Career & Internship Services

Career Handbook

Writing Personal Statements

Unlike some of the other documents you may submit, your personal statement, or statement of goals or purpose, is just that - personal; it's an opportunity to tell your story for the admissions committee.

Questions to ask yourself before writing:

  • What's special and unique about you or your life, skills, background, or experience? What do you most want the admissions committee to know about you?
  • When did you originally become interested in this field and what have you since learned about it that has further stimulated your interest?
  • How have you learned about the field (e.g., classes, readings, seminars, work experiences)?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there gaps or a low GPA in your academic record that you can explain?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships in your life?
  • What skills, strengths, or qualities do you possess and how do they relate to your plans?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

What to include in the personal statement:

  • Be yourself rather than pretending to be the "ideal" applicant.
  • Try to tell a "compelling story" particularly in your opening paragraph - but only within reason. Give an example or tell an important part of your "life story" that will create a unique statement.
  • Mention the particular school's unique feature(s) that attract you, such as professors with whom you want to work, research being conducted, or a special program focus.
  • Show, don't tell. Avoid providing a chronological list of your accomplishments or saying "I have always wanted to be a ... since I was five years old."
  • Pay attention to what you are asked to discuss. Follow the instructions, answer the questions and heed the character, word or page limits.
  • If there are no specific questions, discuss what you want to do or study at that particular school. Why do you want to attend that school?
  • What are your long-term goals? What will you go on to do with an advanced degree from that institution?

Final tips on writing a personal statement:

  • Be sure to get the name of the school correct. Don't make the mistake of sending a statement that says you are "Dying to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison" when the application is going to UMD.
  • Your statement should demonstrate strong writing skills, as well as why you are a good fit for the school, graduate level work and the profession.
  • Start early and write often! This will allow you more time to rewrite and refine your statement and will give you more opportunities to have your statement reviewed by a career counselor and others who can proofread your essay.
  • "Meeting with a counselor was extremely helpful. It re-instilled my confidence with the choices I'm making in my education and career."