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A personal statement is perhaps the most important part of your application to graduate school. It shows how your unique experiences have prepared you to study intensively in your chosen field. Successful personal statements achieve a balance between academic and biographical writing. Stylistic elements of an excellent personal statement include clear articulation, clean structure and eloquent transitions.
Before you begin your statement, brainstorm with the following questions in mind:
- What specific topics/scholars have I studied and which ones do I want to keep studying?
- What do I love about my subject? How have my personal experiences led to this love?
- What specific resources does the program in question have to offer me? What can I offer in return?
- How will I use graduate training to develop a career?
Once you have answered these questions, arrange your graduate school essay in three parts: a biographical introduction, a statement of academic interests and intentions, and a conclusion.
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Here is where you get your reader’s attention. You might begin with an engaging personal anecdote or a striking quotation from an author in your field. It is important that the essay appeals to the reader’s empathy as well as her intellect, and so the introduction should ideally reveal something poignant about your personal history as well as an intriguing academic proposition. Select the personal information to be disclosed based on its relevance to your studies. For example: “My extensive travels in Chile make me uniquely qualified to carry out ethnographic research on gender roles in Latin America.”
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Interests and Intentions
In this part, you should discuss the specific topics you propose to study and previous work that has prepared you to do so. You must convince the reader that your course of study fits within the program’s overall structure, that you need the institution’s particular resources (i.e., professors, courses, libraries, opportunities to study abroad) and that you have something special or unique to offer in return. For example:
- “Professor Garvey’s expertise would ground my ethnographic pursuits with a strong theoretical basis."
- “My cutting-edge studies in Guatemala would give other scholars access to previously untapped sociological resources.”
When describing new or experimental studies you plan to undertake, make sure to root them in familiar ideas and current scholarship.
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There are several important components to a good conclusion. It should:
- Restate your interests and intentions while drawing connections with the biographical introduction
- Address your future plans and/or career objectives, explaining how graduate study will apply to them
- Expand on the unique perspective, qualities and resources you can offer the institution
- Contain a concise closing sentence that sums up your interest in the specific program of study
Give your conclusion a great deal of time and attention. Make it powerful, but not overly wordy.