This guide is designed to help you begin brainstorming information to include in your application materials. Open a new, blank document and take notes in response to each of the below prompts.
List your experience
Begin by identifying your most significant past experiences—in work, in school, and in your personal life. What are the most important, uncommon, or interesting elements of your past? What makes you stand out from the average applicant? List anything a committee might want to know about you.
- Academic Experiences
Ex: Course in International Economics
- Professional or Extracurricular Experiences
Ex: Marketing Internship; founder of start-up; treasurer of a club
- Personal Experiences
Ex. Living in several countries; family members who inspired you
Identify your skills, interests, and goals
Then, start identifying your skills, interests, and goals. As you brainstorm, focus on what is most relevant to this application.
- Personal skills and traits
Ex: data analysis; leadership skills; patient with young kids; persistence; curiosity; graphic design
- Current interests and goals that motivate you to apply
Ex: Management Consulting; NYC theater scene; to gain non-profit experience; to learn about other cultures
- Long term goals this opportunity will help you achieve
Ex: To obtain a managerial role; to pursue a graduate degree; to enter a particular subfield or specialty
Connect your experience to your skills
Next, you’ll look for connections between elements in these lists.
Frame your background as a source of expertise:
Explain how one or more elements of your background helped you to develop a key skill, interest, or understanding.
- Ex: Over the years, I have gained an understanding of how the historic and political structures of South Asian regions cause cultural practices to evolve. I owe much of this learning to my experience living in India in 2015.
- Ex: Having minored in English literature, I’m especially interested in the relationship between creative writing and marketing.
- Ex: My initial interest in communication studies, and specifically the field of intercultural communication, emerged from the experience of growing up in China as a child of Bangladeshi parents.
Explain what you learned from each experience:
Consider one or two of your recent professional or extracurricular experiences. Write a few sentences about what you learned or achieved.
- Ex: This experience exposed me to non-traditional approaches to leadership that can increase employee satisfaction.
- Ex: Having served on the diversity committee at my company, I have learned a great deal about cultural conceptions of workplace etiquette.
- Ex: My summer experience helped me understand the importance of implementing economic policies supported by substantive research. This further solidified my desire to pursue a graduate degree in public administration
Link your past to your future:
You’ll want to demonstrate that you have a sense of your future professional or academic plans upon completion of the program (even if you change your mind later!). Write a few sentences linking admission in this program to success in your future career goals.
- Ex: Participating in the English Teaching Assistantship in Japan will be an important step towards a career in educational leadership.
- Ex: I am confident that the program’s emphasis on public policy will give me the necessary skills to advocate for policy changes in service of disempowered communities in New York City.
- Ex: As I refine my research focus, I believe I would benefit from the opportunities the program provides for field experiences at community centers.
Research the program
Before writing your personal statement, you’ll want to research the program’s design, emphasis, and curriculum. Using this research, write a few sentences to demonstrate knowledge of and interest in specific aspects of the program.
- Ex: I look forward to the experiential component of the program, as I hope to build an understanding of how business decisions are made on a global scale.
- Ex: After speaking with Lisa Anderson, I am especially drawn to the Executive Fellowship program and its focus on transforming the academic experience of students at community colleges.
Find and analyze models
Look for models of strong statements in the same discipline or genre.
- Start by asking your advisors if they have models to share.
- If you find an example online, run it by a trusted mentor to see if they agree that it’s a strong model text.
- Find out what readers in your specific program expect. Applications for research-focused graduate programs have different expectations than those in more applied fields (a doctoral program in clinical psychology vs. one in social psychology, for example).
Once you’ve found some compelling examples, analyze them for writing moves you can borrow.
- What information does the writer include in the introduction? The conclusion?
- How do they structure their body paragraphs?
- How personal is the statement?
Read our “Personal Statements Introductions” handout for examples of opening paragraphs in four disciplines.
Draft the statement
Now that you’ve brainstormed in all of the categories above, you’re ready to start putting together a first draft.
- As you outline, give each paragraph a clear purpose.
- Keep in mind that committees often review hundred of applications from similar candidates. As you write, try to help them understand your specific experience and interest. Ask yourself: Could another student have written the same essay?
- If you’re writing multiple essays or letters for the same application, draft with their different purposes in mind.
This resource from the Baruch College Writing Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You are free to share, adapt, transform, or otherwise use this material in any medium, with attribution.