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Writing Personal Statements and Graduate/Professional School Essays INTRODUCTION

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Writing a personal statement is often the most difficult part of the graduate/professional school application process. However, an essay or “personal statement” should always be submitted with your application, even if the school says it is optional. If your qualifications make you a borderline student at a school that makes a point of considering subjective factors in its admission decisions, then your personal statement could make a difference between acceptance and rejection. Writing requirements vary widely. Some programs request only 1 or 2 paragraphs about why you want to pursue graduate study, while others require numerous specific essays. Since personal statements can reveal your character more clearly than other application materials, they provide evidence that you bring something distinctive to the field such as unusual ability, background traits, experience, or a unique way of looking at the world. WHAT TO WRITE Before writing anything, stop and consider what a reader might be looking for; the general directions or other parts of the application may give you some indication. A number things may be evaluated, including: Expectations with regard to the program and career opportunities  Writing ability  Major area of interest  Educational background  Immediate and long-term goals  Reasons for pursuing a graduate/professional degree in a particular field and at a particular institution  Maturity  Personal uniqueness - what you would add to the diversity of the entering class Some schools require specific essays, while others provide no direction at all. There are both advantages and disadvantages to vagueness. Since no specific topic is required, one can write about whatever will do the most good. The drawback of not having a precise topic is that you’ll have to choose your own topic. This choice will probably be difficult to make. Here are a few things to keep in mind: Write about Yourself. Schools want to know about you, your talents and evidence that you will succeed academically and professionally. Usually this would include some personal history, but, unless an institution specifically requests autobiographical information, you do not have to supply any. Even if you write an autobiographical piece, it does not have to be arranged chronologically. Be Specific. Write about events and activities. Often the best essay topic is a description of some incident or activity which led you to your chosen field. Also, if you mention an attribute about yourself (ex. persistence or leadership ability) be sure to give one or more compelling examples. Tell a Story. Stories can keep attention of a tired reader.

2 Writing Personal Statements and Graduate/Professional School Essays Emphasize Your Uniqueness. An essay about a problem you solved or an obstacle you overcame is always appropriate. You could also find an interesting way to write about a feature of your personality or what you have learned about yourself and/or your field. Be assertive but not boastful by highlighting your positives in a context that goes beyond just yourself. Don’t Choose a Topic that Makes You Seem Immature or of Questionable Character. Avoid Talking in the Abstract. This can sound like a personal ad or make you seem distant. Avoid Negatives. A positive, attractive personality is hard to exhibit while dwelling on negatives. Focus on positives. Talk about what you learned, not why your grades were low. Keep the reader’s attention on what is attractive about you and avoid reminding him or her that you are not the perfect candidate. Avoid clichés. “I want to help people.” “The human body fascinates me.” “This career would be rewarding and challenging.” Ultimately, an essay or personal statement for an application should be a clear, succinct statement showing that you have a definite sense of what you want to do and enthusiasm for the field of study you...
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