Your goals statement may be the most important part of your graduate application. While there’s not much you can do to affect your undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, or resume, you have unlimited control over what you choose to submit for your goals statement. This statement is your one and only opportunity to explain your personal and professional background, motivation for study, and knowledge of the academic field within which you hope to earn a graduate degree.
Each university to which you apply will ask for slightly different things to be included in your statement, but most admissions committees are looking for a few key points:
Prior Knowledge – It’s important to demonstrate familiarity with the field to which you’re applying. Applications may not specifically ask you to address prior knowledge, but committees can evaluate this based on what you say about your background, your use of relevant terms, and how clear your understanding of the degree program appears to be.
Motivation – Why are you planning on getting this degree? Admissions committees want to know that you’re committed to finishing what you start. If you can explain why you want a career in your field convincingly, committees are more likely to believe you’re ready to commit yourself to the years of work needed to finish your degree.
Relevant Personal Experience – Sometimes a personal story can highlight why you’re passionate about your field; sometimes it can distract the reader. Saving a life might have convinced you to become a nurse or working on an exciting campaign might have pushed you into political science. If you have a personal story which can provide key insight into your decision to enter your chosen field you may want to include it as part of your statement, but if it has little to do with your degree field, you may want to think about leaving it out.
What Else? – Your personal statement is your only opportunity to tell the admissions committee about yourself, so make sure you use the opportunity. Transcripts speak to your academic potential and letters of recommendation highlight your character, but the goals statement is your one chance to tell the admissions committee about your background and qualifications using your own words.
In the rush to submit an application to graduate school, many applicants dismiss the goals statement as unimportant and write it quickly the night before the application deadline – don’t make this mistake! This statement may make or break your admission. Take time to make sure you’ve addressed all the points you need to in a clear and concise way. A well written goals statement could be your ticket to graduate school!