The Personal Essay: "Tell Us About Yourself"
The audience for your "personal essay" is an admissions committee composed of members of your future profession or academic discipline. When they read your essay, they will be seeking depth and substance, along with a true passion and commitment to your area of study. They will also be looking for individual traits or characteristics that make you an outstanding graduate school candidate.
Through the personal essay, you have a unique opportunity to:
Convey your long- and short-range career goals.
Present yourself as an individual with desirable personal abilities, background, interests and plans.
Describe the nature and significance of your relevant experiences, and give concrete evidence of your knowledge, competence and motivation in the field of your choice.
Explain your special interest in this particular graduate program.
Account for any conspicuous weaknesses in your record.
Demonstrate your writing ability and communication skills in general.
How to Get Started
It is imperative that you conduct a thorough self-assessment of your interests, motivations and career goals before you begin to write.
Consider these questions about your own abilities, background, interests and plans:
Why do I want to pursue a graduate school program?
What are the special features, approaches, or values of this particular program?
How do my interests, values, strengths, experiences, ambitions and plans relate to what this program offers? Why do I want to be a part of this program Why would this program want me?
What is my interest and motivation in this field? What have I gotten out of it so far and what do I hope to get out of it? Can I trace my interest and motivation to any concrete experience?
What are my strengths related to this field, personal, academic, and experiential?
What experiences demonstrate my competence and motivation in this field?
Do my relevant experiences fall into any pattern? Broad exploration? Increasing focus? Tackling greater and greater challenges?
What kinds of experiences have taught me the most?
Here are some general tips to help you write an effective personal essay:
Before you put pen to paper, make lists of information that may be pertinent to the admissions decision. Lists may include professors, courses, books, research projects, ideas, travel, and other experiences that have been important. You should also list work, extracurricular and volunteer activities, special skills, honors and awards.
Give yourself plenty of time. Start thinking about your essays early. The admissions committee reads essays thoroughly and carefully. Make sure you've given it your best effort.
Be sure to read the essay questions on the application carefully. What information, approach or emphasis is the question asking for? Make sure you answer all questions and address issues outlined.
Although you may formulate a general essay in advance, make certain that each application contains an essay which specifically answers the questions asked by that school.
Your spirit, character and uniqueness should come through but your writing should be formal and correct. Refer to The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
Each essay should contain at least a sentence or two which tells shy you have chosen that particular institution. Does it have an excellent specialization in your area of interest? Is there a particular faculty member with whom you expect to work? Is the program recommended to you by a faculty member?
Strive for a strong opening line or paragraph. Look for something beyond the predictable, something that demonstrates the qualities that set you apart from other candidates.
Specific knowledge, skills and insights acquired through internships and other work experiences--paid or volunteer, and related to your proposed field of study--are particularly strong material.
Any experience that demonstrates interpersonal talents, entrepreneurial skills, ability to perform under stress, unusual background, some important lessons learned, or a genuine commitment to a worthy cause could be appropriate if you demonstrate the relevance.
Draft! Draft! Draft! Good writing is writing that is easily understood. Have one good writer critique your essays, and another proofread them.