The personal statement is one of the most important facets of the application process for graduate school. Although the degree of its importance varies from program to program, the essay allows you a chance to sell yourself to review committees. Your personal statement puts a face--and a story--to your application, going beyond GRE scores and transcripts. A successful statement explains who you are as a student and outlines your accomplishments without adding unnecessary details.
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Write down and elaborate upon your scholastic accomplishments. List facts about yourself that are relevant to your college experience and, if applicable, your job(s); these topics include your major field of study, the classes you have taken and any sizeable projects you have completed.
List any challenges you have personally faced, and discuss how they may be connected to your desire to pursue a graduate degree. Talk about whether personal details about your life are relevant to your reasons for going to grad school.
Identify professional and educational goals that you intend to pursue after you graduate, including the reasons why you want to attend graduate school. Write down your personal objectives, and elaborate upon how a graduate degree would help you realise those goals.
Pinpoint and list the skills you have acquired through the previous experiences you have written down. Spare no details. Glance over your resume for a reminder of past achievements, and talk to your colleagues about what you have learnt and accomplished.
Read the prompt for the personal statement carefully, and begin your first draft, utilising the details you brainstormed. If you are applying to more than one school, write separate statements for each school. Although many personal statement prompts may ask similar questions, only address the specific question(s) asked within a single prompt.
Focus on the beginning of your essay, because your introductory paragraph is the most important part of your statement. Not only should it provide a frame for the rest of your essay, it should also hook your reader immediately.
Write exactly what you know, but show--don't tell. Detail your experiences, and be specific to make an essay memorable for your reader. Your essay is meant to tell a story, and your story should indicate what made you decide to pursue a graduate degree.
Discuss only your most recent accomplishments and endeavours. Activities completed in high school are likely to be too dated to mention in your personal statement.
Review your essay, and prioritise what instances are most important for discussion. Whittle down your essay by deleting events or accomplishments that are not completely related to the prompt.
Omit unnecessary words, such as adjectives, adverbs and verbs in the form of "to be." Write your sentences in active voice to make your statement sound stronger and cut down wordiness. Stick to the allotted word count.
Proofread your personal statement to eliminate any grammatical or typographical errors. Admissions committees pay close attention to how an applicant handles grammar and language--a personal statement leaves no room for mistakes.
Tips and warnings
- Start your personal statement early. Your essay deserves time and attention, and reviewers will notice the effort you put into your writing.
- Take breaks from writing your drafts. A fresh pair of eyes might give you the energy you need to rework your essay into a stronger piece.
- Do not start writing your personal statements late. A rushed personal statement results in a weak and sloppy essay.
- If working digitally, do not save over your drafts. You might find that a particular experience would be better suited for a single statement than another; erasing and saving over sentences will force you to rework your essay, which in turn will use up valuable time. Save all your work into separate documents, and label them accordingly (such as "UCLA Statement Draft 3").
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