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Applying to Graduate School

If you are thinking of applying to graduate school, you might have a need for a statement of purpose (personal statement) to accompany your formal application.  

Writing a Personal Statement

In many ways, your statement of purpose is like a much longer cover letter, written in essay form. The format of the personal statement will vary according to school, academic discipline, and program type. You may be asked about your reasons for applying to the program, your professional goals, experiences that have influenced your development, or role models that have had an impact on your life. Regardless of the question, your personal statement should reflect some knowledge of the particular school and department that you are applying for. This is where all your research really starts to pay off; a statement that shows familiarity with the goals of the program and the interests of the faculty will stand out from a sea of generic statements.

You may only have to write a few paragraphs, or you may have to respond to several questions in a series of well-thought-out essays. Remember that this is your chance to shine! By now you should have a clear idea of why you want to go to graduate school; this is your chance to explain that in your own words. You should convey knowledge, enthusiasm, and draw a clear connection between what they are looking for and what you have to offer.

To set yourself apart from other applicants, avoid general or obvious statements and cliches. Don’t say things like “I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember” or “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor” or “My love of literature has led me to pursue a PhD in English.”

Writing your statement will take time— it’s best to begin working on it several months before the application deadline. Because this document is also an assessment of your writing ability, be very attentive to spelling, grammar, and overall quality.

Have it reviewed by your Field Career Consultant, Career Adviser, and/or the faculty or professionals writing your letters of recommendation. They can help you decide what to cut, what to keep, what to develop, and what to add.

Some Tips:

  • Think carefully about what you want to say.
  • Make sure that you answer the question that is being asked.
  • Indicate the reasons why you think you should be accepted to the program.
  • Emphasize that which is unique or special about you.
  • Be positive and sincere.
  • Stick to the guidelines provided for length, format, etc.
  • Write a first draft, edit it, and rewrite it. Then have someone else review it as well, particularly a person who works or teaches in your field of study – take the time and attention this statement deserves.
  • Check your spelling and grammar.
Other Helpful Links
  • The MSU PREP website offers a variety of resource from how to apply to graduate school to how to fund your graduate education.

Other great sources for information on applying, funding or locating programs:

    • Peterson’s allows you to search for programs by type, degree offered, and location; get info on financing your advanced degree; test presentation; and more.
    • University of Texas Listing of U.S. Universities
    • allows students to run customized ranking from National Research Council. This site also includes articles about applying to graduate school.
    • offers articles about graduate education and tips about the graduate admission process.
    • This web-based service can hold letters, evaluations, and unofficial transcripts for up to 5 years for candidates applying to graduate/professional schools or seeking employment in the field of education; documents kept in your file will be sent out upon your request. Open a credentials file by going to Interfolio’s website and starting an account. Note that this is a fee-for-service resource. See Interfolio’s website for current pricing.