Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Admissions

September 1, 2016
Tori Owens

Here are some personal statement tips.

How does writing about yourself for grad school admissions differ from doing so for college?

It’s safe to say that the personal statement is one of the most critical elements in a student’s application for both undergrad and grad school admission. Your personal statement allows you to convey your personality and passions—two things that don’t necessarily come across in grades and test scores alone.

Think back to your undergraduate application. You might recall writing about your overarching goals and dreams, volunteer work you may have done in high school, and extracurricular activities that had a significant impact on your life and pre-college experience. At the graduate level, some of these basic elements of the personal statement will still apply. However, there are also a few noteworthy differences to take into account when writing your personal statement for graduate school.

Undergraduate vs. graduate school personal statements

Specificity is key in writing a personal statement for graduate school. Some people have known they’ve wanted to be doctors, teachers, or dentists their whole lives; in that case, they most likely wrote about it in their personal statements for undergraduate study. On the other hand, many students have no clue as to what they wanted to pursue long-term while they’re still in high school. Instead, they wrote broadly about why they wished to declare a certain major, or what they hoped to get involved in at the undergraduate level.

While such content in a personal statement may suffice for an undergraduate application, a much higher degree of specificity is expected in the personal statement for grad school admissions. This makes sense, since those pursuing a graduate education are most likely doing so because they want to become more skilled in a certain area or profession. Be sure to include these details of your educational and professional passions. For example, instead of simply stating, “I hope to enter into the field of public relations,” include details about which type of public relations you wish to pursue and for what kind of company/client you hope to work.

Tailor your application to the program

Catering to the program is also incredibly important when approaching your personal statement for grad school. While you may have gotten away with tweaking the same essay eight different ways for your undergraduate applications, this practice should definitely not be adopted for grad school admissions.

Think of the application process like dating: you want to demonstrate all of the reasons why you’re the right fit for that school, and they want to see that they’re the right fit for you as well. To do this, talk about how specific aspects of the advanced degree program (i.e., course options, teaching staff, location, etc.) correlate with your professional and educational goals.

Follow the prompt

Finally, it is crucial to pay special attention to the prompt for your grad school personal statement. Though this is also important for undergraduate applications—and may seem like an obvious bit of advice—it is worth mentioning, since prompts for grad school admissions essays can be jam-packed with specific questions and instructions.

To make sure you’ve answered all of the questions asked, go back and reread your personal statement once you have finished and cross-check with the prompt before submitting your essay. It’s okay to use similar language as the prompt so that your answers to the questions are easy for the reader to locate and identify. A great way to double-check whether you’ve answered the questions, ask someone to read your statement (without showing the person the prompt), and ask the person to tell you what questions she thought you were answering.

With these tips in mind, you’re ready to begin drafting your personal statements and moving one step closer towards your future career.

Need some direction to keep you on track for graduate school admissions? Grab our free step-by-step guide to see you through every phase of the application process.

Tori Owens Tori Owens is currently a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, majoring in communication studies with a double minor in journalism and business administration. After graduation this coming May, she is looking to head straight to graduate school and receive her Master's degree in journalism and communications. When she isn't writing (which is hardly ever), she enjoys delving into a good television drama series or scrolling through fashion art and interior design boards on Pinterest. Have a particular idea or topic you’d like Tori’s insights on? Message her on Instagram @tbussss.

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