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This handout will help you write and revise the personal statement required by many graduate programs, internships, and special academic programs.
If you don’t do what they ask, the reader may wonder if you will be able to follow directions in their program.
Make sure you follow page and word limits exactly—err on the side of shortness, not length.
You may want to start by just getting something—anything—on paper. Think about the questions we asked above and the prompt for the essay, and then write for 15 or 30 minutes without stopping.
What do you want your audience to know after reading your essay? Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, organization, or anything else. For help getting started, see our handout on brainstorming. Find the most relevant, memorable, concrete statements and focus in on them.
With this in mind: Imagine the worst-case scenario (which may never come true—we’re talking hypothetically): the person who reads your essay has been in the field for decades.
She is on the application committee because she has to be, and she’s read 48 essays so far that morning.
The voice you use should be approachable as well as intelligent.
This essay is not the place to stun your reader with ten prepositional phrases (“the goal of my study of the field of law in the winter of my discontent can best be understood by the gathering of more information about my youth”) and thirty nouns (“the research and study of the motivation behind my insights into the field of dentistry contains many pitfalls and disappointments but even more joy and enlightenment”) per sentence.
Eliminate any generalizations or platitudes (“I’m a people person”, “Doctors save lives”, or “Mr.
Calleson’s classes changed my life”), or anything that could be cut and pasted into anyone else’s application.