For any student who is applying to graduate school, the personal statement is a seemingly small yet scary portion of the application process.
Have no fear! The writing center gang and I are here to help you through stressful times such as these. Below is a list of a few do’s, don’ts, and tips to help you whether you’re just starting out or you’re suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.
Do’s & Don’ts
Begin your statement with a quote from your favorite author.
Can this approach work? Indeed, it has and it may. Is it necessary? Not at all. That Dr. Seuss quote may seem endearing, but it’s not original. Also, avoid the cliché “I’ve wanted to be a (fill in the blank) since I was a child.” There are other ways to convey your commitment to the field of your choice.
Start out with an experience that is relevant to the field you plan on entering. Use volunteer, research, and/or leadership experience you have. This will make for a great tie-in when you tell the admissions committee what you plan to do with your fancy graduate degree.
Give a detailed view of your future.
Well, not entirely. Asking someone to write a detailed plan of their future is pretty cruel. Some of you may know exactly where you want to work and where your life is headed. I tip my hat to the spectacular individuals who do. For many others, however, the thought of giving a detailed account of the future is terrifying.
Remember, the personal statement is 1-2 pages; you’re not writing a novel. You’re not expected to have a play-by-play of your next 10 years, but you have to remember that you are applying for graduate study for a reason.
Help the graduate admissions committee help you! Think about the job you aspire to have someday. Use this dream job to tell the admissions committee how their program will help you obtain that job. This is not a binding contract. Your graduate studies may open your eyes to another job opportunity, but you have to have some direction for what you’d like to do after graduating.
If you’re having issues getting started, look at the website for the school and department you are applying to. Ask yourself:
Why do I want to join this program? – There must be a reason why you’re interested in their school/program.
What does this school/program have to offer me? – Many applicants concern themselves with whether they are good enough for the school. It’s more important for you to consider whether the school/program is good enough for you!
Is there a specific field of research or a professor that I want to work with? – This requires you to do some research. It’s good to drop names and show the admissions committee that you have done your homework. Also, if you’re applying to multiple schools, knowing what each school/program has to offer will help you tailor each letter.
What resources are available to me? – Your best resource is always the school/program you are applying to. Try to make contacts with professors and advisors in the department you’re interested in early on. Also, AU Career Services has a handy tip sheet that can be found here.
Lastly, it may help you to think of the graduate school application as a job application. After all, being a full-time student is a real occupation.
Hopefully, these tools will help you as you work on your personal statement(s). If you need further guidance, feel free to make an appointment at The Miller Writing Center at a location nearest you!
Best of luck,Elizabeth D.