Applying for admission to a graduate program in the United States can be challenging. The process starts by choosing a specific graduate program and then finding out which colleges and universities offer this graduate program. The next important step is finding out what documentation is required to apply for admission. To make it even more confusing, the requirements for admission can change from one university to the next.
One item that is often requested is a personal statement. What exactly is a “personal statement” and why do universities ask for it?
Unfortunately, there is not one answer that works for every graduate program at every university. In fact, graduate programs within the same university may or may not require a personal statement, and those programs that do require it, may ask for different things in the personal statement.
In most cases, the personal statement provides the graduate department with additional information—personal and unique information—about the applicant they would not be able to find in the application or academic documents. They are normally looking for the student’s motivation to be in the academic program, the student’s academic preparation, and whether the graduate program is a good match for the student’s goals and qualifications. The department is most concerned with admitting students who have a high probability of being successful in the program.
The most important thing to remember is to understand what the graduate department is looking for in a personal statement. The best place to find out this information is on the departmental web page or on the university’s international graduate student application for admission. It may simply say “Personal Statement Required,” or there may be specific instructions about what information the personal statement should contain. If they give specific instructions about the content of the personal statement, it is very important that the applicant follows these instructions.
If there are no specific instructions given for the personal statement, the applicant should write a 1-2 page, double-spaced statement addressed to the specific program at the university. It should explain why the student is choosing this specific graduate program as well as why the student would like to study at this college or university. If you will be submitting personal statements to more than one university, remember to always change the name of the academic program to match the exact offering at the university, and of course, make sure the correct university name is on the statement.
In addition, it is important for the graduate committee to understand that the student is prepared to be successful in this program. In other words, has the student’s first university degree provided good preparation for success, and if applicable has the student included any research, volunteer or work experience that is related to the academic program.
If the student will be applying for “conditional” admission, then it is likely their English language proficiency is not very high. A personal statement will still be required, and it will be important to write a high quality statement in the native language and include an exact translation. At the top of the translated document, it is important to explain that the student is in an intensive English program and this is the reason for the translation of the original statement.
If the student is applying for regular admission, the personal statement is to be submitted in English. Always remember that the statement must be written by the student. Grammar and spelling should correct before submission.
The personal statement can be very important to any graduate admissions committee decision, but if the program is highly competitive, the statement may take on a higher level of consideration. Take careful consideration to produce a thoughtful statement that both impresses and informs the graduate committee. A well-written personal statement could decide whether the student is a great candidate for their graduate program.
Jim Crawley is the Director of Global Recruiting and Partnerships at Alma College in Alma, Michigan