Personal Statements

Most graduate school applications require a personal statement, statement of purpose, or letter of intent. A well written personal statement can be the key to your entry into the graduate program of your choice. This is your opportunity to share what the graduate admissions committee can’t get from your transcripts, GPA, and test scores – your unique story and why you’re a great fit for the program. 

Two Types of Common Personal Statements: 

  • General, comprehensive personal statements. These allow the writer leeway and freedom to tell their story. This type of personal statement is generally used for medical and law school applications. 
  • Your response to a specific question (or questions). Applicants should consider each question carefully. This approach may consist of three or more questions with word, page, or character limits. 

Before You Write, Ask Yourself: 

  • What do you want to pursue as a career and how will this program help you?  
  • What is unique about your life story as it relates to your interest in this field? 
  • What coursework, experiential learning, and related activities have fueled your passion for working in this field?  
  • What challenges have you faced that demonstrate your ability to persevere in the face of adversity? 
  • How has your academic experience contributed to your readiness for graduate level work? 
  • What do you feel makes you a strong candidate for this program? How are you a good fit? 

Personal Statement Tips: 

  • Tell your story. Be conversational while balancing personal and academic aspects. The reader wants to be excited by your essay, so create a statement that is dynamic, entertaining, and unique.  
  • State what you want to do and back up your intention with evidence that you are ready for the next steps. Talk proudly of your experiences and accomplishments that lead up to this moment. 
  • Make connections in explaining the value and meaning of your experience – what have you learned about yourself, your field, and your future career; draw conclusions from the evidence your life provides. 
  • Avoid clichés and excess verbiage. Avoid sentences like, “I have taken biology, human anatomy, and human physiology.” So have all the other applicants jockeying for a position!  Instead, pull out the elements of those courses that prepared you for work in this field. Avoid sentences like, “I have had the privilege of being selected to perform an internship at Sentara Hospital.” Simply say, “I performed an internship at Sentara Hospital in the Emergency Room.” “I have had the privilege of…” does not really say anything significant but takes up a lot of space, especially if you have word limits. 
  • Talk about experiences on your collegiate level. While you may have accomplishments from high school, there is an assumption that you have moved on.   
  • Avoid controversial areas such as politics, religion, or volatile subject matter unless they may directly relate to your chosen field of interest. 
  • Research, research, research. What do you know about this program, its faculty, and its structure that excites you? When you specifically talk about your desire to be involved in this particular program because of the work that a faculty member is doing or the internship program it offers, you are demonstrating your critical and reflective thinking.  
  • Write at your very best. Be thoughtful, reflective, and targeted. Enlist the help of the Writing Center, your professors, and Career Development. Avoid repeating subject matter and concentrate on smooth transitions while engaging the reader. This could mean the difference between being accepted and being waitlisted. 
  • Stay in present and past tense as much as possible. This creates energy and dynamism. 
  • Your personal statement should go through many drafts before it is perfected. Make an appointment with a Career Center staff member and we’ll help you! 

Other personal statement tips can be found here:  

Statements of Purpose: Overview and Before you Draft 

Statements of Purpose: Drafting Your Statement 

Statements of Purpose: After You Finish a Draft