“The graduate admissions or the Fulbright scholarship committee doesn’t know you except what they have seen on paper!”
In Pakistan, most students applying for graduate schools in the US especially through the Fulbright program, do not take the personal statement as a very serious part of their graduate application. Unfortunately they are making a fatal mistake by doing that. The Personal Statement is your chance to introduce yourself, speak directly to the admissions committee, and provide information that doesn’t appear elsewhere in your application. Admissions and scholarship committees read a personal statement very closely because it reveals a lot of information about you.
A word of advice: In Pakistan, students do not spend a lot of time preparing for their personal statement – my advice is to set aside at least 1 month to prepare your essay. Start by writing a first draft and keep on revising it until you are fully satisfied. Ideally, ask a professional to revise your final draft before you submit it for consideration.
In short a personal statement is just like a brief interview where the admissions committee gets to know you a little bit in more detail. Let me be very bold by saying that the personal statement is the MOST important part of your graduate application.
Note: For those of you applying for the Fulbright Scholarship program in Pakistan, may know that the Fulbright requires you to write a one page personal statement; please note that the importance of a personal statement for the Fulbright scholarship is the same as that for graduate admissions to US.
Therefore, it is a very vital part of your application and one of the few areas where you have control. At this point in the application process, your grades and standardized scores (GRE or GMAT) are already fixed, so it is your final chance to set yourself apart from others and prove your mettle for the university.
So why is the statement of purpose so important? Well, here are a few things that a strong personal statement can add to your application.
A chance to give them your piece of mind 🙂
For those courses that don’t have an interview, the personal statement is your only chance to speak directly to admissions committee and demonstrate your ability and enthusiasm for the subject. This is your chance to point out things that cannot be covered in other parts of your application i.e. past projects, internships, work experiences, and other academic and non-academic achievements.
The statement of purpose is the best place to explain your poor performance over a semester or two. However you shouldn’t go overboard and write a detailed biography as a very long essay can irk the reviewer. A badly written personal statement will never be the sole reason for rejection. However, a skillfully written statement of purpose will always help applicant’s cause.
Here is a short video that details the importance of a personal statement.
University of California at Los Angeles
It shows that you are a serious applicant
Some universities provide specific information on skills, qualities, knowledge or experiences they are looking for and sometimes even spell out what they want to see in your statement. For instance Fulbright Pakistan prefers applicants who have the potential to make a significant contribution to the socioeconomic and cultural landscape of Pakistan.
Answering all the required things will demonstrate to the reviewer that you are very eager and you have put in good time to do your research. Besides following their criterion, you want to write something that is fresh, lively, and different, to put yourself ahead of other applicants. You can chalk out some refreshing stories that can attest to your hard work, perseverance and passion for the subject. Do note that a personal statement is not just a mere listing of facts and accomplishments – it is a simple compelling story that reflects your traits and decisions.
Shows your motivation and passion
The Personal statement is your opportunity to showcase your talent, leadership, and intellectual curiosity. It can be used to present any obstacles, opportunities, achievements, or special circumstances that have affected your education and your life. You can tell them about the books and journals you enjoy reading, talk about people that have influenced you and discuss which recent scientific breakthroughs or seminal contributions to your particular field have intrigued and challenged you. If you can talk about some bright idea or a high impact long term project that you want to work on in future, then this can show your motivation more powerfully than your mere claims of being motivated.
Can shape up your interview
For courses and scholarship programs like Fulbright program Pakistan, your statement will help them form some of their questions. A well planned, well researched essay that has been written with enthusiasm, conviction and honesty will not only help you get the interview, but will also give you the opportunity to at least partially set the agenda for it.
In the entire application, statement of purpose is the only opportunity you have to focus on your strengths and motives as well as justify any weaknesses such as explaining a low GPA. Getting a 3.9 GPA and a GRE score in the 90th percentile will impress the admissions committee, but there is a chance that many other applicants have emulated the same feat. In such cases, a strong personal statement will set you apart from other applicants and kink the luck in your favor.