Writing Personal Statements for Professional Graduate Programs
Writing a personal statement for a professional school is an important part of the application process. It is an opportunity for you to showcase your skills, experiences and motivations for pursuing a professional degree. It should demonstrate why you want to be in that particular type of profession and how you were inspired to pursue it. You should describe your passion for your chosen field with specific examples from your experiences over the years. You should also write with enthusiasm, conviction and authenticity as well as demonstrate your intellectual curiosity.
Tell Your Story - Prompts to help you reflect
Use the following prompts to help you get started. This can help you organize your thoughts and feelings about yourself, your influences, your experiences and your career goals before writing a personal statement.
- What is the purpose of this statement?
- Graduate school admission?
- Research opportunity?
- What do I want the reader to learn about me?
- How do I describe myself?
- How do others describe me?
- What are my hopes and dreams? Why?
- Who are the influential people and elements in my life?
- What is specific or unique about my life story?
- What are the most important things in my life?
- What makes me happy? Sad? Mad? Satisfied? Frustrated?
- What makes me unique?
- What are my hobbies?
- What elements of my culture are most personal/influential to me?
- What groups do I belong to and how has that identity influenced me?
- What is my favorite way to communicate?
- What is my motivation to go into this profession?
- What events or specific experiences have influenced me?
- Where (or what) have been the “forks” in my road where I had to make big decisions?
- What’s the greatest hardship I’ve faced in my life?
- How did I overcome, or fail to meet, that challenge?
- How do I respond to other challenges?
- What have I learned from adversity?
- What have I learned about myself?
- What are my proudest moments?
- What have I learned in preparing for professional school?
- What are the pros/cons of this career?
- What do I expect to bring to the profession that others might not?
- Communication skills
- Desire to work in underserved communities
- Love of the profession
- What are my long-term career goals?
- What are my aspirations if I don’t get in?
Tips to create a compelling personal statement
Overall, writing a strong personal statement for a professional school requires careful thought, planning and attention to detail. Here are some tips to create a compelling personal statement that will help you stand out from other applicants.
- Find a Theme: While it is not required to have a theme, having your statement revolve around a consistent theme can help your statement stand out. Common themes include overcoming adversity, your proudest personal achievement, a unique hobby or passion, a major event in your life, good or bad, and what makes you diverse. Themes can tie a personal statement together. Avoid gimmicks, hard luck stories and controversial issues. Write about what interests and excites you.
- Follow directions: You will need a general personal statement for most schools. However, some programs may ask you to respond to specific questions in a secondary application. Not responding to specific questions may just give them a reason to eliminate your application. Look at the mission/vision of each school and see if you can tie it into your statement
- Cover new ground: This is an opportunity to convey information that won’t be on your application or resume. You can also comment on specific fluctuations that aren’t explained anywhere else on your application like grades, standardized test scores, etc.
- Reflect on experiences: Focus on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments. Take an inventory of your accomplishments before writing. Be selective and discuss the things that are the most interesting and unique. Select one or two experiences that stand out from shadowing, interning, volunteering or working in your given field that you wish to describe and reflect on more deeply. Let the reader know if you worked independently or as part of a team and how that impacted your work. Additionally, guide your readers to conclusions by providing details and examples instead of statements like “I am a leader.”
- Focus on yourself: Avoid focusing too much time on writing about other people. You might have been greatly inspired by a family member’s triumph over adversity or the amazing dedication of someone you shadowed or interned with, but the admissions panel is not evaluating these other people, they want to know about you.
- Know your audience: Keep in mind that your audience consists of professionals in the field you want to be in. They are smarter, have more experience and know what it is like to be a professional in their field. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge about the field or with jargon and terminology.
- Be logical, clear and concise: Avoid vague or general statements. Instead, provide specific examples and be concise in your writing. Keep in mind that admissions committees read many personal statements so it is important to make yours stand out. Make it easy to follow by keeping it in chronological order.
- Show your personality: Personal statements are an opportunity to showcase your personality and voice. Let your personality shine through in your writing, but be sure to maintain a professional tone as well as use language that paints a positive picture. It should be upbeat, convincing and persuasive
- Edit and proofread: Finally, make sure to edit and proofread your personal statement carefully. Read it out loud. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and ensure that your statement flows well and is easy to read. The essay is also a sample of your writing skills. It must contain NO spelling or grammar errors. Be sure the personal statement is well thought-out and executed. It should be an example of your best work.
- Get feedback: Have two or three people you can trust (professor, professional, graduate student, parent, advisor, tutor, etc.) to read your essay and offer honest feedback. Give yourself enough time. The final length should be from 4,500-5,300 characters depending on the program.
Personal Statement Outline
Here is a basic outline to help you get started writing a strong personal statement:
- Start with a clear introduction: Your introduction should grab the reader's attention and provide a clear idea of what your personal statement is about. It could also include a thesis statement that outlines your goals and motivations for pursuing the professional degree. Ideally, the opening should capture the reader's attention.
- Highlight your experiences: Focus and reflect on experiences that influenced you and are relevant to the program you are applying for. This could include relevant work experience, volunteer work, internships or research projects.
- Explain why you are a good fit: Demonstrate your understanding of the program and explain why you believe you are a good fit for it. Show how your skills, experiences, and goals align with the career or program's mission and values.
- Your future contributions: Although you are writing about yourself, it is important not to make the essay all about what you want and how the professional program with help you. Focus on who you are in the context of what you can give. Demonstrate an obligation to service rather than a perspective that may come off as selfish. How will you contribute to the classroom, be of service to your clients/patients and contribute to your profession in general?
Things to avoid
- Don't start your essay with "I was born in...," or "My parents came from..."
- Don’t repeat what’s already on your resume
- Don’t treat it like a term paper, lab report or autobiography
- Don’t focus on length in the draft stage
- Don’t lecture professionals on their profession
- Don’t spend too much time on the first line… jump into it
- Don't use statements like, I’ve always wanted to be a....” or “I want to help people”
- Don’t tell the readers what this profession is… tell them what it means to you
- Don’t base your personal statement on a quote; it’s an over-used device
- Don’t use clichés, slang or poor English
- Don’t preach
- Don’t overuse “I”
- Don’t talk about school rankings
- Don’t focus on your childhood
- Don’t say what you think they want to hear
- Don’t repeat things
- Don’t focus on deep personal problems or excuses for past performance
- Don’t discuss politics or controversial topics
- Don’t harp on negative aspects
- Don’t submit a statement that is too long or too short
- Don’t go overboard with the thesaurus or with your vocabulary
- Don't rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling
- Don't make things up
- Don’t be too self-congratulatory
- Don’t use this essay to create a person that doesn’t exist
- Don’t be afraid to start over