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Writing your personal statement

When putting together your application for graduate school, one of the supporting documents your program may require as part of the supplementary information form is a personal statement. A personal statement is your opportunity to explain more about who you are and why you belong in the program to which you’re applying, aside from your grades and test scores. This can be a powerful tool for demonstrating that you’re a great candidate!

At Waterloo, we have different names and formats for personal statements. They can also be referred to as a letter of intent or a statement of interest. Some programs will have a specific set of prompts/questions for you to answer, but others will not. Find out this information by searching your program in the Graduate studies academic calendar.

This video will walk you through the basics of writing a personal statement, including the main elements of a strong statement and what types of experiences you can include.   

Three main elements of a strong personal statement

  1. Your interest in the program
  2. The tools and skills that will help you succeed
  3. Why the program is a good fit for you

1. Your interest in the program

Some prompting questions to ask yourself include: 

  • What problem do you want to solve? How do you know it’s a problem? What have you learned about it over time?
  • What is drawing you to this program? What makes this a good next step for you?
  • Who is it that you want to help with this degree? How do you know they need help?
  • Why are you interested in this topic? What learning have you done in this area? What is it that you find exciting?

2. The tools and skills that will help you succeed

Some prompting questions to ask yourself include: 

  • What do you do well? How do you know you do it well? What do you do that’s different than somebody who is not good at this?
  • What does it take to be good at what you want to do? What does someone need to know, do, or learn? When have you worked/learned in an environment like this? You may think you don’t have relevant experience but re-frame the experience you DO have. For example, if you don’t have relevant research experience, how do you share that you’re a good candidate? You’ve completed previous degrees, which teach you how to research.
  • What have you observed or thought about that’s relevant to this work?

3. Why the program is a good fit for you

Some prompting questions to ask yourself include: 

  • How do your research interests match faculty interests? This is particularly important for research or thesis-based programs. What connects your proposed work with theirs?
  • What did you notice about the program design, location, or content?
  • What do you want to learn and how does this match the degree? For example, if a master’s degree is a pre-requisite for a career you’re interested in, WHY is it required?
  • You can also frame this around your goals when you finish. How do these goals match the program?

Before you submit your statement

Don't forget to review it carefully, check for spelling and grammar, and have someone else look at it!

Additional resources

For current Waterloo students and alumni, the Centre for Career Development offers further education support, including working with you on your application documents like personal statements. For non-Waterloo students, your university may have similar resources available.

We hope that this information will help you in crafting your personal statement, getting you one step closer to a top-notch graduate studies application package!