Writing a Personal Statement for Graduate School
Applying to graduate school has many steps, and sometimes the personal statement portion of the application can feel daunting. This submission should be a representation of your personality, passion and commitment to furthering your education, and it’s just as important as your test scores and academic record. No pressure, right? Remember, generally those who apply to graduate school are qualified and motivated, so your personal statement could be what sets you apart from the rest of the candidates. So with that in mind, here are five things to remember when writing the two personal statements required for Yeshiva’s online Master of Social Work.
Ensure You Answer the Prompt
Like cooking with a recipe, completing a science experiment or building a piece of Ikea furniture, sometimes it helps to read the directions before beginning the task. It would be a shame if you took the time to write a stunning personal statement but didn’t actually answer the question the university was asking. To ensure you do what is asked, re-read the prompt and make a list of all the aspects you need to include. You can refer to this list as you write your essay to ensure you check off all the requirements. You should also be sure to note the formatting requirements. Is there a length requirement or a specific layout that the university has requested?
Brainstorm to Make the Right Impression
You don’t want your personal statement to repeat what is already stated elsewhere in your application. Your GPA, coursework and awards should not take center stage here. Your personal statement should be just that–personal. So before you start writing, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions to get an idea of what you want to include:
- Who am I?
- Why do I want to be a social worker?
- How should I address my academic record?
- How can my experience enhance my application and what I bring to the program?
- Who is my audience?
After you answer these questions, ask yourself if your thoughts are the most fitting and supportive answers for the subjects. Do they “sell” you as a prospective graduate student for this program? Be sure that each thought, each sentence, serves a specific purpose in your personal statement and makes strong selling points for you as a potential candidate.
Outline Your Essay
Once you feel confident in the theme and idea of your personal statement, outline the specific things you’d like to include in the essay. You can make this outline as thorough or barebones as you’d like, but crafting a paragraph-by-paragraph or section-by-section outline with a few details to remind you what you’d like to include can be extremely helpful in keeping your thoughts aligned. You want to be sure that your personal statement has a storyline that your readers can understand, and an outline can help you stay on track and prevent your writing from going off on tangents. Be sure to keep all the sections and thoughts relevant and on track so that they fulfill the required elements as well as your desired message.
Complete a Rough Draft
Begin to flesh out your outlined paragraphs with your initial thoughts. Don’t worry too much about the phrasing at this stage. You can come back and finesse your tone and verbiage as you edit further down the line. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is just starting. You can take the pressure off a bit by allowing your first draft to be imperfect and lowering the stakes in your mind. As long as you have the important details in this first draft, you’re in good shape.
Sleep On It, Then Edit
Sometimes when we edit our own work it can be easy to overlook simple errors because we know what we meant to say and misread it when skimming the page. Sometimes it can also be hard to spot mistakes if you’ve reread a paper multiple times in a row. With this in mind, it can be helpful to set your personal statements aside for a day or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes. As you read through your work, be on the lookout for the following common concerns:
- Run-on sentences or comma splices
- Rambling sentences or unnecessary inclusions
- Overly informal language
- Not fully answering the prompt
- A clear theme but a lack of supporting details
- A robotic or passionless tone, instead of a strong personal voice
- A lack of applicable skills demonstrated (remember the point of this process!)
Remember that universities are not unlike businesses when they consider candidates. Be sure that you demonstrate a high potential return on investment for your university of choice.
Revise Your Writing
Start the process of revising your personal statement and note any concerns you may have as you make edits; it can be helpful to ask a friend, mentor or peer to take a look at it later on. This is the point of the writing process where you should elevate the language you use and ensure that your personal voice and tone is present throughout the personal statement. You may not be a professional writer, but you should still be capable of communicating your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Be sure that you use relevant details to support your answers. It may help to pretend you’re explaining your answer to a friend in a conversation rather than a formal writing assignment that can determine your future.
Proofread and Pass It On
Now that you’ve revised and flushed out your personal statement, it’s time to personally proofread your work. It can help to read the piece out loud to yourself, as this method makes it easier to catch mistakes you may have overlooked. Hearing your writing out loud also helps you to determine if the tone is too formal or not formal enough.
The most important part of this stage of the process is finding a trusted friend, mentor or peer to read it. For best results, be sure to send your personal statement to someone you can trust to give you honest feedback and advice, rather than someone who will just compliment your writing. Consider sending your essay to two or three separate people so that you’ll receive a variety of feedback that you can consider. If you’ve been in contact with an Admissions Advisor at the university you’re applying to, consider contacting them to see if they can provide additional advice and feedback for your work. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion since writing can be rather subjective.
Time to Turn It In
After you’ve received the feedback from your proofreaders, set aside some time to review their suggestions and notes and implement where you see fit. Be sure to spend additional time rereading your personal statement after you’ve made the new edits to ensure that there are no new errors or typos.
Once you’re sure that everything is grammatically correct and your personal statement is as close to perfect as you’ll get it, it’s time to submit it! Be sure to secure and account for any other application items, and then start the countdown to the start of the semester!
Take the Next Step for Your Career
If you’d like to learn more about the online Master of Social Work program at Yeshiva University, hear from Mary White, Associate Director of Field Education about the importance of fieldwork and helping students find the right career path.