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An essential component of a graduate school or medical school application is the personal statement. A well written personal statement can mean the difference between an invitation for interview and the reject pile.
Personal Statement “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them. “ John Ruskin The Personal Statement The personal statement (or statement of purpose) is an honest introduction of you, and what makes you qualified to do what you say you want to do. It is also an evaluation of your writing skills and your ability to present your ideas in a coherent and concise manner. You should be able to show the readers that you are unique and that your goals match those of the program to which you are applying. Your readers have never met you but must be impressed enough with your statement that they want to meet you. These individuals are reading hundreds of these documents (and probably have read thousands in the past) and yours must stand out. This brief document (about two pages) has to communicate your abilities, accomplishments and goals. This is your chance to shine, to stand out from among the hundreds of statements that the reviewer is reading. It should show your commitment to and motivation for graduate school based on your history. It should be positive in tone, honest and professional. Content The admissions committee is looking for specific information which is usually outlined in the instructions. Although you do not have to answer the questions in the order they are asked, it is essential that you provide the information requested in your statement. The following questions can guide you in writing the statement. Who are you and why do you want to pursue graduate education? You should discuss your potential for success and your long‐term goals. Your goals can be in general terms but should be focused, not nebulous. Are you committed and motivated to succeed in and complete graduate school? You should discuss your motivation for pursuing graduate school and show that you are committed to succeeding and moving into a career in the sciences. You have to show that you have thought about going to graduate school because it is what you want to do and not because it is just the next rung in the education ladder. What makes you qualified to follow this path? You should show that you have the necessary competencies, experiences, and knowledge in your field to matriculate in that program. It is important that you describe your research well enough to show that you understood what you were doing and trying to accomplish in that research project. You should introduce the overall purpose of the research and describe specifically what you worked on and how it fitted into the overall objective of the main project. Each research experience should be discussed in a separate paragraph. What are your relevant positive and negative life experiences? Accent the positive; briefly explain those events which negatively impacted your academics; do not make excuses. You should explain how those negative events positively affected you in your growth; show your perseverance to continue despite the roadblocks. It is very important that you address any dips in your grades because the reviewers will notice it and want to know what happened. Perhaps there was an illness or other family events that caused the dip. Or maybe, you were just not ready at that time to be serious about your education. You should discuss how you addressed the weakness and point out something positive following such as a better performance in upper level courses. How would your presence enhance the School/Program’s environment and add to the diversity of the student body? In other words, what sets you apart from the other qualified applicants? Here you could discuss some unique experiences you have had and how those positively impacted you. Page 1 of 2 ©Excerpt: A Guide for Individuals Considering Graduate School in the Biosciences, C Gita Bosch
Why are you applying to that particular program/school? You should discuss the strengths of the program you are applying to and how they will help you reach your goals. If there are particular faculty whose work interests you, it could be mentioned here. It is fine for you to mention more than one faculty whose research interests you, even if they are in different disciplines. Strategies for writing the personal statement Preparing your personal statement should be done deliberately and thoughtfully. You should begin writing long before the application deadlines. Remember, you want your statement to be clear, concise and simple! Here are a few steps to follow to help you organize your thoughts. Make a list of everything you think you should tell the school. Rearrange them in a logical sequence. Review and remove items that are irrelevant to your academic and professional history, plans and goals. Prepare an outline and then fill in some details. Write a draft of the statement. Based on the application instructions, cut the “fat” and bring the essay to an acceptable length. Note that this may require several drafts. Prepare your final draft. Do not rely only on your spell checker, pay attention to word usage. Read it out loud and listen for grammatical errors and sentences that do not sound right. Get content feedback from at least one person, such as your undergraduate faculty advisor, who is familiar with your background, experiences, interests and goals. Get writing feedback from at least one person who can critique the essay for writing skills. It is crucial that you get some honest critique on your statement before you submit it to the school. However, the voice of the statement should be yours. Remember, if you are invited for an interview, the school will expect to meet the person who wrote the statement. In a nutshell The personal statement is cursorily used as an assessment of your writing skills but it should not be an exercise in creative writing. Eschew obfuscation! The personal statement should be clear, simple and concise; do not use colossal vocabulary when diminutive alternatives will suffice! And present only the details necessary to get your information across. If there are no instructions, the personal statement should be about two pages (using a standard 11‐point font), generally following the outline discussed above. Your story should flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next. There should be no spelling or grammar errors; avoid malapropisms and solecisms! These kinds of errors convey the message that you are sloppy, and are not committed enough to your education to take the time to proofread your statement before submitting it. Remember, your personal statement is a representation of you. It should be an honest reflection of your strengths, your qualifications, your goals and your thoughts on how you will get from here to there. Although you should not have to rewrite your entire essay for each school/program you are applying to, it should be tailored for each program. The most substantive part of your statement will be your research experiences and these do not need to be customized for each school. Page 2 of 2 ©Excerpt: A Guide for Individuals Considering Graduate School in the Biosciences, C Gita Bosch