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Applying to Graduate School: Bottoms and Kari L. Nysse The University of Illinois at Chicago Your first step toward a graduate degree in psychology is to apply to graduate programs that are right for you.
Your goal is to do everything possible to ensure admission to at least one, and hopefully more, programs. The typical psychology graduate school application package includes four crucial elements: Graduate Record Examination GRE scores, official undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement from the applicant.
Different schools, programs, and faculty members attach different relative value to each element, but all are important. In general, most programs expect applicants to score highly on each subtest of the GRE, maintain a strong GPA during college course work, submit excellent letters of recommendation, and write an impressive personal statement.
Of these four elements, students typically agonize a great deal over the personal statement, perhaps because they have never written one before, because it seems awkward to write about oneself, or because the task is not well defined by graduate programs. In this brief article, we outline basic guidelines for writing a persuasive personal statement.
Note that our own expertise is in research-oriented graduate programs; consequently, our advice is largely specific to applications to such programs.
Even so, students interested in purely applied programs should also benefit from many of our tips. Finally, keep in mind that there is no one perfect formula for a personal statement.
The Basics Keep four basics in mind as you write your personal statement: In general, a good personal statement will be around two single-spaced pages. In our experience, shorter statements provide too little information; longer statements are redundant and wordy.
Longer statements might be fine if you have substantive issues to discuss. For example, if you have a lot of research experience, you may need to exceed two pages to describe your work in sufficient detail. Above all, aim for quality rather than quantity.
No reader will appreciate your stretching two pages worth of information into six or seven pages. Remember, readers will be assessing the content of your personal statement as well as your ability to communicate effectively and concisely. Your personal statement is your opportunity to create a good first impression.
This means your writing must be clear and correct.
No one is impressed by careless grammatical and typographical errors. Failure to attend to such details raises concerns about conscientiousness and reliability. Remember, paying attention to detail and writing well are extremely important research skills.
You also should attend carefully to your use of vocabulary. Large doses of unusual or obscure vocabulary will only distract readers and cause them to doubt your writing ability. This little book is a classic for a very good reason.
Do not misinterpret the meaning of personal in the phrase personal statement! Instead, think of the statement as a professional statement.
Write about the activities and experiences that led you to apply to graduate school and that have prepared you for its rigors. Provide concrete, detailed examples of your experiences and abilities when possible see below for more information about content.
Above all, write in a professional tone that conveys your self-confidence: You need to showcase your abilities and convince the reader that you are smart and driven to succeed. The personal statement is a chance to sell yourself--now is not the time to be overly humble, hiding your assets.
Of course, you should not misrepresent yourself, and you should avoid sounding pompous. After you have drafted your statement, solicit detailed feedback from one or more professors and incorporate their suggestions into subsequent drafts.
It is especially useful to obtain feedback from psychology faculty, particularly those who make graduate admissions decisions themselves. Few professors will consider this an imposition--as long as you give them enough time.Planning your personal statement.
A personal statement is a piece of writing that you submit as part of your application. It is a statement of academic interests and should not contain any autobiographical information about your personal life.
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