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13 Apr

How to Write a Personal Statement That Sets You Apart

How to write a personal statement

You know why you're pursuing an advanced degree, but sometimes it can be hard to put into words. You only have two or three pages to express all of your experience and passion, and you know your essay will be read critically. So how do you start writing a personal statement for grad school?

DO Tell a Story

Think of yourself as the hero in a Hollywood movie. Take the admissions committee on your journey, focusing on the moments that made you the hero that you are. Remember that good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. For your story, think of the end as your admission to the graduate program of your choice. Now, think backward. How did you get to that point? Where did you first develop your interest in counseling? What made you decide to seek a master's degree? What brought your dream from fantasy to reality? What changed along the way? That's the story you need to tell in your personal statement for graduate school.

DO Research the Program

In a survey of Admissions Advisors, knowing nothing about the program you're applying to was seen as a grave misstep.1 You should visit your program's website and research it thoroughly so you can demonstrate that your decision to apply is based on a thorough understanding of its merits. For example, do you fully comprehend the course content and delivery method? The admissions committee wants to be sure that you're making a decision that's suited to your life and learning needs. You should be clear that you understand the commitment you are making.

DO Be Specific

Your essay is a personal statement, so it's important to include your own experiences. However, it's also important to be judicious in selecting which stories you want to share. Keep in mind that the best statements aren't necessarily the longest. Be clear and concise. Think of your personal statement as a cover letter for a job, or even an initial written interview. Don't inflate your experience, but do be honest about the impact it had on you. Avoid the dramatic or overly self-aggrandizing. In other words, "I dream of saving the world" isn't a great start, even if that's your dream. Being overly broad suggests an unrealistic expectation. Keep the focus on your specific goals and skills.

DO Focus on the Fundamentals

Spelling and grammar count. Poor writing skills make your work seem less professional and distract from the story you're trying to tell. Reread your work carefully, and accept the fact that you'll probably have to go through a few drafts. Once you've read it and checked it carefully, have a friend or colleague read for clarity. It's always helpful to have a second set of eyes on your work. There are also plenty of apps and internet services that can help you keep your basic writing mechanics on point.

DON'T Overthink It

Charles "Rip" McAdams, professor and department chair for the Online Master of Education in Counseling at William & Mary, emphasizes that the personal statement is a chance for you to show a genuine commitment to and understanding of the task of becoming a professional counselor. He advises applicants that: "The goal…is to determine if an applicant's decision to pursue graduate education in counseling reflects a realistic understanding of the professional counselor's role as well as a genuine commitment to engaging in the rigorous academic and clinical preparation that will be required."


Pursue your graduate degree in a field that can equip you to transform lives and guide individuals toward their most extraordinary futures. Read through our admissions guidelines and get your application underway today.


1 Retrieved on March 23, 2018, from psychologytoday.com/blog/grad-school-guru/201012/kisses-death