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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate or Professional School

The Personal Statement is a very important part of the graduate or professional school application. It may include, but also may be separate and different from, a “Statement of Purpose,” a “Statement of Research Interests” and/or a “Diversity Statement.” All of these statements provide the admissions committee subjective information about your qualifications, research interests and/or your reasons for choosing a particular program and career. Unlike other documents you may submit, your personal statement is an opportunity to “tell your story.”

The statement should demonstrate strong writing skills and why you are a good fit for the school, graduate level work and the profession. Start early to allow time to edit and refine your statement. It will also give you more opportunities to have your statement(s) reviewed by others such as a career counselor in Career and Internship Services and faculty.

Before you start writing, read the directions from the program(s) carefully to ensure you address any specific questions.

If there are no specific questions, begin by answering these questions:

  • Why do you want to go to graduate or professional school?
  • For graduate school, in what area(s) of study are you interested and why?
  • What are your relevant experiences and accomplishments (research, clinical, volunteer, paid)?
  • When did you originally become interested in the field and what have you done and learned that has furthered your interest (classes, shadowing, research, work)?
  • What are your short- and longterm career goals?
  • What is special and unique about you (your life, skills, background, experience)?
  • Are there gaps or a low GPA in your academic record you can explain?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships in your life?
  • What skills, strengths and qualities do you possess and how do they relate to your career plans?

For graduate school:

  • If appropriate, name the faculty with whom you want to work and why their research areas interest you.

For professional school:

  • What are the skills and qualities desired by the profession? How can you demonstrate you have these skills or qualities? Be specific and give examples.

Develop a draft based on your answers to the above questions

Additional tips:

  • Be yourself rather than trying to be the “ideal” applicant.
  • Tell a “compelling story” or provide an example of an important part of your “life story” to create a unique statement.
  • Discuss the meaning and value of your experiences when describing them. Explain what you learned about yourself, your field, your goals and your future career choice from the experiences.
  • Avoid providing a chronological list of your accomplishments or saying general statements such as “I want to be a doctor because I want to help people …”
  • Relate your interests to any specific features of the program or school.
  • If you visited a school and program, mention with whom you met and when.

Finalize your statement

  • Have your statement reviewed and edited by a career counselor in Career and Internship Services, faculty members and the Writers Workshop.
  • Check the application instructions to ensure you answered any required questions.
  • Confirm character, word and/or page limits. Character counts for professional programs can be anywhere from 3000 to 5300 characters including spaces!
  • Double check spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Review your statements carefully Don't make the mistake of sending a personal statement to a graduate school that says you are "Excited to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison" when the application is going to UMD. This can cause your application to automatically be dismissed.