The Art of Making a Statement

10 mins read

The semester is ending, but as a senior, it feels like the next stage of my life is sneaking up on me much faster than I would like. I have been knee-deep in graduate school applications lately, churning out personal statements and tweaking my CV in the hope that some university thinks I am competent enough to continue being a student. I won’t lie: personal statements are rough, and there’s no “one size fits all” model to follow. In the hopes that some current or future seniors applying to graduate school may find it useful, I have compiled a list of sample personal statements to stimulate the intellectual juices; these may also be adaptable to job applications, depending on the position. Good luck to all — may we all find a satisfying answer to the dreaded question of “What are you doing after graduation?”

The Extra-Personal Statement:

I can’t fall asleep without my favorite stuffed animal octopus, Auggie. When I was five, I swallowed six pieces of gum, and my mom freaked out. My most embarrassing memory is when I laughed so hard that I peed my pants in the fourth grade. My darkest secret is that I once got revenge on a bully by dropping a dead mouse in their backpack. My biggest weakness is that I have a tendency to overshare. And my deepest desire is to go to graduate school — haha, just kidding. It’s actually to take a nap right now. All this is to say that I would be a perfect candidate for graduate school at your institution.   

The Brutally Honest Personal Statement:

I would like to attend graduate school because, truthfully, I’m not sure what else I would do. Get a job? Hah! You think I’m qualified to actually join the working world? I have zero experience being a real adult. Frankly, all I’m qualified to do is make up thesis statements about readings that I skimmed, have circular discussions about the merits of obscure philosophical theories, and conclude that “more data is needed to assess the validity of these results.” I have no idea what I want to do with a graduate degree — you think I’ve figured out what I want to do with my life? I can barely figure out what I want to eat for dinner! But okay, if you insist, I want to … get a job with my graduate degree. Eventually. In a future I hopefully won’t have to confront for as long as my graduate stipend lasts. There, I hope you don’t want me to get any more specific because it isn’t happening. As for why I chose your particular graduate school, it was basically the top search result for “Best graduate schools for [insert my major here].” Oh, and the weather seems pretty nice. Research topic? I could make something up, but I don’t want to put either of us through that mental agony of trying to understand what I’m talking about when we both know it’s utter balderdash. I will most likely figure it out sometime later (it’s much more likely to happen if you actually admit me to your graduate program).   

The “Safety School” Personal Statement:

I would like to attend your graduate school because it seems like a nice enough place that might offer me funding. I am generally intelligent enough not to accidentally blow anything up in the lab and responsible enough to avoid trying to blow anything up in the lab. 

The Mission Trip Personal Statement:

Seven years, two months, and nine days ago, I traveled to a remote and destitute island — it’s so remote and destitute that it doesn’t have a name, so it’s not like I’m forgetting what it was called. Definitely not. Anyway, the people there were clearly starving, and I had a pack of Starbursts in my luggage. They were my emergency stash, but obviously, these people needed them more than I did. So I gave them all away (except for two red ones because they’re my favorite), and the look on those people’s faces was one of indescribable gratitude. I mean, they were so happy to receive the Starbursts that they were crying. And in that moment, I realized what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to help people. By going to graduate school, I will study how to help people even more effectively than I already do. With a bit of luck, I hope to end world hunger by the time I earn my Ph.D., but I am just going to take it one step at a time. Perhaps I will begin my research by coming full circle and returning to that island — this time with two packs of Starbursts.  

The BSing Personal Statement: 

As a future graduate of the rigorous institution of Swarthmore College, I am uniquely qualified to attend your prestigious institution. I have extensive experience in the navigation of complex systems such as the Narples dining establishment, which requires the flexibility to adapt to changing menus, the ability to plan strategically so as to minimize waiting time, and an eagerness to take advantage of every opportunity to snag an empty table. I am also a resourceful person who has learned how to collaborate with others; I am an expert in ascertaining exactly which friend to ask for help on all of my problem sets. In addition, my research experience spans many topics, from “Maximization of apparent productivity in the face of nonexistent real output upon confrontation of one’s research advisor” to “Investigation of the average duration of time unoccupied by academic tasks without incurring system failure and the impacts of substitution with streaming services and scrolling motions” to “Social avoidance behaviors: swiveling as a technique to verify the absence of the subject of conversation on a small campus.” I would love to continue one or all of these lines of research in graduate school and feel confident that the fast-paced, intellectually stimulating environment of your department would be conducive to my professional, personal, and academic development. 

The Sob Story Personal Statement:

When I was five years old, my fish, Fishy, died. It was a traumatic experience; I cried for an entire hour, and I have never been the same. Since then, my life has been full of struggle. I have suffered from chronic pain since I stubbed my toe at the age of seven. I lost my favorite t-shirt when I was eleven. And just yesterday, someone told me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. The only thing that has saved me from my bitter woe has been my studies. Burying myself in papers and problem sets numbs the wounds that sting my soul; constant learning and exploration are the only balms that soothe my anguish. Graduate school will give me a chance to channel my suffering into a positive outlet. Given the depth of my experience, I bring a unique ability to understand and empathize with those less fortunate, a perspective I would be eager to share with my peers. 

The Sincere, Thoughtful, Well-Written, Polished, Intelligent, Guaranteed-to-catch-the-eye-of-the-admissions-committee Personal Statement: 

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