- “What should I include?”
- “How do I start?”
- “What will impress the faculty committee?”
- “Is it okay to brag about my accomplishments?”
These are the most common questions asked by PsyD applicants about their application essay. The fact that different programs refer to the essay as a “Personal Statement,” “Statement of Purpose,” “Graduate Essay,” “Statement of Goals,” “Personal History,” or “Statement of Intent” makes this task even more confusing. Some programs may even request two or three essays: one that is biographical, one addressing the candidate’s diversity, and perhaps one that serves as a somewhat more formal research proposal. As applicants prepare to write their essays, they are often flooded with more questions than answers.
Adding sizzle to your personal statements
Here are five tips that will answer your questions and add “sizzle” to your statements.
Tip #1: Understand the importance of the personal statement in admissions decisions
Although GRE scores, transcripts, and recommendations all factor into admissions decisions, it is the SOP that can “close” the deal. Admissions committees read the SOP very carefully. They use it to learn more about your disposition for the PsyD field of study, your educational background, your clinical, academic, and research experience, as well as your short- and long-term career aspirations. Here is where you have the opportunity to highlight your strengths and display the credentials that may well set you apart from equally qualified applicants. These may include:
- Your “fit” with the program.
- Desirable qualities and qualifications.
- Ability to articulate your ideas in an engaging and memorable way.
- How your academic studies, field research, and long-term goals have sparked your determination to pursue PsyD graduate studies.
- If applicable, how someone or something has impacted your decision to apply to a PsyD program. This can be a relative who works in this field, a research assistant, or a community service or internship experience that has been a motivating influence. Make sure you share short narratives about the experience(s). This is value added. The stories will make you memorable when the faculty committee is discussing your candidacy.
Tip #2: Customize the personal statement for each PsyD program
Programs can “spot” a template or generic SOP and will, most likely place it in the “no” pile eliminating the candidate from any further consideration. It is most important that you customize your SOP for each and every program to which you apply.
Each program will provide a brief description of the information they are seeking in the SOP. One program may limit the SOP to 1000 words addressing three questions or topics. Others may specify 2-3 single-spaced pages, while others may specify the characters with or without spaces covering five specific topics. Pay special attention to the directions. If you choose to ignore the directions you will, at the least, irritate the admissions committee and may even find your application placed in the “no” pile. I personally know of cases where students lost the opportunity for that very reason. Most PsyD programs are highly selective and competitive and if you cannot follow simple, clearly stated directions, it calls into question your ability to manage the academic rigor of a PsyD program.
According to the APA, you would be well served to create a spreadsheet listing each program’s SOP questions/requirements. This cross-checking tool will help you identify the topics common in many programs:
- Academic objectives related to the curriculum in a particular program/school
- Prior research experience and graduate level research interests (some request a graduate research proposal)
- Any relevant volunteer/shadowing experiences
- Short- and long-term professional/career goals
Tip #3: Determine the specific faculty member(s) with whom you wish to work
Some PsyD programs will ask you to submit the name or names of faculty with whom you wish to work on the application. Whether they ask or do not ask, make sure that you also include the specific faculty members with whom you wish to work in the SOP. You can even refer to their journal article or articles that match well with your research interests. I suggest that applicants conduct program specific website research and then create faculty fact sheets customized for each program.
- Reach out (phone or email) to the professor letting them know of your interest in their research and that you would love to work with them should you be granted admission. Most professors love to talk about their research and many enjoy mentoring graduate students.
- Have at least one back-up professor whose research interests match yours.
- Include both in your SOP. (“I also look forward to working with <name of professor>.”)
Tip #4: Check out the program website for special opportunities that you may want to highlight in the “Why this School/Program?” section of the SOP
These items may include:
- Special clinical sites/opportunities
- Academic curriculum with mention of specific course titles that the applicant finds appealing
- Networking with alumni in the field (if relevant)
- Participation/presentations at APA regional conventions, etc.
- Onsite and/or offsite research centers
#5: Specificity will make you “stand-out”
Faculty admissions committees work hard to fairly review each candidate before making an admissions decision. As such, they appreciate when candidates offer the specific details they are seeking. They don’t and won’t “dig” through the application to find it. Avoid making overarching statements like, “I did some research.” Provide the details: What was the research? With whom did you work? When did you do it? What did you learn? Was it published? Was it presented at a scholarly event or, for example, the APA meeting in? If you are sharing information on a course that you enjoyed include the “whys,” “whats,” and “hows” For example, why this professor was particularly inspiring, what specific course content added to your knowledge-base, and/or how the course content may have reinforced your determination to pursue graduate studies and/or research in this field.
After completing your specificity-check and before application submission:
- Conduct a spell/grammar check. Although it will not pick up everything, a simple spell and grammar check is an excellent first step.
- A good follow-up strategy is to read the entire statement aloud to yourself. You will be surprised by the number of errors or glaring omissions you can pick up that you may have missed in a computer-generated spell/grammar check.
- Next, ask an unbiased person to read for grammar and spelling errors. A “fresh set of eyes” may well pick up what you may have missed.
- Review the SOP to ensure that content complements but does not duplicate information found elsewhere.
- Proof the statement multiple times before submitting or uploading to the online application.
Do you need help adding sizzle to your PsyD personal statements? Check out our Graduate School Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with an expert advisor who will help you create the essays you need to get noticed by the adcom…and get ACCEPTED!Want Carol to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!