Compose a great grad school statement

Focused on essay

Graduate and professional schools typically require a written statement as part of the application process. Generally there are two types of application essays for graduate school – “statement of purpose,” or “letter of intent,” and the “personal statement” – but the purpose for you remains the same: to persuade the admissions committee of your qualifications, fit for the program, and your potential to contribute to the department.
The written statement is one of a handful of opportunities you have in the application process to sell yourself. A good way to approach it is to imagine you have five minutes to speak with the admissions committee. How would you make the best case for yourself while keeping the committee’s interest? What details must your pitch include? What can you afford to exclude? Your responses to these questions are critical to preparing an effective written statement.

Before answering those questions, you must ask yourself some others:

  1. Why do I want to pursue graduates studies in my chosen field? 
    This question implies that you’ve given serious consideration to the next step you are about to take.

  2. How does this school’s program match my aspirations? In other words, why am I applying to this specific program? 
    To answer this question, familiarize yourself with a number of comparable academic programs. You need to be able to cite specific reasons for your preference.

  3. What are my qualifications for admission to this program? 
    Good responses show a clear understanding of the program as well as how your academic (and extra-curricular) background relates to it. It’s useful to respond using the language of the field.



Graduate school is a serious commitment and applications require extensive preparation. These questions encourage you to reflect on your motivations for pursuing graduate studies. Admission committees prefer applicants who have a clear sense of what they’re signing up for, who have a clear goal in mind, and who have a clear idea of how they will use their education after graduation.

Ensure that your written statement focuses on your professional activities such as research interests and pursuits, academic strengths, and professional experiences. You may be tempted to write about personal characteristics and motives, as you may have done in your undergraduate application. Don’t do it. The authors of your recommendation letters are in a better position to comment on strong personal qualities.


While the type of prompts or questions asked varies, most graduate schools will limit the length of the written statement to no more than two pages. Written statements are difficult to write because those two pages must hold the attention of committee members who read hundreds – and who in their lifetime may have read thousands – of other essays. It goes without saying that you need to answer questions fully.

Follow these suggestions to write more compelling statements:

Relate past experiences and present interests to the future

Questions often prompt applicants to focus on the future. However, you still need to show how past experiences informed your current interests, and how your present academic work may be extended to the future or open avenues for new research. Include your career goals and plans for the future, and specify how the program fits into your plans.

Detail your qualification

Remember that committee members are experts in the field. They’ll be interested to read about any specialized work you’ve undertaken. This will help them better determine how your skills and research interest benefits their department. You need to maximize this opportunity by expanding on what is included in your resume. Be sure to provide concrete examples to explain the value and meaning of your experience.

Explain how you fit into the program

As you research academic programs, it’s important to compare your research interests with the research activities of the department’s faculty. In an ideal world, you would apply to programs where faculty are able to support your research interests. Be sure to avoid generic statements. Show familiarity with the program. Committee members understand student-professor relationships are maximized when there is good fit between the applicant and program. Use specific evidence to show how you and the program are perfect for one another.

Yes, it’s true. The personal statement requires extensive preparation and much work. While it’s possible to write a strong statement weeks before the application deadline, a strong, thoughtful piece usually is the result of extensive planning, false starts, and much revision. The sooner you start writing, the better. Writing raises new questions and generates ideas which ultimately leads to a stronger written statement. Let’s get started.

VerveSmith helps students find universities and programs that match their aspirations, and to develop an admissions application strategy. For additional help, contact us.

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