Your personal statement is by far one of the absolute most important parts of your application. Therefore, you are going to stress about it. Probably a lot. Don’t worry, this is normal. The best way to not stress so much (as in most things in life…) is to have a plan.
- If you are able, start writing your personal statement very early in the process. For example, you could start a year before your applications will be due. Yes, this is reasonable. You will go through a lot of drafts and it’s good to get a head start so you’re not going through all your drafts in one week.
- A good strategy is to first go to all your chosen schools’ websites and copy the paragraph that says what they want included in your personal statement. Paste this paragraph into two documents: one that is specific to that school (“university of whatevever personal statement”) to use as a reference later, and one that is a general personal statement document…
- From the general document, synthesize a list of all the issues all the schools want you to address. Now, use this to create a “skeleton” personal statement that will satisfy all schools. Occasionally a school asks for something weird; write up a separate paragraph, or entire statement if necessary, for this school. This will be rare, though; when you really look at it, most schools ask for you to address the same small batch of topics.
- When you have the “skeleton,” start deciding where in the essay you want to address school-specific issues. When you think about it, there are basically two school-specific issues that need to be addressed: why you want to be in that particular program, and why you want to work with that particular person. There may be a few other places in the essay where you’d like to throw in a school-specific tidbit or two. Make note of these.
- Now, start tailoring your skeleton essay to specific schools. This way, instead of having to write an entirely new essay for each school, you should only have to write 2-3 new paragraphs for each school. Much less hassle, but without having an overly-generic essay that no one’s going to look twice at.