Preparing to Write Personal Statements

Preparing to Write

Determining Your Purpose in Writing
  • Typically, this will be to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant who should be chosen.
  • Pay attention to any questions asked or guidelines provided as they will direct your purpose.
Know your Audience
  • The admissions committee is typically comprised of professionals in the field and professors in the specific program to which you are applying. It may include students currently enrolled in the program as well.
  • Committees for programs in different fields evaluate personal statements according to vastly different criteria.


Self-Assessment Questions/Exercises

Included below are several questions to ask yourself before you start writing. You do not need lengthy answers to all of them, but you should answer every question to get the writing process flowing. Keep in mind not all of the information you generate will be included in your personal statement! This is just meant to be a starting point.

  • What are 5-10 qualities that are unique about you or experiences you’ve had that will not seem common to the admissions committee?
  • What details of your life (personal history, people or events that have shaped or influenced your goals, etc.) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from others?
  • Who were your advisors and favorite professors in college? Why? How has each influenced you?
  • 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 is the etiology of your career choice? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field (i.e., through classes, readings, seminars, work, other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field)?
  • What writers/theorists or particular articles/works in your field of study have had the greatest influence on the development of your thought? (Particularly if you are applying to a PhD program.)
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (ex: leadership or managerial skills), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • Define your career goal (as nearly as you can). What attracts you to it? What do you hope to gain?
  • Write down other ways of achieving this goal. Why did you reject them? Have you rejected them?
  • Consider your academic background. How have you prepared yourself to succeed in graduate school? What body of relevant knowledge will you take with you?
  • What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
  • What research have you completed to date?
  • Identify professors associated with your target school with whom you would like to study. Why do you want to work with them? What is compelling about their research?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre GRE or MCAT scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average at the start)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (ex: economic, family, physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (ex: integrity, compassion, 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 (ex: leadership, communication, 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?
  • Is there any pertinent information you may not have thought about including in your personal statement?