The application process for nearly every master’s or doctoral program in the US requires a personal statement. Medical, dental, and veterinary schools, and residency programs need one, as do some bachelor’s (aka: four-year) degree programs and schools. Sometimes these are called application essays or letters of intent, and while the format may vary a little, the overall goal is the same.
A personal statement is an essay that explains why you’re applying to a specific school or program. It’s more narrative than a resume and demonstrates your reasons for pursuing a degree or career. In some cases there’s a life story or experience that drives an individual’s goals. In other cases it’s more of a gradual connection of interests that leads someone to seek a specific degree.
Consider your personal statement as your chance to speak directly to the admissions committee. It’s an opportunity to break out of the sterility of a prescribed formal application form, bringing your admission request to life with your personality.
Admission committees want applicants who are likely to stick with a program, rather than changing their mind six months in. Your path should be a central focal point of the essay. Other key components to include are why you’re a good fit for the program, what you’ll bring to the school, and how attending will further your long term goals. If the program has specific questions they want addressed, make sure those answers are included.
Clarity is essential. Pretty empty words don’t serve your personal statement, and take up valuable space. Focus on concrete specifics on your first draft, rather than broad generalizations, and adjust for flow on revision.
The most common maximum lengths I’ve encountered are 250 words and 750 words. Some schools go with a character count. Occasionally you’ll find a program that has a page limit, in which case, be sure to follow the requested format rules on these. Font, font size, and line spacing can have a huge impact, and you never want to go over the limit.
There is no one-size fits all approach, no holy grail for the perfect personal statement; the whole point is for it to be personalized (it’s right there in the name). Remember, this essay is only one part of the overall application process.