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How to Write a Personal Statement for a Ph.D.

by Barbie Carpenter , Demand Media

    Personal statements are common requirements for doctoral program applications. These statements give admissions committees insight into the Ph.D. applicant that they cannot gain through transcripts and test scores. Moreover, personal statements give the applicant an opportunity to express his academic specializations and research goals which prove important to doctoral programs. A thoughtful, well-written personal statement can make the difference between an acceptance letter and a rejection letter.

    Step 1

    Brainstorm about your statement. Personal statements are generally open-ended questions, so you need to organize your thoughts before putting pen to paper. Consider your knowledge of the field of study. For example, if you are applying to an engineering doctoral program, discuss your professional and academic experience as a chemical engineer and what it has taught you. Also, consider any obstacles or hardships you have faced or any gaps or problems in your academic record worth explaining, as suggested by the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

    Step 2

    Draft an outline of your personal statement with a specific focus in mind. Carnegie Mellon University recommends that your focus should be “a value or an observation that has shaped you as a person.” For example, if you are applying to a doctorate program in nursing, talk about how your brother’s successful battle with cancer pushed you to help others through medicine.

    Step 3

    Write your first draft. Use the value or observation identified in your outline as your guide. Make sure that this value is sustainable—you don’t want to risk repeating yourself. Identify specific experiences that relate to this value. For example, the nursing applicant can write about how she observed the nurse’s care of her brother and wanted to provide that level of care with patients of her own.

    Step 4

    Consider the program you’re applying to as you write. Rutgers University’s School of Education encourages its Ph.D. applicants to explain their plans for graduate study, research interests and career plans in their personal statements. Incorporate your research and career goals into your personal statement to show that your interests align with the program’s goals. An engineer might want to focus his research on chemical engineering, while a nurse might want to focus on oncology.

    Step 5

    Proofread the statement with your admissions committee in mind. The Purdue Online Writing Lab offers this question: “What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?” Revise your personal statement by looking at each point you make in the statement and ensuring that it serves as a convincing reason to admit you to the Ph.D. program

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    Tips

    • Check your school’s requirements for personal statements before writing. Some schools ask generally for a personal statement, while others give students more guidance by offering suggested topics or required questions.
    • Omit biographical information. The admissions committee expects a pointed statement with a specific focus, not a lengthy review of your academic history.

    About the Author

    Barbie Carpenter worked as a technical writer and editor in the defense industry for six years. She also served as a newspaper feature page editor and nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst Corp. Carpenter holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in professional writing from the University of Central Florida.

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