Personal Statements

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement (statement of purpose) is a critical component of the graduate school application that allows you to introduce who you are and why you want to attend graduate school. This essay provides you with a unique opportunity to sell yourself to an admissions committee through clear, concise and persuasive writing.

Getting started

Think long and hard about what you want to say. Ask yourself some questions to get things started (many of which you considered in making the decision to go to graduate school).

  • Why do I want to go to graduate school?
  • Where/when did this ambition originate? What/who were the greatest influencers in my decision to pursue this goal?
  • What do I want to be able to do at the end of this program that I can’t do with a BA/BS?
  • What experience do I have in this field?
  • What have I done as an undergraduate student to prepare myself for this graduate program?
  • How will I contribute to the collective experience of the admitted class? How am I different from every other student who will apply for this program?
  • Why is this the right program for me?
  • What do I know about this particular school, their programs and their faculty?

When you write

  • Be concise! Make every word count. Don’t force your reader to sift through the fluff to get to the substance.
  • Don’t tell the committee things they already know. They already know about their program and about their field(s). What they don’t know about is you and how you will fit with this program.
  • Tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Keep your content relevant and appropriate for your audience. This is not the time or place to talk about your personal problems as a motivation for going to graduate school.
  • Do your words convey academic and emotional maturity? This is particularly important if you are applying to a Ph.D. program or to one in which the students tend to be older upon admission.
  • Does your essay indicate a realistic understanding of the career field for which you’re headed?
  • Have you demonstrated evidence that you know their program, and that you’re familiar with their faculty and their areas of expertise?

What the committee will look for in your statement

  • Excellent writing is imperative! Have multiple people proofread your essay before you submit.
  • A strong statement is more than just good writing style. Content is equally important. Your essay must pull the reader in early and hold him or her until the end. Tell your story with confidence and conviction.
  • Did you answer the question(s)? Losing sight of the original question is a pet peeve of many admissions committees.
  • Do your words convey academic and emotional maturity? This is particularly important if you are applying to a Ph.D. program or to one in which the students tend to be older upon admission.
  • Does your essay indicate a realistic understanding of the career field for which you’re headed?
    Have you demonstrated evidence that you know their program, and that you’re familiar with their faculty and their areas of expertise?
  • If there is an obvious shortcoming to your application materials (low GRE scores, a semester of poor academic performance, etc.), the personal statement can serve as an opportunity for you to explain these irregularities.  If you choose to do so, it is very important you make clear that 1) the “problem” was one that had a finite duration of time, 2) you have recovered from it (if this is appropriate) and 3) it will not impede your performance in graduate school.  One paragraph is plenty of space to devote to this. Explain, but do not make excuses, and move on.

Before you submit

  • Have your statement read by at least three different people: someone who knows you personally, someone who knows you academically, and someone who may be getting to know you through the application process. These people could be a close friend, your academic advisor and someone in the Student Professional Development Center (your graduate school advisor). This will allow feedback from three different perspectives.
  • Make sure you have not exceeded any word/space/character limits set by your school. Don’t give them a reason to not read your essay before it’s even in their hands. Follow all submission directions to the letter.

Curriculum Vitae (CVs)

Curriculum Vitae vs. resume: what’s the difference?

  • CVs are primarily used when seeking academic, research, medical and education positions. The reader is more interested in you as a member of, and a contributor to, an academic community. Resumes focus on experiences that would allow you to best contribute within a work setting.
  • CVs can be longer than one page, but elaboration should be strategic. Resumes, while also strategic in design, should not exceed one page (for college students and new graduates).
  • CVs typically include categories such as publications, research, and presentations, while these areas (on resumes) are generally less important to employers.
  • CVs always begin with education. Resumes lead with education only as long as you are a student. Once you have professional work experience, you will lead with that.

Basic Tips for CVs:

  • Do not use a template, and keep format simple, organized, consistent and clear.
  • A CV (as well as a resume) is an implied first-person document; no personal pronouns.
  • The most important information should always be on the first page, and preferably at the top.
  • Include name of principal investigator or advisor under research experience.
  • Avoid unnecessary words such as “responsibilities included.”
  • Use phrases, not sentences, to describe your skills and experiences; start phrases with action verbs.
  • If longer than one page, include name and page number on each page after the first.
  • Do not include personal information, such as marital status, gender or social security number.
  • A reference list is a separate document. Do not include this as part of your CV or resume.

Potential Sections of a CV (only relevant sections should be included):

  • Education –  list all degrees awarded, include study abroad institutions
  • Research Experience – reverse chronological order
  • Research Interests – list them
  • Teaching Experience – reverse chronological order (having been a TA is teaching experience and can be very helpful when applying for an assistantship!)
  • Internships –  show relevance to your field of study if it’s not obvious
  • Work Experience – emphasize related experiences and skills gained while working
  • Professional Societies – be sure to include leadership and specifics about involvement
  • Honors, Awards – include years they were received
  • Skills – include computer skills, language skills, lab skills or other tangible skills appropriate to the position or field
  • Professional Presentations – reverse chronological order or group by topical/functional headings
  • Publications – reverse chronological order in format appropriate for the field. Bold your name to emphasize
  • Volunteer or service work that ties to your career goals – sustained involvement and commitment should be noted; include dates