I have worked in graduate admissions in higher education for over 10 years, and during this time, I have read a lot of personal statements – some good and some not-so-good. So, what qualities help to make a good personal statement that will help a student gain admission into the program of his or her choice? While admissions committees do consider a variety of factors in their decisions, here are just a few tips that might help you as you prepare to write your statement of intent.
1. Know the requirements. Are you writing a statement that is 500 words or 5 pages? Different programs have different requirements, so you should contact the schools to find out what they are expecting. It will not help your application to submit a document that is 5 pages long if the committee is only going to read the first page.
2. Use formal, academic language. Your document is going to be read by faculty, so you need to impress them with your background as well as your writing skills. Avoid slang or colloquial language in your writing. Replace words like “looked at” with “examined” and “find out” with “establish” or “discover.” Whenever you use an abbreviation, write it out the first time you use it. Finally, avoid contractions whenever possible – write out “it is” instead of “it’s.”
3. Tell a story! In your document, you need to include information about your past, your present, and your future. Too often, I have read statements where the student ONLY tells about their past experience, leaving the admissions committee to wonder about what the student plans to do after graduating from their program. In your statement, be sure to include information on your short and long-term goals, and how your graduate degree will help you reach these goals.
4. Think about “fit.” If accepted into a graduate program, you are going to spend a couple of years there, so you need to make sure it is the best fit for you. In addition, programs like to see that you are a good fit for them! Before applying, try to contact the school, and talk to their faculty, staff, students, or alumni to find out as much as you can about the program. Spend time on their website so you know what research their faculty are working on, and if you have a background in that area, be sure to mention it in your statement. You might use statements like, “As an undergraduate student, I conducted research in ABC, which is exactly the research focus of Dr. Z at E University.”
5. Personalize! If you are applying to multiple schools, do NOT send the same statement to all of the schools! Take some time to really learn the details about the school you are applying to, so you can customize several personal statements that are specific to each program. Ask yourself why you really want to attend this particular school, and then include these details in your personal statement. Emphasize the prestige of the program, rather than the price ;)
I hope these hints are helpful! If you have any additional questions, please contact me! Thanks to WyzAnt, I have used email and skype to assist students from many different countries.