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how long should a personal statement for grad school

If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?

In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.

What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.

So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:

  • Statement of purpose:  A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
  • Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.

Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:

Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.

But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.

For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering  considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.

Many schools require just one essay  (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan , ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as  Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , want an essay that combines the features of both!

Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you  submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.


What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?

Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.

But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.

A Compelling Story

First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.

Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.

Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.

That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.

  • Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
  • Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
  • Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.

Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.

Inspirations for Your Research Interests

Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also  why you have these particular interests.   While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.

For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.

Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.


Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School

Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.

Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:

  • Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
  • How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
  • Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?

Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.

Strong Writing Skills

A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!

So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.

Also, remember that  good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words.  You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.

On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.

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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career

Lastly, the personal statement  gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.

Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).

Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.


How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide

The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.

Step 1: Start Early

Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.

You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.

If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)

Step 2: Read the Instructions

Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.

Your program should give you the following information:

  • What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
  • How long your statement should be
  • What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
  • How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley . In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt :

Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona , your personal statement would follow these parameters:

Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.

Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.

Simply put,  follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission.  And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!


Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle

Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:

  • What your grad program wants you to write about
  • Your field of study and research interests
  • How much experience you have in your field

As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to  read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.

Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.

No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement.  How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.

On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is,  be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.

More broadly, though, try to answer the question of  what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?

Finally, always choose a positive angle.  Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.

Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”

Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.

As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
  • How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
  • What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
  • What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
  • Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?

Step 5: Make an Outline

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.

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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.

Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.

Step 6: Draft Your Essay

It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.

In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.

Remember, most personal statements will be short— usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.

On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.


Step 7: Get Feedback

Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).

Ask your editors to give you  specific feedback  on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.

If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.

Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay

Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.

For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.

As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!

Step 9: Proofread

The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.

Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.

In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.

Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well.  If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)


The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.

But more importantly, the personal statement showcases  your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.

A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:

  • A compelling story
  • Inspirations for your research interests
  • Your motivation for applying to grad school
  • Strong writing skills
  • Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career

Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:

  • Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
  • Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
  • Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
  • Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
  • Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
  • Draft your essay
  • Get specific feedback from multiple editors
  • Revise and edit your essay
  • Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)

What’s Next?

Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time!  Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.

Do your schools require a CV or resume?  If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates !

What do you need to submit for your grad school application?  Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school .

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how long should a personal statement for grad school

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

how long should a personal statement for grad school

how long should a personal statement for grad school

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application

How to write a personal statement for grad school

While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.

One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.

A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.

What Is a Personal Statement?

The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.

  • What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
  • What personal characteristics or skills do you have that make you a strong candidate for this field?
  • What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
  • What have you learned about this field already? When did you first choose to follow this path, and what do you enjoy about it?
  • What do you think is important for the admissions board to know specifically about you?
  • Are there any discrepancies or causes for concern in your application you need to address? For example, is there a career and schooling gap, or a low GPA at one point? This is the time to discuss whether a personal hardship may have affected your academics or career.
  • Have you dealt with any unusual obstacles or difficulties in your life? How have they affected and shaped you?
  • What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
  • What factors in your life have brought you to where you are today?

Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.

Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.

“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .

Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.

Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.

Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.

“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.

Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.

Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .

Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.

For more information, visit the  Office of Graduate Admission at USC  and explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School [2024 Guide]

Knowing how to write a personal statement for grad school can help you strengthen your applications.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

A personal statement is a one- to two-page narrative that discusses your academic and professional goals and explains why you want to earn a graduate degree.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

An admissions committee uses this document to get to know you and evaluate whether you’re a good fit for their program. This guide covers practical tips on how to write a grad school personal statement.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

Man writing personal statement for grad school

A personal statement allows you to promote yourself to admissions committees, so it’s an essential part of your application packet.

This short narrative should explain your motivation for attending graduate school and highlight relevant experiences that have prepared you for advanced studies.

The content of a personal statement can vary based on your goals, the specific program you’re applying to, and other factors. But, effective personal statements contain these elements:

  • Compelling introduction . You can begin your personal statement with an engaging hook related to your area of study. For example, you could explain how a childhood experience inspired your interest in the field.
  • Qualifications . You can spotlight relevant experiences that have helped you prepare for graduate school. You might mention internships, extracurricular activities, and research projects.
  • Career goals . It’s beneficial to outline your professional goals and explain how the program would help you reach them. For instance, if you want to become a college professor, you could discuss how the program’s emphasis on teaching will prepare you for your career.
  • Explanation of fit . You can demonstrate that you’re an excellent fit for the program by providing specific examples of ways you plan to contribute. You could mention graduate organizations you want to join, grants you’d apply for, and specific faculty you’d be interested in working with.
  • Discussion of hardships (if applicable) . Some applicants have faced challenges that affected their academic performance. For instance, a death in the family or a disability may have caused you to have a lower GPA during your sophomore year. You can address these issues in your personal statement and explain how overcoming obstacles has helped you develop as a scholar.

It’s also beneficial to ask a trusted faculty member to give you feedback on your personal statement before you submit it.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Woman Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School

Many applicants wonder how to start a personal statement for grad school and what to include. You can brainstorm ideas by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why are you interested in earning a graduate degree in this field?
  • What are your academic and personal strengths?
  • What personal traits, qualifications, and past experiences make you stand out from other applicants?
  • What are your career goals for the next five to ten years? How can a graduate degree from this program help you achieve them?
  • Which research interests do you want to explore, and how can this program expand your knowledge of these areas?
  • What excites you about this specific program?
  • How would you contribute to this program if you got accepted?
  • Which faculty members have research interests that align with your goals?
  • Have you overcome any challenges or hardships that you want to address in your statement?

You can also ask current graduate students to share their personal statements with you for inspiration.

What Is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Man reviewing his personal statement for grad school

A personal statement for grad school is an essay that demonstrates why you’re a suitable fit for a program. A strong personal statement creates a compelling narrative that addresses these three areas:

  • How your past experiences (internships, coursework, research projects, etc.) have prepared you for graduate school
  • How you plan to impact the graduate program positively
  • How the program will help you achieve your future goals

A personal statement for masters program or PhD program applications also allows you to showcase your personality and strengths. Admissions committees may favor passionate applicants with positive traits, such as leadership and resilience.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

Woman checking her personal statement printouts for grad school

Typically, most personal statements for graduate school consist of 1 to 2 double-spaced pages. But the ideal length for a personal statement varies by program and discipline.

Many graduate programs provide specific guidelines for the personal statement in their application instructions. For example, some programs may ask for a 500 to 750 word personal statement, while others allow up to 3 pages. It’s strategic to read the instructions thoroughly before you start writing your statement.

If a program doesn’t specify the length, you can ask a faculty member or mentor in your field for guidance.

When you start checking with admissions about the number of letters of recommendation required for grad school , it’s advisable to also ask about the quantity of personal statements needed. While most graduate programs require one, some may request more.

What’s the Difference Between a Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement?

Some graduate programs ask for a statement of purpose, while others require a personal statement. These documents include similar content, but they have a few key differences.

Both documents allow admissions committees to gain insights into an applicant’s personality and motivations.

Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

student writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Understanding how to write a personal statement for graduate school is one of the first steps to creating a compelling application. This document lets you showcase your passions, strengths, and skills to the admissions committee.

A strong personal statement could give you a leg up by helping you stand out in a competitive applicant pool. It could also demonstrate your fit for the program, making it easier for the admissions committee to picture you as one of their students.

If you’re ready to expand your expertise in graduate school, you can take the next step by researching online and in-person programs from accredited schools. You will come across graduate schools that have low GPA score requirements or place significant emphasis on alternative admissions criteria. It might also be a good time to start checking if financial aid for graduate school is available.

how long should a personal statement for grad school

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How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Graduate School

Lisa Marlin

This article focuses on how to write a personal statement for graduate school. After all, it’s an important part of the admissions process. There’s no doubt that your grades matter when applying for grad school. However, your GPA is not the full picture. That’s where personal statements come in handy.

While getting into grad school, especially Ivy League grad schools , is highly competitive these days. Selection committees look at a variety of factors when choosing between the huge numbers of qualified candidates who apply each year. We’ve discussed grad school requirements , so let’s talk about personal statements.

Even if you have a great GPA, you’ll be competing against a larger number of other students with similar GPAs. So a strong personal statement is essential to help you stand out from the crowd.

Fortunately, this also means that you can strengthen your application with a phenomenal personal statement if your GPA is not quite up to scratch. In fact, some committees pay special attention to your personal statement.

Sure, your GPA and test scores say a lot about your academic performance. However, they are only formal documents. Selection committees also want to understand your academic goals and your motivations, and for this, they look to your personal statement.

So, what should be included in your personal statement for graduate school? Most importantly, how do you write a winning personal statement that will help you get into your dream program?

Read on to learn everything to know!

Table of Contents

What is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Though the requirements vary depending on the institution and the program, generally grad school selection depends on:

  • An admissions test or exam
  • Your GPA or academic record
  • Your personal statement
  • Recommendation letters

When applying for grad school, you’ll need to submit a personal statement along with the other requirements. Your personal statement helps the selection committee understand your goals, passion, and ambitions.

Unlike undergraduate admissions which largely rely on academic performance, grad school selection considers a broader range of factors. We evaluated this document from the University of Washington, for example.

Admissions committees know that success at grad school is about more than just academic performance – prospective students also need to be motivated, disciplined, and driven.

Some programs have very strict requirements for what should be included in their personal statements for graduate school, while others leave it more open. Regardless, you’ll need to demonstrate that you are a strong candidate and will excel in their program.

Related: When to Apply for Grad School .

Someone writing their personal statement for grad school.

Many applications for graduate programs require a personal statement, and your application will not be considered without one.

Even if it’s not mandatory, including a personal statement when applying to grad school can be highly advantageous and help to convince the admissions committee to move you forward to the next stage.

Your academic resume and the rest of your grad school application will typically focus on your previous academic experience, grades, and other technical elements. Your personal statement is your chance to let your personality shine through and have the selection committee see you as an individual. It’s your opportunity to explain your goals, motivations, and what you have to offer.

Many grad school programs receive hundreds and even thousands of applications. Therefore, a compelling personal statement is one of the most important elements that can help you stand out and move forward to the next stage!

Tips for Writing a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Your personal statement could make all the difference in getting into your dream grad school and setting you on the path for an exceptional career. Although the best personal statement can vary depending on where you’re applying, there are some things that all the best personal statements examples for graduation school have in common.

So let’s take a look at some top tips on how to write a personal statement for graduate school.

     1. Check the Guidelines

First things first – look at the grad school’s individual requirements and guidelines. Every institution has different guidelines for how they want the personal essay to be formatted and what it should include. Check the required format, maximum word count, information that must be included, and other guidelines.

Most grad schools will post the requirements on their website – if not, contact the admissions office. You don’t want to spend hours writing an essay only to be disqualified just because you didn’t follow the guidelines properly!

     2. Be Genuine

You are wrong if you think exaggerating your experiences or achievements will get you admission to your dream university. The selection committee reads a large number of personal statements on a regular basis.

They’ll quickly see if your assertions are too good to be true. Likewise, it’s not hard for them to tell the difference between a fake and real statement. It’s all about framing your own experiences and motivations in a certain way, rather than exaggerating or fabricating anything.

     3. Keep it Short

Aspiring grad students often feel pressured to write everything about themselves in their personal statement. You don’t need to explain all of your interests, ambitions, and achievements in this document. Instead, it should be short, relevant to the graduation program, and engaging.

The exact length will depend on the programs’ guidelines, but generally speaking, a good personal statement for grad school is around one page. Furthermore, you should make sure that every paragraph and sentence has a purpose. If there isn’t a good reason to include it in your personal statement, cut it out!

     4. Keep it Relevant

A trip to Iceland might be super meaningful to you, but it’s probably not relevant to your application for a computer science program . When writing your personal statement, keep it to experiences and qualifications relevant to the particular program you’re applying for.

However, keeping things relevant doesn’t mean you have to be limited to academic qualifications and professional experience. Some of your personal experiences and even family history may be appropriate and add value.

Furthermore, adding personal elements can make your application more authentic and persuasive, as long as they are relevant to the program you are applying for.

     5. Be Unique

Grad school selection committees read hundreds, if not thousands of personal statements. So it’s important to stand out from the crowd and make a good impression, and anything that is a little different will help.

This could be a unique and engaging opening sentence, or finishing your personal statement with a dramatic line. You can also make your application stand out with unique personal experiences or exceptional qualifications. These will be your point of difference, so be sure to emphasize them in your personal statement!

     6. Strike a Balance

If you look at the best graduate school personal statement examples, you’ll see how the writers manage to strike the right balance between a professional and an informal tone. The goal is to keep the tone neutral — neither too stiff and formal, nor overly friendly. Remember that this is a personal statement and so it is supposed to reflect your personality.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that you are writing it for your dream graduation program, so it must also be professional. If you are having trouble striking the right tone, consult with a professional writer or editor.

     7. Pay Attention to Grammar and Structure

As part of preparing a professional document, it’s critical that the text has proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout. At grad school, you’re expected to be able to write to a high professional standard, and this means having perfect grammar.

The last thing you want is for your application to be rejected because of poor sentence construction. One way to avoid this is having your essay proofread and edited. If you can’t afford this, ask a qualified friend or family member to look over it.

What Makes a Compelling Grad School Personal Statement

The best graduate school personal statement examples have certain things in common:

  • They start with a strong opener that grabs the attention of the selection committee.
  • This flows into a compelling narrative that clearly demonstrates the student’s passion and motivation.
  • They include specific examples which show the student’s discipline and work ethic.
  • They encompass family history, goals, education, and professional background all within a short statement.
  • They are well-written, well-structured, and flow well.
  • They are well-organized, each paragraph having its own message and belongs in the personal statement.

By applying these rules to your own experience and motivations, you’ll be able to write your own personal statement that will greatly strengthen your grad school application.

Key Elements of a Winning Grad School Personal Statement

Writing personal statements is a critical part of applying to grad school . Let’s take a deep dive into what to include in a personal statement for grad school, how to refine the writing process, and what will help make your application stand out!

Demonstrate Why You’re Right for the Program

When evaluating applications, selection committees look for a potential graduate student who will be a good fit for the program. They want candidates who fit with the school’s culture, have the right attitude, and have the same drive and passion as faculty and other students.

Before writing your personal statement, do your research. Learn about the values and culture of the grad school, as well as their faculty and alumni. Throughout your personal essay, be sure to clearly demonstrate how your own ideology aligns with the school to show that you’ll be a good fit. It can also be powerful to cite a particular piece of research that inspires you, or describe your interest in the work of a particular faculty member.

Ensure your Personal Statement is Well-Written

Of course, it’s not just about what you say. How you say it is also important. Your personal statement serves as a writing sample that will demonstrate your written communication skills (or lack thereof).

Whether a masters program personal statement or a personal essay for a doctorate program, the selection committee wants to see that you can write. This shows them that you’ll be able to produce high-quality written work. This is most relevant for master’s and advanced degrees that contain a thesis component, but all courses require some level of written communication.

Strong and Consistent Messaging

It’s essential that your personal statement builds a clear, compelling narrative to convince the admissions committee that you’re an excellent candidate for their program. You need to clearly communicate your key messages, such as your academic and career goals, what you can bring to the program, and what you want to get out of grad school.

This will be most compelling if you are consistent with your messaging throughout your statement by returning to the same key themes. In the same way, avoid contradictory statements and don’t include elements that don’t fit with the narrative you’re trying to build.

Don’t Oversell

Sure, it’s important to present your strengths and describe your most impressive experience and qualifications. However, a personal statement is not a cover letter for a job application: it shouldn’t be sell, sell, sell.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses and faults. The selection committee will appreciate your honesty and humility, and this will help you to come across as a human rather than a faceless name on an application.

Include Examples

To create the strongest grad school personal statement you can, you’ll need to include examples. Just like a job interview, examples give more weight to your statements, and help you to demonstrate the claims you’re making are true. Peppering your personal statement with examples also helps to capture the reader’s attention and avoid generic-sounding text.

Be as specific as you can with these examples. Rather than just saying you’re passionate about a subject, demonstrate your interest and dedication to the topic by describing volunteer activities or internships you’ve done in that field. Mention awards you’ve received, or simply just detail a certain life event that sparked your motivation to pursue a certain career.

Share Personal Stories (But Don’t Overshare)

Some of the most powerful examples and anecdotes in a personal statement are just that, very personal. Some of the best personal statements for grad school are those that show the writer’s individuality. You could share how your family history has inspired your passion for a certain subject, or how a particular experience or life event spurred you to pursue a certain career. Not only does this make things more interesting for the reader, but vulnerability can be very compelling.

However, be careful not to overshare. Remember that your personal statement is part of an academic application, so it’s essential to keep things professional. Use a professional tone and appropriate language, and only include necessary details.

Refine and Polish your Application

As one of the key parts of your grad school application, it’s important to ensure your personal statement is refined and polished. Most selection committees will outright disregard applications with spelling mistakes or typos. With such a high volume of applications, a few missed commas or grammatical errors are an easy way to cull a set of candidates. MIT, for example, sends offers of admission to just over 10% of its grad school candidates.

Before submitting your application, proof read your personal statement. Then proofread it again. Ask a friend, colleague, or family member to look at it – it’s amazing what a second set of eyes can pick up.

How Long Should a Grad School Personal Statement Be?

The ideal personal statement for grad school is somewhere between 500 and 1000 words in length.

Any aspiring graduate student wants to make sure that they put in a comprehensive personal statement that includes all the elements they need to win over the selection committee. At the same time, it’s important to not make your personal essay too long, as key information may get lost in lengthy, tedious pieces.

However, don’t worry about being too firm on the length. The most important thing is to write a strong graduate application personal statement that shows your personality and presents a compelling message.

Related: How to Pick a Grad School .

Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

Though writing a personal statement for grad school is a very personal endeavor, the best personal statements for grad school share certain elements. Here are some successful personal statement examples from fictional graduate school applicants that show some of the key things that make a compelling personal statement.

personal statement for graduate school

Earning a college degree has been one of the proudest achievements of my life, despite the fact that my life’s trajectory long suggested that a college education would never be a part of my future. After falling pregnant at age 17 and dropping out of school, I found myself living as one of the “working poor”, balancing two minimum-wage jobs and caring for my child. Through my 20’s I picked up a string of low-paid, low-skill jobs: cleaner, retail clerk, server. I found none of these roles to be fulfilling, and, looking back, I can see that my talents and potential were going to waste.

However, I never gave up on my dream of going to college. I found work that would allow me to support myself and my family financially while giving me the flexibility to go back to school, and at 27, I enrolled at the local community college. At college, I was exposed to a whole new world which was supported by a thirst for learning, and I excelled academically. There were many long nights of studying after a day working at the local distribution center, followed by helping my kids with their homework and putting them to bed.

Working a 36-hour week while caring for a family and working towards a degree only motivated me to work harder. The better my performance and the more outstanding my results, the more I felt that my sacrifices had been worth it. I took inspiration from my mother, who came to this country as a 19-year old single mother from Nicaragua and worked three jobs to support her six children so that we could have a better life. Although I don’t come from a studious or academically-minded family, I have been able to take examples from other facets of my mother’s life and apply these to become an exceptional student.

It was during my time at community college that I truly embraced my lifelong passion for science. I have always been interested in how things work, and through my college studies I have developed an intense interest in physics. I find it fascinating to discover how things work on a molecular level, and I’m driven by the enormous potential of this field to shape human history into the future.

I feel a great part of my success as a student has been in how I have approached my studies. I approach study as if I am already a professional in the field, rather than a student, working diligently to excel and put in the strongest performance I can, which is reflected in my excellent academic record. I always chose the most challenging courses, and sought a broad range of subjects to broaden my knowledge and challenge my thinking. One of my greatest academic milestones to date was when my research paper on sub-atomic mass was published in the campus scientific journal, The Modern Scientist .

My undergraduate journey has not only cultivated a love of learning in me, but a strong desire to pursue a graduate degree. I have prepared for the rigors of graduate study by taking extra credits in not only my chosen field of physics, but also biology, chemistry, and ethics, in order to broaden my knowledge base. Additionally, for the past several years I have been an active member of my school’s physics club, and I have served as the club president for the past 12 months. I feel that my motivation, drive, and diverse life experiences would make me a valuable addition to the University of Virginia’s Master’s in Physics program. I am in awe of Virginia’s impressive and exciting interdisciplinary program and I feel that it is the ideal program to help me pursue a successful career in the world and make a valuable contribution to the scientific community, as society more generally.

Word count: 636

What makes this a strong personal statement:

  • The applicant uses memorable examples that are outside the ordinary to stand out from others
  • It shows a powerful level of self-reflection, including acknowledging the candidate’s own weaknesses
  • The applicant lets their individual personality shine through

I’ll never forget the day when I first held a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in my hands. I was in the dusty library at UCLA, a wide-eyed undergraduate student curious to learn more about this thing called “feminism”. At that time, I had no idea the impact that book would have on me, or how it would shape my life.

Reading de Beauvoir’s masterpiece set off a chain reaction that inspired me to learn more about feminism and women’s issues. I moved on to Germaine Greer, Mary Woolstonecraft, Margaret Atwood, Octavia E. Butler, and Audre Lorde, devouring their works and absorbing their ideas. I chose Women’s Studies as my undergraduate major, and interned at the Young Women’s Legal Service in downtown LA for two summers. After finishing my junior year with a 6.0 GPA, I went to Cambodia for three months, where I volunteered with The Purple Ribbon Project, a local, grassroots non-profit supporting female victims of sex trafficking. These diverse experiences inspired me to dedicate my life to advocating for women’s rights.

I am applying my passion for the field to two major projects this year.

First, I received a $2,700 grant under the Women’s Liberation Fund. I propose to expand on a prior research project, looking at the incidence of FGM within remote communities in Malaysia. For this thesis I am studying the cultural factors that contribute to the practice, and how this local practice is illegal at the national level, but ignored by authorities. I plan to expand on this theme as part of my senior thesis. My experience working with local communities in developing countries has been invaluable, as this has not only given me insights into cultural differences, it has also made it easier for me to connect with local communities on the ground as part of my research.

My second major project this year is a self-designed research project as part of my final year of Women’s Studies at UCLA. I am investigating modern perceptions around feminism. I am focusing on my observation that many younger women today seem to be openly hostile towards the concept, and I’m interested in learning whether this reflects a misunderstanding of the underlying theories, or a misalignment with the core values of traditional feminism.

For years I have been working towards graduate study in the field of Women’s Studies, but my approach to the field has been enriched with my double major in Women’s Studies and Development Studies. My interest in development has spurred me to study the particular challenges and opportunities faced by women in low-income countries.

My interest in studying at Brown University has grown out of conversations I’ve had with several people, including Professor Anne Spacek who shared many insights based on her time teaching there. My supervisor Janne Bauer also suggested I connect with Professor Marianne Patel. I reached out to Prof. Patel and we had an inspiring conversation that confirmed I would very much be at home in Brown’s Women’s Studies department.

Word count: 502

  • The personal statement has a unique and interesting beginning to capture the reader’s attention. If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement for grad school, begin with a compelling statement.
  • The applicant uses several examples to show their passion for the subject and how they will be a great fit for the program
  • The personal statement builds a compelling, well-structured narrative

What Sets the Best Personal Statements for Graduate School Applications Apart?

A personal statement is a crucial element of your grad school application. Your GPA alone will not get you into your dream graduate program, especially if you’re seeking admission to a leading institution.

Writing a personal statement for graduate school can be a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first try. It’s important to come up with a succinct statement that is also unique, authentic, and professional. Keep it short, simple, compelling, and most importantly relevant to the program.

For more tips on putting together a winning grad school application, check out our tips for getting into Ivy League grad school and GRE preparation tips .

Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin

Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.

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How to Write a Strong Personal Statement for Graduate School

  • by Heidi Kerr and Paul David Terry
  • November 10, 2020

A student sits on his laptop at the Silo at UC Davis.

You’ve made the exciting decision to pursue a graduate degree. Congratulations! There are a wide range of graduate programs to explore , and once you’ve selected the right program for you, it’s time to begin the graduate application process. 

The statement of purpose and personal history statement are key components of the UC Davis graduate school application . With fewer than 4,000 characters allowed for each essay, these statements can seem particularly daunting. However, each one has a specific purpose for showcasing your academic journey and creating a holistic application.

Below, we’ve analyzed the differences between the statement of purpose and personal history statement and provided tips for writing these graduate school admissions essays. 

Statement of Purpose and Personal History: What’s the Difference?

A student examines chemicals through a beaker while wearing a lab coat and goggles.

The statement of purpose shares your academic objectives with the admissions committee and explains why you want to obtain a graduate degree. The personal history statement provides background about who you are and how your experiences have shaped your interests and ability to overcome challenges. Each essay has specific goals to showcase your experience, passion and story. 

How to Write a Strong Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should highlight your academic preparation , motivation and interests, along with any specializations and career goals that contribute to your program of study. As you write your statement of purpose, it should encompass some of the following:

  • Academic and research experiences - Include any relevant academic studies or research pursuits, internships or employment, presentations, publications, teaching, and travel or study abroad experiences that prepare you for this graduate program. Explain your motivation or passion for these experiences and how they can enrich your graduate study.
  • Interests, specializations, and career goals - Highlight your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area(s) of specialization, and professional objectives.
  • Fit - Explain how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.

The statement of purpose should also address why you want to pursue the particular graduate degree program at the university and what your goals are in pursuing a degree. Remember, the statement of purpose should explain exactly that, your purpose for becoming a graduate student. This is the primary way it stands apart from your personal history statement. 

What to Include in Your Personal History Statement

A student smiles as she inspects yellow liquid underneath a microscope, while her professor watches on.

The personal history statement helps the reader learn more about you as an individual and potential graduate student. Use this opportunity to describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Tell a story that  includes any experiences, challenges or opportunities relevant to your academic journey. Consider how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field.

A strong personal history statement begins with an authentic voice and personal narrative. This can reflect your journey to graduate school, any obstacles you’ve encountered, and how you've overcome challenges. Talk about your personal goals and dreams. Explain what motivates and drives you toward this degree. The more your personal statement tells your school about you as an individual, the more it will stand out. Don't write something to impress someone else. This includes language, style and tone. Authenticity is important and resonates well. Tell the truth, in your voice, from your perspective. Use your story to connect.

More Tips and Resources for Applying to Graduate School

Applying to graduate school may be daunting to some, but UC Davis has a variety of resources to help you create a strong graduate school application. Check out the Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Handbook for ideas and worksheets on how to construct your essays. Or visit our Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services website for more graduate school prep resources. 

Paul David Terry is the assistant director of special interest and affinity networks and alumni diversity lead at the Cal Aggie Alumni Association. He oversees the UC Davis Health Improving OUTcomes blog and enjoys cycling and brewing ginger beer.

Heidi Kerr works as the content and media manager at UC Davis’ Graduate Studies. She has worked as a communications professional at multiple higher education institutions and is passionate about promoting student success.

The authors acknowledge current and former leaders from Pre-Graduate/Law Advising in Office of Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Services, especially Annalisa Teixeira, Ph.D. and Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, Ph.D., who granted us permission to reference Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Workbook .

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

how long should a personal statement for grad school

Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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how long should a personal statement for grad school

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

how long should a personal statement for grad school

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Write a Graduate School Personal Statement (with example!)

Congratulations on finishing your bachelor’s degree, and starting the next chapter! You might be thinking about applying to graduate school, and fortunately, it’s very similar to applying to an undergraduate program. However, it’s probably been a few years since you’ve had to write an application essay, so you might be wondering how to write a personal statement for graduate school. If so, this guide is the perfect resource for you! Keep reading below to find out more, and don’t forget to check out the example of a graduate school personal statement.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an essay that encapsulates your personal journey and how that’s shaped who you are as an applicant. They are typically 400-600 words, but can be longer or shorter. 

Be sure not to confuse a personal statement with a statement of purpose as they are two different types of admissions essays. Use this as an opportunity to show colleges what you value and what’s turned you into an ideal student for your desired school. 

What should I write about?

Personal statements are your chance to get, well, personal. While you should answer the prompt in its entirety, you should also write about yourself. Bring a personal element into your essay like family or a story of you overcoming an obstacle. 

Ideally, your story should relate to what you’re trying to accomplish at your graduate school of choice. Tie it all together: your personal experiences, your desired major, and your ideal outcome. 

Tips for writing a personal statement for graduate school

It’s important to start your graduate application as soon as you’re able. Usually, the first round of applications receive the best financial aid packages, so start early! 

Starting sooner can also give you the time to outline your essay and get it read over by your support system. You’ll want it all to be perfect, so don’t rush.

Be transparent

Instead of telling admissions what you think they want to hear, be open and honest about yourself. You want them to understand you, and the only way to do that is to show who you actually are. Offer up personal stories or things that genuinely interest you so that you can show off your sparkling personality!

Be original

Graduate programs are often very competitive since there’s a smaller admissions pool. As a result, your essay should be as original as possible to stand out from the crowd. Tell your story in an organic way, and approach the given prompt with an open mind. 

Related : How to write an essay about yourself

Check your work

It’s extremely important for you to proofread and check for correct spelling and grammar throughout your personal statement. Even simply reading your statement out loud can help you catch any errors and make sure your words flow together. You should also consider having mentors or people within your support system read over your essay to ensure your message is clear.

Common mistakes when writing a graduate school personal statement

Reusing your undergraduate essay .

Reusing your first supplemental essay as a template is a big mistake you want to avoid. Years have passed since then, and you’ve learned new skills and grown as a person and a student. 

The experiences you previously wrote might not resonate with who you are today or tell the graduate team what they want to know about you. It may also have grammatical errors that you might not have noticed before, so take a little extra time to start from scratch and create something new.

Repeating what’s in your resume

It’s likely that your graduate school of choice will require you to upload a copy of your resume as part of your application. Therefore, the admissions committee will already know your professional background, so tell them something else about yourself or provide further depth to a job experience. Repeating yourself only tells them one thing, and you want to be the most well-rounded applicant that you can be.

Graduate school personal statement example

Prompt: Please discuss how your experiences, both personal and professional, have led you to pursue a graduate business degree at this time. What are your short- and long- term goals and how will this program and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business help you achieve these goals? (750 words max)

While many of the applications you receive will detail the many ways that person has been the first to do something, I pose a different perspective: hope to be the last. In other words, you might see me as a first-generation college student, but I see the makings of becoming the last generation to worry about generational wealth in my family. 

Though it is true that I would be the first in my family to get my master’s degree, I’m hoping that my future success means I’ll be the last “first.” It’s not lost on me what this title means, but most of all, it signifies the dawn of an era. A dynasty bred from the struggles and achievements of those before it.

These are big shoes to fill, but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and the things I’ve learned have helped me secure my future. For example, by observing different business models throughout the years, I found a secret about marketing: people love a product that loves them back. In my case, a product that’s always loved me back were books. I’d fallen in love with bookshelves and bookstores alike, so it only makes sense that a culmination of my love of marketing and books is the goal of one day working in book publishing. I want to know the inner workings of book promotion including design decisions and book tours. Eventually, I plan on working at one of the big publishers such as Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Macmillan.

Fortunately, I’ve been given opportunities to decide on my own path, which I hope to execute at Georgia State University. This school’s unique curriculum will be an asset to me since there are classes that specifically cater to buyer behavior, and that’s an area of study I’m particularly interested in. The Social Media Intelligence Lab and social media marketing class will hopefully give me an inside look into influencer marketing and its impact on product profitability. According to your mission statement, GSU educates future leaders, and I want to be a part of that.

As a mentor of mine once said, knowledge is meant to be shared, and if it isn’t, it’s control. I hope to build up the people around me with knowledge and experiences as I go out into the professional world just as I hope this program will do for me. If I’m accepted into this program, I plan on using my creativity and drive for not only my success, but for my family’s as well. There may be times I fall short of a goal, but failure isn’t an option. Each benchmark professors put in front of me will be conquered, and one day, I’ll be one of your notable alumni. 

Why this essay works:

  • The writer clearly researched the school and understands its values
  • The prompt is answered completely and seamlessly
  • The applicant knew their goals and thought of ways to achieve them at the college 
  • This statement communicates not only what the college gains from this applicant’s admission, but also what the applicant gains
  • It’s also well within the word limit

Frequently asked questions about how to write a graduate school personal statement

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Frequently asked questions

How long is a personal statement.

The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.

Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

Frequently asked questions: Graduate school

In the US, most graduate school applications require you to include:

  • Transcripts from previous educational institutions
  • Standardized test scores (such as the GRE or MCAT)
  • A graduate resume
  • 2–3 letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose

Some programs may ask you to write a personal statement in addition to, or instead of, a statement of purpose. You may also be asked to an interview .

Always carefully read the application instructions for the specific program you’re applying to.

Most medical school programs interview candidates, as do many (though not all) leading law and business schools.

In research programs, it depends—PhDs in business usually do, while those in economics normally do not, for example.

Some schools interview everyone, while others only interview their top candidates. Look at the websites of the schools you’re applying to for more information on whether they conduct interviews.

In addition to thinking about your answers for the most commonly asked grad school interview questions , you should reach out to former and current students to ask their advice on preparing and what sort of questions will be asked.

Look back through your resume and come up with anecdotes that you could use for common questions, particularly those that ask about obstacles that you overcame. If you’re applying for a research program, ensure that you can talk about the previous research experience you’ve had.

You should also read as much research in your field as possible. Research the faculty at the schools you’re applying to and read some of their papers. Come up with a few questions that you could ask them.

Graduate schools often ask questions about why you are interested in this particular program and what you will contribute.

Try to stay away from cliche answers like “this is a good program” or “I got good grades in undergrad” and focus instead on the unique strengths of the program or what you will bring to the table. Understand what the program is looking for and come up with anecdotes that demonstrate why you are a good fit for them.

Different types of programs may also focus on different questions:

  • Research programs will often ask what topics you’d like to research and who you would like to work with, as well as specific questions about your research background.
  • Medical schools are interested in your personal motivation, qualities such as integrity and empathy, and how you’d respond to common ethical dilemmas.
  • Business schools will focus on your past work experience and future career prospects, and may be particularly interested in any experience you have managing or working with others.

Some students apply to graduate school straight from undergrad, but it’s also common to go back to school later in life. The ideal time to do so depends on various financial, personal, and career considerations . Graduate school is a big commitment, so you should apply at a time when you can devote your full attention to it.

Your career path may also determine when you should apply. In some career fields, you can easily progress without a graduate degree, while in others—such as medicine, business, and law—it’s virtually impossible to move up the career ladder without a specific graduate degree.

Most graduate school applications for American graduate programs are due in December or January for a September start.

Some types of programs, especially law school, are rolling applications, meaning that the earlier you apply, the earlier you’ll hear back. In this case, you should aim to apply as early as possible to maximize your chances.

Medical school follows a completely separate timeline with much earlier deadlines. If you’re applying for medical school, you should speak to advisors at your university for more information.

A good starting point to aim for is about 18 months before you would start the program, or 6–9 months before the applications are due.

In the first few months of the process, research programs and study for any standardized exams you might need.

You can then begin writing your personal statements and statements of purpose , as well as contacting people to write your letters of recommendation . Ensure that you give recommenders plenty of time to complete their letters (ideally around 2–4 months).

In the US, the graduate school application process is similar whether you’re applying for a master’s or a PhD . Both require letters of recommendation , a statement of purpose or personal statement , a resume or CV , and transcripts. Programs in the US and Canada usually also require a certain type of standardized test—often the GRE.

Outside the US, PhD programs usually also require applicants to write a research proposal , because students are expected to begin dissertation research in the first year of their PhD.

A master’s degree usually has a higher upfront cost, but it also allows you to start earning a higher salary more quickly. The exact cost depends on the country and the school: private universities usually cost more than public ones, and European degrees usually cost less than North American ones. There are limited possibilities for financial aid.

PhDs often waive tuition fees and offer a living stipend in exchange for a teaching or research assistantship. However, they take many years to complete, during which time you earn very little.

This depends on the country. In the United States, you can generally go directly to a PhD  with only a bachelor’s degree, as a master’s program is included as part of the doctoral program.

Elsewhere, you generally need to graduate from a research-intensive master’s degree before continuing to the PhD.

This varies by country. In the United States, PhDs usually take between 5–7 years: 2 years of coursework followed by 3–5 years of independent research work to produce a dissertation.

In the rest of the world, students normally have a master’s degree before beginning the PhD, so they proceed directly to the research stage and complete a PhD in 3–5 years.

A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.

A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.

A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.

All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.

It’s best to ask in person if possible, so first reach out and request a meeting to discuss your graduate school plans.

Let the potential recommender know which programs you’re applying to, and ask if they feel they can provide a strong letter of recommendation . A lukewarm recommendation can be the kiss of death for an application, so make sure your letter writers are enthusiastic about recommending you and your work!

Always remember to remain polite. Your recommenders are doing you a favor by taking the time to write a letter in support of your graduate school goals.

This depends on the program that you are applying for. Generally, for professional programs like business and policy school, you should ask managers who can speak to your future leadership potential and ability to succeed in your chosen career path.

However, in other graduate programs, you should mostly ask your former professors or research supervisors to write your recommendation letters , unless you have worked in a job that corresponds closely with your chosen field (e.g., as a full-time research assistant).

Choose people who know your work well and can speak to your ability to succeed in the program that you are applying to.

Remember, it is far more important to choose someone who knows you well than someone well-known. You may have taken classes with more prominent professors, but if they haven’t worked closely with you, they probably can’t write you a strong letter.

The sections in your graduate school resume depend on two things: your experience, and the focus of the program you’re applying to.

Always start with your education. If you have more than one degree, list the most recent one first.

The title and order of the other sections depend on what you want to emphasize. You might include things like:

  • Professional experience
  • Voluntary and extracurricular activities
  • Publications
  • Awards and honors
  • Skills and certifications

The resume should aim for a balance between two things: giving a snapshot of what you’ve done with your life so far, and showing that you’re a good candidate for graduate study.

A resume is typically shorter than a CV, giving only the most relevant professional and educational highlights.

An academic CV should give full details of your education and career, including lists of publications and presentations, certifications, memberships, grants, and research projects. Because it is more comprehensive, it’s acceptable for an academic CV to be many pages long.

Note that, outside of the US, resume and CV are often used interchangeably.

No, don’t include your high school courses and grades. The education section should only detail your college education.

If you want to discuss aspects of high school in your graduate school application, you can include this in your personal statement .

A resume for a graduate school application is typically no more than 1–2 pages long.

Note, however, that if you are asked to submit a CV (curriculum vitae), you should give comprehensive details of all your academic experience. An academic CV can be much longer than a normal resume.

Always carefully check the instructions and adhere to any length requirements for each application.

If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.

Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.

If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.

If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.

A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.

A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.

However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.

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How Long Should a Personal Statement Be: Writing a Strong Personal Statement

As part of your applications to graduate schools, you will need to write a personal statement. But what is a personal statement? What should you write about? And more importantly, how long should a personal statement be?

A personal statement is important because it allows you to make sure your application stands out from others. It will allow you to show off your biggest achievements in life and what you consider to be your best attributes.

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Explore the below tips to learn how to write a strong personal statement and what length you should keep your personal statement at.

What Is a Personal Statement?

Woman biting a pencil and looking at personal statement examples on a laptop screen.

A personal statement is an essay explaining your reasons for wanting to enter the coding bootcamp , four-year program, or graduate program you are applying for. It is your chance to tell the school who you are and how you became interested in your field. 

In your personal statement, you should show your passion for the subject and motivation behind applying for the program. There should also be an emphasis on storytelling. Schools typically require applicants to write about challenges in their lives and how they have overcome them.

Maybe you are choosing a program that does not align with your previous education, or maybe you do not have specific work experience related to the field. In this case, a personal statement will help you emphasize your strengths and show why you belong in the program.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

It is best to focus on the message you are delivering in the essay rather than the length. Requirements for the length of a personal essay may vary depending on the school to which you are applying. Typically, colleges and coding bootcamps ask for a word count of about 200 to 500.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for College?

While you won’t run into this often, you may find the occasional college application to a four-year school that requires a personal statement. If your ideal college requires a personal statement as part of the college application, you should plan on writing around 500 words. 

During the application process, you will likely find out the personal statement word limit set by your school. It is important to double-check the requirements set forth by your ideal college because 500 words is simply a ballpark number. Some schools may require shorter or longer essays.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

If you are working on a statement for graduate school applications, you can expect to write a bit more than you would for a four-year college. Typically, a grad school application requires a personal statement that is around two to three pages in length.

A personal statement for graduate school is also a bit more serious than one for a four-year college. You’ll notice the entire grad school application requires more application materials in general, like a cover letter . That means you will need to work extra hard to avoid awkward sentences, punctuation errors, and exceeding or not meeting the required length for your personal statement letter.

What Are Schools Looking for in a Personal Statement?

Through a personal statement, schools are trying to get to know you on a deeper level. It is important to include a story about yourself in your statement. It should be related to your personal failures and triumphs. 

All the experiences you write about should also be related to your field of study. It’s a good idea to avoid opening your essay with a quote and try not to use cliches or get too creative. You still want to come across as a professional, serious applicant.

The admissions committee will also be looking for your inspiration behind entering your chosen field. They will want to know what made you interested in the specialization. While explaining your interests, do not make the mistake of going back to the beginning of your life, or even to high school. Avoid starting your statements with “I fell in love with …. When I was 8.”

The school will want to find out what personally motivated you to apply. Be honest in your statement and explain why it is an appropriate step on your educational path, and how it will help you achieve your future career goals.

Of course, strong writing skills are crucial to a strong essay. A successful personal statement will show that you can write coherently. Make sure you use correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Ask a couple of family members, friends, or former professors to proofread your essay when you feel you are finished.

There are five universal traits that most schools will be looking for you to demonstrate in your essay:

  • Punctuality
  • Ability to work independently
  • Good communication skills
  • Time management abilities
  • Determination and perseverance

How to Start Off a Personal Statement

Woman looking at a laptop screen, taking notes, and learning how to start off a personal statement.

If you want to submit a stand-out personal statement letter with your college application, you’ll want to know exactly how to start off a personal statement. The opening sentence is incredibly important to your personal statement essay, as it needs to be clean, clear, and eye-catching.

Throughout each application cycle, the college admissions team will see hundreds of personal statements. Many applicants open their letters with a quote, and while this is not a bad idea, it has become generic. Try starting your personal statement off with a quick and interesting anecdote about a valuable experience that has impacted your desire to enroll in the program.

Any sort of life experience or challenging experience you can think of related to your field of study should go into the essay as early as possible. That being said, don’t cram in all of the relevant experiences you can think of in the first paragraph. If you find yourself doing this, try adding an extra paragraph to your opener.

A killer personal statement should also allude to a few personal characteristics that fit with the field of study. For example, in the law, medical, and philanthropic fields, you may want to start off your personal statement with a quick anecdote about a life experience that displays your ability to logically help others.

How to Start Off a Personal Statement: A Sample

The following sample is tailored to a student applying for medical school:

In 2016, I spent one month in rural Haiti volunteering at a hospital. This was an extremely challenging experience for me, as I saw many people in need of critical healthcare that simply was not available to them. However, it was this experience that helped me decide I wanted to attend medical school and study to become a doctor. 

I quickly learned to separate my logical self from my emotional self so that I could help people receive treatment as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also providing reassurance and bedside company to those who needed it.

Writing a Personal Statement Step-by-Step

Writing a personal statement can be challenging. On top of having to explain all of your strengths in one short essay, you will also need to follow the rules and have no grammatical errors. Here are eight steps to take when writing a personal statement:

1. Start Early

Start the process a couple of months before your application is due. Personal statements take a lot of work, especially if you are also balancing other commitments in your life. Setting aside extra time means you will not have to squeeze in hours of work at the last minute. Starting early also allows for careful planning to ensure everything down to the sentence structure is perfect in your finished application essay.

2. Read the Requirements Thoroughly

It is very important to make sure that you understand the instructions fully. Your program will give the information as to what content your statement should focus on, how long it should be, and even how to save your essay.

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Some colleges are very specific and will give you a character limit for your piece of writing, while others will be much more relaxed. If you have trouble finding the personal statement instructions, try reaching out to your school’s admissions staff.

3. Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorm topics you would like to discuss. Common topics for this essay include extracurricular activities , a compelling story, and concrete examples of why you are one of the most qualified students for the program. 

This can give you a better shot at admissions by separating you from the other numerous candidates. Figure out how you will present your goals, what the program means to you, and why you are interested in it.

4. Make an Outline

Create a chart or a list of the things you plan to mention in your essay and the order you would like to discuss them. This is the time to develop your personal statement structure. You can find inspiration for your own essay by looking at personal statement examples online.

5. Draft Your Essay

Now, begin writing your admission essay. When you enter this stage, it is entirely okay to write down anything that seems relevant. While you continue to draft, you can take out parts that seem unnecessary. An admission tutor would be very helpful during the actual writing process and can help you become the perfect candidate.

6. Get Feedback

Allow people you trust to read your essay and provide feedback. They will see your writing with fresh eyes and tell you what needs to be fixed. Discussing your essay with people who have read it will help you improve your writing.

7. Edit Your Essay

Now that you have feedback, you will be able to revise and edit your statement based on the responses of people you trust. Look out for sentences with unnecessary information. Personal statements are intended to be short, so if one sentence is not essential, take it out. You can even send your essay to a personal statement editing service.

8. Proofread 

The last step is to proofread, a lot. Make use of your computer’s spellchecker, Grammarly, and any other resources available to you. Proofread one sentence at a time. Then, allow others to proofread your final draft. If they see a problem, go back one step, then proofread again.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be FAQ

Typically, personal statements are double-spaced. You may find a college requiring single-spaced personal statements, but unless it is clearly stated, double-spaced is a safe option. If you are really unsure, reach out to your admissions office for guidance.

If your personal statement is too long, review it and remove any information that is not 100 percent necessary. Unless a sentence is providing clear, important information about you as a candidate for the program, it should be removed. You can look up personal statement examples to get a better idea of how yours should be.

Avoid saying anything in your personal statement that is negative or braggy, or that takes the focus away from you. Many students complain about past educational experiences, but if you do this, you will likely have a harder time being accepted into the program. You want to describe positive personal experiences you have had but aim to do so without bragging about yourself.

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to write a personal statement. It primarily depends on how far in advance you plan your essay, your writing style, and how much time you put into editing and reviewing. Taking some extra time to write this statement is never a bad idea.

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How Long Should A Personal Statement For Grad School Be?

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  • August 15, 2023
  • School Strategies

When it comes to applying to graduate school, one common question is: “How long should a personal statement be?” It’s a valid concern, considering personal statements play a crucial role in conveying your unique qualities. But fret not! In this article, we’ll explore the ideal length for a personal statement that will captivate admissions committees and help you stand out from the competition.

Crafting a personal statement that leaves a lasting impression can be a daunting task, especially when you’re unsure of the ideal length. Should it be short and concise or long and elaborate? Well, we’ve got you covered! In this guide, we’ll break down the optimal length for a personal statement, providing you with the insight you need to make your application shine.

So, whether you’re struggling to condense your life experiences into a short essay or wondering if you have enough content for a longer statement, stay tuned as we unravel the answer to the age-old question: how long should a personal statement for grad school be? Let’s dive in!

When writing a personal statement for grad school, it’s essential to keep it concise and impactful. Aim for a length of around 500-800 words, focusing on highlighting your achievements, goals, and why you’re a strong fit for the program. Start with an engaging introduction, followed by 2-3 body paragraphs that showcase your experiences and skills. Lastly, conclude with a strong closing statement that summarizes your main points and leaves a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

How Long Should a Personal Statement for Grad School Be?

Table of Contents

How Long Should a Personal Statement for Grad School Be?

When it comes to applying for graduate school, one of the most important components of your application is the personal statement. This is your opportunity to showcase your experiences, skills, and motivations to the admissions committee. However, one common question among applicants is how long their personal statement should be. In this article, we will dive into the ideal length for a personal statement for grad school and provide you with some helpful tips to craft a compelling and concise essay.

The Ideal Length for a Personal Statement

So, how long should a personal statement for grad school be? While there isn’t a strict word count requirement, most graduate programs provide a recommended length, typically ranging from 500 to 1,000 words. However, it’s important to note that every institution may have different guidelines, so it’s crucial to check the specific requirements for each school you’re applying to.

The purpose of a personal statement is to concisely convey your qualifications and aspirations, so it’s essential to be clear and concise in your writing. Admissions committees review numerous applications, so a well-written, focused, and succinct personal statement can make a lasting impression. Generally, it’s best to aim for a personal statement that is around 750 words, as this allows you to provide enough detail without overwhelming the reader.

While it may be tempting to exceed the recommended word count, it’s important to respect the admissions committee’s time and attention. Remember, they have many applications to review, so a lengthy personal statement may be at a disadvantage. Keeping your essay within the recommended length demonstrates your ability to follow instructions and effectively communicate your ideas.

Tips for Crafting a Compelling Personal Statement

Now that you know the ideal length for a personal statement, let’s explore some tips to ensure your essay stands out from the rest:

1. Start with a strong introduction:

Begin your personal statement with a captivating opening sentence or anecdote that grabs the reader’s attention. This will set the tone for the rest of your essay and engage the admissions committee from the start.

2. Focus on relevant experiences:

Highlight experiences, skills, and accomplishments that are directly related to your field of study and future career goals. This will demonstrate your dedication, passion, and preparedness for graduate school.

3. Be reflective:

Reflect on your experiences and discuss how they have shaped your motivations and aspirations. Admissions committees are looking for self-awareness and the ability to think critically about your goals and the impact you want to make in your field.

4. Provide evidence:

Back up your claims with concrete examples and evidence. This could include research projects, internships, volunteer work, or academic achievements. Showing rather than telling will make your personal statement more compelling and convincing.

5. Stay focused and organized:

Ensure that your personal statement has a clear structure and flows logically. Each paragraph should have a specific purpose and contribute to the overall narrative of your essay. Avoid going off-topic or including irrelevant information.

6. Edit and revise:

After writing your personal statement, take the time to edit and revise it multiple times. Pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. It’s also helpful to seek feedback from trusted mentors, teachers, or peers to ensure your essay is clear and impactful.

Additional Considerations for Your Personal Statement

When crafting your personal statement, it’s important to keep in mind a few additional factors:

1. Adhere to the guidelines:

Make sure to carefully read and follow the specific guidelines provided by each graduate program. This includes the recommended length, formatting requirements, and any specific prompts or questions they may have.

2. Tailor your statement to each program:

While you may be applying to multiple graduate programs, it’s crucial to customize your personal statement for each institution. Research the program and incorporate information that demonstrates your interest and fit with their specific offerings.

3. Proofread for errors:

Before submitting your personal statement, thoroughly proofread it to catch any spelling or grammatical errors. Mistakes can detract from the overall quality of your essay and create a negative impression.

In conclusion, the ideal length for a personal statement for grad school is generally around 750 words. This allows you to provide enough detail while maintaining a concise and engaging essay. Remember to start strong, focus on relevant experiences, be reflective, provide evidence, stay organized, and edit your essay thoroughly. By following these tips and considering the specific guidelines of each program, you can craft a compelling personal statement that showcases your unique qualities and aspirations. Best of luck with your graduate school applications!

Key Takeaways: How Long Should a Personal Statement for Grad School Be?

  • A personal statement for grad school should typically be about 1-2 pages long.
  • Keep the statement concise and focused, highlighting your qualifications and goals.
  • Avoid including irrelevant or excessive information in your personal statement.
  • Adhere to any specific length guidelines provided by the grad school you are applying to.
  • Remember to proofread and edit your personal statement for clarity and coherence.

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to writing a personal statement for grad school, many questions arise. To help you navigate through the process, we’ve provided answers to some of the most common queries below.

1. What is the ideal length for a personal statement for grad school?

A personal statement for grad school should typically be around 500 to 750 words, or about 1 to 2 pages double-spaced. However, it’s important to check the specific requirements of each program you’re applying to, as some may have word limit guidelines. While it may be tempting to go beyond the suggested length, it’s crucial to be concise and thoughtful in your writing.

Admissions committees often have to review many applications, so a well-crafted, focused statement that respects the given guidelines will make a stronger impression than a lengthy one that wanders off-topic. Keep in mind that quality and relevance are more important than quantity.

2. Can I write a personal statement that exceeds the recommended length?

While some programs may allow for longer personal statements, exceeding the recommended length is generally discouraged. Admissions committees value concise, well-structured statements that convey your qualifications effectively. A longer personal statement may come across as unfocused or may make it difficult for busy committee members to fully grasp your main points.

It’s best to follow the given guidelines and demonstrate your ability to communicate effectively within the specified constraints. If you find yourself with an abundance of relevant information, focus on selecting the most compelling aspects and craft a powerful statement within the recommended length.

3. Can I submit a shorter personal statement for grad school?

While keeping within the recommended length is important, a personal statement that is slightly shorter can still be effective. However, it’s crucial to ensure that your statement provides sufficient detail and adequately addresses the given prompts. A too-brief personal statement may leave the admissions committee with unanswered questions.

Aim to strike a balance between being concise and providing enough context and substance to highlight your experiences, qualifications, and goals. Reviewers want to understand who you are as a candidate, so it’s important to make sure your personal statement gives them a clear picture of your qualities and aspirations.

4. Should I include all of my achievements and experiences in my personal statement?

While it’s natural to want to showcase all of your achievements and experiences, it’s important to be selective and prioritize the most relevant ones. Instead of providing a laundry list of accomplishments, focus on highlighting a few key experiences that demonstrate your passion, skills, and commitment to your chosen field.

Showcasing a few impactful experiences in depth will help create a more memorable and focused personal statement. Discuss how these experiences have shaped your career goals, demonstrating your ability to connect your past experiences to your future objectives. Quality over quantity is key when it comes to including achievements and experiences in your personal statement.

5. What should I prioritize when writing a personal statement for grad school?

When writing a personal statement for grad school, it’s important to prioritize showcasing your unique qualities, relevant experiences, and future goals. Focus on conveying your passion for the field you’re applying to, highlighting specific instances where you demonstrated your skills and dedication.

Make sure your personal statement has a clear structure and flows logically. Begin with an engaging introduction that grabs the reader’s attention, then delve into your experiences, illustrating how they have shaped your aspirations. Finally, conclude with a brief, powerful summary that reiterates your commitment and leaves a lasting impression.

Graduate School Personal Statement | My #1 Tip as an Admissions Reader

Now that we’ve talked about personal statements for grad school, let’s recap what we’ve learned. Remember, a personal statement is a chance to show colleges or universities why you’d be a great fit for their program. It’s like telling them a story about yourself!

In this article, we discussed the ideal length for a personal statement. While there’s no magic number, it’s usually between 500 and 750 words. It’s important to keep it concise and focused so that the admissions committee doesn’t get overwhelmed.

We also talked about the three main sections of a personal statement: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each part has a specific purpose, like grabbing the reader’s attention, highlighting your experiences and skills, and leaving a lasting impression. Remember to use examples and be yourself!

So, when writing your personal statement, keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Tell a compelling story about yourself, and let your true passions and personality shine through. And most importantly, don’t forget to proofread and edit your work. Good luck with your grad school applications!

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

Writing a personal statement for grad school

If you’re like a lot of people, you’re eager to pursue a graduate degree, but a little apprehensive about writing a personal statement for your application. Don’t be frustrated if you’re stumped at how to start this task. Many smart and talented people have trouble telling stories about their own lives — but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

If you’re questioning how to write a personal statement for grad school, look no further. We enlisted Dr. Elizabeth Churchich, director of graduate and adult recruitment at Creighton University, to help us compile this comprehensive list of tips for composing a standout grad school personal statement.

First, what is a personal statement?

The personal statement for grad school is an essay that tells the story of a candidate’s unique motivations and aspirations for entering a chosen field or program. It is a requirement when applying for most graduate programs in the United States.

In Dr. Churchich’s experience, a personal statement is the student’s way of introducing themselves to the committee. “While your resume and transcripts can speak to your accomplishments, your personal statement allows you to speak more to your goals and the way in which this next degree can help you reach those goals,” she explains.

How long should a personal statement be for grad school? This depends on your specific program, but it’s typically one to two pages in length, double-spaced. The personal statement format and requirements can vary significantly depending on the university and field of study.

Tips for crafting a compelling personal statement

“The best personal statements are well-written and informative, while simultaneously reflecting a bit of the personality of the applicant,” Dr. Churchich explains. She’s seen thousands of examples of personal statements for graduate school — both good and bad — so she’s picked up plenty of pointers along the way.

“Steer clear of generalizations or statements that could be true of any applicant,” she recommends. “Focus on your individual skills and experience.”

While there’s no official personal statement template or type of essay that’s guaranteed to impress an admissions team, you should approach this as a storytelling assignment. In any good tale, the main character has talents, flaws, challenges and triumphs. For this story, you have to identify a narrative from your own life that highlights why you’re right for the program.

Dos and dont's of writing a personal statement for grad school

Now that you know about its purpose, you may be wondering how to start a personal statement for grad school. Review the following tips before you begin.

What to do:

  • DO read the instructions carefully. This is especially important if you’re applying to multiple programs. The requirements vary from school to school, so don’t assume that you can write one personal statement and submit the exact same document several times.
  • DO have your essay reviewed by someone else. For something as important as a personal statement for grad school, you should have at least two other people assess it. Seek out people you trust and/or people who are stronger writers than you. This is a great opportunity to practice receiving and implementing feedback and constructive criticism.
  • DO strive to be concise yet illustrative. Choose your words carefully, there’s not much room for long anecdotes or repetitive sentiments. Your goal is not to hit a minimum word count; it’s to tell the story in a way that is interesting, succinct and complete.
  • DO consider talking about a failure, error or disappointment. Showing humility and the ability to learn from mistakes is an underrated quality. “It’s tempting to gloss over the parts of your professional or academic history that you’re not proud of, but it’s important to address them,” Dr. Churchich advises. “If your transcripts or resume are likely to give a committee pause, this is your chance to get ahead of those questions.”
  • When did I become interested in this topic/field and why?
  • What motivated me to apply for this program specifically?
  • What challenges or setbacks did I have to overcome to get where I am today?
  • Are there unique or noteworthy aspects of my life story that influenced my decision to earn a graduate degree?
  • What have I learned through work experience that will help me thrive in grad school?
  • How might I set myself apart from other applicants? 
  • What are my career goals and how will this degree help me achieve them?
  • Which traits or characteristics (compassionate, hardworking, organized, etc.) do I have that will help me thrive in this field?
  • What am I most excited to learn and do in this program if I’m accepted?

What NOT to do:

  • DON’T begin your statement with an inspiring quote. No matter how much inspiration you get from the words of a famous leader’s speech, starting your essay off this way is a huge cliché. Think twice before going this route.
  • DON’T wait until the last minute. For something as important as a grad school personal statement, procrastination is NOT your friend. Give yourself at least two weeks to write and edit multiple drafts. Don’t forget to build in time for others to give feedback.
  • DON’T write extensively about achievements from high school. Generally speaking, you want to focus on more recent experiences and accomplishments. Of course, if you did something incredibly noteworthy in high school and it’s directly relevant to your motivations for earning a master’s degree, that might merit inclusion.
  • DON’T exaggerate or invent something you think the committee wants to hear. There’s a big difference between carefully crafting a narrative and fabricating a story. Honesty is the best policy in these situations. “Committees always appreciate candor,” Dr. Churchich affirms. “Addressing strengths or weaknesses head on allows us to see a well-rounded picture of you as an applicant.”
  • DON’T send your statement with typos or grammatical errors. This is your chance to stand out and make a positive first impression — don’t let that be “the person who didn’t proofread.”

Put your best foot forward

Now that you have a better idea of how to write a personal statement for graduate school, you’re more prepared to apply. If you haven’t found your ideal program yet, start your research with one of Creighton University’s award-winning graduate programs . With dozens of on-campus, online and hybrid courses to choose from, you just might find your perfect match.

Want to know more about what else goes into building a top-notch graduate school application? Review the requirements for Creighton University by visiting our How to Apply page .

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A Guide to Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Applications

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This article was originally written by Hailey Spinks and was published on Grammarly .

how long should a personal statement for grad school

Congratulations! You made it through undergrad, and you’ve decided to apply to graduate school. Grad school can be a great way to progress your career path, upgrade your earning potential, and get a whole new perspective on your subject area—making the application process all the more daunting. As part of the application process, you’ll likely be required to write and submit a personal statement. 

A personal statement is a short  essay  between two and three pages long explaining why you’re applying to the program and what makes you a strong applicant. A personal statement allows you to differentiate yourself by sharing a little bit about what makes you unique.  Writing  your personal statement for grad school is the best way to show off your personality, which doesn’t always come through in the other parts of the  application  process. 

What is a personal statement? 

The point of a personal statement is for the admission committee to better understand who you are outside of your professional and academic experience. It’s also an opportunity to share information that they won’t find in your other application documents. 

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose. A statement of purpose expands upon your career and academic goals, while a personal statement explains why you’re the right person for the program. You can still share your academic and career goals in a personal statement, but you should focus on explaining how you came to those goals and what accomplishing them would mean to you. 

A personal statement for grad school applications is also not the same as a personal statement that you would submit alongside a  résumé . While a personal statement for your CV focuses on your professional accomplishments and gives a quick overview of who you are as a potential employee, a personal statement for grad school is a more in-depth look at who you are outside of being an employee or a student. It provides a deeper glance at what you bring to the table and why you’re a good prospect for the program.

Brainstorm before you write your personal statement

Sitting down and taking some time to reflect is the first step to writing an outstanding personal statement. Writing prompts can help you get into the right frame of mind and begin your  brainstorming  process. Here are some ideas: 

  • What are my short-term and long-term goals? How will acceptance into this program help me achieve them?
  • What are my strengths in terms of skills and characteristics? How can these benefit the program?
  • What life experience or interest is so meaningful that I would devote years to exploring the topic or subject? Why does it captivate me? 
  • Is there someone who has significantly impacted my life or character? Who is it, and in what ways have they impacted me?
  • How has my life shaped my choice to apply for grad school?
  • What do I want the people reviewing my application to know about me? 
  • What makes me different from other students or prospective applicants? 

The answers to these questions will serve as the foundation of your personal statement.  You can also try other  calming prompts  to ease any nervousness you feel about beginning the writing process.

What makes a strong personal statement?

The best personal statements capture who you are as a person and give the reader a sense that they know you once they’re finished reading. You have a story to offer that no one else does, and the more authentic you are, the better your essay will flow. 

Your personal statement should have a sense of completeness. You don’t want to leave your readers wanting more. You want to provide your audience with all the information they might need to make a decision on your application. The beginning of your essay should be relevant until the end, with supporting body paragraphs in between. 

And finally, a personal statement should be mistake-free. Your grammar and spelling need to be perfect, and the diction and syntax in your essay need to be purposeful. 

7 dos and 3 don’ts for writing a personal statement

1  include examples.

If you’re spending your essay telling the admissions committee that you’re driven and compassionate, provide anecdotes that back up your claim. For example, you can prove that you’re driven by sharing that you balanced a job with school to pay down student loans, or you could talk about a time when you went above and beyond for a particular project. You can prove that you’re creative by giving an example of a time you offered an innovative solution to a problem that came up. You don’t want to say, “I’m smart and reliable.” You want to  show  that you are.  

2  Be yourself

It’s easy to tell when someone is exaggerating, hedging, or pretending to be someone they’re not. And this comes through especially in writing. Be authentic when crafting your personal statement. 

3  Do your research

Just as you would for a job interview, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Before writing your personal statement, you should have a concrete idea of what the university and program offers, what they value, and the kind of applicants they’re looking for. 

4  Grab their attention 

As the initial impression of your paper, your  hook  is everything—make it interesting! 

Stay away from rote phrases like “I’m writing to you today to . . . ” and throw them right into the action. Think of an instance that shaped you and jump right into the story. Keep it short, engaging, and illustrative of the qualities and motivations you will explore later in your statement.

5  Remember your audience

One of the biggest mistakes people make in personal statements is trying to be humorous or sarcastic. In writing, these  tones  often fail and fall flat. Remember who you’re writing for, and stay professional. 

6  Address the prompt

Though most schools will give you the freedom to make your personal statement about whatever you want (as long as it’s within the guidelines of the general answer they’re seeking), some will require you to answer a specific question. If that’s the case, remember to keep your personal statement tailored to the prompt and be  direct  with your answers. 

7  Revise and proofread

Make sure your statement is clear and flows smoothly between sentences and paragraphs. Read it out loud, and read it to a friend or family member to get feedback. Also, be sure your copy is clean—any grammatical errors or spelling mistakes can distract the reader and detract from the message you’re trying to deliver. 

1  Don’t be presumptuous

Of course you want to showcase what makes you a great applicant, but make sure you don’t overdo it. Just because you might think you’d be a good fit for the program doesn’t mean the admissions office will see it that way. 

Presumptuous: “I know my personal statement for grad school is the best, and I have no doubt that I’ll get in everywhere I apply.”

Confident: “I put a lot of effort into my personal statement for grad school, and I know it is well-written and authentic.” 

2  Don’t use platitudes or clichés

You don’t want to oversimplify important life events by using a platitude, nor do you want to use  clichés  in place of opportunities for authenticity. Everyone uses them; that’s how they got to be clichés! Avoid starting your essay with a quote, definition, or anything else that signals the obvious fact that time has passed and you’re now applying for graduate school. For example: “from a young age . . . ” or “I’ve always been interested in . . . ” 

3  Don’t overshare

This isn’t an autobiography or a session with a close confidant. Pick an example or two of life events that shaped you and your desire to apply to grad school, but don’t tell your whole life story. There’s also no need to get into the nitty-gritty with the admissions committee. Keep your personal statement inspiring, and remember what you’re trying to convey. 

Crafting your personal statement

You might want to begin your writing process with an outline detailing what you plan to include in your personal statement.  Writing an outline  might seem annoying, but it can be beneficial in the long run. 

Your paper should end up between two and three pages long, and should include:

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraphs

Your introduction should include a hook that captures your reader’s attention and makes them want to keep reading. Admission committees read countless personal statements, so make yours stand out. 

Body paragraphs should include examples of characteristics you want to come through in your personal statement, whether that be an  anecdote  about a challenge you overcame or something broader. Let these paragraphs explain your motivations for applying, and provide examples of your ability to excel in the program.  

Your conclusion is an opportunity to discuss future plans and explain why acceptance into your desired program would benefit you. The conclusion is also a great time to summarize the key pieces of your previous paragraphs, weave them together, and complete your argument. For example, if you previously explained a challenging moment in your life, your conclusion should emphasize what you got out of that experience and how it has prepared you for this opportunity. 

The final sentence of your concluding paragraph should be just as good as your hook. You want the audience to remember your paper, so leave them with something to ponder. Perhaps your last sentence inspires the reader or evokes a strong emotion. Either way, your final statement needs to give a sense of completion. 

After you finish writing, don’t forget to proofread and revise until your final draft is polished and clear. 

Remember to bring something different to the table and provide the admissions committee with something new and valuable to know about you that they can’t access elsewhere. Stay authentic, be engaging, and prove that you’re exactly the kind of person grad schools want in their program. 

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BrightLink Prep

How to Start a Grad School Personal Statement: The Killer Opening

how long should a personal statement for grad school

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement tips & advice.

Consider this: you have two friends who shared their personal statements and asked for your feedback on the opening paragraphs.

Friend A’s opening paragraph:

“I am writing this personal statement to express my interest in pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. Psychology has always fascinated me, and I am excited about the opportunity to further my education in this field. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have taken various psychology courses and participated in research projects that have solidified my passion for the subject. I believe that pursuing a graduate degree will help me achieve my career goals and make a positive impact on society.”

Friend B’s opening paragraph:

“Nietzsche’s quote, “that which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” captures my life’s journey. Lying in a hospital bed as a sixteen-year-old cancer patient, I resigned to accepting my inevitable death. Yet, as the annihilating poison from chemotherapy went through my veins and into every fiber of my living body, I experienced an unfamiliar pain. As I lay there, I contemplated questions about life, death, God, souls, love, and pain. My parents and siblings would try to provide comfort. Sometimes it worked. At other times, I would wonder if this is all my life would be. Where the title of my life story could have been “Endless Possibilities,” would this story now be just a few pages long, ending with an unfinished sentence? And then I would freeze into a crippling stupor for hours.”

Which one would you predict is more likely to be accepted into a top grad program? 

Friend A’s bland and generic introduction, or Friend B’s gripping and emotional story about overcoming cancer and contemplating life’s biggest questions?

The answer is obvious – it’s the latter one because it tells a story.

Personal statements that start with intrigue and capture the reader’s attention are more likely to make an impact. A strong opening can build the foundation for a compelling narrative that paints your personality, experiences, and goals.

So, if you’re struggling to find the right words, let’s explore 5 ways to write an opening paragraph for your grad school personal statement.

In this Article

Formative or Relatable Experiences

Overcoming challenges, moments of epiphany, quotes from influential figures, rhetorical questions to engage the reader, demonstrating relevance to current debates, showcasing your passion for addressing real-world problems, aligning your goals with societal needs, industry trends or forecasts, relevant data supporting your research interests, unique insights into your field of study, creating a vivid scene or description, using a personal anecdote.

Starting your personal statement with a well-designed personal anecdote can humanize you. It can make you more relatable to the admissions committee and show that you have a personal connection to the field you are applying to.

For instance, an applicant to a psychology program could start with a personal story about how their experiences with mental health sparked their interest in the field.

Another example could be that of a student applying to a journalism program. He could begin with a personal story about how he discovered his love of storytelling while reporting on a local event for their high school newspaper.

Such stories help the admissions committee see the applicant’s potential and their commitment to pursuing a specific career.

To create an impactful opening, there are three different types of personal anecdotes that can be used. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Sharing a formative experience helps build an instant connection with the reader. By highlighting a meaningful event or encounter, you reveal your personality and values, making your statement more relatable.

You should make sure that your chosen experience is relevant to your field of study or career aspirations.

Let’s take a look at an example opening paragraph that starts by sharing a relatable experience:

“Growing up, I have always heard my parents tell me that empathy is intrinsic not only in contributing to others’ well-being but also in fostering self-expansion. But being a child that never learned simply from listening but by actively doing things, I knew that I would come to comprehend my life’s purpose through my own experiences, and this realization would happen at its own pace. A large part of my childhood was spent taking care of my sister, who had an autoimmune skin condition that grew worse and left her bedridden for months. My mother and I always worked to improve her living space and lift her spirits by adding plants and sheer curtains to her room, and I often painted for her. Through these minor spatial changes, I came to realize the powerful impact that our physical environment can have on us. While I initially believed this experience had only led me to develop an interest in architecture, it later became apparent that the care I extended is going to make me resilient in fighting my own battle with the same disease.”

The writer shares a personal story about their experience taking care of their sister who had an autoimmune skin condition, which left her bedridden for months. The writer’s experience of making small changes to their sister’s living space, such as adding plants and sheer curtains, led them to realize the powerful impact that the physical environment can have on a person’s well-being. Through this experience, the writer gained insight into their own resilience and how their experience can be applied to their future career aspirations. This personal story effectively demonstrates the writer’s passion and motivation for pursuing a career in architecture while also establishing a personal connection with the reader.

This is another persuasive way to begin your personal statement. Anecdotes about overcoming challenges can show your resilience, determination, and problem-solving skills. By discussing a challenge you’ve faced, you can show the admissions committee how you adapt to adversity and learn from setbacks.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that use this ploy:

“Growing up in Poland, I was known in my circle of friends as “the understanding one.” I had a natural curiosity about human behavior and a desire to study Psychology, but the stigma attached to the field in my country made it socially unacceptable. Despite my interest, I succumbed to the pressure of my parents and enrolled in Computer Science. However, I quickly realized that this was not my true passion, and I struggled to find fulfillment in my studies. One day, on the brink of a freshman exam, I broke down in tears and realized that I needed to confront the inner hurdles that kept me from pursuing Psychology. I mustered the courage to convince my parents to let me switch my major, and since then, I have excelled academically and found greater fulfillment in my studies. Pursuing Psychology has not only been a personal triumph but has also prepared me for a fulfilling career in the field, one where I can use my natural ability as “the understanding one” to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”

This opening effectively conveys the applicant’s passion for Psychology and her struggle to pursue it due to the stigma attached to it. The use of the term “the understanding one” helps to emphasize her natural curiosity and empathy, which are valuable qualities in the field of Psychology. Her decision to switch their major to Psychology, despite the pressure of her parents, demonstrates her determination and commitment to pursuing her true passion. Overall, this personal anecdote demonstrates determination to overcome challenges and societal pressures.

“Growing up in a village that was rife with conflict and violence, I faced immense challenges that threatened to derail my aspirations. The beauty of nature that surrounded me was polluted by the weapons of warfare and the sounds of machine guns and missiles were the first things I heard. Despite this bleak environment, I remained determined to succeed and to make a difference in the lives of others. I was drawn to the field of public health policy, where I saw an opportunity to help those who had been affected by the violence and conflict in my village. Through my perseverance, I earned a scholarship to attend university, where I continued to excel academically and gained valuable skills and experiences that have prepared me for a successful career in public health policy. Despite the challenges of my upbringing, I have emerged stronger and more determined than ever to make a positive impact on the world through my work in shaping policies that promote health equity, access to care, and social justice.”

The paragraph paints an image of the applicant’s upbringing in a village plagued by violence and strife. It highlights the stark contrast between the expected beauty of countryside life and the harsh reality she faced. It also demonstrates the difficult circumstances the applicant had to overcome, which can be used to emphasize her resilience and determination in pursuing her goals despite such a challenging environment.

Moments of epiphany are those instances when you had a sudden realization or a transformative insight that shaped your path. By talking about such moments, you will be able to reveal your passion and commitment to your field of study. When talking about it, you should describe the situation, the insight you gained, and how it inspired you to pursue graduate studies.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that discuss some applicant’s moments of epiphany:

““Quo non Ascendam” – “to what heights can I not rise.” This is the motto of Ethiopia Aviation Academy, my Alma Meta, and my inspiration. Last year, while ascending Adams peak during a voluntary AIESEC internship at Colombo University, Sri Lanka, I saw a poor boy suffering from muscular dystrophy dangerously perched behind the railings at the corner of the tortuous path. “Excelsior,” my Australian, American, Lebanese, and Chinese comrades exhorted me to go on. But I was transfixed by the utter disparity I saw – was it right to give him a coin, or could I have done something else to change his destiny? How lucky I am to have everything on my plate.”

This opening shares a powerful moment during the applicant’s voluntary internship in Sri Lanka, where she witnessed a boy suffering from muscular dystrophy, sparking a realization about the disparities between the haves and have nots. This story serves as a foundation for explaining the applicant’s interest in addressing social inequalities and working toward the betterment of disadvantaged communities.

“The day I dared to tell my parents, with a transcript in my hands with excellent grades in humanities, that I had decided to study Biology rather than Philosophy… the day I dared to ask my supervisor to change my research focus to fish virology, which had a high risk of failure… the day I dared to stand in front of an audience attending an international zoology congress, barely prepared to present my very first paper … are the moments that made me realize my daring nature and my passion for my domain.”

This second example highlights the key moments in the applicant’s life that led to important realizations about her passion for Biology and her daring nature. By sharing these anecdotes, the applicant demonstrates her commitment to her chosen domain.

Starting With a Powerful Quote or Question

Starting a personal statement with a powerful quote or question not only engages the reader but also adds authority to your writing. 

In fact, starting with a quote is the most common way to begin a grad school personal statement. 

By referencing a well-respected individual in your field, you are indirectly borrowing their expertise and reputation to enhance your own message. Starting with a question prompts the reader to think about the topic in a new manner. 

Let’s discuss the different ways that you can use a quote or a question to create a thought-provoking opening.

Using a quote from an influential figure can help to capture the reader’s attention and provide a strong introduction to your personal statement. Let’s see a couple of examples in action.

“As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” I have always been a curious soul and find that my passion for learning drives my pursuits. From a young age, I was fascinated by the inner workings of the world around me, from the dense network of nuts and bolts in my dad’s car engine to the intricate complexities of the natural sciences. This insatiable curiosity led me to pursue a degree in the field of biology, where I have continued to delve deeper into the fascinating world of molecular biology and genetics. Through my studies and research experiences, I have developed a strong understanding of the intricate mechanisms that drive life and have honed my skills in problem-solving and critical thinking.”

The quote about curiosity immediately engages us and creates an emotional connection by tapping into a shared human experience. By linking the personal experiences and interests to the quote, the applicant establishes a strong connection between his personal story and the field he wishes to pursue.

Let’s look at a sample that effectively uses a thought provoking quote that also directly resonate with the applicant’s goals.

“In our society, it’s natural and encouraged to accept without questioning; given this cultural norm of blind following, we accept without thinking about the social and spiritual contract we enter once we are of sound mind. However, reason can only stay unconscious as long as it doesn’t actively think, but when it does, everything we once did robotically becomes a question of why. Something similar happened during my first year when a professor started questioning religion on philosophical grounds. Although shattered because nothing I said or thought defended my religious beliefs, my mental state became what James Baldwin once said. “The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” Thereon, I started questioning everything in our community, including religion.”

The quote from James Baldwin about the paradox of education and becoming conscious reflects the writer’s own experience of questioning his beliefs and the society in which he was educated. The quote is used to introduce the writer’s personal experience of questioning religion and cultural norms in his society, which ultimately led to a transformative period of self-discovery and critical thinking.

This creates a sense of intrigue by posing a thought-provoking question about blind acceptance in society. The writer then follows up with a personal anecdote that demonstrates the importance of critical thinking and questioning cultural norms. By doing so, the writer is able to establish his credibility as a critical thinker and engage the reader in his journey of self-discovery.

“It was a bright sunny afternoon. I was reclining in my office chair while surfing randomly on the internet. In another few minutes, I was to deliver the last lecture of the day when I came across a fascinating quote by Henry Wadsworth: “Something attempted, something done”. Reading this transported me back to my college days. Back then, I was clueless about what to do or what subjects to choose. Even worse, I had to forgo subjects that intrigued me, just because they did not have a dazzling prospect.”

The paragraph discussed a quote by Henry Wadsworth that serves as a catalyst for the applicant to reflect on his college days and the difficult decisions he had to make about his academic interests. It effectively discusses the applicant’s journey and how he navigated the challenges of choosing between subjects he was passionate about and those with better career prospects.

Rhetorical questions can engage the reader by inviting them to think critically about a topic or issue. These questions can also help you transition into discussing your own motivations. Additionally, rhetorical questions can be used to introduce a topic or concept that the writer will explore in more detail throughout the personal statement.

Now, let’s look at an example opening that uses a series of rhetorical questions to engage the reader.

“My passion for venturing into the intricacies of supply chain roots back to a rather unusual jaunt on a very ordinary night. While searching for a particular brand of infant formula milk for my first child, I found that stocks were depleted at all local stores and that fresh consignments would reach in around three weeks. As a customer, I felt disappointed. As a business graduate, I began to contemplate, and a volley of unsettling questions came to my mind: How could companies afford to be complacent in managing their supply networks? How could they not mitigate risk to their supply chain? This episode kindled my interest in Supply Chain Management and its absence in a flourishing market.”

The writer presents a series of rhetorical questions that encourages the reader to consider the importance of supply chain management. This approach effectively hooks us and sets the tone for the rest of the personal statement.

Connecting to Current Events or Societal Issues

Unlike undergraduate personal statements, which often rely on dramatic narratives to capture attention, a graduate school personal statement requires a more mature and thoughtful approach. One effective strategy is to begin with a societal issue that is relevant to your field of study.

For instance, if you are interested in healthcare policy, you might open your personal statement by discussing recent debates on healthcare access and affordability. You could explain how these issues have inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare administration, and how you hope to make a positive impact in this field. By demonstrating your awareness of the larger conversation surrounding your area of interest, you can show admissions counselors that you are a thoughtful and engaged candidate who is committed to making a difference.

Similarly, if you are passionate about environmental sustainability, you could begin by sharing how recent reports on climate change have motivated you to pursue a degree in environmental science. You might discuss your long-term goals in this field, such as developing sustainable energy solutions or implementing policies to reduce carbon emissions. By framing your personal statement in the context of a larger societal issue, you can demonstrate your commitment to addressing real-world problems and making a positive impact on the world around you.

Here are some of the ways that you could do this.

You can begin by connecting your field of study to contemporary debates. This approach will demonstrate your awareness and highlight the importance of your research interests. Make sure that you choose a well-known issue that is relevant to your field of study and discuss how it has influenced your goals or motivations. 

Here are a couple of example opening para’s that use this approach:

“Mexico now has an overall literacy rate of only 29%, with rural literacy at a staggering low of 11%. Last year, over two million children dropped out before secondary school, nearly twice Washington, DC’s total population. Even worse, we do not have enough qualified teachers to fill the void in every village or district. This bankrupt education system is ripe for creative disruption, and I plan to do that. Universal quality education is an unattainable dream for rural children because they do not have access to quality teachers and resources. Worse, most of them cannot attend school regularly because they must support their family by working in agricultural fields or households. This work commitment at such a ripe age makes formal education impossible.”

This paragraph highlights the critical issue of low literacy rates and educational disparities in Mexico, particularly in rural areas. The applicant demonstrates awareness of the contemporary challenges in education and presents a strong case for the need for creative disruption to address the problem. By mentioning his intention to contribute to solving this issue, the applicant is aligning his personal and professional goals with broader societal needs and demonstrating his commitment to making a meaningful impact on the world.

“In August, the Prime Minister of Greece chaired a meeting with me regarding the development of poor areas of South Greece. Among other things, the Minister of Finance persuaded me that the upcoming budget would alleviate the plight of deprived regions of Southern Greece due to population-based allocations. Suddenly, I realized where I had started, what I had achieved, and where I wanted to go. A point at which I could make informed opinions and be confident about them. A point at which I could present my assertions. A point at which my views would be weighed against others, at the least, even if not accepted. A point where I could be of some benefit to the masses.”

The paragraph discusses a meeting with the Prime Minister of Greece regarding the development of poor areas of South Greece and highlights the author’s desire to be of benefit to the masses. By connecting his goals to a contemporary issue such as regional development, the author is able to demonstrate relevance to a current societal issue and showcase his passion for addressing real-world problems.

You can also begin by discussing your passion for addressing real-world problems. By doing so you will be able to show your commitment to making a positive impact on society through your work.

Here are a few examples:

“I initiated a project named ‘Lightening up the Lives’ to provide cheap power for households of the country’s biggest slum – the Nagasi colony, with 20,000+ minorities living without electricity. The low-income level of the colony dwellers left them without access to government-supplied electrical connections, which had high installation costs and tariffs. Additionally, the residents could not borrow from conventional banks without any collateral. Living in the heart of the country, the irony of their helplessness triggered the desire in me to create meaningful change in their lives.”

The paragraph describes the applicant’s involvement in the ‘Lightning up the Lives’ project, which aimed to provide affordable electricity to a large slum in his country. This story shows the applicant’s interest in addressing real-world issues, particularly those related to poverty and access to resources. It also shows his motivation to create meaningful change in the lives of marginalized communities, which can lead to a discussion of his goals later on in the personal statement.

Example 2: 

“My personal and professional experiences have exposed me to the harsh realities of the glass ceiling that women have to shatter in order to excel in their careers. My journey with human resources in organizational development and communications has strengthened my understanding of the role that capability development and effective organizational design can play in breaking these barriers. This has led to one of my biggest accomplishments – launching and leading the Women’s Club chapter at Coca-Cola. Here, I united 200 female colleagues onto a single platform that offered them company-wide mentorship through workshops and seminars. Now, I am more dedicated than ever to establishing a learning and development firm. This firm would advocate gender parity and will break barriers through a two-pronged approach. First, it will help organizations build gender-inclusive work environments. Second, it will dispense world-class leadership capacity-building for women. This two-pronged strategy will thus sustain a healthy pipeline of talented women leaders.”  

This opening discusses the applicant’s experiences related to gender barriers and her commitment to promoting gender parity. By highlighting her accomplishments, such as launching and leading the Women’s Club chapter at Coca-Cola, and outlining her dedication to establishing a firm focused on gender-inclusive work, she showcases her passion for addressing a significant real-world problem.

Another great approach to starting off a grad school essay is by discussing how your goals align with current societal needs and how your graduate studies will contribute to addressing these challenges.

Here is an example:

“My long-term goal is to create a Fintech investment platform, an area with vast potential, to provide innovative products designed especially for the low and middle-income segments. For this, post-MBA, I want to expand the reach of my start-up, Alpha Financial, further. Specifically, I aim to introduce novel microfinance products like the first privately managed future derivative trading terminal with the lowest spread to ensure that the masses can access this opportunity.”

This sample outlines the applicant’s long-term goal of creating a Fintech investment platform designed for low and middle-income segments, portraying a commitment to addressing societal needs. By discussing the expansion of his start-up and the introduction of novel microfinance products, the applicant demonstrates how his goals align with the goal of financial inclusion and access to opportunities for underrepresented populations.

Presenting a Surprising Fact or Statistic

Starting a personal statement with a surprising fact or statistic can immediately capture the adcom’s attention and create a sense of intrigue.

For example, a personal statement for a graduate program in public health could begin with the fact that “according to the World Health Organization, more than 3 million people die each year due to air pollution.” This statistic immediately highlights the urgency and importance of the field and shows the reader that the applicant is aware of the global impact of public health issues.

Another example could be a personal statement for an MBA program that starts with the surprising fact that “only 50% of businesses survive past their fifth year.” This fact can help to emphasize the importance of strong business skills and the need for effective management and strategy in order to ensure the longevity and success of a business. By beginning with a surprising statistic like this, the applicant can immediately grab the reader’s attention and make a compelling case for their interest in the field.

Here are a few ways you can incorporate this in your opening paragraph of the personal statement.

You can begin by presenting industry trends or forecasts. This shows that you are well-informed and up-to-date with the latest developments and changes in your field of interest. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of example openings that effectively use a trend or forecast to show knowledge and awareness of the field:

“In the 243 years of America’s existence, no systemic, holistic study has ever been undertaken on the hardships faced by the non-heteronormative population. However, recent industry trends show a growing interest in addressing these issues. For example, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has been tracking workplace policies and practices for LGBTQ employees since 2002, with the number of businesses achieving a perfect score increasing each year. Additionally, in the field of healthcare, research shows that LGBTQ individuals face significant health disparities and may have unique healthcare needs that are not currently being met. As society becomes more aware of these issues, it is increasingly important to study and address the challenges faced by the queer community.”

This opening immediately draws the reader in with its bold statement about the lack of research on the non-heteronormative population. The addition of industry trends or forecasts, such as the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights and the increasing need for comprehensive research in this area, enhances the intro even further. Overall, the writer’s passion and drive for shedding light on this important issue is clearly communicated in this powerful introduction.

Starting a grad school personal statement with relevant data demonstrates that you have conducted research. It also shows that you have a strong foundation in the subject matter. Here is an example that demonstrate this:

“Last year, IT services exported from Denmark totaled US$ 2.6 billion. With steady IT enrollment and a startup culture being ferociously promoted, the situation is expected to get better. But let us take a step back and compare these numbers to those of Israel. Israel’s software exports alone exceed US$ 165 billion. In an industry with practically no entry barriers nor infrastructure requirements, here is a country with a population less than 50% of my country, exporting 70 times more value. There are a lot more Danish IT professionals registered on a single freelancing website than the total size of Israel’s software industry. So, the problem is not one of quantity. As a percentage of GDP, Israel is the second largest research and development spender in the world and has top-notch universities with excellent research culture. Leading global tech companies have R&D offices in Israel. As a result, most of Israel’s software industry has higher-end, IP (intellectual property) based revenue models as opposed to the services-based models of Denmark. We have attempted to produce programmers in bulk when we should have been looking for inspiration elsewhere. As someone with a strong passion for exploring innovative solutions in the tech industry, I find the statistics presented here both fascinating and challenging. It highlights the potential for my research interests in examining the factors that contribute to the success of Israel’s software industry, particularly in terms of its higher-end, IP-based revenue models. My goal is to explore how Denmark’s IT industry can adopt similar strategies to achieve greater value and competitiveness in the global market.”

By presenting the stark contrast between Denmark and Israel’s IT industries, this opening draws attention to the challenges that Denmark faces in the global market. The addition of the research interests at the end of the paragraph shows how the applicant plans to address the challenges. Overall, this introduction can be seen as a strong one that demonstrates the applicant’s analytical and research skills, as well as his ability to think critically about industry trends and opportunities for growth.

By sharing unique insights, you can show your depth of understanding and critical thinking skills. Ideally, you should choose a fact or statistic that is not widely known but is relevant to your research interests and goals. Let’s again take a look at an example.

“As an aspiring architect, I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of design and sustainability. While many may assume that modern sustainable architecture is a relatively new concept, my research has shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, ancient civilizations such as the Anasazi and Pueblo people of the American Southwest built homes and communal spaces that were not only aesthetically stunning but also inherently sustainable. Their use of natural materials and passive solar design principles is still studied and celebrated by architects today. This little-known fact has inspired me to explore the ways in which ancient sustainable design principles can inform and enhance modern architecture, particularly in the context of urban environments.”

This opening engages the reader by highlighting a lesser-known fact about the field and then goes on to connect it with the applicant’s personal journey and aspirations. This approach is effective as it not only provides the reader with an interesting piece of information but also creates a sense of curiosity and interest in the applicant’s perspective and research interests. Overall, it is a strong opening that sets the stage for the rest of the personal statement.

A vivid scene allows the reader to visualize the situation and become emotionally invested in the experience being shared. By setting the scene, you can immerse the reader in your world and provide a context for your experiences and goals.

For example:

“If you ever have a candid conversation with a male transgender sex worker in Bangkok, you shall be left both wiser and disquieted. Wiser because you will realize that she is performing gender; she walks, talks, and acts in a way that reinforces an impression of her being a woman. And disquieted because you will become aware of the acute lack of sexual health education and the omnipresent danger of HIV and AIDS among the members of this population.”

This opening uses descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of a conversation with a male transgender sex worker in Bangkok. By sharing this scene, the applicant discusses the importance of sexual health education and the challenges faced by marginalized populations. This opening could then lead to a discussion about the applicant’s interest in public health, social work, or a related field.

Let’s look another example:

“I’ve always had a penchant for creating things to solve problems. The first time my proclivity utilized computers was when I made a simple quiz program in Visual Basic for my school Mathematics class at age 11. I still remember the accomplishment I felt, followed by imaginative thoughts of what else I could do with a computer. In retrospect, this was probably when it was decided that computers would somehow be well-woven in my career.”

This opening describes a significant moment in the author’s life when he first discovered his passion for computer programming. The author vividly remembers the feeling of accomplishment and the imaginative thoughts that followed, indicating that this experience was meaningful and had a lasting impact on them.

Here is another example:

“I’ll never forget the day my father sat me down at the kitchen table and told me that our family was moving to a new country. It was a shock to my system, as I had spent my entire life in our small town in the Midwest. My father had accepted a new job opportunity in Europe, and we would be leaving everything I knew behind. As a teenager, it was a difficult transition, but it opened my eyes to the world beyond my bubble. It ignited a desire in me to explore new cultures and perspectives, which ultimately led me to pursue a degree in international relations.”


A captivating opening is essential for setting the tone of your personal statement and engaging your reader. By exploring different approaches such as personal anecdotes, powerful quotes or questions, surprising facts or statistics, vivid scenes or descriptions, or connections to current events or societal issues, you can create a memorable introduction that will leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.


  • 100+ Outstanding Examples of Personal Statements
  • The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Winning Personal Statement
  • Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Personal Statement
  • Writing a Killer Opening Paragraph for Your Personal Statement
  • Ideal Length for a Graduate School Personal Statement
  • 100 Inspiring Quotes to Jumpstart Your Personal Statement

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Northeastern University Graduate Programs

Graduate School Application Tips & Advice

Graduate School Application Tips & Advice

Applying to graduate school can be both exciting and a little overwhelming. You’re making a decision that could advance your career or allow you to dive deeper into a subject area that fulfills your personal goals, but you’re also making a significant investment of your time and finances.

With proper research, a clear head, and confidence, however, you can find the perfect program and submit an application that the admissions committee will be hard-pressed to reject.

Are you thinking about applying to graduate school? Here’s what every prospective student needs to know.

Tips for Applying to Graduate School

1. find a program that aligns with your goals ..

Finding the right graduate program can sometimes feel like the hardest part of the process. It’s important to find the right program for you, and with different degrees and certificates popping up at universities across the country, there are likely dozens of options available to you.

Write down the most important features of your ideal program before you begin your research. For example, do you want a full-time, on-campus experience or a flexible, online environment? Do you want research-based coursework or a program with experiential opportunities integrated into the curriculum? Once you have your list of non-negotiable features, you can kick off your research.

Learn More: How to Organize Your Grad School Search

After you’ve explored a range of programs, consider your career goals and how each program can help you achieve them. If you’d like to hone your skills to work in a specific focus area of a broader field, for instance, a program that offers a concentration or certificate aligned with those skills can be beneficial. On the other hand, if you’d like to have flexibility in your chosen career, pursuing a broader degree program that can be applied across various functions may be better suited to your needs.

Investing in this research upfront will help you find a graduate program that is right for your specific goals and allow you to feel more confident in your choice when it comes time to complete and submit your application.

2. Ask questions . 

The old-school idea that the admissions office is a scary room filled with judgment is a falsehood. Today, graduate school admissions counselors are here to help guide you through the application process process. They want to be there to support your educational journey. If you have any questions, ask . Don’t worry that your interactions with the admissions team could impact your application. If anything, your interactions will only help improve your application before review and help demonstrate your sincere interest in the program.

Many colleges and universities offer online resources where prospective students can find information about the application process and requirements. Getting in touch with an admissions counselor, though, may be the most efficient way to find answers to specific questions you might have. Engaging with them will also give you a chance to get to know the school better and decide if what they offer is really the right fit for your needs. 

Consider This: Admissions counselors are well-versed in the logistics of application requirements, individual programs, and financial aid and scholarships . If you have specific questions, be sure to reach out to them for the clarity and insight you need at any step of the process.

Prospective students should not be afraid of contacting faculty, either. If there’s a particular class you’re interested in taking or a lab you hope to work in, contact the faculty member in charge. Ask about that faculty member’s research and pose any questions about the degree program that you might have. You may have a better chance of standing out during the admissions process if you express interest early.

Ready to Get Your Questions Answered?

Reach out to our admissions team for personalized advice on the application process.


3. Understand the timeline.

Although the application process varies by college or university, the vast majority will require you to submit your transcript, letters of recommendation, professional resumé , and statement of purpose. Your transcript alone could take weeks to be delivered and processed, so don’t wait until the last minute to start applying.

In an effort to avoid procrastination, consider developing a calendar of deadlines. Map out when you need to apply to each of your desired schools and the specific requirements for that program. For example, if you need to submit your undergraduate grades, create a to-do at least a month before the application deadline that reminds you to order your transcript.   

4. Update your resumé.

Before sending your resumé, make sure it’s optimized for your grad school application . In general, your experience should be listed in chronological order, starting with your current position, and described in bullet points using action-packed verbs, such as “achieved,” “improved,” “launched,” “negotiated,” or “trained.” Quantify any achievements and show your results, whether it’s the number of people you’ve managed, dollars you’ve raised, or articles you’ve written.

To help your resumé align with your grad school application, be sure to tailor it to the program you intend to pursue by showcasing your skills, highlighting relevant experience, and including your professional achievements.

5. Write a strong statement of purpose.

While some might think that a statement of purpose —or personal statement —is an afterthought during your application review, many admissions committees, consider it one of the most important components of your application. The statement of purpose can make or break your application for admission.

The key to crafting an impactful statement of purpose is to not get caught up in what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Use this opportunity to tell the committee more about who you are and your background while also explaining specifically what you hope to get out of the program. Be sure to address the unique features the school offers that interest you most.

For Example: If you plan to apply to Northeastern, you might consider highlighting experiential learning as the unique feature that interests you about your program. In this case, you might explain that you’re excited to tackle real-world projects in your desired industry and learn from faculty who are experts in your field of study.

No matter where you apply, a strong statement of purpose should include:

  • Insight into what drives you, whether that’s professional advancement, personal growth, or both
  • The features about the school that appeal to you most
  • Your expectations of the degree program and its potential impact
  • Authenticity and a clear picture of what makes you unique

6 . Choose appropriate references .

Letters of recommendation are another piece of the application process that helps elevate your application for admission. When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation , carefully consider whom you’re contacting. You want to choose someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths. 

Reach out to a professor you regularly interacted with who can detail your academic accomplishments and describe why you were a standout student. You can also ask a former supervisor who’s working in a field that aligns with the graduate program you’re pursuing. No matter your choice, make sure it’s someone you know in a professional or academic capacity—not a friend or family member—who will to provide a positive recommendation representative of your character. 

You can typically provide either a professional or academic recommendation in support of your application, but programs have specific requirements around who is writing the recommendation and what the content needs to address. Research what each program requires before you coordinate your references.

When asking for a recommendation, provide your chosen reference with as much information about your request as possible. The more insight you can provide, the better your recommendation letter will be. Include in your first outreach:

  • The name of the school you’re applying to
  • The degree you’re pursuing
  • Why you want to enroll in that specific program
  • Your resumé

Make sure you keep your timeline in mind as you embark on these communications, especially if you reach out to a professor. It’s likely your letter isn’t the only one he or she needs to write, so be respectful of their time by giving as much notice as possible. Four weeks is ideal. 

7. Proofread your materials before applying.

You could be a perfect fit for your desired program, but if you submit materials that are riddled with spelling and grammar errors, the admissions team might dismiss your application before ever digging into it. Triple-check your materials and make sure that when you do press send, you’ve included all necessary documentation and hit all deadlines set in place by the university.

It’s easy for an individual to unknowingly overlook their own mistakes, so it can also be helpful to ask a friend to review your materials before you submit them, as well. Reading your materials out loud to yourself can also help you spot potential mistakes.

Though this may seem like a lot of effort, remember: Your application is the first impression you will make on the university, and it’s important to put your best foot forward.

8. Be true to yourself .

Of all the tips for applying to graduate school, the most important is being true to yourself. Being perfect is not the recipe for admission; admissions committees want to know the real you and understand your ambitions. Whether you’re a working professional hoping graduate school can bring you to the next level of your career or a recent graduate looking to further master your chosen skill, just be yourself, and you’ll start off in the right direction.

Applying to Northeastern’s Graduate Programs

If you are interested in applying to one of Northeastern University’s 200+ online, on-ground, or hybrid graduate degree and certificate programs , there are various resources available to help you along the way. 

First, it is important to understand the application process and requirements. Specific application requirements vary by college and degree, so be sure to explore the admissions information for your desired program before getting started. In general, however, the application requirements for Northeastern’s graduate programs include:

  • A completed online application 
  • Transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate schools you’ve previously attended
  • A statement of purpose that details your goals and interest in the program
  • One to three letters of recommendation (varies by program)
  • Your updated professional resumé or curriculum vitae 
  • Your official GRE, GMAT, or LSAT test scores (if required)
  • A non-refundable application fee 

Additionally, international students who are non-native English speakers must submit proof of English proficiency in the form of TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or Duolingo test scores, though the minimum scores vary by program. Students who do not meet the minimum requirement for these scores may also apply to the university’s Global Pathways program .

As always, students who intend to apply to a graduate program at Northeastern should also research the application deadlines for their program of interest. Be sure to set a timeline for yourself and avoid procrastination to ensure that you’re able to submit all of the required materials on time.

The faculty and admissions team at Northeastern are always available to help prospective students throughout this journey, and prospective students are always encouraged to reach out to ask questions and get personalized advice . Whether you need information about selecting the right program, the application process, program-specific requirements, financial aid, or anything in between, the admissions team is here to help.

The First Step Toward Grad School Success

Once you’ve made the decision to further your education and pursue a graduate degree or certificate, submitting your application is the first step toward being a successful graduate student. 

No matter where you choose to apply and ultimately attend, there are countless resources available to help you throughout the process. 

To learn more about the specific schools and programs you are interested in, it’s always best to start by reaching out to admissions teams and faculty to get to know what makes them unique and ask any questions you might have. Building these relationships early on will help you find a program that fits your personal and professional goals, and can ultimately help you through the process of getting accepted to a program that’s right for you.

Are you interested in applying to graduate school? Explore Northeastern’s degree and certificate programs , and contact us for personalized advice.

This article was originally published in August 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.

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Advanced degree holders earn a salary an average 25% higher than bachelor's degree holders. (Economic Policy Institute, 2021)

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