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How to Write Your Personal Statement for Graduate School

21 Jan
Hand writing in journal on a desk

Drafting a personal statement for graduate school can be a challenging prospect for even the most confident writers. Your “why” for pursuing a specific career path or for wanting to attend a specific school might be clear in your mind, but can be harder to put into words. Personal topics are often more challenging to structure and can easily go off the rails, meaning you will miss out on hitting key points that will demonstrate why you are a good fit for a particular program.

To make this process less daunting, let’s break it down into actionable steps that will help you shine.

Follow These 6 Steps to Write Your Personal Statement

As you consider your application to William & Mary’s Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling program, follow these steps to ensure you hit the mark with your personal statement.

1. Research

Know the ins and outs of the program you are applying to, including the admissions requirements, curriculum and faculty before you start writing. The more you know about the program, the more you can highlight what stands out to you about the program and what seems relevant to your career goals. Note that the faculty members of the William & Mary School Education will be reviewing your application materials. You can get to know the specific faculty members involved with our online program by visiting the M.Ed. in Counseling faculty page.

As you research, you will want to make sure you understand what is being asked of you when it comes to the personal statement. Are there specific prompts you should be answering? Is there a page or world limit you need to be mindful of? Gather this information in the research step. We have outlined the specifics of the personal statement along with the other admission requirements in a useful guide.

It is also important to do your homework about the career you plan to pursue with this degree. What type of counselor do you want to be? Who do you want to work with? You will want to speak about why you want to pursue this career and what you hope to accomplish, and the more you know about your intended career path, the more specific you can be in your writing. Specifics will help your personal statement stand out.

2. Reflect

Once you have gathered your external research, it’s time to look inward and reflect. This is the stage where you can put your thoughts on paper without worrying about structure. Review any prompts given and get your ideas around these on paper. Also, think about your career aspirations, past academic, professional and volunteer experience, leadership potential, collaborative skills and propensity to engage in reflective practice.

The guiding questions for your application to the M.Ed. in Counseling program are:

  • What has led you to become interested in becoming a _____ (Clinical Mental Health, School, Clinical Mental Health – Military & Veterans) counselor?
  • Why are you interested in pursuing your counselor education at William & Mary?
  • How will your graduate degree in Counseling at William & Mary help you achieve your career goals?
  • What strengths would you bring to your graduate studies at William & Mary?
  • What do you think would be the greatest challenge(s) for you in your graduate studies at William & Mary? How would you address the challenge(s)?

Based on these prompts, you can see how the research step pays off, as you can address specifics in the program and in your career aspirations. You also have the opportunity to address your strengths here and in turn what you will bring to the program with those strengths.

3. Outline

Now that you have all of your thoughts on paper (or typed up on your computer), it is time to get organized. There are thousands of articles about how to create an outline online, but this does not have to be a big, formal process. The goal here is to get your notes from the research and reflection steps placed in a logical order that will take your reader from the introduction to the conclusion, leaving them convinced that you will be a great fit for the program.

Generally, you will want to hook your reader in the introduction. This is a great place to share a story that relates to your “why” for pursuing counseling and/or the program. Your body paragraphs will continue on what you have set up in the introduction, giving evidence of why the reviewers should admit you to the program. And then finally, you will wrap everything up in your conclusion.

Take your time with the outline to ensure you are hitting the points you want to cover within the ideal page range. For the William & Mary person statement, we are looking for two to three pages.

4. Draft

You may be surprised how fast this step can go if you have given ample attention to the proceeding steps. With your notes and outline in hand, sit down and tie everything together into a cohesive paper. You have already made it through your undergraduate career (or are in the home stretch to graduation). Lean on the skills you have used to write your papers up until now and trust yourself.

Generally, write your personal statement at a time and in an environment that is conducive to getting the words on to the page. Do you write better at night, or are you more of an early bird? Do you need silence when writing, or do you thrive in a busy cafe while listening to your favorite music? Set yourself up for success in the drafting process and know that getting started is often the most challenging part.

5. Review

Reviewing your draft can be broken down further into two parts: 1. Reviewing for content, and 2. Reviewing for spelling and grammar.

Enlist someone you trust, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague or supervisor, to review the content itself. Do your ideas make sense and flow and in logical order? Can the reader follow your thoughts? Is the takeaway clear? The reviewer can pinpoint areas where you might have missed a key part of the prompt or did not explain yourself very well. If you are struggling with a certain section, talking through it can be a big help.

Once you have the content nailed down, it is time to proofread. You do not want to leave any careless errors on the page. If you do not consider spelling and grammar as strengths, enlist the help of someone you trust to handle this part of the review. It can be the same person who read for the content review, or someone entirely new. Fresh eyes never hurt when it comes to proofreading. When faculty and administrators read a personal statement, they want to see true excitement and a strong level of professionalism without being distracted by errors.

6. Finalize

Charles “Rip” McAdams, professor of Counselor Education at William & Mary, explained what faculty members are looking for when reviewing an applicant’s personal statement: “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.”

If you feel you have demonstrated this in your statement, it is time to stop writing. You have put in the work, and after one final proof, your personal statement is ready to be sent off with the rest of your application.

Set Yourself Up for a Successful Application Process

As you prepare to apply for William & Mary’s Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling, know that our admissions advisors are always on standby to answer your questions, clarify admissions requirements and review the list of materials we need from you. We have also compiled a number of resources to set you up for success throughout this process.

Visit the main admissions page to find the requirements. Check out our step-by-step How to Apply guide, which walks you through the process of applying through our online portal. You can also view the admissions timeline to get a better idea of how long the application process may take. Additionally, here is a blog post to help you consider what time of year you might want to start your graduate school journey.

We compiled a helpful list of admissions FAQs to assist in this process, but please reach out if you run into any questions. You can schedule a call with an admissions advisor here.