the personal statement

This entry was written by fellow Idealist grad school blogger Devi Noor. She is currently working in the non-profit arts sector in Los Angeles and is applying to MA/PhD programs in Art History. Her blog Lunardevi is filled with great information and advice, such as this post on “the personal statement.”

“The personal statement. It’s the one component of the graduate application where school admissions can get an idea of your personality. So when you’re writing your statement of purpose, every word needs to count!

I’m lucky that I have friends with eagle-eyes and editor-spirits. Blogging has made my writing style extremely colloquial- the complete opposite of what your statement should be. Some key things to remember when writing the personal statement:

1. Use the active voice; avoid passive writing.

I make this mistake all the time. If you’re writing phrases such as “I am planning”, I am seeking”, “Will have had ——ing”, cut it out! Passive=weak. Not a desirable quality to have. Graduate programs are a competitive, massive undertaking, so make sure the tone of your statement is confident.

2. Clearly state your objectives and keep them focused.

Vague is not vogue to grad school admissions. If you plan on spending at least 2-5 years for your program, what you intend to get out of your educational studies should be clearly outlined. If you know you want to teach upon completion of the program, be specific as to what you’ll teach, what audience you will instruct, and so forth.

3. Why [insert school name here]?

Be sure to explain why you are applying to the school. Listing the programs of interest, faculty, and resources is fine and dandy, but also making sure to specify how this school will help attain your personal objectives is much better.

The word limits for my personal statements range from 500-1000 words, some 2-4 pages, or 1000 characters. Yikes! My fellow blogger Lindsey also had issues with this. Be prepared to pare down your work for certain schools with short word limits. Keep these words in mind and say them to yourself when you have to crop another 100 words out of your statement: “succinct, brevity, concise, and pithy.” That’s what I do.

And since I now have to tweak my statement yet again, I leave you with some useful resources to get you started.

Good luck!


Personal statements in general: – has several articles on writing the statement of purpose

Berkeley – step-by-step procedure on how to write the statement

Art History/Humanities:

UPenn – great advice on the graduate art history application in general

Duke – tips on the statement of purpose in Humanities”

I’d also like to add, make sure you start your essay far ahead of the deadline and get a professor, TA, and/or friend to read and edit it a few times before you submit your application.


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