Your personal statement should demonstrate that you have thought deeply about why you are making the decision to go to grad school and that your decision is one that will endure the challenges that graduate school presents. Sounds a little challenging? Don’t worry, this blog post will break down the strategy of writing a strong personal statement for graduate school.
Comparing Graduate School Personal Statement Examples
Below I will share types of personal statement examples: one with a strong writing approach and one that lacks clarity and may cause confusion for an admissions committee reader. Then I will describe the strengths and weaknesses of each example.
Introduction Paragraph Examples:
Ex. 1-Strong) The ocean is as fundamental to our lives as any other ecological habitat, so why don’t we have systems in place to treat it that way? Growing up in Monterey, California I was first introduced to marine biology through my advanced placement biology class. While in community college I helped form a student-led monthly beach clean-up team. This rewarding experience led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biology with an emphasis in ocean preservation. My passion for developing innovative and culturally informed approaches to marine preservation on a global scale have led me to pursue a doctorate in the field of marine biology. My desired research focus will explore solutions to the impacts of micro plastics in our ocean.
Ex. 2-Weak) Yea sure, the ocean is in a devastated condition, but what are we going to do about it? Well, with my degree in bio I plan to get a PhD in marine biology to help figure out how to address micro plastics in our ocean. I know so much already, and I just know that with a PhD I will be able to contribute on a greater scale. I know the PhD is a lot of work, but I am pretty sure I will be able to complete the program and have a great time doing so. I have always wanted to live in Santa Barbara, and that is definitely a part of my decision to apply to your program.
Conclusion Paragraph Examples:
Ex. 1-Strong) As a first generation college student, and an English language learner, my journey to receive my bachelors of science in marine biology has been tough. Along the way I have developed leadership skills, research and lab experience, as well as a refined passion for the work that marine biologists are able to do when informed by the local community members. I desire to continue my studies with an emphasis on ocean preservation research through the innovative and unique PhD program offered at UC Santa Barbara. It would be an honor to work with Dr. Jonas Mendoza and Dr. Raquel Pacheco, two professors whose work aligns with my research interests and who have been welcoming and encouraging through our email correspondence. While my research goals are ambitious, I am confident that your program offers the resources and mentorship required for a unified effort to resolve the impact that microplastics have on not only human life, but all marine animals and ecosystems.
Ex2. -Weak) I think it’s a miracle that I even completed my B.S degree! That’s how I know that with the funding and laid back atmosphere at UC Santa Barbara I can definitely complete the PhD. I’m not so interested in the teaching part, or the amount of course work I would be required to take, but I just know that once I get out there and get into the water, it will all be worth it. My research experience is competitive and top-notch, I am a great person to work with and easily make friends. I am hopeful to hear back and excited for the next steps! Thanks for reading this far.
Diving Deeper Into Personal Statement Examples
So, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the examples above!
- Introduction Paragraph “Strong” Example:
- A captivating hook is provided that gives insight to the reader about the applicants research interests right away (ocean preservation)
- The introduction paragraph briefly describes research and volunteer experience of the applicant which signals to the reader that they are both prepared and have a direction that they intend to take their research
- Throughout the paragraph the applicant demonstrates that they have been involved with marine biology since high school, this is important because it demonstrates their commitment to the field early on in the essay
- Introduction Paragraph “Weak” Example:
- The applicant does provide a hook in the form of a question, but it is overly casual and the tone is not professional enough for graduate school applications. Same thing goes for abbreviations such as “bio”.
- The applicant is emphasizing that they “know so much”, for the sake of graduate school applications it is important to prioritize displaying a humble and gracious demeanor. This will demonstrate that you are truly interested in learning more and that you understand that this requires a sense of humility.
- The applicant mentions a desire to live in Santa Barbara, while it may be true, it is not a strong enough reason to pursue a PhD and signals to the admissions committee that you may be pursuing the program for the wrong reasons. Keep details like this out of your personal statement and focus on reasons for applying that are academically motivated.
- Conclusion Paragraph “Strong” Example:
- The first two sentences are reiterating some of the major points that the applicant would have provided details about in the body of the essay, this helps the reader to remember your key points.
- The applicant also re-emphasizes who they would like to work with and that they have been in communication with them. This is a very important detail and one that will set them apart from other applicants who have not made the effort to do so. It is worth concluding with.
- The applicant concludes by mentioning the importance of a “unified effort” for their research goals. This goes a long way to demonstrate that they understand how important collaborative effort is. This helps make an applicant more attractive in the eyes of an admissions committee that must also consider the work ethic of all applicants.
- Conclusion Paragraph “Weak” Example:
- The applicant describes their success in undergrad as a “miracle”, while they may feel this way, this language does not emphasize the skills and qualities they possess that can benefit their future studies.
- The applicant mentions what they are not interested in. As a rule of thumb, do not use the valuable space you have in your personal statement to mention anything negative, even if there are aspects about graduate school you are not thrilled about. Focus on what you are academically motivated by.
- The applicant describes their research experience as “competitive and top-notch”, even if you have the most impressive curriculum vitae focus on instead listing what you have done, with who and what they outcomes were and let the admissions committee decide how they interpret it.
So, what makes a good personal statement?
Your personal statement will be one amongst many that a committee of real people will read to assess who you are. You have to remember that the committee members do not get to meet you before they read your application materials. You cannot risk leaving out crucial information. Oftentimes, students struggle to talk about themselves, they see it as “bragging” or “showing off”. It is important that you overcome your discomfort and realize that the personal statement is essentially the first impression you will make on the committee. Make the most of the opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure to address the following:
- Who are you? While your personal statement is about personalizing and humanizing yourself as an applicant (you aren’t just your GPA/transcripts and committees know this) it is important that every detail you include works towards creating a profile that is attractive to the admissions committee.
- Are you a good fit? What makes you prepared for the program? When providing details about your previous academic experience, you must be specific about what exactly has prepared you for the program. Do not miss an opportunity to highlight what makes you unique amongst the application pool by describing your hard work over the years. Demonstrating that you are a good fit can be challenging if you are making a career change, or have decided to pursue a new field from your undergraduate degree. However, if you do qualify to apply (your current degree or experience is approved for application eligibility) then ensure that you are making the connections for the committee through your writing. Do not expect them to know how your current work relates to your ambitions within the program, spell out every connection and detail for them.
- Demonstrate that you Understand Appropriate and Professional Boundaries: One of the most common questions my undergraduate students ask me when applying to graduate school is, “how much personal information should I include in my application?” The answer is: only as much as you are comfortable with, and only information that intentionally creates the profile of an ideal candidate. I suggest not taking any risks by including jokes, controversial opinions not already publicly engaged by the program, or references to anything that could cause confusion or be off putting in any way.
- What do you intend to accomplish/contribute to the field? The admissions committee wants to know, if you are admitted to the program, then what? Be clear about what you hope to accomplish and do not shy away from the specifics. What is the “end goal” for you? If you already know what this is, include it in your essay. If you are unsure, include what you are working towards more generally but do not include language that indicates you might be unsure if graduate school is right for you. Always write in a manner that demonstrates that you are sound in your decision even if you are considering your options post graduation.
- Why now? Admissions committees have been through graduate school. They know better than anyone that graduate school is not a choice one makes simply because “you don’t know what else to do”. Demonstrate that you are prepared for the commitment and the work by specifying why you have decided that graduate school is the best option for you at this time and that your current and past experiences align with your intentions if admitted into the program.
A good personal statement will address all of these questions and be mindful about appropriate boundaries with each. Ultimately, it will demonstrate to the committee that you are prepared for the program, that you are likely to succeed if admitted, and that you are passionate about and committed to pursuing a career in which the training and the degree that you will receive is imperative to your future goals.
The importance of a clear narrative:
A clear narrative will allow for the admissions committee to extract the necessary information about you without any hassle. Remember that you are one applicant amongst many, when writing your personal statement do not assume that your reader will know the importance of any information or the necessary context if you do not provide these details for them. Consider these tips when writing:
- Describe events in a linear fashion such as starting from your earliest experiences and moving towards more recent ones (or vice versa)
- Separate your essay into paragraphs, and provide headlines for each segment of your essay that indicates what information they provide.
- Make sure you are not relying on footnotes or citations to make your point. Provide all of the information that your reader needs to make their decision in the main body of the text.
- Do not overestimate the importance of proofreading! Read your essays out loud and record the audio while doing it. Does it flow? Does it answer every question provided in the prompt (if provided one)? I recommend finding at least one person who is in graduate school and preferably within your field to read your essay.
Summary and Major Takeaways
The personal statement is usually just 1-2 pages. With a document this short and with so much importance towards your chances of admission, every word matters! Consider these takeaways as you prepare and always remember you can reach out to us at Magoosh for more in-depth and personalized support.
Do this before you get to writing. Gather information from this blog post, the programs official website, any correspondence between you and professors or graduate students at each program you will be applying to, and develop a document that lists every experience and detail you wish to include. Use this as a reference as you write so that you are certain you are hitting every point.
Do not skip this step! Seek out support from current graduate students or a writing service for some feedback. Double check for any language that is too casual, or can be off putting or concerning to anyone who will review your application.
- Stand Out
Remember that admissions committees are made up of real people who read an unbelievable amount of applications. Do your best to stand out, really think about what sets you apart and what skills you have developed throughout your life that are relevant to the program you are pursuing. After you have your first draft, focus on language and phrases that are both professional and captivating to your reader. Sprinkle in some flare!