You will need to write some kind of personal essay or statement of purpose as part of your application to graduate school. These essays give you an opportunity to explain the parts of your personal, educational, and perhaps professional background that have influenced your decision to pursue an advanced degree at a particular institution. Admissions committees rely heavily on these essays, as they paint a more three-dimensional picture of you than do test scores or GPAs. Taking the time to carefully consider these statements can also help you to clarify your interests, goals, and priorities as part of your decision-making process.
While requirements will vary by program, in each instance you will need to say a lot in a fairly limited amount of space. Below are some general tips to keep in mind:
1. Be concise and selective. Focus on common themes and specific goal statements, rather than providing a biography or a list of accomplishments. The personal statement should focus on connecting your experiences, education, and motivations to the program you have selected. What has prepared you for this program? What do you hope to gain from it? Where do you see yourself after completing the degree? Depending on what they ask you to write, you will likely have to address these types of issues in a relatively concise framework.
2. Give specific examples that are unique to you. Don't generalize when you talk about your interest in German literature or Physics. Talk about your particular interest in this discipline. It is critical for you to reflect on the uniqueness of your background and to be specific about your goals, to help the committee feel like they would be gaining a valuable new member to their program.
3. Demonstrate your interest and aptitude for research. Whether it is in your personal statement or in additional statements about your research interests (some programs will ask for these), talk specifically about the research you have done and hope to do. You may want to mention your JPs and Senior Thesis in particular, especially if you plan to build on earlier research or ideas. You may also want to talk about how your research interests fit into the larger discipline or how a particular program would be especially helpful in letting you explore these ideas.
4. Follow instructions. While you may have many interesting things to say, make sure to answer the question, and all parts of each question, asked of you on the application.
5. Set the record straight. If necessary, explain or address any discrepancies or perceived weaknesses in your record. Consult with advisers and career counselors on whether or not this is a necessary strategy in your situation.
6. Proofread carefully and get feedback.
Have a counselor in Career Services, advisers, and others read your essays. The Writing Center
is also available for help.