Graduate school personal statements can be challenging, often because they don’t specify what exactly they want you to write about. For instance, the prompt might read as follows: Personal Statement (500 word limit).
This can create a lot of anxiety in grad-school candidates. “So, I can write about...anything?” my client, Ryan, an aspiring speech pathologist asked. “It says ‘personal’ – does that mean that I should tell them about how my mom had a stroke when I was in tenth grade?”
I gave Ryan the same answer I give all of my candidates who come to me with that confused puppy dog look: “Yes and no.”
If you’re applying to a speech pathology program because you want to work with stroke victims, then yes, by all means, include the story about your mother’s stroke in your personal statement. Discussing the impact that moment had on you would be the perfect set-up for the essay. BUT, be careful not to end up writing an essay about your mother. Remember, you only have 500 words, so talk about you. Your mother is only a launching point for a discussion about a defining moment in your development as a future speech pathologist.
Let me break it down for you:
Paragraph 1. This is where you get personal. No, this doesn’t mean empty the contents of your diary. This means write about the moment that you realized you wanted to pursue your goal. For the speech pathology example, this paragraph could be about how your mother had a stroke and then how you watched her struggle to relearn how to speak—and how you worked with her to improve her speech and found that you had a passion and a talent for it. Be specific.
Why? Graduate programs want students who are passionate about what they want to do, not students who are just looking to avoid the real world for another few years. This is your opportunity to show them why you want it.
Paragraph 2. What have you done thus far to pursue your interest in speech pathology? This is an opportunity to discuss specific classes you’ve taken in college—talk about a particular professor you learned from, clubs you started or joined. Discuss internships or observation hours. But DO NOT simply list them, you don’t want to regurgitate your resume. Remember, they have your resume! Tell them what’s not on your resume. For instance, discuss specific moments within your observation hours where you learned something significant and how you plan to apply what you learned.
Why? Graduate school want students who have already been seeking knowledge; show them what you’ve learned so far.
Paragraph 3. Why do you want to go to grad school? What do you still have left to learn that you need NYU for? Discuss skills that you need to obtain, improve or expand. For instance, you might want to work with stroke victims in a hospital—therefore you are looking to apply to a medically-based speech pathology program. Perhaps the majority of your observation hours were spent in a classroom with young children. Therefore you lack the medical knowledge needed to obtain a job as a speech pathologist in a hospital.
Now here’s the part where Ryan asks, “But Kirsten, don’t I want to appear confident? Won’t it make me look weak to admit that I still have stuff to learn?”
The answer? No. Schools want students who are self aware–they know their strongest and weakest areas. You want to show the school that you know what you need to work on and what experiences you need to gather in order to accomplish your goal. This also demonstrates that you actually will benefit from graduate school—and proves to the school even more that you are a serious candidate.
Paragraph 4. The school-specific portion of your essay. Why NYU, specifically? Here, it is important to be extremely specific in order to show enthusiasm for a particular school. Research classes, professors and clubs, and discuss how they will help you accomplish your goal.
Why? You must prove that you want to go to the school. By getting specific about the school you also demonstrate your ability to research and gain knowledge—good traits for a prospective student. Additionally, when you get an interview—you’ll have lots to discuss.
Last paragraph. Your conclusion. A few short sentences about how NYU is going to help you, and you are going to help them, change the planet (by using your speech pathology degree to work with stroke victims).
Don’t worry, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about writing a personal statement. It can feel like the be all end all—when you start to feel overwhelmed, just remember that you already know all of the answers. You’ve been living this essay—just dig down deep and start typing.
Communication starts at the moment of birth. The first time an infant cries he is communicating with his mother. Imagine that as this child grows his ability to communicate is hindered by cleft lip and cleft palate. I have experienced this with my younger cousin. I have seen his frustration as the people around him cannot understand what he is trying to say. As we age we take the ability to communicate for granted. We communicate every day without giving it a second thought. Imagine that a women's ability to communicate is suddenly lost following a stroke. I have seen my grandmother endure this struggle. After her stroke, my grandmother struggled to communicate with her loved ones. If it were not for the hard work and dedication of speech-language pathologists, my cousin and grandmother would not be communicating so effectively today. These experiences with my family have guided me to find my passion for speech and language.
Through out my time as an undergraduate student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program, I have gained qualities that make me an excellent candidate for the graduate program at ____________. I have gained research experience through my senior honors capstone project. During my senior honors capstone project I have been working with Dr. Ying Guo on her literacy research. In all of my years as an undergraduate student, I have been a working student. I have been able to achieve a 3.85 GPA while also working an average of 25 hours per week. My time as a working student has taught me the time management skills which will be essential in graduate school. I have learned the importance of service through my volunteer work at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). While volunteering at CCHMC I worked closely with speech pathologists in the speech language pathology department. I have also participated in various volunteer opportunities through my involvement in the National Student Speech-Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA).
In 2008, I spent eight days in Santa Avelina, Guatemala for a service trip. It was during this trip that I realized just what little access these people had to health care. When I returned home from Guatemala, I knew that I wanted to continue doing service abroad. This trip sparked my interest in serving abroad as well as bilingualism and Spanish. In my final semester as an undergraduate student, I will be fueling this interest by traveling to Granada, Nicaragua with the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences for a service learning trip. While in Nicaragua, we will provide healthcare services to local children.
After I receive my master's degree in speech-language pathology, I plan to work with children in a clinical setting. I also hope to provide services abroad to people in underprivileged nations such as Guatemala. There is a great need for speech-language pathologists who are able to work with Spanish-speaking children. While I was unable to complete a minor in Spanish as an undergraduate student, I plan to earn my certification in Spanish after I earn my master's degree. I plan to use my certification in Spanish to provide services to children learning English as a second language as well as children abroad.
My undergraduate studies in Communication Sciences and Disorders, personal experiences and service experiences have given me the necessary qualities to succeed as a graduate student. They have also awakened in me a passion for service, speech and language. I appreciate your consideration in advanced and thank you for the opportunity to share my passion with you.