Personal statements are a common component of graduate school applications. They are significantly less common than cover letters in job and internship applications, but some employers do request them in order to get a more holistic view of the candidate. Personal statements are either general, in which no specific instructions are given regarding the content of the statement, or more focused, in which the school or employer will ask you to respond to specific questions. Before you start writing, read the instructions carefully to determine if your personal statement should have a particular focus.
Personal statements should be just that: personal. They give you the chance to tell a story about yourself: how you became the person you are, how you became interested in and prepared for this program or position, and how this experience aligns with your broader career goals. Personal statements offer you a unique opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates by adding clarity, depth and personality to your application.
Before you start writing, brainstorm answers to the following questions:
- What unique qualities, skills, or characteristics do you possess that are relevant to this position or program and distinguish you from the larger pool of candidates?
- What do you know about this field, how did you become interested in it, and why do you want to pursue a career in it?
- How have you shown your initiative and motivation to succeed in this field?
- What are your career goals, and how does this position or program fit into them?
- Have you overcame any obstacles in your life, specifically any related to your interest in this field?
Tips for Successful Statements
- Stay focused. If you are required to answer specific questions as part of your writing sample, stay focused on answering those questions.
- Use the first person. You are expected to use "I" frequently in a personal statement.
- If you are not given a page length, aim for approximately 500 words (two pages double-spaced).
- Remember the old writing adage "Show, don't tell." Use concrete examples.
- Be unique: Find an interesting angle and avoid cliched phrasing.
- Stay away from controversial subjects, unless the position you are applying for is directly related to those subjects (religion, politics, etc.).
- If you incorporate humor, keep it subtle. Offending the search committee is the last thing you want to do!