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  • Writer's pictureJustin Grimes

How to Write a Winning Personal Statement

The start of the academic year is here or approaching quickly. Millions will enter classrooms virtually and in person one day to receive their college degrees. For me, the two scariest moments for students are the beginning activities of the first year (residence hall move-in, first day of classes, meetings) and graduation. It doesn’t matter if you are still pursuing your undergraduate degree, recently graduated, or have been out of school for several years; you still need to get serious about your future. So get ready for the discussion because...

If you read this post, I assume you have some interest in pursuing a graduate degree and have heard of my book “20 Questions to Answer Before You Apply to Graduate School.” If you don’t have a copy, click here to purchase your copy today. There are a lot of requirements to get into graduate school, which I cover In Chapter 15 in the book "What Are the Requirements to Get into Graduate School?" As a former recruiter and admissions committee member, I can tell you some parts of the application no matter the applicant look the same (GPA, test scores, degree program). You may ask yourself, if several applications are being reviewed, how do I make myself stand out? That’s a great question.

One way recruiters, faculty, and admissions committees differentiate whose a great candidate for their program is through the Personal Statement. Like in the book, some may refer to it as the Statement of Purpose, which generally has the same function. As long as you have a plan for writing your Personal Statement, you will do just fine. Some of you don’t believe me, primarily, because you have never written this before, and have a ton of questions. Great, let’s talk about how to successfully kickstart writing your Personal Statement.

What should I do to set myself up for success when writing my Personal Statement?

Success in graduate school starts with gathering and interpreting information. To get into graduate school you need to arm yourself with as much information before you apply. Before you write the first word of your Personal Statement, review the graduate school admissions requirements or program website to identify the name and specifications for what they require. Save your file using the name you provide on your application and the document name for everything you upload (ex. Justin Grimes Purpose Statement). Make it easy for the reviewer to know who and what they are looking at. WHY? Because it’s frustrating trying to recall the who and what of multiple documents. Frankly, many reviewers are lazy and not thrilled about the process of reviewing graduate school applications. Don’t give them a reason to move you to the NO pile just because the naming of your document conflicts directly with their idiosyncrasies and personal preferences. I’ve seen it happen quite a bit. And yes, I understand this is a form of bias and that you have no control over it, so do what’s suggested, and you won’t have to worry about it.

What mistakes should I avoid in writing my personal statement?

Mistakes happen in life, but with the Personal Statement you can avoid major ones. First, download and use Grammarly to address overt issues of grammar, misspelling, and punctuation. Second, don’t overthink what to include. Below we will cover what you should include in your Personal Statement. Third, remember that you already have practiced writing documents that convey your experiences. Consider the Personal Statement as the written extension of your past, present, and future. Furthermore, it’s the academic cousin of the cover letter. While there are several examples and templates out there you could use, you have to write your version. That’s why it’s called a Personal Statement. These documents should only be used as a guide. I wouldn’t suggest having another person or using an artificial intelligence program like ChatGPT to write the Personal Statement for you. Both can provide you with some guidance, but like I said already:

After reading this post, someone will still ignore my advice and upload a document they didn’t write. Don’t be shocked. I’ve talked to faculty who have told me they have read 3-5 Personal Statements written the same, and one lazy person forgot to remove the ChatGPT reference from it. What was the result? DENIED ADMISSIONS. Yep, that application and transcript fees were just wasted because of laziness. I’m sure you wondering what should you include in your Personal Statement.

What should I include in my Personal Statement?

Let’s examine what reviewers of your Personal Statement want to see written in it. Here are the questions your Personal Statement should address.

  1. Who are you?

  2. Why this institution?

  3. Why this graduate program?

  4. What will you bring to the program?

  5. How will this program assist you in your career and life goals?

How should I organize my Personal Statement?

In the book, I give you an organized breakdown of the 5 sections a great Personal Statement will include to spark reviewers interest. The Personal Statement is a story about you, so brush off those storytelling skills.

Start writing your answers to the above questions to make your Personal Statement and application stand out. In my conversations with faculty, if applicants couldn’t answer these questions, they were quickly moved to my DENIED admissions pile. I am a consultant and workshop facilitator for many graduate programs across the United States, and I’m telling you these questions reflect the information reviewers want to read.

Speaking of reading, get someone else to read your document and offer feedback. I had three professors, two doctoral students, and two higher education administrators review mine. WHY? I knew I didn’t meet the GPA and test score requirements to get admitted into the graduate programs I applied for. Therefore, I had to show my strengths in other places, including the Personal Statement. My statement granted me a letter of admission from the University of Georgia, and I’ve helped others get their letters too. I’m not above receiving the help, which you learn in order to complete a graduate degree, you will need others help.

What else can I do to strengthen my Personal Statement?

Some folks need more support, accountability, and feedback on their Personal Statement. I completely understand because that was me. At Apply to Graduate School, we have a program just for you. This program will give you more structure and detail for writing your Personal Statement, feedback from admissions committee reviewers, editing, and feedback on your document. For more information, schedule a FREE 15-minute meeting with a team member to discuss the program here.

Thank you for reading this post. Follow us at @apply2gschool on social media and visit our website at for more information about our services and resources.

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