As one of the most important parts of your application, writing a grad school personal statement can seem daunting. From structuring to editing to actually understanding what to write, here’s your COMPLETE guide!
Call it a personal statement for masters, application essay, or letter of intent – they’re kind of the same thing. Your essay or personal statement is an important part of your application, and arguably the most important. It tells the admissions committee more about you as an individual than the rest of your application.
The Grad School Personal Statement or Letter of Intent
The best way to understand what you have to really write is to read the bit that may be mentioned on your school’s admissions web page. Generally speaking, your letter of intent talks about you, tells your unique story and your experiences, something about you that may not be clear from the other parts of your application. It also tells about your professional goals, how your past experiences are leading to them, and how the program you’re applying to will help you achieve them.
Why You Need to Write a Good Application Essay
The personal statement helps the university do a qualitative assessment of the applicant, whereas the GRE/GMAT scores and GPA help them do a quantitative assessment. It tells them about who you are as a person, and why they should admit you. A good personal statement lets them know that the program you’re applying to fits into your life’s plan and that you fit into their program, too.
If you look at the personal statement from the point of view of your admissions officer, it’s what will really help them paint a picture of you, and let them decide how you will fit in with the rest of the class, and how you will stand out.
The goal of the admissions office is to select a batch of students that are unique in their own way, so they’ll learn as much from each other as they can from the professors. So your personal statement should showcase how you’re unique.
Your grad school personal statement should clearly discuss how you’re different than the other applicants. It gives you a chance to showcase your individuality and stand out in the crowd. So basically, if you have decent GRE/GMAT scores and a good GPA, it’s your recommendation letters and essay that can really seal the deal for you.
How to Approach Your Admission Essay
When to Start?
Begin your brainstorming process as soon as you decide to apply, or a few months before your application deadline. This will help you clear your mind, prepare the content of your essay and gather your thoughts.
What to Expect?
The essay for graduate school admission is a bit tougher to write because you have to talk about yourself, but not about work, resume facts or things that are already listed in your application or resume. Every applicant takes a different amount of time to write a winning essay. For some it may take a couple of months, and for others it may be a week’s job.
Start by making notes, and list all the things that you feel the admissions committee needs to know about you that will help you get admitted. Don’t worry, I’ll talk much more about this in the next section.
Once you have your notes ready, create a graduate school personal statement outline. Here, you can decide your structure, the things that will be written and in what order.
Then work on your draft (obviously!). Do check the word limit, if mentioned on your grad school’s admission page. If not listed, you can write somewhere between 800-1500 words, or 1-1/2 to 2 pages.
Avoid reading sample statement of purpose or grad school essays before your brainstorming and first draft stage, since it’ll put a strict picture in your mind about how the final product should be like. The truth is that every essay is different, and yours should be unique, just like you.
Some Basic Tips for Writing a Good Personal Statement for Graduate School
Keep your essay simple, and easy to understand. Many personal statement examples I’ve read use more complicated language, but there is really no need to use fancy words or do poetry, or try to keep the reader guessing by being mysterious.
Avoid writing complicated sentences. The grad school personal statement should be quick to read. The busy admissions officer will be happy to get through it quickly if it’s simple and to the point.
Just like any good piece of writing, it should be well structured. So divide it into paragraphs, which are neither too long nor too short. The paragraphs should visually be of the same length, to make the write-up look professional and well-structured. However, this may vary a bit depending on the content.
You can divide the essay into sections, however that’s not necessary.
Your essay should be coherent. It make sense throughout, instead of being self-contradictory, or vague.
Do you need to give a title to your grad school personal statement? Well, there is really no need, but if you come up with something creative or witty, then yes, it will help your essay stand out.
Your goal is to make it memorable. It should stick in the minds of the readers even after they’ve read hundreds of other essays. So try to be creative with your content, and if you can, even format or writing style.
Content Selection: What to Write in Your Grad School Personal Statement
The essay should help them get to know you better, and give them a reason to choose you over other similar applicants. So think about other people who may have the same job experience, geographic or academic background as yourself, and try to think of what makes you uniquely you.
Your application should not be repetitive, so choose things to write that are different from the other parts of your application. You don’t need to rehash your academic scores, job experience details (they’ll already be in your resume or application), etc.
Showcase your personality through your writing or the content.
Talk about your ambitions and professional goals in life. You can also talk about your personal goals, if they are related to your work, like social work, or entrepreneurship, etc.
Discuss why you’re applying. How will this program help you achieve your life’s goals. Why you chose this particular program in this particular university? You can mention a course you’re interested in taking, or something about the program that interests you. This will show that you’ve done your research. It’ll help them know that you know why you’re applying. It’ll also help your application be non-generic, as in your statement of purpose will become tailor-made for each school you’re applying to.
Talk about your life’s experiences – any important experiences that may have changed you, or your journey that made you who you are today.
Discuss your individual story in your grad school personal statement – your background, or struggles you have faced. Mention any important experiences that have shaped your life, your ethics or your ambition.
Talk about your unique strengths, what are you good at and what would you like to become good at? What are you curious about.
Think of anything that helps create a story, or paint a picture in the mind of the reader.
Do you have any beliefs that carry you forward in life, something others may not believe in? You can mention that in the grad school personal statement.
You can think of any other interesting things to mention about your work, personal or professional learnings, etc. Don’t let the contents of your personal statement get generic, or boring. Don’t get into a sob story!
Stay away from bragging. Be honest and simplistic in your approach. The admissions committee will see through dishonesty and bragging.
Ideally, you don’t even need to make up a sexy story or do anything special or new just to make your essay interesting. If you think deeply and carefully, you’ll surely be able to find convincing experiences, impressive opinions or interesting facts to write about.
Keep it simple and professional. This is a college essay and not a letter to a therapist, so avoid being too personal or oversharing.
How to Edit Your Grad School Personal Statement
In any piece of writing, the process of editing is just as important as writing. Editing makes your essay or letter of intent seem more professionally-written, and it helps improve the flow, syntax and coherence. So let’s look at a few basic tips for editing your personal statement:
Make sure it’s grammatically correct and is punctuated well.
Re-read your essay out loud. Make sure none of the sentences are too long or mouthful.
Think of any sentences that may work better if you combine them – or split a sentence that’s too long.
Remove any repetitive sentences.
Work on structure and paragraphs. Your paras shouldn’t be too long – ideally, no longer than 3-6 sentences. Try to avoid sentences that have more than 20 words. A good sentence length is between 1-2 lines and no more than 3 lines.
Work on the flow. The essay should flow seamlessly. The paragraphs should all lead to the next one, and fit in the order they’re in.
Your tone should be coherent and the language consistent. So avoid using heavy words or complex sentences in one part, and using simpler ones in the other part. You shouldn’t change the syntax through the write-up and it should, obviously, show that your writing style is well-developed.
Let someone read it once you’re done with the editing. It can be someone with experience or someone who knows you well. For example, a mentor, a professor or your parent/sibling. Avoid showing it to too many people, as too much advice can be self-conflicting or confusing.
Don’t overthink. Once you’ve already been working on something for too many hours, one tends to get too self-critical. So deem it good to go once it’s written and edited well. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
All the best!