How To Write The Perfect Grad School Personal Statement

By Victoria Robertson on January 31, 2015

Graduation is one of the most daunting times of a college student’s career. Whether you plan on immediately obtaining a job or continuing your education in grad school, it’s all a new experience that very few of us feel we are prepared for.

So to help you out a bit in your grad school applications, here are a few tips you can use in writing the perfect grad school personal statement.

Image via Victoria Robertson

1. Know that each school is different.

Writing a generic personal statement isn’t going to fly when applying to grad schools. Each school you apply to is looking for something different, so it’s important to write a statement that’s going to appeal to the school on a more personal level.

According to UIUC senior Nicole Miller, “if you are able to research the program and this shows in your statement, they’ll see your dedication to the program and are more likely to see you as a good fit.”

With the internet available at the touch of a button, information on the prospective school and its programs is easy to obtain. And it may not seem like much, but even this little extra effort prevents you from becoming the student that didn’t care enough to investigate what the school wants.

What school wants to spend time on a student that didn’t care to spend time on them in return?

2. Keep experience short, sweet and to the point.

Most grad schools will want to see experiences in your personal statement, but they don’t want to see every little thing you’ve done since high school. When writing about your experiences, pick the most relevant to the program at hand as well as the career you wish to obtain in pursuing this degree.

UIUC senior Grace Domzalski confirmed the importance of staying relevant.

“Relevance is key when writing a personal statement,” Domzalski said. “If your experience isn’t applicable to the program, they’re going to throw it out as irrelevant.”

My recommendation: prioritize your experiences from most relevant to least and see where this gets you. Accept that you won’t be able to include everything in the personal statement and make sure that what you do include is connected seamlessly.

Grad schools don’t want to waste their time in thumbing through a lengthy statement including experience that doesn’t pertain to either the program or the student’s career goals.

3. Don’t just talk about yourself.

The relationship between you and the school needs to be equal in your statement. While it is called a personal statement, you also want to make sure the school’s needs are met as well.

“Including why you’re a good fit for the school can potentially show them your passion for the program at hand and give them the opportunity to visualize what you’d add to the program in your acceptance,” Miller said.

It may seem like sucking up, but the school wants to know why you’re a good fit for their program just as much as they want to know why you’re applying in the first place.

Remember that it’s a reciprocal relationship and you need to feed the school’s ego just as much as you need to promote yourself.

4. Talk about your career goals.

Grad schools are interested in what you plan on doing with a degree from their program, so discussing your career goals is extremely important.

“Don’t talk about what got you to this point, most grad schools won’t care,” Domzalski said. ”You should focus strictly on the future and, more specifically, on what you hope to do with a degree from the school.”

Another important tip is to focus on more than just the job you hope to get in the future. Talk about how you want to impact the community, or how you plan to continue using information attained from the university later on in your career or personal life.

Remember, forget about the past; grad school is all about moving forward, and that should be your focus.

5. Be as unique as possible.

These grad schools are getting hundreds of applications every year; they don’t want to read the same thing over and over again.

Miller said grad schools want students that outshine all of the others:

“Grad schools don’t want a standard student. They want one that outshines all the others, that proves they can make a difference and that gives the overall impression they’re unlike any other applicant the school will see. That student will undoubtedly make the strongest impression.”

A personal statement is all about making an impression. You want them to remember you, and if you can do that without even stepping foot on the campus, you’ve got a strong argument for your acceptance.

Being unique is always a good thing, so keep this in mind throughout the drafting of your statement.

6. Don’t forget a hook.

Speaking of impressions, the first paragraph of your personal statement is by far the most important. Without a hook, you haven’t captured the attention of the admissions board, and without their attention, your personal statement falls flat.

“Each school reads so many applications that you need to show them you’re a serious contender in the very beginning,” Domzalski said. “Starting off with a strong hook prevents them from writing you off, giving them the opportunity to explore your qualifications further as your statement progresses.”

You hear it all the time: first impressions are everything. So do what you have to do to make this a strong one: make the intro super personal and rework it until you feel it’s revealing of your character.

This is the perfect opportunity to showcase who you are in a way that speaks to the school.

Applying to grad school is a very stressful task, but the entire process doesn’t need to be this way. By taking your time with the personal statement, you’ve got a great gateway into your post-grad endeavors.

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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