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Graduate School Essays

Personal EssayWhen asked to name the most important part of the application, many admissions officers answer the personal statement, also referred to as the Statement of Goals and Objectives, Admission Essay, Autobiographical Essay, or Letter of Intent. Typically, admissions members are looking for interesting, insightful, revealing and non-generic essays that suggest you have gone fully through a process of careful reflection and self-examination. A persuasive personal statement may even help you overcome the handicap of a low GPA or graduate test score.

To be of value, the personal statement must bring light to bear on your ability, motivation, and special perspective. Do not bore the Admissions Committee by repeating application information. Make your statement fresh, lively, different. Try to answer the question, what's most important for us to know about you? This statement may be the first nonnumeric evaluation the graduate school has for you. It is your sales tool. Be careful, though. If you are required to answer a specific question, make every effort to respond to it. There are books located in Career Services that may help you.

Here are some tips:

  • It's what you say and how you say it.
  • Don't guess as to what the readers are looking for. Follow instructions.
  • Find an angle and tell a story.
  • Be personal, if appropriate.
  • Address any inconsistencies.
  • Grab the reader's attention with your 1st paragraph.
  • Be positive & upbeat.
  • Avoid controversial subjects.
  • Express yourself clearly & concisely.
  • Adhere to word limits.
  • Make clear why you are choosing this program/school over any others.
  • Avoid clichés
  • Be honest!

Determine your approach and style of the statement

There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement." There is only the one that best fits you.

DO
  • Be objective, yet self-revelatory. Write directly and in a straightforward manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do not use "academese."
  • Form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself and your field and your future goals. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
  • Be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances. See below a list of general words and phrases to avoid using without explanation.
  • Get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
  • Limit its length to two pages or less. In some instances it may be longer, depending on the school's instructions.
DON'T
  • Use the "what I did with my life" approach.
  • Use the "I've always wanted to be a _____" approach.
  • Use a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you as a person.
  • Lecture the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as "Communication skills are important in this field." Any graduate admissions committee member knows that.

Words and phrases to avoid without explanation

significant
interesting
challenging
satisfying/satisfaction
appreciate
invaluable
exciting/excited
enjoyable/enjoy
feel good
appealing to me
appealing aspect
I like it
it's important
I can contribute
meant a lot to me
stimulating
incredible
gratifying
fascinating
meaningful
helping people
I like helping people
remarkable
rewarding
useful
valuable
helpful

• Click here to view an SU Personal Statement

Salisbury University Writing Center- For assistance in writing/editing your essay, please contact the Writing Center.

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