December 5, 2021

Breaking down graduate school and personal statements

At some point in their academic career, students will contemplate graduate school.

Graduate school is the perfect way to advance one’s specialization in a particular area of study, whether that be criminology, fine arts, or education. But in order to get into a graduate school, a person will have to submit a personal statement, among other requirements.

To preface all of this, graduate school is a big step in life that not everyone should feel compelled to take, at least not immediately. It’s important for a person to think about their motivations for wanting to go to graduate school. Don’t do it for family or friends, do it for yourself. 

Eric Anderson, director of the Career Development department at Capital University, shared some insight on the topic of graduate schools. 

“There’s no [definitive] right answer, but there is probably a right answer for you,” Anderson said.

This quote highlights the main theme of graduate schools and personal statements, which is “individuality”.  

For example, after graduation, Anderson spent two years working in the field of industrial chemistry. Although this is totally unrelated to what he would make a career out of, this work experience allowed him to understand group structure and interpersonal communication. 

“That two-year period, in addition to letting me mature a little bit, really did help me understand material in that graduate program [Student Development],” Anderson said.

For those confident in their area of study, technically, it’s never too early to begin looking at graduate schools. According to the Career Development’s booklet on graduate schools, the typical timeline for students to follow is to begin searching for schools in their third year. 

At this point in a student’s academic career, for most, they are more confident about what field of study they enjoy and what they do not. 

From there, students can start to compile a list of schools to look at that align with their interests. With a variety of schools comes a variety of choices. According to pg.4 of the “How to Get into Graduate and Professional School” booklet, many students want to be told by an “authority” on what schools are better than the other.

That’s why websites like Niche, GradSchoolHub and US News keep a running list of the best graduate schools. 

While it can be argued that these resources are handy, the best way for students to narrow down a list is to match schools with their criteria. These criteria include things such as school size, location, scholarships, faculty prominence and many more. 

A person should take time to consider the factors that are important to them.

It’s important to pay attention to application deadlines. Not every school has the same window of admission, so plan accordingly.

During the summer before senior year, observe the various applications and degree requirements for each school. At the start of senior year, students should take admission tests and write a personal statement if they haven’t done so already.

How does one write a personal statement?

There are two types of personal statements: guided and typical. A student would write a guided statement if the graduate school provides specific essay questions or guidelines. 

A typical personal statement will highlight how a person came to be interested in their respective field of study and break down any relevant experiences. 

No matter the statement, a person should give themselves ample time to write and revise. The personal statement is not something that should be written the day of application; it’s no easy feat. 

Bree Chambers, a fourth-year Art Therapy major, is going to graduate school to study either curriculum & instruction or early childhood education. She highlighted some of the challenges that came with writing her personal statement.

Chambers said, “The most difficult thing about writing my personal statement was distilling such a wide variety of experiences into one, cohesive throughline that spoke to both my academic interests and my personality.”

To make the writing process easier, Career Development recommends diving into the core of the statement, which is telling the story of how you’ve developed an interest in the field you’re applying for. 

After crafting the main part of the statement, a person can then focus on writing their introduction and conclusion. The statement should start off by grabbing the reader’s attention, and a great way to do that is by recounting an event that led them down their field of study. Check out Career Development’s booklets on graduate schools and personal statements for more in-depth strategies. Students can also schedule appointments on Handshake.

  • Robert Cumberlander is the Editor-in-Chief of The Chimes and a senior at Capital University, majoring in Film and Media Production with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Journalism.

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