10 Tips for Writing a Strong Personal Statement

1. Read the instructions carefully

This is especially important when you are applying to multiple programs. Pay particular attention to length limits and content/questions you are supposed to address. When you attend a Post Grad Application Support appointment, it can be very helpful to bring these instructions with your drafts (in hardcopy!)

2. Focus on yourself

Avoid getting into long explanations of the courses you took, or places you volunteered. The selection committee will be more interested in how these experiences influenced your perspective, your intellectual development and motivated you to pursue further education. YOU are the main focus of the personal statement.

3. Demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm

Post graduate education can be very challenging and stressful. The committee will be looking for evidence that you are truly motivated and excited about what you want to study since such students make more positive peers and are more likely to successfully complete the program.

4. Start early

Although personal statements aren’t usually very long, you will need to write multiple drafts to get your statement to the level you want it to be. This is a different kind of writing than you are used to, and it can take much longer than you expect to figure out what you are trying to say, and how to say in the most effective way. Beginning 2-3 months before your deadline is a good rule of thumb.

5. Explain any discrepancies in your application in your personal statement

Be sure to address any grades on your transcripts that do not reflect your academic ability, especially if they occurred in the last two years of your degree, and are in courses related to the programs to which you are applying. Your explanation should be concise, and focused on assuring the committee that whatever the problem was, it is in the past and will not impact your ability to do well in the future. You can discuss strategies for doing this in a Post Grad Application Support session.

6. Review good sentence and paragraph structure

A personal statement requires you to put a lot of information in very few words, so the structure of your sentences and paragraphs is key. The Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource to review these elements of good writing before you get started.

7. Use the active voice

This means put “I” in the subject position of your sentences and avoiding terms like ‘allowed’ and ‘gave; with you as the receiver rather than the initiator of the action. For example, instead of “This course gave me a new understanding of...” use “Through this course, I gained a new understanding of...”.

8. Give explicit reasons for selecting the program for which you are applying

The selection committee will select qualified candidates who can give rational, persuasive reasons why that program is a good fit for them. Compelling reasons for selecting a program could include the fact that there are several professors who are experts in your particular area of interest in a particular program, or that the structure of the program will enable you to focus on a particular topic. Maybe the location is near an important resource, or there are courses specifically focused in your area of interest. Make sure you clearly articulate why these aspects of the program appeal to you.

9. Indicate what your goals are once you’ve graduated from the program

Committees like to get a sense of how you see their program supporting your goals to make sure you have realistic expectations and to ensure you are not making erroneous assumptions as to the purpose of the program.

10. Revise, revise, revise!

Check for problems with the structure and flow of your statement. Look for awkward phrases, jarring transitions, ambiguous statements and, of course, grammar and spelling errors. Get feedback from as many people as possible. The Personal Statement Peer Review is an excellent resource to help you do this.