Does writing a personal statement scare you?

Are you worried your writing won’t be good enough for graduate school?  Maybe you’re confused about what to write.  I’ve had many students worry about how to write a personal statement for grad school.

I understand the concern.  The expectations for a personal statement are much higher when you apply to graduate school. You need to stand out among all the other applicants for a graduate program.

But here’s the secret.  You already have a unique story and perspective that makes you different from everyone else.  All you need to do is commit to writing your best personal statement.

And in this post, I’ll guide you step-by-step through the process of writing personal statements that will impress graduate school admission committees.

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

How to Write a Personal Statement--6 Steps to Success


Step #1 Brainstorm ideas for each graduate school’s writing prompt.

Different graduate schools have different writing requirements for application essays.  Some will ask for a personal statement, some ask for a statement of purpose and other schools may ask for multiple pieces of writing.

On top of that, each program you apply to has its own writing prompts.  So, you’ll need to write an original personal statement for each application.  Start listing ideas about personal, academic, or practical experiences that relate to your field, your mission, and goals, etc.

Here’s how you can start brainstorming ideas:

  1. Write all the personal statement prompts and requirements for each graduate school, and organize this information in a chart, table, spreadsheet, list, etc.
  2. Start writing down ideas that relate to each writing prompt. You can do this one at a time for each prompt or have a general brainstorm session and categorize your ideas.  Some ideas will relate to many writing prompts.
  3. Don’t stop brainstorming. Keeping doing it until you run out of ideas.  Then take a break.
  4. As you go about the rest of the week, write down other ideas as they come to you.
  5. After a week, take your additional ideas and add them to your chart. If you have more time keep adding ideas.


Step # 2 Decide which ideas will best help you answer a writing prompt.

Look at each writing prompt separately and decide which ideas are most relevant to each question.  You may find the same ideas will help you with all the writing prompts, but don’t rely on this being case.  While many things are similar across personal statements there are always differences.

All graduate programs are different and they each have different expectations.

Once you’ve selected your ideas make notes.  Add more detail to your ideas and write down any connections you see.   This is how your personal statement starts to take shape.


Step #3  Prepare how you will show each graduate school you’re a good fit.

Not every graduate program in your field is the right choice for you.  You apply to graduate schools that appeal to you.  And those programs select applicants that are the right fit for them.

When you write a personal statement, you need to show an admissions committee why you are the right student for that graduate school.

 Consider things like:

  • how you believe in the mission or goals of that graduate school
  • how your experiences prepare you for what you’ll study
  • how you’ll be a valuable member of that academic program

Write notes on how you can demonstrate what you will contribute to a graduate program.


Step #4  Write a “messy” rough draft for each writing prompt.

I know there is a lot of pressure on you to write an outstanding personal statement.   You feel a drive to craft a flawless piece of writing.  Resist the urge to write a perfect draft. Make it a messy draft.

I use the word “messy” because it describes something that will need to be changed but has some great ideas and elements.

For each of your rough drafts “write hot” and get your ideas on paper.  Those ideas are better than you think!

When you’re done writing a messy rough draft, take a break and walk away from it.   And If you’re not writing it 2 days before you need to complete your application, take a break of at least 1 day.


Step #5  Get feedback on your writing.

There is a lot at stake when you write a personal statement for graduate school.  It will show not only your writing ability but your academic potential.

So, it’s important to get comments and suggestions from people who know how to write an excellent personal statement.  These people could be mentors, peers, teachers, or tutors.  But, whoever you choose should be someone whose advice you trust.

Also, it should be a person who is willing to help you over time.  If a person suggests a lot of changes, ask that person if he/she will look at your writing after you make those changes.

Getting feedback is especially important if you’re uncertain about your writing ability.


Step #6 Edit and proofread each personal statement.

Edit your personal statement until it reflects the very best of your writing.  A personal statement should have clear language.  Don’t overload your personal statement with wordy academic phrases and sentences.

You want your readers to understand and like your writing.  You don’t want them to find your writing tedious and boring.

Proofread your writing and correct any grammar mistakes or misspelled words.  I use Grammarly to help me check grammar and spelling.  Also, take the time to proofread it yourself.  No grammar checker is perfect.

Try reading your paper aloud.  This technique helps you spot omitted words and awkward sentences.  Plus, it’s another way to find grammar and spelling mistakes.



My final piece of advice for you is to start working on your personal statements as soon as you have your graduate school applications.   Don’t rush this process or try to take shortcuts.  Take your time brainstorming ideas, making notes, drafting, revising, and editing your personal statements.

The more time and effort you put into each personal statement you write, the better your chances are of getting accepted and receiving a scholarship.

And if you are still unsure about how to write a personal statement for grad school, sign up for a free consultation.  I will help you get started and give you strategies you can apply to write a personal statement.  Just fill out the contact me form on the contact page

Also, please share this post with anyone else you think could benefit from it.



Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash