Graduate School: Applications and Personal Statements


Most applications consist of: application form; resume/curriculum vitae; personal statement; transcripts; letters of recommendation; test scores GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT; financial aid forms

Start early. Most schools have application deadlines well in advance of the entrance date. Financial aid deadlines are frequently different from and earlier than the application deadline. Register for tests well in advance of when scores are requested. Most schools will want two to three letters of recommendation. Provide those who have agreed to write a letter for you with information about you and why you want to attend a specific school. Include information about the school you are considering and supply the date by which you need the letter sent (allow 3-4 weeks in advance of deadline). Provide writers with forms as needed and pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. Send a thank you note to those that have recommended you.

Kaplan Test Prep offers FREE online workshops throughout the year on do's and don'ts (LINK) for graduate school admissions including special sessions for law school and medical school applicants.


You may be asked to include a resume or curriculum vitae (or vita) in your graduate school application process. The contents of a graduate school CV differ across the disciplines, but it often provides more detail about your academic career than a typical "career resume." Take a look at this article for information on potential sections to consider.


The personal statement is often one of the most difficult parts of the application. Each school will have its own format, so be certain to follow the directions provided. This essay is an opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications for the program, as well as your commitment to the field of study you have chosen. It should reveal your writing clarity, depth, and focus of thinking.

The Career Development staff is able to assist you in the writing and review of your essay. We look forward to collaborating with you and your academic advisor to help you write an essay that best represents your professional goals, current accomplishments, research focus, and rationale for choosing the specific institution to which you are applying.

To help you get started with an initial draft of your essay take a look at the suggestions offered on the TIP Sheet for graduate school planning. Also, consider using Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher; it can be found in the Career Resource Library of the Center for Student Engagement. Ask one of the career development staff to assist you in locating it and signing it out.

Kaplan Test Prep offers FREE online workshops throughout the year on writing personal statements (LINK) for graduate school including special sessions for law school and medical school. Additionally there are two review and editing services on the Internet you may wish to investigate. There is a cost involved if you actually use their editing service, However, there is no charge for accessing their examples and illustrations for what makes a good essay. You can find these helpful resources at: and


Give your essay direction with a theme or thesis. Demonstrate you have a definite sense of what you want to do and your enthusiasm for it. See TIP Sheet for Graduate School Planning.

Choose what you want to discuss and in what order. Some aspects you may wish to include are: reasons for deciding on a particular field and/or school; motivation and commitment for study; expectations for the program; educational background; research and/or work experience; immediate and long-range goals; major area of interest; personal uniqueness.

Additional hints include:


  • Use concrete examples to support your theme/thesis to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
  • Begin your essay with an attention-grabbing lead (anecdote, quote, question, etc.).
  • End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and/or thesis.
  • Revise and edit several times. 
  • Proofread for clarity and error. 
  • Ask advisers for a critique of your essay.

Get started early. Your final essay is likely to be the product of numerous rough drafts.

NOTE: If your application contains information that might reflect negatively on you, such as a less-than-stellar GPA or low admission test scores, consider explaining these negative aspects on a separate sheet labeled “Addendum.” Attach this to your application or address these aspects in a cover letter. Keep your explanation short and concise; avoid elaborate excuses.