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. For example, if applying to a program in social work, the following statement (while true) may be read as cliché: “I want to become a social worker because I like to help people.” Instead, include a specific example of volunteer work you performed or a public interest internship you held and how that experience influenced your decision to enter this field. 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. Sell your skills. Show how your background and experiences demonstrate your potential for this kind of advanced study. Much like a job application, you need to connect your proven aptitude with the work ahead.
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.