Personal Statement and Essays

Professional school applications require a significant amount of writing. All parts of your application should be well polished, from short answers to specific questions, to long research statements. The personal statement, common to almost all applications, is an especially important piece of writing. It is usually an open-ended opportunity for the applicant to discusses why (s)he is interested in his/her chosen profession and what qualifications (s)he has. The length of the essay is restricted.

Some thoughts about personal statements:

It should demonstrate you are a thoughtful, careful, and well-prepared candidate.

It should contain no grammatical (or other) errors, it should be well organized, it should make good use of the space allotted, and it should be tailored for its intended audience.

Assume your audience is a practicing member of the profession you are seeking to join.

Readers of your essay will have access to the rest of your application, so your essay should do new work for you. You may consider including important and relevant information not included elsewhere in your application, or expanding on the significance of one or two qualifications or experiences treated only briefly elsewhere in your application.

A narrative summary of information available in the rest of your essay will rarely add anything to your application.

If there is a specific prompt, be sure you answer the question(s) in that prompt.

Prize clarity and honesty above rhetorical flourishes. Readers view your personal statement as the best chance to get to know the real you (prior to the interview). So write about what is important to you. Standing out for your writing style is less important than demonstrating you are a good fit for the program you are applying to.

Find the right balance of generalization and concrete detail. Reason from evidence. When summarizing your motivation for applying, draw on specific experiences that crystallized those motivations for you. Conversely, when describing an important experience that demonstrates your qualifications, take time to reflect on the significance of that experience.

Make it personal, and specific to you. Your audience has likely read any book you could quote and encountered hundreds of creative and canned “Best Essays.” What they don’t know and want to know is who you are, what you want to do, why you want to do it, and why you think you are qualified to get it done.