Personal Statement for Graduate School - How to Write a Killer Graduate School Essay

Writing your Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement you submit as part of your graduate school application must capture the attention of the admissions officer who reads it. That is your goal. You only have a few minutes in which to clearly demonstrate why the school should be interested in you as an applicant.
How can you write an impressive and convincing personal statement for graduate school?

Keep it simple. Admissions officers for graduate schools simply look for individuals who have a passion for what they want to do, are motivated, and well prepared candidates. Show them that you are this person and are a good fit for your chosen program and you should be successful.

How to write a killer graduate school essay

Do your research

Some graduate school programs might simply stipulate that you should submit your personal statement, with no mention of any guidelines for doing so regarding its content. Others may be more forthcoming in terms of style, structure, word count, formatting, etc.

Make sure you are clear about any instructions or prompts provided, and plan your graduate school essay accordingly. You want to ensure that your personal statement reinforces your application to the school in a persuasive and effective manner.

What if there are no specific details given about the type of personal statement expected?

As the quantity of applicants for graduate school has increased in recent years, shorter essays have been trending, mainly because candidates know that admissions officers might be swamped with such essays, especially for STEM programs.

Why is shorter better? The simple fact is that a longer personal statement takes longer to read thoroughly and therefore might be subject to skimming rather than reading the entire essay in detail.

The overall consensus of admissions officers is that the best personal statements they read tend to be shorter rather than longer essays. So, keep this in mind; stick to the essential aspects of your experience and write about them with passion.

Keep it personal

Generally, when you write your personal statement – make it about you – although in some cases a graduate program may also ask you to submit an essay regarding an issue within the field of study you want to pursue. Keep the focus on you in your personal statement, although you can include issues if they are directly relevant to your own experiences.

Anecdotal focus

Many applicants to graduate school begin their personal statements with an anecdotal reference to a childhood event or something which occurred during their formative years at school, which on the face of it might seem logical, as it may well have been the initial stimulus which sent you in the direction you have been following, culminating in your application to this particular graduate program.

Nonetheless, unlike the undergraduate admissions process where such an anecdote is quite acceptable, graduate school programs are designed with professionals in mind, and therefore it makes more sense to keep any anecdotal content focused on your time as an undergraduate student and events at college which may have shaped your path to the graduate program you have chosen.
If you really want to include a reference to a childhood event, then the best place to use it is in the concluding paragraph – as the opening sentence.

Are you a good fit with the program

It’s not always just about grades. Being accepted into a graduate program of your choice doesn’t mean you have to be the most highly qualified candidate applying to the program. You must be a good match for the program you have chosen.

Preference is given to applicants who are truly passionate about what they want to achieve and are a good fit with the program offered. Admissions officers will lean towards applicants who are motivated and well informed individuals and appear to match the goals of the program rather than simply a highly qualified individual who doesn’t seem as passionate or interested in the program.

Most graduate programs involve conducting research, and you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to participate in this in addition to identifying a suitable research mentor within the program in relation to your own research goals during your graduate studies. You should include reference to the work of specific professors and their work which is of interest to you.

Finishing strong

Finally, finish your personal statement for graduate school with a convincing statement regarding the program and why you consider it to be your first choice. Clearly you may be applying to more than one graduate program, but submitting a generic personal statement will not persuade admissions officers that you are an ideal applicant for their particular program.

After all, if you’re unable to articulate why their program is your top choice, why would you be applying to enter it? Keep each submission focused on that particular program and why you are a good fit for it. Convince the admissions officer why their program is the one for you and how it fits with your long term professional goals and career aspirations.