How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate School


A personal statement is that part of a graduate school application where you demonstrate to the admission board you are the right candidate for their school. While letters or recommendations can shed light on your personality and academic ambitions, your transcript highlights the areas you have studied thus far. Your personal statement is the only opportunity to discuss your research interests and points of intersection with the department you are applying to. To best convey this information to the admission council, you must not only choose your content well, but also present it as clearly as possible.

  • Brainstorm the self-promotion section of your personal statement. Ask your boss, professors, or friends their opinion on what your most distinctive academic and professional qualities are. List five to eight qualities, such as persistence, leadership skills, specialized experience in a field, or related work experience. Choose three or four from this list that fit together to depict you as a unique and well-rounded candidate.

  • Reflect on and chart out your path in your chosen field, beginning when you first became interested in the subject of your career aspirations. Jot down two or three specific memories, or anecdotes, that show your commitment to the field. Make sure these instances clearly demonstrate why you are pursuing a graduate degree in this field.

  • Research the professors and courses at the university you are applying to. Make sure your research interests are in line with their expertise, and with advising opportunities at the school. Note the professor most closely related to your research interests, and papers or books they have published in that area.

  • Structure your brainstorming into an essay outline that follows your path to graduate school, incorporating your distinctive qualities from Step 1, and ending with your research interests and how they relate to the department from Step 3. Write a rough draft by filling in the anecdotes and vignettes you outlined. Let the draft sit for at least a day and then edit it. Cut down long, rambling sentences and change passive sentences to active voice. Check the length limits for the school you are applying to and tighten up your essay to fit the requirements.

  • Ask one of your recommendation letter writers to read your essay and give you feedback. Contact a friend or acquaintance in your field who has already entered graduate school, if you are not able to get feedback from a professor. Review the feedback you obtain carefully and ask questions to clarify any points you are not clear about or do not agree with. Incorporate all feedback into your essay before sending it in.

Tips & Warnings

  • The topics you choose to write about demonstrate your priorities and values to the admissions council. After you brainstorm, but before you begin fleshing out your essay, discuss the topics you plan to write about with friends and colleagues. Ask them what they think these instances say about you.
  • Do not send in an essay with typographical errors or formatting issues. If you make any last-minute changes to your essay, have a friend or colleague proofread it again before you send it.


  • Photo Credit student image by Stanislav Komogorov from
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