The planning stage is a crucial first step.
The application process for an advanced degree program is often multifaceted. You will likely have to sit for a standardized examination such as the Graduate Entrance Exam or Graduate Management Admission Test, as well as seek out recommendations from trusted professors and colleagues and present examples of your undergraduate work. One of the most important components of this process, however, is writing your personal statement. Typically no more than two pages, personal statements are, according to Carnegie Mellon University, your opportunity to demonstrate to an admissions committee why you feel that for the program in question.
Given that the expected length of the personal statement is typically short, it can be a challenge writing everything that you wish to say. After all, this is your time to make a case for your candidacy, and the impulse to write more will likely be strong. Writing an engaging and concise personal statement need not be such a challenge, however. By following the simple tips below, you can write a stellar personal statement that really sets you apart from the crowd:
As with any good essay or paper, planning is a key first step. Make sure you develop a detailed framework of everything you want to discuss, and what you want the statement to achieve.
2. Outline your academic or professional ambitions
The focus of your personal statement should be your academic ambitions and the reasons why you wish to enter graduate school. It’s not enough to simply give a vague answer such as “this program will help open career doors upon graduation.” While this may well be your motivation, the admissions committee is looking for candidates who are passionate about their subject of study and have a clear idea of how the advanced degree program will help them both deepen their knowledge and progress, either academically or professionally. State in no uncertain terms how and why the advanced degree course will help you move forward.
3. Use plenty of examples
According to USA Today, providing concrete examples is a more effective strategy than talking in abstract generalizations. For example, list academics or scholars who inspire you, mention essays that received high praise, outline details of past research projects, and so on. Put another way, the more examples you offer to strengthen your case, the more likely an admissions officer will be impressed.
4. Make your qualifications clear
The personal statement is no time to be coy. It’s important that you speak to your accomplishments and stress why you believe you are a deserving candidate. This involves discussing past research projects in depth and the critical reception the work received. As Carnegie Mellon University pointed out, the admissions committee is typically composed of academics in your field, all of whom need to see that you are capable of the work that lies ahead. Of course, keep an eye on your tone: It is possible to list your many achievements without coming across as arrogant.
“The personal statement is no time to be coy.”
5. Offer praise in moderation
As USA Today detailed, it is important to explain what attracted you to the university and program of study in question. However, it is important not to praise the establishment and faculty too much. Such a strategy will make it appear as though you are trying to ingratiate yourself with the faculty, which many find distasteful. Moderation is key: Outline some of the strengths of the school and the program and then relate those positive aspects back to how it will help you in your academic and/or professional pursuits.
6. Arrive at your main point early
Admissions officers will be tasked with reading hundreds of personal statements. As you can imagine, such an assignment can be tiring, and the committee will likely grow increasingly less patient with every paper. That’s why it’s imperative to arrive at your main point early on, the University of California Berkeley argued. Grab the attention of the reader within the first paragraph, and then expand your argument from there. As the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign advised, ensure that your opening paragraph is the strongest and most engaging.
7. Use positive language
Try to eschew mentioning anything negative about your academic past unless it is absolutely unavoidable, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated. The goal of the statement is to leave a positive impression in the mind of the reader. If you decide to discuss a personal challenge, for example, be sure to find a way to reflect how the experience lead to positive change. In essence, although negative discussion is unavoidable in some circumstances, be sure to make the overall theme of the paper an uplifting and positive one.
8. Write multiple drafts
Remember that the personal statement is also your opportunity to showcase your writing skills. Indeed, most higher education programs require at least a moderate ability in extended writing. That’s why it’s so important to complete at least several drafts of your paper. Have a professor or writing professional review the statement for errors and argument structure, to ensure that the whole piece comes together and flows well. If you are applying to a sciences degree, for example, and your experience with essay writing is minimal, strongly consider enlisting the help of a writing professional. Your alma mater will no doubt have a writing center on campus that you can use.
9. Keep an eye on language
Ensure that the language you utilize is professional. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stressed avoiding colloquial terms such as “like,” as well as cliches and stock phrases – think “I’m a go-getter” or “since a child I’ve always wanted to be.” Also eschew any language that is overly emotive, such as “love,” “incredibly,” “extremely” and so on.
10. Avoid anything too risky
Although we live in the digital age and video job applications and résumés are becoming increasingly common, when it comes to your graduate school application, the conservative approach is the safest option. Keep the formatting conventional and tone professional. For example, as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign advised, don’t include humor or other tactics that could prove distracting from your central message.
11. Follow instructions
This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s surprising how many people will dive into a task without reviewing the instructions. Each institution will likely have a slightly different idea of what they want from the personal statement. Some may want longer pieces, while others may prefer more condensed essays. Many schools will likely provide questions and prompts for you to answer and follow. It’s crucial, therefore, to review the instructions in detail before you even begin the writing process. After all, a surefire way to receive a rejection notice is to disobey the requirements of the task.
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