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Questions to Ask Yourself before Writing a Personal Statement

All graduate schools require applicants to submit a personal statement, which helps the admission committee evaluate the applicant on a more personal level. A personal statement provides you with the opportunity to portray yourself as an individual and as well as distinguish yourself from other applicants.

If you are ready to apply to graduate school, there's no getting around the personal statement. But don’t write an essay on any topic. Your essay should contain substance and leave a positive impression on the readers. If you are having trouble starting your personal statement, then consider answering some of these questions before you begin:


Questions about your individuality:

  • Who am I?
  • What characteristics do I possess (e.g. honest, compassionate, loyal)?
  • What skills do I have (e.g. analytical, communication, organizational)?
  • How have I changed/grown over the years? What caused these changes and how have they affected me?
  • What makes me unique? How am I different from other applicants?
  • Why should the admissions committee be interested in me?
  • Are there any obstacles that I had to overcome and how have I dealt with these difficulties from my past?
  • Are there any experiences from my past that have affected my life? Can I relate these experiences to my goals?
  • Who has influenced me over the years (e.g. parent, sibling, teacher, or friend) and how have they influenced me?
  • What are my career goals?

Questions about your field of study:

  • When did I become fascinated by my field of study?
  • Why am I interested in my field of study?
  • What have I learned about my subject of interest?
  • How has my discipline shaped me? What has my field of study taught me about myself?

Questions about your academic record:

  • Do I have any gaps or inconsistencies on my records (transcript and/or exam scores) that I can explain?
  • Are there any awards, recognitions, or honors that I have received and that are worth mentioning?

Questions about your non-academic experiences:

  • What internships and/or jobs have I had in the past?
  • What have I learned from my internship and/or job experiences? What skills have I acquired through my internship and/or job?
  • How are my internship and/or job experiences related to my field of interest? Have my internship and/or job experiences prepared me for my future career?
  • Have I been involved in any social services? How has the experience contributed to my growth and how is it related to my goals?
  • What extracurricular activities have I participated in and how do they contribute to my professional goals?

Questions about the readers and institution:

  • Who will be reading my personal statement?
  • How can I make my essay compelling to the readers?
  • Why am I applying to this program?
  • Why am I applying to this institution?
  • How will attending this graduate school help me grow as an individual and prepare me for my future career?

Answering these questions will help you find a theme and content for your personal statement. Remember to incorporate all your information into a well-organized consistent story. Additionally, all your information should refer to your future professional goals.

Because your personal statement can have an impact on your acceptance or rejection, it is important that you write an essay that leaves a valuable impression on the admission committee. Evaluating these questions can help you prepare an essay that is compelling and attention grabbing. Your job is to let the reader know why you should be the one that is accepted. After answering these questions, your next step is to use this information and create an organized and structured essay.


Written by Tara Kuther

Western Connecticut State University, Developmental Psychology and author of Graduate Study in Psychology: Your Guide to Success, The Psychology Major's Handbook, Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, Your Career in Psychology: Psychology and Law, as well as several other books.