Writing grad school personal statement

How To Write A Grad School Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement for graduate school is an important part of the application process.

Our guide will ensure you start drafting in plenty of time, and help you create a successful, well-rounded statement that gives you the best chance of being accepted on to your chosen programs.

What is a personal statement?

You may be wondering what a personal statement is exactly, and why you have to write one for each program application.

A personal statement is a way for graduate admissions teams (usually consisting of faculty) to learn more about you as a candidate. It is a piece of creative writing that allows you to sell your abilities, skills and experience to others, much like a covering letter for a job application.

Admissions tutors not only want to see why you are interested in their program, but also what you can bring to them and their university. Think about the following as a starting point:

  • What interests, skills, experience and qualifications make you a great applicant for this program?
  • How will you contribute to the program through research, seminars, conferences and other opportunities?
  • Why have you chosen a career in this particular field?
  • Why does this university’s program appeal to you and how can it help you fulfil your ambitions?

Check the application requirements for each program carefully, as some may require you to write multiple admission essays.

Some programs might ask you to upload a personal statement to a centralised system which is then read by admissions faculty at several different universities.

Normally, there are two types of personal statement you could be asked to write:

1. A general, comprehensive personal statement

This will ask you to respond to a general prompt, and may or may not have a word or character limit imposed.

2. A personal statement that responds to a specific prompt

This type will often include several questions, and again, it may or may not have a word or character limit attached.

What are graduate admissions staff looking for in my personal statement?

When the admissions faculty look at your personal statement, they are likely to be asking two main questions:

1. Do we want this student on this program?
2. Do we want this student at this university?

These questions can then be broken up further to make it easier to answer them thoroughly:

  • Is the student suited to the program that they are applying for?
  • Does the student have the necessary qualifications and personal qualities for the program?
  • Is the student conscientious, hardworking and unlikely to drop out?
  • Will the student do their best and cope with the demands of grad school?
  • Can the student work under pressure?
  • Will the student be able to adjust to their new environment?
  • What are their communication skills like?
  • Are they dedicated to this program and have they researched it well?
  • Do they have a genuine interest in the subject and a desire to learn more about it?

These are the sorts of questions you need to answer in your personal statement.

Unfortunately you cannot answer them directly with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – you need to provide evidence and make it sound believable.

Ultimately, grad school admissions tutors are human too, and may well have hundreds of program applications to sift through, so even if you think you’ve answered all these questions really well, you may still be unlucky.

The rest of this guide will show you can give yourself the best chance of being noticed through your personal statement, and get accepted onto your chosen programs.

Getting started

Remember that your statement is like a personal job advert, where you are selling yourself by highlighting your skills, experience and life goals.

Programs want to know more about:

  • Current achievements in your college degree
  • Experiences outside of the classroom that have inspired you to pursue a career in this field

1. Pull together some ideas

The best way to begin putting together a successful personal statement is to sit down and have a brainstorming session. First, think about the following points and jot down some notes:

  • Personal achievements – what relevant attributes and interests make you a special candidate? These can be either inside or outside of the college classroom.
  • Extracurricular activities – have you completed any volunteering work or got involved with any charities or other groups/organisations that help the community? You could also include any leisure or sports activities you participate in during your spare time, providing the skills you gain from these are relevant to the program.
  • Academic success – are there any appropriate projects or other pieces of college work that you scored highly in and are particularly proud of? Have you received any awards or other type of recognition for your studies?
  • Work experience – what professional skills can you bring to the program? How have work placements helped shape you into an ideal applicant?

2. Formulate a plan

Next, build up some vocabulary that will allow you to establish a comprehensive, yet coherent statement that represents a true reflection of yourself and portrays you in the best possible light.

Try using the following words as category headings and see if you can put at least two or three words in each:

  • Communication – e.g. speaking, writing, collaborating, explaining, discussing, listening.
  • Research – e.g. analysing, collecting, investigating, interpreting,examining, collecting, evaluating, concluding.
  • Creative – e.g. imagining, designing, illustrating, original, envisioning, artistic, inventive.
  • Leadership and management – e.g. coordinated, delegated, responsible, teamwork, directed, assigned, negotiated.
  • IT and Technical – e.g. networking, programming, web development, hardware, software, operating, engineering.

Other headings you might wish to use include: Clerical/Administrative, Problem Solving, Training, Media, Financial and Human/Public Relations. Feel free to add any of your own headings that you feel are relevant to your application, too.

Hopefully you should now have a nice long list of keywords that demonstrate all of your skills and personal qualities. For each one, write down:

  • How you have demonstrated this skill or trait – try to think of a specific experience that provides evidence you possess this skill. As mentioned earlier, your personal statement will be much more solid and believable if you backup everything with examples.
  • When you began to develop it, e.g. high school, college – again, try to be as specific as possible.
  • How it will benefit you during the program – tutors will want to see how your skills will make you a successful student.
  • How you might use it once you have completed your graduate studies – think beyond your program and show your commitment to your chosen career path by demonstrating how you plan to use your skills and attributes in the field later on.
  • Any related skills or traits you hope to gain during your time at grad school – recognise that there are still areas you could improve on, and tell the admissions faculty how the program can help you with these.

At this stage you should have a whole host of skills and personal qualities that you can demonstrate through a particular experience. Now you need to begin constructing actual sentences with all the information you have gathered.

3. Write a first draft

It helps to write an opening paragraph that will grab the admission tutor’s attention straight away. A good way to do this is to start by conveying an experience that tells a relevant story, e.g. jetting off on holiday abroad as a child sparked an interest in engineering.

As this will form the opening to your personal statement, choose your experience carefully and think about the following once you have decided what to write about:

  • Does the story provide clues about your personality, and if so, how?
  • Will the reader get a sense of enthusiasm for the subject?
  • Does it explain why you have chosen to pursue this field of study?
  • Are your long-term career plans or professional hopes indicated?

The rest of the first draft of your personal statement should follow a similar pattern, with further skills addressed using specific examples from your past.

The final paragraph should form a memorable conclusion that will again attract the admission tutor’s attention and make you a memorable candidate. After all, you need to stand out from the crowd if you want to have a chance of being accepted.

4. Review and edit

Once you have completed the first draft of your personal statement, you will need to analyse it critically and evaluate how it might be improved. There are two ways you should do this:

1. Critique it yourself

Read through it carefully and ask yourself the following questions to help you highlight its strengths and weaknesses:

  • Is the opening paragraph interesting enough to make you want to read further?
  • Have you provided specific examples for all of the skills and personal attributes mentioned?
  • Have you talked about your work and/or voluntary experience in detail, and how this will be useful during the program?
  • Is your statement engaging throughout? If not, how could you change the vocabulary, sentence structure and/or content to improve this?
  • Is your statement focused enough that it explains why you have chosen to pursue a career in this particular field, rather than a related one?
  • Are there any spelling, grammar or formatting issues that need to be fixed? Check the word or character count, and make sure you have addressed all the points you have been asked to (if necessary).

2. Ask for feedback from family, friends, college professors and career counselors

It’s often hard to be objective about your own work, so it’s always a good idea to show your statement to at least several other people if possible. Ask them to comment on the strengths and how it could be improved (it’s best to give them a printed copy and let them write on it).

Read through all the feedback and take it all on board – are there any common areas people have noted could be improved?

Next, go through each point and see if it would make the statement better overall. If you feel it doesn’t, don’t incorporate that particular suggestion into your new draft. Although other people’s views are essential here, it’s also important that you are happy with the statement. Never let someone else rewrite your statement – it should only be your own writing.

5. The final draft

Write as many drafts as you feel are necessary, until you have a polished statement that you are completely happy with sending off to your programs.

Check carefully for any spelling and grammar mistakes, as these errors are likely to be noticed and will make you look incompetent. Don’t just rely on a spell checker for this – you should read your final statement several times and do these checks by eye.

Also make sure that your statement meets any word or character limits, as well as any other requirements outlined by the graduate school. Otherwise it will look like you couldn’t be bothered to read the application process and you may be rejected straight away.

6 Tips on How To Write a Graduate School Personal Statement

In this video, Jenn, a certified Career Coach, shares her key steps for crafting a personal statement that is authentic, impressive and helps you stand out from the crowd.

A graduate degree can deepen your knowledge in your field and give you credentials and qualifications to further your career. To apply to the graduate program of your choice, you will have to submit an undergraduate transcript, standardized test scores (such as the GRE), recommendation letters and a personal statement. A well-written personal statement can move you into the top tier of consideration when admissions officers are studying their pool of applicants. In this article, we explain what a graduate school personal statement is and provide tips and samples to help you write your own.

What is a graduate school personal statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an essay often required as part of an application to a graduate school program. It explains why the individual is suited for that program. Some schools provide a specific prompt for their required personal statement. Other schools have open-ended essays, which means the student can choose one or a few aspects of their life or personality on which to focus.

A personal statement is important because it portrays your personal qualities and characteristics. Graduate programs look for interesting people who can contribute to the discussions and environment of a school in addition to having academic skills. Writing about something specific to you in your personal essay that has not been touched upon elsewhere in your application will show the unique ways you can contribute as an individual. However, it is also important that the anecdotes you choose to highlight reflect why you want to study in this program.

Tips for writing your personal statement for graduate school

As it is the most unique aspect of your application, it is important to set aside dedicated time to write your personal statement. Here are some tips that can help your personal statement rise above the competition:

Research requirements

Find out whether the university has a specific format for a personal essay. Some schools provide a prompt applicants must use, such as “Write about an accomplishment of which you are particularly proud.” Some schools will also have word limits and formatting guidelines.

Be unique

If the university does not have a prompt, choose a topic that is special to you. Many other students may have the same test scores or academic skills as you, so the personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself. If you have an unusual hobby, a moving experience or a strong emotional connection to someone that can be illustrated by anecdotes, opt to write about one of those.

For example, “How my stint in organic farming schooled me on agricultural economics” is a personal and interesting topic for a master’s degree in economics, or “ Where performance and politics meet: influencing public perceptions through music selections” is an interesting perspective for a Master’s Degree in Communications.

Be relevant

Write about experiences related to the program of study. An emotional trip tracing your ancestry in Ireland may have been personally meaningful, but it might not be relevant to the computer science program for which you are applying. However, a recent trip to Japan may have prompted you to reflect on efficient train models, which may be a good topic for a graduate degree in transportation engineering.

Be specific

Be clear about why you want to attend that specific institution. Research the programs, professors and research opportunities offered by that school, and show what you are particularly interested in and why your experience and personality makes you a good fit for the program. You can also use this as an opportunity to address unexplained issues, such as a gap in education.

Use a professional tone

While you want to project your personality in your personal statement, you also need to respect the formality of the situation and the institution. Use a professional and respectful tone throughout your essay.

Proofread

Once you have written your essay, carefully check it for relevance, tone, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Ask a trusted friend or professor to read over it and give you suggestions. Unless you have a specific word count, target a shorter rather than a longer essay. Two double-spaced pages is an adequate length.

Examples of graduate school personal statements

Here are some graduate school personal statement examples you can use to help inspire your own writing:

Example 1: For a master’s program in education policy

“The first brand-new textbook I held in my hands was when I was 19 years old and a college freshman. I still remember the smell of the pages, the clean whiteness that had not been marked by pencil scratches and highlighted words.

Until then, all the textbooks I had used were decades old, outdated, marked up and sometimes even torn. We didn’t complain. As students of a missionary school in the western province of Zambia, we were grateful.

Using those textbooks, I studied hard, received top marks in my final examinations and received a scholarship to Wesleyan College, from which I graduated with honors in three years. I then returned to serve for two years in the same mission school in Zambia at which I was educated, but this time, I was determined to give the students one thing I didn’t have: new books. Before I left, my teammates at the Wesleyan intramural basketball team and I raised $23,000 through a charity basketball tournament. I bought new science and math textbooks for the primary classes with this money.

The smile on the students’ faces was reward enough, but I want to do more. I want education to lift students out of poverty as it did for me, giving me a new outlook on life and a foothold on a new strata of society. While teaching has been personally satisfying, I want to affect educational policy at a national and even international level to assist whole populations of students. It is for this reason that I am looking to pursue a master’s degree in educational policy at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

Because I believe that information is power, I believe the best way to affect change is by organizing and presenting information in such a way that it can make a difference. This is why I am interested in focusing on one area of study in which you specialize: Data Analysis & Research Methods. I look forward to classes such as International Perspectives on Early Childhood Policy, to which I can speak from personal experience, and also to participate in the Federal Policy Institute, during which I can use my data analysis skills and experience as a teacher to understand how to affect change locally.

Whether through a new textbook or a new policy, I am determined to do my part in removing the roadblock of poverty from a student’s life. In graduate school and beyond, I look forward to using hard data to make radical, positive changes in the educational system and to learn from and contribute to the existing body of knowledge.”

Example 2: For a master’s program in music education and therapy

“People say music feeds the soul. In my case, music was literally the source of my family’s sustenance. For me, a future with music at its center is the only one I can contemplate.

I grew up memorizing the Gershwin and Sondheim my mother played for the community theater group in our small Minnesota town. My father, the orchestra director at our high school, played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” from a boombox while he mowed the lawn on weekends, and my older brother was in both a rock band (in our garage, of course) and our school’s marching band. I sang in our church choir (my mother was also the accompanist there) and participated in every talent show in town.

However, it was not until my early 20s that I realized music’s profound impact and potential. As an undergraduate in the big city of Minneapolis, I quickly found a church community to call home. The summer before my senior year, I volunteered at one of the church ministries, a girls’ center that served the city’s immigrant population, mostly from Somalia.

One girl, in particular, Safia, showed a great deal of interest in music and the stories I told her about my musical background. With permission from my church, I started a small music program in the girls’ center. I acquired a used keyboard and first taught Safia, then a few of her companions, basic piano theory and playing. Within two years, I had 12 students I spent my weekends teaching piano to, as well as a choir of 24 elementary school girls.

What forced me back here weekend after weekend to continue teaching music for free was the realization that the music was much more than entertainment or an extracurricular activity for these girls. It was their only outlet for joy. As they grew close to me, many of them began to confide in me about some of the horrors they had endured or heard about their families experiencing. After confessing, they seemed lighter and sang with more pleasure. I realized that music not only gave them an outlet for their sorrows but also their joys.

I knew then that I wanted to blend music and healing into my future professional life. That is why I am applying for the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis’ Master of Arts, Music Education-Music Therapy Master’s Equivalency Track. Your program will allow me to research this area while acquiring my degree and continuing my ministry. My dream is to use my degree to help adolescents with their problems by using something that connects all humans all over the world—the sound of music.”

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3 Successful Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

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Looking for grad school personal statement examples? Look no further! In this total guide to graduate school personal statement examples, we’ll discuss why you need a personal statement for grad school and what makes a good one. Then we’ll provide three graduate school personal statement samples from our grad school experts. After that, we’ll do a deep dive on one of our personal statement for graduate school examples. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of other grad school personal statements you can find online.

Why Do You Need a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is a chance for admissions committees to get to know you: your goals and passions, what you’ll bring to the program, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program. You need to sell the admissions committee on what makes you a worthwhile applicant. The personal statement is a good chance to highlight significant things about you that don’t appear elsewhere on your application.

A personal statement is slightly different from a statement of purpose (also known as a letter of intent). A statement of purpose/letter of intent tends to be more tightly focused on your academic or professional credentials and your future research and/or professional interests.

While a personal statement also addresses your academic experiences and goals, you have more leeway to be a little more, well, personal. In a personal statement, it’s often appropriate to include information on significant life experiences or challenges that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your field of interest.

Some programs ask for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose/letter of intent. In this case, the personal statement is likely to be much more tightly focused on your life experience and personality assets while the statement of purpose will focus in much more on your academic/research experiences and goals.

However, there’s not always a hard-and-fast demarcation between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The two statement types should address a lot of the same themes, especially as relates to your future goals and the valuable assets you bring to the program. Some programs will ask for a personal statement but the prompt will be focused primarily on your research and professional experiences and interests. Some will ask for a statement of purpose but the prompt will be more focused on your general life experiences.

When in doubt, give the program what they are asking for in the prompt and don’t get too hung up on whether they call it a personal statement or statement of purpose. You can always call the admissions office to get more clarification on what they want you to address in your admissions essay.

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This bird is ready to be both personal and purposeful.

What Makes a Good Grad School Personal Statement?

A great graduate school personal statement can come in many forms and styles. However, strong grad school personal statement examples all share the same following elements:

A Clear Narrative

Above all, a good personal statement communicates clear messages about what makes you a strong applicant who is likely to have success in graduate school. So to that extent, think about a couple of key points that you want to communicate about yourself and then drill down on how you can best communicate those points. (Your key points should of course be related to what you can bring to the field and to the program specifically).

You can also decide whether to address things like setbacks or gaps in your application as part of your narrative. Have a low GPA for a couple semesters due to a health issue? Been out of a job for a while taking care of a family member? If you do decide to explain an issue like this, make sure that the overall arc is more about demonstrating positive qualities like resilience and diligence than about providing excuses.

Specific Examples

A great statement of purpose uses specific examples to illustrate its key messages. This can include anecdotes that demonstrate particular traits or even references to scholars and works that have influenced your academic trajectory to show that you are familiar and insightful about the relevant literature in your field.

Just saying “I love plants,” is pretty vague. Describing how you worked in a plant lab during undergrad and then went home and carefully cultivated your own greenhouse where you cross-bred new flower colors by hand is much more specific and vivid, which makes for better evidence.

A Good Fit

A strong personal statement will describe why you are a good fit for the program, and why the program is a good fit for you. It’s important to identify specific things about the program that appeal to you, and how you’ll take advantage of those opportunities. It’s also a good idea to talk about specific professors you might be interested in working with. This shows that you are informed about and genuinely invested in the program.

Strong Writing

Even quantitative and science disciplines typically require some writing, so it’s important that your personal statement shows strong writing skills. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and that you don’t have any grammar and spelling errors. It’s helpful to get other people to read your statement and provide feedback. Plan on going through multiple drafts.

Another important thing here is to avoid cliches and gimmicks. Don’t deploy overused phrases and openings like “ever since I was a child.” Don’t structure your statement in a gimmicky way (i.e., writing a faux legal brief about yourself for a law school statement of purpose). The first will make your writing banal; the second is likely to make you stand out in a bad way.

Appropriate Boundaries

While you can be more personal in a personal statement than in a statement of purpose, it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries in your writing. Don’t overshare anything too personal about relationships, bodily functions, or illegal activities. Similarly, don’t share anything that makes it seem like you may be out of control, unstable, or an otherwise risky investment. The personal statement is not a confessional booth. If you share inappropriately, you may seem like you have bad judgment, which is a huge red flag to admissions committees.

You should also be careful with how you deploy humor and jokes. Your statement doesn’t have to be totally joyless and serious, but bear in mind that the person reading the statement may not have the same sense of humor as you do. When in doubt, err towards the side of being as inoffensive as possible.

Just as being too intimate in your statement can hurt you, it’s also important not to be overly formal or staid. You should be professional, but conversational.

Boundaries are important.

Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

Our graduate school experts have been kind enough to provide some successful grad school personal statement examples. We’ll provide three examples here, along with brief analysis of what makes each one successful.

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 1

For this Japanese Studies master’s degree, the applicant had to provide a statement of purpose outlining her academic goals and experience with Japanese and a separate personal statement describing her personal relationship with Japanese Studies and what led her to pursue a master’s degree.

Here’s what’s successful about this personal statement:

  • An attention-grabbing beginning: The applicant begins with the statement that Japanese has never come easily to her and that it’s a brutal language to learn. Seeing as how this is an application for a Japanese Studies program, this is an intriguing beginning that makes the reader want to keep going.
  • A compelling narrative: From this attention-grabbing beginning, the applicant builds a well-structured and dramatic narrative tracking her engagement with the Japanese language over time. The clear turning point is her experience studying abroad, leading to a resolution in which she has clarity about her plans. Seeing as how the applicant wants to be a translator of Japanese literature, the tight narrative structure here is a great way to show her writing skills.
  • Specific examples that show important traits: The applicant clearly communicates both a deep passion for Japanese through examples of her continued engagement with Japanese and her determination and work ethic by highlighting the challenges she’s faced (and overcome) in her study of the language. This gives the impression that she is an engaged and dedicated student.

Overall, this is a very strong statement both in terms of style and content. It flows well, is memorable, and communicates that the applicant would make the most of the graduate school experience.

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This makes me want to study in Japan.

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 2

This personal statement for a Music Composition master’s degree discusses the factors that motivate the applicant to pursue graduate study.

Here’s what works well in this statement:

  • The applicant provides two clear reasons motivating the student to pursue graduate study: her experiences with music growing up, and her family’s musical history. She then supports those two reasons with examples and analysis.
  • The description of her ancestors’ engagement with music is very compelling and memorable. The applicant paints her own involvement with music as almost inevitable based on her family’s long history with musical pursuits.
  • The applicant gives thoughtful analysis of the advantages she has been afforded that have allowed her to study music so extensively. We get the sense that she is insightful and empathetic—qualities that would add greatly to any academic community.

This is a strong, serviceable personal statement. And in truth, given that this for a masters in music composition, other elements of the application (like work samples) are probably the most important. However, here are two small changes I would make to improve it:

  • I would probably to split the massive second paragraph into 2-3 separate paragraphs. I might use one paragraph to orient the reader to the family’s musical history, one paragraph to discuss Giacomo and Antonio, and one paragraph to discuss how the family has influenced the applicant. As it stands, it’s a little unwieldy and the second paragraph doesn’t have a super-clear focus even though it’s all loosely related to the applicant’s family history with music.
  • I would also slightly shorten the anecdote about the applicant’s ancestors and expand more on how this family history has motivated the applicant’s interest in music. In what specific ways has her ancestors’ perseverance inspired her? Did she think about them during hard practice sessions? Is she interested in composing music in a style they might have played? More specific examples here would lend greater depth and clarity to the statement.

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Are you ready to compose…your personal statement?

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3

This is my successful personal statement for Columbia’s Master’s program in Public Health. We’ll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I’ll highlight a couple of things that work in this statement here:

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  • This statement is clearly organized. Almost every paragraph has a distinct focus and message, and when I move on to a new idea, I move on to a new paragraph with a logical transitions.
  • This statement covers a lot of ground in a pretty short space. I discuss my family history, my goals, my educational background, and my professional background. But because the paragraphs are organized and I use specific examples, it doesn’t feel too vague or scattered.
  • In addition to including information about my personal motivations, like my family, I also include some analysis about tailoring health interventions with my example of the Zande. This is a good way to show off what kinds of insights I might bring to the program based on my academic background.

My public health recommendation: eat more fruits to get energy to do your personal statement!

Grad School Personal Statement Example: Deep Dive

Now let’s do a deep dive, paragraph-by-paragraph, on one of these sample graduate school personal statements. We’ll use my personal statement that I used when I applied to Columbia’s public health program.

Paragraph One: For twenty-three years, my grandmother (a Veterinarian and an Epidemiologist) ran the Communicable Disease Department of a mid-sized urban public health department. The stories of Grandma Betty doggedly tracking down the named sexual partners of the infected are part of our family lore. Grandma Betty would persuade people to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, encourage safer sexual practices, document the spread of infection and strive to contain and prevent it. Indeed, due to the large gay population in the city where she worked, Grandma Betty was at the forefront of the AIDS crises, and her analysis contributed greatly towards understanding how the disease was contracted and spread. My grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me, and the reason why a career in public health was always on my radar.

This is an attention-grabbing opening anecdote that avoids most of the usual cliches about childhood dreams and proclivities. This story also subtly shows that I have a sense of public health history, given the significance of the AIDs crisis for public health as a field.

It’s good that I connect this family history to my own interests. However, if I were to revise this paragraph again, I might cut down on some of the detail because when it comes down to it, this story isn’t really about me. It’s important that even (sparingly used) anecdotes about other people ultimately reveal something about you in a personal statement.

Paragraph Two: Recent years have cemented that interest. In January 2012, my parents adopted my little brother Fred from China. Doctors in America subsequently diagnosed Fred with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My parents were told that if Fred’s condition had been discovered in China, the (very poor) orphanage in which he spent the first 8+ years of his life would have recognized his DMD as a death sentence and denied him sustenance to hasten his demise.

Here’s another compelling anecdote to help explain my interest in public health. This is an appropriately personal detail for a personal statement—it’s a serious thing about my immediate family, but it doesn’t disclose anything that the admissions committee might find concerning or inappropriate.

If I were to take another pass through this paragraph, the main thing I would change is the last phrase. “Denied him sustenance to hasten his demise” is a little flowery. “Denied him food to hasten his death” is actually more powerful because it’s clearer and more direct.

Paragraph Three: It is not right that some people have access to the best doctors and treatment while others have no medical care. I want to pursue an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia because studying social factors in health, with a particular focus on socio-health inequities, will prepare me to address these inequities. The interdisciplinary approach of the program appeals to me greatly as I believe interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective way to develop meaningful solutions to complex problems.

In this paragraph I make a neat and clear transition from discussing what sparked my interest in public health and health equity to what I am interested in about Columbia specifically: the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and how that focus will prepare me to solve complex health problems. This paragraph also serves as a good pivot point to start discussing my academic and professional background.

Paragraph Four: My undergraduate education has prepared me well for my chosen career. Understanding the underlying structure of a group’s culture is essential to successfully communicating with the group. In studying folklore and mythology, I’ve learned how to parse the unspoken structures of folk groups, and how those structures can be used to build bridges of understanding. For example, in a culture where most illnesses are believed to be caused by witchcraft, as is the case for the Zande people of central Africa, any successful health intervention or education program would of necessity take into account their very real belief in witchcraft.

In this paragraph, I link my undergraduate education and the skills I learned there to public health. The (very brief) analysis of tailoring health interventions to the Zande is a good way to show insight and show off the competencies I would bring to the program.

Paragraph Five: I now work in the healthcare industry for one of the largest providers of health benefits in the world. In addition to reigniting my passion for data and quantitative analytics, working for this company has immersed me in the business side of healthcare, a critical component of public health.

This brief paragraph highlights my relevant work experience in the healthcare industry. It also allows me to mention my work with data and quantitative analytics, which isn’t necessarily obvious from my academic background, which was primarily based in the social sciences.

Paragraph Six: I intend to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in how social factors affect health, particularly as related to gender and sexuality. I intend to pursue a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual Health, and Reproduction. Working together with other experts to create effective interventions across cultures and societies, I want to help transform health landscapes both in America and abroad.

This final paragraph is about my future plans and intentions. Unfortunately, it’s a little disjointed, primarily because I discuss goals of pursuing a PhD before I talk about what certificate I want to pursue within the MPH program! Switching those two sentences and discussing my certificate goals within the MPH and then mentioning my PhD plans would make a lot more sense.

I also start two sentences in a row with “I intend,” which is repetitive.

The final sentence is a little bit generic; I might tailor it to specifically discuss a gender and sexual health issue, since that is the primary area of interest I’ve identified.

This was a successful personal statement; I got into (and attended!) the program. It has strong examples, clear organization, and outlines what interests me about the program (its interdisciplinary focus) and what competencies I would bring (a background in cultural analysis and experience with the business side of healthcare). However, a few slight tweaks would elevate this statement to the next level.

Fine-tuning will make your personal statement even more beautiful!

Graduate School Personal Statement Examples You Can Find Online

So you need more samples for your personal statement for graduate school? Examples are everywhere on the internet, but they aren’t all of equal quality.

Most of examples are posted as part of writing guides published online by educational institutions. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones here if you are looking for more personal statement examples for graduate school.

Penn State Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

This selection of ten short personal statements for graduate school and fellowship programs offers an interesting mix of approaches. Some focus more on personal adversity while others focus more closely on professional work within the field.

The writing in some of these statements is a little dry, and most deploy at least a few cliches. However, these are generally strong, serviceable statements that communicate clearly why the student is interested in the field, their skills and competencies, and what about the specific program appeals to them.

Cal State Sample Graduate School Personal Statements

These are good examples of personal statements for graduate school where students deploy lots of very vivid imagery and illustrative anecdotes of life experiences. There are also helpful comments about what works in each of these essays.

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However, all of these statements are definitely pushing the boundaries of acceptable length, as all are above 1000 and one is almost 1500 words! Many programs limit you to 500 words; if you don’t have a limit, you should try to keep it to two single-spaced pages at most (which is about 1000 words).

University of Chicago Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples

These examples of successful essays to the University of Chicago law school cover a wide range of life experiences and topics. The writing in all is very vivid, and all communicate clear messages about the students’ strengths and competencies.

Note, however, that these are all essays that specifically worked for University of Chicago law school. That does not mean that they would work everywhere. In fact, one major thing to note is that many of these responses, while well-written and vivid, barely address the students’ interest in law school at all! This is something that might not work well for most graduate programs.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 10

This successful essay for law school from a Wheaton College undergraduate does a great job tracking the student’s interest in the law in a compelling and personal way. Wheaton offers other graduate school personal statement examples, but this one offers the most persuasive case for the students’ competencies. The student accomplishes this by using clear, well-elaborated examples, showing strong and vivid writing, and highlighting positive qualities like an interest in justice and empathy without seeming grandiose or out of touch.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 1

Based on the background information provided at the bottom of the essay, this essay was apparently successful for this applicant. However, I’ve actually included this essay because it demonstrates an extremely risky approach. While this personal statement is strikingly written and the story is very memorable, it could definitely communicate the wrong message to some admissions committees. The student’s decision not to report the drill sergeant may read incredibly poorly to some admissions committees. They may wonder if the student’s failure to report the sergeant’s violence will ultimately expose more soldiers-in-training to the same kinds of abuses. This incident perhaps reads especially poorly in light of the fact that the military has such a notable problem with violence against women being covered up and otherwise mishandled

It’s actually hard to get a complete picture of the student’s true motivations from this essay, and what we have might raise real questions about the student’s character to some admissions committees. This student took a risk and it paid off, but it could have just as easily backfired spectacularly.

I don’t recommend this. I also don’t recommend taking a big risk in your personal statement.

Key Takeaways: Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

In this guide, we discussed why you need a personal statement and how it differs from a statement of purpose. (It’s more personal!)

We also discussed what you’ll find in a strong sample personal statement for graduate school:

  • A clear narrative about the applicant and why they are qualified for graduate study.
  • Specific examples to support that narrative.
  • Compelling reasons why the applicant and the program are a good fit for each other.
  • Strong writing, including clear organization and error-free, cliche-free language.
  • Appropriate boundaries—sharing without over-sharing.

Then, we provided three strong graduate school personal statement examples for different fields, along with analysis. We did a deep-dive on the third statement.

Finally, we provided a list of other sample grad school personal statements online.

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Grad School

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If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?

In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.

What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.

So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:

  • Statement of purpose: A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
  • Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.

Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:

  • Professional and academic background, skills, and accomplishments
  • Research interests
  • Any professors you wish to work with
  • Why this program is a good fit for your interests and academic goals
  • Future career goals

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  • Motivation for entering this field
  • Any relevant life experiences, struggles, or accomplishments
  • Research interests
  • Personal reasons for choosing this program and why it’s a good fit for you

Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.

But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.

For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.

Many schools require just one essay (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan, ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program, want an essay that combines the features of both!

Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.

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What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?

Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.

But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.

A Compelling Story

First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.

Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.

Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.

That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.

Do NOT:

  • Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
  • Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
  • Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.

Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.

Inspirations for Your Research Interests

Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also why you have these particular interests. While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.

For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.

Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.

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Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School

Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.

Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:

  • Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
  • How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
  • Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?

Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.

Strong Writing Skills

A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!

So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.

Also, remember that good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words. You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.

On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.

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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career

Lastly, the personal statement gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.

Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).

Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.

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How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide

The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.

Step 1: Start Early

Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.

You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.

If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)

Step 2: Read the Instructions

Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.

Your program should give you the following information:

  • What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
  • How long your statement should be
  • What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
  • How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley. In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt:

Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona, your personal statement would follow these parameters:

Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.

Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.

Simply put, follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission. And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!

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Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle

Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:

  • What your grad program wants you to write about
  • Your field of study and research interests
  • How much experience you have in your field

As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.

Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.

No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement. How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.

On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is, be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.

More broadly, though, try to answer the question of what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?

Finally, always choose a positive angle. Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.

Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”

Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.

As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
  • How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
  • What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
  • What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
  • Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?

Step 5: Make an Outline

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.

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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.

Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.

Step 6: Draft Your Essay

It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.

In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.

Remember, most personal statements will be short—usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.

On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.

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Step 7: Get Feedback

Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).

Ask your editors to give you specific feedback on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.

If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.

Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay

Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.

For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.

As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!

Step 9: Proofread

The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.

Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.

In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.

Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well. If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)

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The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.

But more importantly, the personal statement showcases your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.

A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:

  • A compelling story
  • Inspirations for your research interests
  • Your motivation for applying to grad school
  • Strong writing skills
  • Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career

Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:

  1. Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
  2. Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
  3. Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
  4. Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
  5. Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
  6. Draft your essay
  7. Get specific feedback from multiple editors
  8. Revise and edit your essay
  9. Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)

What’s Next?

Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time! Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.

Do your schools require a CV or resume? If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates!

What do you need to submit for your grad school application? Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school.

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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School

how to write a personal statement for grad school

Writing a personal statement for grad school is an essential part of your grad school application.

The personal statement is the perfect time to tell the admissions committee your personal story.

As I stated in my last article: How to Write a Resume to Get Into Grad School, the 5 main factors that go into graduate school applications are:

  1. Undergraduate Transcripts
  2. Resume
  3. Personal Statement
  4. Test Scores (GRE, etc.)
  5. Letters of Recommendations

The personal statement is your time to separate yourself from other applicants.

Remember application committees are regular people (besides the fact your graduate school future is in their hands ahhh) so you want to make yourself personable.

From how you write your personal statement to what you write about is going to be important for creating a personal statement that will get you into graduate school.

This article is broken into the following sections:

  • What is a Personal Statement
  • Questions to Brainstorm Writing Ideas
  • How to Write a Good Personal Statement with an overview and showing what each paragraph should contain.
  • What Not to Do
  • Pro Tips
  • Conclusion

What is a Personal Statement

Simply put a personal statement is a way of selling yourself to the admission committee. Or telling your personal story to the admission committee.

You’ll need to show 3 main things:

  1. Giving them a reason to believe you deserve to be admitted
  2. Showing them how you will be successful in the program
  3. Highlighting how getting into the program will assist you in achieving your larger goals

Personal statements are usually 1 to 2 pages in length. Schools may give you a prompt to respond to, but often times they do not.

In the graduate school application process, personal statements are an important part of getting accepted into the program your choosing.

Yes, your GPA, test scores, and letters of recommendation are important, but your personal statement can be the deciding factor that makes or breaks your application.

Questions to Brainstorm Writing Ideas

Coming up with ideas to start your personal statement can be daunting. I know for many students it will take at least 2-4 weeks to write and re-write their personal statement until it is of a high quality.

That being said, here are some good questions to ask yourself (and write down your thoughts) to have ideas of things to write about in your personal statement.

  • Why do you want to study in this field?
  • Why you want to study at the specific program or school?
  • What sparked your interest in this field of study?
  • What experience do you have? First hand, Second hand and Volunteerism.
  • Which skills are needed for this program and how have you attained them?
  • Which techniques, methods, or programming skills are needed and how have you attained them?
  • What do you expect to learn from the program and what you expect to get out of it?
  • What are your future goals and how will this program help you to reach them?

Some additional brainstorming questions can be seen at the Purdue Writing Lab.

After your brainstorm and answer the previous questions, you should be set to start writing your personal statement.

How to Write a Good Personal Statement

Writing a good personal statement comes down to many factors. And there is not a singular definition of a good personal statement, however good personal statements tend to have similar qualities.

During your writing process, you will want to at least do a little research into each school or program you are applying to.

This is important because you will need to tailor every personal statement to the program you are applying to.

In tailoring your personal statement you are going to want to know specific information pertaining to the program that you can align with your interest. This will make it easier for you to write a strong personal statement.

It will also be essential that you have a clear narrative when writing.

You are only given a maximum of 2 pages, so you want to have a clear and concise story that you want to tell. Additionally, you will want to ensure that your personal statement contains strong writing.

This is important because during grad school you will be doing a lot of research papers and other writing projects so the admission committee is going to want to see great written communication skills.

Also you will want to show that you are a good fit for the specific program you are applying to.

This goes back to the idea of tailoring each personal statement to the specific program. When you do this, naturally you will show the how you are a good fit for the program.

Another important aspect of having a good personal statement will be that you don’t write what you did, but rather you write what you learnt from doing what you did.

Instead of saying:

  • I learnt how to use R in my biostatistics class for robust data analysis.
  • By using R to analyze bull sharks spawning location data, I learnt how to aggregate data from various sources and run a 2-way ANOVA statistical test to find the mean differences between the bull shark populations.

When writing your graduate school personal statements you should think of your essay as a hour-glass. In the sense that you start off and end broad in your introduction and conclusion, but have more specific information throughout your body paragraphs.

Lastly, you will want to be following the instructions and word limits given by the specific schools that you are applying to.

Some schools will have specific requirements or instructions when writing your personal statement and therefore it will be important to know of these before putting pen to paper.

Overview

A easy to follow format for your personal statement will be by breaking it into 5 paragraphs, which include:

  • Introduction (Paragraph 1)
  • Body (Paragraph 2-4)
  • Conclusion (Paragraph 5)

Next I’ll go into what you can add to each section of your personal statement.

Additionally, you can frame your essay in the same order as the brainstorming questions I stated earlier.

Introduction (First Paragraph)

You will want to start the essay off by sparking the admission committee’s interest. This could be done by using anecdotes or other captivating writing techniques.

If you don’t have any clever anecdotes then perhaps talk about:

  • Why do you want to study in this field?
  • Why you want to study at the specific program or school?
  • What sparked your interest in this field of study?

Remember that you have limited space so only include information that is relevant and frame your entire essay around 1 or 2 main themes.

Second Paragraph

What have you done that makes you suitable for this program. Start with your strongest point first.

This paragraph is all about showing the admission committee why you would be a good fit for the program. You will want to include an or a couple of examples on how you have engaged with the field during undergraduate or in other capacities.

Also you can add compliments to something specific about their program.

You could start this paragraph highlighting some cool points (from the research you did) about the program and why you think they are cool and how it fits in with your interest or your graduate school plan.

So this can be special things that interest you related to perhaps, a faculty member and their research, a specific program concentration, or a cool and unique feature of their university or more specifically program.

Third Paragraph

This paragraph can be used to highlight specific skills/techniques/methods you’ve learned that you think will prove that you will be successful once you are accepted into the program.

Think about writing what you learnt from what you did rather than just what you did. This will ensure that the admission committee can see what value you have gained previously and how this can translate into success in their program.

Fourth Paragraph

The fourth paragraph can be used to show “what else have you have done.”

This can be more of things less related to the field but shows transferable skills and experiences that can be used during your graduate program.

Think public speaking, or an influential volunteering experience. You will still want to ensure that you are choosing aspects that will show that you are an interesting individual and well-rounded applicant.

Conclusion (Last Paragraph)

Since this is your last paragraph, you are going to want to restate the major points and theme of your essay while not summarizing your essay.

In the conclusion its a good idea to place your experience and getting into the program in a frame that shows how this will help you to succeed and achieve your larger goals. You will also want to ensure you are saying how being accepted will help you to take the next step in your career.

What Not to Do

Some absolute don’t for your personal statement are:

Don’t be Cliche

I think this should go without me having to say anything. You don’t want to be vague and say something like:

“Public Health is an important field because I can help people.”

I think that I vague and completely obvious so leave statements like this out of your personal statement.

Don’t make Excuses

You don’t want to write to make excuses for what the admission committee can see in the remainder or your application. If you are going to use weak points then you have to ensure that you are using it to highlight something you learnt or how you overcame the issue.

Making excuses doesn’t do anything positive for you and therefore should be left out of your personal statement.

Don’t be Arrogant

You don’t want to come off as arrogant in your personal statement. You don’t want to boast too much, but a little thoughtful and strategic boasting can definitely bolster your overall application.

Know that you want to highlight your strengths without coming across as obnoxious.

Don’t state or allude to this program is your back-up plan

This is the last thing you want to include in your personal statement. Never, I repeat, never state or allude that this is just your back-up plan.

The admission committee is going to consist of people who are passionate about the work they do and the institution they work at. So it goes without saying that if you refer to their school as only good for your backup, they are sure to take that in an insulting way and are more likely to not accept you into their program.

And this means if you actually don’t get into the schools you want then, you are going to have a fighting chance to get into the school’s you saw as your “back-up.”

Pro Tips

Reflect

It’s not everyday someone ask you to write an essay about yourself. It can be something very hard to do since we don’t truly look at our lives from the outside and write about it.

This is why it is important to reflect and actually realize what you are trying to accomplish and understand what are your underlying motivations for wanting to go to graduate school.

Think about things like:

  • How am I a strong applicant?
  • What makes you special?
  • What influences you and your goals?

Try to Connect with Reader

The admission committee are people. What kind of people? Well they are people interested in the field of study you are applying to and that field maybe has some generalizable traits that people share.

So use this to visualize what perspective the person reading your personal statement will be viewing it from so that you can write a more sincere and connecting essay.

Lots of Drafts and Revisions

Graduate school may be your dream or it may help you to achieve your dream. Either way you really do want to get accepted. Therefore you should give yourself ample time to write your personal statement.

I wrote and re-wrote my personal statement maybe 4 times and this is not with others feedback as yet. It will be important that you are creating a personal statement that you are proud of and will feel confident when you apply.

Drafts and revisions will help to get your very polished ideas out onto the paper.

Get Others Opinions and Feedback

You are going to want a second and third pair of eyes reading over your personal statement multiple times. We are biased in our writing and may miss grammatical or other mistakes that will hinder your personal statement from truly shining.

Have people that you know will give you constructive criticism. Asking a professor or friend in graduate school could help you really enhance your essay as they are likely to give you little insights and tweaks that will go a long way.

You can also give someone you trust your personal statement and ask them these feedback questions:

  • What do you think is the overarching theme?
  • Which parts do you think are the strongest? And which are the weakest? WHY?
  • Do the paragraphs have logical transitions?
  • How about grammar, spelling mistakes, or maybe some words you would use instead of ones I used?
  • What would make the essay stronger?wr

Conclusion

There are 5 factors that come into play in your graduate school application.

  • Undergraduate Transcripts
  • Resume
  • Personal Statement
  • Test Scores (GRE, MCAT)
  • Letters of Recommendation

Your personal statement can absolutely make or break your graduate school application.

Therefore you have to ensure that you are showing yourself in the best light to the admission committee.

Your personal statement is truly an essay about you that is written from your perspective.

You are going to want to provide substantive information that will show the admission committee:

  • Reasons to believe you deserve to be admitted
  • How you will be successful in the program
  • How getting into the program will assist you in achieving your larger goals

Ensure that you are tailoring every application to each program you apply to.

Whatever you do, ensure that you have at least 2 people read over your personal statement. With so much weight given to this factor, you will need to ensure your submission does not have any silly mistakes.

Applying to graduate school can be a very exciting yet nerve-wrecking time in your life. You will want to give the most in your personal statement to show that you are committed and want to be accepted into their program.

What has been a challenge for you writing your personal statement?

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Welcome to The Public Health Millennial.

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Hi, I’m Omari Richins, MPH. I share resources for public health students and professionals to help them better navigate their public health careers.

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Live event tonight will be postponed! Please go register for events by The Association of Black Researchers (link in my story)! Will share the rescheduled information out with you all soon. And be sure to follow @healthequityjazz if you have not yet. More to come ✌🏾💜 #PublicHealth #BlackResearch #HealthEquity

Live event tonight will be postponed! Please go register for events by The Association of Black Researchers (link in my story)! Will share the rescheduled information out with you all soon. And be sure to follow @healthequityjazz if you have not yet. More to come ✌🏾💜 #PublicHealth #BlackResearch #HealthEquity

Come join Jasmine live to hear her share more about her DrPH! In part 1, Jasmine Leonard revealed that she will pursue her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Join us in part 2 of this live session to learn more about DrPH Fellowships, Finances & all that Jazz. Jasmine will discuss her fellowship, the finances of the DrPH, and everything you need to know about DrPH finances. She will also answer any additional questions about the overall experience, timeline, and next steps. In this session be ready to hear an open and honest conversation around: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Fellowship, Jasmine’s DrPH Fellowship + The process of getting finances for doctoral programs + Your Questions Join us: Tuesday 21st June at 6pm EST Link to join in bio + link to ask questions in bio! #PublicHealth #drph #doctorofpublichealth #ThisIsPublicHealth #publichealthfellowship #bloombergfellowship

Health Equity is not just a word, but a verb. We must take the actions to ensure that we are providing and taking opportunities to be more equitable. Giving myself space today to practice health in the physical, mental, and community. Grateful for getting to 5,000 followers 💜 *Giveaway Alert* 🚨 Enter the giveaway for a chance to win 1 of 2 “Health Equity Matters” T-shirts or a Public Health Millennial Mug of your choice (3 prizes for 3 winners). Entry Criteria: - Instagram: Like this IG post + Follow @thePHMillennial + Tag 3 Friends = 1 entry (unlimited entries) - Must be located in USA, Canada, Caribbean (excluding Cuba), Europe, Asia (excluding North Korea), Australia, & South America to enter. Optional Entries: - Review The Public Health Millennial Career Stories Podcast (send a screenshot) = 3 entires - Subscribe to The Public Health Millennial YouTube channel (send a screenshot) = 3 entries - Share this post to your IG story and tag me (screenshot if private) = 3 entries (1 entry/day) Giveaway duration: The giveaway runs Tuesday 7th June - Tuesday 21st June at 11:59pm EST. All rules of the giveaway can be found at: thePHmillennial.com/rules #publichealth #publichealthmatters #publichealtheducation #healthequity #giveaway #giveawayalert #publichealthgiveaway

Health Equity is not just a word, but a verb. We must take the actions to ensure that we are providing and taking opportunities to be more equitable. Giving myself space today to practice health in the physical, mental, and community. Grateful for getting to 5,000 followers 💜 *Giveaway Alert* 🚨 Enter the giveaway for a chance to win 1 of 2 “Health Equity Matters” T-shirts or a Public Health Millennial Mug of your choice (3 prizes for 3 winners). Entry Criteria: – Instagram: Like this IG post + Follow @thePHMillennial + Tag 3 Friends = 1 entry (unlimited entries) – Must be located in USA, Canada, Caribbean (excluding Cuba), Europe, Asia (excluding North Korea), Australia, & South America to enter. Optional Entries: – Review The Public Health Millennial Career Stories Podcast (send a screenshot) = 3 entires – Subscribe to The Public Health Millennial YouTube channel (send a screenshot) = 3 entries – Share this post to your IG story and tag me (screenshot if private) = 3 entries (1 entry/day) Giveaway duration: The giveaway runs Tuesday 7th June – Tuesday 21st June at 11:59pm EST. All rules of the giveaway can be found at: thePHmillennial.com/rules #publichealth #publichealthmatters #publichealtheducation #healthequity #giveaway #giveawayalert #publichealthgiveaway

Couldn’t have asked for a better first international conference & panel presentation! 💜 Grateful for the opportunity to present alongside our amazing community partners, Rural Opportunity Institute (@ruralopportunity), doing amazing work around Community Resilience to combat Adverse Childhood Experiences along with creating a community innovation lab & social accelerator in rural NC. Also presented with The REACH Center & CTNext. This Inventure$ conference is typically out of my wheel-house being that it is focused on innovation & technology, but yet I realized just how similar a lot of my work is and how much I’ve been able to gain from this conference & making these untraditional connections. Some takeaways of value from the conference & sessions: – listen to community first, they got solutions. Unlikely partners and those that have been left out of conversations & off the tables are those that have the solutions to some of our toughest problems. – scaling doesn’t always mean that you have to go big, there is value in scaling in depth. – flow drives our attention into the now; it is an altered state of consciousness & people who have most flow are the happiest on the planet. – when creating gatherings be very intentional on the purpose of it. Ask yourself “why am I doing this and what is the need?” Having meetings need to be purposeful and sharing information in of itself is not purposeful. – when building community focus on 3 things: vulnerability, identity, engagement. We typically learn a lot more about people online than from just one in-person conversation. Empower “dominant” group leaders to create space for new voices & perspectives. – don’t fall victim to “yes complex” look for people that disagree with you and grow from there. We have for too long siloed ourselves to comfort & there is a need now more than ever to engage in discourse with people with differing perspectives. Conferences are great ways to push yourself to make connections that can really catapult your work & being. Join the community health & wellness discord – link in bio. #publichealth #inventure$ #conference #networking #publichealthmatters #philanthropymatters

Dear Public Health Graduate: You’ve made it this far! I hope you are proud of yourself for dedicating yourself to the completion of your degree. If you have not yet, take a few minutes to reflect on all the big wins you have had in your life in the past few years! Public health needs you. It needs fresh perspectives & new blood. This is where you come in! Hell – you just completed your degree during a public health pandemic. That novel experience is going to be an invaluable one. When I say we need you, I mean. We need you to show up authentically. We need you to challenge the norms. We need you to share them brilliant perspectives. Actionable steps for you: – Be prepared. I mean like over-prepared prepared. – Take notes & follow up with people and action items. – Strategize by yourself or with others before meetings. – Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable & just speak up. – Say something to support someone else. – Ask questions you prepared beforehand. – Get a sponsor when possible. How are you going to make a bigger impact in the rooms you are in? #publichealth #publichealthgraduate #mph #publichealthmatters #publichealtheducation

Thinking about getting your Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) or just want to learn more about the process? Well we have the amazing new accepted DrPH student, Jasmine Leonard, MPH [@healthequityjazz] to break this down for us LIVE. Jasmine will be revealing where she chose to pursue her DrPH: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health or George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health – be sure to join for the big reveal! In part 1 of this session, you’ll learn about: Looking at DrPH Schools + Timelines + Factors That Shaped Decision + Your Questions. The date is Tuesday May 24th @6pm EST on The Public Health Millennial YouTube Channel. There are links in bio to register for the event, a link to subscribe to The Public Health Millennial YouTube channel, & a google form for any questions you want to ask. This is going to be an open and honest conversation and we look forward to having you there! What’s a question you would want to ask a DrPH student – drop it in the comments below? #Publichealth #publichealthmatters #doctorofpublichealth #publichealthnerd #MPHstudent #DrPH

Happy conGRADulations to all the recent or soon to be graduates 🎓 I hope you all are proud of yourselves - cause you should be! Being a public health student during a global [public health] pandemic in where public health was scrutinized at every step is tough. I can only imagine that struggle while also navigating school, life, and all that jazz. More power to you! Can’t wait to see all the great you’ll do for your communities and this world! Congratulations again 🥳 🎊 Celebrate Yourself! The journey continues! Share what your next steps are 👇🏾 #PublicHealth #PublicHealthMatters #MastersDegree #Graduation #mph

Happy conGRADulations to all the recent or soon to be graduates 🎓 I hope you all are proud of yourselves – cause you should be! Being a public health student during a global [public health] pandemic in where public health was scrutinized at every step is tough. I can only imagine that struggle while also navigating school, life, and all that jazz. More power to you! Can’t wait to see all the great you’ll do for your communities and this world! Congratulations again 🥳 🎊 Celebrate Yourself! The journey continues! Share what your next steps are 👇🏾 #PublicHealth #PublicHealthMatters #MastersDegree #Graduation #mph

We outside with community 🗣 Last week I had my first chance to head out to Halifax County to the grand opening of the Medoc Mountain State Park Playground opening! A Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust funded playground. This is the only playground at a state park in North Carolina. Halifax County is a rural yet vibrant community with few active recreation spaces. Now with the opening of this unique playground in a state park which was part of the larger Halifax County 10-Year Recreation Master Plan, the community is going to have many more opportunities to play and be active not only for children, but also for their entire families. It was great to finally meet community partners that I’ve worked with over the last year and a half. It was truly special to have a ribbon cutting and words shared from the people who’s land Halifax County occupies, the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe. I especially enjoyed meeting & connecting with Chief Ogletree Richardson, Tribal Princess Angelina, and other Council Members & look forward to partnering with them to move forward food security for their people. This would be the first time the Trust has partnered with the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, but not the last! Also huge s/o to @ndaub & the communications team for always having your boy sounding polished in community! Pic 4 – kids ain’t got time for my speech. Pic 9 – tasty local pears & oranges 🤤. This is what showing up in community and for community looks like. This is how we get to equitable systems change, by engaging the populations that have historically been left out of these conversations and giving them the resources & power to show up as their authentic selves to shift and hold systems accountable. #PublicHealth #communityresilience #ActiveRecreation #CommunityVoice #PublicHealthMatters

Getting Into Grad School: Writing a Personal Statement

Alexandra Ages

As a first generation student, I had very little in the way of background knowledge when it came to applying to grad school. My chosen school, McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, was highly competitive, and it took me months to build up the courage to begin my application. Once I started my application, I felt even more lost, and intimidated, by the process.

I needed help. So, I reached out to a community of other first generation students, a group called the Shoestring Initiative, and asked for somebody, anybody, to offer me whatever advice they could spare. Elaine Laberge, who went on to become my friend and mentor, kindly offered me her full support. Her support remains something for which I am deeply grateful.

I wrote more drafts of my personal statement than I can count, as I simultaneously worked to format my CV and to collect the needed reference letters. It was the statement, however, that I found the most challenging. How do you summarize your life in 1,000 words or less?

Elaine helped me. She offered words of support, and reviewed draft after draft of my letter. I submitted my application to the Max Bell School of Public Policy on the final day of applications, having wanted every last minute to edit my letter.

I got in. And, I received a scholarship, a much-needed relief after already having taken on debt for my undergrad.

In August of 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I started my studies at the Max Bell School of Public Policy. My first class was taken in my parent’s basement. In July of 2021, I graduated from Max Bell. I was the first of my family to receive a Bachelor’s degree, and in 2021, became the first with a Master’s degree as well.

However, without the support of my family, friends, and community, I don’t think I would have even been accepted, let alone have graduated. Without the generational knowledge of post-secondary institutions, grad school can be far more challenging than it otherwise would be. Even getting in can be needlessly difficult. And so, I want to share my experience in applying to grad school, as well as my actual personal statement, for any other first generation students, or anyone, really, who may be struggling. Below, please see the letter that got me into grad school, a letter that I could not have written without the support of of Elaine, and a letter that, I hope, can support other students. Please feel free to use my letter as a guide for what sort of information to include within your own unique personal statement, and as a framework for what formatting can look like.

Practical policy: On wanting to enact tangible change

In mid-October 2015, the political tensions were reverberating across Canada. I was just a few months too young to vote, and was taking my first ever class on Canadian politics. On October 20th, I went to class, where the historical event of the night before wasn’t even mentioned. No discussion on shifting political ideology, on voter turnout, or on the range of federal policies that would soon be implemented by our new government. When I walked out of that class that day, I decided that it was critical for me to learn more about the tangible ramifications of political theory, versus focusing purely on the abstract. I saw so many problems in the world around me, and desperately wanted to use what I learned in school to find solutions. For me, it was this desire that became the driving force of my university career.

At 19, I was becoming more engaged with activism, specifically around food policy. Eventually, I was hired to manage my campus food bank. I’ve always worked while being a student, and while running a food bank and being a full-time student was difficult, I enjoyed the challenge. While working on a shoestring budget, I fed up to 200 students a day, while also developing food security policy with the University of Victoria’s Student’s Society. It seemed ridiculous that here, in a well-off city, at a well-funded university, we had hundreds of students going hungry. Although I was not in a position to make structural changes, I learned the importance of in-the-meantime shifts and small-scale policy solutions. To further support students in a respectful and relational way (i.e., not shaped by a deficit-based premise or perpetuating stigmatization), I led over 10 workshops and events on topics ranging from preparing food while living with a disability, to supporting local food systems to navigating food labels.

At this point in my schooling, I was drawn to the broad-reaching ramifications of political insecurity, civic “disobedience,” and climate change on global food systems. Through an intersectional lens, coupled with my lived experiences of food insecurity, I directly applied this knowledge at work. For me, education was also meant to play a practical role, and I was privileged to hold a job where I could directly apply what I’d learned in class.

Although working full-time, carrying a full course, and honouring my familial obligations occasionally impacted my GPA, in my third year as an undergraduate, I was published for the first time. “She was asking for it: How Canadian media supports rape culture” (2018, p. 12) was written in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The article pays particular attention to the deeply biased reporting of sexualized violence committed against Indigenous women. Just as the grassroots #MeToo movement was sweeping the world, so too did the Victoria Women’s March sweep Victoria. I played a central role in organizing the event on the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples’ traditional territory, and galvanized city-wide engagement. Alongside a small but dedicated group of volunteers, the march was rounded out by speeches from Indigenous matriarchs, Tsastilqualus Nation representatives, and the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre. The classroom conversations we’d had on feminist theory suddenly felt a thousand times more relevant.

By graduation, three of my academic papers had been published, the food bank had a successful assortment of programs and policies, and I was more engaged with political action than ever. Around this time, I was volunteering with the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, working on their program, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Youth Bootcamp. In July of 2019, myself and 19 other young people attended the United Nations High Level Political Forum on the SDGs in order to ensure youth voices were represented at the highest level of policy making. While there, we hosted an event on intergenerational equity at the Canadian consulate, and spoke to the fact that future generations must also be considered in policy making. Intergenerational equity remains a critical lense through which I view policy.

Also in the spring of 2019, just prior to my graduation, I represented the riding of Victoria at an event called Daughters of the Vote, for politically engaged young women, in the House of Commons. For the first time, I truly experienced politics in action. Upon my return, I immediately applied for a position with Alistair MacGregor, Cowichan — Malahat — Langford MP, NDP. Three days after my convocation, I began work at his constituency office, and later began working on his re-election campaign. I am thrilled to be engaged in learning to navigate the political side of daunting public and social policy issues such as food security, gender equity, and climate change; issues that were critical elements within the local debates, while also bringing sustainable development goals to life on both a deeply localized scale and at the national level. In short, in my current role, my interest in public and social policy continues to flourish. This is my passion.

My interest in the Max Bell Master of Public Policy (MPP) program is shaped by my dedication to addressing the concerns that have dominated my life and those of other marginalized individuals, families, communities, and nations: food security, gender equity, and social justice. Part of my values are a commitment to making meaningful and tangible differences to tackle systemic inequality and injustice. Second, the program combines theory with practical skills and effective policy implementation. Specifically, the program offers unparalleled opportunities to create accessible and applicable policies for real organizations within the Policy Lab. Third, I will learn from professors who are practitioners and learn alongside similarly motivated and engaged students. Finally, I firmly believe that I will find a home in the MPP teaching program. It is a place where I can build upon my five years of political and social advocacy and public policy work. Through the program, I will attain the knowledge and skills that I can apply in building a career in social and public policy.

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