Your personal statement should leave your readers with a clear understanding that you’re not just seeking this degree because it seems kind of interesting or because you can’t think of anything else to do; they should sincerely believe that you have a plan in mind and that graduate school figures into that plan.
Standing out from the crowd in personal statements is one of the most common concerns the experts at EssayEdge hear about from potential grad students. Now that you are about to graduate college with a bachelor's degree and are beginning to apply to graduate school, you may find yourself struggling with the personal statement. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful requirements for admissions. It isn't meant to be academic, but should express your academic goals and accomplishments. It isn't completely about your future plans, but you will have to show that you have aspirations to succeed and can offer value their institution.
The first step, however, is to just get started. Write a first draft, don't think about creating the perfect essay, and focus on honing the point of your essay down after careful revisions.
Why should the college accept you into their program?
Your essay can have any focus and be in any format you choose, but consider first articulating your reasons for selecting your chosen path. The why is more important than the how here. Describe why your goals are your goals and how you intend to get there. Connect the dots throughout your previous accomplishments and how you will obtain your future goals. Think about the big picture, but describe this in steps. What courses, internships, professors, research, extracurriculars, and projects have contributed to who you are as a person and who you are going to be? Ultimately, you want to be as specific as possible so that you can provide evidence and show the admissions team your strengths and weaknesses.
Motivation and the capacity to succeed is also a key factor when admissions teams read your personal statement. Graduate schools want people who will show the value and success of their program so that other students will recognize their student's accomplishments and want to go to their graduate school as well. Show them how you can improve the school's reputation by your motivation and ability to succeed.
Start thinking about your personal statement before you even apply to graduate school
You may have never written anything like this before, and even if you have, you should plan to have people that you respect give you feedback for revisions. This can be your parents, mentors, previous instructors, employers, etc. - anybody that you trust to give honest feedback. Admissions teams can typically sniff out essays that are genuine, so while you want to be honest about your dreams for the future, you also want to be authentic and realistic. Establishing a voice and tone that speaks to your most authentic self will be crucial to getting accepted.
Be sincere and be concise.
Admissions teams will sometimes read up to a hundred of these essays when prospective students apply to their program, so you will want to catch their attention right away and be able to maintain their interest throughout your entire essay. If your essay is too long, they will get bored and may even stop reading. This also means avoiding clichés and making every sentence count. Don't meander or go off on tangents. Each word should be chosen for a specific reason.
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Whether students are enrolling in their first college courses, putting maximum effort into their upper-division coursework, or nearing the end of their educational paths, they’re keeping an eye on their goals. This focus—their reason for attending college in the first place—can spark their motivation even on the days they’re struggling with assignments or stressed by their responsibilities.
But what are those goals? And how does college help them achieve those goals? In our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked over 3,000 college students about their goals and how they think college will enable them to get where they want to go.
To begin, let’s look at college students’ responses to the question: What are your goals after college?
Going by these results, it’s clear that most students attend college to improve their chances of obtaining a fulfilling career that lets them pay the bills. Among the choices listed on the survey, a good or better job ranked the highest, netting 80% of the student vote. Nearly two-thirds (62%) hope that their college achievements will result in a high-paying job (or, one that pays better than their current job). These results align with students’ answers to a question we previously covered at the Engaging Minds blog: “Was getting a good job your primary reason for attending college?” 73% of students said that yes, this was true for them.
Many students also told us that they have plans for continuing their formal education. More than half (56%) indicated that they’re hoping to pursue an additional degree after they complete their current program. Whether this means they’ll be working towards a bachelor’s degree after earning an associate degree, or they want to attend graduate school after completing their undergrad studies, a good percentage of students have additional educational goals beyond their current college experience.
Five additional post-college goals, as named by college students
As noted above, ten percent of our surveyed students noted that they had additional goals after graduation (aside from those named above). We observed trends among their responses, and we’ve summarized them below:
1. Pursue additional career-focused training, schooling, or certification. As we observed earlier, more than half of our survey respondents want to pursue another degree. But in addition, many students said that, once they finish college, they hope to pursue “certification paths,” a “cosmetology/beautician license,” “additional technical certificates,” “law school,” “medical school,” and other programs that prepare them to practice in fields that require licenses or advanced education.
2. Start a business. Several of the students we surveyed said that they plan to take an entrepreneurial route after graduation. For these students, the knowledge and skills attained during college will apply to the work they’ll put into building their own companies, services, practices, and firms.
3. Achieve personal satisfaction. For other students, the goals are less tangible (but by no means less important). Students listed “happiness,” “greater and broader experience,” “travel,” “work/life balance,” “pride,” “more knowledge,” and “personal completeness/wholeness” among their post-college goals. Others look forward to “doing what [they] want to do,” or a “job where I can grow but still be true to my beliefs,” while still others want to “retire” and “rest on [their] satisfaction of going to school at an elderly age.”
4. Serve and support others. We were encouraged by the students who wanted to use what they’d learned in college for the purpose of “helping others in need” and “pass[ing] knowledge on to others.” Many mentioned that they want to join a national or global aid effort, whether by working for a non-profit or NGO, joining the Peace Corps, or “provid[ing] aid for children and individuals with disabilities in war-torn countries.” Others stuck a bit closer to home, naming such activities as “mentoring,” “start[ing] a family,” “utilizing my newly gained knowledge to help others in my community,” or “passing on knowledge about… my experience in my specific school and helping whoever I can will attend that school in the future.”
5. Secure a better financial outlook. In addition to the 62% who say they have a goal of a high-paying (or higher-paying) job, several students commented that their goal is to “become financially independent.” One student put a date to the goal, writing of a desire to experience “financial freedom in two years after I graduate.”
Students name the top way college enables them to reach their goals
In this same survey, over three thousand students named the key way that they believe college will enable them to achieve these goals.
Nearly half (49%) of the students stated that the degree itself will help them get to where they want to go, whereas nearly one quarter (23%) said that the subject knowledge will be the key to reaching and achieving their goals. Clearly, the majority of students believe that their academic achievements will be the key to achieving their post-college goals.
Other factors proved to be a priority to fewer college students. A much smaller percentage (14%) said that building contacts and networking were the most valuable part of their college experience. And, only 12% said that critical-thinking skills were the key factor in helping them reach their goals. However, this doesn’t mean they devalue critical thinking; in a previous survey from Fall 2014, 99% of students agreed that critical thinking is an important skill, and 92% believe what they learn in class sharpens their critical thinking skills for the “real world.”
Truth be told, most students have many goals in mind when they decide to enter college. Likewise, they undoubtedly recognize that multiple factors will help them achieve their personal and professional goals. But, by knowing and understanding their key goals and priorities, we can be better prepared to help them succeed in those areas that matter the most to them.
Want to help your students achieve their academic goals, as well as their goals after college graduation? Review the tips in the blog posts below, and share your own suggestions in the comments.
The GPS Strategy for Achieving Goals
Tips for Students: Prioritizing Time to Achieve Your Goals
Tips for Students: Defining Your Values and Goals