skip to main content skip to footer


Graduate Journey Resource Center

Discover valuable resources to assist you in your program search and decision-making process.

Person looking at laptop with content in a document

What is a Personal Statement for Grad School?

Who are you really? That’s what the admissions committee for any program you’re applying to wants to know, and your personal statement is how you can show them. A personal statement is a critical part of the graduate school application process. In an ever-competitive graduate school environment, it’s important to let institutions see who you really are beyond your previous coursework and your GPA. If you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself, this is the time to get past that and really get, well, personal. This is where they get to know you, not just your CV.

Writing your personal statement

Unlike a statement of purpose which explains what you want to do, a personal statement is an essay that explains who you are as a person, and how those qualities will translate to a successful student in whatever program you’re applying to.

A personal statement should include a description of your talents, achievements, interests and goals. More importantly, it should convey how accomplishments and achievements are relevant to the program you’re applying to. Institutions want students who will contribute something valuable to their various graduate programs, and certainly recruiters will be looking for that as well.

Follow the guidelines

Check each program’s requirements and be aware of any guidelines, such as word count or specific details to include. It’s imperative you strictly adhere to any guidelines set forth by an admissions committee. Failing to follow their directions will likely result in the rejection of your application.

Take it slow

Allow enough lead time to write. Your personal statement isn’t something you should sit down and write the night before it’s due. You’ll want to write a few drafts, edit, rewrite, proofread and have someone else review your piece before you submit it.

Organization is key

A personal statement isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of document and should be customized for each program you’re applying to. It’s important to stay organized and keep track of what you’ve sent and to whom.

The process

  • Review the program’s requirements and list of elements to be included in your personal statement.
  • Brainstorm a list of what you want to include and what you want to convey.
  • Review personal statement examples for guidance.
  • Outline your statement, including the elements you want to incorporate and the order.

What should you include in your statement?

  1. Start by introducing yourself. Who are you? Why are you applying for grad school? Perhaps a personal story of adversity or challenge played a role. Use that — overcoming adversity is a quality that admissions committees like to see.
  2. Highlight your personal, professional and academic achievements. What makes you stand out from the crowd?
  3. What is it about the program you’re applying to that appeals to you and how can you make a significant contribution to it?
  4. What do you plan to do with your degree when you graduate? Where do you see yourself in five years?
  5. What kind of personal skills do you bring to the program? Do you work well in a team environment when required? Can you also work independently when necessary?
  6. Research the faculty. Note a specific piece of published work that you found fascinating, helpful or enlightening.
  7. Conclude by summarizing not only your qualifications for this program, but how you both could benefit from each other.

Take writing your personal statement seriously and put the time in to create a worthy piece. Remember to write a customized statement for each program you’re applying to so that the admissions committees can see your personality and special qualities shine through.