Graduate School Tip of the Month: The Do’s and Don’ts of Personal Statements

The Pink Flamingo is pleased to announce an addition to our staff. That’s right, this great information about personal statements was not penned by your trusty editors. It is brought to you instead by our new Senior International Correspondent for the Investigation of Graduate School-Related Affairs.   

Do:

  • Tailor your statement to each school to which you’re applying. Mention the specific faculty you want to work with and why the school would be a good match for you.

  • Make sure you answer the question. Once you’ve written a draft of your personal statement (and again before you finally send it out), go back and re-read the question to make sure your answer is complete.

  • Highlight any relevant experiences you’ve had like a research assistantship, teaching assistantship, internship, honors project, resident advisor, and/or volunteer or work experiences.

  • Talk about your future goals/career interests. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, if you’d like to be a counselor, what type of counselor would you want to be? What types of populations would you like to work with?

  • Have many people (faculty you know, the writing center, friends) read your statement over before you send it out. You will be revising this statement many times.

  • If you’re applying to a research-focused program, talk about your own research interests and how they match the faculty with whom you want to work. Read the faculty members’ recent publications and look at their websites for recent research directions so you can convey true interest and excitement in their research.

  • If you scored poorly on the GRE (or other test needed for admission to your graduate program), you might consider explaining your performance. You don’t want to sound like you’re making excuses for your performance, but if all of the other evidence (your GPA, honors project, relevant work experience, TA, RA, etc.) indicates that you’re a strong student, you should note this. You should also ask your letter writers to discuss that your scores might be under-representing your true potential.

Don’t:

  • Get too personal by talking about your own depression, your parents’ divorce, etc. Even if this has inspired you to pursue graduate school, you do not want the admissions committee thinking that you are applying to graduate school to try to solve your own problems.

  • Be too vague. Most psychology and human development majors like helping people. By saying you want to pursue graduate school because you want to help people, you will sound pretty generic.

  • Make little errors that might cost you admission. Don’t exceed the specified page or word limit. Don’t have spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • Get too overwhelmed! This process can seem pretty daunting so you might be tempted to put off thinking about your personal statement until the last minute. Your personal statement will require a lot of honing and revisions. Don’t expect perfection in your first draft, which might make it a bit easier to start working on (and revise from there).

  • Be too broad. Don’t indicate more than 3 faculty with whom you are interested in working. If you indicate more than this, you will look like your interests are not very focused.

  • Be too cheesy. This is not the time to make up cutesy phrases or acronyms. You want to stand out as a passionate and professional individual, not as a hokey one.

  • Be too teach-y.  If you’re applying to a research-focused program, you will be expected to engage in a lot of research while you’re there.  If your statement just talks about your desire to be a college professor and teach a lot, most programs will not consider you to be a good match.  Research-focused schools expect to be training future researchers.  Some schools show more flexibility in this than others, but you need to convey your interest in research and not just teaching. 

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