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What a Graduate School Personal Statement Should Look Like


If you’d like to work one-on-one with your graduate school personal statement, check out my coaching page!

Does Mitch Everts have an answer to the student debt crisis?

The University of Montana sophomore devised a simple idea: allow people to pay their students loans by withholding money from their paychecks.

From the article on NBC Montana:

According to Pew Research, the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree makes $45,000 a year, and their student loan debt is $30,000. If they pay 10 percent through income withholding, they could have those loans paid off in about eight years.

Everts says he polled 1,000 students at the University of Montana and 950 liked the idea. Plus, two Montana state senators plan to co-sponsor a bill about the withholding concept in 2015.

Interesting, right? A smarter plan for student debt would make graduate school much more appealing.

If you’re ready to apply to grad school — and the tuition that comes with enrollment — check out the template below.

What a Graduate School Personal Statement Should Look Like

If you’ve hung around News To Live By a while, you know I am big on storytelling.

Two “storytelling” templates from my blog: cover letter and reference letter.

Stories capture a reader’s attention and drive home your point. Don’t TELL a college faculty you’re “passionate about public policy.” SHOW your passion through a memorable experience in or around the field.

Below I wrote a template for a graduate school personal statement. Give it a read and see my notes at the bottom.

Scenario: Applying for a masters in information systems. Part-time program ideal for working professionals.

Note: The personal statement is a fictional scenario. I made up all the people and places but imagine the writer lives in Baltimore and wants to attend graduate school in the same city. I numbered each paragraph to help with the explanation at the end.

Download the graduate school personal statement as a Word doc

1. My first day on the job, I locked eyes with my enemy.

2. It was a storage closet packed from floor to ceiling with thousands of client documents. I had no idea how an employee could locate the right file in a timely manner. I then learned my company, Foster Davis Insurance, had resisted digitizing its documents for years. At the same time, Foster Davis continues to expand and open new branches throughout Baltimore. Without a plan for all that paper, I thought to myself, the business would struggle. As the new associate director of IT, I understood my first order of business: defeat the storage closet.

3. For two months, I led a team of four people as we sorted, scanned and digitized 6,300 documents — some even dated back to the early 1980s. I ran so many New Client Information forms through the scanner, I could do it in my sleep. Yet in the end, all the manual effort paid off. A year since we “took down the beast” (as my co-workers all say) and put our files online, the company now shares information far better between the four branch offices. Plus, revenue has increased 17 percent.

4. As for the once unruly closet? Today it’s empty except for a broom and mop. Mission accomplished.

5. My name is John Doe, and I love a challenge, especially with information systems. Long before I encountered the infamous storage closet, I tackled IT problems in my own life. I can remember at eight years old when I helped my dad install our family’s first modem. Then in high school I rigged my basement with WiFi — before most of my friends even knew what it was. It’s no surprise I find myself in a job today that emphasizes information technology. It’s the work I love to do. And it also makes sense I would write this personal statement to you, the faculty of the Walters Business School at Bentham University. I am serious about my career at Foster Davis and recognize I would benefit from an MS in information systems. The degree will sharpen my skills and allow me to become not just a great associate director of IT but, as it says in Walters’ mission statement, “a leader who will grow the economy.”

6. I graduated from Dillon College three years ago but still carry with me lessons from the classroom. My favorite course was Advanced Strategic Management taught by Professor Lydia Sterne. Professor Sterne partnered our class with Go Baltimore, a business incubator for tech startups. In small teams, my class paired with different startups to assess their IT challenges. My group helped SKG Concepts, which designs modern office cubicles, interact better with team members in India and a production facility in China. The startup project was terrific real-world experience. As well, I had instructors like Professor Sterne guide me along.

7. As I grow in my career at Foster Davis, I again seek the knowledge from experienced faculty and this time at the Walters Business School.

8. I have taken a tour of the business school campus, explored all the course offerings and spoken with Walters alums. One of them, Amelia Rogers, now directs IT for Baltimore InfoSystems, which helps mid-size businesses adapt to changing technology. Amelia told me the MS in information systems provided the core business principles she relies on every day. “I can’t imagine my career without Walters,” she told me.

9. As for me, I know I would gain a lot from classes like “Mobile Applications and Cloud Computing” and “Managing Complex Projects.” Our company must be efficient, and that means we need a plan rooted in technology of tomorrow. I also hope to learn from Bentham faculty like Dr. Rodney Michaelson, who has years of experience in information systems and built teams in a distance learning environment. I can’t be in four branch offices at one time so it’s important to uncover ways to handle problems virtually. And even though I am a Baltimore native, I will strengthen my network as one of many Walters alums in the region. Those relationships, like the one I already formed with Amelia Rogers, will help Foster Davis and my own career in all kinds of ways.

10. I am the kind of person who always thinks “What’s next?” If I solve a problem, then I turn my attention to another one. Information systems is the perfect field for me, and I believe the Walters Business School will provide a stronger foundation and the right set of skills. Our family’s first modem, WiFi in the basement and even the dreaded office storage closet: those hurdles were only a taste of the technological challenges I will face in my career.

11. That’s why as a student at Walters Business School, I will bring energy, curiosity and a willingness to learn. Technology moves fast today, and I don’t just want to keep up; I want to lead the charge. I believe a masters from Walters will make that happen.

Download the graduate school personal statement as a Word doc

Explanation

Overview

The graduate school personal statement is a bit over 800 words. I did not worry about word count as I put the statement together. I included important information and when I said what I needed to say, I wrapped it up. Yes, your grad school application might ask for “500 words maximum” or maybe “500 word minimum.” What matters most is you clearly state your interest in the grad program and not repeat yourself or go on a tangent.

Also, you might plan to go to graduate school and not work at the same time. Or you want a masters to pursue a PhD. Your personal statement will have a different focus, but you should still consider the ingredients I spell out below.

Paragraph 1

I open the personal statement with a “hook,” a quick line that thrusts readers into a story and grabs their attention. Too many personal statements begin with “My name is ____, and I want to attend _____.”

Start with a story. Stand out.

Paragraph 2

Then, I dive into the story. I’m careful with the anecdote I chose. This one, about the over-stuffed storage closet, allows me to do three things:

– Demonstrate my real-world experience with information systems

– Show how I am a problem solver

– Prove I take initiative in a critical situation (more here on the power of drama on professional documents)

Paragraph 3

Next, I finish out the story. Note my attention to detail:

– team of four

– 6,300 documents

– early 1980s

– “took down the beast”

My goal is to paint a vivid picture and make the reader to think, “This personal statement is unlike any I have read so far. I’m intrigued.”

I also want the story to make clear I am a person who solves problems and gets results.

– …the company now shares information far better between the four branch offices. Plus, revenue has increased 17 percent.

No, I am not applying for a job. But I do want the faculty to see I am serious about information systems and, with a masters from Bentham, have potential to make even greater strides.

Paragraph 4

Style decision here, but I drop the final piece of the story to its own line and bring the narrative full circle. Otherwise, the reader might think “Well, what happened to that closet after all?”

Paragraph 5

Now, I introduce myself and let the reader know more about my history with technology and IT. If applicable, it’s important to show a graduate school faculty you have always loved a particular field or industry. Prove your authenticity through stories. Note the examples I use:

–  I can remember at eight years old when I helped my dad install our family’s first modem.

– Then in high school I rigged my basement with WiFi — before most of my friends even knew what it was.

At the end of the paragraph, I reference the name of the masters program and the school. I also include my desire to be a “leader who will grow the economy.” That’s a direct line from the mission statement on the (fictional) website of Walters Business School.

Paragraph 6

Now, I give the reader more background on why I love information systems and the educational process. I reference a specific college, course and professor.

– Dillon College, Advanced Strategic Management, Professor Lydia Sterne

Then…yep, you guessed it. Another story. With this anecdote, I show how much I enjoy learning new skills in the classroom and then applying them in the real world. Isn’t that what a masters degree is all about? And again, I covet the details.

– Go Baltimore

– SKG Concepts

– team members in India

– production facility in China

Paragraph 7

I use this line as a transition to why I want to attend Walters Business School.

Paragraph 8

I demonstrate I researched the graduate program, saw it up close and also talked with alumni. I mention the alumna by name and even quote a line from our conversation, which is much stronger than if I write “The alumna said the program is terrific.” Let’s hear from her instead.

Paragraph 9

I show the reader how I have scoured the course offerings and studied up on the faculty. Surprise surprise, I use specific courses titles and professors.

– Mobile Applications and Cloud Computing

– Managing Complex Projects

– Dr. Rodney Michaelson, who has years of experience in information systems and built teams in a distance learning environment

I also mention the importance of an alumni network, which suggests I will be an active alum (which suggests I might one day give back financially).

**Paragraph 9 is critical to prove my personal statement is not cookie-cutter. That’s because I took the time to explain why Bentham is the place for me.

Paragraph 10

As I reach the end, I give the reader more of who I am at my core and what inspires me (similar to my instructions on how to write a strong LinkedIn profile summary).

I write:

– I am the kind of person who always thinks “What’s next?” If I solve a problem, then I turn my attention to another one.

Then, I connect how a masters at Walters Business School will further stoke my passion.

Finally, I recap my journey so far:

– Our family’s first modem, WiFi in the basement and even the dreaded office storage closet: those hurdles were only a taste of the technological challenges I will face in my career.

Paragraph 11

In closing, I tell the reader what I will bring to the classroom:

– energy, curiosity and a willingness to learn

And, once more, I state my desire to be a leader in the field of information systems.

OK…I just dumped a lot of information on you. Any questions?

Share below, and I’ll respond!

 

*And remember, we can work one-on-one with your graduate school application. Learn more!

 

 Featured photos: University of the Fraser Valley (Flickr)

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