Your graduate school personal statement may initially get only five minutes of an admissions officer's attention. In those five minutes you have to show that you are a good pick for the school.
Writing an amazing graduate school essay is probably far more straightforward than you might think. Graduate school admissions officers aren't looking for gimmicks. They're looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their program. Read on for more details in creating your best graduate school essay. If you're looking for one-on-one assistance, check out EssayEdge.com.
Know what the admissions officers are seeking
Don't make assumptions about your graduate school personal statements. Many programs simply ask you to submit a personal statement without any further guidance. Other programs will tell you exactly how they want the essay structured along with word count limits and formatting requirements. Review the prompt thoroughly and plan your essay before you begin writing to ensure that you create an essay that will be an effective and persuasive addition to your application package.
What should you do if the program doesn't give you any specifics? With greater numbers of applicants to graduate programs, the trend is toward shorter essays. This is especially true of graduate programs in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, longer essays tend to be skimmed rather than read thoroughly, and most any admissions officer will tell you that the best essays that they've read are always shorter essays. Think about what is absolutely essential, and write about those aspects of your experience with passion.
Personal, personal, personal
Did we mention personal? Some graduate programs will ask you to write an additional essay about an issue within your chosen field. However, your personal statement should be about you as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, 'In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.'
Keep your anecdotes focused on your life after you began college
It is common for graduate school applicants to start their personal statements with an anecdote about something that happened during childhood or high school. On the surface, this makes sense because that event was what started the journey that has culminated in an application to the program. However, graduate programs are for professionals, and writing about your childhood is more appropriate for an undergraduate essay than one for graduate school. If you feel that you absolutely must include something from your childhood, use it as the starting sentence of your concluding paragraph.
Know your program and make connections
Securing acceptance into a graduate program is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program's minimum requirements, they'll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn't seem to know much about their program.
During your graduate studies, you'll likely do research, and graduate programs want to know that you can both participate in ongoing research as well as find a mentor for your own project. In your essay, write about professors in the programs whose work interests you and why. Also, there is life outside of the classroom. Does the school have a close-knit traditional college campus? Is it located in the heart of the city? Especially if you will be moving with your family, show the admissions officers that you will thrive in their environment.
Finish with a strong statement about why the school is your top pick
This doesn't necessarily mean that the school is your only pick. However, generic essays have no place in the graduate school application process. Form letters aren't persuasive, and generic essays won't help your application package. If you can't sincerely write that the school is a top pick, then why are you applying there? Instead, focus on creating stellar essays for the ones that actually interest you. Help the admissions officers understand your overarching vision for your future career and how your time at the school will prepare you to realize these goals.
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By popular demand: a collection of awesome application essays/personal statements/letters of intent from accepted grad school applications.
Every essay here comes from a successful grad school application. And you’re going to love their stories. (We sure did!)
If you want to learn more about writing the actual essay, personal statement, or letter of intent, check out this advice. And if you’re just looking for grad school help, go here.
University of Connecticut
Class of 2015
Why this essay is great: Try to stop reading this personal statement, we dare you. The introduction grabs you and doesn’t let go. But besides spinning a great yarn that also says a lot about Daniel’s values, this application essay has an important function: it thoughtfully and maturely addresses any concerns the graduate admission committee might have regarding Daniel’s undergraduate academic performance. Showing rather than telling, he depicts a person who is prepared to do the work to overcome obstacles and learn from mistakes. And since he was admitted to the grad program, clearly it worked.
Try. To get. Some. Slee—it’s no use.
It’s 3:00 am, 90 minutes before our day at work in the landfills of rural Thailand is set to begin, and the 60-watt bulb is still shining bright overhead. It is radiant.
Directly on my left is one grown man’s bare armpit; to my right is more of the same. I keep my nose pointed at the ceiling. I can’t lift my arms because I am too big, a Caucasian beetle trying to fit into this Thai ant colony.
I’ve been lying still for the better part of six hours now, unable to determine exactly why my host family insists on leaving the brightest light in the house on all night (to this day, still a mystery). It is not for a child’s sake; I, at 22 years old, am the youngest in the home. I’m also the only American. Five grown men, lined up snugly on a queen-sized mattress, are soundly sleeping while I contemplate excuses for not working in the landfill that day.
Twelve hours later, over sticky rice and “fresh” vegetables (from the landfill), I try to call out some of my bunkmates for being afraid of the dark. Nobody laughs at my jokes, but they don’t stop smiling either. Perhaps they don’t understand my infantile Thai. From what I can understand of them, they enjoy talking about how grumpy I’ve been all day. No sleep for some 60-odd hours and putting in two grueling days in the landfill, filtering through mountains of trash from the nearby city of Khon Kaen, looking for yogurt containers and car batteries in the hot Thai sun—these things can change a man’s general disposition.
But I did wake up and go to work with my host family. No, I was not prepared physically or mentally, nor was I in the best of moods that day. But the smiling way of the Thai people is infectious, and it wasn’t long before I was smiling too that night, stomach full and ready for more...
That was back in the fall of 2008. The study abroad program I was participating in revolved around studying specific issues (damning rivers, mining minerals, razing slums, etc.), staying with a village that was negatively affected by an issue, and then working to help solve the problem. It was not uncommon to have sessions lasting eight or nine hours just to prepare for a town meeting the next day. Free time after exchanges and interviews would be spent working in the fields with the villagers or perhaps working on our program’s publications. It was not your typical study abroad experience. I have yet to learn of another like it.
It was also challenging at times. Thailand changed my view on a lot of things for the better, including what it means to truly work hard. As a waiter back home, it was a routine practice to work 40 hours a week in addition to going to class and studying. Still, sometimes I wonder if I used jobs outside of class as a crutch. I always had the excuse: I have to work to support myself. But so do a lot of people. And for some of those people, like many of the villagers in Thailand, working extra hours is not temporary. It's a way of life.
At the time I'm not sure I truly appreciated the privilege I had of going to college, as my undergraduate GPA might indicate. Part of that disappointing number is that I feel as if I was afraid of putting 100% of my effort into school. If I was to put all my effort in and still get mediocre grades, I would have considered myself a failure. Apparently I couldn’t or refused to handle that. How cowardly, not to mention foolish!
But while I was in Thailand, I developed a confidence in myself that I simply hadn’t been able to locate before. On multiple occasions I tasted the failure that comes with studying complex issues in a foreign land. Each time it tasted horrible. But I worked on these failures.
For example, I nagged my homestay families to help me with my Thai and forced myself to request constructive criticism in a group setting. Through these trials I discovered the sweetest feeling of them all: perseverance. That meal next to the landfill, described above, was one of the most deliciously memorable meals of my life for that same reason. I was exhausted and maybe a little bit grumpy, but I learned to work through it—and smile too.
I am well aware that law school will probably force me to even further revise my definition of hard work and present challenges and setbacks the likes of which I may not have yet experienced. But I would like to face these challenges, and most importantly overcome them, at your school. I hope my letters of recommendation and LSAT score give the indication that I am capable of doing so. This essay, lastly, is a chance for me to convince you that I can and will. I look forward to hearing from you.
Master of Arts, Higher Education Administration
Class of 2017
Why this essay is great: This personal statement takes you on a journey, as Bridget discovers her calling as an undergrad, gets all the hands-on experience in it she can, and figures out the perfect way to make it her career: grad school. And not just any grad school—Boston College in particular! There’s no doubt in your mind that she’s going to take advantage of everything BC’s master’s program has to offer, and she has the real-world experience to back her claims up.
I did not know higher education existed as a field until I came to college. Despite this, it has surprisingly been the field that has had the largest impact on my college experience. It has given me direction going forward.
College has been my most important experience so far, in that it has allowed me to better understand how I interact with my environment and how others experience the world around them. Without the Student Affairs professionals I have interacted with over the past four years, I would not be where I am today. I hope that in my future as a Student Affairs professional I can give students the great experience I have been privileged to receive. I will take the lessons I have learned and those that I will learn in the future to improve the college experience for many future generations going forward.
I have enjoyed being a Resident Advisor, a Parent Orientation Leader, and an Assistant Resident Director while attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell for the past four years. All of these jobs fall under the Office of Residence Life. These opportunities have been cornerstones of my college education. They have taught me the long-term and transferrable skills of organization, conflict management, and supervision.
I have most enjoyed being an Assistant Resident Director, as I get to work with the Resident Advisors and Resident Director in a more administrative capacity. The ARD works closely with the RD to get the work done and hold RAs accountable. I think my favorite part of being an ARD this year has been working with the RAs to make sure they have the best experience they can, while at the same time making sure they complete their work well and on time. I enjoy helping RAs and other students reach their full potential, and I feel that it is a learning process for me too. The ARD position has shown me how much I value helping others on the path I have set for myself through my experiences with the RAs I supervise.
Because of the ARD role I have been afforded, I have had the opportunity to see how this potential career may play out. I feel confident about my ability to transition to the professional side of the field because the ARD position has already forced me to take on many of these steps. I tested the waters of the potential career in my RA role last year; this year as an ARD has shown me that I know I can succeed.
I am passionate about student affairs and higher education because it is an opportunity to work with college students and help them grow and develop. I truly believe that there isn’t a more a rewarding career than one that allows you to help others. This field allows me to assist others every day at a time in their lives when many students need it most. It was my developmental path, and I want to give that support to others.
So far my academics and daily practice have not been linked nor intentional. I am excited to be able to make this so by starting a graduate program in higher education. Understanding my former responsibilities in terms of theory and learn how to turn new theories into practice is a process I cannot wait to begin.
I know the Lynch School of Education can assist me in achieving this goal through their program in Higher Education Administration. The opportunity to study in the Boston area will give me a multitude of professional development opportunities that would be hard to find anywhere else. If I am admitted, I will work hard to maximize my time at the Lynch School and become a young professional who can innovate and improve upon current practices in the field.
Master of Arts, Arts Administration
Class of 2018
Why this essay is great: Haviland draws a remarkable line from her undergraduate studies and goals to the present day. She’s been on a clear path for a long time, and grad school has always been part of the plan and the logical next step for her career. Her unwavering commitment to arts education and dance as a means for furthering social justice will serve her well professionally—and it probably impressed the graduate admission folks too. Haviland also references specific features of Castleton University’s graduate program, showing she’s genuinely interested in the school and its unique strengths.
While contemplating how I should approach my personal and professional goals and how earning an advanced degree will support them, I came upon my application essay for Goddard College that I wrote close to three years ago:
“Often times, children who lack positive, authoritative figures and emotional support end up making unwise choices that stay with them and induce prejudice and judgment from other people who may be ignorant to what caused these children to make the choices in the first place. This cultural stigmatism that exists in our society often leads to these children being segmented into a disenfranchised group as adults. The misunderstanding and neglect that occurs in communities towards socially disenfranchised children goes against everything that I was raised to take in regard when attempting to understand a person.
I envision my studies reaching children and young adults in many different communities. It is my goal to immerse myself in rural, inner-city, and lower-income communities and meet these children before or in the midst of their time when the decisions they make can influence where their life may lead. I believe that the teachings of dance as a holistic lifestyle will provide outlets of knowledge and self-expression for these children and young adults that will lead them in positive directions.”
In this essay we were expected to write about our intentions and ambitions for our studies; to address the passions that acted as the drive for our work during our attendance at the college as well as after graduation. In returning to this essay, I was pleased to discover that my ambition and dedication to using the performing arts as a source of structure and reliability for youth in this country has not changed. When applying to Goddard College for my undergraduate degree I knew that I would want to continue on to pursue my graduate degree afterwards to enhance myself as a qualified candidate working in my field. Earning my advanced degree will enable me to go forth in the world as a confident and learned individual prepared to create the positive opportunities I envisioned years ago.
While earning my advanced degree, I intend to learn the details and structure that is needed to successfully run arts organizations. The closeness that Castleton University has with the Association for Arts Administration in developing its program for the MA in Arts Administration encourages me; it assures me that the quality and rigor of the program at Castleton is the right fit for my personal and professional aspirations. The efficacy of the program combined with the professional portfolio of projects demonstrating a mastery of skills in a range of areas in the arts and the six-credit culminating internship is exactly what I am looking for in an advanced degree program.
My background in the performing arts is broad. Not only have I have spent many years performing in productions of theater and dance, but I have also devoted my time and learning to other aspects of performance arts, whether it be technical, political, and social. My time attending Goddard College has proven to be extremely educational in training me in areas of social justice and cultural realizations of privilege, class, and human rights. With an accomplished and culturally diverse faculty and staff, the College requires its students to incorporate this training into their degrees, which makes for globally conscious citizens.
What I stand to bring to Castleton University’s campus is a vibrant love for the performing arts accompanied by acute social awareness training. My dedication to improving myself as an individual in my career is resolute; earning my advanced degree is vital to my continuing as a professional in a field so important to the foundation of our culture. I look forward to the opportunity of earning my Master of Arts in Arts Administration at Castleton University.
We hope you were inspired by these awesome grad school application essays! (If you’d like your grad school essay/personal statement to be considered for inclusion, let us know!)
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