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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

UL Grad School -- 11/23/2020

Writing a statement of purpose for graduate school allows you to show why you’re interested in a particular program, and to prove to the admissions committee that you’re prepared to succeed in graduate school.

Use this opportunity to describe your professional goals and educational skill set, and to show that you would be a valuable addition to the program.

First and foremost, note any instructions about page limit (between 1 and 2 pages is typical) and identify any specific prompts given on the admissions websites. Now it’s time to start writing!

Brainstorm

Break down the task by writing out answers to the kinds of questions an admissions committee will be asking when they review your application:

  • Why do you want to obtain this degree?
  • What related experience or skill sets do you have?
  • What are your expectations for graduate study?
  • What faculty members, facilities, or programs would you benefit from?

Identify specific examples to back up your assertions. Don’t just say you are passionate about your area of study; rather, talk about how you have put time and energy into furthering your knowledge of the field. Present the committee with compelling evidence that demonstrates your capability.

Customize

Most statements of purpose will be fairly generic, so take the opportunity to stand out by submitting a compelling and memorable piece.

Research each program thoroughly and customize your statement of purpose for each school. Reference specific facilities and resources and how you will benefit from them. Name specific faculty members and show that you understand the importance of their research.

You can recycle the core content of your statement of purpose for each school, but adjust the presentation to fit each program you apply to.

Focus on Fit

Think about the impression you want to make on the admissions committee and your prospective advisors.

You should demonstrate your ability to maintain effective working relationships, and your capacity to move through your coursework and complete your degree within the expected time frame. You should also show that you will be strategic about expanding your skillset and succeeding post-graduation. Take the time to identify your goals and how this particular program will help you to accomplish them.

There may be challenges or setbacks that you want to address in the statement of purpose. Keep your explanations brief, and rather than seeking leniency, describe how you successfully overcame or are working on these obstacles. Use this as an opportunity to show your maturity and resilience.

Get Feedback

Writing a truly effective personal statement is no easy feat, so don’t be afraid to seek out  feedback. Professors, mentors, and friends may have valuable input. At the end of the day, however, you’ll want to carefully consider which edits are useful and which ones can be cast aside. This is your application, and you know yourself best!

Learn more about graduate admissions requirements. >