How to Write a Personal Statement for a Master's Degree

Putting pen to paper can be the hardest step.

Writing a personal statement for a master's degree can be a daunting, pressure-filled task. A compelling personal statement can make or break your application to graduate school. It is your opportunity to communicate directly with the admissions board and convey your personality, achievements and values to those evaluating your application. If written succinctly and with a clear tone, your personal statement can be your application's greatest asset.

Understand what the statement is requesting. Are you being asked about your strengths and weaknesses? Is it a general personal statement? Once you have established what the admissions committee is looking for, the next step is to break down your response. Answering the question becomes dramatically easier once you have a plan.

Your statement should focus on three areas: achievements, experiences and future ambitions. Start with explaining past achievements and awards that have gotten you to your present state: perhaps a research award, academic recognition or professional relationship piqued your interest in your intended field of study.

Experiences should be non-academic (i.e., not in the classroom) and contextualize your ability to be a successful and contributing member of the academic department. Discuss research experience you may have had, extra-curricular activities, travel or volunteer opportunities that have established and strengthened positive character traits.

The third part of a successful personal statement is a motivated outlook towards the future. Future ambitions should be clear, concise and reasonably focused. You should explain how graduate school will help you contribute to society, your academic field or your intended career.

Don't worry if you are uncertain or if you think things might change in the future. The admissions committee is looking more for forethought about your commitment to graduate school than a hard-and-fast plan. Part of pursuing education is figuring out your place in the world. An applicant with self-assurance and direction comes across at motivated and a certain asset to the department.

  • Avoiding cramming as much into the essay as you can. Make sure your writing style and voice are clear without overloading the reader with information.
  • It is of utmost importance that you read each question carefully and respond to it fully. Avoid vague and general statements; support your claims with evidence.
  • Break down your writing process into manageable parts: outline, bullet points, your strengths, assets, honors, awards and future ambitions. Small, incremental steps will make the whole task less overwhelming.
  • Make sure to focus on the quality of your writing. Your personal statement is a chance for the admissions committee to evaluate your writing ability (an important asset in graduate school).

Leah Berkman has been writing professionally since 2001. She has been published in "Battleground: Science and Technology," a textbook about the sociological and philosophical issues of science. She holds a Bachelor of Science in science and technology studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Russian and eastern European studies and a Master of Library Science from Indiana University.