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How a Graduate Personal Statement is Different From a College Essay

Posted By Leah Kaminsky


We blog a lot here at Just Start about personal statements. We talk a lot about how they’ve got to pop off that page, tell the unique story of you, and wham, bam and shazam your way into the program of your choice using crafty literary techniques and perhaps a bribe of warm cookies and cold milk. And we often talk about them generally, too, as there are certain principles that apply across all types of programs.

But here’s the thing: a college admissions essay is not the same thing as a graduate personal statement. While you may use many if not all of the same techniques, you’ll use some more than others to address these two main differences.

1. College admissions is about who you are as a PERSON. Graduate admissions is about who you are as a THINKER.

Sure, when writing your college essay you could write about your passion for an academic pursuit, but you can also write about that moment when you stared at a ladybug on the grass and it made you think of an earlier time when your mother taught you a life lesson...or (cliché as the topic may be) that big, game winning catch...or your time volunteering in Costa Rica. Great stuff!

But try sending any of those last three essays to a graduate program in Economics, and your essay will be chucked into the trash bin faster than you can say, “But John Maynard Keynes sent me!” While a graduate personal statement can and should use details, description, anecdote and a wide range of literary techniques to communicate your passion, it needs to give the admissions committee a good sense of your philosophy, your academic interests, and where you’d like them to take you. In that way, it’s a lot closer to an academic essay than it is a creative exploration.

2. Your graduate personal statement tells faculty what you will be like as a colleague, not a student.

Of course you’re going to learn (a ton!) in graduate school. But you’re also going to teach and work side by side with faculty as a respected colleague (nevermind the low pay and long hours). That’s why saying, “I love to read! I’ve been doing it since I was five and I want to do it more!” isn’t as effective as a deep look into your intellectual past, present and future (see bullet 1). In this way, your graduate personal statement is much closer to a cover letter than your college essay was. Faculty members want to know what you’ll bring to the team, how you’ll change the discipline, and how you’ll mesh. They don’t need another student who’s just exploring their interests and hoping to specialize later...in graduate school.

There are other smaller differences too, but those are the biggies. Successful graduate school applicants write essays that say, “I’m here. I know what I want. Here’s what I would contribute. Hire me.”

Leah Kaminsky is the founder and head writing specialist at Just Start Applications. She’s been writing since before she was born (that’s right, it’s possible!) and has over a decade of experience helping students and business people tell their stories using their authentic voice. Check out her full bio here and contact us today for help getting into the college, graduate school or medical school of your choice. Cute photos of puppies running through meadows are also welcome.

How a Graduate Personal Statement is Different From a College Essay

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How a Graduate Personal Statement is Different From a College Essay Graduate personal statements and college admissions essays are not the same things. Leah Kaminsky from JustStartApplications.com discusses a few of the differences.

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