Derick de Souza
Written By - Derick de Souza

Check MarkEdited By Gabriel D.

Check MarkReview & Contribution By Erik L. Cato

Most graduate school admissions require a Personal Statement. Beyond your transcripts and academic scores, admission panels want to know who and what you are. Personal statements are an art and subjective. While there are basic dos and don’ts, universities have no distinct guidelines, so use your imagination and writing skills. Personal statements are not about academics; they show your true self that would otherwise go unnoticed. Then again, when specified by the university, personal statements are academic and experience-based. Therefore, always read your university’s instructions for specific questions or points to cover. This resource guide covers writing, formatting, examples, and FAQs for grad school personal statements.

Personal Statement for Graduate School

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What is a Personal Statement for Graduate School

Like your unique signature, a grad school personal statement can be considered a signature of your inner and true self. It is a written form of who you are, what you value, how you think, and your identity stamp. Beyond a name you have and a signature you scribble, a personal statement expounds your true nature – not one dictated by and dedicated to people around you. To apply to graduate schools, a personal statement presents an opportunity for you to allow others into your mind and try and understand you beyond a curriculum vitae or biodata and, of course, an application form. Increasingly, grad schools have made personal statements a vital part of the decision-making process (for admissions) because standardized test scores can only show your academic prowess and precious little else. 

Consequently, if you want to leave your mark and offer something beyond Transcripts, a Personal Statement is the way to do so. In general terms, Personal Statements can be categorized into two categories – one being Academic and Technical and the other being Character-based and Personal. The former would require your focus and emphasize your academics, goals, research, and experience; the latter warrants a personal insight into everything that is quite the opposite.

Personal Statement for Graduate School Template

An excellent personal statement for graduate school template must demonstrate what you have learned throughout life – skills, values, morals, ethics, and qualities – and how these have prepared you for attending college. To do so, it is always best to prepare a custom template of your own, as there is no set graduate school personal statement Format or template cast in stone. Before writing your personal statement, note your topic, theme, key points, highlights, and keywords. Unless surefooted, try not to rush it out the door in a few hours or a day. Also, reviewing what you have written is important, checking for mistakes and points you may have overlooked.

Sections of a Personal Statement

Technically, you must cover three major sections when writing your personal statement. While this is just a thumb rule, you are at liberty to structure your personal statement as you wish, provided the intent and purpose are served. Remember to write with sincerity and maturity.

The three typical sections of a personal statement for graduate school are:

(A) The Introduction
This is where you can start with a narrative – a story, tale, anecdote, etc. How you begin will set the tone for the rest of your personal statement. Try and connect your passion with the field of choice and provide a glimpse of your intellect as well.

(B) The Mid-Section
Bring in the details of your narrative and fill your content in this middle section, conveying as much as possible about your chosen topic while bringing out your true self in the bargain.

(C) The Conclusion
Conclude with a strong bottom line and closure. End your essay with a convincing interpretation of who you are and why you are here to study further.

Personal Statement for Graduate School Template

In addition to the three major sections of a personal statement for graduate school, it is important to include points that illustrate your attributes and traits. Draw upon events and experiences that inspired you to reach where you are and eventually apply for the program you are writing for. Showcase your ability to work under duress or in strenuous situations and the values you have picked up along your life journey.

Do note that some Universities have a specific requirement for personal statements. You may be asked to write about:

  • What specific lines of inquiry and research interest you and why;
  • How your past studies, research, and experience reflect on your future scholarly interests;
  • Why you think you will excel in the Program and the particular college to which you are applying.

It is, therefore, necessary to read the instructions given to you carefully.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

Before you start writing your personal statement, understand what you are to prepare for by taking note of specific questions that may have been asked. In general, writing a personal statement becomes easier when you know certain basic rules and have a topic you can actually write about. You should factor in a few tips and best practices before you get down to writing your personal statement. Here are a few that serve as guidelines; not all of them need to make their way into your personal statement:

  1. Pick an uncommon topic with uncommon connections
    Topics about or relating to “telling the truth,” “not cheating others,” and such are best written by School Students. While applying for college, you should think of a topic that is hard to come by or has not been written about often. Avoid typical ‘morals’ that your parents would have spoken to you about in your pre-teen years. Search your life to date and choose a topic that you found most interesting, unusual, and evocative, which left its mark on your life and brought about some change. Then, connect to this topic or event – again, connections are rarely made and not so evident at first sight.
  2. Make a plot, write a story
    A story is always intriguing and exciting to read over a usually boring traditional essay of yourself. Try and write a series or sequence of events around your topic. Introduce a plot if there’s a chance of doing so. This will provide you with ample room to stretch your imagination and create a piece that will be easier to write all the way.
  3. Speak and be spoken to
    Writing a narrative as paragraph text is standard practice, no doubt. But turning that narrative into a perceivable incident by throwing in all the people involved will stir the reader’s imagination. For example, replace could replace a mundane “I was scared of the dark” with:

    “What’s stopping you, Tim?” asked Susan with a hint of irritation. “Nothing,” said I, as if to say it was a stupid question. “Go on then,” she said, tugging at my sleeve. But how could I tell her that I was scared of the dark?

    In this example, the author’s simple fact of being scared of the dark was enucleated by some simple dialogues. Granted, the incident may not have occurred as explained, but try to recollect what happened and introduce a second or third person to spice it up a bit.
  4. Don’t lose sight of the theme
    Throughout your essay, always keep your eye on the ball; that is to say, never lose sight of what you are trying to convey. The theme of your piece should run like a scarlet thread from start to finish. Of course, you can step off track when there is reason to do so, but don’t get carried away and end up with another theme or topic altogether!
  5. Laughter – the best medicine
    Remember the age-old saying “laughter is the best medicine”? Even if your topic or connections are ‘deep’ and insightful, explore ways of lightening the mood or see how you could sprinkle some light humor across your essay. However, a Personal Statement is not meant to be humorous from any conceivable angle, so do not dilute it and sully it with off-hand jokes and cheap one-liners. They won’t help one bit!
  6. Go easy with the intellect
    Don’t attempt to sound over intellectual or profound if it is not you. Making a pretense of thinking and acting like a hermit or sage may convince only cursory readers, not serious ones. Be who you are and be true to yourself. Don’t cause the reader to believe you are far less than you claim to be. Experienced readers can spot your pretense and set aside the rest of your essay to be read as entertainment on unusually boring evenings by the fireplace.
  7. Portray independence and resilience
    Try to show your strengths, individuality, independence, and resilience through your essay. Convey how you may or may not have stood your ground in a certain situation, how you were unshakable in your suppositions or otherwise, how you did what you thought best at the time, and so on.
  8. Create a twist to the tale
    Catching the reader off-guard is an excellent way to make your essay even more interesting than it may already be. Without losing sight of the theme and going astray too far, introduce a twist in your ‘story’ if an opportunity presents itself. An unexpected turn in events in your narrative will add intrigue and stimulate the reader’s interest further.
  9. The devil is in the detail
    It is always a good idea to enucleate key points in your essay. As the saying goes – “the devil is in the detail,” so make sure you have not left the reader hanging for want of understanding what you were trying to convey in the first place. Try and be precise with the time, people involved, the situation, the circumstances, and factual data (if any) to add legitimacy to your article and help the reader paint the entire canvas in their mind.
  10. Present the right context
    Avoid going off-topic and out of context when clarifying certain points in your personal statement. Be careful to make contextual swerves when adrift from exacting points. The context keeps the reader engaged with the topic rather than going astray and even disconnecting when off-context.
  11. Pose a dilemma
    Depending on what you are writing about, try and introduce a dilemma you faced and expound how you dealt with this dilemma. The point here is not whether what you did was right or wrong; the point is to show your decision-making abilities despite the odds or adverse situations.
  12. Be specific – it’s about you!
    A Personal Statement’s whole objective is to reveal your true self to the reader beyond the information you provide in an Application Form. Therefore, you need to link any situation, event, or anecdote you may write about to yourself and your life. The reader needs to know how you were impacted and the outcomes.
  13. Turn a perceived weakness into a critical strength
    Turning a perceived weakness into a critical strength is one of the best ways to persuade the reader to see and understand your pliancy when your back is to the wall. Making this point lends heft to the idea that you can use a difficult situation to your advantage.
  14. Fill it up, but cut it short
    Writing endless pages does not get you anywhere. Strike a fair balance between what you want to convey, how much you want to convey, and how long it would take to do so. Please don’t make the Personal Statement long enough to make it overkill or boring. Stick to your topic, relay your points, and leave the reader with something to take home.
  15. Get to the bottom-line
    It is always good to conclude your entire essay in a nutshell, if possible. The end of the Personal Statement should ideally rehash your article’s essence and give the reader some ‘takeaway’ point, or points, that highlight your true self and spirit. Avoid vague and loose endings that leave much to discern.

Last but not least, in your essay, it should be evident that you have attained ample growth and insight and grown in stature over time. Make the content visceral and evocative to convince the reader that it is palpable, revealing what you think and how you think. On the other hand, if your university has asked for a more technically inclined Statement, see that your writing is more academic-oriented, answers specific questions, and targets your future at the college.

Important: While the question of how to write a personal statement has been addressed, an integral part of making it a compelling read lies in reviewing your essay. Consider this flow:

  • first, write a rough copy of your personal statement as your thoughts flow, and then turn this copy into the first draft;
  • revise this draft several times, making changes as you do, and prepare a second draft, ensuring you have covered everything;
  • continue to revise the second draft and get a friend, family member, teacher/professor/mentor, or colleague to read it and provide you with feedback and suggestions;
  • once you have made changes to this second draft (if needed), write a final draft and review it at least a couple of times before submitting it. While reviewing, check your grammar, style, sentence structure, and spelling mistakes and typos.

What to Avoid When Writing a Personal Statement for Graduate School

It is very easy to get carried away when writing a personal statement for a graduate school. One must always remember the intent of a Personal Statement – it is not written for entertainment or amusement, nor a work of fiction or a novel. You must try and avoid a few points and clichés:

  1. Overcoming Injury
    This topic or point is far too common and does not necessarily convey to the reader who you are. Superficially, it only gives the impression that you possess a strong physique.
  2. Death of Tragedy
    One does not necessarily have to learn from a sad event such as death or a tragedy. While explaining death can set a sad tone to your article, tragedy is often hard to quantify and, therefore, best avoided. Similarly, abstain from detailing divorce, disease, and untold misery.
  3. Losing a battle, but winning a war
    Do not write about your little battles and triumphs; if you do, you may be perceived as shallow, and there may be other students with bigger battles and triumphs than yours! Moreover, the reader may surmise that you are applying for college to win and not to learn.
  4. Why you chose the college (for which you are writing your personal statement)
    If such a question were important to a College, you would have been asked to write an answer for it specifically and in detail. Colleges do not want to know why you are applying; they want to know you! They want you to tell them what kind of a person you are. But yes, if the question asked is academic-related, by all means, do answer it in that light.
  5. Assertions, convictions, and beliefs
    Refrain from making strong assertions and convictions on controversial subjects and not explaining your personal, political, or religious beliefs until the university has asked questions in that direction.

Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

You can find plenty of personal statement examples for graduate school online. Writing one that focuses on your academic or professional credentials is comparatively easier than a more personal one. Here is a sample personal statement that can make for a compelling and memorable read:

“Growing up in the small town of Grand Junction, Colorado, had its ups and downs. As a child, I always aspired to be a musician, but musicians of fame were hard to come by in this rather quaint town for me to awe and marvel. Quite naturally, my exposure to music and its stars was restricted to the few hours I was allowed to gape, complete with an open mouth, at the television.

My excitement for music used to lead me to the bathroom often. I used to croon long and loud, and I was rather relieved to have found an audience in my neighbors. After all, they did not complain as my sister did, and I did not make much of our dog seeking shelter under the bed each time I broke into song.

In the two elementary schools I attended, there were very gifted kids. Some aced their studies, some could brush replicas of our beautiful mountains on canvas, a few could shake a leg to racy tunes with form and enthusiasm, and then some took to athletics and sports as fish would take to the water. Unfortunately for me, most of this brigade could not carry a tune in a bucket! I felt isolated and alone, with hardly anyone who shared my passion and love for music.

A few years on, my voice broke, and I was elated, thinking that I had come closer to becoming the next Elvis Presley. My bathroom singing grew longer and louder than yore, but gradually, the neighbors seemed to have had enough of it and soon enough resorted to snide remarks at every opportunity. I, of course, made light of it and put it down to their envy. What I did not fathom is that my voice had changed completely but horridly. Years later, I was tactfully told that I had sounded akin to a frog crying out for help.

But when we moved to Denver, all that changed. Let loose in a big city, and with a few more years added to my age, I devoured all the Jazz, Blues, Pop, Soft Rock, Country, Hip Hop, and, of course, Classical Music I possibly could. For me, it was a dream come true; heavenly, I surmised. With overflowing levels of enthusiasm, I wasted no time signing up for the school band. In time, I gradually became obsessed with personal success on the stage – the key to social acceptance and ‘fitting in’ at a new school.

Consequently, I was compelled to make my mark and be the celebrated hero on stage, as some were in the sports arena. It was now that my academics took a back seat. I practiced singing long and hard, often in open parks and peaceful and tranquil places. Within weeks, however, my world came crashing down. I was booed off stage at a talent show and had to live with the shame of featuring at the bottom of the winner’s list. Dejected and rejected, I decided to hang in the horn. My academics, which had suffered a beating due to my foolhardiness, became a priority once again. But this time, it too had lost its zing; I treated it more like a job than a joy. No matter what I did from then on, I always considered myself a failure because I couldn’t sing.

That view held my ground for a whole term until, one day, I was told something that turned my life around. After an event that had just concluded at school, where the school band had played, I stepped up to Mark, the lead vocalist, and said, “You know what? I would trade places with you any day!”. Astonished, he said, “If I were as talented as you, I would have stood out and achieved something by now.” At that moment, I was incredulous. What was he talking about, I wondered. But then I realized that others around me had recognized my talent, not as a vocalist, but as a musician. Their confidence in my talent prompted me to realize I could still be a musician, still end up on stage, but not sing! Instead of singing, I espied I should teach vocals and music to others.

Being fairly gifted in academics allowed me to cradle the theory of music and vocals quickly. I listened to world-renowned singers, concentrated on guitar riffs and techniques, paid attention to percussion instruments in various subject genres, and compiled my arsenal of lessons. I signed up at local music clubs and registered with the Denver Musicians Association. I began teaching the school band a thing or two, polished their gig, and composed a few tunes, catapulting them to fame. During school breaks, I casually taught kids with angelic voices but precious little guidance on what to do with them. I had now acquired flexibility, adaptability, discipline, and drive – all of which determined my success. This understanding and intellect have made me a better student, friend, and, of course, singer.

I have grown in stature and become far more rounded than I thought I was. Instead of aiming for fame, perfection, and social acceptance, I can now concentrate on the things I love. All of this change has “re-inspired” me to express myself better and turn a weakness into a strength. After all, a gift is still a gift – and we must cherish every gift we are blessed with. While I secretly continue to harbor a desire to be the world’s best singer, I am more than happy to settle for making the world’s best singers.”

FAQs about Personal Statement for Graduate School

How long should a personal statement be for graduate school?

A personal statement has no fixed length unless specified by the university you are applying for. However, you should write just enough to convey your points and not drag it on for pages to bulk things up a bit. Remember, the quality of content is better than the quantity of content. Some 800 to 1000 words would be ideal, we think.

How do I write a compelling personal statement for graduate school?

What do I write in a personal statement for graduate school?

How do I begin a personal statement for graduate school?

How do I close a personal statement for graduate school?

How do I format a personal statement for graduate school?

Do you sign a personal statement for graduate school?

Can I not copy or borrow someone else’s personal statement for graduate school?

Additional Resources for Writing Personal Statement for Graduate School

While you should compose and write your own personal statement for graduate school from scratch, there are some resources you could look into for ideas and suggestions to give you an easier start. But having said that, be warned that reading more samples of personal statements can leave you confused and frustrated. Ensure you know how much to look for and where and when to stop.

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab – Purdue Online Writing Lab offers a host of writing tips, tricks, and examples and is a wealth of information for documents other than personal statements as well.
  • Personal Statement Services – Personal Statement Services by Dr. Robert Edinger offers ready-to-edit samples of personal statements and other documents that may be required for admission to a college.
  • The University of Nevada, Reno – University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) provides many good writing and speaking resources. Go through UNR’s link to understand citation styles, plan and organize documents, and research proper writing.
  • Grammarly – Grammarly is a free plugin for Microsoft Word documents that helps writers perform spell checks, grammar, formal writing suggestions, and a robust review of the written content.
  • ProWritingAid – ProWritingAid is a grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor many students use to write papers. This tool can also be used to write personal statements for graduate school.