There are two ways to approach writing a personal statement: you can panic—or you can use it as an opportunity to speak directly to the admissions committee. GRE scores are a testament to your competencies, and your letters of recommendation showcase you as a colleague and peer. A personal statement, though, is the time for you to explain what drew you to this graduate program, what your future education and career goals are, and what you as an individual bring to the table.
Before you start feeling overwhelmed, we have pulled together some tips on how to write a personal statement, from start to finish.
When it comes to writing a personal statement, there’s only one place to start: the prompt. It’s essential to read this very carefully because every school asks for something a little different. Some schools have a series of specific questions they’d like students to tackle in a single essay or in several shorter ones. For our online master’s degrees in engineering, we ask you to address why you’re interested in graduate-level work and to explain how your study and research interests relate to your past studies in higher education and your professional goals.
It’s easy to find these open-ended questions intimidating at first, but before you get too worried, ask yourself what exactly you want to say. Make a rough list of every point, story or personal attribute you’d like to touch on in the essay. Does a theme emerge? Create an outline by organizing and even removing items from that list. As you do this, it should become easier and easier to imagine writing.
Try to keep your introduction in mind as you build this outline. It can be one of the hardest parts of a personal statement to write: You want to try and grab the reader’s attention as well as set up the rest of the essay.
One approach is to think of your introduction not as the start of a personal statement, but as the start of a conversation with a friend. Imagine that over dinner someone asks why you’ve decided to get a master’s degree or what made you choose this school in particular. You wouldn’t simply say, “I decided on Case Western Reserve because it has a prestigious engineering program.” You’d talk about a cool feature of the program, or you might tell a story that illustrates how this program fits into what you’re hoping to accomplish professionally. In other words, you would talk about what makes you excited. Those points and anecdotes can bring that excitement to your introduction (and the rest of your essay).
As you move from your introduction to the body of your personal statement, don’t worry yet about every word being perfect. It’s often easier to polish your writing after you’ve finished hammering out that rough draft. At this point, you also might realize you need to make adjustments to your outline now that you’ve written the introduction. Maybe you covered something you were planning to talk about at the half-way point, or you need to make some tweaks to align the two closer together.
Your outline gives you a map to follow, so as you write your personal statement, it’s important to be specific about yourself and your goals. Much like the introduction, don’t just describe the program to the admissions committee members, who are already familiar with it, try explaining why everything matters to you. For example, at Case Western Reserve, the admissions team knows the faculty teaching online courses is the same as the on-campus ones. So, make a connection to your professional goals, and let the admissions committee know that you’ve put real thought into applying to their program.
Your personal essay can also cover more than the reasons you want to apply. Many schools see their alumni as a reflection of their programs, so besides just explaining how this will benefit you, make the case for what you’ll be able to bring to this program. A personal statement is also the place to address any concerns the admissions committee might have about your background. This offers you an opportunity to explain why your GPA dropped suddenly in undergraduate school or why you made an unusual career decision.
Don’t be afraid to write too much in your first draft. Editing sentences and trimming the fluff is easier after you’ve done the hard work of getting all of the words onto the page. Plus, it’s much harder to figure out how to add length back in.
As you write the conclusion to your personal statement, it’s time to look back at the introduction you formulated. Are there points you made there that you’d like to reiterate again? Did you make an assertion about your professional or educational goals that you’d like to re-explain now that the reader knows more about your background? Is there an additional point that you weren’t able to fit into the introduction that will do a nice job of wrapping up the entire essay?
When you finally feel comfortable with your personal statement, that still leaves an important step left: proofreading. Even if you feel like you’ve caught every misspelling and grammar error, there’s no such thing as too much. Make sure to leave enough time before the admissions deadline to have someone you trust read through your essay. Everyone needs an editor to catch those small mistakes or even find a section of the prompt that you failed to cover.
Realize Your Professional Goals
Writing your personal statement is a great exercise in understanding what your personal and professional goals are—and earning your online master’s degree in engineering can help you meet those. Learn more about the types of careers you can pursue with a graduate degree from Case Western Reserve, and start your application today.