6 Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
Updated February 27, 2023
A graduate degree can deepen your knowledge in your field and give you credentials and qualifications to advance your career. To apply to the graduate program of your choice, you may submit an undergraduate transcript, standardized test scores, recommendation letters and a personal statement. A well-written personal statement can advance you into the top tier of consideration when admissions officers are selecting candidates.
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 that an application to a graduate school program often requires. It explains why that program suits the individual who's applying. 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 can show the unique ways you can contribute as an individual. It's also important that the anecdotes you choose to highlight reflect why you want to study in your desired program.
6 tips for writing your personal statement for graduate school
As it's the most unique aspect of your application, it's important to set aside dedicated time to write your personal statement. Here are six tips that can help your personal statement memorable:
1. Research requirements
Find out whether the university has a specific format for a personal essay. Some schools provide a prompt that candidates can use, such as “Write about an accomplishment of which you're particularly proud.” Some schools may also have word limits and formatting guidelines. Use the requirements to decide your approach for your statement.
2. Be unique
If the university doesn't have a prompt, choose a topic that's special to you. 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 anecdotes can illustrate, 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.
3. Remain relevant
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're applying. A recent trip to Japan may have prompted you to reflect on efficient train models, which may be an effective topic for a graduate degree in transportation engineering.
4. Try to specify
Be clear about why you want to attend that specific institution. Research the programs, professors and research opportunities that the school offers. Show what you're particularly interested in and why your experience and personality make you a good fit for the program.
5. Use a professional tone
While you want to project your personality in your personal statement, you can also respect the formality of the situation and the institution. Use a professional and respectful tone throughout your essay. Your tone can reflect the professionalism that you prioritize for yourself as a student.
Once you've 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 are an adequate length.
Related: Guide To Submitting a Writing Sample
Examples of graduate school personal statements
Here are some graduate school personal statement examples you can use to help inspire your own writing:
Here's a sample essay for an application for a master's program in educational policy:
The first 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 pencil scratches and highlighted words hadn't marked. Until then, all the textbooks I'd used were decades old, outdated 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 Pine Ridge 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, but this time, I was determined to give the students one thing I didn't have: new books. Before I left, my teammates on the 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 rewarding 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. For this reason, I'm looking to pursue a master's degree in educational policy at the Teachers College at Green Pine 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'm interested in focusing on one area of study in which you specialize: data analysis and research methods. I look forward to classes such as International Perspectives on Early Childhood Policy, so 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 teaching experience to understand how to affect change locally.
Whether through a new textbook or a new policy, I'm determined to do my part in removing 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.
Here's an example personal statement 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 music my mother played for the community theater group in our small town. My father, the orchestra director at our high school, played classical music 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.
It wasn't until my early 20s that I realized music's profound impact and potential. As an undergraduate in the big city, 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.
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 and 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 music was much more than entertainment or an extracurricular activity for these girls. It was their outlet for joy.
I knew then that I wanted to blend music and healing into my future professional life. That's why I'm applying for the University of Blue Oakwood Master of Arts, Music Education-Music Therapy Master's Equivalency Track. Your program can 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.
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