The personal essay is a necessary but difficult part of the PhD program application process. You have to simultaneously emphasize your strengths as a potential doctoral student, but not cross the line into bragging, boasting, or outright lying. The admissions committees that read these personal statements have seen it all, so no amount of gilding the lily is likely to impress upon its members that you deserve a seat in the program.
The 5 tips outlined below will not guarantee that an admissions committee will take your personal essay more seriously in your application to a PhD program, nor will it make up for serious deficiencies in past academic achievement, lack of extracurricular activities, or lack of job experience. However, coupled with the right elements, the 5 tips below for a sample personal essays for a PhD program can help you stand out in a crowd of lesser personal essays and plant the seed in the minds of the admissions committee members that you are the right choice.
Writing an effective personal statement for a Master’s or PhD application for a university abroad is probably one of the most important steps of your application process abroad. It represents both a chance for you to introduce yourself to the admission committee of the institution, but also to present your thesis or research goals you plan to achieve during your studies. Read key tips for understanding what a personal statement is and how to write one for your Master's or Ph.D.
What better way to get the creative juices flowing than an example of a successful personal statement, written by a student applying for a PhD in Literature at a university in the United States? Read carefully and think what you would include in your personal statement to convince the university you’ve got what it takes to successfully complete your degree and
become a prestigious alumna or alumnus.
Find and compare PhDs in Literature worldwide
Personal Statement for a Ph.D. in Literature
In August 2015, I completed my graduate degree and thesis for the Research Master's in Comparative Literary Studies at [university name2]. As a student in the Research Master's (RMA) program, my scholarly concerns were mostly focused on critical theory, cultural studies, and social discourse, built into the wide-ranging, cross-cultural framework of Comparative Literature. In addition, the rigorous graduate curriculum in the RMA program placed a strong emphasis on individual research and intensive academic writing to prepare me for Ph.D-level studies. As a student, I find myself consistently engaged with the intersection of politics, literature, and critical theory.
I have always had an interest in projects that are interdisciplinary and which also foster a broad, social-political dialogue; I have published in Marxist theory, but I have also presented at conferences on neuroscience and on post-colonialism. While my interests are vast, I have always found literary studies to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and provide a meaningful methodological foundation. Therefore, it is from this theoretical perspective and challenging background as a scholar that I wish to pursue a Ph.D. in Literature at [university name], as it would be a privilege to participate in this critical discourse alongside the immensely distinguished Literature faculty.
Before beginning my graduate studies, I finished a Bachelor's degree in English from the [university name3]. I was fortunate enough as an undergraduate to have found exhilarating joy in academic research. Setting a goal to pursue a lifelong career as an academic allowed me to overcome weaknesses that were initially felt to be insurmountable, including low grades and test scores. Learning the strategies necessary for university study, though, while following a compelling curriculum enabled me to complete my degree, participate in interdisciplinary thesis research, and eventually continue on to graduate school. Relocating to the Netherlands for graduate school proved to be a worthwhile choice, as living abroad for the past few years has been a formative and enriching experience. Thinking globally about academic study and education more generally, while being amid a tumultuous political climate and refugee crisis has developed the way I continue to speak (and write) about cultural experience.
In 2015, I had my first refereed article, "Utopian Registers of the New Italian Epic," published in the peer-reviewed journal Incontri: Rivista Europa di Studi Italiani. After submitting it to this journal, the article underwent a strict external review process where I was able to refine my argument carefully before it was published in the 30th volume of Incontri.
The final six months of my degree were devoted to completing my RMA thesis, entitled "An Ethics of Belonging". For this project, I chose to continue my interest in examining ethics and literature, using several sources of migrant literature as my literary corpus. I framed my discussion within the context of 'belonging,' and considered the ethical complications with that concept. One of the interesting aspects of writing this thesis was the ability to place these ideas in the background of current events and political issues such as racism, police violence, and migrant experience. Adding an urgency to my thesis, I was able to further emphasize the stakes of literature, otherness, and belonging, while illustrating the efficacy of imagination, empathy, and representation in re-calibrating the ethical horizon.
It is with gratitude that I have always looked toward the esteemed Literature department at [university name] as a source of inspiration throughout my undergraduate and graduate education; and, the faculty at [university name] has always held my attention as giving invaluable contributions to literary and social discourse. It would, therefore, be an honor to pursue my Ph.D. in Literature at [university name]. And, given my own scholarly background and academic achievements, I believe I am an ideal candidate for this program.