A personal statement (a.k.a. statement of purpose and application essay) is essentially a statement of your ideas and goals. The information below will help you get started. Keep in mind that creating your statement will take time; allow a minimum of one month to create your first draft.
- Get started early, summer before application deadlines is preferred.
- Review detailed suggestions from Writing & Speaking Tutorial Services.
- Have your statement reviewed by faculty, career counselor or a Tutor with Tutorial Services.
Requirements vary. Some programs request only one or two paragraphs about why you want to pursue graduate study, while others require longer essays in which you will write at length about your motivation for graduate study, your strengths and weaknesses, your greatest achievements, and solutions to hypothetical problems.
Before writing, consider what your reader might be looking for. You may learn this through the application itself, discussions you have had with program representatives, and the program website.
Admissions committees evaluate a number of things about you from your statement.
- Motivation and commitment to a field of study.
- Expectations of the program.
- Writing ability.
- Research or work experience.
- Educational background.
- Immediate and long-term goals.
- Reasons for deciding to pursue graduate study at a particular institution.
- Personal uniqueness - what you would add to the diversity of the entering class.
There are two main approaches to organizing an essay. You can outline the points you want to cover and then expand on them, or you can put your ideas down on paper as they come to you, going over them, eliminating some, and moving others around until you achieve a logical sequence. Making an outline will probably lead to a well-organized essay, whereas writing spontaneously may yield a more inspired piece of writing. Use the approach you feel most comfortable with.
Whichever approach you use, you will want someone to critique your essay. Your advisor and those who write your letters of recommendation may be very helpful. If they are in your field, they will be able to tell you what to stress and what to keep brief. Do not be surprised, however, if you get differing opinions. In the end, only you can decide on the best way to present yourself.
If an institution requests autobiographical information, it does not have to be arranged chronologically. Your goal should be a clear, succinct statement showing that you have a definite sense of what you want to do and enthusiasm for the field of study. Your essay should reflect your writing abilities, revealing the clarity, the focus, and the depth of your thinking.
If you need to explain anything that could be construed as negative in your application (low grades or low test scores, for example), you can do this on a separate sheet of paper titled "Addendum" which you will attach to the application. Be brief and to the point. Do not address this in the statement; keep the statement positive.
… an excerpt from Peterson's Graduate & Professional Schools guide.