Student Learning Commons: Personal Statement for Graduate School

When applying for scholarships and post-graduate programs, a personal statement from you (the applicant) usually accompanies the application package. Many students find it very challenging to write about themselves, but this statement is very important as it lets those who will be evaluating your application know who you are as an individual.

Here are some basic steps that can help you along the way to writing a strong personal:

1. Avoid including emotionally laden text

A strong personal statement should not need to appeal to an evaluator’s emotional side. Instead, it is better to clearly communicate how you are a suitable candidate for a given program/scholarship because of your past experience, scholarly activity, or volunteer work. Using events from your own past experience and telling a story with them is a better way to illustrate your unique personal attributes, and this should effectively grab the attention of a committee who is evaluating your application.

2. Try to connect past experiences with your future plans and candidacy

Being able to clearly connect how past experiences have helped shape your decision making and future plans can allow your personal statement to stand out from all others that a committee receives. Try to show—in a clear, connected, and organized way—how your own personal development has progressed as a result of your experience.

3. Carefully follow all instructions that are provided to you

When an application for a scholarship or program is almost due, it can be very easy to forget important instructions that were provided to you earlier on. When in a rush to meet a deadline, you might forget that documents like personal statements are only supposed to be 1 page long (as opposed to 2 pages). Not following instructions can sometimes have severe consequences, including a rejection of your application or a general downgrading of your application by a committee. Therefore, be sure you review all instructions before the final submission of your personal statement and application package.

4. Make sure to write your personal statement well in advance

Writing a paper well before a deadline can help writers catch mistakes when they review their drafts, and your personal statement is no exception. By proceeding in this way, you may actually end up finding creative ways to restructure or rephrase content in your personal statement so that it is communicated far more effectively. Never leave writing a draft of your personal statement to the last minute!

Finally, many online resources can provide valuable information for improving personal statements (e.g.Writing the Personal Statement and the Library's Research Commons).

Handout created by Deyar Asmaro, SFU Graduate Writing Facilitator, 2013