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Writing a Personal Statement

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Many applications will include a personal essay, in which you describe "where you're coming from" – your interests, why you want to obtain a graduate degree, career goals, and so on. To personalize your application, you may wish to state your motivations for wanting to do graduate work and describe any particularly formative experiences (for example, an undergraduate research project) that led you to decide to enter graduate school. The essay should be of reasonable length, commonly one or two pages; do not write an autobiography that continues for many pages. People screening these essays may have hundreds to read, and long essays are not generally well-received.

Also, check your spelling and grammar carefully. An essay that is full of grammatical and spelling errors can automatically doom your application because such an essay denotes carelessness and a lack of commitment to doing things well. Identify faculty members with whom you would consider working in your essay. This will help route your application to appropriate faculty members who will be reading through applicant files. Be sure to contact the individuals to whom you refer in your essay.

Personal Statement Resources

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Writing the CV

University of California Berkeley: Graduate School Statement of Purpose

University of Washington: Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School (PDF)

Peterson's: What Should I Write About In My Graduate Personal Statement?

USA Today: 10 Tips For Writing A Grad School Personal Statement

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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  • 23 April 2021

Sell yourself and your science in a compelling personal statement

Andy Tay is a science writer in Singapore.

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Personal statements — essays highlighting personal circumstances, qualities and achievements — are used extensively in science to evaluate candidates for jobs, awards and promotions. Five researchers offer tips for making yours stand out in a crowded and competitive market.

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Nature 593 , 153-155 (2021)

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing the Personal Statement

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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

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Personal Statements

Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in crafting these statements. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open-ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader, remembering that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Writing your statement will take time; start early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation Prezi  and our three-minute video on Writing Personal Statements .

  • What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
  • Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
  • Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
  • What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?

After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Provide specific examples that will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college  or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning .

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Advice for Applying to Master's in Communication Programs

science communication personal statement

Admission Requirements for a Master’s in Communication Program

Advice for applying to master’s in communication programs, #1: every part of the application matters, #2: what schools look for in prospective students, #3: advice for completing your personal statement, #4: advice on requesting letters of recommendation, #5: apply early – do not wait to submit your application, concluding remarks.

Applying to a master’s degree program can be intimidating for even the most qualified individuals. These programs are often quite selective, with a strict list of requirements applicants must fulfill in order to be considered for admission. Typically, this means meeting certain thresholds in terms of past academic performance and professional experience, as well as providing thorough documentation proving one is a good fit for graduate-level instruction. Master’s in communication programs are no exception. Many have a rigorous selection process, and prospective students will need to stand out among their fellow applicants if they hope to be accepted.

In an effort to help students navigate the application process, and maximize their chances of admission, we spoke with faculty members from some of the top master’s in communication programs in the country to get their advice on the matter. They had plenty of tips to offer, including the top qualities to demonstrate in an application, what students should address in their personal statement, and how to best go about requesting letters of recommendation. Additional advice in this article comes from a panel discussion lead by four communication professors that took place during the Graduate Student Workshop at the Western States Communication Association’s 2018 annual convention in Santa Clara, California.

Read through all the advice these professors and faculty members had to share for applying to a master’s in communication program in the sections below.

The application process and admission requirements for a master’s in communication vary by program. In order to apply, students typically must complete and submit an application form to their school of choice, along with an associated fee, if required. Many programs only accept applicants with an undergraduate GPA over a certain threshold, such as a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75 or 3.0. Most often, students are required to send in official transcripts from all previous postsecondary institutions to show they meet this GPA requirement or any other academic prerequisites. Along with this, schools may ask for a resume detailing relevant professional experience, and possibly contact information for one or more references.

Two major components required by most master’s in communication programs are a personal goal statement and letters of recommendation. The personal statement is a chance for students to discuss their qualifications and what they hope to achieve in the program, all while demonstrating they are adequately prepared for graduate-level study. This gives the admissions committee a better understanding of each applicant’s personality and passions, and ultimately, whether or not they would make a good fit for the particular program. Additionally, the personal statement essay provides applicants with a place to discuss any potential weaknesses in other aspects of their application, for example, their GPA or standardized tests scores. In certain cases, additional writing samples may be requested. Some schools also require an in-person, phone, or Skype interview with program faculty, or even ask students to record a video interview answering specific questions about their background and goals.

Along with a personal statement, it is common for programs to require one or more letters of recommendation as part of the application package. These are typically written by past professors or employers who can vouch for the applicant’s personal qualifications and aptitude. Depending on their particular focus, some programs may prefer or even require letters of recommendation from a certain type of reference. For example, programs designed to prepare students for doctoral studies in communication typically prefer recommendations from professors who can speak to an applicant’s ability to succeed at the graduate level. Whereas applied communication programs that require several years of experience often prefer recommendations from employers who can better speak to an applicant’s current professional strengths.

While some master’s in communication programs require students to submit GRE or GMAT test scores as part of the application process, many do not. Those that include the GRE as an admission requirement may also do so on a conditional basis, only requiring test scores from students who fail to meet other admission criteria, such as the minimum GPA threshold. Additionally, some programs might allow students to apply for a GRE waiver based on their professional experience or past academic achievements (such as already possessing a graduate degree in another field).

An example of a program that requires the GRE on a conditional basis is the Master of Science in Communication Management program at the University of North Florida (UNF), which asks applicants for standardized test scores if their undergraduate GPA is below a 3.0. John Parmelee, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Communication at UNF, explains, “We are looking for applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher in all work attempted in the last 60 credit hours of undergraduate study. If it’s much lower than our usual standard of 3.0, applicants will need to provide additional evidence that they are ready for graduate school.” In this case, Dr. Parmelee says, “The additional evidence is their choice of one of the following: either a GRE score of at least 153 verbal, 144 quantitative or a GMAT minimum 500 total score.”

It is important that prospective students pay close attention to all admissions criteria when researching master’s in communication programs, as different program types and specializations may have different requirements. For example, academic or research-based programs, such as master’s degrees in communication studies or interpersonal communication, often require the GRE, while applied communication programs, which focus on career-oriented specialties like technical communication and strategic communication, generally do not.

Many programs also have selective admission policies, meaning that even if students meet the requirements for admission, they may not be accepted to the program. Some might be highly competitive, and only enroll a small number of students each year, which in some cases may be as few as six to 10. That means only a small fraction of the students who submit applications will be accepted to the program, so a particularly strong personal statement or letter of recommendation could be the difference between being accepted and not getting into the program.

When applying to a master’s in communication program, it is important that students place equal weight on every aspect of their application. Many of the professors we interviewed stressed that they evaluate applicants holistically, taking each component of a student’s application into careful consideration when deciding who to accept. As the Director of Graduate Study for the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Leanne Knobloch, Ph.D. explains, “We evaluate students based on their application as a whole (taking into account undergraduate grades and coursework, career goals, research experience, personal statement, writing sample, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation).” She adds, “We are looking for students who are prepared for graduate-level work and have given considerable thought to their career goals. Ideal candidates spell out in their personal statement why they are interested in our department and how their interests fit with our expertise.”

We are looking for students who are prepared for graduate-level work and have given considerable thought to their career goals. Ideal candidates spell out in their personal statement why they are interested in our department and how their interests fit with our expertise.

Dr. Leanne Knobloch – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Professor Wendy Zajack, MBA, Faculty Director for the Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marketing Communications and Design Management and Communications Programs in the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University, echoes these statements. “We holistically review applications so we like to see a combination of things from our students,” she says. These include, “1) a good undergraduate academic performance 2) excellent and relevant work experience – we like to see at least a year of working experience (or amazing internships). We have an opportunity to submit work samples – so please do! and 3) an application that really helps us understand why our IMC program is of interest to you and fits your career goals. This could include looking through our list of courses and letting us know which ones you are excited about, as well as an explanation of your career aspirations.”

To help get a better understanding of both the program itself and what admissions staff look for in applicants, Bernardo Alexander Attias, Ph.D., Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Northridge, recommends students reach out to school faculty early on in the research process. “It’s a good idea to contact the Graduate Coordinator to find out more about whether this program meets your needs,’ he says. “It’s important to understand what you want out of a graduate program before you decide which ones to apply to.” When it comes time to submit an application, Dr. Attias stresses, “It should be clear from your personal statement that the coursework and program that we offer helps you advance your own personal and professional goals.”

Simply meeting the admission requirements for a master’s in communication program may not always be enough to secure one’s admittance. As discussed earlier, these programs often have selective admissions policies, meaning students will need to submit a noteworthy application if they hope to be accepted. Many of the faculty members we interviewed made it clear they look for well-rounded applicants, who display not only academic prowess, but an excitement about the particular program of study and where it might take their career. This is typically communicated to the selection committee through the personal goal statement and any long-form questions on the application itself, as well as through interviews with faculty members, if required during the application process. In order to stand out from the other applicants, it is important to make sure every component of one’s application demonstrates they are ready and eager to succeed in the specific master’s program they are applying to.

According to the faculty members we spoke with, here are some qualities students should be sure to demonstrate in their application:

  • A passion for academic endeavors (such as any extracurricular activities)
  • Maturity and collegiality
  • Alignment with program goals
  • Readiness for graduate school
  • Intellectual curiosity, inquisitiveness (a readiness to to think, not just read and write)
  • Excellent writing skills

Athena du Pré, Ph.D. has reviewed countless applications in her role as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of West Florida. When it comes to choosing the ideal candidate, she says, “Our top priorities are evidence of academic or professional achievement and personal goals that would be well served by our curriculum.” Additionally, Dr. du Pré mentions her department looks for applicants who communicate well and show enthusiasm for the program. “We put a premium on good writing skills and inquisitiveness,” she adds. “Because this is an action-oriented program, we favor applicants who are interested in getting involved and being part of a team.”

Students who have a clear idea of what they want to do with their degree often make the best students and have the most success. An application that demonstrates both passion and clear goals gets noticed.

Dr. Rocky Dailey – South Dakota State University

This motivation to learn and excel, both in the program and professionally, is a major factor schools look for in master’s in communication applicants. Rocky Dailey, Ed.D., Online Graduate Advisor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at South Dakota State University, explains, “We look for students ready to take the next step with their professional mass communication career, so we want highly motivated individuals who come in with some professional experience to build off of.” In their application, students should be sure to convey exactly how they plan to use what they learn in the program to further their careers after graduation. According to Dr. Dailey, “Students who have a clear idea of what they want to do with their degree often make the best students and have the most success. An application that demonstrates both passion and clear goals gets noticed.”

Meina Liu, Ph.D. is the Graduate Director for the Master of Arts in Communication Management Program at The George Washington University. She too stresses the importance of illustrating exactly how one’s goals align with that of the program. “The Graduate Studies Committee reviews applications by looking at the entire package rather than one specific aspect,” says Dr. Liu. “Our MA students come from a variety of academic backgrounds, including international affairs, economics, organizational sciences, political communication, strategic communication, mass communication, women’s studies, and so on.” No matter their particular background, Dr. Liu explains, “In general, applicants that articulate a good fit between their backgrounds/interests and what our program offers are given more serious consideration than those that write a generic essay. For example, a student who describes how the program’s course offerings may help advance his or her career goals is considered to have a stronger fit and motivation than a student seeking a career in journalism.”

Due to their often interdisciplinary nature, master’s in communication programs tend to draw applicants with a wide range of industry backgrounds. While professional experience is something selection committees consider when reviewing applications, they typically place less weight on one’s specific area of expertise, and more on what students hope to achieve through the degree program. Paula Weissman, Ph.D., Program Director for the Online MA in Strategic Communication at American University, says, “We take a holistic approach to reviewing applications. All factors, including previous academic experience, professional experience, letters of recommendation, and the personal essay are considered.” As for the ideal candidate, Dr. Weissman explains, “Some students already have substantial experience in the communications industry; others are experienced in other areas, but looking to make a career switch; and a smaller number are still quite early on in their careers. We look for strong students who have a demonstrated passion for learning more about strategic communication and clear career goals that align with our degree program.”

Above all, most master’s in communication programs are looking for students who display a passion to succeed both in and out of the classroom. This enthusiasm for learning and furthering one’s career is exactly what John McArthur, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Programs at the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, hopes to find in applicants to the school’s online Master of Arts in Communication program. “At Queens, our typical students have a passion for the study of communication as a way to advance their careers in their selected industries,” Dr. McArthur explains. “We have a diverse mix of seasoned professionals who are advancing their careers and recent undergraduates who are just starting to find their place.” In his opinion, “The optimal applicant is one who can match his or her interests to the goals of our program and demonstrates the personal motivation to succeed as an online learner. Our students are practitioners AND scholars, concerned about their own development AND the development of their classmates, and ready to learn AND be a part of a vibrant community.”

One of the best ways applicants to a master’s in communication program can convey their personality, passion, and goals to the admissions committee is through their personal statement essay. This portion of the application is when students have a chance to show admissions faculty who they are as a person, and why they think they would make a good fit for the program. Transcripts and resumes only tell part of the story; schools want to know exactly what applicants hope to achieve through graduate study, as well as how these goals line up specifically with what their program has to offer. The personal statement essay is also an opportunity for students to display their writing skills, discuss any weaknesses in their qualifications, and elaborate on achievements or other elements of their background outlined elsewhere in the application.

Here are the top tips our interviewees had to offer for writing an effective and impactful personal statement essay:

  • Be authentic
  • Research the program
  • Describe your goals
  • Detail how the program will help you achieve them
  • Be an excellent communicator
  • Proofread carefully
  • Demonstrate maturity

Before students sit down to write their personal statement essay, it is important that they have thoroughly researched the program they are applying to, and are prepared to explain exactly how the curriculum aligns with their academic and professional aspirations. Rebekah Farrugia, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director for the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University, says, “We encourage students applying to our MA program to do their research and take their time when crafting their Statement of Purpose.” As for the essay itself, Dr. Farrugia stresses, “It should clearly indicate why they believe that they are a good fit for our program and how their interests and goals align with our program offerings.”

In your personal statement, tell us why you want to join our master’s program. Ours specifically, not why you want to join a master’s program.

Dr. Christopher Bell – University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Another faculty member we interviewed who emphasized the importance of proper research is Magdelana Red, Ph.D., who works as the Academic Director for the Master of Arts in Communication Management Program at the University of Denver’s University College. “It sounds simple, but I love to see applications that show how students see themselves contributing to and benefitting from the MA in Communication Management,” she notes. “A strong grasp of how they’ll fit into the program (or, how they’ll get the most out of it!) demonstrates that they’ve done their homework, see the unique value proposition that we provide, and are committed to making a contribution to our community.”

According to Christopher Bell, Ph.D., the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, there are several questions students should address in their essay to show they have done the research and truly believe the program is right for them. “In your personal statement, tell us why you want to join our master’s program. Ours specifically , not why you want to join a master’s program,” he explains. “What is it about our specific program that excites you? What do you plan to study, keeping in mind that’s often going to change over the course of your time here. Whom among our professors are you looking toward working with? What are your plans for after you complete the program?” Ultimately, Dr. Bell says, “We want to know who you are, what you want to study, and why you’re choosing us. That will help us determine if we’re also choosing you.”

When it comes time to craft the statement essay, Karrin Vasby Anderson, Ph.D. from Colorado State University Fort Collins, who spoke at the Western States Communication Association’s (WSCA) 2018 annual convention, says students should be authentic and use simple declarative statements, avoiding effusive language that may read as unprofessional. Along with tailoring their personal statement to the program itself, Dr. Anderson recommends applicants highlight their professional goals and ambitions, while describing in detail how the program will help them reach these objectives. Her fellow panel member, Teresa Bergman, Ph.D., a professor at the University of the Pacific, also stressed the importance of being open and genuine in one’s goal essay, even if that means stating you are unsure about your career aspirations, but excited and open to the possibilities the program might lead to. By being as honest as possible in their personal statement, applicants can better help schools determine if they would make a good fit for the program, or ultimately be unhappy in the course of study.

Robert DeChaine, Ph.D. from California State University, Los Angeles, another speaker at the WSCA convention, emphasizes that the personal statement essay should not just be a laundry list of talents or accomplishments. Instead, he recommends applicants provide an account of their personal interests and passions, and not try to impress admissions staff with their knowledge in the field. For many schools, the way in which the essay is written is just as important as the content itself. The fourth member of the Graduate Student Workshop panel, Margaret Pitts, Ph.D., who teaches at the University of Arizona, says students should strive to be concise and display excellent communication skills in their personal statement. In particular, she likes essays that directly outline the applicant’s direction, the types of approaches they will use in the program, and who specifically (i.e. which faculty members) they hope to work with during their studies.

Of course, several of the faculty members we interviewed also recommend applicants try to make explicit connections between their professional experience and the program itself in their personal essay. For example, Judy Foster Davis, Ph.D., Chair of the Faculty Committee for the Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Program at Eastern Michigan University, suggests students applying to the program “highlight their experience connecting with customers – such as any projects in which they created customer engagement by incorporating effective contact points that provide a setting for interactive communication; or created a seamless experience for customers to interact with a brand by melding elements of marketing and/or communication across various channels to act as one unified force.” In addition to this, she says, “Displaying their understanding of the importance of branding, customer relationships, public relations, and target marketing will make for a strong application.”

Graduate school is a significantly different experience from undergraduate. It requires dedication and focus. So we’re looking for students who are mature and committed to learning about human communication, have the intellectual capability for graduate-level work, and have the drive to grow into independent thinkers.

Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee – University of Hawaii at Manoa

Along with detailing any relevant work experience, students should use their personal essay to demonstrate they are adequately prepared for the rigors of a master’s program. Director of Graduate Studies and a Professor in the Department of Communicology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hye-ryeon Lee, Ph.D. offers this advice, “In our program, we look at several key things. First, we’re looking at your academic capability,” she explains. “Graduate school is a significantly different experience from undergraduate. It requires dedication and focus. So we’re looking for students who are mature and committed to learning about human communication, have the intellectual capability for graduate-level work, and have the drive to grow into independent thinkers.” As for the personal statement, Dr. Lee says, “You want to describe the experiences you have had and your achievements that can give us the confidence in your intellectual capability to handle the courses and projects.” She adds, “Our program is also quite demanding, so you need to have that ‘fire in the belly,’ meaning that you really care about what we study, and about understanding human communication processes.”

For Dr. Lee, ideal candidates for UH Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program are those that exhibit a genuine enthusiasm towards learning. “Whatever you can do to show that you have that passion and that you’re not coming to our program simply because you didn’t know what to do after graduation is helpful to illustrate in your application,” she notes. “You should show us that this field is something that is intensely interesting to you, and that you are ready to give your all to try to study and understand and further your knowledge about how human communication processes work.”

Above all, students should see their personal statement essay as a chance to speak directly to the program faculty evaluating their application. “For your personal statement, use it as your opportunity to really talk to the admissions committee,” says Cylor Spaulding, Ph.D., Faculty Director for the Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications Program at Georgetown University. “Our committee meets almost every week for several hours to sit down and go through the applications that have come in at that time. We try to get a sense of each person’s experiences, goals, work ethic, and personality as represented on the page. So, put your best foot forward in your personal statement.”

Dr. Spaulding also suggests prospective students use their personal essay to address any potential weak spots in their application. “I would say even if you had a bad semester at some point in your undergraduate career, address that in your personal statement. Explain to the committee what was going on, because we really do look at students holistically,” he says. “If you don’t have that background in public relations, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But make a good case for yourself as to why this is what you want to do. We want to see what the end goal is.”

My best advice… edit. Second best piece of advice… edit again.

Dr. Michael G. Strawser – Bellarmine University

Once the personal statement is complete, students should be sure to meticulously proofread their essay multiple times to ensure there are no mistakes or omissions. “My best advice… edit. Second best piece of advice… edit again,” says Michael Strawser, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Programs for the School of Communication at Bellarmine University. “Applications with typos, spelling errors and/or mechanical/grammatical mistakes show the committee a red flag.” A strong attention to detail will not only improve the overall quality of the essay, but show admissions staff that you are taking the application seriously, and diligent about getting a spot in the program. “I am a big believer (and I hate to be cliché) in grit,” Dr. Strawser adds. “Meaning, when I read your personal statement I want to know that you are passionate about communication and will persevere through the program.”

It is typical for a master’s in communication program to ask applicants to submit several references or letters of recommendation as part of the application process. This is so admissions staff can get a better idea of each student’s personality and work ethic from people who know them firsthand, as well as corroborate certain aspects of their academic or professional background. Positive recommendations that speak enthusiastically about an applicant’s strengths and potential, while reinforcing the qualifications outlined elsewhere in their application, can help bolster one’s chances of being accepted into their program of interest, especially if the selection process is competitive.

In most cases, these letters of recommendation come from either previous instructors or employers. Some schools might explicitly require one or the other, asking for academic references over professional ones, or vice versa. Others may prefer a certain type of reference based on the program’s focus or an applicant’s background. For example, if the person applying has been out of school for a significant period of time, a recent employer may be better able to speak to their qualifications than their last professor. On the other hand, academic or research-based master’s programs often prefer letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty members as opposed to past employers. Students interested in applying to a master’s in communication program should reach out to admissions staff beforehand to find out which type of reference is preferred.

During the Graduate Student Workshop at WSCA, Dr. Anderson, Dr. Bergman, Dr. DeChaine and Dr. Pitts also had advice for students regarding letters of recommendation. Their advice is summarized below along with information from our faculty interviews.

To get the most effective recommendations possible, students should ask for letters from people they currently know, who can speak to the kind of person they are and work they are doing at the time of application. The faculty members we interviewed also stressed the importance of selecting references that can touch on personal qualities and refer to specifics in their reference letter, meaning they should be someone who knows the applicant well. “Good letters of recommendation from people who actually know you and your work always helps,” explains Dr. Spaulding from Georgetown University. “Generic letters of recommendation are fine, but they really don’t speak to your characteristics. So even if it’s not a professor, but it’s a supervisor or someone who knows you a little better and can actually speak to why this program is a good fit for you, and what you could bring to the program, goes a long way towards selling yourself in the application.”

I highly recommend that students form relationships with their instructors and maximize their efforts at the undergraduate level to ensure strong references when applying to MA programs.

Dr. Rebekah Farrugia – Oakland University

When requesting letters of recommendation from instructors or professors, it is important for students to choose faculty members they have a close relationship with, who can address their academic prowess and potential in detail. “I highly recommend that students form relationships with their instructors and maximize their efforts at the undergraduate level to ensure strong references when applying to MA programs,” says Dr. Farrugia from Oakland University.

One way to go about this is to approach professors and tell them you are considering pursuing a master’s degree, then ask if they would be willing to have a conversation about graduate school. Tell them what you hope to achieve through your master’s studies and ask questions about different program options or the admissions process. When it comes time to ask for a letter of recommendation, they will know more about you personally and hopefully be inspired to help. Additionally, while this may not be possible for every student, if you can find professors who know faculty at the programs you are applying to, their recommendations may carry more weight, as the admissions committee will know the quality of students he or she recommends. The same goes for recommendations from professors with connections to your school or program of interest, for example, an alumnus of the program who knows exactly what it takes to succeed in that particular course of study, and can discuss why you would be a good fit.

Finally, while this may seem obvious, be sure to ask any prospective reference if they can provide you with a positive reference tailored to you specifically, not just a generic or neutral letter of recommendation. If they are unable to do so, try another instructor or faculty member.

Whether academic or professional, Kevin Meyer, Ph.D., Graduate Coordinator for the School of Communication at Illinois State University, encourages students to seek out references who have gone to graduate school themselves, and understand the importance of a strong recommendation letter. “I generally advise applicants to seek letters of recommendation from those who have attended a graduate program themselves,” he says. “These letters from faculty tend to be longer and more detailed than those from other recommenders, often speak to the academic and scholarly potential of the applicant (something the selection committee wants to know), and carry the credibility of coming from someone who knows what it takes to succeed in graduate studies.”

In order to give program faculty ample time to review one’s application, students should be sure to submit their documents as soon as possible. Several of the faculty members we interviewed warned against waiting until the deadline, as it can be harder to stand out among the sea of applications submitted at that time. Furthermore, some master’s in communication programs have rolling admission policies. This means they accept applications over a long period of time and review candidates throughout, instead of waiting for a particular deadline to make their decision. In these cases, it is possible for the program to reach enrollment capacity even before the actual application deadline. Students who are accepted after enrollment is full for a given start date typically must wait for the next start date in order to begin the program.

According to Dr. Meyer, submitting one’s application materials early is important because it gives admissions staff more time to get to know a candidate. “I always encourage applicants to have their files complete and submitted weeks before the deadline,” he explains. “The more time the selection committee can spend with a file before being inundated with a stack of materials at the deadline, the more opportunity there is for committee members to fall in love with a file.”

MastersinCommunications.com wants to thank all of the faculty we interviewed, and Dr. Anderson, Dr. Bergman, Dr. DeChaine and Dr. Pitts for their excellent advice on applying to a Master’s in Communication program. We hope this article helps prospective students who are currently in the application process or considering a graduate program in the field.


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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Committee on the Science of Science Communication: A Research Agenda. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Mar 8.

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Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda.

  • Hardcopy Version at National Academies Press

1 Using Science to Improve Science Communication

Science and technology are embedded in virtually every aspect of modern life. For this reason, people increasingly face the need to integrate information from science with their personal values and other considerations as they make important life decisions, such as those about medical care, the safety of foods, and a changing climate. The practice of science always involves some degree of uncertainty, and as a human endeavor, it is inevitably subject to occasional errors and to the potential influence of personal values, biases, and professional interests. Nonetheless, science helps explain and predict the world using a unique, rule-governed process to produce factual knowledge, and in the long run, the practices and norms of science result in a robust base of knowledge.

Many believe the scientific community has a duty to engage with society to disseminate this knowledge and provide a return on society's investment in the science enterprise ( Dewey, 1927 ; Lubchenco, 1998 ). Society in general expects scientists to help solve its major problems (such as maintaining people's health or safeguarding national security) and to discover ways of improving quality of life, expanding economic opportunities, and informing decisions. Yet communicating science effectively does not come easily; it is an acquired skill.

Any communication involves a communicator, an audience, and channels of communication that are often bidirectional, all situated in a particular social context. Many envision “science communication” as a scientist giving information to another individual, such as a member of Congress or of the media, about a scientific topic. Most science communication, however, is more dynamic and takes place in a much more complex context involving individuals, groups, and organizations that are both the communicators of and audiences for science. These contextual elements pose challenges for effective science communication. So, too, does the very nature of science. The methods scientists use to understand the world are unlike the ways people typically think on a day-to-day basis. The results of science also can be insufficient, ambiguous, or uncertain, and scientific conclusions can change over time as new findings emerge. These inherent characteristics of science can create barriers to communication and understanding.

Other barriers to effective science communication may stem in part from the audience for the information. These barriers include a lack of familiarity with science in general or with the scientific findings and issues related to a particular decision. Faced with making sense of a vast amount of complex information that is often quantitative and can at times appear contradictory, some people—including scientists in areas outside their expertise—often use shortcuts (as discussed in more depth in Chapter 2 ). People may rely, for example, on a quick assessment of whether the information fits with what they already know and believe about the subject. Or they may decline to engage, instead relying on someone else's evaluation of the information. In many cases, people protect their personal or economic interests, beliefs, and values from information that appears to conflict with them (as discussed in detail in Chapter 3 ). Although scientists may feel compelled to follow what science is saying about an issue, the rest of the public may feel freer to disregard or even distort that information.

Audiences for science sometimes are blamed when science communication appears to have failed (“the public does not care”; “they were too uneducated to understand”). However, communicators themselves can introduce barriers to effective communication. For example, they may fail to identify clear and feasible goals for their communication, including what information people need to know. At the same time, communicators tend to overestimate what most people know about a subject ( Nickerson, 1999 ), as well as to overrate the effectiveness of their efforts ( Chang et al., 2010 ).

Navigating these and other challenges is a skill—one that many communicators have lacked opportunities to learn. Few scientists, for example, have had formal training in science communication, although a variety of programs for such training exist (e.g., the Leopold Leadership Program; see also Neeley et al., 2015 ) and are becoming the focus of research ( Besley et al., 2016 ). Moreover, many journalists, institutional public information officers, advocates, and others who communicate science in the course of their work lack training either in science or in the communication of science per se ( Dunwoody et al., 2009 ). And science must compete for attention in a complex and fast-changing media environment that can be difficult to penetrate (an issue discussed further in Chapter 4 ).


This study was undertaken in this context to respond to the expressed needs of both those who communicate science and those who study how to communicate it; the statement of task for the study is presented in Box 1-1 . This report offers a research agenda for science communication practitioners and researchers seeking to apply research related to science communication and build an evidence base useful for making decisions about how to communicate science most effectively. 1 Of particular concern to the study sponsors are gaps in knowledge about effective science communication when science related to contentious issues is involved in public controversy (science-related controversy). Prominent examples of such issues include the reality and nature of climate change, how society can meet its energy needs, the importance and safety of childhood vaccination, how to prevent obesity, and issues of food safety (such as disagreements about the risks, or lack thereof, posed by genetically modified foods or chemical additives in food and water).

Statement of Task.

For the purposes of this report, “science communication” is defined as the exchange of information and viewpoints about science to achieve a goal or objective such as fostering greater understanding of science and scientific methods or gaining greater insight into diverse public views and concerns about the science related to a contentious issue. Consistent with its charge, the committee considered the research literature from a wide range of disciplines to examine similarities and differences in the factors associated with communicating science related to contentious issues.

From this review of the salient literature, the committee identified a set of factors that make effective science communication particularly challenging; ways to deal with those challenges are the focus of the research agenda proposed in this report. A “challenge” is defined here as a major and complex barrier to effective communication that, while difficult to overcome, could be addressed by filling current gaps in knowledge about the nature of the challenge and how it can be overcome. Taken together, the gaps in knowledge related to these challenges offer a road map to guide future research and help improve the quality and effectiveness of science communication.

Each chapter in this report focuses on

  • a specific challenge or set of challenges and their importance for effective science communication;
  • what is known from research about the conditions that affect peoples' understanding, perception, and use of science; and
  • needs for research and innovation.

A large body of research and scholarship has examined the factors—psychological, political, societal, cultural, economic, moral, media-related, and institutional—that influence science communication. However, much of this scholarship touches on a single issue area (nuclear energy, for example, or genetically modified organisms). This report differs from most previous analyses in that it represents an attempt to distill key findings about communicating science across many issues and academic disciplines. It is intended to provide an integrated understanding of the challenges of communicating science and the factors that influence people's understanding, perception, and use of science that relates to contentious issues.

To keep its review of the relevant literature manageable, the committee focused mainly on past or current disputes involving science related to contentious issues that include climate change, stem cells, nanotechnology, vaccines, hydraulic fracturing, genetically modified organisms, nuclear energy, obesity, education policy, and the teaching of evolution and climate change in K-12 schools. These topics involve many shared elements of science-related controversy, yet also are sufficiently diverse to inform an examination of the personal, economic, political, social, and cultural influences entailed in communication, all of which science communicators need to understand.

In addition to examining studies related to the above specific contentious issues, the report draws on research in a range of related disciplines (such as health communication, environmental communication, risk communication, political science, marketing, social marketing, mass communication, and journalism) to elucidate influences on the way people encounter and make sense of science, both as individuals and as members of social groups and organizations (such as governments, advocacy groups, and religious communities). The committee also gathered information from people who may be characterized as “science communication practitioners”—professionals who communicate about science, including scientists themselves, but do not conduct research on science communication.

The committee did not assume that findings from studies of other forms of communication would transfer automatically to communicating science. Science offers a unique way of understanding the world, and so knowledge about communication in other domains may not translate entirely to communicating science, especially when science is involved in controversy. It also cannot be assumed that the literature on decision making per se will necessarily generalize to communicating science for decision making. Another consideration is that the goals of communication studied in other disciplines may or may not be consistent with the goals of some science communicators. For example, some fields, such as marketing and public relations, offer insights into several aspects of science communication—for example, understanding audiences—but the goals of marketing and public relations professionals may differ from those of many science communicators.

This report could not be and is not a comprehensive review of the scholarship on science communication. Instead, it synthesizes the most essential points (for which key sources are provided as examples), focusing primarily on issues and outcomes specified in the committee's statement of task ( Box 1-1 ): the understanding, perception, acceptance, and use of science relating to topics that are often contentious. The report also does not directly address topics in formal science education, such as effective teaching methods or curricula related to communicating science, or informal science education. 2 Moreover, to identify the challenges of communicating and gaps in knowledge about the factors that affect people's understanding, perception, and use of science, the committee considered a wide range of science communication contexts, such as policy making, journalism, and communications that affect individual and public health. However, the report does not analyze each such context in detail. And while many topics related to the communication of science are important, not all are amenable to empirical study, and such topics are excluded from this report. For example, the important question of what knowledge from science is ready to communicate and worth communicating outside of the scientific community involves ethical, practical, institutional, and academic cultural considerations that may not be addressable through a research agenda.

As is emphasized throughout this report, the science of science communication is an emergent field. The studies that make up the literature in this field are fragmented, issue-specific, and anchored in different disciplines, and often address the specific topic of science communication only obliquely. The committee reviewed those studies to gather suggestions on how to advance knowledge about effective science communication; those suggestions, however, are more tentative and speculative than those that would emerge from a mature and integrated field. The report ends with some ideas on how such integration might be accomplished in the future.

It is important to note as well that an assumption underlying the charge to the committee is that communicating science will have an effect on people's behavior and decisions. Although some research supports this assumption (e.g., Brewer et al., 2016 ), the evidence is not as rich as it needs to be. The impact of science communication on different types of decisions, in different contexts, is an empirical question worthy of substantial additional research. While the committee believes the scientific community has an obligation to communicate the results of its work to the rest of society, we emphasize that science alone is never a sufficient basis for resolving public debate about contentious issues. Moreover, the people concerned in a given science-related controversy hold many different opinions about the social, economic, moral, and ethical implications of an action, and these opinions all must be weighed in decisions about that issue ( Yankelovich, 1991 ).

Finally, in addressing its charge to identify research with the potential to improve science communication, the committee took a broad view and did not interpret a lack of action consistent with science as necessarily resulting from a problem with science communication. How people define the problem of science communication will differ depending on their perspective. There may not be a science communication problem from the perspective of the audience if they understand the science and consider it in their decisions (i.e., use it), but behave in a manner inconsistent with the best available scientific evidence. For the communicator, this outcome may be considered a problem or a failure of science communication, depending on whether the goals of the communicator are to inform or persuade. Taking all these caveats into account, the committee believes the various disciplines that have studied aspects of science communication offer insights into its challenges. Moreover, these insights are ready to be advanced and to be integrated into a more coherent approach to communicating science for the benefit of society. It is the committee's hope that the research agenda proposed in this report will guide the field of science communication research, serving to assist science communicators and scientists whose work pertains to important societal issues. Their collective expertise will be needed to develop and test science-informed approaches to communicating science.


Science is communicated by the scientific community (individual scientists, universities, and scientific associations), the media, advocacy organizations, think tanks, corporations, nonprofit research organizations, health professionals, and government agencies. Individuals also communicate science from their own perspectives as amateurs in their roles as science enthusiasts, issue advocates, or political commentators using social media, the web, and other venues.

Goals of Communicating Science

The most effective approach for communicating science will depend on the goal of the communication. The committee identified five broad and overlapping goals for science communication, each of which places quite different demands on the knowledge and skills of science communicators and their audiences and calls for its own distinct approach. These goals encompass a wide range of reasons for communicating, from informing audiences to motivating the actions of individuals, groups, or societies. The goals may be end points in themselves or objectives serving a larger goal that is the communicator's reason for communicating science.

First, the goal of science communication may be simply to share the findings and excitement of science. Many scientists wish to share their passion and intellectual excitement, believing that understanding of their work will enrich the lives of their fellow citizens. And since science typically is publicly supported, scientists may feel obliged to tell the public about the benefits for which it has paid.

A second goal of science communication may be to increase appreciation for science as a useful way of understanding and navigating the modern world. Although not fully tested, this goal assumes that people who have more knowledge about and are more comfortable with science, who have a general store of science-related information, and who value science and its role in accruing knowledge will be more willing and able to use scientific information (knowledge from science and how it is produced) in their decision making. Thus communicators may seek to increase people's general knowledge of science and of how it can improve quality of life and help in making decisions, and to expand the base of relevant information used routinely by the public—whether government officials, business leaders, or individual citizens. Integrating this knowledge with values and other relevant considerations can result in more informed decisions.

A third goal may be to increase knowledge and understanding of science related to a specific issue that requires a decision. In this case, communicators may seek to inform or educate people about the relevant facts from science, how those facts were derived, and what they mean for the decision. Communicators may seek to bring attention to a neglected issue or neglected aspects of an issue, or may wish to improve the quality of discourse on an issue—for example, through improved media coverage of the relevant science.

A fourth goal of science communication can be to influence people's opinions, behavior, and policy preferences when the weight of evidence clearly shows that some choices have consequences for public health, public safety, or some other societal concern. Communicators have, for example, worked to make people aware of the benefits of exercise, the dangers of smoking, and the importance of controlling one's blood pressure. In such cases, communicators may feel compelled both to inform people about scientific findings and to persuade people to change their behavior or make a particular policy choice. Communicators also may seek to influence public opinion—for example, on the benefits or risks of a medical procedure or technology—so as to rally support for a specific policy.

A fifth goal of science communication is to engage with diverse groups so their perspectives about science (particularly on contentious issues) can be considered in seeking solutions to societal problems that affect everyone. This goal sometimes is met through the formal process of public engagement, often invoked for societal decisions that are difficult scientifically, morally, and politically. Many modern technologies, such as human gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9 (a technology that makes it easy to target any DNA sequence for alteration), are characterized by (1) high levels of scientific, technological, and societal complexity that those without relevant expertise (including scientists working outside those areas of expertise) have difficulty understanding; (2) rapid translation (“bench to bedside”) or transition from laboratory work to applications; and (3) a host of moral, ethical, political, and societal implications that surround the application and practice of science (e.g., prenatal gene modifications in human embryos) ( Scheufele, 2014 ). The need to address all these complexities has prompted leaders, both in and outside the scientific community, to call for scientists' greater engagement with the public ( Ham, 2015 ; Leshner, 2003 ; Rowland, 1993 ).

The committee believes that while scientists have a duty to speak about their work, they have an equal duty to listen to the public so as to strengthen the quality of public discourse and increase the perceived and actual relevance of science to society. This kind of two-way public engagement may lead to insights about the problems that particular communities, or society as a whole, view as worth solving ( Dietz, 2013a ). It also can clarify what information society needs and wants from scientists. Science is influenced by the various professional and personal interests of scientists, their values and goals, and by various outside forces, such as political and industry concerns. For these and other practical or scientific reasons, such as limitations in the available scientific methods, science may not meet society's needs for information or speak to everyone's concerns. At a minimum, however, the public expects emerging science and technologies such as CRISPR to be discussed beyond the scientific community and monitored in a socially responsible way. Science communication as public engagement—by which we mean any communication between scientists and nonscientists, not just the formal process of public engagement—gives all stakeholders opportunities to discuss the potential risks, benefits, and consequences of a technology before it is developed or deployed 3 ; can motivate attention to issues important to the public good; and ideally encourages civic participation and expression of views by all the diverse groups that are concerned with an issue.

Communication between scientists and the public can, of course, lead to controversy, but not all controversy around science is undesirable. No important societal decision is made solely on the basis of scientific evidence; such decisions also are made on the basis of facts, values, and understandings derived from other sources, such as personal or professional experience. Further, different people and communities are likely to weigh scientific input differently in accordance with their differing interests, experiences, and values. The process of public engagement can help build and sustain trust among stakeholders and aid in finding common ground through the negotiation of necessary trade-offs among divergent values, preferences, and needs ( Sarewitz, 2015 ). How best to engage the public under different circumstances and on different issues is an important empirical question (as described in Chapter 3 ) that merits additional research. What is known now, though, is that public engagement often is essential for acceptable decisions about science-related controversies. It is clear as well that even when an issue does not involve a widely known controversy, science communication is more effective when scientists are willing and able to listen carefully and respectfully to different points of view. 4

Ethical Considerations

The decision to communicate science always involves an ethical component. Choices about what scientific evidence to communicate and when, how, and to whom are a reflection of values. This fact becomes especially salient when the science pertains to an individual decision or policy choice that is contentious.

The extent to which science communication should go beyond science to influence decisions (as in the fourth goal described above) has been and will continue to be debated ( Ratner and Riis, 2014 ; Scheufele, 2007 ). In this debate, it is useful to distinguish between science communication per se and other types of communication that build on scientific evidence to influence behavior.

Science communication conveys scientific findings and methods and helps people assess how that information applies to a particular issue or situation. The debate centers on whether it is also appropriate for scientists to communicate science in order to persuade people to support a particular policy option or engage in a particular behavior. Doing so can involve bringing into the communication individual or societal values that lie outside the strict domain of science. Scientists disagree about where to draw the line in using science for this kind of persuasion.

Other types of communication may be designed to persuade but not depend solely on the underlying science that is the basis for the message. Examples are public health campaigns aimed at persuading teenagers to avoid smoking or binge drinking ( Farrelly et al., 2009 ; Goldstein et al., 2008 ; Wakefield et al., 2003 , 2010 ). These communications may convey the negative consequences of the targeted behaviors using emotional appeals, appeals to social norms, or other means shown to be effective in motivating behavior change, but may exclude or selectively present information from the underlying science.

As research in the field of science communication moves forward, it will be important to better understand and clarify these issues of the ethics of science communication and to promote ethical practices. 5


One model of science communication—the “deficit model”—is widely held, simple on the surface, and appealing, but frequently does not hold. This model depicts nonscientists simply as not yet informed about what science has to say on a topic. In this model, “the science” of an important question is settled, and stands immutable and clear to the experts; the task of communication is simply to explain the facts to the public. However, real-life science communication rarely if ever operates in this way.

First, although people do at times lack information from science that could be beneficial, the science on an issue by its very nature is seldom completely settled, and scientific “facts” not only are complex but also can often be interpreted in more than one way. Effective science communication conveys both complexity and nuance, and does so in a way that is understood by and useful to the audience to which it is directed.

Second, science communication often is not direct from scientist to audience, but mediated by organizations, media, or other actors (who often select the audience themselves). This is part of the challenge of communicating science in the midst of controversy, when many competing voices are seeking to use the science for conflicting ends. Further, the way people interpret the information coming from various sources will be affected by such factors as their trust in the source, their existing knowledge of science, and their beliefs.

Third, although people may need to have more information or to have information presented more clearly, a focus on knowledge alone often is not sufficient for achieving communication goals. The deficit model is particularly insufficient when people may need to decide whether to take an action and what action to take. The model assumes that if an audience fails to act in a manner that some consider to be consistent with the scientific evidence, either the communication needs to be better crafted or delivered, or the audience is at fault for not knowing enough about the science or not being sufficiently appreciative. As noted earlier, however, people do not make decisions based solely on scientific information, but take values and other considerations into account. Thus it cannot be assumed that audiences that fail to act in accordance with the scientific evidence need more information, a better understanding of the information, or a greater appreciation of its scientific value. Effective science communication is aimed at helping people understand the science relevant to a decision and showing its relevance while recognizing that other factors will affect their actions.

Finally, the deficit model assumes that if a message about scientific information is well crafted for one audience, it should meet the needs of other audiences as well. In fact, effective science communication is affected by the context and requires engagement with different audiences in different places at different times, taking account of what they want to know and already know, understand, and believe.


Chapter 2 of this report describes factors that contribute to the complexity of communicating scientific information and that need to be better understood regardless of whether the science pertains to an issue that is contentious in the public sphere. These factors include challenges inherent to scientific content, the individuals and groups that are the audiences for science communication, characteristics of the communicator, and the approaches used to communicate science.

When the science to be communicated relates to a public controversy, a better understanding of the factors discussed in Chapter 2 is insufficient for understanding the challenges of science communication. Chapter 3 briefly describes conditions that can cause science-related controversies to arise, and identifies factors that need to be better understood for effective communication of science related to contentious societal issues.

Chapter 4 identifies factors in the communication environment, such as those related to science journalism, the Internet, and social media, that are rapidly changing and affecting the way people seek or encounter information. These changes present both challenges and opportunities for communicators of science, whether they be individual scientists or organizations inside or outside the scientific community. The factors discussed in this chapter relate to communicating science regardless of whether the scientific information pertains to a contentious societal issue, although the discussion notes those that are especially relevant to science-related controversy.

Each of the above chapters contains questions for research surrounding the challenges of science communication. Chapter 5 summarizes these questions and describes a set of conceptual and methodological issues that need attention if an evidence base for communicating science is to be built. It also describes the committee's observations regarding needs for translational research, including forming partnerships between researchers and science communicators and building capacity to implement the proposed research agenda.

For a related discussion of this need, see National Academy of Sciences (2014) .

Two National Academies reports address informal science learning and communication: Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments ( National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016a ) and Learning Science in Informal Environments ( National Research Council, 2009 ).

For the purposes of this report, “stakeholders” are defined as individuals or groups with an interest in or concern regarding an issue.

This point has been made by many observers and is incorporated in recommendations made in National Academies reports on issues as varied as risk assessment, environmental assessment and decision making, climate change research, and gene drives ( National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016b ; National Research Council, 1996 , 2008 ; see also as an example Rosa et al., 2010 ).

Further discussion of ethical issues in science communication is found in Keohane et al. (2014) and Pielke (2007) .

  • Cite this Page National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Committee on the Science of Science Communication: A Research Agenda. Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Mar 8. 1, Using Science to Improve Science Communication.
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How to Write a Personal Statement

A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.

[Featured Image] A lady with pink hair is holding a piece of paper with a laptop on her lap.

When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.  

The information you provide in your personal statement can help build on your other application materials, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and build a more cohesive picture to help the admissions committee understand your goals.

In this article, we'll go over more about personal statements, including why they're important, what to include in one, and tips for strengthening yours.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement—sometimes known as a college essay —is a brief written essay you submit with other materials when applying to college or university. Personal statements tend to be most common for undergraduate applications, and they're a great opportunity for an admissions committee to hear your voice directly.

Many colleges and universities in the US, especially those using Common App , provide prompts for you to use. For example, "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea" or "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time" [ 1 ]. If the school you're interested in attending doesn't require prompts, you will likely want to craft a response that touches on your story, your values, and your goals if possible.

In grad school, personal statements are sometimes known as letters of intent , and go into more detail about your academic and professional background, while expressing interest in attending the particular program you're applying to.

Why is a personal statement important?

Personal statements are important for a number of reasons. Whereas other materials you submit in an application can address your academic abilities (like your transcripts) or how you perform as a student (like your letters of recommendation), a personal statement is a chance to do exactly that: get more personal.

Personal statements typically:

Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values

Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate 

Provide an opportunity for you to talk about past employment, volunteer experiences, or skills you have that complement your studies 

Allow colleges to evaluate your writing skills 

Bring life to a college application package otherwise filled with facts and figures 

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How to write a personal statement.

As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response.

Create a solid hook .

To capture the attention of an admissions committee member, start your personal statement with a hook that relates to the topic of your essay. A hook tends to be a colorful sentence or two at the very beginning that compels the reader to continue reading.

To create a captivating hook, try one of these methods:

Pose a rhetorical question. 

Provide an interesting statistic. 

Insert a quote from a well-known person.

Challenge the reader with a common misconception. 

Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. 

Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it comes from a reliable source.

Follow a narrative.

The best personal statements typically read like a story: they have a common theme, as well as a beginning, middle, and end. This type of format also helps keep your thoughts organized and improves the flow of your essay.

Common themes to consider for your personal statement include:

Special role models from your past

Life-altering events you've experienced

Unusual challenges you've faced

Accomplishments you're especially proud of

Service to others and why you enjoy it

What you've learned from traveling to a particular place

Unique ways you stand out from other candidates

Be specific.

Admissions committees read thousands of personal statements every year, which is why being specific on yours is important. Back up your statements with examples or anecdotes.

For instance, avoid vague assertions like, "I'm interested in your school counseling program because I care about children." Instead, point out experiences you've had with children that emphasize how much you care. For instance, you might mention your summer job as a day camp counselor or your volunteer experience mentoring younger children.

Don't forget to include detail and vibrancy to keep your statement interesting. The use of detail shows how your unique voice and experiences can add value to the college or university you're applying to.

Stay on topic.

It's natural to want to impress the members of the admissions committee who will read your personal statement. The best way to do this is to lead your readers through a cohesive, informative, and descriptive essay.

If you feel you might be going astray, ensure each paragraph in your essay's body supports your introduction. Here are a few more strategies that can help keep you on track:

Know what you want to say and do research if needed. 

Create an outline listing the key points you want to share.

Read your outline aloud to confirm it makes logical sense before proceeding. 

Read your essay aloud while you're writing to confirm you're staying on topic.

Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and make suggestions.

Be true to your own voice.

Because of the importance of your personal statement, you could be tempted to be very formal with structure and language. However, using a more relaxed tone is better than you would for a classroom writing assignment. 

Remember: admissions committees really want to hear from you . Writing in your own voice will help accomplish this. To ensure your tone isn't too relaxed, write your statement as if you were speaking to an older relative or trusted teacher. This way, you'll come across as respectful, confident, and honest.

Tips for drafting an effective personal statement.

Now that you've learned a little about personal statements and how to craft them, here are a few more tips you can follow to strengthen your essay:

1. Customize your statement.

You don't have to completely rewrite your personal statement every time you apply to a new college, but you want to make sure you tailor it as much as possible. For instance, if you talk about wanting to take a certain class or study a certain subject, make sure you adjust any specifics for each application.

2. Avoid cliches.

Admissions committees are ultimately looking for students who will fit the school, and who the school can help guide toward their larger goals. In that case, cliches can get in the way of a reviewer understanding what it is you want from a college education. Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me."

3. Stay focused.

Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written. Does every paragraph flow from one point to the next? Are the ideas you're presenting cohesive?

4. Stick to topics that aren't controversial.

It's best not to discuss political beliefs or inappropriate topics in your essay. These can be controversial; ideally, you want to share something goals- or values-driven with an admissions committee.

Polish your writing skills on Coursera.

A stellar personal statement starts with stellar writing skills. Enhance your writing ability with a writing course from a top university, like Good with Words: Writing and Editing from the University of Michigan or Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Get started for free to level up your writing.

Article sources

1. Common App. " 2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/blog/2022-2023-common-app-essay-prompts." Accessed January 9, 2024.

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  • Knowledge Base
  • Applying to graduate school
  • How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.

To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:

  • Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
  • Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
  • Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?

This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.

Urban Planning Psychology History

Table of contents

Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.

Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.

For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.

There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.

The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.

Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene

An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:

  • A personal experience that changed your perspective
  • A story from your family’s history
  • A memorable teacher or learning experience
  • An unusual or unexpected encounter

To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.

Strategy 2: Open with your motivations

To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.

Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:

  • Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
  • Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
  • How does it fit into the rest of your life?
  • What do you think it contributes to society?

Tips for the introduction

  • Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
  • Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.

Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.

To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.

Strategy 1: Describe your development over time

One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.

  • What first sparked your interest in the field?
  • Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
  • Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?

Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.

My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.

Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles

If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.

  • Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
  • Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.

Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.

Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.

Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field

Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.

  • Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
  • Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
  • Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.

The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.

In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.

Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions

Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.

  • If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
  • If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
  • If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.

Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.

One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.

Tips for the main body

  • Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
  • Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.

Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.

Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.

Strategy 1: What do you want to know?

If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?

If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.

Strategy 2: What do you want to do?

If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?

Tips for the conclusion

  • Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
  • Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.

You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.

Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.

Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.

A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.

A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.

However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.

The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.

Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.

Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.

If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.

If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.

If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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Data Science Personal Statement Samples with Examples

Data Science Personal Statement Samples with Examples

A data science personal statement is crucial for pursuing a career in the field as it allows individuals to showcase their qualifications, experiences, and aspirations.

It serves as a platform to express their passions and highlight their academic backgrounds, technical skills, and practical experiences. The statement enables individuals to articulate career goals, research interests, and potential contributions. 

In that sense, a personal statement examples are valuable as it offers guidance and examples of successful statements, providing insights into key elements, structure, and content. Samples also inspire and motivate by showcasing possibilities and achievements in the data science field. They help individuals understand how to express their passion, highlight relevant skills, and align career goals. 

If you are a data science enthusiast, consider enrolling in an Advanced Certificate Programme in Data Science to boost your resume.

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What is a Data Science Personal Statement?

Data science personal statements are written statements or essays by individuals aiming to pursue courses like a Master of Science in Data Science from LJMU or aspiring to pursue a career in data science. These statements allow applicants to showcase their passion, skills, and experiences related to data science. Personal statements must be submitted as a part of the application process. 

They typically highlight the individual’s motivation for choosing data science, their relevant academic background, technical skills, and any practical experience they have gained. Personal statements also allow applicants to express their career goals, research interests, and how they envision contributing to the field of data science. 

As a student or professional in this field, referring to a data science personal statement sample is crucial in conveying your suitability and enthusiasm to the admissions committee or potential employers.

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Key Elements of a Strong Data Science Personal Statement

The essential components of a compelling personal statement for data science comprise:

  • Genuine Passion and Drive: Demonstrating a deep-rooted enthusiasm for data science and a solid motivation to pursue a career in this field.
  • Academic Background: Showcasing academic accomplishments relevant to data science, such as degrees, coursework, or research projects in quantitative disciplines.
  • Technical Proficiency: Exhibiting expertise in programming languages (like Python or R), statistical analysis, machine learning techniques, data manipulation, and visualisation tools.
  • Practical Exposure: Highlighting practical experiences, such as internships, projects, or industry engagements that have honed data science skills.
  • Areas of Interest in Research: Creatively ideating your areas of interest in data science, like computer vision, predictive modelling, and natural language processing and discussing research contributions or projects in these domains.
  • Analytical Problem-Solving: Demonstrating skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and applying appropriate data science methods to real-world challenges.
  • Efficient Collaboration and Communication: Emphasising efficient communication skills, teamwork capabilities, and the ability to convey complex concepts to non-technical audiences.
  • Future Aspirations: Outlining long-term career goals in data science and how one envisions utilising this field to impact the industry or domain of their choice.

Example 1: Personal Statement for an Entry-Level Data Science Position

I am eager to apply for this role as I have a degree in Computer Science and a course concentration on statistics and machine learning. Along with a strong base in data analytics, I have commendable analytical skills and an aptitude for problem-solving. I have also taken an active part in multiple relevant projects in which I was required to work with algorithms to derive insights from numerous datasets. 

Additionally, my internship experience exposed me to real-world challenges, refining my expertise in data cleansing and preprocessing for effective modelling. I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to a dynamic team, leveraging my technical skills and enthusiasm to drive data-informed decision-making and deliver impactful solutions. I believe I am a potential candidate for an entry-level data science role. 

Example 2: Personal Statement for a Data Analyst Role

As an ambitious individual aiming for a data analyst role, I am enthusiastic about applying my analytical abilities and dedication to data-driven insights within a vibrant organisation. Equipped with a degree in statistics and hands-on involvement in data manipulation and visualisation, I have established a strong foundation in data analysis. 

Throughout my academic endeavours, I have refined my aptitude for extracting valuable insights and effectively communicating them to key stakeholders. Moreover, my internship at a well-known company allowed me to apply statistical methodologies to extensive datasets, further augmenting my analytical proficiencies. 

I eagerly look forward to applying my technical acumen and problem-solving prowess to unearth meaningful insights, facilitate data-led decision-making, and contribute to the organisation’s triumphs.

Example 3: Personal Statement for a Data Scientist Position

I am enthusiastic about data science and am beyond elated by its potential to take my area of interest to greater heights. I have cultivated a profound understanding of statistical modelling, machine learning algorithms, and the art of data visualisation required to fulfil my role as a data scientist. I have upskilled myself with strong analytical and problem-solving skills, a Master’s in Data Science and hands-on experience in research projects. 

Throughout my academic trajectory, I actively participated in endeavours that harnessed advanced analytics to extract profound insights from expansive datasets. Furthermore, my professional background has honed my collaborative acumen, bolstered my contributions to data-driven initiatives, and engendered actionable recommendations. 

I eagerly anticipate harnessing my expertise in data analysis, programming prowess, and problem-solving aptitude to propel innovation, facilitate data-driven decision-making, and profoundly contribute to the organisation’s achievements as a data scientist.

Example 4: Personal Statement for a Data Engineer Role

As a dedicated advocate of harnessing the transformative potential of data, I am thrilled to pursue a data engineer role where I can utilise my technical aptitude and drive impactful solutions. 

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and professional experience in database management, ETL processes, and data pipeline development. I have established a strong foundation in data engineering principles. Proficient in SQL, Python, and cloud platforms, I can efficiently transform raw data into valuable insights. Throughout my academic journey, I actively participated in projects that involved designing and implementing robust data architectures, optimising query performance, and ensuring data integrity. 

I am eager to contribute my expertise and collaborate with cross-functional teams to construct scalable and reliable data infrastructure that empowers data-driven decision-making.

Example 5: Personal Statement for a Machine Learning Engineer Position

As a passionate advocate of leveraging machine learning to drive innovation, I am excited to pursue a position as a machine learning engineer where I can apply my technical expertise and problem-solving skills to develop cutting-edge solutions. 

I have gained a solid understanding of the field with a strong academic background in computer science and a focus on machine learning algorithms and model development. I have honed my data preprocessing, feature engineering, and model evaluation skills through my project work and internships.

I am eager to collaborate with interdisciplinary teams, apply my knowledge in practical settings, and contribute to creating intelligent systems that positively impact industries and society.

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Tips for writing an effective data science personal statement.

Here are some tried and tested tips for writing an impactful data science personal statement:

  • Clearly express your deep enthusiasm for the field of data science: Begin your statement by articulating your genuine passion and excitement for data science. Elucidate what captivates you about data analysis, machine learning, or any particular aspect of data science that ignites your motivation.
  • Emphasise your pertinent academic background: Highlight your educational qualifications, such as degrees, coursework, or certifications, that directly relate to data science. Discuss specific subjects you have studied, projects you have engaged in, and any research experience you have gained.
  • Showcase your technical proficiencies: Outline the technical skills you have acquired, including programming languages (Python, R, SQL), statistical analysis, machine learning algorithms, data visualisation, or frameworks for big data processing. Offer concrete and quantifiable examples of how you have applied these skills in practical projects or academic assignments.
  • Share your practical experiences: Discuss any internships, industry projects, or research opportunities where you have gained hands-on experience with real-world data and problem-solving. Highlight notable achievements, challenges you have confronted, and strategies to overcome them.
  • Demonstrate your problem-solving capabilities: Elaborate on your approach to resolving intricate problems through data-driven methodologies. Expound upon how you analyse data, formulate hypotheses, design experiments, and assess results to extract meaningful insights and make well-informed decisions.
  • Establish a connection between your goals and the field: Articulate your career aspirations clearly and explain how embarking on a data science career aligns with those ambitions. Discuss specific areas or industries that interest you, and elucidate how your skills and expertise can contribute to tackling challenges in those domains.
  • Highlight your communication and teamwork skills: Acknowledge that data science entails effective communication and collaboration. Showcase instances where you have adeptly conveyed complex concepts to non-technical stakeholders or collaborated within multidisciplinary teams to achieve project objectives.
  • Tailor your statement to the specific role or programme: Customise your statement to match the requirements and expectations of the data science position or programme for which you are applying. Conduct thorough research on the organisation or university to grasp their focal points, projects, or faculty expertise, and integrate pertinent details to demonstrate your suitability and alignment.
  • Strive for concise and well-structured content: Maintain focus and conciseness throughout your statement, ensuring each sentence contributes value and reinforces your overall message. Employ a logical structure, commencing with an engaging introduction, developing well-articulated body paragraphs, and culminating in a firm conclusion.
  • Carefully review and edit: Before submission, meticulously review your personal statement for grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Verify consistency in tone, smoothness of flow, and compelling content. Seek feedback from reliable sources, such as mentors or professors, to obtain valuable insights and recommendations for refinement.

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Data science personal statement samples provide invaluable guidance and inspiration for aspiring data scientists. They catalyse self-reflection and help applicants align their own experiences and aspirations with the dynamic field of data science. By studying successful personal statements, you can gain insights into the key elements, structure, and content required to create a compelling personal statement. 

Armed with a professional certification like an Executive PG Programme in Data Science from IIIT Bangalore , you can craft personal statements that effectively convey your unique qualities, setting you apart and increasing your chances of securing admission or job opportunities in the competitive field of data science.


Pavan Vadapalli

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The statement of purpose for data science should encompass the reasons for selecting data science as a specialisation, aspirations for a career in the field, and a strategic plan outlining how the acquired data science education will be utilised to attain those goals.

It is advisable to share pertinent details of employment, internships, work experience, or voluntary engagements, particularly those relevant to the chosen course of study. Establishing a connection between the experiences and the skills or qualities that contribute to a candidate's potential for success is crucial.

The introduction of a personal statement should commence with an explanation of the rationale behind choosing the field of study, summarised in one or two sentences. Be original and avoid clichéd opening sentences, quotes, or overused expressions to maintain a fresh and engaging introduction.

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EECS Communication Lab

NSF GRFP Personal Statement

Criteria for success.

  • You are eligible for the Fellowship. (Be certain to check for restrictions, i.e., only U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents are eligible.)
  • Your personal statement convinces a panel of academics that you are qualified to receive the Fellowship, especially with respect to the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact criteria.
  • You show only those skills and experiences that demonstrate how you fit those criteria.
  • The skills and experiences that you show are concrete and quantitative.
  • Your personal statement meets the formatting and page limit criteria.
  • Text is grammatically correct and free of typos.

Structure Diagram

science communication personal statement

Note that Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit should be woven through all of your experiences as well as highlighted in separate sections. Sizes of sections are approximate.

Applications prior to 2018 did not require “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts” to be addressed under separate headings. Be sure to follow the most up-to-date guidelines provided by NSF, especially if you are referencing older examples.

Your personal statement (technically, the “Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement”) is part of the NSF GRFP application and, naturally, is intended to convince the selection committee to award you the Fellowship.

The GRFP website says, “NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.” The purpose of your application is to demonstrate your potential to satisfy this requirement.

The personal statement is the only part of the application where you get to lay out the experiences you’ve had, the goals you intend to pursue, and how those experiences and goals qualify you for the Fellowship.

Analyze Your Audience

Your entire application will be reviewed online by “disciplinary and interdisciplinary scientists and engineers, and other professional graduate education experts.” These are academics, usually from your broad area of science (e.g., materials research) but not from your specific subfield (e.g., optoelectronics). They will judge your application using some combination of the NSF’s official criteria for the Fellowship and their own ideas about what makes good science or a good scientist.

The people on the committee read many, many applications. Make it easy for them to figure out that you are qualified for the award by referencing the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact criteria that they use to judge your application. Make it easy for them to remember you by creating a narrative that “brands” you.

Include Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts criteria

Like many awards or jobs, there are explicit criteria that show if you qualify for the Fellowship. Read the most up-to-date program solicitation to learn the criteria that the selection committee are using to judge your application. Write your personal statement in a way that makes it as clear as possible that you meet these criteria.

The 2023 NSF solicitation says (emphases added):

The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The GRFP provides three years of support over a five-year fellowship period for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education.

The NSF GRFP criteria emphasize “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts.” Read the solicitation so you know what “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts” mean to the NSF, and use your personal statement to show how you meet those criteria. Do  not just make up your own ideas about what these terms mean.

In the 2023 solicitation, NSF defines these terms: “The Intellectual Merit criterion encompasses the potential to advance knowledge… The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.” The NSF also has specific lists of activities that constitute Broader Impacts.

Be sure to include Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit throughout your statement as well as in separate, labeled sections. According to the 2023 solicitation, “Applications that do not have separate headings for Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts will not be reviewed.”

Create a personal narrative

Unlike a grant that funds a specific project, the NSF GRFP invests in the professional and scientific growth of individuals. The program solicitation talks about developing a “globally-engaged workforce” and ensuring “the Nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.”

Your personal statement is your opportunity to show the selection panel that your personal goals (e.g., collaborating with foreign scientists) align with the program’s goals (e.g., creating a globally-engaged workforce). Tell a narrative about yourself that is honest, that you’re excited about, and that shows this alignment. Use this narrative through your entire personal statement. It should help you avoid writing a personal statement that is just a resume in essay format.

Concretize and quantify your experiences

Your experiences are the “what” of your essay. Which experiences led you to develop your skill set and passions? Where have you demonstrated accomplishment, leadership, and collaboration? Research, teaching, and extracurriculars may all be relevant. State concrete achievements and outcomes like awards, discoveries, or publications.

Quantify your experience or impact to make it more concrete. How many people were on your team? How many protocols did you develop? How many people were in competition for an award? As a TA, how often did you meet with your students?

Describe your actions rather than changes in your mental or emotional state; your personal statement is not a diary entry.

Explain the meaning of your experiences

The meaning of your experiences is the “why” or “so what” of your personal statement. It’s good to have quantitative and concrete experience; it’s even more important to attribute meaning to those experiences.

Every set of experiences should speak to one of the requirements that the NSF GRFP solicitation lays out:

  • How has this experience prepared you to seek a graduate degree?
  • How will it help you become a knowledge expert?
  • How will it help you contribute significantly to research, teaching, or innovations in science and engineering?
  • How will your graduate experience prepare you for a career that advances knowledge and benefits society?

The connection between your experiences and the NSF GRFP’s goals may feel obvious to you, but you should make these connections explicit for your audience: this will make it easy for them to put you in the “yes” pile.

In terms of writing style, use statements about the meaning of experience as transitions between experiences. Try to “wrap” meaning around your experiences. Putting the meaning at the beginning and end of a paragraph makes it easy for a reader to understand what they should be taking away from the details in the middle.

Content adapted by the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Communication Lab from an article originally created by the MIT Biological Engineering Communication Lab .

Resources and Annotated Examples

Nsf grfp personal statement annotated example 1.

This example is from a first-year MIT graduate student 426 KB

NSF GRFP personal statement annotated example 2

This example is from a senior undergraduate student 267 KB


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NASA is seeking applicants to participate in its next simulated one-year Mars surface mission to help inform the agency’s plans for human exploration of the Red Planet. The second of three planned ground-based missions called CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) is scheduled to kick off in spring 2025.

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NASA is looking for healthy, motivated U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are non-smokers, 30-55 years old, and proficient in English for effective communication between crewmates and mission control. Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA’s work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars.

The deadline for applicants is Tuesday, April 2.


Crew selection will follow additional standard NASA criteria for astronaut candidate applicants. A master’s degree in a STEM field such as engineering, mathematics, or biological, physical or computer science from an accredited institution with at least two years of professional STEM experience or a minimum of one thousand hours piloting an aircraft is required. Candidates who have completed two years of work toward a doctoral program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, completed a medical degree, or a test pilot program will also be considered. With four years of professional experience, applicants who have completed military officer training or a bachelor of science degree in a STEM field may be considered.

Compensation for participating in the mission is available. More information will be provided during the candidate screening process.

As NASA works to establish a long-term presence for scientific discovery and exploration on the Moon through the Artemis campaign, CHAPEA missions provide important scientific data to validate systems and develop solutions for future missions to the Red Planet. With the first CHAPEA crew more than halfway through their yearlong mission, NASA is using research gained through the simulated missions to help inform crew health and performance support during Mars expeditions.

Under NASA’s  Artemis  campaign, the agency will establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon, land the first woman, first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the lunar surface, and prepare for human expeditions to Mars for the benefit of all.

For more about CHAPEA, visit:


Rachel Kraft Headquarters, Washington 202-358-1100 [email protected]

Anna Schneider/Laura Sorto Johnson Space Center, Houston 281-483-5111 [email protected] /[email protected]


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    Criteria for Success Your personal statement convinces a faculty committee that you are qualified for their program. It convinces them that you are a good fit for their program's focus and goals. You show a select group of skills and experiences that convey your scientific accomplishments and interests.

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    Any examples that show you possess effective communication, writing, and analytical skills (e.g., oral and/or poster presentations at national scientific meetings, research abstracts published in conference proceedings, articles published in peer reviewed journals). The significant dramatic obstacles you have overcome to be where you are right now.

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    "The public is listening. So be aware," says Cevik. "Set goals and objectives. Establish trust. And, foremost, respect other academicians and scientists." Younus also considers credibility, ease,...

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    The statement of purpose, sometimes called a personal statement, is "personal" in the sense that it tells your unique research story, not your life story. ... Content adapted by the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Communication Lab from an article originally created by the MIT Biological Engineering Communication Lab ...

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    Career Development Applying to Graduate School Writing a Personal Statement Writing a Personal Statement Many applications will include a personal essay, in which you describe "where you're coming from" - your interests, why you want to obtain a graduate degree, career goals, and so on.

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    Personal statements — essays highlighting personal circumstances, qualities and achievements — are used extensively in science to evaluate candidates for jobs, awards and promotions. Five...

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    1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. 2. The response to very specific questions:

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    If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning. By Yale Office of Career Strategy. Day of the week. Academic Year. Summer Hours. M. Monday.

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    The personal statement is a chance for students to discuss their qualifications and what they hope to achieve in the program, all while demonstrating they are adequately prepared for graduate-level study.

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    1.1. Reflect on your experiences and goals Reflect on your experience, motivation, and research goals. What drives your research motivations, and how do your motivations link to your background and long-term goals? Think beyond the technical space when brainstorming ideas for your personal statement.

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    Along my journey, I wish to play an important role in science communication, public outreach, as well as an advocate for educational equality and the advancement of equal representation amongst minorities in science.

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  16. How to Write a Personal Statement

    How to write a personal statement. As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response. Create a solid hook.

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    Microsoft Word - Annotated Personal Statement.docx. About this sample personal statement: The following personal statement was composed by a Communication Sciences and Disorders major applying to master's programs in speech-language pathology. This is a program-specific personal statement that is nearly 1,200 words long (longer than the ...

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    Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene. An effective way to catch the reader's attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you're stuck, try thinking about: A personal experience that changed your perspective. A story from your family's history.

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    The Personal Statement is thought to be more informal and less structured than the Statement of Purpose. Although some formality in the writing should be preserved, in this statement you have the freedom to express yourself and show the reviewing committee who you really are. Be specific and avoid clichés.

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  23. NSF GRFP Personal Statement : EECS Communication Lab

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    The habitat, called the Mars Dune Alpha, simulates the challenges of a mission on Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failures, communication delays, and other environmental stressors. Crew tasks include simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop growth.