28 Tips on Personal Statements and Graduate School Application Essays

  • Be prepared to write and revise and write and revise and edit and revise and rewrite and edit and...
  • Seek advice; talk with different people, listen to what they say, and then follow what feels right for you.
  • Every person is unique. What makes you unique? What can you share from your life that will help a stranger understand why you are different from anyone else that has ever applied to this school or business?
  • We are defined by the stories we tell; writing a personal statement is an exercise in story-telling.
  • Think details, details, details.
  • Better to focus on one or two primary issues/experiences rather than briefly cover many.
  • Avoid self-promotions (e.g., it does not help to claim: "I am an intelligent, compassionate, and caring person.")
  • Keep your guard up and avoid cliches "like the plague." Cliches obscure your unique message.
  • Always avoid phrasing like "I've always wanted to be a _______."
  • Always avoid "always."
  • Avoid the flippant, glib, or cute.
  • Be wary of humor. If you are compelled to be funny, try for the subtle or ironic: attempts at humor often come across as evidence of immaturity (evidence of that quality in this handout?).
  • No whining.
  • Avoid writing on personal problems or excuses for failure.
  • Do not criticize past teachers, other programs, other businesses, or KoCom's CEO.
  • Avoid emphasis on monetary reasons for your motivations.
  • Be wary of egocentricity; commend yourself without bragging about yourself.
  • If asked to describe weaknesses, discuss ones that can be seen as strengths.
  • Eliminate sexist language (predicting your future contributions to "the brotherhood of man" will probably not help your cause).
  • Avoid unnecessary Capitalizations of Nouns.
  • Use language that feels right for you. Look up questionable words in a good dictionary.
  • No handwritten submissions.
  • Use conventional font choices and sizes: emphasize clarity and readability.
  • No speling, gramatical--or typographical erors.
  • Look up any questionable grammatical or stylistic constructions in a good reference book (the most widely accepted authority is the Chicago Manual of Style).
  • If appropriate, reveal you know something about the company or school to which you are applying.
  • Ask at least one skilled, demanding reader to proofread your "final" document. Be prepared to revise your "final" document.
  • Perfect personal statement: not too short; not too long.

Many of these recommendations were adapted from Graduate Admissions Essays--What Works, What Doesn't and Why by Donald Asher

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E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.