PracticeUpdate: How would you describe a personal statement?
Dr. Curtis: A personal statement is an application essay often requested by graduate and specialty programs. It is one of many factors considered in a candidate’s application packet. The personal statement provides applicants the opportunity to highlight why they are interested in the particular program they are applying to and how they are qualified for that program.
A personal statement should be clear and concise. It should be general enough to provide a review of an applicant’s academic accomplishments but specific and interesting enough to be distinguishing.
A personal statement is not just for the admissions committee of the program being applied to. It is also an exercise for applicants to reflect on their career accomplishments and consider where they are heading.
PracticeUpdate: What are the key components in a personal statement?
Dr. Curtis: A personal statement should include aspects of the candidate’s professional and personal background that make him or her a strong applicant to the program. It includes an applicant’s formal academic background and the applicant’s motivations and aspirations. For most of us, the nuts and bolts of academic achievement are relatively straightforward to highlight. More challenging — but equally important — is articulating your motivations and aspirations, which will provide the admissions committee valuable insights into who you are.
You should also include extracurricular activities and leadership roles, as well as extenuating circumstances that you feel are pertinent and should be explained.
Include what your future goals are and clearly state why you are applying to the particular program you are applying to.
PracticeUpdate: Could you outline the basic structure of a personal statement?
Dr. Curtis: The personal statement should generally be two pages or less. Keep the tone of the essay positive.
Start with a statement about yourself and why you are applying to this specific program. Include the motivations that have directed you towards the field you are in and how the specific program you are applying to provides a logical extension of your career path.
The supporting part of the personal narrative should elaborate on key professional accomplishments and your incentives for achieving them. Especially important are reasons why your strengths and accomplishments complement the program you are applying to.
The conclusion of your personal statement should summarize your main points and say something more about yourself, perhaps expanding on your future goals.
PracticeUpdate: Who is the audience for the personal statement? What pointers can you offer to make an impression on the reader(s) of the statement?
Dr. Curtis: It is important to consider who might be reading your statement. Take time to review the background and interests of the program directors. Make sure that your statement addresses how your academic background and career aspirations align with the mission of both the specific program and the university that the program is affiliated with. Your motivations for pursuing your field of interest and that particular program should be clear.
Talking to colleagues currently in the program you are interested in can provide helpful insights.
Have others proofread your personal statement and provide feedback.
Keep in mind that the personal statement is often the basis for questions during an interview: What you write can help direct the direction of a future interview.
PracticeUpdate: What weight does a personal statement have in an application?
Dr. Curtis: That will depend on the program. Some programs place more weight on the personal statement than others. In general, the academic record, standardized exam scores, and letters of recommendation will have greater influence than a personal statement. However, the trend of de-emphasizing standardized tests has increased the importance of the personal statement for many programs. The value of the personal statement is that it gives the applicant flexibility to highlight experiences not captured in the formal academic record.