发布时间:2011-08-23 12:54:19 论文编辑:代写硕士论文

代写留学文书-个人陈述写作专区,教你怎么写ps? Lesson One: Preparation
The purpose of this section is to get you acquainted with the task that confronts you. The first
step is to understand your audience and what your readers will be expecting. You should view
this knowledge as a foundation from which to build your own creative composition, not as a set
of limiting factors. Once you understand the context of your assignment, you must approach
the brainstorming process with a free and open mind. Allow yourself to reflect without the
interference of preconceived notions. Create a long and varied list of possible topics, and then
narrow down that list using the criteria we provide.
The preparation process is essential here as it is for any important project. If you don't identify
and develop the optimal set of ideas, then no degree of effective structuring or engaging
language will make the essay as strong as it could have been.
Select One:
• Assess Your Audience
• Key Attributes
• Common Flaws
• Brainstorming
• Topic Selection
EssayEdge Extra: The Potential Impact of
the Personal Statement-Good and Bad
"It's possible to redeem yourself or to kill your chances of
admission with the personal statement. What's most important
to me is for the candidate to make a compelling case for
himself or herself. I want to be persuaded that I should admit
this person."
-The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs, Princeton University
"If I sense that a candidate is just filling out half a page
cursorily - just doing the personal statement pro forma - and
has not put much time or imagination into it, that's the kiss of
-Graduate English Department, UCLA
The Audience
Unlike undergraduate admissions committees, which usually are comprised of full-time
administrative staff, a graduate admissions committee consists of professors in the specific
program to which you are applying. Occasionally, the committee will also invite a small number
of students currently enrolled in the program to participate in the process.
An applicant's file consists of transcripts, GRE or other test scores, letters of recommendation,
and one or more essays. Admissions committees read the essays within the larger context of a
candidate's application. The essays are your chance to tell the personal story that the other
pieces of the application cannot.
Admissions committees for programs in different fields evaluate personal statements
according to vastly different criteria. Professors reading applications for programs in
language-intensive fields such as literature and philosophy examine the originality and
elegance of the applicant's thoughts as well as fine points of style. In engineering or scientific
fields, on the other hand, admissions committees seek to gain more basic insight into the
applicant's goals and to confirm a baseline of competency in written English. In fact, for many
applicants to graduate programs in the sciences, English is not even their primary language.
As the committee members make their way through stack after stack of applications, they
often place the applications they have already reviewed into a hierarchy of admission. The
particular aspects of this process vary, but according to an admissions officer at the University
of Washington, their hierarchy of admission is as follows, in decreasing order of applicant
attractiveness: "Admit with guaranteed funding, Admit with potential funding, Tabled (a sort of
admissions purgatory), and Reject." It is in the case of "Tabled" and "Admit with potential
funding" applications, the admissions officer reports, that the personal statement can make a
real difference: "If there is a good match between the applicant's research interests and the
particular strengths of the school, this can bump them up a level or two in the hierarchy of
Among the schools whose admissions officers we consulted, the minimum number of readers
who look at an applicant's essay(s) ranged from two to ten, with an average of twenty minutes
spent on essays for laboratory and computational science programs, and thirty minutes on
those for all other programs.
Key Attributes
To a large degree, the particular graduate program you are applying to will dictate the content
of a successful application essay. However, certain qualities of these essays apply equally to
all fields. Admissions committee members are looking for interesting, insightful, revealing, and
non-generic essays that suggest you have successfully gone through a process of careful
reflection and self-examination. Your essay should offer a very thorough, probing, and
analytical look at yourself and your objectives.
Insight Into Your Character
When we say "non-generic" above, we mean a personal statement that only you could have
written, one that does not closely resemble what other applicants are likely writing. You
achieve this type of statement by being personal and analytical. Don't waste space on
superficial generalizations about your life. Instead, give the reader specific, personal details so
that he or she will be able to understand your character and motivation. Then analyze those
details in a way that drives home clear, illuminating points.
Don't focus too heavily on what you think admissions officers want to see, at the expense of
conveying your own message in your unique way. Be yourself rather than pretending to be the
"ideal" applicant. Inundated with countless cliché-ridden essays, admissions committees
respond very favorably to honesty. Don't be afraid to reveal yourself. Admissions officers are
interested in finding out about who you are, and they appreciate candor.
Sincerity is important to stress because it's hard for most of us to achieve, despite the fact that
it seems so simple. The pressures and anxieties of the situation have locked us into a mindset
that prevents us from writing honestly. Further, because we are not used to writing about
ourselves and being so close to the subject, we cannot assess the sincerity of our own writing.
Thousands of students every year will read this same advice, whether in a guidebook or even
in the application instructions themselves, but they simply will not be able to put it into practice.
If you can be one of the few who truly understand what it means to be sincere, then you will
already have separated yourself from the pack in a crucial way.
You might question how a reader who doesn't know you can judge your statement's sincerity.
The basis for judgment usually lies in the context your reader has developed from reading
hundreds or thousands of other essays. Assessing your essay against others is one essential
area in which EssayEdge can offer a more critical eye than your friends, relatives, or teachers
who have not accumulated the expertise specific to the personal statement. Moreover, our
perspective in reading your essay is just as objective as your admissions reader's perspective
will be.
Background and Motivation
Detail your interest in and exposure to your particular discipline in a thoughtful way. You are
aspiring to become a professional in your field; therefore, you should express an interest in
contributing something novel to it. Make clear that you have a realistic perception of what this
field entails. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in
the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other sources of specific
information about the career you want and why you're suited for it. Remember not to make this
a laundry list in which you rattle off impressive names or theories. Any specific people or ideas
you mention should be thoughtfully addressed and seamlessly interwoven into the essay as a
When you were applying to colleges, no one expected you to be certain about your future. At
the graduate level, however, you need to demonstrate a more mature sense of what you want
to do, and how the program you're applying to fits in with that intended path. Although
admissions officers are well aware that people's goals will change, they at least want to see
some sense of direction so they can evaluate your self-awareness and commitment.
"I seek a sense of commitment, a sense of discipline, and a sense specifically of what the
student wants to do. I don't think it's advisable for anyone to write that he or she just loves
English literature and wants to read and write. People have to know what field they want or are
most likely to work in, or what specific kinds of projects they want to pursue in a field."
-Graduate English Department, UCLA
"I think the main thing is to see whether the student is aware of and has thought about the field
to which he or she is applying."
-Graduate Engineering Program, California Institute of Technology
Attributes of the Program
Explain why the particular school's unique features attract you. Again, graduate study is much
more focused than undergraduate work; it's not a time for unbounded exploration. For your
own sake, you need to determine whether a specific program meets your needs, and sharing
what you discover with the schools can show them why you're a good fit. Do the research
necessary to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs.
Do not, however, waste space on empty praise. For example, don't cite the "world-renowned
faculty" and "diverse student body" as your main reasons, because these are trite, obviously
prepackaged points that you could say about any school. Instead, refer to specific courses or
unique aspects of the curriculum, and show an interest in specific clubs or organizations.
"You really have to let the admissions committee know what it is about this program in
particular that interests you."
-The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
"It helps for the student to have done some research on the university being applied to. It is
easy to differentiate an applicant who really wants to come here because of our special
resources from someone whose knowledge of the program comes simply by way of the
brochure we send to all interested applicants."
-Graduate English Department, UCLA
Writing Ability
Again, the importance of writing ability varies according to different programs. A great flair for
language will not get you admitted into a biochemistry program, but it's still essential to
demonstrate strong written communication skills. On the other hand, you should also keep in
mind that a well-written essay makes its points clearly and forcefully, so your content benefits
as well.
Good writing means more than the ability to construct grammatical sentences. You also must
create a coherent structure and ensure proper flow as the piece progresses. Because the
process of developing ideas and putting them down on paper is so intimate and personal, all
writers end up needing editors to assess the effectiveness of their product. You should consult
people whose writing you respect for advice or even more hands-on help. Having been trained
specifically in the nuances of admissions essay writing, EssayEdge editors are the best
equipped to provide assistance in this crucial area.
Common Flaws
Knowing what turns off admissions committees in an essay is as important as knowing what
they find desirable.
Careless Errors
There is really no excuse for careless errors, and having even one in your application can
affect the way you are perceived. You have more than enough time to proofread and have
others look over your essay. If an error slips through, your readers may assume that you are
careless, disorganized, or not serious enough about your application.
Remember that spell check does not catch all possible errors, and even grammar check is far
from perfect. In addition to typographical errors such as repeated words, you have to read the
essay carefully to catch mistakes in meaning that might come in the form of a grammatically
correct sentence.
Let these humorous but unfortunate examples be a lesson to read your essay carefully for
unintended meanings and meaningless sentences:
It was like getting admitted to an Ivory League school.
Berkeley has a reputation of breeding nationalists and communists.
I'd like to attend a college where I can expose myself to many diverse people.
I was totally free except for the rules.
In a word, the experience taught me the importance of dedication, friendship, and goals.
I have an extensive knowledge of the value of intelligence.
I envy people with a lot of time in their hands.
Vague Generalities
The most egregious generalizations are the ones that have been used so many times that they
have become clichés. For example, "I learned the value of hard work." That statement doesn't
tell us anything insightful or interesting about the writer's character, because it has been said
so many times as to become meaningless.
Generalities come in the same form as clichés, except with different content. They are always
superficial and usually unoriginal, but haven't quite reached the level of predictability that
would make them qualify as clichés. Consider this before-and-after set to learn how to
evaluate this factor in your writing:
Before: In the first project I managed, I learned many valuable lessons about the importance
of teamwork.
After: In the first project I managed, I made an effort to incorporate all my colleagues as equal
members of a team, soliciting their feedback and deferring to their expertise as needed.
Terms like "valuable lessons" and "teamwork" are vague and do not really convey anything
meaningful about the applicant's experience. In contrast, the revised version explains the team
dynamic in more detail, showing specifically how the applicant exercised teamwork principles.
The passage should go on to include even more detail, perhaps by naming a particular
colleague and discussing his interaction with that person.
Sounding contrived is a problem related to overly general writing. Applicants often have
preconceived notions about what they should be discussing, and they try to force those points
onto the experiences they relate. The best way to counteract this tendency is to start with your
experiences and let the insights flow from there. Think about your most meaningful
experiences and describe them honestly. Often you will find that you don't need to impose
conclusions because the personal qualities you're trying to demonstrate will be inherent in the
details. If you decide that clarification is necessary, the transition should still be natural.
Summarizing Your Resume
Perhaps the most common personal statement blunder is to write an expository resume of
your background and experience. This is not to say that the schools are not interested in your
accomplishments. However, other portions of your application will provide this information, and
the reader does not want to read your life story in narrative form. Strive for depth, not breadth.
An effective personal statement will focus on one or two specific themes, incidents, or points.
Trying to cram too much into your essay will end up in nothing meaningful being conveyed.
"A straight autobiography should be avoided, although interesting and pertinent
autobiographical facts should be included. But the statement should be more future-oriented
than past-oriented. I don't really want the story of a student's life but rather plans for and a
vision of the future."
-Graduate English Department, UCLA
Sensitive Topics
Don't get on a soapbox and preach to the reader; while expressing your values and opinions is
fine, avoid coming across as fanatical or extreme. Avoid mentioning subjects that are
potentially controversial; it is impossible for you to know the biases of members of various
admissions committees. Religion and politics normally don't belong in these statements,
although there may be exceptions (an applicant who has held an important office on campus
or in the community would likely want to include this fact). Personal political views usually are
not appropriate for personal statements. Any views that might be interpreted as strange or
highly unconventional should also be omitted because you want to avoid the possibility of
offending any of the individuals in whose hands the fate of your graduate school application
Don't use a gimmicky style or format. Your "clever" or "original" idea for style probably isn't,
and it may not be appreciated.
"Avoid cuteness; we've had people who have done career statements in the form of a miniplay,
for example. You want to sound like a professional."
-The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
Sometimes the same writer who relies too heavily on generalizations will also provide too
many irrelevant details. That's why most essays submitted to EssayEdge are returned with
significantly reduced word counts and, conversely, suggestions for additions. The problem is
that writers often don't consider what is actually necessary to include, or they repeat points
Example of Irrelevant Detail: "After a meeting with my adviser, I returned home to think over
the matter more carefully. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my interests in physical
properties and mental life would best be explored in a double major of biology and
In this example, we learn nothing about the applicant from the mention of his meeting with an
adviser. What's relevant are his interests and the decision he made based on them. The
details about how he arrived at the decision are not illustrative of his character in any way and
are therefore superfluous.
Example of Redundancy: "The class taught me a great deal about the value of literature. I
learned that literature can both instruct and inspire, and this understanding has changed the
way I read every text."
The first sentence is unnecessary because the second sentence makes the same point with
more specificity.
In addition to superfluous content, you also have to watch out for wordy writing. Wordiness not
only takes up valuable space, but it also can confuse the important ideas you're trying to
convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point.
Before: "My recognition of the fact that the project was finally over was a deeply satisfying
moment that will forever linger in my memory."
After: "Completing the project at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment."
Certain phrases such as "the fact that" are usually unnecessary. Notice how the revised
version focuses on active verbs rather than forms of "to be" and adverbs and adjectives.
Big Words
Using longer, fancier words does not make you sound more intelligent, since anyone can
consult a thesaurus. Simpler language is almost always preferable, as it demonstrates your
ability to think and express yourself clearly.
Before: "Although I did a plethora of activities in college, my assiduous efforts enabled me to
After: "Although I juggled many activities in college, I succeeded through persistent work."
Writing an effective personal statement requires a bit of soul searching and reflection. The
schools want to gain from your essay some insight into your character and personality. It's
difficult for most people to write about themselves, especially something personal or
introspective. If thoughtfully observed and answered, the following suggestions and questions
will yield material from which you can draw upon in writing your essay. Although the questions
are presented in categories, your responses will inevitably straddle the various groupings. This
is as it should be, since brainstorming is a very lateral process. Most important while
completing these questions is that you be sincere and enjoy yourself.
1. Perform a Self-Inventory of Your Unique Experiences, Major Influences, and Abilities
Long- and Short-Term Goals
i. What attracts you to this particular school?
ii. Are there any specific faculty members at this academic institution whose work interests you?
With whom would you most like to study?
iii. What specifically do you hope to gain from the academic program to which you are
iv. What are your career aspirations, and how can this academic program help you to reach
v. What is your dream job? What would you ideally like to be doing in 5 years? 10? 20?
Skills and Characteristics
vi. What personal characteristics (integrity, compassion, persistence, for example) do you
possess that would enhance your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a
way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics? This is an area where it
is far better to "show" the reader how you embody these qualities, rather than simply "tell" him
or her that you possess them. You need to make strong connections between your
experiences and the qualities you wish to convey. The ideal is to recount personal
experiences in such a way that your "compassion" or "persistence" or whatever else is fully
evident without your having to mention those qualities by name. Here is a list of the qualities
that admissions committees find most desirable in applicants:
• Seriousness of Purpose (to pursue graduate education)
• Intellectual Ability (to handle graduate study)
• Intellectual Curiosity (about the field you wish to enter)
• Creativity (as reflected in the way your mind addresses issues in the field of your
• Open-Mindedness (to ideas, people, and circumstances different from your own)
• Maturity (as demonstrated by being responsible and trustworthy)
• Concern for Others (either by devoting time to social service activities such as
tutoring or by being considerate and empathetic to others' feelings; the latter is more
difficult to pull off in an application essay)
• Initiative (as in the ability to start a project or take on a responsibility on your own)
• Enthusiasm (as demonstrated by your eagerness to engage in activities)
• Confidence (in your ability to handle difficult situations and novel challenges)
• Being Organized (as in the ability to stay on top of multiple tasks)
• Sense of Humor (as in your ability to find humor in difficult situations; in many ways
this is an index of maturity)
• Diligence/Persistence (as demonstrated by your ability to stay with a task until you
complete it; this is particularly relevant for programs requiring a dissertation)
• Leadership (as shown in your ability to inspire others to work together to reach a
mutual goal)
• Risk Taking (as shown in your ability to deal with uncertainty in order to reach your
• Insight (as reflected in your ability to use introspection to understand aspects of
yourself, such as your preferences and your motivations)
• Optimism (as reflected in your ability to find positive aspects in seemingly negative
• Compromise (as in your ability to be flexible in negotiating with others; at a more
abstract level this can mean the ability to reconcile ideological opposites or dialectical
pairs among others or within yourself)
• Overcoming Adversity (as demonstrated by your resourcefulness in dealing with
serious problems such as divorce, death, illness, etc.)
vii. What skills (leadership, communicative, analytical, for example) do you possess?
As in the previous question, strive to "show" rather than "tell." However, you can
invoke these qualities by name with less chance of appearing insincere or conceited
than if you attribute to yourself more personal, subjective qualities such as
compassion and integrity.
viii. Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school--and more successful
and effective in the profession or field--than other applicants?
ix. What do you have to offer the school-to your fellow students, to the faculty, to the
broader community?
x. Why do you think you will succeed in this academic program?
xi. What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee
to be interested in you?
xii. Why do you think you will be successful in your chosen career?
Background/Accomplishments: Personal
xiii. What's special, unique, distinctive, or impressive about you or your life story? What details
of your life (personal or family problems/history, any genuinely notable accomplishments,
people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee
better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
xiv. Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (e.g., economic, familial,
physical) in your life?
xv. Have you borne significant care-giving responsibilities for family members? For an ailing
parent, a sibling, a disabled or aging relative, a child? How has this impacted your academics?
Your professional life? Your goals and values?
xvi. (If you live in U.S. but are not a native-born American) How did you deal with the
challenges of moving to the U.S. from your home? Did you experience culture shock? How did
you adapt? What was most difficult for you? What aspects of your new home did you enjoy the
xvii. If work experiences have consumed significant periods of time during your college years,
what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has the work
contributed to your personal growth?
Background/Accomplishments: Academic
xviii. When did you originally become interested in this field? What have you since learned
about it-and about yourself-that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your
conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
xix. How have you learned about this field-through classes, readings, seminars, work or other
experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
xx. Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain?
Click here for more on this topic.
xxi. Can you recall a specific incident that convinced you that you had chosen the right career
2. Consult Friends, Relatives, Colleagues, or Professors for Ideas
Others see us differently from the way we see ourselves. You may be overlooking some theme,
angle, or aspect of your personality that might be obvious to others who know you well. Good
ideas are good ideas, whatever their source. Here is a questionnaire that will give these
people a structured format in which to help you come up with ideas:
Preparatory Questionnaire
I am applying to _________ and must prepare a personal statement as a part of that process. I
want to be sure to include all relevant data about myself and my background, so I am soliciting
information from various individuals who know me and whose judgment I value. Thank you for
your help.
1. What do you think is most important for the admissions committee to know about me?
2. What do you regard as most unusual, distinctive, unique, and/or impressive about me
(based on our association)?
3. Are you aware of any events or experiences in my background that might be of particular
interest to those considering my application to graduate school?
4. Are there any special qualities or skills that I possess that tend to make you think I would be
successful in graduate school and in the field to which I aspire to become a part?
3. Write An Experimental Creative Essay In Which You Are the Main Character
Pretend that you are enrolled in a creative writing class and that your assignment is to write a
moving and inspiring short story (a couple of pages) about some experience in your life and its
impact on you. Pretend you will be reading the story aloud during class and that your goal is to
have your classmates approach you afterwards with the following sorts of reactions: "I feel as if
I know you, even though I've never talked to you before," or "I was really moved; thanks for
taking a risk and giving us a glimpse into what makes you tick." Although you will not be
submitting your personal statement in the form of a short story, this exercise will help you to
achieve a level of sincerity, even vulnerability, in your writing that might prove elusive if you
plunge directly into a first draft of your application essay.
You should devote substantial time, at least 4-5 hours, to the questions and exercises above
before proceeding to Topic Selection.
Topic Selection
After brainstorming, you should have a lengthy list of potential topics to cover. Some essays
that answer specific questions will require only one topic, but for most general personal
statements, you will want to discuss two to four subjects. Occasionally, you can discuss a
single experience at length if you're confident that the material touches on the entire range of
themes you need to convey. If you try to tackle more than four subjects, you are probably
treating each one in insufficient depth.
Use the following guide to help narrow down your topics.
Finding the Pattern That Connects
Selecting the topic of your personal statement can be a process akin to reverse engineering:
You begin with conclusions and work your way back to a premise and overarching theme.
What you are seeking at this point is a pattern that connects the very best of the material
generated through brainstorming directly to your chosen field. All those piquant ideas and
vividly rendered anecdotes you include in your essay should be entertaining to read but at the
same time must make a coherent and compelling case for your admission.
Conveying Something Meaningful
Does your topic convey something meaningful about your personality? Will the reader walk
away with an enriched understanding of who you are? If you can't answer "yes" to these
questions, then you have probably chosen a topic that's too generic. Search harder to find a
subject for which you can take a more personal, original approach.
Painting a Complete Portrait
You can't write a comprehensive essay that discusses everything you've ever done, but you
can aim to offer an argument that details the full range of what you have to offer. If you choose
only one topic, that topic should be broad enough in scope to allow you to discuss layers of
your skills and characteristics. If you choose multiple topics, they should not be redundant, but
build on and supplement each other.
Standing Out
Is your topic unique? It's hard to have something entirely new to say, but you should at least
have a fresh take on your topic. If you recognize a lack of originality in your ideas, try to be
more specific and personal. The more specific you get, the less likely that you will blend in with
the essays of your competition.
Keeping Your Reader's Interest
Will your topic be able to sustain your reader's interest for the entire length of the essay? It's
true that good writing can make any topic fascinating to read about, but there's no need to start
yourself off with a handicap. Choose a topic that will naturally be of interest to any reader. For
this criterion, it's necessary to step back and view your topic objectively, or else consult the
opinion of others. If someone described the basic idea to you, would you care enough to ask
for more details?
Staying Grounded in Detail
You should make sure ahead of time that your topic is fundamentally based on concrete
evidence. If you're choosing specific experiences or events, then the relevant details should be
clearly available. If your topic is more abstract, then you must be prepared to back up any
claims with concrete examples and illustrative details.
Answering the Question
Applicants often overlook the very basic necessity of actually answering the question posed.
They think they can get away with a loosely adapted essay from another application, or they
simply don't take the time to review the question carefully. Make sure the topic you choose
gives you room to address all parts of the question fully. Your readers could perceive an
irrelevant response as an indication of your carelessness or lack of interest in their school.
What to Avoid
After you've determined that your topic meets the above criteria, you should check that it also
avoids the following pitfalls:
1. Resorting to gimmicks: While creativity is encouraged, there must be substance to make
your tactics worthwhile. Don't expect mere novelty to win you any points, and realize that you
risk coming across as frivolous. Also, there's a good chance that any gimmicks you come up
with-writing a poem, writing in the third person-have been done already.
2. Focusing on the negative: There is a separate section of this course dealing with how to
address negative aspects of your application. As far as your topic is concerned, the main idea
should be focused on your positive attributes. This does not mean, of course, that you
shouldn't mention past weaknesses that you have learned to overcome, as the emphasis there
is still on the strength you demonstrated.
3. Repeating information that's listed elsewhere in the application: We have already
mentioned this point, but it's worth making abundantly clear. Your topic should not merely be a
list of activities or synthesis of your resume. Rather, it should offer the kind of insight that only
you can provide in a personal manner.
4. Being too controversial: If you get a sympathetic reader, a controversial topic might help
you to stand out, but you risk offending others and severely hurting your chances. You would
do better to search for a topic that makes you unique without resorting to cheap shots or
obvious cries for attention.
5. Seeking pity: You can describe misfortunes or a disadvantaged background, but do not
use them as an excuse for bad performances or to seek pity. Doing so not only could sound
manipulative, but also means that you haven't emphasized your strengths sufficiently. Thus,
as in the case of weaknesses, you should bring up obstacles in your past only to show how
you have overcome them.

Lesson Two: Graduate Statement Themes
The best way to approach your personal statement is to imagine that you have five minutes
with someone from the admissions committee. How would you go about making the best case
for yourself while holding the listener's interest? What would you include and omit in your story?
Figuring out the answer to these questions is critical to successfully preparing an effective
To arrive at these answers, you should begin by asking yourself some more specific questions:
• Why have I chosen to attend graduate school in this specific field, and why did I
choose to apply to this particular school's program?
• What are my qualifications for admission?
• What is special, unique, or impressive about my life story?
The answers will not necessarily come easily to you, but this exercise will have great practical
benefit in readying you to write an outstanding personal statement. By answering each
question thoroughly, you will have given much thought to yourself, your experiences, and your
goals, thereby laying the groundwork for formulating an interesting and persuasive
presentation of your own personal story.
Select One:
• Why Graduate School?
• Why Qualified?
• Why Unique?
• Explain Blemishes
EssayEdge Extra: The Future Over the Past
"First, they should tell me where they're coming from--what it is
in their background that leads them to apply to a program like
ours. Second, they should tell me what it is they want to get out
of our program. Third, I want to know where they hope our
program will eventually take them in their career."
- The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs, Princeton University
"Usually a straight autobiography should be avoided, although
interesting and pertinent autobiographical facts should be
included. But the statement should be more future-oriented
than past-oriented. I don't really want the story of a student's
life (although there are exceptions) but rather plans for and a
vision of the future."
- Graduate English Department, UCLA
"Mistakes? Dwelling on past accomplishments as opposed to
describing future interests. The recitation of past
accomplishments, prizes won and scores gotten--all that kind
of stuff--is helpful but at the stage when we're reading the
statement, we know all the applicants are highly qualified; that
is almost beside the point. What we're looking for at that stage
is, again, some insight into how the student thinks, what sort of
clarity of purpose he has into one or more research areas."
- Graduate Admissions Committee, Applied Mechanics,
Civil Engineering & Mechanical Engineering, California
Institute of Technology
Whereas some professional programs, particularly law
schools, give applicants more freedom to discuss any past
experiences that may help them to stand out, graduate schools
are chiefly interested in your past only as it relates to your
future. That said, if there are aspects of your background that
would make you stand out, you should still try to incorporate
them into your discussion. Just be prepared to put in a little
more thought and analysis.
Why Graduate School?
Because people do not make career decisions based purely on reason, it can be difficult to
explain why you have chosen a particular field of study. What follows are some categories into
which your ideas may fall, but your focus should be on your unique, personal details. Also,
keep in mind that you are not limited to any one of the following, but should develop multiple
reasons as you see fit--so long as your points are focused and coherent.
Early Exposure to Your Field
Graduate school is a serious commitment, and it may have been your goal for a long time.
Describing your early exposure to a field can offer effective insight into your core objectives.
Watch out, however, for these two potential problems:
1. Avoid offering your point in such a clichéd, prepackaged way as to make your reader
cringe. For example, you should not start your essay, "I have always wanted to…." or
"I have always known that [X field] was my calling." Instead, you should discuss
specific events that led to your interest in the field.
2. Do not rely solely on your initial reason and forget to justify your choice with more
recent experiences. Think about what you have learned about your chosen field--and
yourself--that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that
you are well suited to that course of study.
This applicant traces his interest in photojournalism to his collection of baseball cards and
sports pictures at a young age. The youthful sense of curiosity and passion he conveys is
sincere and draws the reader in to his individual mindset. The writer goes on to describe the
evolution of his hobby, which becomes a vocation after he earns some publishing credits and
enrolls in a BFA program.
Sample Essay
A tale from your childhood can pique the reader's interest along with underscoring the
earnestness of your intended academic pursuits, as this essay illustrates.
My interest in photojournalism began when I was nine years old. After a couple of years of
collecting baseball picture-cards and accumulating more than ten-thousand treasured images,
my interest in acquiring posed mug shots and static faces decreased, so I liquidated my assets
and discovered a new hobby: reading the sports sections of my father's newspapers. I became
captivated by the genuine, timely and action-packed pictures of the 1964 Phillies appearing
regularly in the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer. A short time later, I began a nightly ritual
of clipping and collecting the grainy black-and-white photos accompanying detailed
descriptions of our home team's performances.
In 1979, I resumed the practice of clipping tear-sheets, when my byline started appearing
under photos and short concert reviews published in several South Philadelphia community
newspapers. After some success selling articles and pictures to local, small circulation
publications, I enrolled in college, determined to pursue a career in photojournalism, and
became the only member of my family to graduate from an academic institution of higher
education when I received a BFA in documentary photography. Although I am extremely
satisfied with my current employment as a photographer for a world-renowned eye hospital
and will continue to write articles and to photograph events on a free-lance basis, I would also
eventually like to teach. With my previous experience in photojournalism, travel, politics,
medicine, sports and entertainment, and as the overseer of our department's medical
photography internship program, I feel that I will make a significant contribution to the learning
Graduate school is, of course, a means to an end, and admissions committees prefer students
who know where they're going and to what use they'll put their education (though the
occasional soul-searcher, who may exhibit exceptional raw potential, is welcomed). For many
people, the long-term goal is to work in academia, and to differentiate yourself in such cases,
you can stress more specific objectives such as your research interests (see the following
Other degrees can lead to work outside the academic setting. This applicant describes his
reasons for pursuing a degree in public policy: "Providing health care to 44 million uninsured
Americans, while keeping insurance affordable, is one of the most difficult challenges facing
policymakers. I want to work in state or local government to resolve this health care crisis and
ensure that the disadvantaged get the care they need and deserve." Rather than offering a
clichéd sentiment about wanting to "help people" or "change society," he identifies a specific
issue and explains the origin and evolution of his interest.
Sample Essay
"To be nobody but yourself--in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you
everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never
stop fighting." When I first read this passage by E.E. Cummings, I realized I have been fighting
the same battle my whole life. When choosing the direction for my future, I have often
accepted jobs based on a compromise between my own dreams and what others thought my
dreams should be. This, of course, has led to an unfulfilling career.
Looking back, I always knew that I wanted to work in public service; but I also knew my
staunchly conservative father would not be pleased. To him, the government is too big, too
intrusive and too wasteful. I see things differently. And yet, his approval means a lot to me and
his opinion has certainly influenced my the direction of my career. But I have finally come to
understand that I must pursue my own path. After careful deliberation, I am confident that
public service is, without a doubt, the right career for me.
Ever since my childhood I have detected in myself a certain compassion and innate desire to
help others. I was the kid that dragged in every stray cat or dog I came across--and I still do.
When I was eight years old, I rescued a rat from my sister's psychology lab and brought her
home. I even coaxed my father into taking Alice--I called her Alice--to the vet when she
became ill. But aside from my humanitarian kindness to animals, as a child I learned first-hand
about America's need to reform and improve medical care. I spent years of my childhood on
crutches and in hospitals because of a tumor that hindered the growth of my leg. Without
adequate health insurance and proper care, I might still be on crutches, but I was fortunate.
Today, as a public servant, I still desire to help others who are not so fortunate. Providing
health care to 44 million uninsured Americans, while keeping insurance affordable, is one of
the most difficult challenges facing policymakers. I want to work in state or local government to
resolve this health care crisis and ensure that the disadvantaged get the care they need and
In order to succeed in my endeavors toward public service, I now realize that a master's
degree in public policy is essential. But when I graduated from college in 1990, I didn't know
how to continue my education, only that I should. For a while, I considered such options as law
school or international relations, but I always returned to my desire to impact public life. My
career in public policy began as a legislative assistant at the American Legislative Exchange
Council (ALEC), a non-profit educational organization that couples voices from the state
legislature and the private sector to work on salient policy issues. My enthusiasm for ALEC's
mission was evident, as I quickly moved up from legislative assistant to the director of two task
forces. As manager of ALEC's task force on federalism and its tax and fiscal policy task force, I
explored these issues thoroughly, never quite satiating my appetite for more information and
knowledge. I found my integral role in the legislative process to be the most valuable and
worthwhile experience I've had in my career to date.
Following ALEC, I took a position as a junior lobbyist for the Automotive Parts and Accessories
Association (APAA). As a lobbyist, I voiced the APAA's concern over regulatory and
environmental issues affecting the automotive aftermarket. Although I was able to help small
automotive parts manufacturers battle the "Big Three" automakers, I quickly realized that
being an advocate for the automotive aftermarket was not my calling in life. I wanted to
promote policies which had the potential to improve life for the greater public, for I could not
see myself spending a lifetime working within an isolated industry.
With that frame of mind, I accepted employment as a policy analyst in the National Federation
of Independent Business (NFIB) research department in Washington, D.C. Helping small
business owners is a cause close to my heart. For nearly 30 years, my family has owned a
barbecue restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area. I've worked in the business at several
different times, since the age of 14. Because of my involvement in my family's business, I
understand the unique problems facing small business owners. At the NFIB, I valued my
contributions because I know small businesses have a huge economic impact on our country
and they are unquestionably an important constituency. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable
working for a special interest group--even for one I deeply cared about.
From my experiences at the APAA and the NFIB, I have learned how I want to shape my future.
My goals are now clear: I want to develop and advocate policy decisions that will benefit
society as a whole, not just a few influential special interest groups. I want to uncover the
objective truth of issues and tackle them in the best interests of the nation, not distort the facts
for the benefit of a small group. I know I am able to look beyond partisan politics to solve
problems for this country. Because of these unbending desires to reveal truth and to remain
committed to fair and equal advancement for all citizens, I think of myself as an ideal candidate
for public service.
Additionally, I consider my active interest in politics to aid my pursuit of a career in public policy.
I've always found my interest in politics exceptional, ever since my college roommates used to
tease me for faithfully watching C-SPAN. However, my faith in the political process began to
wane as I witnessed sensible public policy proposals torn apart by partisan conflict. I saw
advocacy groups distort facts, and provide extreme, over-blown examples, jeopardizing
prudent policy decisions. I observed how powerful elected officials, ensnared in their own
partisan rancor, would block fair and balanced legislation which offered the most practical
solution for their constituents. But I also encountered many thoughtful and wise people who
devote their lives to public service. These devoted individuals inspired me. Like them, I want to
be actively involved in the design and delivery of essential government services that improve
the lives of the citizens in our society today. I am positive that by avoiding partisanship and
urging the private industry, the public sector and non-profit groups to collaborate, many difficult
problems can be resolved.
In order to be an effective public servant, I recognize the indispensability of an advanced
degree. I've gained a lot of "real world" experience, but I need more training in the
fundamentals of economics and statistics, as well as direction in sharpening my analytical and
quantitative skills. I also want to devote time to studying the ethical dimensions of policy
decisions. In graduate school, I'll have the opportunity to truly understand and appreciate the
competing interests surrounding so many complex issues like health care reform,
environmental protection and economic policy.
I've chosen Duke's public policy program for several reasons. Duke's program stands out
because there is an emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills, which are so critical to
policy analysis. As I mentioned, I feel that if I can strengthen my ability to approach problems
logically and systematically, I will have succeeded in sharpening skills I consider necessary to
succeed in the public realm. And possibly even more importantly, Duke's program bridges the
gap between abstract principles and reality. This interdisciplinary approach is essential for
responding to today's policy problems. I am excited by the possibility of combining the MPP
program with the Health Policy Certificate Program. I am particularly interested in studying the
problem of reforming state health to reduce the number of uninsured, and I believe Duke's
curriculum will offer me a chance to do just that. From my own research into Duke, I feel
confident in my knowledge of the public policy program and its potential to teach me. And after
meeting with Helen Ladd, the Director of Graduate Studies, I'm even more convinced that
Duke's program is right for me.
On the road "to be nobody but" myself, I've encountered twists and turns, and some detours--it
is unquestionably the hardest battle I could fight. However, in the process, I've accumulated a
tremendous amount of valuable experience and knowledge. My diversity of experience is my
biggest asset. Because I can relate a Duke education to concrete examples from my own past,
it is the perfect time for me to join the public policy program. I know that my past can be used
to prepare myself for the promises of the future. At Duke, I hope to synthesize the two and truly
learn what it means to become myself.
Research Interests
Read the instructions carefully: Sometimes schools will ask for a statement of purpose
describing your specific research interests in lieu of, or in addition to, a personal statement that
emphasizes your character and qualities. For these types of essays, you can assume that a
faculty member will be reading your statement, but it should still be accessible enough for a
non-specialist to understand. Remember that such essays should also still aim to engage the
reader, in a way that conveys your own enthusiasm for the subject matter.
This applicant demonstrates the depth of her knowledge about her subject. To engage the
reader, she identifies specific problems that she hopes to investigate: "My junior year and
private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the
question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I
attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special
attention to its folk elements." The essay is not scholarly, but it offers a glimpse of her
intellectual character and proves the maturity of her goals.
Sample Essay
Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to
concentrate on English and American literature.
I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon
poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some
combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized
in nineteenth-century novels by and about women. The relationship between ''high'' and folk
literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of
classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further
on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for
In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship
between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language
and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore,
folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my
studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.
Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just
begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a
working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that
draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to
celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry both
draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place
in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in
the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.
In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or
publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your
teaching assistantship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am
eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance
my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with
language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional
stepping-stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my
studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.
Addressing the School
While professional schools tend to have similar curricula, the differences between graduate
programs abound. The highest ranked institution in your basic subject might not be strong in
the particular areas that you want to pursue. Moreover, graduate school involves more direct
faculty relationships, so you want to evaluate your potential mentors carefully.
You should do this research for your own sake, of course, but discussing your discoveries in
your personal statement can help convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit.
Avoid mistakes like discussing the school's rank or prestige, or simply offering generic praise.
Instead, mention faculty members by name and indicate some knowledge of their work.
Discuss your interest in becoming involved in a particular student organization or activity.
Consider contacting faculty members first and discussing their current research projects and
your interest in studying under them. Then refer to these contacts in your essay. You may also
want to discuss your interest in becoming involved in a particular student organization or
This applicant demonstrates a carefully considered interest in the school's program in
paragraphs 7 and 8. She explains, for example, that this particular university's
cross-disciplinary focus holds a specific appeal for her. Additionally, she reveals an in-depth
understanding of the work of one of the school's faculty members, mentioning Akhil Gupta by
name and expounding upon Dr. Gupta's influence upon her own work.
Sample Essay
My freshman year at Harvard, I was sitting in a Postcolonial African Literature class when
Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o (the influential Kenyan author) succeeded in attracting me to the
study of African literature through nothing more than a single sentence. He argued that, when
a civilization adopts reading and writing as the chief form of social communication, it frees itself
to forget its own values, because those values no longer have to be part of a lived reality in
order to have significance. I was immediately fascinated by the idea that the written word can
alter individual lives, affect one's identity, and perhaps even shape national identity.
Professor Ngugi's proposal forced me to think in a radically new way: I was finally confronted
with the notion of literature not as an agent of vital change, but as a potential instrument of
stasis and social stagnancy. I began to question the basic assumptions with which I had, until
then, approached the field. How does "literature" function away from the written page, in the
lives of individuals and societies? What is the significance of the written word in a society
where the construction of history is not necessarily recorded or even linear?
I soon discovered that the general scope of comparative literature fell short of my expectations
because it didn't allow students to question the inherent integrity or subjectivity of their
discourse. We were being told to approach Asian, African, European, and American texts with
the same analytical tools, ignoring the fact that, within each culture, literature may function in a
different capacity, and with a completely different sense of urgency. Seeking out ways in which
literature tangibly impacted societies, I began to explore other fields, including history,
philosophy, anthropology, language, and performance studies.
The interdisciplinary nature of my work is best illustrated by my senior thesis ("Time Out of
Joint: Issues of Temporality in the Songs of Okot p'Bitek"). In addition to my literary
interpretations, the thesis drew heavily on both the Ugandan author's own cultural treatises
and other anthropological, psychological, and philosophical texts. By using tools from other
disciplines, I was able to interpret the literary works while developing insight into the Ugandan
society and popular psychology that gave birth to the horrific Idi Amin regime. In addition, I was
able to further understand how people interacted with the works and incorporated (or failed to
incorporate) them into their individual, social, and political realities.
On a more practical level, writing the thesis also confirmed my suspicion that I would like to
pursue an academic career. When I finished my undergraduate career, I felt that a couple of
years of professional work would give me a better perspective of graduate school. I decided to
secure a position which would grant me experiences far removed from the academic world, yet
which would also permit me to continue developing the research and writing skills I needed to
tackle the challenges of graduate school. I have fulfilled this goal by working as a content
developer at a Silicon Alley web start-up for two years. The experience has been both
enjoyable and invaluable -- to the point where colleagues glance at me with a puzzled look
when I tell them I am leaving the job to return to school. In fact, my willingness to leave such a
dynamic, high-paying job to pursue my passion for literature only reflects my keen
determination to continue along the academic path.
Through a Masters program, I plan to further explore the issues I confronted during my
undergraduate years by integrating the study of social, cultural, and linguistic anthropology into
the realm of literature. I believe that, by adopting tools used in such disciplines, methods of
inquiry can be formulated that allow for the interpretation of works that are both technically
sound and sociologically insightful. Thus far, my studies have concentrated largely on African
and Caribbean literatures, and I am particularly interested in studying these geographic areas
in more specific historical and cultural contexts. I also seek to increase my knowledge of
African languages, which will allow me to study the lingering cultural impact of colonialism in
modern-day African literature. Eventually, I would like to secure an academic post in a
Comparative Literature department, devoting myself to both research and teaching at the
college level.
I believe the Modern Thought and Literature program at NAME is uniquely equipped to guide
me toward these objectives. While searching for a graduate school that would accommodate
my interdisciplinary approach, I was thrilled to find a program that approaches world literature
with a cross-disciplinary focus, recognizing that the written word has the potential to be an
entry point for social and cultural inquiry.
The level of scholarly research produced by the department also attracts me. Akhil Gupta's
"Culture, Power, Place", for instance, was one of my first and most influential experiences with
the field of cultural anthropology. Professor Gupta's analysis of the local, national, and foreign
realms, achieved through a discussion of post-colonial displacement and mixed identifications,
has led me to believe that -- given the complexity of modern societies -- comparative
literature's focus on borders (national and linguistic) has been excessively arbitrary. Even
more significant is the accurate rendering of individually-lived realities that may then be
synthesized with other experiences. I believe that I could greatly benefit from Professor
Gupta's teaching and guidance in applying these ideas to the literary arena, and I believe that
his work is representative of the rigorous yet creative approach I would pursue upon joining the
Similarly, this applicant, after describing how her laboratory experience has led to a
heightened interest in neurological diseases and their underlying causes, demonstrates in
detail how Mt. Sinai's Ph.D. program is an excellent fit for her. She is clearly familiar with Mt.
Sinai's faculty, which includes many experts in her field of interest, several of whom she
mentions by name. Note, however, that mentioning several professors is not as effective as
describing one in further depth. The previous applicant left no doubt that she knew Dr. Gupta's
work well, while it's not clear that this applicant did anything more than superficially research
the areas of specialization of four professors.
Sample Essay
My long-term goal is to dedicate myself to the research field of neuroscience. In order to
achieve this goal, I hope to acquire my Ph.D. at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine starting in the fall
of 2000.
In 1992, I obtained my MA degree in Molecular Microbiology from Indiana University,
Bloomington. At I.U., I received intensive training by Dr. Roger Innes in experimental design,
logical thinking, and molecular genetics techniques. After I graduated from I.U., I became a lab
supervisor in the clinical cytogenetic laboratory at Tzu Chi College of Medicine, Taiwan. The
lab is part of TCCM's newly established genetic research team directed by Dr. Ming-Liang Lee.
My responsibilities at the lab included training lab technicians, improving testing accuracy by
consistently improving technical skills and knowledge, and managing the lab's day-to-day
operations. At TCCM, I also taught several fundamental biology courses, including general
biology, cell biology, and medical genetics laboratory.
After five years of working, I decided to pursue more advanced research training in the latest
techniques of microbiology. Since the fall of 1998, I have been taking several Ph.D.-level
courses at New York University. I have performed very well in my studies there, which have
been supported by a fellowship from Taiwan's National Science Council. My courses at NYU
are Biochemistry I and II, Molecular Principles of Evolution, Cell Biology, Molecular Controls of
Organism Form and Function, Neuroimmunology Journal Club, and Physiology Basis of
Behavior. I am also researching in Dr. Joseph LeDoux's lab for credit. At this lab, I have been
using immunohistochemistry to detect the activation of track receptors in rat brains after fear
conditioning. One of the tracks, trkB, responds to BDNF, which is related to synaptogenesis
and LTP induction in the processes of learning and memory. My results have shown that the
phosphorylation peak of trk appears in the hippocampal CA1 area 24 hours after fear
conditioning. Further blocking experiments using trk antagonist need to be performed in order
to confirm this result.
My laboratory experience has triggered my strong interest in studying cellular and molecular
mechanisms underlying neurological diseases. The majority of patients with these diseases
have chromosomal and genetic abnormalities. Most genetic diseases lead to neurological
symptoms, and several neurological diseases are associated with strong genetic
predispositions. The genetic defects associated with Alzheimer's Disease, alcoholism,
Fragile-X Syndrome, Neurofibrmatosis, and Parkinson's Disease have already been mapped.
However, the links between genes, gene products, neuronal circuits, brain functions, and
diseases are still unclear. I am eager to help uncover these links.
I think that Mt. Sinai's Ph.D. program perfectly suits my interests. The faculty includes experts
in several divisions of neuroscience. There is an especially large group studying neurological
diseases. The group uses various approaches, animal models, and behavioral paradigms to
search for the causes of diseases on the molecular, cellular, physiological, and system levels. I
am particularly interested in working in Dr. John Morrison's lab, which studies cortical
organizations, glutamate receptors, and neurodegenerative disorders; Dr. Patrick Hof's lab,
which uses comparative neuroanatomy to study aging; Dr. Giulio Pasinetti's lab, which studies
cyclooxygenase and inflammation in Alzheimer's Disease; and Dr. Charles Mobbs's lab, which
uses molecular, histological, behavioral, and electrophysiological methods to study basic
mechanisms underlying metabolic diseases and aging.
Mt. Sinai School of Medicine also attracts me because of its location in an extremely nice area
of Manhattan. In addition, the strong collaboration between its neuroscience program and its
other departments, its affiliated hospital, and many other outstanding New York laboratories
will enable me to receive much technical and academic support.
In order to sponsor my Ph.D. education, I have obtained a competitive Ph.D. fellowship from
the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation, the largest nonprofit organization in
Taiwan. The foundation is dedicated to helping needy all over the world, regardless of age, sex,
race, and religion. Over the past decades, it has provided worldwide relief and assistance. Its
missions focus on charity, medical care, education, and international relief. The founder,
Master Chang Yang, was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The foundation will
support my Ph.D. education for at least four years.
After completing my Ph.D. education, I plan to continue my research and teaching in
neuroscience. Thus far, most of the detailed work in studying neurological disease has of
necessity been performed in experimental animal systems. However, the progress of human
genome mapping might eventually make it possible to test whether the disease mechanisms
discovered in animals function in comparable ways in humans. Consequently, in the future, I
hope to apply my knowledge of the genes and proteins involved in neurological diseases to
develop pharmacological treatment or genetic therapies. I am confident that one day we will
have effective drugs to prevent memory loss or aging. We may even be able to cure currently
intractable neurological diseases through gene therapies, either in utero or in live humans.
I am confident that Mount Sinai School of Medicine's graduate program will enable me to
successfully meet my goals. I also believe that if I am accepted to your Ph.D. program, I will
contribute greatly to Mount Sinai's learning environment.
Why Qualified?
Your academic performance will play the most significant role in exhibiting to the admissions
committee your qualification for admission. However, the personal statement gives you the
opportunity to analyze your background and offer the insight and interpretation that you want
your readers to take away from your application.
The best way to prove your qualification is to discuss concrete experiences that show your
abilities and qualities. Details about the process are paramount. What we mean by the
"process" is the path to achievement. The rest of the application has already summarized your
accomplishments and activities. Show the reader what you did in concrete terms, and most
importantly, highlight your active roles.
The experiences that demonstrate your qualification are not necessarily distinct from those
that explain your motivation. You shouldn't plan on dividing the essay into two separate
sections for each, but rather organize the structure by topic and extrapolate insights as they
develop. We will cover structure in greater depth in its own section, but it is important that you
begin thinking in terms of an integrated essay.
Research Experience
The best way to demonstrate your qualification for graduate school is to focus on research
experience, since research will be your main job for the duration of your studies. Be specific
about what you did. If you worked for a year under a professor, you might consider
emphasizing one particular project and exploring that in depth. The experience does not have
to have been a major undertaking: Any practical experience can be used as long as you
demonstrate your enthusiasm and aptitude for the field of study.
Remember to keep the discussion personal. Do not become bogged down in minute details
and jargon. Ultimately, the focus of the story should remain on you and your growth or
This applicant cites specific projects to demonstrate both the growth of his interest in
psychology research and the skills he has honed in the process. Note, in the third paragraph,
that he does not jump to the end result of presenting his paper at a conference. Rather, he
shows the work he did--the active role he played--to make that accomplishment possible.
Moreover, he concludes this paragraph not with a final word about his research, but with an
explanation of what he has gained: "Again, I was involved in all aspects of the experiment,
from typing the protocol and administering it to the subjects, to analyzing the data and finally
presenting my results."
Sample Essay
Ever since my first psychology lecture, I have been fascinated by the nature of human memory.
Indeed, human memory is one of the most tenacious and enigmatic problems ever faced by
philosophers and psychologists. The discussion of memory dates back to the early Greeks
when Plato and Aristotle originally likened it to a "wax tablet." In 1890, pioneer William James
adopted the metaphorical framework and equated memory to a "house" to which thirty years
later Sigmund Freud chimed that memory was closer to "rooms in a house." In 1968, Atkinson
and Shrifren retained the metaphorical framework but referred to memory as "stores". The fact
that the controversy surrounding human memory has been marked more by analogy than
definition suggests, however, that memory is a far more complex phenomenon than has been
uncovered thus far. I intend to spend the rest of my professional life researching the nature of
human memory and solving the riddle posed yet cunningly dodged by generations of
philosophers and psychologists.
When I first came to psychology, however, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. Only upon
enrolling in Dr. Helga Noice's Cognitive Psychology course, did I discover the excitement of
doing research. The course required us to test our own autobiographical memory by
conducting an experiment similar to the one run in 1986 by W. Wagenaar. Over the course of
the term, I recorded events from my personal life on event cards and set them aside without
reviewing them. After studying the effect serial position on the recollection of autobiographical
memories, I hypothesized that events that, when I sat down at the end of therm to recall those
same events I had described on the event cards, that events that had occurred later in the
term would be recalled with greater frequency than events that had occurred earlier. Although
the experiment was of simple design and predictable results, I found the processes incredibly
exciting. Autobiographical memory in particular fascinated me because I realized how crucial,
yet fragile, memory is. Why was my memory of even ten weeks so imperfect? What factors
contributed to that imperfection? Could such factors be controlled?
I had ignited my passion for experimental psychology. Suddenly, I had many pressing
questions about memory that I wanted to research. Under the guidance of Dr. Noice, I
continued to study human memory. I worked closely with Dr. Noice on several research
experiments involving expert memory, specifically the memory of professional actors. Dr.
Noice would select a scene from a play and then a professional actor would score it for beats,
that is, go through the scene grouping sections of dialogue together according to the intent of
the character. Some actors use this method to learn dialogue rather than rote memorization.
After they were finished, I would type up the scene and the cued recall test. Next, I would
moderate the experimental sessions by scoring the actor's cued recall for accuracy and then
helping with the statistical analysis. My work culminated with my paper, "Teaching Students to
Remember Complex Material Through the Use of Professional Actors' Learning Strategies."
My paper accompanied a poster presentation at the Third Annual Tri-State Undergraduate
Conference. In addition, I presented a related paper entitled "Type of Learning Strategy and
Verbatim Retention of Complex Material" at the ILLOWA (Illinois-Iowa) Conference the
following year. Again, I was involved in all aspects of the experiment, from typing the protocol
and administering it to the subjects, to analyzing the data and finally presenting my results.
The opportunity to perform this research was invaluable, particularly as I began taking
independent research seminars in my senior year. For the seminars, I was required to write an
extensive review of the literature and then design a research proposal on any topic of my
choice. Although I had participated in all aspects of research previously, this was my first
opportunity to select my own topic. I was immediately certain that I wanted to explore at human
memory. But I spent a long time considering what aspect of memory I found most intriguing
and possible to tackle within the confines of the research seminar. I had always been
interested in the legal implications of memory, so I to investigate eyewitness memory.
In retrospect, my choice was also informed by my recollection about an experiment I had read
about several years earlier. In the experiment, subjects read about Helen Keller. Later they
were given a recall test. Still later they were given an additional test to determine the source of
their knowledge about Helen Keller. The authors discovered that subjects could not determine
the source of their knowledge, that is, they could not distinguish whether specific details of
their knowledge about Helen Keller came from the information provided by the experimenters
or if the details came from another source at an earlier time. Once their new knowledge about
Helen Keller had been assimilated into their previous knowledge about Helen Keller, there was
no way to separate the information according to the source it came from.
I wondered what the implications of that conclusion would be for eyewitnesses. I wondered if
an eyewitness account could be corrupted by misleading post-event information. My research
proposal was entitled "The Rate of Memory Trace Decay and its Effect on Eyewitness
Accuracy." While I was not able to complete the experiment in its entirety, I was excited by the
fact that I created a possible research protocol. Immediately, I knew I wanted to pursue the
field of experimental psychology. My success in course work and my passion for research
demonstrated to me that I had both the interest and ability to enter this challenging and
rewording field.
I have dedicated my undergraduate years to preparing myself for graduate work in
experimental psychology. Once receive my doctorate, I intend to pursue research on human
memory while teaching psychology to undergraduates at a small, liberal arts college, similar to
the one I attended. It was, after all, my undergraduate research experience that gave me the
opportunity to come to psychology with an interest in counseling people, but to leave with a
passion for investigating the nature of human thinking. Undergraduates at smaller liberal arts
colleges are often left out of research, which makes my desire to provide such experiences
that much stronger. In the years ahead, I look forward to teaching as well as continuing my
research. In the company of such greats as Aristotle, James, and Freud, I endeavor to leave
behind my own contribution on the nature of human memory.
Field Experience
If the program you're applying to is more practice-oriented, then demonstrating real-world
experience can be just as important as academic pursuits.
This applicant is applying to a computer science program, and he has a couple years of work
experience. He explains one specific achievement as follows: "As an MS student at DePaul
University, I worked as a network support technician and project manager for Information
Services. My most significant accomplishment in this capacity involved the re-wiring of over a
thousand dormitory rooms to enable the students to have Internet access with a link to the
other four campuses. In doing so, I had to investigate the existing needs of a high-speed
Internet network, as well as the transport of bandwidth to support future demands, which are
almost impossible to determine." He starts by describing the end result, which in this case is
acceptable because he poses it almost as a challenge that he faced, and then he proceeds to
explain the concrete tasks he had to perform. In this applicant's case, it's clear that citing
academic work could not prove the same level of skill that he has done by drawing on
real-world experiences.
Sample Essay
For the past two and a half years, I have been a professional in the technology field, but now I
am preparing to become a professional corporate information officer. Although my work has
introduced me to specific areas of information technology, (including telecommunications,
network wiring and databases) I have recently become intrigued with the field of information
security. I am concerned about the vulnerability of the company I work for, particularly with
regard to employee and client information. The specialty phase of your Professional program
appears to be well endowed with the resources needed to address such concerns.
While my undergraduate and MS curriculum exposed me to a wide variety of computer
science topics, I have gained extensive knowledge in the area of network infrastructure
development. As an MS student at DePaul University, I worked as a network support
technician and project manager for Information Services. My most significant accomplishment
in this capacity involved the re-wiring of over a thousand dormitory rooms to enable the
students to have Internet access with a link to the other four campuses. In doing so, I had to
investigate the existing needs of a high-speed Internet network, as well as the transport of
bandwidth to support future demands, which are almost impossible to determine.
As a result of my experiences in the dormitory project, I was well prepared for the challenges
that awaited me as the manager of Information Services at the Transportation Center at
Northwestern University. My primary task was to build a state-of-the-art network infrastructure
that would support a leading graduate research center in the transportation field. In a succinct
and convincing manner, I had to demonstrate my vision in building the foundation and
developing the budget, as well as managing the project, purchasing, installation and finally,
deployment of my plan. My success in leading this project and utilizing the newly installed
technical tools to empower the Center's goals led to the realization of similar goals and
projects in a corporate environment.
Currently, I am the manager of Information Systems at Active Screw and Fastener, where I am
responsible for the entire IT unit. Although my strengths are concentrated in the area of
Information Technology, I do not want to limit myself to building and maintaining data networks.
Through a focused program of study, my goal is to develop expertise in information security,
an area that is becoming more and more critical to all information systems managers. As my
company grows, I must also be capable of providing the necessary growth in its IT functions to
enable people to share information with confidence. It is imperative that sensitive data assets,
be it personal or corporate, will not be vulnerable to Cybercrime or compromised by
unauthorized users.
The key to becoming a successful Tech manager and future CIO is the ability to demonstrate
that a company's secret information resources are in alignment with corporate priorities. The
Chicago Professional Programs in Computer Science will give me extensive exposure to
information security, and will allow me to take a step toward securing the infrastructures that I
have already built. With its strong cadre of experienced faculty, Chicago will prepare me to
become a solid senior technical manager and partner with an enlightened vision towards the
new directions manifesting in the information security field.
Unrelated Work Experience
The skill sets needed to thrive in various fields often overlap, and some qualities are essential
everywhere. If you have a strong record in an unrelated field, you should not hesitate to
discuss this, though the more you can tie the discussion in with your current objectives, the
This applicant is applying to a graduate program in geology, but he devotes some space to his
work experience in computers: "During the past 18 months I have had firsthand experience
with computers in a wide array of business applications. This has stimulated me to think about
ways in which computers could be used for scientific research. One idea that particularly
fascinates me is mathematical modeling of natural systems, and I think those kinds of
techniques could be put to good use in geological science." This particular link is not only
relevant, but also offers a unique angle, since few geology students would think to emphasize
computers and mathematical modeling. Note, however, that the applicant could have
described his work in computers in further depth before returning to geology. You should
explore experiences on their own terms before trying to force connections.
Sample Essay
I have been planning a career in geological sciences for several years, but as an
undergraduate I concentrated on getting a solid background in math and science. After
graduation, I took a job to allow myself time to thoroughly think through my plans and to
expose myself to a variety of work situations. This strategy has been very valuable to me in
rounding out my career plans.
During the past 18 months I have had firsthand experience with computers in a wide array of
business applications. This has stimulated me to think about ways in which computers could
be used for scientific research. One idea that particularly fascinates me is mathematical
modeling of natural systems, and I think those kinds of techniques could be put to good use in
geological science. I have always enjoyed and been strong in areas that require logical,
analytical thought, and I am anxious to combine my interest in earth science with my
knowledge of, and aptitude for, computer-related work. There are several specific areas that I
have already studied that I think would lend themselves to research based on computing
techniques, including mineral phase relations in igneous petrology and several topics in
structural geology.
I have had both lecture/lab and field courses in structural geology, as well as a short module
dealing with plate tectonics, and I am very interested in the whole area. I would like to explore
structural geology and tectonics further at the graduate level. I am also interested in learning
more about geophysics. I plan to focus on all these areas in graduate school while at the same
time continuing to build up my overall knowledge of geology.
My ultimate academic goal is to earn a Ph.D., but enrolling first in a master's program will
enable me to explore my various interests and make a more informed decision about which
specific discipline I will want to study in depth.
As far as long-term plans, I hope to get a position at a university or other institution where I can
indulge my primary impulse, which is to be involved in scientific research, and also try my hand
at teaching.
The links provided by this applicant are far broader, but still effective. Though she is applying
to a Master of Library Service program, she discusses volunteer experience in a nonprofit
organization: "My work for the organization has taken a number of forms over the years, but
can be summed up as gathering information, both practical and technical, and using human
relations skills to make it accessible to others." Basic qualities such as "human relations skills"
could have a wide variety of applications, but that fact doesn't diminish their relevance to the
applicant's future in library service.
Sample Essay
Notice how this successful applicant avoids the expository-resume approach by focusing on
two or three particular experiences and evaluating them in terms of her current outlook and
educational goals. Also notice how the discussion about her children's activities, while
seemingly unnecessary to make her central point, helps to bring the essay down to a more
personal level.
My first employment in a library was in a work-study project during college. My duties included
some shelving and a lot of typing of catalog cards. I remember the sturdy metal stacks, with so
many captivating books tempting me as I tried to reshelve all that were on the carts. Mostly I
remember the typing; agonizingly laborious since I was not a skilled typist, and formatting was
so important. I came to understand much about the way the cataloguing system worked, and
was grateful in the years to come when I needed to locate things for my own studies . . . or for
my children.
For more than fifteen years now I have been working as a volunteer for La Leche League
International, a grass roots, non-profit, self-help organization supporting and promoting
breastfeeding. My work for the organization has taken a number of forms over the years, but
can be summed up as gathering information, both practical and technical, and using human
relations skills to make it accessible to others. My experience helping women access
breast-feeding information and empowering them to use that information has convinced me
that information alone is not nearly as useful as information plus a skilled guide.
One of my greatest pleasures in recent years has been writing a regular column-"Keeping
Up-to-Date"-for La Leche League's bimonthly international newsletter. Through this
experience I have seen a vivid contrast between the substantive quality of information formally
prepared-with the discipline and rigor of a traditional publishing and review schedule and with
clear authorship-and the casual unstructured nature of electronic bulletin board postings, faxes,
e-mail, and other products of newer technologies. I am practically, though peripherally, aware
of some of the problems our society faces in an era when intellectual property suddenly has so
many new forms. I am eager to be a well-informed participant in the discussion of intellectual
This week I found myself intrigued again by cataloguing when I needed to outfit my youngest
son, now twelve, with a juggler's outfit for the school play. An initial subject search for
"costumes" in the OPAC system at our township library was fruitless. Only when I thought to
enter "costume" without the plural "s" did the system yield all the information I needed. What
frustration! This confluence of technology and information, especially as it affects accessibility,
fascinates me.
The degree to which your School of Communication, Information and Library Studies openly
accepts the challenge to explore and lead in the information revolution is seductive. What a
serendipity that this school is practically in my backyard! The strengths and attributes I bring to
your school are a caring and careful nature, proven academic excellence, experience in writing
and speaking for a variety of audiences, and a practical knowledge of working with volunteers
and professionals. The durability of my enthusiasm for libraries and the people who work in
and love them convinces me that the Master of Library Service program is indeed the right way
for me to continue my formal education.
Extracurricular Activities
It is very possible to demonstrate the relevant qualities you possess for graduate school
through extracurricular activities. The approaches you take will essentially be the same as
those we discussed in the above two sections, Field Experience and Unrelated Work
Experience, depending on whether the activity is related or not. In the Library Service case
cited above, for example, the applicant was drawing on volunteer rather than work
experiences, but the purposes were the same.
Why Unique?
You cannot rely on uniqueness to outweigh a mediocre academic record, but it can often give
you an edge. Admissions officers are interested in assembling a diverse class of unique
perspectives, so you should highlight rather than downplay your differences. To an extent, all
types of diversity will help, but you should aim to focus on how unique aspects of your
background will enable you to contribute to the academic community.
The purpose of this lesson is to show you examples of how other people capitalized on their
unique qualities. When it comes to your own essay, only you can identify the optimal strategy
for making yourself stand out. One way to start is to look over your answers to the
brainstorming questions and try to find aspects of your background that separate you from
your peers. Ultimately, however, what will make the difference is your ability to assess yourself
honestly and thoughtfully.
The examples that follow are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, they represent the efforts of
particular individuals to recognize the unique elements of their background and use them to
their advantage. You should notice that these unique elements are often directly related to
their academic interests, but can still be tied effectively to the applicants' goals or integrated
with their character and background.
This applicant starts by noting the diversity of his ethnic and religious background. When
mentioning such points, you should not assume that such diversity is an end in itself. Rather,
you should show how your background and culture have shaped your perspective and given
you something unique to offer. This applicant does a good job of noting how Zoroastrianism
has given him guiding principles, but he never follows through to discuss concrete examples.
This essay would have benefited from more details to show his diversity in more tangible
Sample Essay
In responding to a question that asked the applicant to describe experiences, events, or
persons that have been important in his or her development, this applicant successfully
correlated his influences to his current outlook on life.
Perhaps the most important influence that has shaped the person I am today is my upbringing
in a traditional family-oriented Persian and Zoroastrian culture. My family has been an
important source of support in all of the decisions I have made, and Zoroastrianism's three
basic tenets-good words, good deeds, and good thoughts-have been my guiding principles in
life. Not only do I try to do things for others, but I always push myself to be the best that I can
be in all aspects of my life. I saw early the doors and opportunities that a good education can
open up; thus, I particularly tried hard to do well in school.
Another important experience that has had a large influence on me the past few years has
been college. Going from high school to college was a significant change. College required a
major overhaul of my time-management techniques as the number of things to do
mushroomed. In high school, I was in the honors program, with the same cohort of students in
all my classes. Thus, I was exposed little to people very different from myself. College, on the
other hand, is full of diversity. I have people of all backgrounds and abilities in my classes, and
I have been fortunate enough to meet quite a few of them. This experience has made me more
tolerant of differences. Furthermore, a variety of classes such as the Humanities Core Course,
in which we specifically studied differences in race, gender, and belief systems, have
liberalized my world view.
My undergraduate research has occupied a large portion of my time in college. Along with this
experience have come knowledge and skills that could never be gained in the classroom. I
have gained a better appreciation for the medical discoverers and discoveries of the past and
the years of frustration endured and satisfaction enjoyed by scientists. I have also learned to
deal better with the disappointments and frustrations that result when things do not always go
as one expects them to. My research experience was also important to me in that it broadened
my view of the medical field. Research permitted me to meet a few medical doctors who have
clinical practices and yet are able to conduct research at the university. This has made me
seriously consider combining research with a clinical practice in my own career.
From my earliest memories, I can always remember being interested in meteorology. I believe
that this interest sparked my love for the outdoors, while my interest in medicine molded my
desire for healthy living. As a result of these two influences, I try to follow an active exercise
routine taking place mostly in the outdoors. I enjoy running and mountain biking in the local
hills and mountains, along with hiking and backpacking. All of these activities have made me
concerned about the environment and my place in it.
This applicant's story is fascinating, at times harrowing, and ultimately triumphant. From
committed social activism to drug and alcohol addiction to a reengagement with the world, the
author pulls no punches in telling his unique tale. While he does not whitewash his experience
with drugs and alcohol, notice how he situates it in a larger context, showing both how it made
him oblivious to the things he really cared about (Third World injustices) and how his
reintroduction to those things helped him pull himself out of his downward spiral. In doing so,
he demonstrates both a strong social conscience and a dedication to his beliefs. Additionally,
his story makes him very hard for an admissions committee to forget. Just be careful that any
discussion of past mistakes or difficulties leads to an indubitably positive conclusion.
Sample Essay
My longtime fascination with politics and international affairs is reflected in my participation,
starting in high school, in activities such as student council, school board meetings, Vietnam
war protests, the McCarthy campaign, and the grape boycott. As each new cause came along,
I was always ready to go to Washington or the state capital to wave a sign or chant slogans.
Although I look back on these activities today with some chagrin, I realize they did help me to
develop, at an early age, a sense of concern for social and political issues and a genuine
desire to play a role.
As an undergraduate, I was more interested in social than academic development. During my
last two years, I became involved with drugs and alcohol and devoted little time to my studies,
doing only as much as was necessary to maintain a B average. After graduation my drug use
became progressively worse; without the motivation or ability to look for a career job, I worked
for a time in a factory and then, for three years, as a cab driver in New York City.
In 1980 I finally ''hit bottom'' and became willing to accept help. I joined both Alcoholics
Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and for the next several years the primary business of
my life was recovery. Although I had several ''slips'' in the beginning, I have now enjoyed
nearly seven years of complete freedom from drug and alcohol use. I mention my bout with
addiction because I think it is important in answering two issues that presumably will be of
concern to the admissions committee: my lackluster undergraduate record and the fact that I
have waited until the age of 34 to begin preparing academically for a career in public policy. It
would be an oversimplification to call addiction the cause for either of these things; rather I
would say it was the most obvious manifestation of an underlying immaturity that characterized
my post adolescent years. More importantly, the discipline of recovery has had a significant
impact on my overall emotional growth.
During the last years of my addiction I was completely oblivious to the world around me. Until
1983 I didn't even realize that there had been a revolution in Nicaragua or that one was going
on in El Salvador. Then I rejoined the Quaker Meeting, in which I had been raised as a child,
and quickly gravitated to its Peace and Social Order Committee. They were just then initiating
a project to help refugees from Central America, and I joined enthusiastically in the work. I
began reading about Central America and, later, teaching myself Spanish. I got to know
refugees who were victims of poverty and oppression, became more grateful for my own
economic and educational advantages, and developed a strong desire to give something back
by working to provide opportunities to those who have not been so lucky.
In 1986 I went to Nicaragua to pick coffee for two weeks. This trip changed my whole outlook
on both the United States and the underdeveloped world. The combination of living for two
weeks amid poverty and engaging in long political discussions with my fellow coffee pickers,
including several well-educated professionals who held views significantly to the left of mine,
profoundly shook my world view. I came back humbled, aware of how little I knew about the
world and eager to learn more. I began raiding the public library for everything I could find on
the Third World and started subscribing to a wide variety of periodicals, from scholarly journals
such as Foreign Affairs and Asian Survey to obscure newsletters such as Through Our Eyes
(published by U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua).
Over the intervening two years, my interest has gradually focused on economics. I have come
to realize that economic development (including equitable distribution of wealth) is the key to
peace and social justice, both at home and in the Third World. I didn't study economics in
college and have found it difficult to understand the economic issues that are at the heart of
many policy decisions. At the same time, though, I am fascinated by the subject. Given my
belief that basic economic needs are among the most fundamental of human rights, how can
society best go about providing for them? Although I call myself an idealist, I'm convinced that
true idealism must be pragmatic. I am not impressed, for example, by simplistic formulations
that require people to be better than they are. As a Quaker I believe that the means are
inseparable from the end; as an American I believe that democracy and freedom of expression
are essential elements of a just society, though I'm not wedded to the idea that our version of
democracy is the only legitimate one.
Although I have carved out a comfortable niche in my present job, with a responsible position
and a good salary, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the prospect of a career in
business applications programming. More and more of my time and energy is now being
absorbed by community activities. After getting my master's in public administration, I would
like to work in the area of economic development in the Third World, particularly Latin America.
The setting might be a private (possibly church-based) development agency, the UN, the OAS,
one of the multilateral development banks, or a government agency. What I need from
graduate school is the academic foundation for such a career. What I offer in return is a
perspective that comes from significant involvement in policy issues at the grass roots level,
where they originate and ultimately must be resolved.
This applicant shows that you do not need to be a true one-of-a-kind to demonstrate
uniqueness in the admissions process. In fact, what sets him apart is a rather typical job in the
computer industry. What makes his application unique, however, is that he is applying to a
geological sciences program. His interest in mathematical modeling gives him a novel area of
specialization to offer to the intellectual diversity of the program.
Sample Essay
I have been planning a career in geological sciences for several years, but as an
undergraduate I concentrated on getting a solid background in math and science. After
graduation, I took a job to allow myself time to thoroughly think through my plans and to
expose myself to a variety of work situations. This strategy has been very valuable to me in
rounding out my career plans.
During the past 18 months I have had firsthand experience with computers in a wide array of
business applications. This has stimulated me to think about ways in which computers could
be used for scientific research. One idea that particularly fascinates me is mathematical
modeling of natural systems, and I think those kinds of techniques could be put to good use in
geological science. I have always enjoyed and been strong in areas that require logical,
analytical thought, and I am anxious to combine my interest in earth science with my
knowledge of, and aptitude for, computer-related work. There are several specific areas that I
have already studied that I think would lend themselves to research based on computing
techniques, including mineral phase relations in igneous petrology and several topics in
structural geology.
I have had both lecture/lab and field courses in structural geology, as well as a short module
dealing with plate tectonics, and I am very interested in the whole area. I would like to explore
structural geology and tectonics further at the graduate level. I am also interested in learning
more about geophysics. I plan to focus on all these areas in graduate school while at the same
time continuing to build up my overall knowledge of geology.
My ultimate academic goal is to earn a Ph.D., but enrolling first in a master's program will
enable me to explore my various interests and make a more informed decision about which
specific discipline I will want to study in depth.
As far as long-term plans, I hope to get a position at a university or other institution where I can
indulge my primary impulse, which is to be involved in scientific research, and also try my hand
at teaching.
Finally, this applicant shows that a personal, revealing story can be enough to set someone
apart. By recounting a particular episode that sparked her epiphany as a writer, she gives us
an in-depth look at her unique approach to her craft. Again, this essay does not discuss exotic
experiences, but instead succeeds by painting a detailed, deeply personal portrait that no one
else could have written.
Sample Essay
This applicant recounts a particular incident that gives the reader real insight into what makes
her "tick." Notice, by the way, that the discussion of religion is handled in a way that is not likely
to offend any reader.
Two years ago, when I was a junior in college, I wrote a story entitled "It Came from Catholic
School." My friends, fellow veterans of plaid uniforms and daily masses, liked it and
encouraged me to submit it when the English department magazine made its annual call for
stories. They published the story and asked me to read from it at a reading primarily devoted to
student poetry. Well, I was pretty nervous about this. The only readings I'd done before a
crowd were Paul's letters to the Ephesians and the occasional Responsorial Psalm-and that
wasn't my writing on the line. I grew more nervous as I sat there that night, listening to poem
after poem on angst and ennui. I couldn't imagine how the students and faculty around me,
who were all listening intently with properly contorted faces, would respond to my grotesque
little girl. But I stood up and read a passage, a little shaky at first. Then I heard laughs, where
I'd hoped I would, and also in places that surprised me. After the reading, people wanted to
shake my hand. One woman thanked me for injecting a little levity into the proceedings. I felt
satisfaction in my work as never before.
At that reading, I realized I could write things that made people laugh-not just friends who felt
obligated, but complete strangers. I really liked that feeling, and it's the promise of that laughter
that motivates me to continue writing. I also realized that my work wasn't frivolous, that I could
influence a reader, that my characters seemed real. For the first time, I felt that I could do what
I really wanted to do-write.
I look forward to progressing through a series of intimate workshops en route to an MFA
degree at your school. The interdisciplinary nature of the program appeals to me. Although I
want to concentrate on Fiction, I would like to take screenwriting electives as well. I think my
humor translates well to teleplays, and I would like to explore that avenue through the comedy
writing courses your school offers. I aim to develop my natural strengths- humor, voice, and
dialogue, while experimenting with the genres.
Because I'm generally at the mercy of my characters, I can't outline a specific writing goal. I do
envision myself producing a collection of short stories featuring female protagonists. Women's
issues are implicit in my writing, and I would welcome the chance to study with [faculty name].
My stories feature a range of women-from the precocious heroine of the aforementioned story
to a "white trash" cashier, and I plan to cover a still broader scope. Mainly, I'm looking to
devote myself to the work. And I hope to make some people laugh along the way.
Explain Blemishes
Certain parts of your application may call for an explanation. Such aspects might include any
of the following:
• Undergraduate grades
• Entrance exam scores
• Deficiency in the number of letters of recommendation submitted
• Lack of work experience
• Lack of extracurricular activities
• Why you are applying again after being denied previously
• Gaps in the chronological account of your education or employment
• Disciplinary action by an institution of higher education
• Criminal record
Under what circumstances should you use your personal statement to explain a particular
deficiency, weakness, or other blemish? First of all, the application might explicitly invite you to
explain deficiencies, weaknesses, aberrations, or any other aspect of the application that
might not accurately reflect your abilities or potential and fitness for graduate study. Schools
almost without exception ask specifically about the last two items above (see Disclosing
Skeletons in Your Closet below). Although most applications do not explicitly provide room for
such explanations of the other items, the schools nevertheless permit and generally
encourage applicants to provide brief explanations. Most schools suggest that you attach an
addendum to your personal statement for this purpose while reserving the personal statement
itself for positive information about yourself. If you are in doubt about the policy and preferred
procedure of a particular school, contact the school directly.
Another point you should keep in mind is whether you have a valid reason. Staying up late the
night before the GRE is not a legitimate reason for a bad performance, while documented
sickness could be. A particularly bad semester could be explained by a death or illness in the
family. If you lack research experience, you might point out the number of hours you had to
work to make college more affordable for you and your family.
There are many more gray areas. For example, is it worth noting that you simply have a bad
history of standardized testing? Doing so tactfully (in other words, don't rail against the
arbitrariness of tests or demand the right to be considered for your grades alone) can help the
schools understand your exact situation, but it most likely won't have a substantial effect on
their perspective, since they know to take into account the imprecision of standardized tests.
What about the class for which you simply did not grasp the material, or a sub-par GPA during
your freshman year? Again, what you have to say won't constitute an extenuating
circumstance, since everyone has weaknesses and faces the same challenge of adjusting to
college. Your best approach might be to try to transform such blemishes into something
positive by pointing out particular courses in which you performed well, especially those that
were more advanced, more relevant to your intended career path, or more recent.
Finally, make sure that you do not take a contentious tone. Don't accuse your teachers of
unfair grading standards or complain about lack of extracurricular opportunities at your school.
Be clear that you're not trying to excuse yourself of responsibility, but emphasize that you
simply want the schools to have the complete picture.
This applicant clarifies one aberrant semester by explaining his decision to switch majors.
Everyone recognizes the rigors of the pre-med curriculum, so his justification seems legitimate.
Although it's not essential to include a positive statement when explaining blemishes, notice
that the following sentence helps to ensure that the reader will not conclude that the applicant
is making excuses or protesting too much: "The difficulty I faced in that advanced history
course and in maintaining my status in chemistry and ecology courses affected my grades for
the semester, but was a crucible out of which emerged a renewed love for and pursuit of the
study of history throughout the rest of my college education." Moreover, it's important that he
can point to an upward trend--"I proceeded to improve my cumulative grade point average in
each successive semester"--as evidence that this poor semester was indeed an aberration.
Sample Essay
This applicant's cumulative GPA suffered a bit due largely to one difficult semester. He wisely
addressed this issue rather than ignoring it, recounting that semester's events in a way that
would win over any school's admissions committee.
My grades during the second semester of my freshman year of college declined because of
several factors. I had been pursuing a premedical major in biology up to that time, and the
spring saw me taking my first college history course which began quickly to erode my interest
in pursuing a biology major. I had enjoyed and excelled in history during high school, but upon
entry into college decided to take a different direction in my studies. I made the decision to
change majors after several more history courses during the following semesters, as I
reconciled head and heart. That first history course-a formidable "intellectual history" oriented
seminar on the French Enlightenment-was comprised of juniors, seniors and myself, the one
lowly freshman. The difficulty I faced in that advanced history course and in maintaining my
status in severe and involved chemistry and ecology courses affected my grades for the
semester, but was a crucible out of which emerged a renewed love for and pursuit of the study
of history throughout the rest of my college education.
Tackling an intellectual history seminar so early made it much easier for me to successfully
complete an Honors Thesis in a later Military History seminar. My educational base is, as well,
much broader because of my exploration of several different disciplines during college,
including the natural sciences, archaeology, art, art history, psychology, and history. Without a
tough semester to make me weigh my possibilities, I might not have continued to explore the
educational options available and might have remained narrowly focused on medicine. Having
temporarily performed below the expectations I had of myself, I proceeded to improve my
cumulative grade point average in each successive semester.
EssayEdge Extra: Disclosing Skeletons In
Your Closet
Perhaps you were once the subject of disciplinary action at
your undergraduate college. Should you inform the school
about this in your application? If so, should you include this
discussion in your personal statement? In all likelihood, the
application will inquire about academic discipline as well as a
criminal record. You will undoubtedly be denied admission (or
expelled if you are already matriculating) if the school
discovers that you have intentionally concealed disciplinary
action or criminal conviction. The admissions committee may
very well overlook that indiscretion of youth (e.g., during your
freshman year of college) if you bring it into the open and
explain the circumstances. Many applicants do not fully
appreciate that admissions officials make every effort to afford
applicants the benefit of the doubt in such cases.