Researching Grad Application Essay: The First Step to Writing a Personal Statement

One of the most important steps to writing an effective and successful personal statement is making sure you have done your research

One of the most important elements to writing a successful personal statement is the research that goes into it; this is not something that you can sit down and fire off in an hour. As an essay writer, I state that a good personal statement takes quite a bit of research before your pen even hits the paper.

After going through these tips you should have:

  1. a clear idea of what the schools you are interested in are looking for in a personal statement
  2. an understanding of the programs and professors you are most interested in
  3. a solid set of reasons why each of the schools you want to attend could arguably be the “best” choice for you and your continued research

Getting Started

  1. Understand the question. Some schools will have different requirements for what they wish for you to cover in the personal statement. Be sure to include all of them. You may even use the requirements as a preliminary outline as you get started on the process.
  2. Read the personal statement requirements for each school you intend on applying to. Most schools have their applications online these days. Each one has different requirements for file sizes, page lengths, headers, and file names. One wrong move here, and you’re statement might not even make it to someone’s desk.
  3. Research the school that you are applying to. Read carefully the materials that are provided on the school, the program you are interested in, and any affiliated research institutes through websites or other materials. Part of your job here is to explain why this school, more so than any other, is the right fit for you.
  4. You may want to do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) so that you can more effectively describe why each of your choices is the ideal choice for you. Making a chart with the schools you are interested in and your reasons for wanting to go to them is a great way to organize this information. This exercise will also make your reasoning clearer to you as well.
  5. Research the abstracts of the professors in your field. Not only do you need to be able to justify why one school is the right fit, but you may also even have to go as far as justifying why one person within your field is the ideal professor and/or adviser for you and your research.
  6. Email questions you have about the school or writing a personal statement to your advisers or the graduate advisers of the program you are interested in.
  7. If you are confident in your research goals, you may want to write the department head or your professor of choice with an intelligent question about your plans. Caution: This is a risky move. It’s a great way to get your name noticed for good or bad. You may want to pass your email onto your undergraduate adviser or someone writing a recommendation for you first.
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Proofreading A Winning Personal Statement

Your graduate school application essay is as much about you and your fit into a program as it is about your ability to communicate effectively and clearly.

After you have researched the schools you want to apply to, brainstormed ideas for your essay, and written the first couple of drafts, you will now need to put your application through a revision process.

Here are a few tips to help you revise your essay so that it will be the best possible version it can be.

Tips for Revising a Personal Statement

  1. Walk away. After you have written your first draft, leave your essay alone for a few days. Chances are you have been doing the research and writing of this essay for a couple of days. Give it a rest. Fresh eyes are best for editing your work.
  2. Save generations. This is a document that you will revisit a couple of times in your academic career. Make sure you save generations of your work so you can refer back to previous edits. By keeping copies of older versions, you are freer to chop up and delete more freely as well.
  3. Share with the people you are asking for recommendations. The people you have asked for recommendations may even have asked you for a copy of your statement to help them write their recommendations. This is a great way to get some feedback on your essay from people who are familiar with your academic work.
  4. Edit your peers’ papers. Exchange personal statements with people you know who are going through the application process. Seeing how other people write will give you ideas while you get valuable feedback from people who know you personally. Find people you trust and you will get honest feedback about whether or not your statement reflects you and your passions.
  5. Show your parents. Your parents may not be experts in your field, or even in anything academic, but they are experts in you. This is a great way to find out if your essay captures who you are.
  6. Double-check submission guidelines. Make sure you double, no, TRIPLE check the submission guides for each school you are applying to. They are going to be different for each one and you do not want your perfect essay to be left unread due to a minor technical error.

Keep all of this research well organized as you move into the brainstorming phase of writing your graduate school application and then as you write your essay.

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