How to write a personal statement for graduate school

March 13, 2019

Students walking in campus courtyard, aerial shot

A personal statement for graduate school is a compelling narrative that connects you to the program. Like any good piece of writing, you want to grab the reader’s attention and leave a memorable impression.

To accomplish this, draw a personal connection that allows the admission committee to know you beyond your grades.

Before we dig into the details of how to write the statement, it is important to understand that the admissions committee is generally looking for you to demonstrate:

  • Excellent writing ability
  • Professionalism and focus
  • Curiosity and enthusiasm about the program
  • Distinguishing attributes about yourself
  • Authenticity

Ultimately, they want a strong candidate who will succeed in their program. Having a clear focus about who you are and what you want is an attractive quality to any committee.

Your writing has to be as dynamic as you are, and to produce this takes time.

"Your personal statement allows you the opportunity to tell us something about yourself that wouldn’t be evident from looking at your resume and grades. A well-written statement will strengthen your application, and help us to know you better, " said Valerie Schlesinger, Director of Graduate Admissions.

The Writing Process

A graduate school personal statement is your opportunity to show the admission committee, in your own words, that you are a good fit for their program. Requirements for a letter of intent will vary from school to school; so, be sure to review each school’s admission requirements and address specific writing prompts if asked.

To help you get started, we have put together this resource for writing your personal statement for a graduate school application.


This is your own space to get all your thoughts and ideas down without any judgement. Do not worry about grammar, spelling or structure at this stage. Let your stream of consciousness run when answering the following questions.

Tip: Set a timer for 20-30 minutes and write without interruption. 

Introduce Yourself

  • What inspires you?
  • What is your philosophy? How has this shaped the way you approach your career?
  • What makes you unique?

Tell Your Story

  • What professional experiences have you had that have contributed to your growth?
  • What will you bring to the school community and program?
  • What do you want to get out of this program?
  • What gaps do you have in your transcripts, grades and employment that need to be addressed?

Draw Conclusions

  • How will this program move you forward in your career?
  • What do you hope to bring to your profession while studying this program?
  • Why will you excel in this program?


After you have exhausted your brainstorming session, you should have a flurry of ideas. Incorporate these into your letter in a fresh, interesting and memorable way. Here a few tips to keep in mind as you write:

Focus on Deep Connections

Rather than trying to do too much in your letter, focus on a couple of things that have shaped the way you approach your profession and your philosophy. Along with a masterful story, show how your experiences, vision and mindset can be a great addition to the program.

Address Any Shortcomings

Defer to your admission representative as each university views shortcomings differently. Maybe there was a life-event that caused your grades to drop. Perhaps you have a gap in employment.

Whatever the situation, address it briefly and show how you have overcome that period. You can cite specific personal or work-related successes where you can show how far you have come.


Put your draft down for a day so you can look at it with fresh eyes. The most successful writers revise their drafts multiple times to ensure they are communicating their message effectively.

Tip: Read your draft out loud to see where you can make revisions.

When revising a first draft, ask these questions:

  • Does your letter capture the reader’s attention and will they want to keep reading it?
  • Do you scratch the surface or do you dig deep finding the meaning and connections behind your thoughts?
  • Is there a logical flow to the essay? Do you tie your ideas together and make connections?
  • Do you make transitions between paragraphs?

Once your ideas are solid, the next step is to draft it for structure and look for consistency, organization and a strong opening and closing. You can find more about writing techniques on Kibin Essay Writing Blog.


After you revise, let your personal statement rest for a day. Now you are ready to improve your draft by correcting sentences and word choice so that your message is clear and concise.

Read your work aloud or have someone else read it aloud to you. Each sentence is working hard to prove that you are a good candidate for the program, so make sure that you are clear and your sentences are structurally sound.

Do not rely on spellcheck alone; it can’t pick up nuances in your writing.

Tip: Ask a trusted friend, colleague or professor to read it through to catch any mistakes you may have missed.

Proofread and Submit

After your revisions and edits are buttoned up, it’s time to look at spelling, punctuation, capitalization, usage and grammar. You will find proofreading checklists online that will help polish your letter. Never submit your personal statement with errors.

Tip: Have someone read your letter out loud to you so you can hear what it sounds like.

When you are happy with your letter, you are now ready to submit it along with your application to the admission committee.

This may seem like a lot of work for an application, however, it is important to take this seriously as it sets you apart from the pool of applicants. It demonstrates your writing ability, passion and commitment to the program.

Leave the admission committee with a memorable portrait of their next student.

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