Writing Personal Statements for Graduate or Professional School

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The Personal Statement, sometimes referred to as the "Essay," "Statement of Purpose" or "Statement of Goals," is a very important part of the application. It is your chance to provide the admissions committee with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing a particular program and career. Unlike some other documents you may submit, your personal statement is an opportunity to tell your story.

The statement should demonstrate strong writing skills and why you are a good fit for the school, graduate level work and the profession.

Start early! This will allow you more time to rewrite and refine your statement and give you more opportunities to have your statement reviewed by others such as a career counselor in Career and Internship Services and faculty.

Before you start writing, read the directions from the program(s) carefully to ensure you address any specific questions. If there are no specific questions, discuss what you want to do or study and why you want to attend that particular school.

Begin by answering these questions:

  • Why do you want to go to graduate or professional school?
  • What area(s) of study are you interested in and why?
  • What are your relevant experiences and accomplishments (research, clinical, volunteer and/or paid)?
  • When did you originally become interested in the field and what have you done and learned that has furthered your interest (classes, readings, seminars, work experiences)?
  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?
  • What is special and unique about you or your life, skills, background, or experience?
  • Are there gaps or a low GPA in your academic record you can explain?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships in your life?
  • What skills, strengths and qualities do you possess and how do they relate to your career plans?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate than other applicants?
  • What are the skills and qualities desired by the profession? How can you demonstrate you have these skills or qualities? Be specific and give examples.
  • What is your knowledge of issues within the profession (current issues, controversial topics)?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

Develop a draft based on your answers to the above questions

  • Be yourself rather than pretending to be the "ideal" applicant.
  • Tell a "compelling story," particularly in your first paragraph. Provide an example of an important part of your "life story" to create a unique statement.
  • Discuss the meaning and value of your experiences when describing them. Explain what you learned about yourself, your field, your goals and your career choice from the experiences. Avoid providing a chronological list of your accomplishments or saying "Since I was ten years old, I have always wanted to be a ..."
  • Relate your interests to any specific features of the program or school. If appropriate, name the faculty with whom you want to work and why their research areas interest you. If you visited a school and program, mention with whom you met and when.

Finalize your statement

  • Check the application instructions to ensure you have answered any required questions.
  • Confirm character, word and/or page limits.
  • Double check spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Review your statements carefully. Don't make the mistake of sending a statement that says you are "Excited to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison" when the application is going to UMD.