Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
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Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Postby 1mathboy1 » Fri May 08, 2015 4:08 pm

I'm applying to grad school this coming year, and I don't think any applications are open yet. Can someone tell me what the general prompt is, and how you are supposed to answer it? Is the question generally, "why do you want to get a PhD in math?" What would be appropriate things to talk about, and less appropriate things to talk about? (For the latter, I'm guessing high school experiences are probably not very relevant unless you did actual undergraduate/graduate level work in high school). If someone has a sample personal statement I would also really appreciate it.

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Re: Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Postby p-adic » Fri May 08, 2015 4:27 pm

Try doing a search.


The link with samples is good, except people in CS tend to have a better idea of what they intend to study than in math. Even if you do a little reading on a problem that may sound interesting for your SOP, you're not really going to know anything as an undergraduate.

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Re: Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Postby p-adic » Tue May 19, 2015 5:01 am

Actually I glanced through that page with samples, and the first one seemed good but the rest seem pretty mediocre. The writing isn't great, mostly internationals going on about class ranks and grades and similar things, writing "combinatory" instead of "combinatorics." I'm surprised these have all been successful statements. I guess it doesn't matter in CS too much, or they had killer LORs and transcripts.

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Re: Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Postby MathCat » Tue May 19, 2015 12:57 pm

I found no useful personal statement samples when I was searching for ideas for writing mine. I ended up just writing about what I liked about my research experiences, course work, etc., and made a point of not wasting space repeating things that can be found elsewhere on the application (e.g. numbers like GPA, receiving awards [put it on your resume or CV, if included], etc.), and never mentioning something in the SOP without a purpose. For example, don't say "I took class X and got grade Y." That's visible on your transcript already. If you really want to emphasize that you took this class, you could instead say something about how, when you took class X, you <learned this interesting fact, really enjoyed it for this reason, it is impacting your grad school decision because of ...> etc.

Don't go for the cliche childhood story. Be concise, the adcomm has a lot of these to read and will appreciate brevity (but still say what you want to say).

Finally, be sure to edit it a lot and have many people read it. Make sure it is grammatically correct and flows well. Based on many samples I've seen, that's enough to make it stand out.

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Re: Personal Statement for grad school apps?

Postby koala » Thu May 21, 2015 2:33 pm

Each prompt is different. Some schools say, "submit a personal statement" with no other direction. Others will specifically ask for your personal and professional goals.

In general, I think it is wise to answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to go to graduate school? This is where you talk about your passion for mathematics, the specific area you want to study, career goals, etc.
  • How have you prepared for graduate school? Discuss research projects, relevant work experience, etc. Don't just copy and paste from your CV, you should actually discuss how your experiences have actually prepared you.
  • Why you want to go to that specific graduate school? This is different from the first question and should be answered differently for each school you apply to.
  • Who do you want to work with at that graduate school and why? You should answer this question sincerely or just leave it out. Don't just list professors if you haven't actually read their research.

The personal statement is a way for the graduate committee to get to know who you are. You can search for personal statements on the internet, however I find that they are mediocre and don't reflect who you are as a person.

Another great source is Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice: ... ion+essays
This is the older edition and you could probably find it for $3 or $4 online somewhere. There is a newer edition, but I think this book addresses everything you need to know. It asks several good questions to help you draft your personal statement. There are also several examples of statements.

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