By HoLLy c. GAede
Science Talent Search. However, having a great high school AP
chemistry teacher isn’t all that unusual (thank goodness!) and
says more about the teacher than it does about you.
RITING A PERSONAL STATEMENT
can be the most daunting part of preparing
a graduate school application. Your grades and
GRE scores are just numbers, but the personal
statement is, well, personal. The whole purpose of
this statement is to reveal something about you.
Your aim should be to reveal not only that you are well-prepared for graduate school in general but also that you are
particularly suited to the program for which you are applying.
So, while you can have a common essay framework that you
use for all your applications, you must tailor your applications
for each school. Because of the customization that’s required,
preparing a good statement takes some research, which in turn
takes time. Begin working on your essays early in the fall semester of your senior year so you can meet the graduate school
application deadlines without pulling all-nighters that interfere
with your grades.
Most graduate school programs ask for a
statement that describes your research expe-
rience and career goals in one to two pages.
In your essay, then, you need to talk a little
bit about your past and a little bit about your
future. However, don’t make the mistake of
beginning your essay with a statement along
the lines of “I have been interested in chemistry ever since I was a little kid” or “Being a
chemist has always been a dream of mine.”
Such trite approaches don’t provide any useful information to the reviewing committee,
and believe me, they have read it before.
Include only extraordinary pre-college science experiences. For instance, you should
definitely write about participation in the U.S.
Describe your research experience
Discuss your research experience. Most admissions commit-
tees want to see that you understand the nature of research.
While coursework can provide you with basic laboratory skills,
it rarely gives you a good idea about the (sometimes frustrating)
pace of research. No program wants to admit a student who
is going to quit the first time an experiment doesn’t work. For
this reason, undergraduate research is practically a prerequisite
for graduate school. Fortunately, undergraduate research can
take place in several different settings, including at your home
institution, at a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates
(REU), or through an industrial internship. Some students are
even lucky enough to have experienced more
than one of these options. In any case, talk
about the overarching goals of the project(s)
and what you specifically contributed. Point
out uncommon skills that you acquired
through your research (e.g., software, methods,
instruments, or reactions that most undergrad-
uates wouldn’t have practiced).
Address how this experience influenced
your desire to attend graduate school. If appropriate, comment on any obstacles or difficulties
you surmounted to show that you have the
perseverance necessary to succeed in graduate
school. If you have presented your research
in a formal setting or expect to have it published, provide the appropriate references.
Publications and presentations show the committee that you can communicate your science
Don’t make the
mistake of beginning
your essay with a state-
ment along the lines of
“I have been interested
in chemistry ever since
I was a little kid” or
“Being a chemist has
always been a dream