Essays/Personal Statements

Most graduate and professional schools require an essay, or personal statement, as part of application materials. This is a writing sample that communicates your personal interests, goals, motivations, and experience relevant to the program to which you are applying. It should demonstrate a clear sense of purpose for entering the graduate program, and clear goals for your career path following graduate school.

The length and content of the essay can vary widely from one program to the next. Some graduate programs will ask applicants to address a series of very specific questions or topics, while others will simply request a general statement of interest. It is important to follow the directions and guidelines of each school or program, to ensure you are providing the information they need to assess your application.

It is important to start early and plan to spend time developing and rewriting your essay multiple times. Don't wait until the last minute to write it!

Think of the essay as an opportunity to introduce yourself, especially if your program doesn't interview applicants. Reading your graduate school personal statement or statement of purpose is the best way for the admissions committee to determine who you are and whether you would be a good fit for their program. It is your best chance to make your case for admission and to communicate important information about yourself not readily ascertained by test scores or grades, such as your writing skills.


Before You Begin to Write

Before you begin to write your draft ask yourself some questions. Brainstorm and write down your thoughts.

The Field

  • Why am I interested in this field of study? When/how did I become interested in it?
  • What experiences have confirmed that this is what I really want to study?
  • What am I most passionate about in terms of this field?
  • What special interests and/or expertise do I have or would like to have within the field?

Yourself

  • What is most important for the admissions committee to know about me?
  • What personal qualities or characteristics will enable me to make a unique contribution to the program and the career field (i.e. what makes you different from other candidates?)
  • Why should an admissions committee be interested in me?
  • What are two or three academic accomplishments which have most prepared me to succeed in graduate school?

The Program

  • What specific features attract me to the graduate program?
  • How do the qualities I bring make for a good match?
  • Why am I applying to this particular program? This institution?
  • How will attending this graduate school help me prepare me for my career?


What To Include

As you get ready to write your first draft, outline the main points you want to make and in what order. If asked to respond to a specific set of questions, the structure and content of your essay should correspond to those questions. Have a beginning, middle and end to your essay. Keep a positive tone throughout the essay, focusing on the relevant skills and experience you have, rather than on what you lack.

In the first paragraph you want to grab the reader's attention and identify why you are applying to graduate school. It is often effective to begin by describing a personal or educational experience that influenced your decision to pursue this particular field of study. In other words, tell the reader what it is about your life or background that has motivated you to choose this path. You do not need to relate your whole life story, rather the themes and events that are most relevant.

Be careful that you are not overly personal, providing information that could be used to discriminate against you, such as a criminal record, history of substance abuse, or other information that could be viewed negatively by the admissions committee.

Your closing paragraph should be an expression of confidence and enthusiasm about your pursuit of graduate study and your career path. Briefly summarize why you should be admitted to the program, and what you will contribute.

DOs
Follow directions. Address the questions aksed and adhere to work limits.
Make every word count. Be concise.
Back up claims with facts/evidence.
Include information from your background that sets you apart.
Include real evidence and examples that demonstrate your commitment to the field.
Personalize statements to individual schools. Why them?
PROOFREAD!! Read for errors in grammar and spelling that spell checker will miss.
Get feedback on your draft from faculty, the Writing Center, or a counselor in the Career Development Center for clarity, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Write in your own voice. Use a vocabulary that is intelligent and true to your writing.

DON'TS
Try to sound "fancy" or use words that aren't in your day-to-day vocabulary.
Be vague or exaggerate.
Submit the exact same essay to multiple schools. Tailor for each application.
Overuse empty, vague words like love, meaningful, beautiful, challenging, invaluable, or rewarding.
Have someone else write your essay for you. Make sure the writing is all yours.
Provide an essay-based summary of your resume. You should be introducing new, interesting material in your statement.
Make claims about yourself that you cannot support with specific details.
If discussing a weakness or deficit, do not apologize or sound defensive. State the facts then move on to positive statements about what you learned and how you grew.
Rely exclusively on spell check.


Review Your Draft

Ask yourself the following questions as you edit for content:

  • Is my introductory paragraph interesting?
  • Are my goals clearly communicated?
  • Do I explain why I have selected this school and/or program in particular? Is there a clear match with my career goals?
  • Do I demonstrate knowledge of this school or program?
  • Do I include interesting details that prove my claims about myself?
  • Is my tone confident?

Get Feedback

Have several people read it and provide feedback, such as faculty members and career counselors, as they have read such essays before. Get more than one point of view and then compare these with your own.

CDC counselors will review a draft of a graduate school essay/personal statement.

Call or stop in to schedule an appointment. It will be necessary to submit your draft prior to meeting with the counselor to allow review time.



Online Resources

Career Development Center

Buffalo State College  •  1300 Elmwood Avenue  •  Cleveland Hall 306
Buffalo, New York 14222  •  Phone: (716) 878-5811  •  Fax: (716) 878-3152

askcdc@buffalostate.edu