How to write personal statement for graduate school application?


Students generally do not understand what graduate admission committee is looking for in their personal statements. The following tips are some of my personal advice for those who are applying to i2Lab lab.

Why does graduate admission committee read your personal statement?

Different committee members have different views. But personally I would like to see if you are a good fit to the lab. Therefore, the key mission of the personal statement is to convince me that you will contribute to the lab.

Which labs are you interested in?

If you are interested in our lab, you should mention it explicitly in your statement. Discuss why our lab fits you.

Example 1.
“If I can come to Purdue, I would be interested in working in Professor ABC's lab, Professor EFG's lab and Professor XYZ's lab. ”
>> This is too broad. By saying that you are interested in many different labs, you give me an impression that you are not certain about what you want to do.

Example 2.
“Professor Chan's research is intriguing, and I have long been interested in his work.”
>> Thank you for your kind words. But if you know what we do, you should say it specifically why topic ABC is interesting to you.

Example 3.
“I am interested in i2Lab Lab. I have done research in wireless communication. I know 3G, 4G, 5G …blah blah blah.”
>> These are irrelevant to i2Lab Lab. If you want to do communication, you should find a communication lab.

Why should i2Lab consider you?

The reason why i2Lab lab should consider you is not because you are interested in the lab. It is more about whether you can contribute to the lab. There are many ways of contributing to the lab, for example:

  • Develop extension of our current projects.

  • Have new ideas to solve open problems in the field.

  • Bring in new problems that you and i2Lab are mutually interested in.

Many students have a misconception that the more researches you do in undergraduate, the better chance you will be in getting into a good graduate school. I think it is only half true. The more important consideration is whether your experience is relevant to the lab that you are applying to. Here are some examples.

Example 1.
During my undergraduate study, I did research in nano-technology with Professor XYZ in ABC university. blah blah blah.
>> Great. But why is this experience relevant to i2Lab Lab?

Example 2.
I took several online courses from coursera. blah blah blah.
>> Great. But can you solve research problems that we are working on?

Example 3.
In summer 2015, I did an internship in company ABC. I built a CNN for speech recognition. Blah blah blah. In summer 2016, I did an undergraduate project with Professor EFG. I built a Gaussian mixture model. Blah blah blah.
>> Wonderul. But I can find these information from you CV already. Anything special you want to tell me?

Example 4.
I have implemented RCNN for an object detection task by combining techniques A and B. I have also evaluated ResNet50 and VGG16 on datasets C and D.
>> Alright. But we are not interested in these background.

Take Home Message

As you can see, the goal of personal statement is really to convince the admission committee to have a strong impression about you. How can you create a strong impression? Some tips:

  • Write things that are relevant to the lab you are applying to

  • Explain why Purdue is a good fit to you.

  • Show some unique aspects of you.

  • Do not repeat the things that we can find from your transcript or CV.