement is a great opportunity to present noble traits like persistence, perseverance, and strong character. You can further share:

  • Social and economic obstacles you faced in your academic career. Show how these experiences can contribute to getting unique and better results.
  • How you dealt with certain issues while you were in a job, group project, or maybe during your classes. Further, you can state why you had low grades and how you overcame those difficulties.

The main objective is not to highlight your weaknesses and flaws but to portray and represent them as opportunities for learning and taking on a positive attitude.

Exhibit your Knowledge

If you are going to apply for a Ph.D. or a research-based degree, it is better to demonstrate your knowledge about the field.

  • Show how passionately you have regarded the subject. What achievements have you made with your knowledge of the field?
  • Discuss any specific points you want to explore. Explain what prior knowledge you have and why it is necessary.
  • You can demonstrate how your interests match the topic chosen. You can also mention any pioneer or virtuoso who inspires you in your area of study and show your desire to work with that person.

Highlight your Goals

If you are looking to apply for a professional degree, you should clearly highlight your goals. Here you must also discuss your practical approach towards your objectives and how it can help you achieve them. You should clearly mention your goals, no matter which career phase you are confronting.

  • If you have any prior experience in this profession, you should discuss how this programme can take you to the next level in your professional career.
  • Discuss how your goals have driven you to change your career options. Explain what made you change your professional line, and how your previous profession can help you succeed in this field.
  • If you are among those who have just started a career, you can develop the reasons for how this programme can help you learn the necessary techniques and guidelines for achieving the first milestone of your career.

While showcasing any of the career options discussed above, make sure you demonstrate that you have spent ample time in selecting a career path, and that you are going to own it in the future.

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Personal Statement for Graduate School Example

Frequently Asked Questions

Your personal statement is likely to be from 500 to 1,000 words long. It is not a long essay and requires the discipline of writing concisely. Every word has to justify its inclusion, phrases that use several words should be cut down to as few as possible – it needs to be concise and precise. Sometimes less is more. A too-long statement risks being skim read because the person reading it has to read hundreds of them and will appreciate one that is expertly written.

Your personal statement for graduate school should be tailored to and focused on the course(s) offered by a specific school. If you wish to apply to another school offering similar courses, you can alter the relevant parts of your statement so that it fits. This can be risky because it is very easy to miss details, causing you to have irrelevant points in your statement. Applying to a subsequent school might mean a different prompt, in which case your response may need to be markedly different. Also, there could be different word count limits. Also consider that if your original personal statement can be used to apply to another institution without too much alteration, doesn’t that suggest that it was not originally tailored enough to that school?

While they are important, your extra-curricular activities and interests absolutely must be relevant. There is no room for saying you support the team that is local to the school you are applying to in the vain hope that your interviewer does too. Ask yourself if what you intend to include demonstrates anything important about you, such as giving up your time to teach English to immigrants or voluntarily helping a local orchestra because you want to study music. Although not always obvious, links between your activities and your subject will be very valuable; experienced writers can spot these links. This should be a minimal list, though, rather than exhaustive. If in doubt, leave it out.

You should not say that you have done something that you have not. How far can you exaggerate something before it becomes a lie? Also, this is the information era, and things can be found out. What would happen if you were required to prove an exaggerated claim? Besides, if your exaggerated point was the dealbreaker to get you accepted, how would you feel knowing you did not fully earn your place? Remember that your interviewer only knows the things about you that you put in your statement. So be prepared to be questioned deeply on everything you say. Sometimes writing about yourself is very tricky and as such, you can really benefit from help from someone who does not know you.

About Grace Graffin

Avatar for Grace GraffinGrace has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Loughborough University, so she's an expert at writing a flawless essay at ResearchProspect. She has worked as a professional writer and editor, helping students of at all academic levels to improve their academic writing skills.