Graduate School: Personal Statement
What is the purpose of the personal statement?
In general, the personal statement is used by graduate school faculty to supplement and enrich the information present in the rest of the application. Because much of the rest of the application is factual, and in many cases, statistical information, the personal statement allows the faculty to learn about the applicant in a somewhat different manner. First, it is used to learn why the applicant is interested in graduate school. What got you interested in psychology, what are your career goals, and how motivated and passionate are you about the field? Second, it is used to evaluate how well the applicant's interests correspond to the interests of the program to which the applicant is applying. Are your interests and goals consistent with what that graduate program can provide for you? Third, it is used to assess the applicant's writing ability. Do you write in a coherent, organized, and succinct fashion? Fourth, the personal statement is used to differentiate applicants who are in the middle range, with good, although not outstanding, scores and grades.
In general, what material should be covered in the personal statement?
First of all, answer the question(s) asked. Do not try to stuff a square answer into a circular question. Address all aspects of the question(s); be thorough and organized. Sometimes, however, the question vaguely asks you to write a "personal statement." In either case, the overall gist of the statement (or answers to the questions) is as follows. It should be an organized and well-written statement in which you are able to integrate your various academic, research, practical, and life experiences in a manner that shows your determination to pursue your goals and that the program to which you are applying will maximize your ability to pursue those goals. One way to conceptualize your personal statement is to consider it as a description of the hypothesis testing approach you have taken to determining your career goals. At some point, you likely thought, "I want to pursue a career in X area of psychology." Then, you completed courses in that area and secured research and applied opportunities to put your hypothesis to the test. These experiences likely led to some discovery of what you are excited about pursuing in your career. Perhaps you had other responsibilities or life experiences that supported or refined your hypothesis, and you are now eager to put your commitments to the test by entering the graduate program that will prepare you for your career.
What other specific points should I consider when writing the personal statement?
- DO NOT makes misteaks in grammer, speling: or puncuation; (see how bad it looks).
- Conform to the required structural specifications (e.g., 1 page, single spaced). If no specifications are given, no more than 1 single-spaced page or 2 double-spaced pages is a good rule.
- Do not use cute fonts or colored paper.
- Show individuality without being "odd."
- Avoid discussing personal problems, such as a recent nervous breakdown.
- Avoid clichés such as "I want to help people" or "I want to make the world a better place." Try to be down to earth.
- Be straightforward and honest. If you have done your homework, then you honestly are applying to the schools that would serve you best.
- Tone: Write with confidence but not arrogance. Let the faculty know that you are enthusiastic, determined, and ready for graduate school. Avoid writing the statement like you know everything you need to know, and the school would be lucky to have you.
- Use active verbs to describe your experiences.
- Specificity: Demonstrate that you actively researched the school to which you are applying (e.g., type of program, emphasis on research vs. practice, general research area of faculty members, etc.) and that it would suit your goals. However, being too specific (identifying the precise type of research you want to conduct with a specific faculty member) may narrow your options and decrease you chances of being accepted.
- Proofread it, have a trusted friend or family member proofread it, take it to a writing lab on campus, and then have a faculty member read it. Then proofread it again.
Keith-Speigel, P. (1991). The complete guide to graduate school admission: Psychology and related fields. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Hillsdale, NJ.
Norcross, J.C., Sayette, M.A., & Mayne, T.J. (1996). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology. The Guilford Press: New York.