A graduate degree can deepen your knowledge in your field and give you credentials and qualifications to further your career. To apply to the graduate program of your choice, you will have to submit an undergraduate transcript, standardized test scores (such as the GRE), recommendation letters and a personal statement. A well-written personal statement can move you into the top tier of consideration when admissions officers are studying their pool of applicants. In this article, we explain what a graduate school personal statement is and provide tips and samples to help you write your own.
What is a graduate school personal statement?
A graduate school personal statement is an essay often required as part of an application to a graduate school program. It explains why the individual is suited for that program. Some schools provide a specific prompt for their required personal statement. Other schools have open-ended essays, which means the student can choose one or a few aspects of their life or personality on which to focus.
A personal statement is important because it portrays your personal qualities and characteristics. Graduate programs look for interesting people who can contribute to the discussions and environment of a school in addition to having academic skills. Writing about something specific to you in your personal essay that has not been touched upon elsewhere in your application will show the unique ways you can contribute as an individual. However, it is also important that the anecdotes you choose to highlight reflect why you want to study in this program.
Tips for writing your personal statement for graduate school
As it is the most unique aspect of your application, it is important to set aside dedicated time to write your personal statement. Here are some tips that can help your personal statement rise above the competition:
Find out whether the university has a specific format for a personal essay. Some schools provide a prompt applicants must use, such as “Write about an accomplishment of which you are particularly proud.” Some schools will also have word limits and formatting guidelines.
If the university does not have a prompt, choose a topic that is special to you. Many other students may have the same test scores or academic skills as you, so the personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself. If you have an unusual hobby, a moving experience or a strong emotional connection to someone that can be illustrated by anecdotes, opt to write about one of those.
For example, “How my stint in organic farming schooled me on agricultural economics” is a personal and interesting topic for a master’s degree in economics, or “Where performance and politics meet: influencing public perceptions through music selections” is an interesting perspective for a Master’s Degree in Communications.
Write about experiences related to the program of study. An emotional trip tracing your ancestry in Ireland may have been personally meaningful, but it might not be relevant to the computer science program for which you are applying. However, a recent trip to Japan may have prompted you to reflect on efficient train models, which may be a good topic for a graduate degree in transportation engineering.
Be clear about why you want to attend that specific institution. Research the programs, professors and research opportunities offered by that school, and show what you are particularly interested in and why your experience and personality makes you a good fit for the program. You can also use this as an opportunity to address unexplained issues, such as a gap in education.
Use a professional tone
While you want to project your personality in your personal statement, you also need to respect the formality of the situation and the institution. Use a professional and respectful tone throughout your essay.
Once you have written your essay, carefully check it for relevance, tone, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Ask a trusted friend or professor to read over it and give you suggestions. Unless you have a specific word count, target a shorter rather than a longer essay. Two double-spaced pages is an adequate length.
Examples of graduate school personal statements
Here are some graduate school personal statement examples you can use to help inspire your own writing:
Example 1: For a master’s program in education policy
“The first brand-new textbook I held in my hands was when I was 19 years old and a college freshman. I still remember the smell of the pages, the clean whiteness that had not been marked by pencil scratches and highlighted words.
Until then, all the textbooks I had used were decades old, outdated, marked up and sometimes even torn. We didn’t complain. As students of a missionary school in the western province of Zambia, we were grateful.
Using those textbooks, I studied hard, received top marks in my final examinations and received a scholarship to Wesleyan College, from which I graduated with honors in three years. I then returned to serve for two years in the same mission school in Zambia at which I was educated, but this time, I was determined to give the students one thing I didn’t have: new books. Before I left, my teammates at the Wesleyan intramural basketball team and I raised $23,000 through a charity basketball tournament. I bought new science and math textbooks for the primary classes with this money.
The smile on the students’ faces was reward enough, but I want to do more. I want education to lift students out of poverty as it did for me, giving me a new outlook on life and a foothold on a new strata of society. While teaching has been personally satisfying, I want to affect educational policy at a national and even international level to assist whole populations of students. It is for this reason that I am looking to pursue a master’s degree in educational policy at the Teachers College at Columbia University.
Because I believe that information is power, I believe the best way to affect change is by organizing and presenting information in such a way that it can make a difference. This is why I am interested in focusing on one area of study in which you specialize: Data Analysis & Research Methods. I look forward to classes such as International Perspectives on Early Childhood Policy, to which I can speak from personal experience, and also to participate in the Federal Policy Institute, during which I can use my data analysis skills and experience as a teacher to understand how to affect change locally.
Whether through a new textbook or a new policy, I am determined to do my part in removing the roadblock of poverty from a student’s life. In graduate school and beyond, I look forward to using hard data to make radical, positive changes in the educational system and to learn from and contribute to the existing body of knowledge.”
Example 2: For a master’s program in music education and therapy
“People say music feeds the soul. In my case, music was literally the source of my family’s sustenance. For me, a future with music at its center is the only one I can contemplate.
I grew up memorizing the Gershwin and Sondheim my mother played for the community theater group in our small Minnesota town. My father, the orchestra director at our high school, played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” from a boombox while he mowed the lawn on weekends, and my older brother was in both a rock band (in our garage, of course) and our school’s marching band. I sang in our church choir (my mother was also the accompanist there) and participated in every talent show in town.
However, it was not until my early 20s that I realized music’s profound impact and potential. As an undergraduate in the big city of Minneapolis, I quickly found a church community to call home. The summer before my senior year, I volunteered at one of the church ministries, a girls’ center that served the city’s immigrant population, mostly from Somalia.
One girl, in particular, Safia, showed a great deal of interest in music and the stories I told her about my musical background. With permission from my church, I started a small music program in the girls’ center. I acquired a used keyboard and first taught Safia, then a few of her companions, basic piano theory and playing. Within two years, I had 12 students I spent my weekends teaching piano to, as well as a choir of 24 elementary school girls.
What forced me back here weekend after weekend to continue teaching music for free was the realization that the music was much more than entertainment or an extracurricular activity for these girls. It was their only outlet for joy. As they grew close to me, many of them began to confide in me about some of the horrors they had endured or heard about their families experiencing. After confessing, they seemed lighter and sang with more pleasure. I realized that music not only gave them an outlet for their sorrows but also their joys.
I knew then that I wanted to blend music and healing into my future professional life. That is why I am applying for the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis’ Master of Arts, Music Education-Music Therapy Master’s Equivalency Track. Your program will allow me to research this area while acquiring my degree and continuing my ministry. My dream is to use my degree to help adolescents with their problems by using something that connects all humans all over the world—the sound of music.”