Helpful tips and advice for drafting a compelling personal statement when applying for graduate admission
What does this statement need to accomplish?
The personal statement should give concrete evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community, giving the committee an image of you as a person.
This is also where you represent your potential to bring to your academic career a critical perspective rooted in a non-traditional educational background, or your understanding of the experiences of groups historically under-represented in higher education and your commitment to increase participation by a diverse population in higher education.
What kinds of content belongs here?
Anything that can give reviewers a sense of you as a person belongs here; you can repeat information about your experiences in your research statement, but any experiences that show your promise, initiative, and ability to persevere despite obstacles belongs here. This is also a good place to display your communication skills and discuss your ability to maximize effective collaboration with a diverse cross-section of the academic community. If you have faced any obstacles or barriers in your education, sharing those experiences serves both for the selection process, and for your nomination for fellowships. If one part of your academic record is not ideal, due to challenges you faced in that particular area, this is where you can explain that, and direct reviewers’ attention to the evidence of your promise for higher education.
The basic message: your academic achievement despite challenges
It is especially helpful for admissions committees considering nominating you for fellowships for diversity if you discuss any or all of the following:
- Demonstrated significant academic achievement by overcoming barriers such as economic, social, or educational disadvantage;
- Potential to contribute to higher education through understanding the barriers facing women, domestic minorities, students with disabilities, and other members of groups underrepresented in higher education careers, as evidenced by life experiences and educational background. For example,,
- attendance at a minority serving institution;
- ability to articulate the barriers facing women and minorities in science and engineering fields;
- participation in higher education pipeline programs such as, UC Leads, or McNair Scholars;
- Academic service advancing equitable access to higher education for women and racial minorities in fields where they are underrepresented;
- Leadership experience among students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education;
- Research interests focusing on underserved populations and understanding issues of racial or gender inequalities. For example,
- research that addresses issues such as race, gender, diversity, and inclusion;
- research that addresses health disparities, educational access and achievement, political engagement, economic justice, social mobility, civil and human rights, and other questions of interest to historically underrepresented groups;
- artistic expression and cultural production that reflects culturally diverse communities or voices not well represented in the arts and humanities.
Personal Insight Questions
The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.
Think of it as your interview with the Admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.
Learn more about Personal Insight questions in the video below:
- Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
- Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you, but you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.
Freshman Personal Insight Questions (link is external)
- You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
Transfer Personal Insight Questions (link is external)
- There is one required question you must answer.
- You must also answer 3 out of 7 additional questions.
As a vital part of your application, the personal insight questions—short-answer questions you will choose from—are reviewed by both the Admissions and Scholarship offices.
At Berkeley we use personal insight questions to:
- Discover and evaluate distinctions among applicants whose academic records are often very similar
- Gain insight into your level of academic, personal and extracurricular achievement
- Provide us with information that may not be evident in other parts of the application
What we look for:
- Initiative, motivation, leadership, persistence, service to others, special potential and substantial experience with other cultures
- All achievement in light of the opportunities available to you
- Any unusual circumstances or hardships you have faced and the ways in which you have overcome or responded to them. Having a hardship is no guarantee of admission. If you choose to write about difficulties you have experienced, you should describe:
- How you confronted and overcame your challenges, rather than describing a hardship just for the sake of including it in your application
- What you learned from or achieved in spite of these circumstances
For freshman applicants:
- Academic accomplishments, beyond those shown in your transcript
For transfer students:
- Include interest in your intended major, explain the way in which your academic interests developed, and describe any related work or volunteer experience.
- Explain your reason for transferring if you are applying from a four-year institution or a community college outside of California. For example, you may substantiate your choice of a particular major or your interest in studying with certain faculty on our campus.
How to answer your personal insight questions
- Thoughtfully describe not only what you’ve done, but also the choices you have made and what you have gained as a result.
- Allow sufficient time for preparation, revisions, and careful composition. Your answers are not evaluated on correct grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, but these qualities will enhance overall presentation and readability.
If you are applying...
- to a professional college (such as the College of Engineering or Chemistry), it is important that you discuss:
- Your intended field of study
- Your interest in your specific major
- Any school or work-related experience
- for a scholarship, we recommend that you elaborate on the academic and extracurricular information in the application that demonstrates your motivation, achievement, leadership, and commitmen (link is external)t.
- to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)—the support program for students from low-income families in which neither parent is a college graduate:
- Discuss how the program might benefit you
- Tell us about your determination to succeed even though you may have lacked academic or financial support
Keep in mind
You can use the Additional Comments box to convey any information that will help us understand the context of your achievement; to list any additional honors awards, activities, leadership elements, volunteer activities, etc.; to share information regarding a nontraditional school environment or unusual circumstances that has not been included in any other area of the application. And, finally, after we read your personal insight questions, we will ask the question, “What do we know about this individual?” If we have learned very little about you, your answers were not successful.