The Personal Statement For Graduate School: Turning Broad Questions Into Focused Answers

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For me, getting into graduate school was never a sure thing. It was a tough choice as I didn’t even know how to write a personal statement for grad school or how to apply correctly. 

My admission background and the difficulties I was faced with while preparing for writing the graduate personal statement

My undergraduate GPA was a solid 3.0. I went to a second-tier school – the University of Colorado at Boulder. And my GRE scores were, shall we say, a little inconsistent. On the verbal and analytical tests, I did quite well but my math scores were in the 40th percentile.

But I’d reached a crossroads in my career as a journalist. While I was winning assignments from the New York Times and National Geographic, I felt that I wasn’t advancing as quickly as I wanted.

It made sense to press pause and apply to graduate school in international affairs. I’d decided that I would only go if I got into a top tier program. My first choice was the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. The second choice was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.

Both of them required writing personal statement for grad school as part of the application process. The prompts were vague and open-ended: “Describe a challenge you faced in your career and how you overcame it.” “What does success mean to you?” “What’s the most important influence in your life.” Answer these questions in 1000 words, no more.

Before the application, I had the experience of writing, as I mentioned above, but for that time it was kind of a challenge for me because I had to write a grad school personal statement to assure the committee that I was that one to be offered the admission. I was willing to get the offer as I knew that reaching it would definitely change my life. 

I started thinking of how to put all the information given and my skills together to get an amazing result in the end. First of all, I began researching some patterns of essays from the students, who had already received the right of entry to the school of their dream. The most helpful thing to me, as it turned out later, was reading blogs about grad school personal statement examples. I understood some features about the structure, requirements, and the writing process on the whole. 

I heaped up everything and started thinking about the strategy of the writing process. I thought out that all the questions are designed to force students to focus on a discrete topic and put together a reasoned, cogent answer. Answering broad questions with a limited number of words was pretty tough for me. 

The tips I’ve learned on how to write a personal statement for grad school 

  1. Make it a personal narrative. Academic writing is not the model here. Admissions officers are people, too. They don’t want to read a bland, didactic story lacking humanity. Who does? Tell a story from the first person, where possible. Make it rich with feeling, detail, and color. No one wants to read a didactic personal statement written in the third person. Don’t be afraid to start with the word “I.”
  2. Focus on a specific topic. The big broad topic is the admissions office way of challenging you to focus on it. Meet the challenge head-on by going the other direction – extreme specificity. Use a unique event as a hook into a broader narrative. Remember the upside-down pyramid theory of writing? Start at the bottom and work up. It’ll be easier to write the first sentence if it only needs to capture a single moment in time. It will also hook your reader. “I was lying in my bed when the burglar smashed through the window, entering my home.”
  3. Connect it with a broader theme. Once you’ve established the pivotal moment, slowly elevate the experience to a broader theme. Remember, this isn’t a journaling exercise or an autobiography. Link your personal experience to an idea that is bigger than you as an individual. “Before today, crime was something that happened to other people. Now I was one of the millions of Americans who’ve fallen victim to violent crime.”
  4. Connect the broader theme with this graduate school. The story needs to lead back to why you are applying to graduate school. You had a personal experience that exposed you to a bigger issue, which in turn fed your curiosity to expand your knowledge and skills in this area. Ergo, you must go to this graduate school above all others. Two points to remember here. First is that the personal story needs to connect with a global theme. Examples are truth, justice, equality, etc. Pick one and commit to it, whether you believe it or not. Second is that that theme needs to square with the graduate school you are applying, and why it is your first choice. No one wants to be anyone’s second choice. So don’t be shy about articulating why this school is your best option. And support this claim by linking it to a broader theme in your life and the world.
  5. Connect graduate school with your personal narrative. This one is tricky. You need to make it seem like the decision to go to this graduate school was all but inevitable. That going here is not only the right decision, but it’s also the only decision. I don’t have any magical insight on how to do this. I would suggest that you mine your past experience for nuggets of truth that support this narrative. A good way to connect the dots is to call out a particular professor or piece of research (associated with this school) as inspiration. For example: “I thought that my observation about the randomness of crime was idiosyncratic until I happened upon Professor Jones’s paper on the topic.” Professor Jones, of course, is an instructor at the top choice school. He’s the reason it’s a top choice school.

Way of writing personal statement graduate school certainly admits you

Even after highlighting the most important points, it was still hard to put it together. I went on thinking more and more because I knew that my personal statement would decide a lot. I started thinking about how to improve my draft. So, on that stage, I pointed out several more tips to get rid of unnecessary data:

  1. Concentrate on the question that is given
  2. Pretend to be a storyteller 
  3. Concentrate on each paragraph 
  4. Write only the information you are sure in
  5. Check the correctness

These tips helped me cope with everything and, finally, I got the essay that was, as I thought, half-baked and contained more than the required amount of words. I was not really sure whether it was ready to be submitted or not. My doubts were on my mind for a long time. So, at that moment, I decided to ask professionals to help me and used a graduate school editing service to be absolutely sure that everything is lexically clear and grammatically correct.
That move helped me a lot and after that, my essay was in the right shape. 

What I finally learned after submitting the grad personal statement

After submitting my graduate personal statement, I understood that all my efforts weren’t vain. I had nice practice in dealing with the tasks I’d never been faced with before.  That helped me to realize that all my studying process would be like this essay: challenging but very interesting. I guess that this application stage must be the most intriguing one as you open your personality for the admission committee, not your grades or test scores. I wrote everything honestly, clearly, and accurately to present myself as a person, not as the number of numerals in my transcripts.
As I was applying to Tufts and Columbia, I had to write two different personal statements for graduate school, so that I had to concentrate on the points that were similar to answer. For my luck, the topics were alike and I just had to change some phrases to make the essay appropriate for the requirements. Somewhere I changed the order of paragraphs or added several more sentences to answer the question widely.
For now, I can say that writing the essay was a really needful task to work with. I learned to work with the resources, fit into the requirements, and strongly believe that I can achieve my aim.  I realized that I could write the text to make people believe me and be sure that I’m the one to fit the best for the requirements. I would recommend every student who is thinking about entering the university to prepare in advance, look through some examples, read articles and blogs, and remember that you can write the personal statement graduate school for sure accepts you. 

In the end, I got admitted to both Tufts and Columbia. Columbia was my first choice, and going there was one of the best decisions I ever made.

More personal experience stories and tips on how to write your personal statement for grad school you can find in the EssayEdge blog.

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