Applying to Grad School Part 3 – Your Personal Statement
The next step in the application process is the personal statement. The sample paper and personal statement are your two chances to distinguish yourself to the admissions committee (and you are going for positive distinction not negative). Don’t assume that the personal statement is the less important of the two.
First, being only two pages long or so, you can be sure that it will be read thoroughly. I tried my best, but it is hard to give a careful read to 30+ sample papers. This also means that it is not just the content that is important, but remember that the personal statement is also an example of your writing style. Pay attention to spelling and grammar and keep the style formal and professional. “Personal” does not mean it can be informal.
Second, since few programs have any sort of formal interview, this will be your chance to express your individuality and personality. However, your personal statement is not an autobiography, a mission statement, or a personal testimony. Keep the biographical information to a minimum and make sure that it is relevant to your main point. Think of the statement as a cover letter for a job application. It is a persuasive letter. Your goal is to convince the admissions committee that you are the best student for their program. There are plenty of websites that can give you tips on how to write the personal statement. I would also look for tips on persuasive letters and cover letters.
Finally, the personal statement is your chance to pull together all the scattered “data” from your application into a coherent narrative. Don’t assume that if something is on your transcripts it will be noticed by the admissions committee. Be sure to point out the things that you think are the most important. This is also your chance to anticipate and answer questions they might have. Do you have other interests or experience that may not be represented by your transcripts or sample paper? Do you have a good explanation for that C last semester? Who do you want to study with and what do you want to study?