10 Tips for Writing a Strong Personal Statement

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!)

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.

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.

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 it in the most effective way. Beginning 2-3 months before your deadline is a good rule of thumb.

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.

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.

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…”.

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.

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.

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.

Personal Statement FAQ

There isn’t a difference, they are just different ways of referring to the document that helps the selection committee understand why you want to pursue further study in that area, and in that program. You can attend any of the support services to help you with all aspects of your post grad application including the writing of your personal statement.

Most programs will post length in terms of pages, words or more common in online applications, character count. Do not exceed these limits. If no limitations are posted, the default is about 500 words.

The short answer is “no”. Read the instructions for each application carefully to see if there are specific questions or content they want you to address. Other than that, it is a little like writing an essay – the structure depends on your content and your rhetorical approach.

One of the purposes of a personal statement is to distinguish yourself from the other applicants so, sharing a pivotal anecdote that is related to your decision to pursue further education can be an effective way of doing this, especially when applying to a program where your personality is important e.g. Education, Law, Medicine, Social Work etc. It is not the only way, or the best way for many students however. In fields where your suitability is not related to such matters, however, it would be more relevant to focus on your interests and curiosities rather than your personal attributes.

Absolutely not – for a couple of reasons. First, this constitutes academic dishonesty, and if it were ever discovered that you plagiarized your statement, now or in the future, you could be expelled and/or stripped of your degree(s). The personal statement is also a showcase for your writing/argumentation skills to ensure you are a strong enough writer to be successful in the program. It will become painfully apparent fairly soon if you are not. A writing coach, and lots of proofreaders can be enormously helpful in preparing a competitive statement, regardless of your writing abilities.