How to Write a Personal Statement for a PhD Program

by Elizabeth Oommen George
How to write a personal statement for a PhD program

Writing a personal statement for your PhD program is often a key requirement when applying to most institutions. The personal statement is considered to be a crucial part of the PhD application process, playing a major role in admission decisions. Even though it may seem difficult, writing a PhD personal statement gives you the chance to highlight your qualifications, share your reasons for wanting to pursue a PhD, and, most importantly, highlights your eligibility for the doctoral program.

In this article, we will discuss what a personal statement is, why it is needed, who will read it, and when to write it. We will also provide some tips and guidelines on how to write a successful personal statement for PhD application.

What is a personal statement and why is it needed?

Your personal statement is a key means through which the admissions committee gets to know more about you and your suitability for the PhD program. The statement should therefore demonstrate your motivations, relevant research and work experience, accomplishments, strengths, and your career goals. This is important to position yourself as an apt candidate for the chosen PhD program.

Who will read your personal statement and when to write it?

While the research proposal is considered the most important document in the PhD application process, some institutions also ask candidates to submit a personal statement. Your personal statement will likely be read by the admissions committee and the interview panelists. Along with other documents submitted during the application process, your personal statement plays a big role in assessing whether you meet the often-stringent eligibility criteria and evaluate if you are a suitable candidate for a doctoral program. Remember that panelists for your interview may also have questions for you based on their review of your personal statement, so be as honest as possible.

How to write a personal statement that makes an impact

The PhD personal statement should be concise and convey only the important aspects about your work and professional achievements. You should be aware that the personal statement would be read by a committee that will be evaluating many applications, so keep it short and ensure that it is aligned with the program requirements stated by the institution.

Generally, universities and institutions provide details about the required word count or length of a personal statement. While there is no perfect personal statement format, it is essential that you follow a structure to ensure logical flow. Include a good introduction of yourself followed by details of your research interests, relevant skills, and past experience in the discipline you have opted for.

What to include in a personal statement

  • Reasons for pursuing a PhD: Your personal statement should clearly communicate the factors that encouraged you to apply for a PhD program. It should also convey how this chosen program builds on your previous experience and education.
  • Relevant skills and competencies: The personal statement provides you with a good opportunity to communicate any international academic exposure, awards, research projects, and any other competencies or experience that may be relevant to the PhD program applied for.
  • Address any gaps in your CV: Clearly explain the reasons behind any gaps or short breaks that you may have taken as you pursued your academic career. Also, remember to mention any changes made mid-way during your academic program. This ensures better transparency.
  • Long-term career goals and aspirations: It is important to explain how your PhD will feed into your future career plans. To the admission committee, this will reflect your seriousness and commitment to the study program you have opted for.

Tips to keep in mind when writing a personal statement

Prepare a unique personal statement for each university

Universities offering PhD programs will typically ask for different criteria or questions to be answered in the personal statement. Therefore, relying on creating a single personal statement that will be shared with different universities with only slight modifications may not prove to be effective. Take the time to write personal statements that address specific points required by each university that you apply to.

Avoid repetition

Always remember that a personal statement is very different from your research proposal. Focus on highlighting your goals, skills, accomplishments, and experiences that are relevant to your study program but be careful not to be repetitive. Also mention any challenges you faced and overcame along the way to showcase your problem-solving ability.

Invest sufficient time

Keep in mind that while writing the personal statement, you must provide key information about yourself in a way that will convince the admissions committee of your eligibility. However, this needs to be done in a concise, compelling way. While it might be tempting to write every small detail, be careful to only include points that highlight your candidacy. This requires time and careful consideration, so start the process early enough to write a clear, persuasive personal statement.

Avoid jargon and irrelevant details

Always keep in mind that the admissions committee has to handle numerous applications. Therefore, keep the information in your personal statement  direct and to the point, avoiding complex technical jargon, big words, and/or flowery language.

Don’t skip editing and proofreading your work

Nothing is worse for your candidacy than poor language and difficult-to-read personal statements. So, ensure that the language, grammar, and syntax used in your personal statement is correct and devoid of any errors. It is always a good idea to share what you have written with your close associates for a final read through. Getting a second or third pair of eyes to check and help polish your personal statement can be especially helpful if you have English as a second language.

Finally, it’s important to remember that your personal statement should be the outcome of deep introspection as you take the next step in your career. It should be a good reflection of who you really are and what your aspirations are for the future, both in terms of what you want to study and how you want to steer your career in the future.

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