Grad School Personal Statement Tips

Our personal statement style guide provides further tips and advice to help you through the writing process, and secure places on your chosen programs.

When putting together your statement, think about the following points:

1. Don't procrastinate!

Start writing it early to give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and write as many drafts as you need to. This prevents putting yourself under pressure and missing any application deadlines.

2. Personalise for every application

Unless your personal statement is to be submitted to multiple schools through a centralized system, take the time to adapt and tailor each one to the programs you are applying for. Only creating one version that you send to all schools is likely to result in at least some rejections.

3. Show you future goals

Make sure you leave room in your statement to emphasise your career plans and future ambitions. Graduate admissions tutors will want to see you have given thought to where you want to be once you have completed the program.

4. Reflect on why you want to study 

Explain why you want to study this subject further. Show that you are committed to the program, and have what it takes to meet the demands of graduate school and be a successful student.

5. Use your own personaility to bring your statement alive

Provide a true reflection of yourself in your own words - tutors want to know more about you and your personality, not a robotic “perfect” candidate.

6. Provide evidence

Back up all the personal qualities and skills you demonstrate with specific examples - remember, admissions staff want to read actual evidence, not just statements about yourself.

7. Discuss how and why the programme interest you

Try to pick out at least one aspect of each program that interests you, and talk about why you find it appealing.

8. Don't exceed the word limit!

Check that your statement falls within the word or character limit, and that you have answered all parts of the prompt (if necessary).

9. Review and edit

Ask someone to proofread your statement, and whether there is anything unclear about it. If there is, it’s likely the admissions faculty will also be confused.

What not to include...

There are also some things you should try to avoid when writing your personal statement.

Our list of “Don’ts” will help you avoid any common mistakes made by graduate school applicants:

  1. Don't try to be funny or make jokes in your statement — this is a serious, professional document.
  2. Don’t start and finish each section with a boring phrase. This is especially true for the opening paragraph, since first impressions count, so try avoid overused sentences such as “I have always been passionate about…”.
  3. Do not lie outright. Stay as close to the truth as possible.
  4. Don't include your hobbies and interests unless they are relevant.
  5. Don't use vocabulary you don't normally use and have just looked up in a dictionary — you want to sound like yourself, rather than someone you’re not.
  6. Don’t start every sentence with “And” or “But”. While not grammatically incorrect, these are best left for use in fictional or informal writing, rather than for a professional document such as a graduate personal statement. They will look odd and make your statement more difficult to read.
  7. Don't use well-known quotations in your statement unless you back them up with information on how and why this person’s words influenced you. Dropping them in just for the sake of it makes you look like you haven’t given serious thought to your personal statement.
  8. Don't include things already on your application form, e.g. exam grades.
  9. Don't make claims that you are going to do something relevant before you come to university. It can make you seem unprepared.
  10. Don’t be too chatty - your personal statement is a professional piece of writing, so now is not the time to express yourself in the same way you would on Facebook or Twitter.
  11. Don’t use abbreviations - spell them out so admissions tutors know exactly what you are talking about.
  12. Don’t repeat words or phrases - although this can be difficult, try not to make this mistake. The usual culprits include repeated use of “such as”, “also” and “to be able to”. Not only does this waste valuable space on your application form, it also shows the admissions tutors you haven’t looked thoroughly at your statement and edited it accordingly.
  13. Don’t use exclamation marks or CAPITAL LETTERS - remember, this is a professional document.
  14. Don’t over-do personal pronouns. Using “I” too often can become repetitive, so try to re-phrase your sentences to avoid this.
  15. Don’t be arrogant - you don’t want to come across as egotistical, or your application could end up in the rejection pile.
  16. Don’t use complicated sentences - you will often only have limited space to write your personal statement, so don’t waste it by being overly-wordy.
  17. Don't take any political or religious viewpoints.
  18. Don’t plagiarise other people’s statements — your statement should be a completely original work, despite the temptation to copy.
  19. Don’t mention names of specific professors you would like to work with - just talk about your areas of interest instead.
  20. Don’t sell yourself short - use the whole space available on the application form. You should be interesting enough to fill up the word or character limit.

Overused words and phrases to avoid

Overusing certain words, phrases and sentences will not make your statement unique.

As well as the style dos and don’ts outlined above, it’s also worth avoiding these uninspiring words and phrases to make sure your application has the best chance of standing out from the crowd:

  • “passion”, “desire” and “relish”
  • “always”
  • “in addition”
  • “however”, “nevertheless” and “moreover”
  • “really”
  • “in order to”
  • “From an early/young age I have always been interested in engineering”
  • “Engineering is a profession I have always looked upon with …”
  • “For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with”
  • “Academically, I have always been…”

These guidelines should give you an idea of what to focus on and think about when writing your own personal statement.

However, you don’t have to stick to them if you don’t want to — a personal statement is exactly that, so write your statement in a way that works best for you and shows your unique qualities.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to graduate school, please see: