Personal Statement Guide
A personal statement, which may also be called a statement of purpose or letter of intent, is a special type of writing sample about yourself. It is an applicant’s first impression of you and it is your chance to explain your interests, passions and experiences surrounding your chosen career path. The biggest question to answer in a personal statement is WHY. Why is this field a good fit for you? What has inspired you? What have you accomplished so far? Typically, the statement is 2-4 pages; however, each program will have their own specific requirements.
Your personal statement takes TIME. On average, students will go through at least 6 different drafts of their statement. Start early and make sure to meet with your Career Coach in CORE, the Reading/Writing Center, and your academic advisor to review your statement.
Before you Begin
Questions to ask yourself:
- What is expected of your personal statement? Are there specific questions you need to answer? What is the length requirement?
- Who will be reading your statement?
- What is special, unique, or distinctive about your personal story?
- What experiences have prepared you to be an ideal candidate for the specific program(s) you are applying to?
- How have your academics and work experiences prepared you for this program and field?
- What are your future career goals?
- Have you ever struggled for something and failed? How did you respond?
- What specific features attract you to the program? How do the qualities you bring make you a good match?
- What have you done outside the classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by universities or employers?
Questions about your field of study:
- When and how did you become interested in this field?
- What are you most passionate about in your field?
- What special interests do you have within the chosen field?
- What has your field of study taught you about yourself?
- Why are you pursuing this degree and specifically this program/school?
Questions about your academic world:
- Are there gaps or inconsistencies on your transcripts and/or exam scores that you can explain?
- Are there any awards, recognitions, or honors that you have received that are worth mentioning?
Make a list of:
- Talents, interests, attributes
- Honors, awards achievements
- Personal experiences have had a major influence on you and your career choice
- Involvement on campus, leadership roles, and activities
- Work experience, internships, research projects, and professional affiliations
Formatting Your Personal Statement
Start your personal statement with some way to get them hooked. Typically a personal story about how you got interested in the field is a good option. Be specific, but also concise. Starting with “My name is John Doe, and I am interested in your program.” is not a catchy way to start. They know who you are and that you are interested; that’s why you applied. Give the reader a peek at who you are. Schools can read hundreds of personal statements a year, and it’s up to you to make yourself stand out.
Choose something that either sparked an interest in the field or continued your passion for a particular industry. Avoid sentences such as “I have always been interested in… or I knew I was meant to do this…”
The introduction establishes a tone for the rest of the personal statement. Do not include unimportant details. Instead, be concise and stay focused. Let the reader(s) see you as a person, not another piece of paper.
The body paragraphs will describe what was stated in the introduction. If a prompt was provided, these paragraphs need to answer the specific questions.
You can outline some of the courses you’ve taken. Mention some of the skills you gained and/or projects you worked on. You can choose to add some information on extracurriculars you are involved with. They don’t have to highlight your field of study, but they should reflect your personal qualities. If it pertains to you, include any publications, awards, or conferences attended.
This part of the personal statement is extremely important as the paragraphs describe your qualifications, interests, experiences, and future goals. Make sure you also discuss why you think you can be successful in the program you are applying to at the specific school. Do your research.
These paragraphs are not a list of everything you have done, but instead they tell the story that you want to get across to the reader(s), and how it relates to the program you are applying to, and your future goals.
The conclusion closes your personal statement and should end on a strong note. Do not re-address what you have already said, and do not introduce new information. Stay focused and keep it short. Be sure to tie in themes with what you have talked about in your personal statement and connect back to your story in the beginning.
- Be honest with both the content and your writing voice, your statement should reflect your writing style and your personality.
- Demonstrate your qualifications by using specific examples.
- Use the vocabulary of your discipline IF you are familiar and comfortable with the language.
- Reread your work out loud. Proofread. Have others proofread for you and with you.
- Strive for depth, not breadth. Narrow your focus to one or two themes or experiences.
- Avoid clichés and over-statements, don’t exaggerate your qualifications and skills.
- Avoid less dynamic words (it, to be, things, interesting, definitely, amazing, etc.)
- Don’t include controversial topics
- Don’t wait until the last minute to start!
As you review each draft, pay attention to the following details in each version:
- The number of times the student used the first person “I”
- The four paragraph structure of the personal statement
- The details of the student’s journey as explained in the first and second paragraphs
- The value of the internship as explained in the third paragraph
- The reason why the student wants to attend that specific graduate school program