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Writing the Personal Statement

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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

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Gre prep online guides and tips, 3 successful graduate school personal statement examples.

personal statement for phd application

Looking for grad school personal statement examples? Look no further! In this total guide to graduate school personal statement examples, we’ll discuss why you need a personal statement for grad school and what makes a good one. Then we’ll provide three graduate school personal statement samples from our grad school experts. After that, we’ll do a deep dive on one of our personal statement for graduate school examples. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of other grad school personal statements you can find online.

Why Do You Need a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is a chance for admissions committees to get to know you: your goals and passions, what you’ll bring to the program, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program.  You need to sell the admissions committee on what makes you a worthwhile applicant. The personal statement is a good chance to highlight significant things about you that don’t appear elsewhere on your application.

A personal statement is slightly different from a statement of purpose (also known as a letter of intent). A statement of purpose/letter of intent tends to be more tightly focused on your academic or professional credentials and your future research and/or professional interests.

While a personal statement also addresses your academic experiences and goals, you have more leeway to be a little more, well, personal. In a personal statement, it’s often appropriate to include information on significant life experiences or challenges that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your field of interest.

Some programs ask for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose/letter of intent. In this case, the personal statement is likely to be much more tightly focused on your life experience and personality assets while the statement of purpose will focus in much more on your academic/research experiences and goals.

However, there’s not always a hard-and-fast demarcation between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The two statement types should address a lot of the same themes, especially as relates to your future goals and the valuable assets you bring to the program. Some programs will ask for a personal statement but the prompt will be focused primarily on your research and professional experiences and interests. Some will ask for a statement of purpose but the prompt will be more focused on your general life experiences.

When in doubt, give the program what they are asking for in the prompt and don’t get too hung up on whether they call it a personal statement or statement of purpose. You can always call the admissions office to get more clarification on what they want you to address in your admissions essay.

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What Makes a Good Grad School Personal Statement?

A great graduate school personal statement can come in many forms and styles. However, strong grad school personal statement examples all share the same following elements:

A Clear Narrative

Above all, a good personal statement communicates clear messages about what makes you a strong applicant who is likely to have success in graduate school. So to that extent, think about a couple of key points that you want to communicate about yourself and then drill down on how you can best communicate those points. (Your key points should of course be related to what you can bring to the field and to the program specifically).

You can also decide whether to address things like setbacks or gaps in your application as part of your narrative. Have a low GPA for a couple semesters due to a health issue? Been out of a job for a while taking care of a family member? If you do decide to explain an issue like this, make sure that the overall arc is more about demonstrating positive qualities like resilience and diligence than about providing excuses.

Specific Examples

A great statement of purpose uses specific examples to illustrate its key messages. This can include anecdotes that demonstrate particular traits or even references to scholars and works that have influenced your academic trajectory to show that you are familiar and insightful about the relevant literature in your field.

Just saying “I love plants,” is pretty vague. Describing how you worked in a plant lab during undergrad and then went home and carefully cultivated your own greenhouse where you cross-bred new flower colors by hand is much more specific and vivid, which makes for better evidence.

A strong personal statement will describe why you are a good fit for the program, and why the program is a good fit for you. It’s important to identify specific things about the program that appeal to you, and how you’ll take advantage of those opportunities. It’s also a good idea to talk about specific professors you might be interested in working with. This shows that you are informed about and genuinely invested in the program.

Strong Writing

Even quantitative and science disciplines typically require some writing, so it’s important that your personal statement shows strong writing skills. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and that you don’t have any grammar and spelling errors. It’s helpful to get other people to read your statement and provide feedback. Plan on going through multiple drafts.

Another important thing here is to avoid cliches and gimmicks. Don’t deploy overused phrases and openings like “ever since I was a child.” Don’t structure your statement in a gimmicky way (i.e., writing a faux legal brief about yourself for a law school statement of purpose). The first will make your writing banal; the second is likely to make you stand out in a bad way.

Appropriate Boundaries

While you can be more personal in a personal statement than in a statement of purpose, it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries in your writing. Don’t overshare anything too personal about relationships, bodily functions, or illegal activities. Similarly, don’t share anything that makes it seem like you may be out of control, unstable, or an otherwise risky investment. The personal statement is not a confessional booth. If you share inappropriately, you may seem like you have bad judgment, which is a huge red flag to admissions committees.

You should also be careful with how you deploy humor and jokes. Your statement doesn’t have to be totally joyless and serious, but bear in mind that the person reading the statement may not have the same sense of humor as you do. When in doubt, err towards the side of being as inoffensive as possible.

Just as being too intimate in your statement can hurt you, it’s also important not to be overly formal or staid. You should be professional, but conversational.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

Our graduate school experts have been kind enough to provide some successful grad school personal statement examples. We’ll provide three examples here, along with brief analysis of what makes each one successful.

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 1

PDF of Sample Personal Statement 1 – Japanese Studies

For this Japanese Studies master’s degree, the applicant had to provide a statement of purpose outlining her academic goals and experience with Japanese and a separate personal statement describing her personal relationship with Japanese Studies and what led her to pursue a master’s degree.

Here’s what’s successful about this personal statement:

  • An attention-grabbing beginning: The applicant begins with the statement that Japanese has never come easily to her and that it’s a brutal language to learn. Seeing as how this is an application for a Japanese Studies program, this is an intriguing beginning that makes the reader want to keep going.
  • A compelling narrative: From this attention-grabbing beginning, the applicant builds a well-structured and dramatic narrative tracking her engagement with the Japanese language over time. The clear turning point is her experience studying abroad, leading to a resolution in which she has clarity about her plans. Seeing as how the applicant wants to be a translator of Japanese literature, the tight narrative structure here is a great way to show her writing skills.
  • Specific examples that show important traits: The applicant clearly communicates both a deep passion for Japanese through examples of her continued engagement with Japanese and her determination and work ethic by highlighting the challenges she’s faced (and overcome) in her study of the language. This gives the impression that she is an engaged and dedicated student.

Overall, this is a very strong statement both in terms of style and content. It flows well, is memorable, and communicates that the applicant would make the most of the graduate school experience.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 2

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 2 – Musical Composition

This personal statement for a Music Composition master’s degree discusses the factors that motivate the applicant to pursue graduate study.

Here’s what works well in this statement:

  • The applicant provides two clear reasons motivating the student to pursue graduate study: her experiences with music growing up, and her family’s musical history. She then supports those two reasons with examples and analysis.
  • The description of her ancestors’ engagement with music is very compelling and memorable. The applicant paints her own involvement with music as almost inevitable based on her family’s long history with musical pursuits.
  • The applicant gives thoughtful analysis of the advantages she has been afforded that have allowed her to study music so extensively. We get the sense that she is insightful and empathetic—qualities that would add greatly to any academic community.

This is a strong, serviceable personal statement. And in truth, given that this for a masters in music composition, other elements of the application (like work samples) are probably the most important.  However, here are two small changes I would make to improve it:

  • I would probably to split the massive second paragraph into 2-3 separate paragraphs. I might use one paragraph to orient the reader to the family’s musical history, one paragraph to discuss Giacomo and Antonio, and one paragraph to discuss how the family has influenced the applicant. As it stands, it’s a little unwieldy and the second paragraph doesn’t have a super-clear focus even though it’s all loosely related to the applicant’s family history with music.
  • I would also slightly shorten the anecdote about the applicant’s ancestors and expand more on how this family history has motivated the applicant’s interest in music. In what specific ways has her ancestors’ perseverance inspired her? Did she think about them during hard practice sessions? Is she interested in composing music in a style they might have played? More specific examples here would lend greater depth and clarity to the statement.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 3 – Public Health

This is my successful personal statement for Columbia’s Master’s program in Public Health. We’ll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I’ll highlight a couple of things that work in this statement here:

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  • This statement is clearly organized. Almost every paragraph has a distinct focus and message, and when I move on to a new idea, I move on to a new paragraph with a logical transitions.
  • This statement covers a lot of ground in a pretty short space. I discuss my family history, my goals, my educational background, and my professional background. But because the paragraphs are organized and I use specific examples, it doesn’t feel too vague or scattered.
  • In addition to including information about my personal motivations, like my family, I also include some analysis about tailoring health interventions with my example of the Zande. This is a good way to show off what kinds of insights I might bring to the program based on my academic background.

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Grad School Personal Statement Example: Deep Dive

Now let’s do a deep dive, paragraph-by-paragraph, on one of these sample graduate school personal statements. We’ll use my personal statement that I used when I applied to Columbia’s public health program.

Paragraph One: For twenty-three years, my grandmother (a Veterinarian and an Epidemiologist) ran the Communicable Disease Department of a mid-sized urban public health department. The stories of Grandma Betty doggedly tracking down the named sexual partners of the infected are part of our family lore. Grandma Betty would persuade people to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, encourage safer sexual practices, document the spread of infection and strive to contain and prevent it. Indeed, due to the large gay population in the city where she worked, Grandma Betty was at the forefront of the AIDS crises, and her analysis contributed greatly towards understanding how the disease was contracted and spread. My grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me, and the reason why a career in public health was always on my radar.

This is an attention-grabbing opening anecdote that avoids most of the usual cliches about childhood dreams and proclivities. This story also subtly shows that I have a sense of public health history, given the significance of the AIDs crisis for public health as a field.

It’s good that I connect this family history to my own interests. However, if I were to revise this paragraph again, I might cut down on some of the detail because when it comes down to it, this story isn’t really about me. It’s important that even (sparingly used) anecdotes about other people ultimately reveal something about you in a personal statement.

Paragraph Two: Recent years have cemented that interest. In January 2012, my parents adopted my little brother Fred from China. Doctors in America subsequently diagnosed Fred with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My parents were told that if Fred’s condition had been discovered in China, the (very poor) orphanage in which he spent the first 8+ years of his life would have recognized his DMD as a death sentence and denied him sustenance to hasten his demise.

Here’s another compelling anecdote to help explain my interest in public health. This is an appropriately personal detail for a personal statement—it’s a serious thing about my immediate family, but it doesn’t disclose anything that the admissions committee might find concerning or inappropriate.

If I were to take another pass through this paragraph, the main thing I would change is the last phrase. “Denied him sustenance to hasten his demise” is a little flowery. “Denied him food to hasten his death” is actually more powerful because it’s clearer and more direct.

Paragraph Three: It is not right that some people have access to the best doctors and treatment while others have no medical care. I want to pursue an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia because studying social factors in health, with a particular focus on socio-health inequities, will prepare me to address these inequities. The interdisciplinary approach of the program appeals to me greatly as I believe interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective way to develop meaningful solutions to complex problems.

In this paragraph I make a neat and clear transition from discussing what sparked my interest in public health and health equity to what I am interested in about Columbia specifically: the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and how that focus will prepare me to solve complex health problems. This paragraph also serves as a good pivot point to start discussing my academic and professional background.

Paragraph Four: My undergraduate education has prepared me well for my chosen career. Understanding the underlying structure of a group’s culture is essential to successfully communicating with the group. In studying folklore and mythology, I’ve learned how to parse the unspoken structures of folk groups, and how those structures can be used to build bridges of understanding. For example, in a culture where most illnesses are believed to be caused by witchcraft, as is the case for the Zande people of central Africa, any successful health intervention or education program would of necessity take into account their very real belief in witchcraft.

In this paragraph, I link my undergraduate education and the skills I learned there to public health. The (very brief) analysis of tailoring health interventions to the Zande is a good way to show insight and show off the competencies I would bring to the program.

Paragraph Five: I now work in the healthcare industry for one of the largest providers of health benefits in the world. In addition to reigniting my passion for data and quantitative analytics, working for this company has immersed me in the business side of healthcare, a critical component of public health.

This brief paragraph highlights my relevant work experience in the healthcare industry. It also allows me to mention my work with data and quantitative analytics, which isn’t necessarily obvious from my academic background, which was primarily based in the social sciences.

Paragraph Six: I intend to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in how social factors affect health, particularly as related to gender and sexuality. I intend to pursue a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual Health, and Reproduction. Working together with other experts to create effective interventions across cultures and societies, I want to help transform health landscapes both in America and abroad.

This final paragraph is about my future plans and intentions. Unfortunately, it’s a little disjointed, primarily because I discuss goals of pursuing a PhD before I talk about what certificate I want to pursue within the MPH program! Switching those two sentences and discussing my certificate goals within the MPH and then mentioning my PhD plans would make a lot more sense.

I also start two sentences in a row with “I intend,” which is repetitive.

The final sentence is a little bit generic; I might tailor it to specifically discuss a gender and sexual health issue, since that is the primary area of interest I’ve identified.

This was a successful personal statement; I got into (and attended!) the program. It has strong examples, clear organization, and outlines what interests me about the program (its interdisciplinary focus) and what competencies I would bring (a background in cultural analysis and experience with the business side of healthcare). However, a few slight tweaks would elevate this statement to the next level.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples You Can Find Online

So you need more samples for your personal statement for graduate school? Examples are everywhere on the internet, but they aren’t all of equal quality.

Most of examples are posted as part of writing guides published online by educational institutions. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones here if you are looking for more personal statement examples for graduate school.

Penn State Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

This selection of ten short personal statements for graduate school and fellowship programs offers an interesting mix of approaches. Some focus more on personal adversity while others focus more closely on professional work within the field.

The writing in some of these statements is a little dry, and most deploy at least a few cliches. However, these are generally strong, serviceable statements that communicate clearly why the student is interested in the field, their skills and competencies, and what about the specific program appeals to them.

Cal State Sample Graduate School Personal Statements

These are good examples of personal statements for graduate school where students deploy lots of very vivid imagery and illustrative anecdotes of life experiences. There are also helpful comments about what works in each of these essays.

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However, all of these statements are definitely pushing the boundaries of acceptable length, as all are above 1000 and one is almost 1500 words! Many programs limit you to 500 words; if you don’t have a limit, you should try to keep it to two single-spaced pages at most (which is about 1000 words).

University of Chicago Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples

These examples of successful essays to the University of Chicago law school cover a wide range of life experiences and topics. The writing in all is very vivid, and all communicate clear messages about the students’ strengths and competencies.

Note, however, that these are all essays that specifically worked for University of Chicago law school. That does not mean that they would work everywhere. In fact, one major thing to note is that many of these responses, while well-written and vivid, barely address the students’ interest in law school at all! This is something that might not work well for most graduate programs.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 10

This successful essay for law school from a Wheaton College undergraduate does a great job tracking the student’s interest in the law in a compelling and personal way. Wheaton offers other graduate school personal statement examples, but this one offers the most persuasive case for the students’ competencies. The student accomplishes this by using clear, well-elaborated examples, showing strong and vivid writing, and highlighting positive qualities like an interest in justice and empathy without seeming grandiose or out of touch.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 1

Based on the background information provided at the bottom of the essay, this essay was apparently successful for this applicant. However, I’ve actually included this essay because it demonstrates an extremely risky approach. While this personal statement is strikingly written and the story is very memorable, it could definitely communicate the wrong message to some admissions committees. The student’s decision not to report the drill sergeant may read incredibly poorly to some admissions committees. They may wonder if the student’s failure to report the sergeant’s violence will ultimately expose more soldiers-in-training to the same kinds of abuses. This incident perhaps reads especially poorly in light of the fact that the military has such a notable problem with violence against women being covered up and otherwise mishandled

It’s actually hard to get a complete picture of the student’s true motivations from this essay, and what we have might raise real questions about the student’s character to some admissions committees. This student took a risk and it paid off, but it could have just as easily backfired spectacularly.

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Key Takeaways: Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

In this guide, we discussed why you need a personal statement and how it differs from a statement of purpose. (It’s more personal!)

We also discussed what you’ll find in a strong sample personal statement for graduate school:

  • A clear narrative about the applicant and why they are qualified for graduate study.
  • Specific examples to support that narrative.
  • Compelling reasons why the applicant and the program are a good fit for each other.
  • Strong writing, including clear organization and error-free, cliche-free language.
  • Appropriate boundaries—sharing without over-sharing.

Then, we provided three strong graduate school personal statement examples for different fields, along with analysis. We did a deep-dive on the third statement.

Finally, we provided a list of other sample grad school personal statements online.

What’s Next?

Want more advice on writing a personal statement ? See our guide.

Writing a graduate school statement of purpose? See our statement of purpose samples  and a nine-step process for writing the best statement of purpose possible .

If you’re writing a graduate school CV or resume, see our how-to guide to writing a CV , a how-to guide to writing a resume , our list of sample resumes and CVs , resume and CV templates , and a special guide for writing resume objectives .

Need stellar graduate school recommendation letters ? See our guide.

See our 29 tips for successfully applying to graduate school .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

personal statement for phd application

Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon

personal statement for phd application

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How to Write a Personal Statement for a PhD Program Application

Personal statement guidelines, general guidelines to keep in mind:.

  • One size does not fit all : Tailor your personal statement to each program and department you are applying to. Do your research to learn what is unique about each of your choices and highlight how this particular program stands out.
  • Yes, it’s personal : Showcase your unique strengths and accomplishments. Explain what influenced your personal decisions to pursue the program. Ask yourself, could this be applied to your friend or neighbor? If so, you need to be more specific and provide examples. Saying that you are a “good scientist” isn’t enough. Provide examples of your previous research experience, projects you’ve completed, and what technical skills you learned. Explain how you overcame any challenges along the way.
  • Set aside enough time :  Although personal statements are generally short in length (approx. 700 words; 1-2 pages), give yourself ample time to write a strong, well-written statement. It takes more time than you think to develop a final draft for submission.
  • Focus on your spelling, grammar, and vocabulary :  It’s important to present a well-written statement with good grammar and vocabulary. Write concrete, succinct sentences that flow well. Avoid flowery language. Visit the  Writing Center  for additional review and feedback.
  • Proofread one more time:  Check your grammar and spelling again before submitting your final draft. Ask a friend, professor, or advisor to proofread your final draft one more time before sending it in. 

YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT SHOULD ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:

  • Why do you want to complete further research in this field?  Write down a list of reasons as to why you are interested in pursuing further study in the field. When did you become interested in the field and what knowledge have you gained so far? Describe how your previous work provided the foundation and for further study.
  • Why  have you  chosen to apply to this particular university ? Does the institution have a particular curriculum, special research facilities/equipment, or interesting research that appeal to you?
  • What are your strengths ? Demonstrate how you stand out from other candidates. Highlight relevant projects, dissertations thesis or essays that demonstrate your academic skills and creativity. Include IT skills, research techniques, awards, or relevant traveling/ study abroad experience.
  • What are your transferable skills?  Be sure to emphasize transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, and time management skills. Give examples of how you have demonstrated each of these with specific examples.
  • How does this program align with your career goals?  It’s okay if you don’t know the exact career path you plan to take after completing your PhD. Provide an idea of the direction you would like to take. This demonstrates commitment and dedication to the program.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For examples of successful personal statements, visit the  Online Writing Lab (OWL) .

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  • Knowledge Base
  • Applying to graduate school
  • How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.

To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:

  • Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
  • Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
  • Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?

This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.

Urban Planning Psychology History

Table of contents

Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.

Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.

For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.

There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.

The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.

Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene

An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:

  • A personal experience that changed your perspective
  • A story from your family’s history
  • A memorable teacher or learning experience
  • An unusual or unexpected encounter

To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.

Strategy 2: Open with your motivations

To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.

Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:

  • Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
  • Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
  • How does it fit into the rest of your life?
  • What do you think it contributes to society?

Tips for the introduction

  • Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
  • Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.

Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.

To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.

Strategy 1: Describe your development over time

One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.

  • What first sparked your interest in the field?
  • Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
  • Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?

Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.

My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.

Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles

If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.

  • Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
  • Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.

Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.

Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.

Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field

Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.

  • Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
  • Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
  • Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.

The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.

In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.

Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions

Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.

  • If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
  • If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
  • If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.

Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.

One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.

Tips for the main body

  • Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
  • Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.

Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.

Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.

Strategy 1: What do you want to know?

If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?

If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.

Strategy 2: What do you want to do?

If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?

Tips for the conclusion

  • Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
  • Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.

You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.

Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.

Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.

A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.

A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.

However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.

The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.

Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.

Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.

If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.

If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.

If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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How to write a PhD personal statement

16 th August 2022

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Not sure where to start when it comes to writing a PhD personal statement? We have put together a helpful article packed full of advice for writing your PhD personal statement (or cover letter), so you can approach the task with confidence. PhD personal statements are incredibly important bits of work, showing how suitable you are for studying within the department that you are applying to, so it’s wise to make sure you’ve done your absolute best – you only get to make your first impression once! Have a read of our useful PhD personal statement tips, make a cup of coffee, and start showing off your writing skills. 

What is a PhD personal statement?

How do i write a phd personal statement, how should i structure a phd personal statement, what should i write in a phd personal statement, what style should i use for a phd personal statement, how should i check my phd personal statement, phd cover letter and personal statement tips.

When applying for a PhD course, you may have to submit a research proposal as well as a personal statement or cover letter.

The proposal details your research project (such as proposed methods, results and planned analysis) and why there is value in exploring it.

Your personal statement outlines why you are suitable for doctoral study. In addition, it should say why you’re interested in the specific PhD with that particular department and how your experiences can add to it.

Sometimes you only have to submit a proposal or a personal statement. If you have to submit both, be sure that they clearly cover these separate areas.

Your PhD application is very different from an application you may have made before through UCAS. It goes directly to the university and needs to be fully tailored to what the department is looking for. It’s similar to a job application.

If you haven’t already, get in touch with the PhD supervisors or other contacts within the department you want to work in. They regularly need PhD students to support their work, so they will probably be happy to help you with your application.

When planning what to write, read all relevant information about the course and any guidance from the university – for example, lists of desirable criteria, or a person specifications. You can use each criterion as a heading and make bullet points on what to write under each one.

  • An introduction that outlines why you want to do the PhD
  • Middle paragraphs that say how your interests and experiences make you right for doctoral study, and why the university department is a suitable fit for you
  • A concluding paragraph that summarises why you’re the best person for the course

Aim to explain how your skills and experience make you a suitable candidate for this particular PhD at this specific university.

  • Why should you be completing research in this area?
  • What are your strengths and achievements?
  • What are your influences?
  • Why is this university the right one for your project?
  • Why do you want to work with this team?
  • Make sure that you give evidence and not just state points, especially if the criteria are specific. What have you done to match the requirements?

You can discuss your wider achievements or extracurricular activities, but try to keep it suited to the PhD. If you want, add information about gaps in your CV or any other issues that are relevant.

If you're applying for a fellowship (a funded PhD), you should tailor your application to the funder. Spend enough time researching the fellowship so you talk about why it will be beneficial to you.

Aim to be concise in your writing. The university may set a limit on the word count, but if not, your personal statement should ideally be no longer than one side of A4. Be concise and make every word count.

Your statement should reflect the academic nature of the writing you’ll be doing in the PhD. For example, if your work is scientific, the people who will read your statement want to see that you can provide evidence and an explanation with each point you make.

For more information on how to write a personal statement, see our general postgraduate advice article.

Go to: How to write a postgraduate personal statement

When writing your application, spend plenty of time rewriting sections to perfect it. A good idea is to spend 20 minutes editing for every hour you spend writing. If you can, sit in a different environment to edit than where you write from, as this will help keep your mind clear and fresh.

Develop a strong academic CV – this is what admissions tutors will usually look at before reading your personal statement. Use the CV to list your experiences, and don’t repeat the same information in your statement.

Start putting your application together early, even as early as a year before the PhD will begin. This will give you time to contact supervisors. Your applications may be due in January before you start, so you’ll need to set aside plenty of time if you’re applying for funding.

Next: Read more about Mistakes to avoid on your postgraduate application

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Writing Personal Statements for Ph.D. Programs

Introduction

So you’ve decided to apply to a Ph.D. program—how exciting! While the application process can be harrowing at times, being accepted to a graduate school that is a good fit for your interests and skills is a privilege that will be well worth your efforts.

Before we get too wrapped up in the future, though, let’s return to the task at hand: writing a thoughtful personal statement that compellingly represents your academic journey and makes a persuasive case for your admission. This page will orient you to the process of writing a personal statement. The subsequent pages in this section will give you some general guidelines for constructing a convincing statement.

The advice on these pages is designed for students who are applying to Ph.D. programs in the U.S. While some of what we say may be applicable for graduate school applications to master’s degree programs, professional schools (like business school, law school, or medical school), or other kinds of courses of study, keep in mind that some (or many!) aspects of these applications may be different.

Although the title of this page mentions personal statements, the truth is that each department has different names for the essays they require for admission. Some departments require only a personal statement, others will ask for a personal statement and a research statement, still others will request only a statement of purpose (among other permutations!). While the personal statement, statement of research, and statement of purpose may seem like different essays altogether, this is not always the case. For this reason, it is critical that you read through the admissions guidelines for each program you are applying to. Carefully dissecting and understanding the criteria for each part of the application is an important part of applying to graduate school.

If you have any question about the kind of essay a school requires, your first defense should be your advisor (a professor in the field to which you are applying). Together, you can strategize about the requirements for the essay and can determine if you should reach out to the graduate coordinator for clarification.

That being said, this guide will focus primarily on personal statements, which we will define as essays in which applicants give details about their interest in an academic discipline and intellectual journey. Applicants may also be asked to write about challenges they have faced or the kinds of academic questions that most interest them. These statements’ main purpose is to convince admissions committee that the applicant is a good match for graduate work.

As you write your personal statement, be sure to read through these pages:

  • Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay
  • Guided brainstorming exercises
  • Get more help with your essay
  • Frequently Asked Questions

The Writing Process and a Suggested Timeline

Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s think about how you will actually write this statement. What follows is a brief outline of one process for writing a personal statement. Keep in mind, though, that everyone is different. You may find that you are able to rigidly follow this process and timeline, but this also may not be the case.

Before you start your applications, think carefully about the kinds of writing you have done in the past. What kinds of writing processes have worked for you? What hasn’t? At what point in the day or week can you get the most work done? When are you not usually as productive?

Based on your answers to these kinds of questions, create a schedule for yourself and set deadlines for completing writing goals (like finishing a first draft of your personal statement, for example). Transcribe this schedule onto a physical calendar, your phone’s calendar application, or a boatload of sticky notes—whatever makes the most sense for you. Just make sure that you can see easily see your schedule in the places where you work.

One last note: try to build in extra time. Most students applying to Ph.D. programs are able to quickly write short essays, so you may be tempted to assume that you’ll also be able to write your personal statement without devoting too much time or effort to this process. Although personal statements are short, they’ll require more time than you might expect. This kind of writing is hard word—and can be emotional, especially because you’ll need to share your statement with tough critical reviewers. Sometimes, too, these reviewers may take a while to get back to you with feedback, so make sure that your schedule can accommodate these anomalies.

What follows is a suggested (and we think, realistic!) timeline for crafting a compelling personal statement based on the assumption that applications are due in December. Here, we’ve outlined a rough schedule that covers when you should start a particular element of the writing process, but we haven’t attempted to say how long each element will take. (For example, we say that you should write the first draft of your personal statement in August, but we don’t say how many hours you should devote to completing this draft.) We hope that you will use the schedule below to create your own calendar that includes your own estimates for the amount of time each element of the writing process will take. For example, you may want to schedule four two-hour writing sessions in August that you can use to write your first draft. Once you have a sense of how long it takes to write this kind of draft, you can tailor your calendar to your own writing habits.

March: Schedule a meeting with an expert in your intended field (usually an advisor and/or a professor with whom you’ve developed a close relationship) and let them know that you’re planning on applying to graduate school. During this meeting, be prepared to explain why you are interested in doing an advanced research degree and to talk about the specific fields or subfields within the discipline that you’d like to pursue. It’s a good idea to ask about this expert’s experience in graduate school and for advice about your intended programs. May: Ask professors or others who know you well and can speak to the quality of your work if they’d be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you in the fall. This is usually best done in person. Read “Before you Begin: Useful Tips for Writing your Essay” and “Frequently Asked Questions.” The Summer: Brainstorm for your personal statement and do research about the programs to which you’d like to apply. Many students have said that they’ve found it useful to create a spreadsheet that contains all of the relevant information for each program and school. Complete the “Guided Brainstorming Exercises.” August: Write the first draft of your personal statement. Remember that first drafts—since they really are only your first foray into writing this particular genre—can and should be messy! Don’t try to perfect your writing immediately. Instead, write a shaggy draft and just aim to get your thoughts on the page. September and October: Polish up your draft a bit and then meet with the people who are writing your recommendations and ask them to read it over. See “Get more Help with your Statement” for more information. November: Wrap up your final edits. Make sure that someone has seen the final version of each of your statements to ensure that it is clear and error-free. December: Send in your personal statements!

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personal statement for phd application

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application

How to write a personal statement for grad school

While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.

One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.

A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.

What Is a Personal Statement?

The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.

  • What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
  • What personal characteristics or skills do you have that make you a strong candidate for this field?
  • What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
  • What have you learned about this field already? When did you first choose to follow this path, and what do you enjoy about it?
  • What do you think is important for the admissions board to know specifically about you?
  • Are there any discrepancies or causes for concern in your application you need to address? For example, is there a career and schooling gap, or a low GPA at one point? This is the time to discuss whether a personal hardship may have affected your academics or career.
  • Have you dealt with any unusual obstacles or difficulties in your life? How have they affected and shaped you?
  • What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
  • What factors in your life have brought you to where you are today?

Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.

Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.

“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .

Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.

Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.

Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.

“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.

Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.

Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .

Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.

For more information, visit the  Office of Graduate Admission at USC  and explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

Biomedical Graduate Education

Writing an Effective Personal Statement for PhD Graduate Programs

Personal statements should be a reflection of your academic skills, success, and goals.

By Kaela Singleton Doctoral Candidate in Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience

A personal statement is one of the most important components of any doctoral graduate school application. This post will guide you with some general steps to get you started with generating a personal statement that is concise, reflects your academic success, and emphasizes your goals for graduate school. The individual graduate programs will provide writing prompts that detail exactly what you should address in your statement, so be sure you touch on everything that they want you to cover!

Before you start writing

  • Update your CV:  Having a complete list of your accomplishments will make it easier to include and exclude information from your personal statement. Your CV can be used as a timeline of your achievements, and therefore an outline to how your past experiences have prepared you for graduate school. For guidance on CV writing, see  7 Tips for Writing a Successful CV.
  • Research Graduate Schools of Interest:  Gain insight into the coursework, faculty, and student life for each program you are considering. Using the program website, generate a list of qualities that appeal to you about each school you’re applying to. Emphasize how and why these qualities contribute to your decision to apply to this program. This list should include research and faculty members that interest you as well as any other pros (i.e. location, cohort size, post-graduate jobs etc.)
  • Create a team of editors:  Your personal statement will be read by faculty members and graduate students studying different topics within the program. Therefore, your personal statement should be compelling to a broad audience. Ask peers, mentors and advisors from various disciplines well in advance to edit and provide feedback on your statement.

Now start writing

Introduction.

The goal is to engage your reader with a quick synopsis of who you are, what you want out of graduate school, and your qualifications to join this specific program.

  • Introduce yourself and identify your academic interests:  Provide a brief introduction of yourself and your academic interests. If you have a personal anecdote that explains how you became interested in science and research, start there. These “narrative hook” anecdotes engage the reader and set up a great platform to describe the motivation behind your experiences. Then go into your academic interests, which can be a couple of sentences broadly stating your research interests.  
  • Emphasize your skills and overall goals:  Use both your research on the program and CV to highlight how your skill set will complement and grow from participation in this program. Speak in broad terms, showcasing how your goals align with the overall mission of the program.

THE BODY PARAGRAPHS

The goal is to expand on the points you mentioned within the introduction. Provide concrete examples of how past and present experiences led you to writing this application.

  • Explain how you became interested in your particular scientific field:  Highlight key moments that encouraged you to apply to graduate school. This can be the very start of your interests in the field or from skills and knowledge that you gained from internships, research experiences, or coursework and class discussions.
  • Describe your prior research experiences and importantly what you learned from each experience:  Provide a past experience where you used and developed a new skill that is pertinent to your ability to conduct research. Be sure to explain how this skill will be useful for your future in graduate school. It is critical to discuss what you learned from experience and to be as specific and concise as possible.  For example: I worked with Dr. A at institution B. My work focused on C. The project entailed D, E and F techniques. From this experience, I learned G. This taught me F about my decision to attend graduate school. 

In the conclusion paragraph, you should discuss what you learned about the graduate school program that you are applying for. Highlight specific faculty members or courses listed that excite you, and re-emphasize your goals.

  • Summarize your qualifications and experiences:  Bring everything together here. Emphasize the skills you currently have and how joining this program will aide in continuing your success. 
  • Personalize:  In this final paragraph, include specific faculty and program qualities that appeal to you as an applicant. Show that you have researched specific faculty or courses that will aide in your future training. Also be sure to discuss your career goals. 
  • Edit:  Proofread and edit. Send your statement out to friends, faculty advisors, and people outside of your discipline. 

Personal statements should tell your story and be compelling across fields. Remember that a PhD program trains you to build and utilize scientific skills to advance research. You won’t want to try to convince the reader that you’ll cure cancer or discover the flu vaccine. Instead, focus on persuading readers that graduate training is right for you, and that the accompanying enrichment of your research skillset will help you reach your academic and professional goals.

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  • Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement, and Writing Sample

Details about submitting a statement of purpose, personal statement, and a writing sample as part of your degree program application

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Statement of Purpose 

The statement of purpose is very important to programs when deciding whether to admit a candidate. Your statement should be focused, informative, and convey your research interests and qualifications. You should describe your reasons and motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in your chosen degree program, noting the experiences that shaped your research ambitions, indicating briefly your career objectives, and concisely stating your past work in your intended field of study and in related fields. Your degree program of interest may have specific guidance or requirements for the statement of purpose, so be sure to review the degree program page for more information. Unless otherwise noted, your statement should not exceed 1,000 words. 

Personal Statement

A core part of the Harvard Griffin GSAS mission is to identify and attract the most promising students to form a dynamic and diverse community. We are committed to educating individuals who reflect the growing diversity of perspectives and life experiences represented in society today and who will contribute to our commitment to sustain a welcoming, supportive, and inclusive environment. Please share how your experiences or activities will advance our mission and commitment. Your statement should be no longer than 500 words.

Writing Sample 

Please visit Degree Programs and navigate to your degree program of interest to determine if a writing sample is required. When preparing your writing sample, be sure to follow program requirements, which may include format, topic, or length. 

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for a PhD Program

How to write a personal statement for a PhD program

Writing a personal statement for your PhD program is often a key requirement when applying to most institutions. The personal statement is considered to be a crucial part of the PhD application process, playing a major role in admission decisions. Even though it may seem difficult, writing a PhD personal statement gives you the chance to highlight your qualifications, share your reasons for wanting to pursue a PhD, and, most importantly, highlights your eligibility for the doctoral program.

In this article, we will discuss what a personal statement is, why it is needed, who will read it, and when to write it. We will also provide some tips and guidelines on how to write a successful personal statement for PhD application.

What is a personal statement and why is it needed?

Your personal statement is a key means through which the admissions committee gets to know more about you and your suitability for the PhD program. The statement should therefore demonstrate your motivations, relevant research and work experience, accomplishments, strengths, and your career goals. This is important to position yourself as an apt candidate for the chosen PhD program.

Who will read your personal statement and when to write it?

While the research proposal is considered the most important document in the PhD application process, some institutions also ask candidates to submit a personal statement. Your personal statement will likely be read by the admissions committee and the interview panelists. Along with other documents submitted during the application process, your personal statement plays a big role in assessing whether you meet the often-stringent eligibility criteria and evaluate if you are a suitable candidate for a doctoral program. Remember that panelists for your interview may also have questions for you based on their review of your personal statement, so be as honest as possible.

How to write a personal statement that makes an impact

The PhD personal statement should be concise and convey only the important aspects about your work and professional achievements. You should be aware that the personal statement would be read by a committee that will be evaluating many applications, so keep it short and ensure that it is aligned with the program requirements stated by the institution.

Generally, universities and institutions provide details about the required word count or length of a personal statement. While there is no perfect personal statement format, it is essential that you follow a structure to ensure logical flow. Include a good introduction of yourself followed by details of your research interests, relevant skills, and past experience in the discipline you have opted for.

What to include in a personal statement

  • Reasons for pursuing a PhD: Your personal statement should clearly communicate the factors that encouraged you to apply for a PhD program. It should also convey how this chosen program builds on your previous experience and education.
  • Relevant skills and competencies: The personal statement provides you with a good opportunity to communicate any international academic exposure, awards, research projects, and any other competencies or experience that may be relevant to the PhD program applied for.
  • Address any gaps in your CV: Clearly explain the reasons behind any gaps or short breaks that you may have taken as you pursued your academic career. Also, remember to mention any changes made mid-way during your academic program. This ensures better transparency.
  • Long-term career goals and aspirations: It is important to explain how your PhD will feed into your future career plans. To the admission committee, this will reflect your seriousness and commitment to the study program you have opted for.

Tips to keep in mind when writing a personal statement

Prepare a unique personal statement for each university.

Universities offering PhD programs will typically ask for different criteria or questions to be answered in the personal statement. Therefore, relying on creating a single personal statement that will be shared with different universities with only slight modifications may not prove to be effective. Take the time to write personal statements that address specific points required by each university that you apply to.

Avoid repetition

Always remember that a personal statement is very different from your research proposal. Focus on highlighting your goals, skills, accomplishments, and experiences that are relevant to your study program but be careful not to be repetitive. Also mention any challenges you faced and overcame along the way to showcase your problem-solving ability.

Invest sufficient time

Keep in mind that while writing the personal statement, you must provide key information about yourself in a way that will convince the admissions committee of your eligibility. However, this needs to be done in a concise, compelling way. While it might be tempting to write every small detail, be careful to only include points that highlight your candidacy. This requires time and careful consideration, so start the process early enough to write a clear, persuasive personal statement.

Avoid jargon and irrelevant details

Always keep in mind that the admissions committee has to handle numerous applications. Therefore, keep the information in your personal statement  direct and to the point, avoiding complex technical jargon, big words, and/or flowery language.

Don’t skip editing and proofreading your work

Nothing is worse for your candidacy than poor language and difficult-to-read personal statements. So, ensure that the language, grammar, and syntax used in your personal statement is correct and devoid of any errors. It is always a good idea to share what you have written with your close associates for a final read through. Getting a second or third pair of eyes to check and help polish your personal statement can be especially helpful if you have English as a second language.

Finally, it’s important to remember that your personal statement should be the outcome of deep introspection as you take the next step in your career. It should be a good reflection of who you really are and what your aspirations are for the future, both in terms of what you want to study and how you want to steer your career in the future.

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Writing the Personal Statement

Helpful tips and advice for drafting a compelling personal statement when applying for graduate admission.

Make sure to check the appropriate program website to find out if your statement should include additional or specific information.

What does this statement need to accomplish?

The personal statement should give concrete evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community, giving the committee an image of you as a person.

This is also where you represent your potential to bring to your academic career a critical perspective rooted in a non-traditional educational background, or your understanding of the experiences of groups historically under-represented in higher education and your commitment to increase participation by a diverse population in higher education.

What kinds of content belongs here?

Anything that can give reviewers a sense of you as a person belongs here; you can repeat information about your experiences in your research statement, but any experiences that show your promise, initiative, and ability to persevere despite obstacles belongs here. This is also a good place to display your communication skills and discuss your ability to maximize effective collaboration with a diverse cross-section of the academic community. If you have faced any obstacles or barriers in your education, sharing those experiences serves both for the selection process, and for your nomination for fellowships. If one part of your academic record is not ideal, due to challenges you faced in that particular area, this is where you can explain that, and direct reviewers’ attention to the evidence of your promise for higher education.

The basic message: your academic achievement despite challenges

It is especially helpful for admissions committees considering nominating you for fellowships for diversity if you discuss any or all of the following:

  • Demonstrated significant academic achievement by overcoming barriers such as economic, social, or educational disadvantage;
  • attendance at a minority serving institution;
  • ability to articulate the barriers facing women and minorities in science and engineering fields;
  • participation in higher education pipeline programs such as, UC Leads, or McNair Scholars;
  • Academic service advancing equitable access to higher education for women and racial minorities in fields where they are underrepresented;
  • Leadership experience among students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education;
  • research that addresses issues such as race, gender, diversity, and inclusion;
  • research that addresses health disparities, educational access and achievement, political engagement, economic justice, social mobility, civil and human rights, and other questions of interest to historically underrepresented groups;
  • artistic expression and cultural production that reflects culturally diverse communities or voices not well represented in the arts and humanities.

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Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples: Psychology

A student smiling while holding a pen and writing a personal statmement

Why Strong Personal Statements are so Important for Graduate School

In your psychology graduate degree application, the personal statement is crucial. It showcases your academic achievements, personal journey, career goals, and why you’re a great fit for the program. This is your chance to move beyond mere statistics—GPA, test scores, work experience—and tell your unique story. Crafting a compelling personal statement requires insight, precision, and guidance. However, finding quality personal statement for graduate school examples can be challenging. Magoosh is committed to supporting graduate applications with detailed analyses, specific feedback, and comprehensive support throughout the admissions process.

Spotlight on Successful Psychology Personal Statements

We’re excited to showcase two standout personal statement for graduate school examples covering two different psychology tracks. The first, used to apply to Columbia University, explores the therapeutic power of storytelling in the aftermath of trauma and the writer’s dedication to studying the pathways from traumatic experiences to psychopathology. This essay seamlessly weaves together the applicant’s academic pursuits and professional experiences, underlining a deep-seated commitment to understanding and fostering resilience and growth post-trauma.

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Second, written for UC Berkeley, takes us on a captivating journey—from volunteering in Haiti to navigating the urban complexity of New York, and finally, to a meaningful role in tutoring across diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. This narrative eloquently captures the author’s evolving insight into the significant role counseling plays in psychological well-being and the drive to effect change within the psychology field.

Graduate Admissions Essay

Examples with Expert Annotated Feedback

Our feedback on each personal statement highlights strengths, suggests improvements, and offers strategic advice to boost the essay’s impact and emotional appeal. This feedback reflects our thorough grasp of the admissions process and our dedication to helping candidates refine their narratives.

Now explore our personal statements and expert commentary for inspiration on your application narratives. Whether starting your essay or finalizing it, our resources, expertise, and support guide you through the admissions journey.

Finally, our aim is to help you create a personal statement that surpasses admissions expectations, compellingly showcasing your unique story. Explore our blog for further tips, inspirational success stories, and expert advice , and move forward in your graduate school journey with confidence. Our platform is your ally in turning your graduate school aspirations into achievements.

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Graduate School Application Tips & Advice

Graduate School Application Tips & Advice

Applying to graduate school can be both exciting and a little overwhelming. You’re making a decision that could advance your career or allow you to dive deeper into a subject area that fulfills your personal goals, but you’re also making a significant investment of your time and finances.

With proper research, a clear head, and confidence, however, you can find the perfect program and submit an application that the admissions committee will be hard-pressed to reject.

Are you thinking about applying to graduate school? Here’s what every prospective student needs to know.

Tips for Applying to Graduate School

1. find a program that aligns with your goals ..

Finding the right graduate program can sometimes feel like the hardest part of the process. It’s important to find the right program for you, and with different degrees and certificates popping up at universities across the country, there are likely dozens of options available to you.

Write down the most important features of your ideal program before you begin your research. For example, do you want a full-time, on-campus experience or a flexible, online environment? Do you want research-based coursework or a program with experiential opportunities integrated into the curriculum? Once you have your list of non-negotiable features, you can kick off your research.

Learn More: How to Organize Your Grad School Search

After you’ve explored a range of programs, consider your career goals and how each program can help you achieve them. If you’d like to hone your skills to work in a specific focus area of a broader field, for instance, a program that offers a concentration or certificate aligned with those skills can be beneficial. On the other hand, if you’d like to have flexibility in your chosen career, pursuing a broader degree program that can be applied across various functions may be better suited to your needs.

Investing in this research upfront will help you find a graduate program that is right for your specific goals and allow you to feel more confident in your choice when it comes time to complete and submit your application.

2. Ask questions . 

The old-school idea that the admissions office is a scary room filled with judgment is a falsehood. Today, graduate school admissions counselors are here to help guide you through the application process process. They want to be there to support your educational journey. If you have any questions, ask . Don’t worry that your interactions with the admissions team could impact your application. If anything, your interactions will only help improve your application before review and help demonstrate your sincere interest in the program.

Many colleges and universities offer online resources where prospective students can find information about the application process and requirements. Getting in touch with an admissions counselor, though, may be the most efficient way to find answers to specific questions you might have. Engaging with them will also give you a chance to get to know the school better and decide if what they offer is really the right fit for your needs. 

Consider This: Admissions counselors are well-versed in the logistics of application requirements, individual programs, and financial aid and scholarships . If you have specific questions, be sure to reach out to them for the clarity and insight you need at any step of the process.

Prospective students should not be afraid of contacting faculty, either. If there’s a particular class you’re interested in taking or a lab you hope to work in, contact the faculty member in charge. Ask about that faculty member’s research and pose any questions about the degree program that you might have. You may have a better chance of standing out during the admissions process if you express interest early.

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Reach out to our admissions team for personalized advice on the application process.

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3. Understand the timeline.

Although the application process varies by college or university, the vast majority will require you to submit your transcript, letters of recommendation, professional resumé , and statement of purpose. Your transcript alone could take weeks to be delivered and processed, so don’t wait until the last minute to start applying.

In an effort to avoid procrastination, consider developing a calendar of deadlines. Map out when you need to apply to each of your desired schools and the specific requirements for that program. For example, if you need to submit your undergraduate grades, create a to-do at least a month before the application deadline that reminds you to order your transcript.   

4. Update your resumé.

Before sending your resumé, make sure it’s optimized for your grad school application . In general, your experience should be listed in chronological order, starting with your current position, and described in bullet points using action-packed verbs, such as “achieved,” “improved,” “launched,” “negotiated,” or “trained.” Quantify any achievements and show your results, whether it’s the number of people you’ve managed, dollars you’ve raised, or articles you’ve written.

To help your resumé align with your grad school application, be sure to tailor it to the program you intend to pursue by showcasing your skills, highlighting relevant experience, and including your professional achievements.

5. Write a strong statement of purpose.

While some might think that a statement of purpose —or personal statement —is an afterthought during your application review, many admissions committees, consider it one of the most important components of your application. The statement of purpose can make or break your application for admission.

The key to crafting an impactful statement of purpose is to not get caught up in what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Use this opportunity to tell the committee more about who you are and your background while also explaining specifically what you hope to get out of the program. Be sure to address the unique features the school offers that interest you most.

For Example: If you plan to apply to Northeastern, you might consider highlighting experiential learning as the unique feature that interests you about your program. In this case, you might explain that you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry and learn from faculty who are experts in your field of study.

No matter where you apply, a strong statement of purpose should include:

  • Insight into what drives you, whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both
  • The features about the school that appeal to you most
  • Your expectations of the degree program and its potential impact
  • Authenticity and a clear picture of what makes you unique

6 . Choose appropriate references .

Letters of recommendation are another piece of the application process that helps elevate your application for admission. When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation , carefully consider whom you’re contacting. You want to choose someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths. 

Reach out to a professor you regularly interacted with who can detail your academic accomplishments and describe why you were a standout student. You can also ask a former supervisor who’s working in a field that aligns with the graduate program you’re pursuing. No matter your choice, make sure it’s someone you know in a professional or academic capacity—not a friend or family member—who will to provide a positive recommendation representative of your character. 

You can typically provide either a professional or academic recommendation in support of your application, but programs have specific requirements around who is writing the recommendation and what the content needs to address. Research what each program requires before you coordinate your references.

When asking for a recommendation, provide your chosen reference with as much information about your request as possible. The more insight you can provide, the better your recommendation letter will be. Include in your first outreach:

  • The name of the school you’re applying to
  • The degree you’re pursuing
  • Why you want to enroll in that specific program
  • Your resumé

Make sure you keep your timeline in mind as you embark on these communications, especially if you reach out to a professor. It’s likely your letter isn’t the only one he or she needs to write, so be respectful of their time by giving as much notice as possible. Four weeks is ideal. 

7. Proofread your materials before applying.

You could be a perfect fit for your desired program, but if you submit materials that are riddled with spelling and grammar errors, the admissions team might dismiss your application before ever digging into it. Triple-check your materials and make sure that when you do press send, you’ve included all necessary documentation and hit all deadlines set in place by the university.

It’s easy for an individual to unknowingly overlook their own mistakes, so it can also be helpful to ask a friend to review your materials before you submit them, as well. Reading your materials out loud to yourself can also help you spot potential mistakes.

Though this may seem like a lot of effort, remember: Your application is the first impression you will make on the university, and it’s important to put your best foot forward.

8. Be true to yourself .

Of all the tips for applying to graduate school, the most important is being true to yourself. Being perfect is not the recipe for admission; admissions committees want to know the real you and understand your ambitions. Whether you’re a working professional hoping graduate school can bring you to the next level of your career or a recent graduate looking to further master your chosen skill, just be yourself, and you’ll start off in the right direction.

Applying to Northeastern’s Graduate Programs

If you are interested in applying to one of Northeastern University’s 200+ online, on-ground, or hybrid graduate degree and certificate programs , there are various resources available to help you along the way. 

First, it is important to understand the application process and requirements. Specific application requirements vary by college and degree, so be sure to explore the admissions information for your desired program before getting started. In general, however, the application requirements for Northeastern’s graduate programs include:

  • A completed online application 
  • Transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate schools you’ve previously attended
  • A statement of purpose that details your goals and interest in the program
  • One to three letters of recommendation (varies by program)
  • Your updated professional resumé or curriculum vitae 
  • Your official GRE, GMAT, or LSAT test scores (if required)
  • A non-refundable application fee 

Additionally, international students who are non-native English speakers must submit proof of English proficiency in the form of TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or Duolingo test scores, though the minimum scores vary by program. Students who do not meet the minimum requirement for these scores may also apply to the university’s Global Pathways program .

As always, students who intend to apply to a graduate program at Northeastern should also research the application deadlines for their program of interest. Be sure to set a timeline for yourself and avoid procrastination to ensure that you’re able to submit all of the required materials on time.

The faculty and admissions team at Northeastern are always available to help prospective students throughout this journey, and prospective students are always encouraged to reach out to ask questions and get personalized advice . Whether you need information about selecting the right program, the application process, program-specific requirements, financial aid, or anything in between, the admissions team is here to help.

The First Step Toward Grad School Success

Once you’ve made the decision to further your education and pursue a graduate degree or certificate, submitting your application is the first step toward being a successful graduate student. 

No matter where you choose to apply and ultimately attend, there are countless resources available to help you throughout the process. 

To learn more about the specific schools and programs you are interested in, it’s always best to start by reaching out to admissions teams and faculty to get to know what makes them unique and ask any questions you might have. Building these relationships early on will help you find a program that fits your personal and professional goals, and can ultimately help you through the process of getting accepted to a program that’s right for you.

Are you interested in applying to graduate school? Explore Northeastern’s degree and certificate programs , and contact us for personalized advice.

This article was originally published in August 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.

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Advanced degree holders earn a salary an average 25% higher than bachelor's degree holders. (Economic Policy Institute, 2021)

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