As all institutions have different requirements, you will have to prepare and write a different personal statement for every university you are applying to. Some programs require you to submit a two-page essay in which you discuss why you wish to enroll in a graduate program, while other institutions ask you to write five or six separate essays discussing your motivations for applying to the graduate program, your strongest and weakest points, or most important prior accomplishments. Especially business schools are known for requiring more than one essay.
The selection committees that will read your essay need to form an opinion about you. Make sure to discuss the following topics in your statement:
- What motivates you to enroll in the program
- Your involvement in the field
- Your expectations of the program
- Your expected career opportunities after grad school
- Your most important and relevant areas of interest
- Research experience, as well as potential work experience
- Your prior education
- Your short-term and long-term goals
The selection committees will look for the following aspects in your essay during the assessment:
- The ability to express your ideas clearly and concisely in writing.
- Writing skills
- Personal views and insights
- Creativity and originality
- What distinguishes you from the other applicants for the same program, and the reasons why you wish to enroll in this particular program.
Some universities published some of the more successful personal statements on their website. You can search for “essays that worked” to see if there are any available.
There are no clear guidelines for writing a personal statement. You will find, however, that you will accomplish more when keeping these general tips in mind:
- Make connections
You want to use your personal statement to convince the selection committee of your strengths. Your statement should contain information about you, although it is not intended to be a full overview of your life, or a resume. Try and tie the information on your personal statement to your educational goals and motivations.
- Be original
Your statement will be read by experts in your field. Members of the selection committee do not expect to find generalities and obvious claims in regard to their fields – they want to see applicants who could potentially bring new, surprising insights to the department.
- Elaborate on the ambiguities
Use your personal statement to elaborate on any potential ambiguities that might arise from the other documents submitted as part of your application. If your transcript shows that you went through a period in which your academic results were significantly lower than before and after, you can use your personal statement to offer an explanation. Try to twist any potential negatives into positives.
- Avoid general statements
Claims such as “the university has a good international reputation”, or “the institution is number one on some list” are much too generic to convince someone of the fact that you really want to study at a certain university. Be as specific as you possible can be. You could explain why you would like to work with a particular professor, or what appeals to you about the general research approach.
- Come up with a strong conclusion
Be as specific as possible in your conclusion. Only use words like ‘significant’, ‘challenging’, ‘invaluable’, or ‘useful’ if they clearly relate to your personal experiences. Avoid sentences like ‘I can contribute….’, ‘…meant a lot to me’, or ‘…is appealing to me’.
- Consider the questions carefully
Some institutions expect their applicants to answer a specific set of questions in their essay. Carefully consider these questions and your answers before answering them all.
- Try and be fascinating yet concise
Be brief and to the point. Make sure that you can hold your reader’s attention and don’t surpass the word or page limit.
- Mind your language and form
Also consider the form of your essay. Keep your grammar and spelling mistakes to a minimum. However, if you scored low on the TOEFL, you might come across as insincere if your personal statement is written in perfect English.
Some universities require you to come up with a separate research statement. A research statement allows you to elaborate on your specific research interests. A well written research statement can convince the admissions committee of your interesting ideas and your ability to put your thoughts into practice at the faculty.
Your research statement will be read by faculty members, the admissions committee, and sometimes alumni. Keep in mind that you are writing for a very diverse audience: prove that you have obtained the necessary knowledge while also keeping your statement accessible for all your readers. Remember to discuss why your research is important and relevant in the field itself as well as in a broader context.
If you have to write a separate research statement, you can use your personal statement to focus on your personal development.