Career Center > Resumes & Interviews > Personal Statements

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement

Personal statements are ways for graduate admissions committees (usually made up of program faculty) to learn more about you as an applicant. In graduate or professional school, the admissions committee wants to know not only what interests you about the program, but also what you will contribute to their program in terms of research, seminar discussions, conferences and other collaborative opportunities.

Below is a checklist of items to consider as you begin crafting your personal statement. Remember to always keep your audience in mind when focusing on the following:

Personal Statement
What to Do What to Avoid
  • Highlight your enthusiasm for the program
  • Start with what’s inspiring you now (E.g. recent,
    relevant courses, internships, student orgs, etc. that have
    piqued your interest in this specific program
  • Be specific from line one
  • Generic openings that don’t specify the individual program/university
  • Starting with what inspired you in the past (“From a young age I have wanted to …”)
  • Taking too long to get to the point of your statement
  • Focus on attributes relevant to the program and faculty
  • Work, school, extracurricular, and volunteer experiences are all fair game
  • Back-up all statements with examples and concrete evidence; show, don’t tell
  • Cramming in everything you’ve ever done regardless of relevancy
  • Too much emphasis on high school or pre-undergrad experiences
  • Listing your skills and accomplishments without any context
Connection to Profession/
  • Identify possible career paths, interests, and professional short/long term goals
  • Clarify why this particular field is the best fit over a related field
  • Be confident in expressing your ability to succeed in an advanced degree
  • Focusing only on the program you’re applying to without relating it to post-grad goals
  • Ignoring what sets this particular program apart from others
  • Negative “disclaimers” (E.g. “I know my GPA isn’t strong, but…”)
Engaging and Unique
  • Customize and adapt your essay for each specific program you apply to
  • Mention areas of interest that align with faculty members’ professional interests
  • Don’t be afraid to show your personality!
  • Using a generic template for multiple applications
  • Focusing too much on areas of interest that don’t align with the program
  • Sounding too formal, stilted, or cold
Appropriate Format
  • Write your statement in the first person (unless otherwise instructed)
  • Make sure to answer all essay prompts and to stay within the word or character count
  • Have one (or more!) people proofread your statement
  • Writing in a style that is not consistent with the instructions laid out
  • Skipping questions and/or ignoring the set work count
  • Submitting first drafts and forgetting to spell check!
Keep in mind some programs may require multiple essays for admission, so be sure to read each application carefully. Likewise, professional programs such as medicine and law often require one personal statement be uploaded to a centralized application and read by several professional programs.