Grad school applicants have already shown that they have the discipline, work ethic and intellect to succeed in a further education program. But your previous experience and achievements certainly don't mean that this next step will be easy.

Admissions committees only want the very best students in their programs. They're looking for applicants that can bring something new to the college and who will produce important research which will help to advance the colleges academic reputation. They also want to make sure that prospective students will be able to cope with the demands of a post-graduate workload and will add to the dialogue during seminar sessions and group working situations.

When applying to grad school, your career goal statement which is also known as a "statement of purpose," a "personal statement" or a "letter of intent" is the single most important part of your application, and the main way you have to reach or influence the decision making process of the admissions committee.

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Remember that the members of the admission selection panel will have to read many personal statements and will be looking for interesting and special letters which stand out from the pile that they receive.

What Information Should You Include in Your Career Goal Statement?

Your career goal statement is a written part of your application where you're able to explain why you should be accepted into a post-graduate course of study. Some institutions will ask you to include specific information such as any work you have already completed on the topic, what your field of study will be or how you propose to conduct your research.

They might also want to know about work experiences you have had that will benefit your course of study. Other colleges accept less structured statements which allow students to shine while discussing a range of topics and research interests.

Your prospective college will provide you with information about exactly what it wants to see in your application package, including what to include in your goal statement for college admission. Read this information, including any examples sent, very carefully. Then, take your time and make sure that you submit your application ahead of the deadline, allowing yourself plenty of time to edit, review and rewrite your personal statement.

The Princeton Review advises prospective research students to carefully consider exactly what the admissions committee wants to see. They say that regardless of the field of study all admissions departments will want to find out the following information from students:

  • What you want to study at the graduate level and why.
  • Why you want to study it at the chosen institution.
  • What you intend to add to the existing research.
  • What experiences you already have in the industry or field of knowledge.
  • Your career plans and goals for the future, and how your postgraduate degree will help you to achieve your career goals.
  • Personal information about you, and why the admission committee should choose you.

This information will help them to decide which applicants will benefit the most from the program and which students can bring fresh insight and new findings to the topic or industry. They're also looking for evidence that you'll be able to cope with the demands of postgraduate study and that you're ready for the challenge of an advanced degree.

Things to Avoid in Your Goal Statement for College

University admission committees have to wade through an awful lot of applications and read hundreds of goal statements for college packages. They can be forgiven for becoming jaded at seeing the same cliched sentences repeated time and time again. So stand out from the crowd by avoiding overused language.

The Career Center at Berkeley produces a list of words to avoid when crafting your goal statement for college. They include overused adjectives like "significant," "interesting," "challenging," "satisfying" and "exciting," or cliches like "I want to make a difference," or "I like to help people."

You'll also want to make sure that any facts or figures that you include are accurate and that you do not introduce any controversial information or unfounded arguments.

Read over your statement and ensure that it is personalized. It must contain stories, insight and reflections from your unique point of view and life experiences. As you read it through, it should be impossible to imagine that anyone but you could have written it.

Although you are advised to make your statement as personal as possible, you don't need to include personal details unrelated to your field of studies, such as your interests or hobbies. You should avoid including unnecessary information that doesn't add to your argument.

What Is the Correct Goal Statement Format?

It's important to carefully plan an outline to ensure that you don't miss out any important information that should be included.

Try to clarify the main points that you want to get across and consider exactly which words you want to come to mind when the admissions team discusses your application. When you're editing your statement, take a highlighter marker and find your key themes or words to make sure they are repeated strategically throughout your statement. This will help bring your ideas together and ensure you have written a compelling argument for why you should be chosen for your selected program.

Your goal statement format should include your key themes brought to life with interesting narratives and compelling anecdotes. Sometimes people find it difficult to write about themselves and worry that they may come across as self-absorbed. However, this is your personal statement and needs to focus on your success, your views, your goals and why you are the best choice for the program.

If you are drawing a blank when trying to think of stories or experiences that exemplify your key points, think carefully about why you want to continue your studies. Why do you want to learn more? What do you want to discover? And how have these topics manifested themselves over the course of your life? Answering these questions will help you clarify your message and plan out your personal statement.

You should begin with a catchy personal introduction that grabs the readers attention and quickly injects your personality into what will be one of many many personal statements the admissions team has to read. You should describe what you intend to study, how your interests have been shaped by your previous education and life experiences and any challenges you have experienced along the way in your life and academic career.

Explain carefully why you are applying to this particular school and why you want to undertake study in this particular topic. Refer to any studies published by the university or any unusual or interesting research work they have produced recently. Show that you are up to date on the University's mission and research interests and accomplishments. Don't be afraid to praise any recent work, awards or initiatives which you found particularly impressive or noteworthy. After all, a little flattery can go a long way.

The usual length of a personal statement is about two pages, but you should carefully observe your college's instructions sent along with the application packet to ensure that you meet the required word count.

Include a comprehensive conclusion that sums up all your ideas and arguments and gives a clear answer to why you should be chosen and accepted to this college at this time.

Examples of Career Goal Statements

The California State University Channel Islands has shared a collection of goal statement format examples showcasing those that caught the eye of admissions officers.

They suggest that prospective graduate students include enough personal information to stand out from the crowd. They also suggest that they should mention by name any professors who have had an impact on their education and that they detail the work they hope to focus on during their research and studies.

When discussing the impact you wish to have, use specific examples from the particular school and program course to which you are applying. When you apply to grad school you may well be applying to many different institutions, but the admissions panel should feel that your application is specifically tailored to their college.

Although it can feel laborious, you will greatly improve your chances of acceptance if you write individual personal statements for every grad school that you apply to.

If you have any unusual or unexpected choices throughout your academic history carefully explain them. If you changed your major, abandoned a particular study or relocated to a different university it may not be seen as a negative by the admissions panel as long as you can explain what happened and how your choices have benefited your studies or furthered your understanding of the topic and how they have lead you to where you are today. Ensure, however, that your delivery is upbeat and that it doesn't sound like a list of excuses or an exercise in self-pity.

You can also choose personal events or circumstances, such as your work history, family or even challenges you encountered to illustrate your key achievements and traits that make you an ideal candidate for the program of study and the demands of a post-graduate course in general.

When to Ask for Help

Writing a career goal statement for grad school is difficult and that's one of the reasons why selection committees ask you to complete one. It gives them an excellent idea of your personal interests and research focus, but it also ensures applicants are serious about the process.

If you have no idea where to start at all and internet searches are not making it any easier for you, then you should consider booking an appointment with a career advisor at your college and asking for some assistance in crafting your personal statement. You can also ask for help from previous grad school graduates or from your tutor. You'll be expected to include references from your professors, so it's a good idea to ask them for any relevant advice or tips as well.

Once you have finished writing your career goal statement for grad school, check it for spelling and grammar mistakes, and then re-read it after a day or two. Be sure to print it out before proofreading as mistakes can be overlooked when only reading from a computer screen.

Read the statement aloud to check for flow and meaning, and then read it to a friend or relative and get their honest opinion. You may also want to ask a teacher or professor to look it over and ask a proofreader to do a final check before submission.

Take your time to complete your personal statement, a rushed submission will not impress anyone and this is the best opportunity you have to impress the selection committee and improve your chances of being selected to join the grad school of your choice.

About the Author

Fiona Tapp is a freelance writer and educator. Her work has been featured on The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Toronto Star, Readers Digest, and others. She writes about a variety of topics including Homes, Parenting, Education, and Travel. Fiona is a former teacher and masters degree holder. ᐧ