How I Structured My Personal Statement

The personal statement was one of the most daunting parts of my application process. I was lucky to start early and have a lot of guidance because I applied for the NSF GRFP before submitting my grad school application, and once I had one personal statement, it was easy to modify it for other universities.


In this post I am going to share how I structured my engineering grad school  personal statement and how I addressed my rocky start in school.  My overall goal in my personal statement was to show my progression from a highschool student who was interested in engineering to a qualified graduate school applicant with the potential to be a successful researcher. I broke this down into 7 steps and included some excerpts from my personal statement to show how I did this.

The origin story –  I discussed my initial interest in prosthetics and how that led me to decide I wanted to be an engineer.


My poor freshman year GPA –  I mentioned my rocky start and painted my transfer in a positive light. I said

“I quickly realized that university was not a great culture fit for me. I decided to transfer to Texas State University and change my major to electrical engineering”

What led me to want a PhD – I talked about how the environment at my NASA internship was more appealing than my corporate internship. I clearly expressed what it was about that environment that I liked.

“Working at NASA allowed me to work with people who value knowledge and research and who are excited to learn and share what they have learned. I knew that this was the environment I wanted to work in and decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD”

Undergrad research and other experiences – After discussing why I wanted to do my PhD, I talked about what I did to gain more exposure to research and build my skills as a researcher

“The determination I had to pursue graduate school and a research career motivated me to seek out undergraduate research experiences”

Contributions and accomplishments – This part was uncomfortable but so important. Rather than just saying that I did these internships and research experiences, I Explicitly stated the outcomes. I said things like

“This work led to my first three conference papers”

 “As a result of this work, I was invited to present at the Department of Agriculture’s Small Producers Conference and the SRC TECHCON 2018 conference, where I was both a poster presenter and one of eight Undergraduate Innovation Session presenters”

Impact and research interest discussion – I expressed how I wanted my work as an engineer to go beyond myself and how I intended to do this by improving medical devices. I tied the research fields I was interested in to my desire to help people through engineering.

Tie to the university or opportunity – I ended my statement by discussing why that specific university or fellowship would be a good fit for my interests and what I would bring to the university.

Some of my personal statements could be a few pages but others were only 1 page. I made sure every sentence packed a punch and tried not to hold back on bragging about myself.

If you are applying to graduate school this fall, book a free 30 minute consultation here! I help other engineers organize their applications, communicate their experience in a way that is attractive to graduate programs and help them navigate the many steps in the process!

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