PERSONAL STATEMENT: Why a graduate/internship committee should accept me.

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Personal statement about me:

I am 21, I go to SDSU. Liberal studies major (teaching). First year generation college. First semester.

anything else needed please ask!


This paper should be an extension of your elevator pitch. Think of the personal statement as being a focused, thesis-driven memoir that demonstrates why the graduate/internship committee should accept you. It will be similar to a memoir in the sense that it should explain your experiences and interests and how those came about. Those experiences and interests must be relevant to the program, of course. Also, a successful personal statement often takes the form of a narrative. It’s a story of who you are and what you can offer. It’s also a chance for the program to get to know you on a personal level, to see the person behind the GPA and entrance-exam scores. It should demonstrate creativity. The statement should be thesis-driven in the sense that you should develop an overarching theme or focus within your explanation those experiences and interests. That theme should have something to do with your qualifications for the program.

Notice what your statement should do: demonstrate why the program should accept you. You’re not simply stating why you want acceptance; that would be obvious (because it’s a good program that will help your life). You’re not simply describing how badly you want acceptance; that wouldn’t necessarily indicate that you deserve it. You’re not simply explaining how much you’ll benefit from the program; presumably, the program already knows how much it can benefit you.

Your job is to show why your experience and interests will make you a good candidate for acceptance. You’re selling yourself. You’re selling your motivation and capacity to succeed. Don’t tell the committee what distinguishes you from the other hundreds of applicants they will consider; show them what makes you different.


Like any good argument, your personal statement needs to reflect careful consideration of the audience. Reading stacks of personal statements is not most people’s idea of a great time. Graduate/internship committees generally meet at inconvenient times in the heart of busy periods. Often they’ll have to wade through the essays on Saturdays. They’ll usually have hundreds of them to get through before they can leave. You’ll want to be memorable.

What To Do

Get started. Don’t spend a week agonizing over the opening sentence (even though it might be the most important sentence in this essay). This essay is a creative exercise, and you don’t want writer’s block. You will revise your draft after you’ve written it, but you can’t revise a blank page.

Write in the first-person. Remember, this statement is about you personally.

Strike a good balance: be serious and ambitious but interesting. Be positive and confident but not arrogant.

Describe your goals. For graduate schools, have a fairly clear picture of your research interests. Be sure those research interests align with what that program offers. Demonstrate that you’ve done your research and have a good base of knowledge in your proposed field. If possible, mention specific faculty members (preferably more than one) with whom you’d like to work. For internships, explain what purpose the internship will serve in your career plans. Demonstrate that you’ve done your research and have a proactive interest in getting into your proposed field.

If you don’t have much (or any) relevant experience, link your other experiences to your field of interest. Think about your qualities and how you’ve used them. Pick the ones that make you memorable and find ways to relate them to your proposed field.

Remember that you’ll also be submitting a separate application to the program. In the personal statement, only mention experiences that are either relevant to your proposed field and the narrative that you’re creating or at least have been influential in forming your goals.

If you have flaws in your application that you’re sure the committee can’t help but notice, you might find it useful to explain why they’re there. Be sure that explanation is reasonable and fully-described. In other words, if you did poorly on the GRE, don’t just say, “My head wasn’t in the right place” and leave it at that.

Tailor your statement to the individual program to which you’re applying. Different programs want and expect different information. Remember that your application has a fee attached to it. Don’t waste your fifty or a hundred bucks by sending a statement that doesn’t address what the program wants you to. (You can tailor your statement without rewriting it completely, of course.)

Be sure to have a well-thought-out structure to your statement. You should demonstrate that you can think clearly and logically and express yourself the same way. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that you’ll follow up with evidence that supports the claim your topic sentence makes. Your support will come from examples of what you’ve done in real life.

Revise at the paragraph/idea level. Edit at the sentence level. Proofread at the word/punctuation level.

What Not To Do

Do not bore the committee. Get to the point early. Catch the committee’s attention early. Don’t waste important essay space by explaining things that are overly general or self-evident.

Do not generalize. Remember, you want to show, not tell.

Do not use cliches (“I knew I always wanted to ______ as soon as _____”) or gimmicks (don’t be wacky or cute or flaunt established conventions).

Do not preach or lecture the committee about the importance of your proposed field. Don’t be a kiss-up; it’s a transparent tactic.

Do not discuss topics that are taboo or off-topic for you purpose. Unless you’re applying to something political or religious, do not discuss politics or religion.

Do not merely summarize your resume or other application materials.

Do not write an unfocused autobiography that includes irrelevant portions of your life.

Do not use pretentious or overly-academic jargon.

Do not be long-winded, either in the narratives you tell or the sentences that tell them.

Do not settle for anything that isn’t perfect. Don’t have even one careless error.

Begin taking notes on what drives you. Describe your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. What do you hope to gain from graduate study? Granted, not all of this information will make it into the essay, but your goal at this point is to brainstorm. Identity as much of your personal history as possible so that you can carefully sift through and sort out events and personal items that will strengthen your essay.


  • Hobbies
  • Projects that you’ve completed
  • Jobs
  • Responsibilities
  • Accomplishments in the personal and scholastic arena
  • Major life events that have changed you
  • Challenges and hurdles you’ve overcome
  • Life events that motivate your education
  • People who have influenced you or motivated you
  • Traits, work habits, and attitudes that will insure your success your goals

Carefully consider your academic record and personal accomplishments. How do the attitudes, values, and personal qualities that you’ve listed correspond to these experiences? Try to pair them up. For example, your curiosity and thirst for knowledge may have led you to conduct independent research with a professor. Consider how each pair of attitudes/personal qualities and experiences show that you’re prepared to excel in graduate school.

Once you have a master list, carefully examine the information that you’ve listed. Remember that the information that you chose to present can portray you as a positive and upbeat person or as a tired and discouraged student. Think about the image that you want to portray and revise your master list accordingly. Use the revised list as a basis for all of your admissions essays. Carefully consider what you should (and should not!) include in your essay.

If you are having trouble starting your admissions essay, consider the following questions to help you gain perspective on your own unique qualities:

Who am I?

  • 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?

Why do I want to continue my studies?

  • 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?

How can I address my 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, recognition, or honors that I have received and that are worth mentioning?

How do field experiences enhance my application?

  • 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?

Who is my audience?

  • 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?
  • What do I offer the graduate program. Why should a faculty member take me on as a mentee?

Considering these issues will help you find a theme for your essay. The next step entails weighing the information to decide what to include. Finally, construct story that tells readers about who you are and your goals – and how grad school fits.

Fortunately many graduate programs provide some guidance by posing specific questions for applicants to answer, grouped into the following categories:

  • Immediate Objectives: Why do you plan to attend graduate school? Explain how graduate school will contribute to your career goals. What do you plan to do with your degree?
  • Career Plans: What are your long-term career goals? Where do you see yourself, career wise, ten years after graduation?
  • Academic Achievements: Discuss your academic background and achievements. Of which are you most proud?
  • Research Experiences: Discuss your research experiences.
  • Internships and Field Experience: Discuss your applied experiences in this field. How have these experiences shaped your career goals?
  • Academic Interests: What would you like to study? Describe your academic interests. What areas would you like to research?
  • Match to Faculty: Explain how your research interests match those of the faculty. With whom would you like to work? Whom would you choose as your mentor?
  • Personal Experience and Philosophy: Write an autobiographical essay. Is there anything in your background that you think would be relevant to your application for admission to graduate school? Describe your life up to now: family, friends, home, school, work, and particularly those experiences most relevant to your interests in psychology. What is your approach to life?
  • Strengths and Weaknesses: Discuss your personal and academic skills. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. How will these contribute to your success as a graduate student and professional? How do you compensate for your weaknesses?


  • The introduction is the most important part of the essay, especially the first sentence. The first sentence introduces your essay, and a bad introduction, in person or in writing, is detrimental to your admissions chances.
  • Keep the reader interested by making them continue to read your essay after reading the first paragraph. The first sentence should be unique and compelling, possibly thought provoking or attention-grabbing. Your unique asset is yourself and all of the experiences that make you a unique person.
  • First sentences may explain your motivation that influenced your desire to study the subject of interest. State it in a creative manner.
  • The sentences following the first sentence should provide a brief explanation that supports the claim stated in the first sentence. Tell a story that speaks to your motivation in a personal way.

The Body:

  • The body should provide detailed evidence to support the statement made in the introductory paragraph. The paragraphs should flow by using transitions and resolutions.
  • Experiences, accomplishments, or any other evidence that can support your claims should be included in the body. Future goals should also be mentioned in the body.
  • Each topic sentence should specify the ability or attribute that the paragraph will focus on.
  • Remember to focus on why your acceptance would be advantageous for the school/program, not for you personally.


  • The most basic conclusion will restate the key points mentioned in the body.
  • Another option is to provide an anecdote that illuminates your suitability for the program or to revisit the story with which you began the introduction. Try to “bookend” your essay by referring back to the general theme or to the anecdote with which you began your essay, in order to remind the reader of your motivation.