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Writing Personal Statements

Of all the tasks you must complete when applying to graduate or professional school, writing the personal statement (sometimes called an application essay) is often the most difficult. Nevertheless, this is an important opportunity to express yourself beyond your GPA and GRE scores. The personal statement usually addresses your motivation and interests for following your particular career path and why you are interested in a particular program/institution.

Each graduate program will likely ask different questions and may require a different format. Questions may be very specific and give little latitude for content or they may be quite general giving you greater freedom in your writing. Whatever type of application you are writing a personal statement for, make sure you carefully read the questions and instructions.

Be prepared to spend time on each personal statement. If you are feeling frustrated and stuck, RELAX. This is normal. The first draft won't be perfect. Remember the word "personal" when you begin writing. Your personal statement should portray you as unique and show that you have gone through a thorough self-examination. Try not to sound canned or generic and don't just write what you think the graduate program wants to hear. These are common mistakes by writers.

Overall, your personal statement should help persuade the admission committee that you are a good match for their program. You must provide the most compelling reasons, in the format they request, for acceptance into their program. Your advisor and/or someone from the Career Center can help critique your draft. The Career Center has books in its library to help you get started with this process.

Questions to ponder before writing

  • What's special, unique, and impressive about you or your life story?
  • When did you originally become interested in this field and what have you since learned about it?
  • How have you learned about this field?
  • What are your immediate and long-term career goals?
  • Have overcome any obstacles or hardships in your life?
  • What personal characteristics, skills, and strengths do you possess?
  • What distinguishes you from other candidates?

Sample Essays

Sample essay for Medical School (PDF)

Sample essay for Law School (PDF)

Sample essay for PhD Program (PDF)

Admissions criteria used to evaluate your essay

  • Motivation and commitment to the field of study
  • Expectations with regards to the program and career opportunities
  • Writing ability
  • Major areas of interest
  • Research and/or work experience
  • Educational background
  • Immediate and long-term career goals
  • Reasons for deciding to pursue graduate education in a particular field at a particular institution
  • Maturity
  • Personal uniqueness - what you would add to the diversity of the entering class
  • Innovation and creativity