One of the most important parts of your graduate school application package is the personal statement. Developing a well-written and coherent personal statement will show evaluators more about who you really are as a person than any other part of the application.
To be frank, if your grade point average doesn’t align with your true ability, then it will be blatantly obvious in your personal statement. For those of you that have lower grade point averages, but you “earned” your grades compared to some of your peers or you happened to have spread yourself too thin by being heavily involved in extracurricular activities, then the personal statement should be your top priority.
A strong personal statement will be your ultimate redemption story. Trust me, it worked for me and I have helped other students do the same.
So what are evaluators looking for in your personal statement?
The answer to that question will vary depending on the program and the culture of the research group that you are applying to; however, there are some foundational aspects that are going to be standard in any statement review.
1. Coherence…Coherence is probably the most important part of any personal statement and is probably the most translatable skill to achieving success in a doctoral program. During the doctoral training process, you will be constantly required to showcase your coherent thinking ability through written samples and presentations. The sooner you can master a coherent writing style, then the better off you will be for success in graduate school.
Instead of giving you an English lesson on coherent writing, instead I will point you to a reference that I think comprehensively covers the topic. Check out this article by study.com on coherent writing.
Coherence in Writing – STUDY.COM
A logical and coherent flow will demonstrate to evaluators that you have higher order thinking ability and an organized pattern of thought.
2. Clearly Defined Research Interest…A potential doctoral mentor will be looking for your personal research interest. The idea is that they need to see that what you want to do aligns with their expertise and equipment capability. This person wants to help you develop as a young scientist and budding professional as much as possible. Clearly showing them that you have REALLY thought about your interests and where you see yourself fitting into their respective research space is absolutely critical.
Refer to my previous article “Choosing the Right Graduate School Checklist” to help you define your space in research.
3. Experiences…Along with having a clear vision for your career and research trajectory, it is important to highlight experiences that align with your envisioned trajectory. For example, if you want to be a medical doctor, but you’ve never shadowed a medical professional then how can you be sure that that career path is 100% for you? Same holds true in doctoral study. Doctoral study is associated with conducting high quality research, if you have never conducted any research in the past then how can you be 100% certain that doctoral study is for you. As an evaluator, how can I be sure that if I invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in you that you won’t have a random change of heart and quit on me?
Showing that your experiences align with your visions for yourself will go a long way in giving evaluators comfort in your dedication to the field. Think about a professional basketball player...they don’t start training for basketball in college. Their life experiences align with a NBA career from an early age. They probably started playing basketball as a young child and have competed at many different levels since then. They have clearly demonstrated their ability to be successful, their commitment/love for the game, and consistence in their vision.
Are your experiences consistent with your long-term visions? Have you had any successes or milestones that demonstrate your research or communication potential?
There are most certainly other factors that may be considered on your respective graduate school application packet; however, the 3 aforementioned items will cover the foundations of a successful personal statement.
To reiterate the importance, coherence in writing and thought is imperative. Learn and practice it frequently for sustainable long-term success.
What types of experiences are you having while putting together your graduate school application packet? Let me know in the comments below!
Dr. Gabriel Burks is dedicated to increasing higher education awareness and showing aspiring scholars the power of science.