Most schools are interested in why you want to go to graduate or professional school (e.g., do you have a good reason why you have chosen graduate school or are you applying because you have nothing better to do after graduation). Therefore, you need to communicate that you are a focused, dedicated student who has clearly thought out this critical decision.

Graduate schools also want to see that you are articulate, intelligent, and capable of effective written communication since your writing ability reflects your academic capabilities. Graduate schools (including Law and MBA programs) place a premium on quality writing because you will most likely be required to do a great deal of writing in school.

Since most of a graduate school application concerns numbers, statistics, and short descriptive pieces of information-GPA, standardized test scores, résumés, etc.-your personal statement provides you with an opportunity to offer schools a glimpse into the person behind the numbers. A compelling statement can be a great boost to your application, while a poorly conceived or weakly written personal statement can severely hurt your application.

Begin with a period of self-assessment. Identify those specific experiences that have influenced your decision to attend graduate school, such as classes, lab experience, internships, volunteer work, work with a professor, personal experiences, and summer jobs. You want to write about experiences that make you unique and separate you from the rest of the candidates.

Look at sample personal statements. There are two books in the Office of Academic Advisement's library, Writing Winning Personal Statements and Graduate Admissions Essays: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why.

Always answer the questions asked. Some schools will ask very general questions, others will ask more specific ones (e.g., discuss experiences outside of the classroom that have influenced your decision to attend graduate school).

Avoid writing a résumé in prose (a narrative version of your résumé). You might want to include a résumé as part of your application, but you certainly do not need to list everything you have ever done. Your personal statement is not the place for it. Remember that it is an essay. Your personal statement should have a clearly defined theme and focus. There should be transitions between different parts of the essay and there should be an introduction and conclusion. Your personal statement is not an informal chat, a letter, or a résumé; it is an essay.