How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School


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How to write a personal statement... that’s not boring, cheesy, clichéd, generic, overwrought, or underwritten. A personal statement that introduces the unique, smart, mature, humble, ready-for-grad-school, ready-for-the-world YOU!

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

  1. 1. How to write a personal statement …that’s not boring, cheesy, clichéd, generic, overwrought, or underwritten. A personal statement that introduces the unique, smart, mature, humble, ready-for-grad- school, ready-for-the-world YOU!
  2. 2. think, pair, share You chair the admissions team at your graduate school of choice. What are you looking for in a personal statement?
  3. 3. Think like them.
  4. 4. The admissions committee wants to know if: • You have a plan. • You can handle the work. • You have the maturity to handle everything else. • You really want this. This field. This career. This graduate program. • You know what you’re getting yourself into. • You will work your butt off. • You will make them proud.
  5. 5. HELP! What should I write about?
  6. 6. NO Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to become a scientist. When I was in fifth grade I won the Science Olympiad with an exploding volcano. In eighth grade, I decided to enroll in advanced science classes…
  7. 7. Most good stories don’t start back in kindergarten. Quit being cheesy.
  8. 8. NO It is very important for psychologists to have empathy for others and to listen actively. Communication skills are paramount in this field. Psychologists need to be comfortable delving into personal stories with their clients.
  9. 9. Don’t lecture your reader. The admissions team already knows what’s important in their field.
  10. 10. NO After completing an internship at the NIH, I started my junior year of college. I chose to add a minor in Neuroscience on top of my busy schedule. I was also elected president of the Pre-Med Fraternity. It was hard work, but I kept my eye on the prize!
  11. 11. They already read your CV and your transcript. It’s better to delve into just ONE experience.
  12. 12. HELP! I wrote it. It sounds stupid.
  13. 13. Avoid pompous language
  14. 14. NO Based upon my extensive personal experience and exemplary coursework, it follows that the rigors of your program will provide an excellent venue for the demonstration of my paramount abilities. YES I am confident that my experience and coursework have prepared me to successfully meet the challenges of your program.
  15. 15. Avoid passive voice
  16. 16. NO Mistakes were made. As a research assistant, I was responsible for collecting and analyzing data. I was involved with a volunteer organization. YES I made mistakes. I collected and analyzed data as a research assistant at Charles River Labs. I volunteered with the Red Cross.
  17. 17. Avoid timid modesty
  18. 18. NO I believe that veterinary medicine may be the best path for me. YES Veterinary medicine is the best path for me, because . . . NO: Seems, tends, may, might, suggests, often, usually, probably, assume, conceivable, sometimes, believe, think
  19. 19. Avoid gushing
  20. 20. Don’t say it if you don’t explain it: • Interesting • Important • Significant • Challenging • Satisfying • Valuable • Exciting • Enjoyable • Appealing • Stimulating • Incredible • Meaningful • I can contribute • I like helping people • It is important • It meant a lot to me
  21. 21. So what SHOULD I write?
  22. 22. think, pair, share How does graduate school fit into your goals and plans for the future?
  23. 23. • Use straightforward language that sounds like you. • Be true to your own story and path. • Showcase struggle and personal growth. • Help the reader feel invested in your goals and plans for the future. • Write about your motivation.
  24. 24. Geek out a little.
  25. 25. think, pair, share Describe a moment in which you changed your mind in some way about your plans for the future. What did you realize? Why?
  26. 26. A personal statement IS NOT • A longer, braggier version of your CV or resume • Your life story • A heartbreaking tale of woe and tragedy • An academic essay • Something you can copy off the internet • Something you can write in a day
  27. 27. A personal statement IS • Evidence that you have a plan • Evidence that you are an actual person • A chance to share whatever it is that makes your application unique and worth a closer look • An opportunity to show who YOU are, beyond your CV and your transcript and your application
  28. 28. Write it with love. The admissions team loves this field and this graduate program. They need to see your passion, curiosity, and commitment.
  29. 29. How long will this take?
  30. 30. Personal Statement Timeline • Cultivate relationships and experiences • Research programs • Brainstorm and draft • Review drafts • Get editing help • Finalize a unique draft for each program • Submit your applications NOW Summer Early Fall Mid Fall Late Fall
  31. 31. So simple it just might work: Put your draft down. Walk away. Find a friend. Tell him why you really, really want to go to grad school. Tell him about that awesome moment during your internship. Tell him about some geeky thing that you just love about your field. Now write it all down. Just like you’re telling a friend.
  32. 32. UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO © Mary T. Calhoon Nevada Career Studio 2014