Personal statements

Strong personal and research statements can set you apart from other applicants, bring your application to life and showcase who you really are as a person.

It's also important to convey why you are the perfect applicant for that programme.

Although some graduate schools vary, personal statements are typically two pages. There is no set structure or list of prompts. You can afford to be creative.

Writing tips

  1. Stop and think. Have you done enough research into choosing this programme to fully convince them you are a good fit? Are you aware of what they are looking for? Do you have a list of all your relevant academic accomplishments and extracurricular activities?
  2. Brainstorm your research. Think about your statement as a marketing tool - how do your experiences match up to the personal and academic fit of the programme? Note these links down. Remember that some of these can be highlighted in your reference letters, so try to avoid writing about areas you want your referees to talk about.
  3. Think creatively. You don't need to constantly use metaphors and other figurative devices if that's not your personal writing style, but you should have an essay structured with a coherent and interesting theme or narrative.
  4. Write an introduction. This should be your hook, and should pique the reader's interest. It can be as simple as an anecdote or a quote that illustrates your main theme.
  5. Answer these questions. Use your brainstormed links and arrange them into three well-connected points, adhering to your central theme, that answer:
    • Why me? What relevant experience and expertise do you bring to the programme, and what did you gain from these experiences?
    • Why here? Describe your academic fit with the department. Is there a particular project or faculty member you’re excited about working with?
    • Why now? What are your short/long-term goals? How does doing this programme, at this time, at this university, help you fulfil these? What will you accomplish with this degree?
  6. Conclude the essay. What is the reader meant to take away? How will they remember this personal statement in particular? Try to connect this back to the theme you introduced at the beginning and end on a powerful, impactful note that highlights what unique personal trait you are bringing to their campus.

Other important things to keep in mind:

  • Address the essay question fully
  • Use clear, concise language - say what you mean
  • Avoid vague or empty statements (eg "I am passionate about literature"), clichés and cultural references unfamiliar to US audiences
  • Make sure all references to institutional names are correct, especially if you re-use essays across your applications
  • Proofread extensively, read it out loud and ask several people to read it for you
  • Avoid repeating too much information mentioned elsewhere in your application
  • Address any obvious gaps or weaknesses in your application, perhaps turning them into a positive

Examples

Here are some successful personal statements, taken from Donald Asher's Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into The Graduate School of Your Choice:

Research statements

Some universities will request a separate research statement. This is an opportunity to share your research interests with the selection committee.

It is not the same thing as a research proposal for a PhD application in the UK. Your goal is to show the selection committee that you have compelling ideas you can confidently execute as part of their department.

Faculty members and admissions staff or alumni might be on the committee, so write with both audiences in mind. Flex your intellectual muscle, but keep the jargon to a minimum and explain the broader relevance of your work in the field to society.

As you write your research statement, be sure to show off your:

  • Personal and intellectual interest in the subject
  • Familiarity with the relevant literature
  • Knowledge of key theories, data or concepts
  • Ability to identify relevant gaps in the literature and compelling research objectives/questions you hope to address
  • Familiarity with methodologies, suggesting which you propose to use
  • Reasons why you want to conduct this research at this chosen university

If a research statement is required, you can afford to be more personal in your personal statement.