Helpful Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Applications

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 19 minutes

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Applications - featured image

Find your perfect college degree

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

When writing your personal statement for your graduate school application, you must remember that it can make or break your admission!

The simple reason: Aside from your cover letter, it’s the best way to introduce yourself – your academic performance and potential, your research interests, and your career goals, among others, which demonstrates your fit with the graduate program.

Indeed, the way in which you present who and what you are in your personal statement can set your path in graduate school. 

But we also understand that writing your personal statement is a challenging task, to say the least, because of its enormous impact on your admission into graduate school. With that in mind, here are helpful tips that you can keep in mind to write a persuasive personal statement.

Additional Resources:

Be prepared for three steps in making a compelling personal statement that will increase your success in being admitted to the graduate program of your dreams.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Before Writing Your Personal Statement

Before Writing Your Personal Statement - Image

You must have the right understanding and be in the right mindset before writing your personal statement. With such a strong foundation, you’re in a better position to craft your master personal statement that can be revised according to the requirements and preferences of each graduate program. 

Understand the Purpose of Your Personal Statement

What exactly is the purpose of a personal statement in a graduate school application? What can you do to serve its purpose? These are questions that you must first ask before you can write your personal statement, whether it’s your master personal statement or its tailored version. 

Your personal statement is, first and foremost, a summary of your personal and professional qualifications. You must, however, also keep in mind that it’s an opportunity to tell your story and journey – where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be.

Your main goal: Demonstrate the ways in which being in the graduate program will contribute to your continuing story and journey – or in other words, highlight your good fit. 

Furthermore, your well-written personal statement will also achieve the following purposes: 

Indeed, your personal statement is your opportunity to stand out from the competition and differentiate yourself! 

Reflect on Your Unique Qualities

What can you bring to the table? What past contributions have you made and the potential contributions you can make in advancing the body of knowledge in your chosen field? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What trials have you overcome and what triumphs are you most proud of and why? 

These questions may sound like these are made for beauty pageants but you will find that answering them will result in your ability to stand out from the rest of the applicants! By reflecting on your uniqueness, you’re emphasizing your individuality which strengthens your candidacy for admission into graduate school. 

We suggest listing down the answers to the abovementioned page so you will have a reference when writing your personal statement. You can also use the guide below when reflecting on your unique individuality.

1. Academic achievements

Your academic achievements will not only highlight your commitment to excellence but will also be an indication of your academic potential, List down academic awards (e,g., honors program, Latin honors) as well as distinctive research projects and published works. 

2. Unique background

Your personal challenges that contributed to your success in life, your perspective, and your individuality can also be included in your personal statement. You will be surprised by how people are fascinated by individuals overcoming the odds stacked against them!

3. Research interests

Your research interests should ideally be aligned with the graduate program’s research projects, and it’s possible to determine it by looking at previous published research papers authored by professors and alumni. List down your specific research interests and their uniqueness, usefulness, or innovativeness in the field, as well as a brief explanation of your possible contributions to the field. 

4. Professional experience

Your professional experience is also a crucial contributor to your career path and your desire to earn a graduate degree for career advancement. Better yet, write down the insights you gained that differentiate you from other applicants. 

5. Personal interests and passions related to your chosen field of study

Again, you should align your specific personal interests and passions with the graduate program’s mission. You should list down your extracurricular involvement, too, such as community volunteer work, leadership and membership in industry organizations and professional associations, and even sports – but only in relation to how these contributed to your personal and professional growth. 

6. Life experiences

Your life isn’t just a series of academic achievements and extracurricular activities either! Write down life experiences, such as travel and internships, which shaped your personality and perspectives in life as well as your passion for graduate education. 

7. Unique qualities and skills

You should take pride in skills like creativity and innovation, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and communication skills because these are valued life skills. Inclusivity and diversity are of particular value, too, in the academic community. 

8. Career aspirations

Career aspirations are a huge part of anyone’s decision to pursue a graduate degree, so it makes sense that your personal statement will discuss your career goals. 

If you have yet to make a resume, then the above-mentioned aspects can be incorporated into your master resume. If you already have a resume, then you’re halfway into your personal statement – just take the relevant information from your master resume and incorporate it into your personal statement. 

Research the Program

Your next step is researching the graduate program that you’re interested in. If you’re planning on applying to several programs, then you must make appropriate notes about every single program. 

Your research will also be the basis for the tailored version of your master personal statement. You will find it easier and faster to change specific information, format, and details on your master personal statement to fit each program than to start from scratch. 

What exactly must you know about the graduate programs you’re interested in? Here is the crucial information you should get. 

Aside from the program’s official information, you may also consider connecting with current students and alumni. Your talks with them, no matter how short, will likely provide valuable insights into the culture and curriculum, among other aspects, of the graduate program you’re interested in. 

Understand and Follow the Prompt

Many graduate programs make it easier – or harder, depending on your perspective – to craft a compelling personal statement by providing essay questions, known as prompts. You should answer all the points provided in the prompts and keep your answers clear, concise, and compelling. 

For this reason, you must carefully read the prompts a couple of times to gain a better understanding of its essence. When you address the points covered, you will demonstrate the following characteristics that contribute to success in graduate school: 

Of course, answering the points in the essay prompts makes it easier to craft your tailored personal statement because it will highlight the required and relevant information the admissions committee is looking for in their decision-making process.

You will benefit in terms of getting guidance on the preferred structure for your personal statement while also avoiding the inclusion of irrelevant information. In the case of the latter, you can increase the clear and compelling quality of your personal statement and, thus, make a more memorable impact. 

Start Early

Due to the extensive preparation in writing your personal statement, starting as early as possible is a must! You should have ample time to research the programs, brainstorm your uniqueness, and writing and editing, seeking feedback, and tailor your personal statement.

When Writing Your Personal Statement

When Writing Your Personal Statement - Image

Now that you understand the importance of your personal statement and you have the necessary information to write it, your next step is to create your first draft. If you’re overwhelmed and you don’t know where to start, just do it! You will find that it gets easier as you go along. 

Demonstrate Your Good Fit with the Program

The first order of a persuasive personal statement is demonstrating that, indeed, you’re a good fit with the program. This means that you’re most likely to succeed as a graduate student through dynamic class participation, good grades, and contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the field, among other goals of graduate studies. 

Your personal statement must then contain the following qualities that make for a compelling read for the admissions committee. 

Highlight your background.

Your background and experiences, no matter how humble these may be, are crucial contributors in your continuing journey! You must then highlight them in such a way that it explains why and how these aspects of your life led to your decision to pursue graduate education. 

You can highlight your relevant coursework, your participation in research projects (i.e., either with you as the principal author or as a co-author), and your internship experiences. You should also consider highlighting capstone projects that demonstrate your expertise in and passion for your field of study. 

Be sure to relate your background and experiences to the graduate program’s values, vision and mission. Let’s say that the graduate program emphasizes multidisciplinary research collaborations among students, alumni, and professors. Your personal statement should then provide concrete examples of your background and experiences in working with diverse and inclusive teams. 

Discuss your research interests.

Many graduate programs emphasize excellence in research, particularly in fields like public health, biology, public policy, and administration, where a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation is a graduation requirement. If you’re applying to a research-centric graduate program, then it’s best to highlight your research interests and contributions, too, and align them with its research areas. 

When discussing your research interests, you can explain the specific questions and/or topics that you’re passionate about, use concrete examples in your research experience that demonstrate your keen interest in them, and provide research areas you’re planning on pursuing in the future.

You should mention relevant research experiences that contributed to your keen interest in these research areas, as well as highlight significant skills acquired and contributions made. 

You may also mention faculty members and/or research centers in the graduate program that you believe are involved in the research areas you’re interested in. You can also discuss your long-term research goals and their impact on your career goals. 

Emphasize your skills.

Your technical and transferable skills are uniquely yours – no one else has its unique combinations, strengths, and potential! It then makes sense to showcase your set of skills that contribute to your suitability as a graduate student in the program. 

Start by identifying the key skills that the graduate program values, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills, aside from research skills. (This is where your list of unique qualities and skills comes in handy)

Then, provide specific examples from your personal, educational, and professional lives that demonstrate these valued skills. Be sure to provide the context, challenges, and outcomes related to these examples. 

For example, in a public health program, you can explain your research paper and/or capstone project that resulted in the development of a more effective measurement of community engagement. You can mention the awards, feedback, and outcomes of your previous work. 

Your professional certifications and specialized training are also useful in highlighting your technical skills and expertise in your field of interest. For example, if you’re applying to a Master of Science in Computer Science program, your Cisco CCNA or CompTIA A+ certifications will be considered favorably. 

Of course, your academic achievements must also be highlighted since these are an indication of your potential for academic success in graduate school. Your above-average GPA, academic distinctions, and Latin honors as well as relevant coursework are worthy of mentioning in your personal statement. 

But since academic achievements aren’t the be-all and end-all of success in graduate school, it’s also crucial to include your extracurricular involvement. But be sure to relate your extracurricular activities with the skills you learned that are, in turn, related to the values of the graduate program. 

You may want to strike a balance between your technical skills and your transferable skills – after all, success in any endeavor is about balance. Being a well-rounded individual with the ability to thrive under pressure and in diverse situations is a valued character trait among the best graduate programs.

Address weaknesses proactively.

If your academic record, professional experiences, and/or life experiences have weaknesses that may have a negative impact on your application, you must address them in a proactive manner.

In doing so, you can influence the way that the admissions committee will look at these weaknesses, namely, see them as strengths-in-the-making. 

But it’s also important to note that unless the essay prompts directly ask applicants about their weaknesses, your personal statement should not discuss your deficiencies.

Your personal statement should ideally discuss your strengths, but if it’s necessary to explain a significant weakness in your application, a brief addendum will suffice. The addendum mustn’t contain tedious excuses but must have a positive tone. 

Here are a few more tips for addressing your weaknesses, whether in the personal statement itself or in an addendum: 

Even with your weaknesses, you can still emphasize your strengths that offset them. You may also seek feedback and, throughout your brief explanation of your weakness, maintain a positive tone. 

Align with your educational and professional goals.

When you’ve discussed your multiple strengths and a few weaknesses, you can now connect the dots, so to speak. You should state in clear and certain terms the reasons for your good fit for the graduate program. Your personal statement will be stronger if you keep these tips in mind when aligning your goals with the graduate program’s values. 

You don’t have to get it right the first time – nobody does – but it’s always a good thing to start your personal statement somewhere. 

Write with Clarity and Conviction

Keep in mind that your personal statement isn’t just a summary of your personal and professional achievements – it’s an opportunity to tell your story! You should then write with clarity in mind, with conviction of heart, and with compelling the readers to consider your application favorably. 

Does it sound like a tall order, especially if you have impostor syndrome about your writing skills? Again, the best place to start is just to start writing! You can also keep these tips in mind so that you can write with clarity and conviction. 

Simplicity is key

Use simple and straightforward words instead of complex language (e.g., jargon and terminology), but avoid using slang and street words, too. Being direct in your intentions means your readers will get the essence of your personal statement and determine your fit with the program.

Besides, with thousands of personal statements submitted, being direct to the point means your readers make the most of their time. 

Cliches are just as cringeworthy as irrelevant information, slang words, and overly common phrases in a personal statement. Again, provide concrete examples instead of revising personal statement templates – or worse, copying them word for word. 

Think of a specific person.

While you will not know the names of the admissions committee, you should write your personal statement with a specific person in mind. This means writing in a conversational style yet still maintaining a respectful tone. 

Use the active voice.

Don’t talk about yourself in the third person – you should use “I” in your personal statement because it’s about you and you alone! Your personal statement will also be more compelling when you use the first-person perspective. 

Provide concrete and specific examples.

We cannot overemphasize the need to provide concrete and specific examples when discussing your accomplishments, skills, and qualities! Doing so transforms the abstract into reality and, thus, makes for a compelling personal statement.

Be concise.

Most graduate programs that require a personal statement for admission purposes have either word or page limits. Your first draft will likely be verbose, which necessitates editing to remove fluff and achieve brevity 

Be authentic.

Think of your personal statement as your own introduction to the admissions committee – it’s less formal than your cover letter and resume. You have the opportunity to highlight your individuality, including your standout qualities here. 

Follow Application Instructions

Some graduate programs have specific instructions about the format, layout, and substance of the personal statement – follow them! These include word counts, number of pages, even font type and size, as well as submission deadlines. 

But if there are no specific instructions, the general rule of thumb is a personal statement 1-2 pages in length with 1-inch margins, double space between paragraphs, and formal font and size (e.g., Times New Roman, 12-point).

After Writing Your Personal Statement

After Writing Your Personal Statement - Image

When your first draft is done, you should not submit it! There’s a reason it’s called the first draft – it’s still rough around the edges – and must be edited for clarity, brevity, and quality. This is both easy since you already have your first draft and hard because of the input and work required. 

Seek feedback.

Let your trusted family and friends, mentors, and even former professors review your personal statement for constructive criticism. Be open to their feedback, too, but remember that it’s your final decision in the end. 

Proofread and edit.

You may use grammar and spelling apps to detect errors, but your informed judgment is still the best. You must, after all, consider the overall flow and structure of your personal statement. 

Tailor each personal statement.

With your master personal statement, you have a template on which you can create a tailored personal statement for every program. While your personal statement will have many things in common between different programs, there should be differences in them, too. These differences are the result of every program’s unique essay prompts, format and layout requirements, word count limits, and values. 

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for Grad School Applications - fact

In conclusion, writing your personal statement isn’t an easy task but it can be broken down into manageable chunks! When you think of it in this manner, your personal statement will tell YOUR story and convince its readers that, indeed, you’re an excellent candidate for your dream graduate program.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.