OFF THE RECORD - Seton Hall Law

Drafting a Personal Statement For Graduate School: Eight Dos & Don'ts

Posted by Simone Handler-Hutchinson on 11/18/15 4:00 PM

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Applying to graduate school for a master's degree can feel daunting, particularly if you are a mid-career professional who hasn’t been in the classroom for a while. Most graduate schools will require that you submit a personal statement as part of your application, but don’t be intimidated by the task.

If your goals of returning to school include developing new skills to better position yourself for new or expanding opportunities within your industry or related industry, a compelling personal statement can be the key factor in the school’s decision to admit you. Graduate schools desire diverse students with a variety of personal, professional and educational backgrounds.

Think of the graduate school personal statement as your opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants and to highlight something that the admissions committee would not otherwise know about you.

While this list is not exhaustive, it should guide you toward a strong first draft of your personal statement. (Yes, I said first draft.)

Do's and Don'ts of writing a personal statement for graduate school:

DO… make it personal. To be effective, a personal statement should be “personal” as it will help the admissions committee better understand who you are. Use the opportunity to paint a broader picture of you. For example, you can describe what motivates you, the skill sets you’ve acquired, your outside interests, and any specific challenges you’ve overcome in your career.

DON’T… write your autobiography. If the application has a limit on the length of your personal statement, stick to it! Remember, your goal is to be admitted as a graduate student and if accepted, you’ll need to adhere to a variety of academic policies – this is the perfect way to demonstrate that you can follow the rules.

DO… discuss your career goals. Where do you see yourself in 3 years, 10 years? Let the admissions committee know why you are applying for this particular degree and how it aligns with your career goals.

DON’T… be too general. Avoid general statements like “I’m highly motivated” or “I’m a team player.” Instead, provide the admissions committee with specific examples of personal and professional achievements. For example, “I completed a high-priority project one month ahead of schedule and under budget,” or “I personally trained 100 employees on our company’s new data privacy policy.”

DO… explain any gaps in your resumé. If you’ve been out of the workforce for more than a year, or had a significant personal or professional event that impacted your career, feel free to share the relevant circumstances.

DON’T… focus on your grades. As part of the admissions process, the admissions committee will review your educational transcripts, grades and resumé. Any specific educational achievements should be included in your resumé so there’s no need to repeat them in your personal statement. However, if you feel there is a need to explain a particularly bad grade, semester, or gap in your education, do so concisely.

DO… tell us why you chose us. Explain why you have chosen to apply to this particular school. Have you researched the school or had a personal interaction with someone affiliated with the school that sparked your interest? What aspects of the graduate program most appeal to you?

And of course:

DO… proofread your statement. Ideally, you should have someone else proofread your personal statement for spelling and grammar. Writing is a critical component of most graduate programs (it is in ours), so view your personal statement as your first chance to demonstrate your strong written communications skills.

These tips are helpful for any graduate school application, but especially address the requirements in the application for admission to Seton Hall Law’s MSJ program.

Have any questions about writing your personal statement for graduate school? Ask me in the comments below or email me at lawonline@shu.edu

Topics: Graduate Programs, Advice and Tips, Writing


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Seton Hall Law professors, students, administrators and alumni share advice and experiences about law school and life beyond the bar exam.

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