Graduate school and special programs often require a personal statement. The stakes are high, so here are some strategies for writing a strong one.
Know Your Audience
Study the school and the program or department to which you wish to apply. That means scour the pages that normally you might never even think of looking at, such as the following:
These pages will tell you the direction the school is going, where the big next projects will be, what kinds of talents this school values, and what goals it holds for its students. You might mention a faculty member whom you would like to work with in your essay—look at research projects and articles he or she posts.
It’s important that your own values and goals are in alignment with those of the institutions to which you apply. For instance, suppose you want to be a social worker who is active in your community, and you are considering applying to a school that wants to produce researchers in social work, not community leaders in social work. You would be better off finding a school that has similar values to yours. When you write your personal statement, use the values and goals that you and the school share.
What Committees Look For
Keep in mind that the admissions committee of most schools will want to know the following things about you:
The school wants to produce graduates who complete their vision, so what you write has to be in line with the above three things.
How You Approach the Question
While some schools will have specific questions, others will simply ask you to write a 1-2 page personal statement. If there is a list of questions, one dangerous thing is to follow the order of the questions: you can almost count on your answer not being coherent. These documents need a focus or thesis just like other writing tasks you’ve faced in many classes. Let the focus or thesis guide the paper. Here are some ways to approach the task:
Watch Your Tone
Be sure to bring your personal statement to at least three people you trust before you submit it. Remember you have to have a great deal of energy to complete special programs. Others can help you see where you might make yourself look bad. Here are some issues to consider:
Have someone check the grammar of your paper: when the competition is fierce, your grammar is one way that a committee can put your application behind someone else’s.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab has some sample essays, advice, and some comments from admissions committee members: