Crafting Your Personal Statement

Most graduate school application processes are pretty cut and dry. Application portals not only make it much easier to keep track of deadlines, but they also streamline the submissions of transcripts, recommendation letters, and resumes. So, with such easy-to-follow admission steps that require a simple file upload, why do applications still get the palms sweaty? Well, for many, writing and talking about ourselves cozily sits on the top 3 high anxiety-inducing activities, probably right between public speaking and interviews. Writing a personal statement, much less a very captivating one, can be a challenge for many but it all lies in following a handful of tips. Consider your personal statement a private elevator pitch to the admissions committee. It is an essay that allows the school to evaluate your candidacy beyond the basic metrics of test scores and GPAs. Here, you are given the flexibility to highlight key experiences, lessons, skills, and ambitions that justify your admission to your program’s next cohort of newly admitted students. In other words, this is your moment to shine! Here is how to do just that:

  1. Compartmentalize your key points.
    • Word limit or not, cohesive writing is universally appreciated, and a strong personal statement should flow not just in rhetoric but also in alignment with what your program emphasizes (research, career experiences, academic track record). Just keep asking yourself, why would they care about this experience, skill, or moment?
  2. What’s your narrative?
    •  Avoid turning the personal statement into a creative writing piece. Keep it simple, show sincerity and vulnerability, and carefully choose anecdotal experiences that best connect to your story and the audience you are writing to. Remember, the faculty sees applicants as both students and potentially fun research and/or work partners. Keep it interesting.
  3. Polish, polish, and polish some more!
    • As with any academic paper, proofreading is essential to ensure flawless grammar and structuring. Your personal statement also represents your writing level and style. First impressions are everything, right? Write to impress!

A key tip that helped me:

One of the best ways to evaluate yourself is to discuss your achievements with close friends, family members, and mentors who were actively involved in your process. The structuring and clarity of my personal statement for my graduate school application was largely a result of a single phone call with an old mentor who was instrumental throughout my bachelor’s degree. Although my metrics were strong, I struggled with bridging my Caribbean career goals with a US educational route. Within 10 minutes, I had 3 solid narratives recommended to me. While friends and family grant a “from the outside looking in” view of yourself, it helps to reconnect with a previous advisor or academic mentor. Send them your drafts and get feedback until it’s perfect!

By Jeremy Baker
Jeremy Baker