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how long should personal statements be for graduate school

If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?

In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.

What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.

So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:

  • Statement of purpose:  A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
  • Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.

Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:

Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.

But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.

For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering  considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.

Many schools require just one essay  (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan , ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as  Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , want an essay that combines the features of both!

Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you  submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.

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What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?

Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.

But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.

A Compelling Story

First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.

Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.

Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.

That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.

  • Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
  • Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
  • Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.

Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.

Inspirations for Your Research Interests

Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also  why you have these particular interests.   While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.

For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.

Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.

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Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School

Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.

Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:

  • Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
  • How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
  • Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?

Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.

Strong Writing Skills

A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!

So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.

Also, remember that  good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words.  You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.

On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.

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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career

Lastly, the personal statement  gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.

Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).

Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide

The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.

Step 1: Start Early

Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.

You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.

If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)

Step 2: Read the Instructions

Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.

Your program should give you the following information:

  • What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
  • How long your statement should be
  • What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
  • How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley . In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt :

Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona , your personal statement would follow these parameters:

Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.

Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.

Simply put,  follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission.  And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!

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Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle

Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:

  • What your grad program wants you to write about
  • Your field of study and research interests
  • How much experience you have in your field

As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to  read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.

Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.

No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement.  How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.

On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is,  be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.

More broadly, though, try to answer the question of  what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?

Finally, always choose a positive angle.  Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.

Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”

Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.

As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
  • How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
  • What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
  • What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
  • Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?

Step 5: Make an Outline

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.

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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.

Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.

Step 6: Draft Your Essay

It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.

In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.

Remember, most personal statements will be short— usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.

On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.

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Step 7: Get Feedback

Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).

Ask your editors to give you  specific feedback  on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.

If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.

Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay

Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.

For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.

As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!

Step 9: Proofread

The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.

Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.

In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.

Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well.  If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)

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The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.

But more importantly, the personal statement showcases  your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.

A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:

  • A compelling story
  • Inspirations for your research interests
  • Your motivation for applying to grad school
  • Strong writing skills
  • Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career

Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:

  • Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
  • Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
  • Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
  • Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
  • Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
  • Draft your essay
  • Get specific feedback from multiple editors
  • Revise and edit your essay
  • Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)

What’s Next?

Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time!  Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.

Do your schools require a CV or resume?  If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates !

What do you need to submit for your grad school application?  Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school .

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how long should personal statements be for graduate school

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application

How to write a personal statement for grad school

While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.

One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.

A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.

What Is a Personal Statement?

The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.

  • What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
  • What personal characteristics or skills do you have that make you a strong candidate for this field?
  • What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
  • What have you learned about this field already? When did you first choose to follow this path, and what do you enjoy about it?
  • What do you think is important for the admissions board to know specifically about you?
  • Are there any discrepancies or causes for concern in your application you need to address? For example, is there a career and schooling gap, or a low GPA at one point? This is the time to discuss whether a personal hardship may have affected your academics or career.
  • Have you dealt with any unusual obstacles or difficulties in your life? How have they affected and shaped you?
  • What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
  • What factors in your life have brought you to where you are today?

Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.

Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.

“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .

Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.

Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.

Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.

“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.

Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.

Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .

Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.

For more information, visit the  Office of Graduate Admission at USC  and explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School [2024 Guide]

Knowing how to write a personal statement for grad school can help you strengthen your applications.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

A personal statement is a one- to two-page narrative that discusses your academic and professional goals and explains why you want to earn a graduate degree.

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An admissions committee uses this document to get to know you and evaluate whether you’re a good fit for their program. This guide covers practical tips on how to write a grad school personal statement.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

Man writing personal statement for grad school

A personal statement allows you to promote yourself to admissions committees, so it’s an essential part of your application packet.

This short narrative should explain your motivation for attending graduate school and highlight relevant experiences that have prepared you for advanced studies.

The content of a personal statement can vary based on your goals, the specific program you’re applying to, and other factors. But, effective personal statements contain these elements:

  • Compelling introduction . You can begin your personal statement with an engaging hook related to your area of study. For example, you could explain how a childhood experience inspired your interest in the field.
  • Qualifications . You can spotlight relevant experiences that have helped you prepare for graduate school. You might mention internships, extracurricular activities, and research projects.
  • Career goals . It’s beneficial to outline your professional goals and explain how the program would help you reach them. For instance, if you want to become a college professor, you could discuss how the program’s emphasis on teaching will prepare you for your career.
  • Explanation of fit . You can demonstrate that you’re an excellent fit for the program by providing specific examples of ways you plan to contribute. You could mention graduate organizations you want to join, grants you’d apply for, and specific faculty you’d be interested in working with.
  • Discussion of hardships (if applicable) . Some applicants have faced challenges that affected their academic performance. For instance, a death in the family or a disability may have caused you to have a lower GPA during your sophomore year. You can address these issues in your personal statement and explain how overcoming obstacles has helped you develop as a scholar.

It’s also beneficial to ask a trusted faculty member to give you feedback on your personal statement before you submit it.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Woman Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Many applicants wonder how to start a personal statement for grad school and what to include. You can brainstorm ideas by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why are you interested in earning a graduate degree in this field?
  • What are your academic and personal strengths?
  • What personal traits, qualifications, and past experiences make you stand out from other applicants?
  • What are your career goals for the next five to ten years? How can a graduate degree from this program help you achieve them?
  • Which research interests do you want to explore, and how can this program expand your knowledge of these areas?
  • What excites you about this specific program?
  • How would you contribute to this program if you got accepted?
  • Which faculty members have research interests that align with your goals?
  • Have you overcome any challenges or hardships that you want to address in your statement?

You can also ask current graduate students to share their personal statements with you for inspiration.

What Is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Man reviewing his personal statement for grad school

A personal statement for grad school is an essay that demonstrates why you’re a suitable fit for a program. A strong personal statement creates a compelling narrative that addresses these three areas:

  • How your past experiences (internships, coursework, research projects, etc.) have prepared you for graduate school
  • How you plan to impact the graduate program positively
  • How the program will help you achieve your future goals

A personal statement for masters program or PhD program applications also allows you to showcase your personality and strengths. Admissions committees may favor passionate applicants with positive traits, such as leadership and resilience.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

Woman checking her personal statement printouts for grad school

Typically, most personal statements for graduate school consist of 1 to 2 double-spaced pages. But the ideal length for a personal statement varies by program and discipline.

Many graduate programs provide specific guidelines for the personal statement in their application instructions. For example, some programs may ask for a 500 to 750 word personal statement, while others allow up to 3 pages. It’s strategic to read the instructions thoroughly before you start writing your statement.

If a program doesn’t specify the length, you can ask a faculty member or mentor in your field for guidance.

When you start checking with admissions about the number of letters of recommendation required for grad school , it’s advisable to also ask about the quantity of personal statements needed. While most graduate programs require one, some may request more.

What’s the Difference Between a Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement?

Some graduate programs ask for a statement of purpose, while others require a personal statement. These documents include similar content, but they have a few key differences.

Both documents allow admissions committees to gain insights into an applicant’s personality and motivations.

Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

student writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Understanding how to write a personal statement for graduate school is one of the first steps to creating a compelling application. This document lets you showcase your passions, strengths, and skills to the admissions committee.

A strong personal statement could give you a leg up by helping you stand out in a competitive applicant pool. It could also demonstrate your fit for the program, making it easier for the admissions committee to picture you as one of their students.

If you’re ready to expand your expertise in graduate school, you can take the next step by researching online and in-person programs from accredited schools. You will come across graduate schools that have low GPA score requirements or place significant emphasis on alternative admissions criteria. It might also be a good time to start checking if financial aid for graduate school is available.

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School

  • by Heidi Kerr and Paul David Terry
  • November 10, 2020

A student sits on his laptop at the Silo at UC Davis.

You’ve made the exciting decision to pursue a graduate degree. Congratulations! There are a wide range of graduate programs to explore , and once you’ve selected the right program for you, it’s time to begin the graduate application process. 

The statement of purpose and personal history statement are key components of the UC Davis graduate school application . With fewer than 4,000 characters allowed for each essay, these statements can seem particularly daunting. However, each one has a specific purpose for showcasing your academic journey and creating a holistic application.

Below, we’ve analyzed the differences between the statement of purpose and personal history statement and provided tips for writing these graduate school admissions essays. 

Statement of Purpose and Personal History: What’s the Difference?

A student examines chemicals through a beaker while wearing a lab coat and goggles.

The statement of purpose shares your academic objectives with the admissions committee and explains why you want to obtain a graduate degree. The personal history statement provides background about who you are and how your experiences have shaped your interests and ability to overcome challenges. Each essay has specific goals to showcase your experience, passion and story. 

How to Write a Strong Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should highlight your academic preparation , motivation and interests, along with any specializations and career goals that contribute to your program of study. As you write your statement of purpose, it should encompass some of the following:

  • Academic and research experiences - Include any relevant academic studies or research pursuits, internships or employment, presentations, publications, teaching, and travel or study abroad experiences that prepare you for this graduate program. Explain your motivation or passion for these experiences and how they can enrich your graduate study.
  • Interests, specializations, and career goals - Highlight your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area(s) of specialization, and professional objectives.
  • Fit - Explain how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.

The statement of purpose should also address why you want to pursue the particular graduate degree program at the university and what your goals are in pursuing a degree. Remember, the statement of purpose should explain exactly that, your purpose for becoming a graduate student. This is the primary way it stands apart from your personal history statement. 

What to Include in Your Personal History Statement

A student smiles as she inspects yellow liquid underneath a microscope, while her professor watches on.

The personal history statement helps the reader learn more about you as an individual and potential graduate student. Use this opportunity to describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Tell a story that  includes any experiences, challenges or opportunities relevant to your academic journey. Consider how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field.

A strong personal history statement begins with an authentic voice and personal narrative. This can reflect your journey to graduate school, any obstacles you’ve encountered, and how you've overcome challenges. Talk about your personal goals and dreams. Explain what motivates and drives you toward this degree. The more your personal statement tells your school about you as an individual, the more it will stand out. Don't write something to impress someone else. This includes language, style and tone. Authenticity is important and resonates well. Tell the truth, in your voice, from your perspective. Use your story to connect.

More Tips and Resources for Applying to Graduate School

Applying to graduate school may be daunting to some, but UC Davis has a variety of resources to help you create a strong graduate school application. Check out the Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Handbook for ideas and worksheets on how to construct your essays. Or visit our Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services website for more graduate school prep resources. 

Paul David Terry is the assistant director of special interest and affinity networks and alumni diversity lead at the Cal Aggie Alumni Association. He oversees the UC Davis Health Improving OUTcomes blog and enjoys cycling and brewing ginger beer.

Heidi Kerr works as the content and media manager at UC Davis’ Graduate Studies. She has worked as a communications professional at multiple higher education institutions and is passionate about promoting student success.

The authors acknowledge current and former leaders from Pre-Graduate/Law Advising in Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services, especially Annalisa Teixeira, Ph.D. and Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, Ph.D., who granted us permission to reference Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Workbook .

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How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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how long should personal statements be for graduate school

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

Congratulations on finishing your bachelor’s degree, and starting the next chapter! You might be thinking about applying to graduate school, and fortunately, it’s very similar to applying to an undergraduate program. However, it’s probably been a few years since you’ve had to write an application essay, so you might be wondering how to write a personal statement for graduate school. If so, this guide is the perfect resource for you! Keep reading below to find out more, and don’t forget to check out the example of a graduate school personal statement.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an essay that encapsulates your personal journey and how that’s shaped who you are as an applicant. They are typically 400-600 words, but can be longer or shorter. 

Be sure not to confuse a personal statement with a statement of purpose as they are two different types of admissions essays. Use this as an opportunity to show colleges what you value and what’s turned you into an ideal student for your desired school. 

What should I write about?

Personal statements are your chance to get, well, personal. While you should answer the prompt in its entirety, you should also write about yourself. Bring a personal element into your essay like family or a story of you overcoming an obstacle. 

Ideally, your story should relate to what you’re trying to accomplish at your graduate school of choice. Tie it all together: your personal experiences, your desired major, and your ideal outcome. 

Tips for writing a personal statement for graduate school

It’s important to start your graduate application as soon as you’re able. Usually, the first round of applications receive the best financial aid packages, so start early! 

Starting sooner can also give you the time to outline your essay and get it read over by your support system. You’ll want it all to be perfect, so don’t rush.

Be transparent

Instead of telling admissions what you think they want to hear, be open and honest about yourself. You want them to understand you, and the only way to do that is to show who you actually are. Offer up personal stories or things that genuinely interest you so that you can show off your sparkling personality!

Be original

Graduate programs are often very competitive since there’s a smaller admissions pool. As a result, your essay should be as original as possible to stand out from the crowd. Tell your story in an organic way, and approach the given prompt with an open mind. 

Related : How to write an essay about yourself

Check your work

It’s extremely important for you to proofread and check for correct spelling and grammar throughout your personal statement. Even simply reading your statement out loud can help you catch any errors and make sure your words flow together. You should also consider having mentors or people within your support system read over your essay to ensure your message is clear.

Common mistakes when writing a graduate school personal statement

Reusing your undergraduate essay .

Reusing your first supplemental essay as a template is a big mistake you want to avoid. Years have passed since then, and you’ve learned new skills and grown as a person and a student. 

The experiences you previously wrote might not resonate with who you are today or tell the graduate team what they want to know about you. It may also have grammatical errors that you might not have noticed before, so take a little extra time to start from scratch and create something new.

Repeating what’s in your resume

It’s likely that your graduate school of choice will require you to upload a copy of your resume as part of your application. Therefore, the admissions committee will already know your professional background, so tell them something else about yourself or provide further depth to a job experience. Repeating yourself only tells them one thing, and you want to be the most well-rounded applicant that you can be.

Graduate school personal statement example

Prompt: Please discuss how your experiences, both personal and professional, have led you to pursue a graduate business degree at this time. What are your short- and long- term goals and how will this program and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business help you achieve these goals? (750 words max)

While many of the applications you receive will detail the many ways that person has been the first to do something, I pose a different perspective: hope to be the last. In other words, you might see me as a first-generation college student, but I see the makings of becoming the last generation to worry about generational wealth in my family. 

Though it is true that I would be the first in my family to get my master’s degree, I’m hoping that my future success means I’ll be the last “first.” It’s not lost on me what this title means, but most of all, it signifies the dawn of an era. A dynasty bred from the struggles and achievements of those before it.

These are big shoes to fill, but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and the things I’ve learned have helped me secure my future. For example, by observing different business models throughout the years, I found a secret about marketing: people love a product that loves them back. In my case, a product that’s always loved me back were books. I’d fallen in love with bookshelves and bookstores alike, so it only makes sense that a culmination of my love of marketing and books is the goal of one day working in book publishing. I want to know the inner workings of book promotion including design decisions and book tours. Eventually, I plan on working at one of the big publishers such as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Macmillan.

Fortunately, I’ve been given opportunities to decide on my own path, which I hope to execute at Georgia State University. This school’s unique curriculum will be an asset to me since there are classes that specifically cater to buyer behavior, and that’s an area of study I’m particularly interested in. The Social Media Intelligence Lab and social media marketing class will hopefully give me an inside look into influencer marketing and its impact on product profitability. According to your mission statement, GSU educates future leaders, and I want to be a part of that.

As a mentor of mine once said, knowledge is meant to be shared, and if it isn’t, it’s control. I hope to build up the people around me with knowledge and experiences as I go out into the professional world just as I hope this program will do for me. If I’m accepted into this program, I plan on using my creativity and drive for not only my success, but for my family’s as well. There may be times I fall short of a goal, but failure isn’t an option. Each benchmark professors put in front of me will be conquered, and one day, I’ll be one of your notable alumni. 

Why this essay works:

  • The writer clearly researched the school and understands its values
  • The prompt is answered completely and seamlessly
  • The applicant knew their goals and thought of ways to achieve them at the college 
  • This statement communicates not only what the college gains from this applicant’s admission, but also what the applicant gains
  • It’s also well within the word limit

Frequently asked questions about how to write a graduate school personal statement

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School

Lisa Marlin

This article focuses on how to write a personal statement for graduate school. After all, it’s an important part of the admissions process. There’s no doubt that your grades matter when applying for grad school. However, your GPA is not the full picture. That’s where personal statements come in handy.

While getting into grad school, especially Ivy League grad schools , is highly competitive these days. Selection committees look at a variety of factors when choosing between the huge numbers of qualified candidates who apply each year. We’ve discussed grad school requirements , so let’s talk about personal statements.

Even if you have a great GPA, you’ll be competing against a larger number of other students with similar GPAs. So a strong personal statement is essential to help you stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately, this also means that you can strengthen your application with a phenomenal personal statement if your GPA is not quite up to scratch. In fact, some committees pay special attention to your personal statement.

Sure, your GPA and test scores say a lot about your academic performance. However, they are only formal documents. Selection committees also want to understand your academic goals and your motivations, and for this, they look to your personal statement.

So, what should be included in your personal statement for graduate school? Most importantly, how do you write a winning personal statement that will help you get into your dream program?

Read on to learn everything to know!

Table of Contents

What is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Though the requirements vary depending on the institution and the program, generally grad school selection depends on:

  • An admissions test or exam
  • Your GPA or academic record
  • Your personal statement
  • Recommendation letters

When applying for grad school, you’ll need to submit a personal statement along with the other requirements. Your personal statement helps the selection committee understand your goals, passion, and ambitions.

Unlike undergraduate admissions which largely rely on academic performance, grad school selection considers a broader range of factors. We evaluated this document from the University of Washington, for example.

Admissions committees know that success at grad school is about more than just academic performance – prospective students also need to be motivated, disciplined, and driven.

Some programs have very strict requirements for what should be included in their personal statements for graduate school, while others leave it more open. Regardless, you’ll need to demonstrate that you are a strong candidate and will excel in their program.

Related: When to Apply for Grad School .

Someone writing their personal statement for grad school.

Many applications for graduate programs require a personal statement, and your application will not be considered without one.

Even if it’s not mandatory, including a personal statement when applying to grad school can be highly advantageous and help to convince the admissions committee to move you forward to the next stage.

Your academic resume and the rest of your grad school application will typically focus on your previous academic experience, grades, and other technical elements. Your personal statement is your chance to let your personality shine through and have the selection committee see you as an individual. It’s your opportunity to explain your goals, motivations, and what you have to offer.

Many grad school programs receive hundreds and even thousands of applications. Therefore, a compelling personal statement is one of the most important elements that can help you stand out and move forward to the next stage!

Tips for Writing a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Your personal statement could make all the difference in getting into your dream grad school and setting you on the path for an exceptional career. Although the best personal statement can vary depending on where you’re applying, there are some things that all the best personal statements examples for graduation school have in common.

So let’s take a look at some top tips on how to write a personal statement for graduate school.

     1. Check the Guidelines

First things first – look at the grad school’s individual requirements and guidelines. Every institution has different guidelines for how they want the personal essay to be formatted and what it should include. Check the required format, maximum word count, information that must be included, and other guidelines.

Most grad schools will post the requirements on their website – if not, contact the admissions office. You don’t want to spend hours writing an essay only to be disqualified just because you didn’t follow the guidelines properly!

     2. Be Genuine

You are wrong if you think exaggerating your experiences or achievements will get you admission to your dream university. The selection committee reads a large number of personal statements on a regular basis.

They’ll quickly see if your assertions are too good to be true. Likewise, it’s not hard for them to tell the difference between a fake and real statement. It’s all about framing your own experiences and motivations in a certain way, rather than exaggerating or fabricating anything.

     3. Keep it Short

Aspiring grad students often feel pressured to write everything about themselves in their personal statement. You don’t need to explain all of your interests, ambitions, and achievements in this document. Instead, it should be short, relevant to the graduation program, and engaging.

The exact length will depend on the programs’ guidelines, but generally speaking, a good personal statement for grad school is around one page. Furthermore, you should make sure that every paragraph and sentence has a purpose. If there isn’t a good reason to include it in your personal statement, cut it out!

     4. Keep it Relevant

A trip to Iceland might be super meaningful to you, but it’s probably not relevant to your application for a computer science program . When writing your personal statement, keep it to experiences and qualifications relevant to the particular program you’re applying for.

However, keeping things relevant doesn’t mean you have to be limited to academic qualifications and professional experience. Some of your personal experiences and even family history may be appropriate and add value.

Furthermore, adding personal elements can make your application more authentic and persuasive, as long as they are relevant to the program you are applying for.

     5. Be Unique

Grad school selection committees read hundreds, if not thousands of personal statements. So it’s important to stand out from the crowd and make a good impression, and anything that is a little different will help.

This could be a unique and engaging opening sentence, or finishing your personal statement with a dramatic line. You can also make your application stand out with unique personal experiences or exceptional qualifications. These will be your point of difference, so be sure to emphasize them in your personal statement!

     6. Strike a Balance

If you look at the best graduate school personal statement examples, you’ll see how the writers manage to strike the right balance between a professional and an informal tone. The goal is to keep the tone neutral — neither too stiff and formal, nor overly friendly. Remember that this is a personal statement and so it is supposed to reflect your personality.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that you are writing it for your dream graduation program, so it must also be professional. If you are having trouble striking the right tone, consult with a professional writer or editor.

     7. Pay Attention to Grammar and Structure

As part of preparing a professional document, it’s critical that the text has proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout. At grad school, you’re expected to be able to write to a high professional standard, and this means having perfect grammar.

The last thing you want is for your application to be rejected because of poor sentence construction. One way to avoid this is having your essay proofread and edited. If you can’t afford this, ask a qualified friend or family member to look over it.

What Makes a Compelling Grad School Personal Statement

The best graduate school personal statement examples have certain things in common:

  • They start with a strong opener that grabs the attention of the selection committee.
  • This flows into a compelling narrative that clearly demonstrates the student’s passion and motivation.
  • They include specific examples which show the student’s discipline and work ethic.
  • They encompass family history, goals, education, and professional background all within a short statement.
  • They are well-written, well-structured, and flow well.
  • They are well-organized, each paragraph having its own message and belongs in the personal statement.

By applying these rules to your own experience and motivations, you’ll be able to write your own personal statement that will greatly strengthen your grad school application.

Key Elements of a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Writing personal statements is a critical part of applying to grad school . Let’s take a deep dive into what to include in a personal statement for grad school, how to refine the writing process, and what will help make your application stand out!

Demonstrate Why You’re Right for the Program

When evaluating applications, selection committees look for a potential graduate student who will be a good fit for the program. They want candidates who fit with the school’s culture, have the right attitude, and have the same drive and passion as faculty and other students.

Before writing your personal statement, do your research. Learn about the values and culture of the grad school, as well as their faculty and alumni. Throughout your personal essay, be sure to clearly demonstrate how your own ideology aligns with the school to show that you’ll be a good fit. It can also be powerful to cite a particular piece of research that inspires you, or describe your interest in the work of a particular faculty member.

Ensure your Personal Statement is Well-Written

Of course, it’s not just about what you say. How you say it is also important. Your personal statement serves as a writing sample that will demonstrate your written communication skills (or lack thereof).

Whether a masters program personal statement or a personal essay for a doctorate program, the selection committee wants to see that you can write. This shows them that you’ll be able to produce high-quality written work. This is most relevant for master’s and advanced degrees that contain a thesis component, but all courses require some level of written communication.

Strong and Consistent Messaging

It’s essential that your personal statement builds a clear, compelling narrative to convince the admissions committee that you’re an excellent candidate for their program. You need to clearly communicate your key messages, such as your academic and career goals, what you can bring to the program, and what you want to get out of grad school.

This will be most compelling if you are consistent with your messaging throughout your statement by returning to the same key themes. In the same way, avoid contradictory statements and don’t include elements that don’t fit with the narrative you’re trying to build.

Don’t Oversell

Sure, it’s important to present your strengths and describe your most impressive experience and qualifications. However, a personal statement is not a cover letter for a job application: it shouldn’t be sell, sell, sell.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses and faults. The selection committee will appreciate your honesty and humility, and this will help you to come across as a human rather than a faceless name on an application.

Include Examples

To create the strongest grad school personal statement you can, you’ll need to include examples. Just like a job interview, examples give more weight to your statements, and help you to demonstrate the claims you’re making are true. Peppering your personal statement with examples also helps to capture the reader’s attention and avoid generic-sounding text.

Be as specific as you can with these examples. Rather than just saying you’re passionate about a subject, demonstrate your interest and dedication to the topic by describing volunteer activities or internships you’ve done in that field. Mention awards you’ve received, or simply just detail a certain life event that sparked your motivation to pursue a certain career.

Share Personal Stories (But Don’t Overshare)

Some of the most powerful examples and anecdotes in a personal statement are just that, very personal. Some of the best personal statements for grad school are those that show the writer’s individuality. You could share how your family history has inspired your passion for a certain subject, or how a particular experience or life event spurred you to pursue a certain career. Not only does this make things more interesting for the reader, but vulnerability can be very compelling.

However, be careful not to overshare. Remember that your personal statement is part of an academic application, so it’s essential to keep things professional. Use a professional tone and appropriate language, and only include necessary details.

Refine and Polish your Application

As one of the key parts of your grad school application, it’s important to ensure your personal statement is refined and polished. Most selection committees will outright disregard applications with spelling mistakes or typos. With such a high volume of applications, a few missed commas or grammatical errors are an easy way to cull a set of candidates. MIT, for example, sends offers of admission to just over 10% of its grad school candidates.

Before submitting your application, proof read your personal statement. Then proofread it again. Ask a friend, colleague, or family member to look at it – it’s amazing what a second set of eyes can pick up.

How Long Should a Grad School Personal Statement Be?

The ideal personal statement for grad school is somewhere between 500 and 1000 words in length.

Any aspiring graduate student wants to make sure that they put in a comprehensive personal statement that includes all the elements they need to win over the selection committee. At the same time, it’s important to not make your personal essay too long, as key information may get lost in lengthy, tedious pieces.

However, don’t worry about being too firm on the length. The most important thing is to write a strong graduate application personal statement that shows your personality and presents a compelling message.

Related: How to Pick a Grad School .

Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

Though writing a personal statement for grad school is a very personal endeavor, the best personal statements for grad school share certain elements. Here are some successful personal statement examples from fictional graduate school applicants that show some of the key things that make a compelling personal statement.

personal statement for graduate school

Earning a college degree has been one of the proudest achievements of my life, despite the fact that my life’s trajectory long suggested that a college education would never be a part of my future. After falling pregnant at age 17 and dropping out of school, I found myself living as one of the “working poor”, balancing two minimum-wage jobs and caring for my child. Through my 20’s I picked up a string of low-paid, low-skill jobs: cleaner, retail clerk, server. I found none of these roles to be fulfilling, and, looking back, I can see that my talents and potential were going to waste.

However, I never gave up on my dream of going to college. I found work that would allow me to support myself and my family financially while giving me the flexibility to go back to school, and at 27, I enrolled at the local community college. At college, I was exposed to a whole new world which was supported by a thirst for learning, and I excelled academically. There were many long nights of studying after a day working at the local distribution center, followed by helping my kids with their homework and putting them to bed.

Working a 36-hour week while caring for a family and working towards a degree only motivated me to work harder. The better my performance and the more outstanding my results, the more I felt that my sacrifices had been worth it. I took inspiration from my mother, who came to this country as a 19-year old single mother from Nicaragua and worked three jobs to support her six children so that we could have a better life. Although I don’t come from a studious or academically-minded family, I have been able to take examples from other facets of my mother’s life and apply these to become an exceptional student.

It was during my time at community college that I truly embraced my lifelong passion for science. I have always been interested in how things work, and through my college studies I have developed an intense interest in physics. I find it fascinating to discover how things work on a molecular level, and I’m driven by the enormous potential of this field to shape human history into the future.

I feel a great part of my success as a student has been in how I have approached my studies. I approach study as if I am already a professional in the field, rather than a student, working diligently to excel and put in the strongest performance I can, which is reflected in my excellent academic record. I always chose the most challenging courses, and sought a broad range of subjects to broaden my knowledge and challenge my thinking. One of my greatest academic milestones to date was when my research paper on sub-atomic mass was published in the campus scientific journal, The Modern Scientist .

My undergraduate journey has not only cultivated a love of learning in me, but a strong desire to pursue a graduate degree. I have prepared for the rigors of graduate study by taking extra credits in not only my chosen field of physics, but also biology, chemistry, and ethics, in order to broaden my knowledge base. Additionally, for the past several years I have been an active member of my school’s physics club, and I have served as the club president for the past 12 months. I feel that my motivation, drive, and diverse life experiences would make me a valuable addition to the University of Virginia’s Master’s in Physics program. I am in awe of Virginia’s impressive and exciting interdisciplinary program and I feel that it is the ideal program to help me pursue a successful career in the world and make a valuable contribution to the scientific community, as society more generally.

Word count: 636

What makes this a strong personal statement:

  • The applicant uses memorable examples that are outside the ordinary to stand out from others
  • It shows a powerful level of self-reflection, including acknowledging the candidate’s own weaknesses
  • The applicant lets their individual personality shine through

I’ll never forget the day when I first held a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in my hands. I was in the dusty library at UCLA, a wide-eyed undergraduate student curious to learn more about this thing called “feminism”. At that time, I had no idea the impact that book would have on me, or how it would shape my life.

Reading de Beauvoir’s masterpiece set off a chain reaction that inspired me to learn more about feminism and women’s issues. I moved on to Germaine Greer, Mary Woolstonecraft, Margaret Atwood, Octavia E. Butler, and Audre Lorde, devouring their works and absorbing their ideas. I chose Women’s Studies as my undergraduate major, and interned at the Young Women’s Legal Service in downtown LA for two summers. After finishing my junior year with a 6.0 GPA, I went to Cambodia for three months, where I volunteered with The Purple Ribbon Project, a local, grassroots non-profit supporting female victims of sex trafficking. These diverse experiences inspired me to dedicate my life to advocating for women’s rights.

I am applying my passion for the field to two major projects this year.

First, I received a $2,700 grant under the Women’s Liberation Fund. I propose to expand on a prior research project, looking at the incidence of FGM within remote communities in Malaysia. For this thesis I am studying the cultural factors that contribute to the practice, and how this local practice is illegal at the national level, but ignored by authorities. I plan to expand on this theme as part of my senior thesis. My experience working with local communities in developing countries has been invaluable, as this has not only given me insights into cultural differences, it has also made it easier for me to connect with local communities on the ground as part of my research.

My second major project this year is a self-designed research project as part of my final year of Women’s Studies at UCLA. I am investigating modern perceptions around feminism. I am focusing on my observation that many younger women today seem to be openly hostile towards the concept, and I’m interested in learning whether this reflects a misunderstanding of the underlying theories, or a misalignment with the core values of traditional feminism.

For years I have been working towards graduate study in the field of Women’s Studies, but my approach to the field has been enriched with my double major in Women’s Studies and Development Studies. My interest in development has spurred me to study the particular challenges and opportunities faced by women in low-income countries.

My interest in studying at Brown University has grown out of conversations I’ve had with several people, including Professor Anne Spacek who shared many insights based on her time teaching there. My supervisor Janne Bauer also suggested I connect with Professor Marianne Patel. I reached out to Prof. Patel and we had an inspiring conversation that confirmed I would very much be at home in Brown’s Women’s Studies department.

Word count: 502

  • The personal statement has a unique and interesting beginning to capture the reader’s attention. If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement for grad school, begin with a compelling statement.
  • The applicant uses several examples to show their passion for the subject and how they will be a great fit for the program
  • The personal statement builds a compelling, well-structured narrative

What Sets the Best Personal Statements for Graduate School Applications Apart?

A personal statement is a crucial element of your grad school application. Your GPA alone will not get you into your dream graduate program, especially if you’re seeking admission to a leading institution.

Writing a personal statement for graduate school can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first try. It’s important to come up with a succinct statement that is also unique, authentic, and professional. Keep it short, simple, compelling, and most importantly relevant to the program.

For more tips on putting together a winning grad school application, check out our tips for getting into Ivy League grad school and GRE preparation tips .

Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin

Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.

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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

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Personal Statements

Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in crafting these statements. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open-ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader, remembering that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Writing your statement will take time; start early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation Prezi  and our three-minute video on Writing Personal Statements .

  • What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
  • Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
  • Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
  • What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?

After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Provide specific examples that will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college  or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning .

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Tips and best practices for writing your graduate school personal statement

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Your journey to graduate school begins with a single, powerful document—the personal statement. Admissions committees sift through thousands of graduate school applications in a single year, so it’s important to distinguish yourself through your personal statement. This is your opportunity to build a case that you will be a worthwhile addition to their school’s graduate program and explain why. After all, you are much more than a GPA and test scores. So, the story you tell needs to go beyond these metrics. 1

Grab the admissions committee’s attention with an anecdote about an event, individual, or work experience that shaped your worldview, challenged you, and confirmed your goal of being a counselor. 2 Give them a glimpse of who you are—your personality, motivations, and the impact you plan to make on the profession. Convince them that your values and reasons for advanced study match this specific counseling program . With a winning personal statement, you can convince an admissions committee to say “Yes!” to your application.

In this post, you will find tips and best practices for writing your graduate school personal statement, including tailoring it to specific programs, seeking feedback, and revising your draft.

Understanding the application prompt

If the thought of writing personal statements for grad school applications makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Many applicants find this to be one of the most challenging parts of the application process. It’s difficult to know what to expect because the prompts for personal statements (also called “statements of purpose”) can vary from one graduate program to another. You could be asked to write a personal essay or given specific questions, such as:

  • What factors have inspired your decision to apply to graduate school?
  • What academic and research pursuits have prepared you for this program?
  • What have you gained from employment or internship experiences?
  • What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
  • What setbacks or challenges have you overcome, and how have they shaped your life?

If you are given a specific prompt, carefully review it to avoid common pitfalls. If you rush the writing process, you could neglect to include important details or misinterpret the prompt. Start by dissecting the personal statement prompt and even break out a highlighter to focus on key items, including word limits. Second, be sure to take the time to thoroughly understand the question(s) that the admissions committee wants you to answer. Then, organize your ideas in a bulleted list, a graphic organizer, or other method, which will provide a road map for developing your unique story.

Creating a unique and personal narrative

When you begin writing your personal statement for a graduate program, keep your audience in mind and avoid cliches. Chances are the admissions committee has heard it all before.

While it can be helpful to review personal statement examples for graduate programs, remember that the best personal statements are unique. You can tell your story better than anyone else. However, seeking out the perspectives of a family member and friends could help you to create a more authentic, reflective story. Once you’ve put your ideas on paper, include the most relevant anecdotes that showcase your achievements, goals, and experiences. Build the case that you are a strong applicant who can positively impact the profession . 2

If you decide to discuss potential vulnerabilities, such as a low GPA, be sure to communicate the positive lessons learned and what you have achieved since then. 1

In addition to vulnerabilities, some applicants have been confused about whether they can discuss diversity in their college applications following a 2023 SCOTUS decision that banned race-conscious admissions. 3,4 Despite this decision, universities still seek a diverse student body, and many have changed their application prompts so that applicants can address diversity factors, especially as these factors relate to career choices or other life experiences. 3,4

If you are asked to write a personal essay, there are many ways to organize your unique experiences into a compelling story. Consider adapting these guidelines to suit your circumstances: 1,5

  • Motivations: In your first paragraph, share a specific anecdote or experience that inspired you to study counseling
  • Potential impact: In your second paragraph, outline your goals and discuss how you might use your counseling degree to embark on new mental health research or positively impact mental health treatment in your community
  • Grit or persistence: In your third paragraph, share how you overcame a challenge or setback in your life or career. Then, you can convince an admissions committee you are prepared for the responsibilities and rigors of the counseling profession
  • Preparation : In your fourth paragraph, discuss prior coursework or relevant experiences to counseling and specific aspects of the university’s program that appeal to you
  • Interests/unique experiences : In your fifth paragraph, discuss recent work or volunteer experiences that shaped your decision to become a counselor. Maybe you had an internship at your local congressional representative’s office or served as a resident advisor during your undergraduate years

Clarity in articulating goals

It’s important to frame yourself as a candidate who will positively contribute to your graduate school of choice and the counseling profession, but be sure to clearly communicate what you hope to gain from the program. Maybe you are a teacher, attorney, or military veteran and seeking to transition into a counseling career based on a pivotal experience. Or maybe there is a professor known for their research on treating trauma, and you have a strong interest in this area.

If you are passionate about making an impact as a counselor, let that passion shine through in your statement. Draw a strong connection between your goals and how unique aspects of their graduate program can help you realize them. Anticipate potential questions the committee might have so they don’t have to fill information gaps.

Proofread, seek feedback and revise

The goal is to send a polished personal statement that gets you admitted to a graduate program. Don’t allow spelling mistakes or sloppy writing to get between you and your acceptance. First, allow enough time to write multiple drafts of your statement. Second, seek feedback during the drafting and revision stages.

Reviewers not only catch errors you may have missed in your personal statement, but they also bring new insights based on their own experiences. Enlist the help of trusted peers, family members, or advisors who can provide suggestions for improving your personal statement. Ask your readers to review for specific elements, such as professional tone, clarity, coherence of ideas, and grammatical errors. 1 Then, incorporate feedback to ensure that your writing is polished, error-free, and connects with your intended audience.

Crafting an outstanding personal statement

Now that you have tried-and-true strategies for crafting a strong personal statement, it’s time to put this knowledge into action. Approach your personal statement with confidence and authenticity—these qualities will shine through in your writing. If you follow the tips we have covered, your story will make a lasting impression on admissions officers, opening doors to a rewarding future in counseling.

Become a counselor who makes a difference

You can improve mental health care in your community with the CACREP-accredited online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University. You’ll get to study the latest counseling practices by taking challenging courses in multicultural counseling, substance abuse counseling, and group counseling . In addition, you get to apply your knowledge by working with clients during an internship.

Marquette’s clinical mental health counseling faculty are leading experts in in-demand areas like addictions, family counseling, and human development. They provide personal mentorship and connect students with their extensive networks. A master’s degree in counseling from Marquette equips you with the skills and knowledge for a rewarding career in professional counseling.

Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor for more information.

  • Retrieved on January 23, from gograd.org/resources/grad-school-personal-statement/
  • Retrieved on January 23, from indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/how-to-write-a-personal-statement
  • Retrieved on January 23, from collegeessayguy.com/blog/race-in-college-essays
  • Retrieved on January 23, from, time.com/6293513/college-admissions-essays-race-affirmative-action/
  • Retrieved on January 23, from gograd.org/resources/grad-school-statement-of-purpose/

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School? Ultimate Guide with Examples

how long should personal statements be for graduate school

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement tips & advice.

One of the most important components of your application is your personal statement. A survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that 64% of graduate admissions officers consider the personal statement to be the most important factor in the admissions process.  Moreover, in another survey by Kaplan Test Prep, a well-written personal statement can increase an applicant’s chances of acceptance by up to 50%. 

Your personal statement is a chance to showcase your personality, motivations, and qualifications, and to convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the graduate program you are applying to.

But what should a personal statement for graduate school include? 

In this blog post, I’ll go over the key elements that you should consider when writing your personal statement and offer some tips and examples to help you craft a compelling statement that sets you apart from the competition. Furthermore, this blog post also introduces an 8-point framework designed to assist you in evaluating and rating your personal statement draft. 

To ensure a well-rounded and effective personal statement, it is essential to also review my other blog post, which covers the 10 things to avoid when crafting your personal statement. These two blog posts complement each other and should be used in tandem to create an exceptional personal statement.

Whether you’re applying for a master’s degree in psychology, a PhD in engineering, or any other graduate program, this guide will help you make the most of your personal statement and increase your chances of getting accepted to your dream school.

In this Article

1) Research the Program

2) outline your content, 3) start with a compelling introduction, 4) highlight your achievements and interests, 5) explain your motivation, 6) showcase your unique qualities, 7) address any weaknesses or gaps (if applicable), 8) write a strong conclusion, 9) edit and revise, 10) stick to the word limit, sample 1: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, sample 2: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, sample 3: evaluate and rate a sample personal statement on the 8-point framework, how to write a personal statement for graduate school.

Summary: Understand the specific requirements, values, and objectives of the graduate program you are applying to. Tailor your personal statement to demonstrate how you align with the program’s goals and can contribute to its community.

Researching the graduate program you are applying to is crucial for crafting a tailored and persuasive personal statement. By understanding the program’s requirements, values, and objectives, you can effectively demonstrate your fit and commitment. Here are some steps to guide your research: 

  • Visit the program’s website: Start by thoroughly exploring the program’s official website. Pay close attention to the program’s mission statement, curriculum, faculty, research areas, and any unique features or opportunities it offers.
  • Review the admissions criteria: Understand the specific requirements for admission, such as minimum GPA, standardized test scores, prerequisite courses, or relevant work experience. Knowing these requirements will help you emphasize your qualifications in your personal statement.
  • Identify the program’s values and culture: Read about the program’s philosophy, teaching style, and community values. This information will help you align your personal statement with the program’s expectations and show how you would fit into the program’s culture.
  • Research faculty members and their work: Familiarize yourself with the faculty members in the program and their areas of expertise. Mention any professors whose research aligns with your interests, and explain how their mentorship would support your academic and professional growth.
  • Reach out to current students or alumni: Connecting with current students or alumni can provide valuable insights into the program’s culture, expectations, and experiences. Their perspectives can help you understand what the program values in its applicants and what makes it unique.
  • Attend information sessions or webinars: Many graduate programs host informational events, both in-person and online, for prospective students. These events can provide further details about the program, faculty, and application process and give you an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Reflect on your goals: Consider how the specific program aligns with your career goals, research interests, and personal values. Make note of the aspects that make the program an ideal fit for you.

Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the program, incorporate your findings into your personal statement. Explain why the program’s focus, values, and opportunities align with your goals and how you would contribute to and benefit from the program. Demonstrating your knowledge of the program and its unique features will show the admissions committee that you are a well-informed and committed applicant. 

Summary: Organize your thoughts and ideas before you start writing. Create a rough outline with an introduction, main body, and conclusion. This will help you structure your personal statement effectively.

Outlining your content before writing your personal statement helps you organize your thoughts, maintain a coherent structure, and ensure that you cover all the relevant points. Here’s a suggested framework for outlining your personal statement: 

  • Introduction:
  • Start with a hook: Begin with an engaging anecdote, quote, or statement that captures the reader’s attention and sets the tone for your personal statement.
  • Introduce your main theme: Briefly mention the primary focus of your personal statement, such as your passion for the field, motivation for graduate study, or unique qualifications.
  • Academic background and achievements:
  • Summarize your academic history: Provide an overview of your undergraduate (and, if applicable, graduate) studies, emphasizing your major(s), minor(s), and any relevant coursework.
  • Discuss research experiences: Describe any research projects or publications you have been involved in, highlighting your contributions and the skills you gained.
  • Mention awards or honors: List any academic awards or honors you have received that demonstrate your aptitude and commitment to your field.
  • Relevant work and internship experiences:
  • Describe your work experiences: Detail any professional or internship experiences related to your field, focusing on the responsibilities you held, the skills you developed, and any accomplishments.
  • Explain the impact: Discuss how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies and how they have shaped your career goals.
  • Motivation for graduate studies:
  • Explain your interest: Share the reasons behind your decision to pursue graduate studies in your chosen field.
  • State your long-term goals: Describe your professional aspirations and how obtaining a degree from the specific program will help you achieve them.
  • Personal qualities and strengths:
  • Highlight your unique traits: Emphasize your personal strengths, such as leadership skills, resilience, or work ethic, and provide examples of how these qualities have contributed to your success.
  • Demonstrate your fit: Explain how your personal qualities align with the program’s values and culture, and how they will contribute to your success as a graduate student.
  • Addressing weaknesses or gaps (if applicable):
  • Acknowledge the issue: Briefly mention any potential concerns in your application, such as low grades or gaps in employment.
  • Provide context and resolution: Explain the circumstances behind the issue, what you have learned from it, and what steps you have taken to overcome the challenge.
  • Conclusion:
  • Summarize your main points: Reiterate the key aspects of your personal statement, such as your motivation, goals, and qualifications.
  • Express enthusiasm: Convey your excitement about the prospect of joining the graduate program and how it will support your academic and professional growth.

By creating a detailed outline, you can ensure that your personal statement has a clear and logical structure, making it easier for the admissions committee to follow and understand your story.

Summary: Begin your personal statement with an engaging opening that captures the reader’s attention. It could be a relevant anecdote, a powerful quote, or a statement about your passion for the field.

A strong introduction is crucial to capturing the reader’s attention and setting the tone for your personal statement. Your goal is to engage the admissions committee from the very beginning and encourage them to read further. Here are some tips for crafting a compelling introduction: 

  • Use a hook: Start your personal statement with an engaging hook that will grab the reader’s attention. A hook can be a thought-provoking question, a surprising fact, a powerful quote, or a brief anecdote related to your academic or professional journey.

Example: “As I stood at the edge of the coral reef, witnessing the vibrant colors and diverse marine life, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to preserving these delicate ecosystems.”

  • Introduce your main theme: Briefly mention the primary focus of your personal statement. This may be your passion for the field, your motivation for pursuing graduate studies, or the unique qualifications you bring to the program.

Example: “My passion for marine biology, fueled by years of fieldwork and research, has led me to pursue a graduate degree in order to contribute to the conservation of these vital ecosystems.”

  • Create a connection: Draw a connection between your hook and the main theme of your personal statement. This will help create a smooth transition into the body of your essay and provide a coherent narrative.

Example: “My experiences diving in coral reefs around the world have not only deepened my love for marine biology but also motivated me to explore innovative solutions for coral reef conservation through graduate research.” 

Remember that your introduction sets the stage for the rest of your personal statement. By crafting a compelling and engaging introduction, you can create a strong first impression and encourage the admissions committee to read your personal statement with interest and enthusiasm.

Summary: Discuss your academic background, research experiences, internships, or work experiences that are relevant to the field. Explain how these experiences have prepared you for graduate study and how they align with the program’s objectives.

In your personal statement, it’s important to showcase your academic and professional accomplishments to demonstrate your preparedness for graduate school. Here are some tips for discussing your achievements effectively: 

  • Focus on relevant experiences: Select academic and professional experiences that are most relevant to your chosen field and the specific graduate program. This will help demonstrate your commitment and expertise in the subject.
  • Describe your roles and contributions: For each experience, briefly describe your role, responsibilities, and contributions. This will help the admissions committee understand the scope of your involvement and the skills you have developed.

Example: “As a research assistant at XYZ University, I collaborated with a team of marine biologists to study the effects of ocean acidification on coral growth. My responsibilities included collecting and analyzing data, as well as presenting our findings at a regional conference.”

  • Highlight your achievements: Emphasize any accomplishments or positive outcomes that resulted from your work. This can include publications, conference presentations, awards, or the successful completion of projects.

Example: “Our research was published in the Journal of Marine Biology, and our findings have contributed to the development of new strategies for coral reef conservation.”

  • Explain the impact: Discuss how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies and how they have influenced your academic and professional interests. Explain what you have learned from these experiences and how they have shaped your goals.

Example: “Through my research experiences, I have developed a strong foundation in data analysis and experimental design. These skills, combined with my passion for marine biology, have inspired me to further my education and pursue a career in coral reef conservation research.”

  • Show progression: When discussing multiple experiences, arrange them chronologically to demonstrate your growth and development in your field. This will help create a coherent narrative and show the admissions committee how your interests have evolved over time.

By effectively highlighting your academic and professional achievements, you can demonstrate your preparedness for graduate school and your commitment to your chosen field. This will help convince the admissions committee that you are a strong candidate for their program. 

Summary: Share your reasons for pursuing graduate studies in your chosen field. Discuss your long-term goals and how a degree from the specific program will help you achieve them.

Explaining your motivation for pursuing graduate studies is crucial in your personal statement, as it helps the admissions committee understand your passion, commitment, and long-term goals. Here are some tips to effectively convey your motivation: 

  • Discuss your passion: Describe how your interest in the field developed, whether through personal experiences, academic pursuits, or professional opportunities. Share specific moments or events that have influenced your decision to pursue graduate studies.

Example: “My fascination with marine biology began during my childhood visits to the local aquarium, where I was captivated by the diversity and beauty of marine life. This passion only grew stronger as I pursued my undergraduate studies and participated in various research projects.”

  • Identify your long-term goals: Clearly articulate your long-term academic and professional goals. This demonstrates that you have a well-defined plan and are committed to your chosen field.

Example: “My ultimate goal is to become a leading researcher in coral reef conservation, working with international organizations to develop innovative strategies for protecting these vital ecosystems.”

  • Explain the program’s role in achieving your goals: Describe how the specific graduate program you are applying to will help you achieve your goals. This can include the program’s curriculum, faculty expertise, research opportunities, or unique resources.

Example: “The Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University offers a cutting-edge curriculum and access to world-class research facilities, which will provide me with the necessary knowledge and skills to make a meaningful impact in coral reef conservation.”

  • Show alignment with the program’s objectives: Explain how your goals and motivations align with the program’s mission, values, and objectives. This demonstrates that you have done your research and are a good fit for the program.

Example: “The program’s focus on interdisciplinary research and collaboration aligns with my belief in the importance of combining diverse perspectives to address complex conservation challenges.”

By clearly explaining your motivation for pursuing graduate studies, you can demonstrate your commitment, passion, and long-term vision to the admissions committee. This will help convince them that you are a dedicated and focused candidate who will contribute positively to the program and the field.

Summary: Emphasize your personal strengths, such as your work ethic, leadership skills, or resilience. Explain how these traits will contribute to your success as a graduate student and future professional.

In your personal statement, it’s important to highlight your personal strengths and qualities that make you an ideal candidate for graduate school. Showcasing these traits helps the admissions committee understand how you will contribute to the program and succeed in your studies. Here are some tips for highlighting your unique qualities: 

  • Identify your strengths: Reflect on your personal attributes that have contributed to your success in your academic and professional endeavors. These may include leadership skills, resilience, work ethic, creativity, or problem-solving abilities.
  • Provide examples: Support your claims by providing specific examples of situations where you have demonstrated these qualities. This can include academic projects, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or professional experiences.

Example: “During my time as president of the Environmental Club at my university, I demonstrated my leadership skills by organizing events, managing a team of volunteers, and successfully securing funding for our initiatives.”

  • Connect your qualities to your goals: Explain how your unique qualities will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. This will show the admissions committee that you possess the necessary traits to succeed in graduate school and beyond.

Example: “My strong work ethic and ability to collaborate with diverse teams will enable me to excel in the interdisciplinary research environment of the Marine Biology graduate program and make a meaningful impact in coral reef conservation.”

  • Align your qualities with the program’s values: Demonstrate how your personal traits align with the values and culture of the graduate program. This can help show that you are a good fit for the program and its community.

Example: “The program’s emphasis on collaboration and innovative thinking resonates with my own approach to problem-solving and my belief in the importance of working together to address complex environmental challenges.”

By showcasing your unique qualities and providing concrete examples of how you have demonstrated these traits, you can help the admissions committee understand your potential to succeed in graduate school and contribute to the program’s community. This will make your personal statement more compelling and persuasive, increasing your chances of being accepted into your desired program.

Summary: If you have any potential concerns in your application, such as low grades or gaps in employment, briefly address them and explain what you have done to overcome these challenges.

If your application has potential weaknesses or gaps, such as low grades, gaps in employment or education, or other concerns, it’s important to address them in your personal statement. Here’s how to approach this effectively:

  • Be upfront: If there is an issue that could raise questions or concerns for the admissions committee, it’s better to address it directly rather than hope they won’t notice. Briefly acknowledge the issue in a straightforward manner.
  • Provide context: Explain the circumstances behind the weakness or gap, but avoid making excuses or dwelling on it excessively. Instead, focus on providing context and insight into the situation.

Example: “During my junior year of college, my grades suffered due to a family crisis that demanded much of my time and emotional energy. This was a difficult period, but it also taught me the importance of resilience and adaptability.”

  • Highlight growth and resolution: Emphasize what you have learned from the experience and any steps you have taken to address the issue. Show how you have grown from the situation and how it has made you a stronger candidate.

Example: “In the semesters following the family crisis, I redoubled my efforts in my coursework, resulting in significant improvement in my grades. This experience has ultimately made me more focused and determined in both my academic and professional pursuits.”

  • Demonstrate your strengths: Counterbalance the weakness or gap by drawing attention to your strengths and accomplishments. This can help reassure the admissions committee that you are well-prepared for graduate school, despite any potential concerns.

Example: “Despite the temporary setback in my academic performance, I have consistently demonstrated my commitment to marine biology through research projects, internships, and extracurricular activities.”

By addressing weaknesses or gaps in your application thoughtfully and strategically, you can demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a resilient and adaptable candidate who can overcome challenges and succeed in their graduate program.

Summary: A strong conclusion is essential for leaving a lasting impression on the admissions committee and reinforcing the main points of your personal statement. Here are some tips for crafting an effective conclusion:

  • Summarize your main points: Briefly reiterate the key aspects of your personal statement, such as your motivation, goals, and qualifications. This will help remind the admissions committee of the main takeaways from your statement.

Example: “Through my academic achievements, research experiences, and commitment to marine conservation, I have developed a strong foundation to excel in the Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University.”

  • Reaffirm your enthusiasm: Express your excitement and enthusiasm about the prospect of joining the graduate program. This will show the admissions committee that you are passionate about the opportunity and motivated to succeed.

Example: “I am eager to contribute my knowledge, skills, and passion to the program’s research efforts and collaborate with faculty and peers to address pressing conservation challenges.”

  • Connect to the program: Reiterate how the specific program aligns with your goals and interests, and emphasize the unique aspects of the program that make it an ideal fit for you.

Example: “The program’s interdisciplinary approach, renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art research facilities provide the perfect environment for me to deepen my understanding of marine biology and make a meaningful impact on coral reef conservation.”

  • End on a positive note: Conclude your personal statement with a positive, forward-looking statement that demonstrates your confidence in your ability to succeed in the program and achieve your goals.

Example: “I am confident that my background, passion, and determination will enable me to thrive in the Marine Biology graduate program at XYZ University and contribute significantly to the field of coral reef conservation.”

  • Keep it concise: Your conclusion should be concise and focused, as it serves to wrap up your personal statement and leave the reader with a clear understanding of your qualifications and motivations.

By writing a strong conclusion, you can reinforce the main points of your personal statement, demonstrate your enthusiasm for the program, and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee. This will help increase your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

Summary: Write multiple drafts of your personal statement, refining your language and content with each iteration. Check for grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies. Ask a trusted mentor, friend, or family member to proofread your statement and provide feedback.

By carefully editing and revising your personal statement, you can ensure that it is polished, well-written, and effectively communicates your qualifications and motivations to the admissions committee. This will improve your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

Summary: Adhere to the required word count or character limit specified by the program. Be concise and make every word count.

Adhering to the word limit set by the graduate program is crucial for several reasons. It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, shows respect for the admissions committee’s time, and indicates your skill in presenting your ideas concisely.

By sticking to the word limit, you demonstrate your ability to follow guidelines and present your ideas effectively within the given constraints. This can create a positive impression on the admissions committee and improve your chances of being accepted into your desired graduate program.

An 8-point Framework for Evaluating your Grad School Personal Statement

Based on the above key elements of a grad school personal statement, now I will present an 8-point framework for evaluating and rating your personal statement. This comprehensive framework will help you create a strong and compelling personal statement by focusing on key aspects such as researching the program, crafting a compelling introduction, showcasing your achievements, and addressing any weaknesses. By following this framework, you’ll be well-equipped to write a personal statement that stands out and leaves a lasting impression on admissions committees.

Let’s break down each point to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what they entail:

Research the program: Demonstrating a deep understanding of the program you are applying to shows the admissions committee that you are genuinely interested in their program and have taken the time to investigate how it aligns with your interests and goals. Mention specific courses, faculty members, and research projects that appeal to you, and explain why they are a good fit for your academic and professional aspirations.

Start with a compelling introduction: A strong opening paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your personal statement. Introduce your main theme, passion, or goal and provide a glimpse of the experiences and achievements that will be discussed in more detail later in the statement.

Highlight your academic and professional achievements: Discuss your educational background, internships, research projects, and work experiences that are relevant to the program you are applying to. Be specific about your accomplishments and the skills you have developed, and explain how these experiences have prepared you for graduate studies.

Explain your motivation: Clearly articulate why you are pursuing this particular program and field of study. Discuss the experiences, passions, or goals that have led you to this point in your academic and professional journey, and explain how the program will help you achieve your objectives.

Showcase your unique qualities: Highlight the personal qualities, strengths, and characteristics that set you apart from other applicants. Discuss any leadership roles, community involvement, or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your unique perspective and ability to contribute to the program’s intellectual diversity.

Address any weaknesses or gaps (if applicable): If there are any weaknesses or gaps in your academic or professional background, be honest and address them head-on. Explain the circumstances that led to these issues and describe any steps you have taken to overcome them. This shows self-awareness and a willingness to learn from your experiences.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: Including coherence as the another point in the framework will help ensure that the statement flows well, is easy to follow, and effectively connects the applicant’s experiences, interests, and motivations.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: While the other points focus on content and structure, it’s essential to ensure that the personal statement is well-written and free of errors. A polished personal statement leaves a positive impression on the admissions committee, indicating the applicant’s attention to detail and strong communication skills.

By addressing these 8 points in your personal statement, you can effectively convey your suitability for the program and demonstrate your commitment to your chosen field of study.

Here is a sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the MIT PHD program. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program: 5/5

The personal statement demonstrates an understanding of MIT’s Operations Management program and mentions specific professors and their research interests, showing that the applicant has done their research.

Start with a compelling introduction: 4/5

The introduction highlights the disparity between educational opportunities and sets the stage for the applicant’s motivation. It’s engaging and provides context for the applicant’s journey.

While the introduction provides context for the applicant’s journey, it could be more personal and focused on the applicant’s experiences or background that led them to pursue graduate studies in Operations Research. This would create a stronger connection with the reader.

Highlight your academic and professional achievements: 5/5

The statement effectively outlines various research internships, coursework, and professional experiences that have shaped the applicant’s interests and qualifications for the graduate program.

Explain your motivation: 5/5

The applicant’s motivation is clear, as they have been inspired by their experiences in industry and teaching to pursue a PhD in Operations Research.

Showcase your unique qualities: 4/5

The statement showcases the applicant’s ability to work on novel projects, their initiative in problem-solving, and their experience in teaching, which sets them apart from other candidates.

The applicant has touched upon some unique qualities, but they could elaborate on their personal traits, such as resilience, creativity, or adaptability, which are important for success in a PhD program. Providing specific examples or anecdotes that demonstrate these qualities would make the statement more engaging.

Address any weaknesses or gaps: N/A

The statement does not have any evident weaknesses or gaps in the applicant’s academic or professional journey. It demonstrates a consistent interest and growth in the field of Operations Research.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 5/5

The personal statement maintains coherence throughout, with a logical progression from the applicant’s academic experiences to their professional experiences and, finally, to their decision to pursue a PhD.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 5/5

The statement is well-written and free of any glaring grammatical errors or punctuation mistakes. It is clear and easy to follow.

Overall, this personal statement is strong and effectively showcases the applicant’s qualifications, motivation, and unique qualities. It demonstrates a deep understanding of the target program and the applicant’s alignment with the research interests of the faculty.

Here is another sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the Cambridge grad school. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program: 4/5 

The applicant mentions specific research groups and faculty members at Cambridge, indicating research on the program. However, more details about the program’s unique features or resources could further demonstrate understanding and interest.

Start with a compelling introduction: 5/5 

The introduction starts with a personal anecdote and a quote that helped shape the applicant’s mindset, making it engaging and setting the tone for the statement.

Highlight academic and professional achievements: 5/5

The applicant outlines their academic achievements, including the Dean’s Honor List, merit scholarship, and relevant coursework. Professional experiences as a teacher assistant and software engineer at Apple are also highlighted.

Explain motivation: 5/5

The applicant shares their personal experiences with Type 1 Diabetes and societal challenges they’ve faced, which have driven their determination and ambition in their academic and professional pursuits.

Showcase unique qualities: 4/5 

The applicant’s resilience and determination to succeed despite hardships stand out. However, discussing more unique qualities or experiences could make the applicant more memorable.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 5/5  

The statement follows a logical progression, from personal motivation to academic and professional experiences, leading to the applicant’s goals and fit with the program.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 5/5 

The statement is well-written and free of glaring grammatical errors or issues with clarity.

Overall, the personal statement is strong, with a compelling introduction and a clear demonstration of the applicant’s motivation and achievements. Additional information about unique qualities and specific program features could make the statement even more effective.

Here is another sample personal statement that was written by a grad school applicant to get admission into the Oxford grad school. Based on the 8-point framework, here’s how the personal statement rates:

Research the program:3.5/5

The personal statement does not show extensive research about the specific program at Oxford, but it does mention the desire to access world-class facilities and resources, such as dedicated GPUs at Advanced Research Computing. More details about the specific program and how it aligns with the author’s goals would strengthen the statement.

Start with a compelling introduction: 5/5

The introduction effectively captures the reader’s attention by highlighting the author’s achievements as a Software Developer and Data Scientist, and then proceeds to provide context about their background.

The statement effectively showcases the author’s academic and professional achievements, including their strong foundations in programming, various successful projects, and top-of-the-class graduation in their Master’s program.

The author provides an in-depth account of their personal journey, overcoming challenges, and their passion for programming, which serves as a strong motivation throughout the statement.

Showcase your unique qualities: 5/5

The statement highlights the author’s resilience, determination, and ability to learn and adapt to new technologies quickly, which sets them apart from others.

Address any weaknesses or gaps: 5/5

The author openly discusses their struggles with OCD, medication side effects, and low undergraduate GPA, and demonstrates how they overcame these obstacles to succeed in their academic and professional life.

Ensure coherence throughout the statement: 4/5

The personal statement maintains coherence by consistently focusing on the author’s journey, from overcoming personal challenges to their achievements in the fields of programming and data science. However, it could benefit from a more concise structure, as it is quite lengthy.

Proofread and edit for grammar, punctuation, and clarity: 4/5

The statement is well-written with no significant issues in grammar, punctuation, or clarity. Minor proofreading may be necessary to ensure a polished final version.

Overall, the personal statement is strong in many aspects, but it could be improved by researching the specific program at Oxford and providing a more concise structure.  

In conclusion, crafting an effective graduate school personal statement requires thoughtful reflection, research, and attention to detail. As you embark on this journey, remember to connect your passion for your field of study with your academic and professional experiences, showcasing your unique qualities and motivations. By addressing the specific program you are applying to, demonstrating your strengths, and carefully proofreading your work, you can create a powerful and memorable statement that will leave a lasting impression on admissions committees. Ultimately, a well-written personal statement is an essential step towards achieving your graduate school goals and making a positive impact in your chosen field.

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A personal statement for graduate school is an opportunity to showcase what you will bring to the graduate program and to explain how the program fits into your larger career goals.

Some programs will ask you to write a single essay covering both your personal background and what you wish to study in graduate school. Others, however, will require both a personal statement and a statement of purpose . The personal statement should focus on you and your background, while the statement of purpose should focus on your research or what you plan to study in graduate school. Follow these strategies to craft a stellar personal statement that will stand out in admissions offices. 

Key Takeaways

  • The personal statement provides an opportunity for you to share information about yourself and your academic interests to graduate admissions committees.
  • The personal statement should discuss your academic background as well as relevant work and research experiences.
  • When talking about your previous experience, be sure to highlight the skills that you learned and how your past experiences have led you to be interested in graduate study.
  • Your first draft of your personal statement doesn’t need to be perfect. Give yourself time to revise and proofread your essay, and be sure to seek feedback on your draft from others.

Structuring a Personal Statement

Your personal statement should include an introduction and a summary of your previous experience (including your coursework, research experience, and relevant work experience). Additionally, if you’re not covering these topics in a separate statement of purpose, you should also discuss why you want to go to graduate school, what you wish to study as a graduate student, and why this particular graduate program is right for you.

Starting Your Essay

Personal statements can begin in a few different ways. Some students start their essay by discussing their personal background or sharing a compelling anecdote that explains why they are interested in graduate school. Other students simply begin their essay by talking plainly about their academic experiences and interest in graduate school. There’s no “one size fits all” answer here, so feel free to choose the introduction that works best for your essay.

Sometimes, the introduction of a personal statement is the toughest part to write. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, remember that you  don’t  have to start with the introduction. By the time you’ve finished writing the rest of the essay, you may have a much better idea of the type of introduction your essay needs.

Summarizing Your Previous Experience

In your personal statement, you’ll want to talk about your previous academic experience and how it has prepared you for graduate school. You can talk about courses you’ve enjoyed (especially any advanced coursework), research projects you may have worked on, or internships and work experience that are relevant for graduate school.

When describing your previous experience, be sure to not just write about what you did but also what you learned and how the experience contributed to your interest in graduate school. For example, if you gained research experience by assisting a graduate student with their research project, don’t just describe what the project was about. Instead, be as specific as possible about skills you picked up (for example, gaining experience using lab techniques or a particular academic database). Additionally, write about how your past experiences sparked your curiosity and helped you decide that graduate school is the right choice for you.

Remember that you can also talk about non-academic experiences such as volunteer work or part-time jobs. When you mention these experiences, highlight how they show transferable skills (i.e. skills that will also be valuable in your graduate program, such as communication skills or interpersonal skills). For example, if you supervised a group of students as a camp counselor, you might talk about how this experience helped you develop leadership skills. If you had a part-time job while in college, you might talk about challenges you resolved at work and how they demonstrate your problem-solving ability.

If you faced significant obstacles while in college, your personal statement can also be a place to discuss the experience (if you feel comfortable doing so) and its influence on you.

Writing About Why You Want to Attend Graduate School

In your personal statement, you should also talk about your future goals: what you want to study in graduate school, and how this ties into your larger goals for your future career. Graduate school is a big commitment, so professors will want to see that you have thought through your decision carefully and that graduate education is truly necessary for the career you want to pursue.

When talking about why you want to go to graduate school, it’s good to be as specific as possible about why the school you’re applying to would be a good match for your career goals. If you’re applying to a program that involves a significant amount of research (such as PhD programs and some Master’s programs), it’s important to talk about the research topics you’re most interested in studying while in graduate school. For programs involving research, it’s also a good idea to read the department’s website to learn about faculty members’ research topics and then customize your personal statement accordingly for each school. In your personal statement, you can mention several professors you might want to work with and explain how their research matches up with what you’d like to study.

Mistakes To Avoid

  • Not proofreading. In graduate school, writing will be a big component of your academic career, especially if your program involves writing a Master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Taking the time to proofread shows professors that they can be confident in your writing ability. 
  • Sharing overly personal information. While sharing a personal anecdote can help to illustrate your interest in graduate school, disclosing information that is too personal can backfire. In a survey of psychology graduate admissions committee chairs, some professors pointed out that sharing overly personal information can make applicants look unprofessional. And as Harvard’s Office of Career Services points out, interviewers may ask you follow-up questions about your personal statement in interviews. So if it’s not something you’d feel comfortable sharing in a face-to-face setting, it’s best left out of your personal statement.
  • Writing too much. Keep your essay brief: if the essay prompt doesn’t give a specific word/page limit, 1-2 pages is generally a good length. (However, if the program you’re applying to specifies a different length, be sure to follow their instructions.)
  • Vague language.  Be as specific as possible about why you want to pursue graduate school and which topics you want to study. As UC Berkeley’s Career Center explains, you should avoid using words like “interesting” or “enjoyable” unless you elaborate on them further. For example, don’t just say that you find a topic interesting—share a compelling research finding you learned about or explain why you’d like to contribute to knowledge in this area as a graduate student.
  • Not asking for help. You don’t need to write a perfect essay on the first draft. Seek out trusted mentors, such as professors and graduate students, and ask for feedback on your essay draft. You can also seek out on-campus resource centers at your college for additional personal statement feedback and support.

What A Successful Personal Statement Looks Like

Some of the most compelling admissions essays are ones in which students are able to draw a clear connection between their past experiences (coursework, jobs, or life experiences) and their motivation for attending graduate school. If you can show readers that you're both well-qualified and passionate about your proposed course of study, you’re far more likely to capture the attention of admissions committees.

If you’re looking for inspiration, read  sample graduate admissions essays . In one  sample essay , the writer talks about the shift in her academic interests—while she initially studied chemistry, she is now planning to go to law school. This essay is successful because the writer clearly explains why she is interested in switching fields and demonstrates her passion for studying law. In addition, the writer highlights transferable skills that will be relevant to the legal profession (such as explaining how working as a resident assistant in her college dorm helped her to develop interpersonal skills and gain experience resolving conflicts). This provides an important take-home lesson for writing a personal statement: you can talk about past experience that isn’t directly related to academics, as long as you explain how this experience has helped to prepare you for graduate study.

Writing a personal statement for graduate school can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By demonstrating your qualifications and enthusiasm and seeking feedback on drafts from professors and other on-campus resources, you can write a strong personal statement that shows who you are and why you’re a good candidate for graduate school.

Sources and Further Reading

  • “4 Sample Graduate School Essays.” CSU Channel Islands: Career & Leadership Development . https://www.csuci.edu/careerdevelopment/services/sample-graduate-school-admissions-essays.pdf
  • Appleby, Drew C., and Karen M. Appleby. “Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process.” Teaching of Psychology 33.1 (2006): 19-24 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/246609798_Kisses_of_Death_in_the_Graduate_School_Application_Process
  • “Applying to Graduate School.” Undergraduate Resource Series, Harvard University: Office of Career Services (2017). https://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/files/ocs/files/applying_to_grad_school_0.pdf
  • Brown, Joseph L. “‘Tell Them Who You Are and Why You’ve Applied’: Personal Statements.” Stanford University: Office of Multicultural Affairs. https://oma.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Personal_Statements.v6_0.pdf
  • “Graduate School – Statement.” UC Berkeley: Career Center . https://career.berkeley.edu/Grad/GradStatement
  • “Personal Statement.” Harvard University: Office of Career Services. https://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/personal-statement
  • “What’s a Good Statement of Purpose?” Stanford University: Graduate School of Education. https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Statement-of-Purpose.pdf
  • “Writing the Personal Statement.” UC Berkeley: Graduate Division . http://grad.berkeley.edu/admissions/apply/personal-statement/
  • “Writing Your Graduate School Application Essay.” Carnegie Mellon University: Global Communication Center . https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts-and-resources/grad-app-sop
  • Guide to Writing a Medical School Personal Statement
  • How to Write Your Graduate School Admissions Essay
  • How to Write the Graduate Admissions Essay
  • FAQs About Writing Your Graduate Admissions Essay
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/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="how long should personal statements be for graduate school"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Personal statement, overview .

There are two types of statements included in the Graduate School’s online application, (1) the Academic Statement of Purpose and (2) the Personal Statement, both of which are required for all graduate degree programs. 

What Should the Personal Statement Include?

Your Personal Statement should provide the admissions committee with a sense of you as a whole person, and you should use it to describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Additionally, it should provide insights into your potential to contribute to Cornell University’s core value to provide a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and work productively and positively together. Within your Personal Statement, you may also share details on lessons learned from any of your lived experiences including but not limited to

  • being a first-generation college student or graduate (no parent/guardian completed a baccalaureate degree)
  • racial, ethnic, and/or cultural background(s)
  • managing a disability or chronic health condition
  • experiencing housing, food, economic, and/or other forms of significant insecurity
  • being a solo parent
  • gender identity and/or sexual orientation 
  • having served in the military
  • holding DACA, refugee, TPS, or asylee status

Your Personal Statement provides you with an opportunity to share experiences that provide insights on how your personal, academic, and/or professional experiences demonstrate your ability to be both persistent and resilient, especially when navigating challenging circumstances. It also gives you an opportunity to provide examples of how you engage with others and have facilitated and/or participated in productive collaborative endeavors. Additionally, it is a place, where if necessary, you can (and should) address any blemishes, gaps, or weaknesses in your academic record. In these situations, you will want to be honest, but brief. It is best to turn negatives into positives by focusing on how you overcame obstacles, remained persistent in the pursuit of your goals, and showed resilience. Share what you learned from the particular experience, and how it led you to become a better researcher/scholar/person, etc.

Content in the Personal Statement should complement rather than duplicate the content contained within the Academic Statement of Purpose, which should focus explicitly on your academic interests, previous research and/or relevant professional experience, and intended area of academic focus during your graduate studies.

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The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

IMAGES

  1. FREE 7+ Sample Personal Statement For Graduate School in MS Word

    how long should personal statements be for graduate school

  2. How Long Should My Personal Statement Be For Graduate School

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  3. Grad School Statement Of Purpose : Guidelines/Examples to Writing a

    how long should personal statements be for graduate school

  4. FREE 8+ Personal Statement Examples & Samples in PDF

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  5. Graduate School Personal Statement

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  6. 30 Best Statements Of Purpose For Graduate School

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VIDEO

  1. Writing a Personal or Diversity Statement for Master’s or PhD Programs

  2. What Should Personal Devotions Look Like?

  3. What personal statement will get you an interview? (Cambridge admissions officer explains)

  4. What is the best medical school personal statement topic?

  5. Applying for a Masters Degree UK

  6. Med school personal statement mistake #6: Presenting a general Idea vs. explaining your thoughts

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Grad School

    Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle. Your "angle," or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors: What your grad program wants you to write about. Your field of study and research interests. How much experience you have in your field.

  2. How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School

    While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.. One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don't necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let ...

  3. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    A personal statement is a short essay of around 500-1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you're applying. To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application, don't just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to ...

  4. How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School [2024 Guide]

    Typically, most personal statements for graduate school consist of 1 to 2 double-spaced pages. But the ideal length for a personal statement varies by program and discipline. Many graduate programs provide specific guidelines for the personal statement in their application instructions. For example, some programs may ask for a 500 to 750 word ...

  5. How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School

    A strong personal history statement begins with an authentic voice and personal narrative. This can reflect your journey to graduate school, any obstacles you've encountered, and how you've overcome challenges. Talk about your personal goals and dreams. Explain what motivates and drives you toward this degree.

  6. How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

    While you should answer the prompt in its entirety, you should also write about yourself. Bring a personal element into your essay like family or a story of you overcoming an obstacle. Ideally, your story should relate to what you're trying to accomplish at your graduate school of choice. Tie it all together: your personal experiences, your ...

  7. Writing Your Personal Statements

    Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment. 1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many ...

  8. Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Master's or PhD

    Personal statements required for graduate school admissions are short. Their length should be around 700 words, meaning 1-2 pages. However, you should be careful to write it well and edit it thoroughly for grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.

  9. How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School

    How Long Should a Grad School Personal Statement Be? The ideal personal statement for grad school is somewhere between 500 and 1000 words in length. Any aspiring graduate student wants to make sure that they put in a comprehensive personal statement that includes all the elements they need to win over the selection committee.

  10. Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    Personal Statements. Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in ...

  11. Tips and best practices for writing your graduate school personal statement

    The goal is to send a polished personal statement that gets you admitted to a graduate program. Don't allow spelling mistakes or sloppy writing to get between you and your acceptance. First, allow enough time to write multiple drafts of your statement. Second, seek feedback during the drafting and revision stages.

  12. How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School? Ultimate Guide

    Based on the above key elements of a grad school personal statement, now I will present an 8-point framework for evaluating and rating your personal statement. This comprehensive framework will help you create a strong and compelling personal statement by focusing on key aspects such as researching the program, crafting a compelling ...

  13. How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School

    Structuring a Personal Statement. Your personal statement should include an introduction and a summary of your previous experience (including your coursework, research experience, and relevant work experience). Additionally, if you're not covering these topics in a separate statement of purpose, you should also discuss why you want to go to ...

  14. Personal Statement for Graduate School

    Remember to write with sincerity and maturity. The three typical sections of a personal statement for graduate school are: (A) The Introduction. This is where you can start with a narrative - a story, tale, anecdote, etc. How you begin will set the tone for the rest of your personal statement.

  15. How long is a personal statement?

    The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words. Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there's a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

  16. Personal Statement : Graduate School

    Your Personal Statement should provide the admissions committee with a sense of you as a whole person, and you should use it to describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. ... Cornell University Graduate School. Caldwell Hall Cornell University Ithaca, NY 14853-2602 (607) 255-5820 ...

  17. PDF PERSONAL STATEMENTS and STATEMENTS OF PURPOSE

    1. HOW LONG SHOULD MY PERSONAL STATEMENT BE?Many personal statements for professional schools have a character limit. Personal statements for graduate school, however, are usually between 2-3 pages long 1.5 or double-spaced with regular margins and in easy to read font (Calibri, Times New Roman, etc.). 2.

  18. Personal Statement (Graduate)

    Personal Statement (Graduate) uofl.edu/writingcenter [email protected] (502)852-2173 What is a personal statement? What should it do? ... Your personal statement is your chance to convince the school you are applying to that you will be an asset to its program. Other application materials speak to your

  19. How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

    Typically, a grad school application requires a personal statement that is around two to three pages in length. A personal statement for graduate school is also a bit more serious than one for a four-year college. You'll notice the entire grad school application requires more application materials in general, like a cover letter.

  20. Preparing your personal statement for graduate school applications

    Customize your statement for each program to which you apply. Each program will provide a brief description of what it wants in the applicant's statement of purpose, the length and topics. One program may want 500 words covering topics A, B and C.

  21. The Personal Statement

    The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories: 1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: ... Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business ...