Up close and PERSONAL: Crafting Your Best Personal Statement

It’s that time of year when potential graduate students are diving deep into the graduate admissions process. Application after application…expanding your vocabulary and learning the meaning of every word humanly possible for the GRE…exchanging emails with faculty who will sell you to the committee by saying all of these TRUE, wonderful things about you…pulling together writing samples to show that you can hang with the best of scholars and have something to contribute to the field…updating CVs/resumes with your highest of high honors, publications and service initiatives. And what else? Ah. That personal statement.

Your personal statement is one of the most critical components of your graduate school application. It gives the selection committee a taste of who you are! It allows you the opportunity to sell yourself and express how you can be an asset to a particular program. I like to consider a personal statement a “different type of writing”. It is not solely academic…as a matter of fact, it is not academic at all in terms of how we view academic writing for a scholarly journal or essay. However, it is not so loose that it is too conversational with no structure. With this in mind, here are a few things to think about when crafting what some institutions may consider your “golden ticket” for getting into your dream graduate program:

  • Start off with a bang! Just like any story or piece of writing that we read, it has to be good in the very beginning for us to keep going. Same thing with a personal statement. You have to begin with something catchy and intriguing that will draw in the readers (in this case, the selection committee). Begin your personal statement with a favorite quote or story or even a reference to something that is completely non- academic but that you can draw connections to your educational interests. For example, if you’re an athlete, you may begin with a quote from a famous basketball player about¬†sitting on the bench because of foul trouble in a series of games and equate that to some challenges you faced in life during which you had to “sit out”, take some time to think and regroup, and then get back on the court playing better than ever. Providing a catchy beginning like this will make the selection committee want to continue learning about you and your experiences.
  • Don’t be ashamed to reveal a weakness! The common misconception when writing a personal statement is thinking that you have to use a lot of colorful language and make yourself sound cookie-cutter perfect. This is not true! Although you want to discuss your assets and how you can contribute to the program (which is great!), you want to show that you are human too. In other words, let the committee know that you are inquisitive…that you have questions and want to explore those questions through research. (If you knew it all, you wouldn’t be applying to graduate school, right?).
  • Know the important stuff! I know I just said that you do not know it all, but when it comes to crafting your personal statement, know the institution, specifically, know the program. Selection committee members will be impressed when little tidbits like faculty research and how that research relates to your own are embedded in your statement. This shows that you did some digging before actually considering to apply and you are invested in your success at the institution.

Crafting your personal statement does not have to be a daunting process. You are your best advocate, and you know YOU better than anyone. In your statement, you are simply giving your best YOU to the selection committee, letting them know that you are a good fit for the program. Happy writing!