You’re a college graduate and you’re ready to pursue grad school. You’ve psyched yourself up for going back to school for your master’s degree and nothing will stop you.
Then someone mentions the dreaded words “personal statement” or “professional essay” and you freeze.
In college, writing essays was the name of the game, but they were mostly academic in nature. These seem completely alien. But you don’t need to be afraid, these first parts of higher education can be conquered, and it’s not that different from what you’ve done throughout college.
Make no mistake, these two papers are not written in exactly the same way. Let’s highlight some of the differences:
A personal statement is a paper that will help you explain to graduate admissions why you should be selected for the Master’s program. You may have already written an essay like this when you first applied to your undergraduate university.
The most important thing to keep in mind while writing this paper is to make sure it reflects you, the author. You are writing about who you are and why that should interest the graduate school. The story—and it is a story—being told is your own. The graduate school admissions want to know about the potential student, and what better way than asking for a story?
Even with a personal statement, specific questions will be asked. Answer them, but keep things distinctly “you.” You and the institution are the focus, and you should answer the questions in a way that reflects that. Clichés should be avoided at all costs, and your opening paragraph should grab the reader’s attention.
Additionally, you should make sure that your knowledge of the field you are pursuing is on display. Let the admissions board know you’ve done your research.
The term “professional essay” can be somewhat difficult to define accurately. A simple Google search will return many results that send you right back to personal statements. But make no mistake: a professional essay is its own kind of paper.
A professional essay is generally a somewhat more structured essay than the personal statement. Rather than introducing the graduate school to you, the applicant, the professional essay seeks to demonstrate to the admissions board that you are able to solve problems within your desired field.
Despite this more structured nature, keep in mind that you are still telling a story. In this case, the story is about how you will be able to provide usefulness in your field. Unlike the personal statement, where your usefulness is sprinkled throughout or hinted at, in the professional essay your usefulness is front and center. You are, essentially, answering the admissions board’s question of “What can you do for us?”
As with the personal statement: avoid clichés and keep the reader (the admissions board) interested with the opening paragraph.
Personal statements and professional essays are unique beasts, to be sure. They are more “I” focused than a traditional essay, but they still require structure and persuasive power. The personal statement persuades the graduate admissions board that you are worth knowing and bringing into the fold of the graduate school, while the professional essay demonstrates how you can provide solutions to the problems that might arise in your chosen field.
As you begin preparing to go back to college, don’t be afraid of the personal statement and professional essay. Keep in mind what grad schools are looking for in an applicant. Don’t think that your writing skills will vanish because you’re not used to writing in this format!
Remember to keep things focused on you and the institution, remember your writing skills, and you will be well on your way to hitting a home run with your personal statement and professional essay.