How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School [2024 Guide]

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Knowing how to write a personal statement for grad school can help you strengthen your applications.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

A personal statement is a one- to two-page narrative that discusses your academic and professional goals and explains why you want to earn a graduate degree.

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An admissions committee uses this document to get to know you and evaluate whether you’re a good fit for their program. This guide covers practical tips on how to write a grad school personal statement.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

Man writing personal statement for grad school

A personal statement allows you to promote yourself to admissions committees, so it’s an essential part of your application packet.

This short narrative should explain your motivation for attending graduate school and highlight relevant experiences that have prepared you for advanced studies.

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The content of a personal statement can vary based on your goals, the specific program you’re applying to, and other factors. But, effective personal statements contain these elements:

  • Compelling introduction. You can begin your personal statement with an engaging hook related to your area of study. For example, you could explain how a childhood experience inspired your interest in the field.
  • Qualifications. You can spotlight relevant experiences that have helped you prepare for graduate school. You might mention internships, extracurricular activities, and research projects.
  • Career goals. It’s beneficial to outline your professional goals and explain how the program would help you reach them. For instance, if you want to become a college professor, you could discuss how the program’s emphasis on teaching will prepare you for your career.
  • Explanation of fit. You can demonstrate that you’re an excellent fit for the program by providing specific examples of ways you plan to contribute. You could mention graduate organizations you want to join, grants you’d apply for, and specific faculty you’d be interested in working with.
  • Discussion of hardships (if applicable). Some applicants have faced challenges that affected their academic performance. For instance, a death in the family or a disability may have caused you to have a lower GPA during your sophomore year. You can address these issues in your personal statement and explain how overcoming obstacles has helped you develop as a scholar.

It’s also beneficial to ask a trusted faculty member to give you feedback on your personal statement before you submit it.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Woman Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Many applicants wonder how to start a personal statement for grad school and what to include. You can brainstorm ideas by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why are you interested in earning a graduate degree in this field?
  • What are your academic and personal strengths?
  • What personal traits, qualifications, and past experiences make you stand out from other applicants?
  • What are your career goals for the next five to ten years? How can a graduate degree from this program help you achieve them?
  • Which research interests do you want to explore, and how can this program expand your knowledge of these areas?
  • What excites you about this specific program?
  • How would you contribute to this program if you got accepted?
  • Which faculty members have research interests that align with your goals?
  • Have you overcome any challenges or hardships that you want to address in your statement?

You can also ask current graduate students to share their personal statements with you for inspiration.

What Is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Man reviewing his personal statement for grad school

A personal statement for grad school is an essay that demonstrates why you’re a suitable fit for a program. A strong personal statement creates a compelling narrative that addresses these three areas:

  • How your past experiences (internships, coursework, research projects, etc.) have prepared you for graduate school
  • How you plan to impact the graduate program positively
  • How the program will help you achieve your future goals

A personal statement for masters program or PhD program applications also allows you to showcase your personality and strengths. Admissions committees may favor passionate applicants with positive traits, such as leadership and resilience.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

Woman checking her personal statement printouts for grad school

Typically, most personal statements for graduate school consist of 1 to 2 double-spaced pages. But the ideal length for a personal statement varies by program and discipline.

Many graduate programs provide specific guidelines for the personal statement in their application instructions. For example, some programs may ask for a 500 to 750 word personal statement, while others allow up to 3 pages. It’s strategic to read the instructions thoroughly before you start writing your statement.

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If a program doesn’t specify the length, you can ask a faculty member or mentor in your field for guidance.

When you start checking with admissions about the number of letters of recommendation required for grad school, it’s advisable to also ask about the quantity of personal statements needed. While most graduate programs require one, some may request more.

What’s the Difference Between a Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement?

Some graduate programs ask for a statement of purpose, while others require a personal statement. These documents include similar content, but they have a few key differences.

Statement of Purpose Personal Statement
  • Focuses on what you want to accomplish in a graduate program
  • Primarily discusses your academic background, achievements, and professional goals
  • More formal
  • Explains who you are and why you’re a great fit for a program
  • Explores your motivations for applying and personal experiences that shaped your research interests
  • Often more casual in tone

Both documents allow admissions committees to gain insights into an applicant’s personality and motivations.

Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

student writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Understanding how to write a personal statement for graduate school is one of the first steps to creating a compelling application. This document lets you showcase your passions, strengths, and skills to the admissions committee.

A strong personal statement could give you a leg up by helping you stand out in a competitive applicant pool. It could also demonstrate your fit for the program, making it easier for the admissions committee to picture you as one of their students.

If you’re ready to expand your expertise in graduate school, you can take the next step by researching online and in-person programs from accredited schools. You will come across graduate schools that have low GPA score requirements or place significant emphasis on alternative admissions criteria. It might also be a good time to start checking if financial aid for graduate school is available.

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Brianna Anderson
Brianna has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida and an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her research interests include careers and professional development, digital pedagogy, and first-year writing.