Should I Write a Different Personal Statement for Every Graduate School I Apply To?

Graduate school applicant

Every year, Gurufi editors help hundreds of applicants produce personal statements that get them into elite programs in STEM, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. All of our consultant-editors have PhDs from Ivy League / Oxford / Cambridge and we can link you with an editor whose background aligns with your intended field.


         Applying to graduate school is a ton of work. GRE, letters of recommendation, revising work samples, and personal statements… Moreover, people rarely apply to just one school; when I applied, I applied to a dozen. The fear people have is that this requires them to write a dozen Personal Statements. So, can you repurpose your essays, or do you need to create a unique essay for each application?

         The answer to both questions is “yes.”

         If you’re confused, let me explain. If you’re applying to a dozen graduate schools, the easiest process is to begin with a template essay that you can repurpose for all of your applications. You then take that template and customize it for each of the schools you’re applying to. The most straightforward method is the two-thirds / one-third method where you write the first two thirds of the essay in a way that can be used for all applications. And then, you write a custom final two paragraphs for each particular school.

         The one obvious caveat is that sometimes (though rarely) Master’s and Ph.D. programs will have their own questions / prompts and you will have to respond to them. In such instances, don’t try to shoehorn in your old text for questions that don’t quite fit. The bad news is that if you want to apply to those schools… it’s gonna take a bit of extra work.  In every other case, you can use the two-thirds / one-third method.

The Foundation: A Template Essay (The First Two-Thirds)

The initial step in crafting your personal statement is to develop a robust template. This template serves as a base for all your applications, ensuring consistency in presenting your background and motivations. The first two-thirds of this template should focus on two key areas:


  1. Your Background

Your background forms the cornerstone of your personal statement. It’s essential to delve into your educational and professional experiences, highlighting how they have shaped your interest and prepared you for graduate studies. In other words, tell your story in a way that explains “why grad school? Why this subject?” This part of the essay should be a reflective narrative, weaving together your past experiences and achievements to showcase a coherent journey toward your chosen field.

  1. Interest in the Field

The next segment should pivot to how you became interested in your specific area of study. Here, storytelling is paramount. Recount the moments, whether academic, professional, or personal, that sparked your passion for the subject. This section is not just about stating your interest but illustrating it through experiences and insights you’ve gained over time. It should resonate with a sense of genuine curiosity and commitment to the field.

Customization: Tailoring the Final Third

While the first two-thirds of your essay lay the foundational narrative, the final third is where customization comes into play. This tailored segment should address three critical aspects:


  1. Your Academic Aspirations

Discuss the specific questions or ideas you wish to explore in graduate school. This section is your opportunity to demonstrate that your goals align with the advanced study and that you have a clear vision for your research or scholarly pursuits. It should reflect a deep understanding of the field and a forward-looking perspective on how you intend to contribute to it.


  1. Fit with the School

This part of the essay requires thorough research about each institution you’re applying to. Explain why the school’s resources, areas of emphasis, and overall academic environment are a fit for your goals. Highlight specific aspects of the program, such as unique courses, methodologies, or specializations, that align with your academic interests and future plans.


  1. Potential Mentors

Identifying potential professors you hope to work with is a vital aspect of demonstrating your fit with a program. Mention faculty members whose research interests align with yours and articulate how their mentorship could help you achieve your academic and professional objectives. This not only shows that you have done your homework but also that you are proactive about your graduate school journey.


A final note:

Don’t be too hung up on the 2/3 and 1/3 length breakdowns. That’s a rule of thumb. For every applicant, the ratio will be different. If your application really leans into your history and story, then maybe it’s more like a 3:1 ratio instead of a 2:1. On the other hand, if you want to go into the weeks about the academic questions you hope to explore, then a 1:1 or even a 1:2 ratio might be what you produce. My experience, though, is that most people can write the first 2/3 of the essay in a manner that enables them to cover all of the things that aren’t school, program, or future advisor-specific.


For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

How Specific Should You Be In Your Graduate School Personal Statement?

         I recently wrote about how important it is to be specific about your plans for graduate school. Since founding Gurufi in 2006, we have helped several thousand clients get into their top-choice Ph.D. and Master’s programs, including hundreds of people seeking admission into hyper-competitive Ivy League and other top-tier programs. Nonetheless, some people quibble with our belief that your personal statement or statement of purpose need to be as specific as possible about your intellectual, academic, and professional mission. The concern -which I will address specifically in a bit- is that being too specific creates three problems: (1) it can make you seem inflexible or uncurious, (2) it might limit your ability to earn admission into a program if there’s not room for exactly what you study, and (3) if you’re admitted, you don’t want to be anchored to an overly restricted vision of what you hope to study. For reasons all cover, all three of these are misguided concerns.

         But first, I want to explain why it’s vital to be specific and clear about what you hope to study in graduate school. When applying for a PhD program, the personal statement and statement of purpose are crucial elements (note not every school requires both), more so than in any other academic application. At this advanced level of study, specificity in outlining one’s intellectual interests is not just recommended; it’s imperative. This precision serves several key purposes, each vital to both the applicant and the program.

Ensuring the Right Fit

First and foremost, specificity helps ensure that you, as an applicant, are a good fit for the program. When you’re looking for the right undergraduate institution, the university’s overall rankings are often what people emphasize. But for graduate studies, the department, advisor, or lab are far more important than the overall university. A mid-level state university will often have several elite programs that are better than their equivalents at Harvard and Yale, for instance. But, every lab, advisor, and to a certain extend department, is usually more narrowly focused, so you need to demonstrate that what you want to study fits within what they do. If, for instance, you want to study social and feminist history, you want to find a department that has that strength AND explain in detail your thoughts on that discipline so that it’s clear you’d fit in.

PhD studies are not just about acquiring knowledge; they are about pushing the boundaries of what is known. This journey is profoundly personal and intensely specialized. By clearly articulating your specific interests, you demonstrate an understanding of the program’s scope and how your aspirations align with it. A well-defined area of interest indicates that you have thought deeply about your academic and research path, which is a strong indicator of your readiness for the rigors of a PhD program.


Demonstrating Mastery and Preparedness

A detailed exposition of your intellectual pursuits in your personal statement serves as a testament to your mastery of the field. It shows that you are not merely a passive recipient of information but an active, engaged thinker capable of contributing original ideas. You know the right questions to ask, have a sense of what the key debates are within a field, and maybe even have some ideas for important directions that the field can go. This depth of understanding is crucial for a PhD candidate. By showcasing your well-defined research interests, you illustrate your preparedness for the advanced study and your potential as a future scholar in your field.


Aligning with Program Resources and Opportunities

Specificity in your intellectual interests helps the program assess if they have the necessary resources and opportunities to support your research ambitions. PhD programs are often tailored to the strengths and expertise of their faculty and facilities. By being clear about your research focus, you enable the admissions committee to evaluate whether their program can provide the mentorship, resources, and intellectual environment you need. This alignment is beneficial for both parties: you gain access to tailored support and guidance, and the program invests in a candidate who can fully utilize what they offer.


So if these are the reasons to be specific, what’s the argument for avoiding being too specific… and why are they ultimately misguided?


  • Concern: if I am too specific, it will limit my chances at admission because I will really only be applying to work with a few professors or in a few labs, as opposed to being eligible for all of them.

Why it’s wrong: a well-conducted graduate admissions cycle begins with research and outreach. Talk to professors (via email at first) within the program whose interests jive with yours. They will often give you a sense of whether they’re taking students or whether they, or somebody else, might be a good fit for you. If you do this you’ll maximize your chances.

By contrast, if your strategy is that you’re just a “generally good candidate,” that’s not really what most Ph.D. programs are looking for. Rather than being attractive to everyone… you’ll be seen more as an orphan without an intellectual home. After all, a key question that grad schools ask themselves during the admissions cycle is, “under whom will Jane study? Where does she fit in?” If that’s not clear, they won’t just bring you in and hope for the best… you’ll be rejected.

  • Concern: if I am too specific in my Personal Statement / SOP, I’ll appear too rigid, dogmatic, or incurious.

Why it’s wrong: Specificity does not equate to inflexibility. In your personal statement, you can balance specificity with openness by exploring various angles and methodologies related to your interest. This approach shows a readiness to engage with different perspectives and adapt your research as it evolves.

For instance let’s say that you’re interested in studying 19th century American politics, and you specifically want to study under Prof. Jones because you agree with his formulation of that period. You explain your ideas and how Jones could help you. You can mitigate the concerns over being too rigid by adding a few sentences that it clear just how expansive your thinking is. Like so: “Though I believe X to be true, I am keen to have this perspective challenged and complicated. For instance, Prof. Danforth’s work suggesting that foreign policy played a large role and Prof. Shah’s recent book exploring how tensions between feminism and racial discourge accelerated America’s path to war are ideas that I must contend with in my thesis. Thus, it would be a genuine pleasure and benefit to learn under these professors as well…”

         This approach allows you to use specificity to demonstrate proficiency, AND also use your broader understanding of the field to suggest ways that you are open to broader thinking. Indeed, acknowledging other faculty members whose expertise complements or broadens your proposed study area can add depth to your application. It demonstrates an understanding of the broader academic community and an eagerness to collaborate, enriching the complexity and scope of your research.

  • Concern: If I am overly specific in my Personal Statement / SOP, once I get there I might be stuck studying something I am not terribly excited about.
  • Why it’s not a problem: This one is easy. Nobody studies exactly what they say they intend to study. Okay… maybe some people do, but most don’t. As such, there is no great difficulty in making tweaks to your intellectual journey on the fly (assuming it’s still within the same field! You can’t switch from history to chemistry or something like that!).

As this shows, specificity in your writing is mostly an opportunity to show that you know enough about the subject to suggest courses of inquiry, ask interesting questions, and know a bit about what you don’t know. You’re not forever married to the ideas you express, and nobody expects you to be.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tips for Chicago Booth MBA

         The structure of Booth’s two main personal statement essays is unusual and difficult. The essay below is a clear enough guideline for building your own essays, especially if you’re already a strong writer. But if you need additional help, has 17 years of helping MBA applicants get into their dream schools, including five of our seven clients who applied to Booth in the last full cycle. All we do is admissions writing, and we’re expert at it!

         Chicago Booth’s personal statement prompts are a bit different. Rather than having a single longer essay, you’re required to break the essay in two, with one focusing on your career goals and the other asking you to be a bit more personal. For people who are quite adept at weaving together multiple narratives and ideas into a single coherent essay, this can feel like a frustrating lost opportunity… but for the other 99% of people, it seems much simpler and more straightforward. That said, this format requires you to place great emphasis on clarity, precision, and efficiency, and to plan out beforehand what you want each essay to say and how they complement each other. Thus, much like Stanford’s two essays, there is a sense in which you should view these two mini-essays as a single interconnected idea divided over two essays.

         What does that mean? It means that you should begin this exercise by identifying three things: who you were (and stories / examples that demonstrate that), who you are (what are you doing now?), and what you aspire to become. All three should align and make sense as a coherent trajectory. I talked more about this here, but if you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the short version: when you talk about your past, your present, and your future, it needs to feel like they’re all the same person. So, Essay 1 asks you to focus on the future. But, as you plan and write Essay 2, which is asking you to talk about your background and values, think about how your life, background, and values inform, guide, and inspire the person you seek to become. This needs to feel connected, and it’s important that these two essays have that point of tangency.

         A few other big-picture things before we dive into the specifics. As the world’s most flexible full-time MBA program, Chicago Booth emphasizes academic preparedness, intellectual curiosity, and communication skills. The program seeks ambitious, intellectually curious professionals—bold leaders eager to advance their careers at a leading academic business school. Try to embody that in your essay.

Essay #1: Career Goals and the Booth MBA

Essay One: How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (250-word minimum)

Understanding the Prompt:

The prompt for Essay #1 focuses on your career goals and how an MBA from Booth will help you achieve them. It requires a blend of professional insight and academic aspiration.

Structure and Content:

  • Career Background: Start with a brief account of your career history. Highlight key skills, knowledge, and achievements, setting the stage for your future ambitions. Remember, you can’t credibly talk about what you hope to do unless you can tie that aspiration to what you’ve already done. (again, think in terms of past, present, and future needing to make a straight coherent line)
  • Short-Term Goals: Clearly define your immediate post-MBA goals. Include desired roles, industries, and potential organizations. Ensure these goals align logically with your current skill set, indicating a realistic yet ambitious trajectory. The point here is that these should be designed to procure you the final bits of knowledge, skill, experiences, and / or connections you need to attain your long-term goal.
  • Long-Term Vision: Articulate your broader career vision. Show how your short-term goals are stepping stones towards these long-term aspirations.
  • Identifying Skill Gaps: Reflect on the skills and knowledge you need to acquire to achieve your goals. This introspection is crucial for the next part.
  • Booth’s Role: Connect your goals and identified gaps with what Booth offers. Dive deep into Booth’s curriculum, culture, and resources. Be specific about how these will bridge your gaps and propel you towards your career objectives. DON’T turn it into a brochure for Booth where you simply list off stuff you found on their website; instead, thoughtfully curate one or two key advantages or resources that are unique to Booth and mention those.
  • Demonstrating Fit: Convey your understanding of and alignment with Booth’s ethos. Show self-awareness and a clear vision of how you’ll contribute to and benefit from the Booth community.


Essay #2: Personal Growth and Development

Essay Two: An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are. (250-word minimum)

Understanding the Prompt:

This essay seeks to uncover who you are beyond your professional life. It’s about your personal journey, values, and motivations. As noted above, you should still try to build points of tangency between these essays, though the tone might be a bit different.

Structure and Content:

  • Personal Stories: Share meaningful anecdotes from your life outside work. Focus on experiences that shaped your values, priorities, and character. These aren’t random stories, though. They should explain your journey to the role / goal you aspire to achieve.
  • Leadership and Passions: Highlight any leadership roles or significant passions. Discuss hobbies, volunteer work, or personal projects that are integral to who you are.
  • Challenges and Growth: Don’t shy away from discussing difficulties. Show how overcoming challenges has contributed to your personal development.
  • Aligning with Booth: Explain how your personal attributes and experiences resonate with Booth’s values and offerings. Illustrate how you’ll engage with the community and contribute uniquely.

General Tips for Both Essays:

  • Self-Awareness: Exhibit a deep understanding of yourself, your motivations, and how your experiences have shaped you. Self-awareness is key to both essays.
  • Research and Specificity: Your knowledge of Booth’s program should shine through. Avoid generic statements; instead, provide details that show you’ve done your homework.
  • Storytelling: Use stories to bring your essays to life. Whether discussing professional achievements or personal experiences, narratives make your application memorable.
  • Alignment with Booth: Demonstrate how your goals and values align with Booth’s culture and offerings. Show that you are not just seeking any MBA, but specifically Booth’s MBA.
  • Reflection and Insight: Go beyond narrating experiences. Reflect on their significance and how they’ve prepared you for the challenges and opportunities at Booth.
  • Balance and Cohesion: Ensure that your essays complement each other, presenting a well-rounded picture of your professional and personal sides.

Crafting your Chicago Booth personal statement is an opportunity to introspect and articulate your career aspirations and personal journey. By thoughtfully responding to the prompts, showcasing your alignment with Booth’s ethos, and demonstrating your unique value proposition, you can make a compelling case for your admission. Remember, Booth values intellectually curious and ambitious individuals who are ready to make a significant impact in the business world. Your essays should reflect these qualities, along with a clear understanding of how Booth’s MBA will facilitate your goals.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Acing INSEAD’s MBA Application Essays

two young applicants have earned admission to INSEAD
Gurufi Got Them In! Use these strategies for earning admission to INSEAD

         In last year’s admission cycle, Gurufi editors and consultants helped nearly a dozen applicants earn admission into INSEAD. INSEAD’s approach and values are a bit idiosyncratic, and their multiple admissions essays require a lot more thought and planning than schools that use just a single, longer essay. Below is a comprehensive guide to INSEAD’s essays, but if you need additional help reach out to us. We have sixteen years of experience helping MBA candidates earn admission into their dream schools. Gurufi focuses on the written parts of the application -personal statement, CV, etc.


Applying to INSEAD’s MBA program can feel like navigating a complex labyrinth, with its requirement of seven essays totaling 2,000 words, not including the optional ones. People looking to simply repurpose their other personal statements will be bitterly disappointed, as the structure and format of INSEAD’s application doesn’t really allow that. Their admissions staff suggests dedicating eight weeks to planning and wring their essays. With focus and a plan, it needn’t be that long (and certainly I can help you with that!), but the point remains: this application shouldn’t be an afterthought; it requires its own planning and effort.

Unlike many top-tier MBA applications that force candidates to choose between highlighting their career achievements or personal qualities, INSEAD provides ample space for both. This allows applicants to delve into the nuances of their career paths and personal journeys, presenting a well-rounded profile to the admissions committee.

The upside, though, is that INSEAD’s process aligns with its mission of wanting to assess you holistically. The multiple essays (along with the interviews and letters of rec), provide a chance for you to paint detailed, nuanced, granular, and vivid picture of your personal and professional lives.

Essay Strategies


  • Career Essay 1: Career Essay 1 in the INSEAD application is your opportunity to provide a clear, concise snapshot of your current or most recent professional role. This essay acts as a foundational piece, setting the stage for the detailed narrative that will unfold in your subsequent essays.

This essay should be a succinct summary of your current or most recent job. You want to focus on major responsibilities, leadership roles, and significant achievements. Also think in terms of “what did I accomplish?” and “how did I contribute substantively?” Also, avoid industry jargon. Using too much jargon makes you sound less human and often people don’t quite realize that terms that are common in their industry aren’t universally known, even to business-savvy readers. Most importantly, though, jargon often obscures the basics of your job. You want to convey your role, how you’ve exceled, and areas where you’ve grown, and talking like an HR bot will obscure that.

Some additional tips:

  1. Contextualize Your Role: Begin by situating your position within the broader framework of your organization. Specify your title, the nature of the business, and your department’s function. This helps the reader understand the scope and scale of your role.

  1. Highlight Key Responsibilities: Distill your day-to-day responsibilities into a coherent narrative. Focus on aspects that showcase your skills and leadership abilities. If you manage a team, describe the size and scope of your leadership. If you handle budgets, give a sense of scale.

  1. Achievements and Impact: While brevity is key, weaving in one or two significant achievements can add depth. Choose accomplishments that demonstrate measurable impact, such as revenue growth, project success, or process improvement. Use quantifiable metrics to add credibility.

  1. Leadership and Teamwork: If relevant, mention instances where you led teams or collaborated on international projects. This demonstrates your ability to work in diverse environments, a quality highly valued at INSEAD.

  1. Avoid “leveraging”: People use “leverage” as a verb far too loosely. You want to be precise. As a rule, I usually tell clients not to use the word at all. Instead, think specifically about what you did and use that insight to select a more precise verb.

  1. Connect to Your MBA Goals: Implicitly, your essay should start painting a picture of why an MBA, and specifically an INSEAD MBA, is the logical next step in your journey. While you won’t delve into future goals here, the skills and experiences you mention should align with the narrative you’ll build in subsequent essays.

Career Essay 2: The Next Career Step

For Career Essay 2, your task is to outline your anticipated next step within your current organization. This essay allows you to illustrate your career trajectory and potential within your current context.

  1. Define the Next Role: Clearly state what your next position would be. If possible, include the job title and a brief description of new responsibilities and the potential for increased leadership. Obviously, all aspects of the essay that project forward should feel connected to your past, present, and the education you seek at INSEAD. The things you hope to do in the future should, therefore, inform which experiences and moments from your past you choose to highlight.

  1. Contextualize the Promotion: Explain why this role is the logical next step. Discuss any new skills or experiences you would gain and how they align with your long-term career aspirations.

  1. Brevity and Clarity: With only 200 words, be succinct. Focus on the essentials that convey a clear picture of your upward mobility within your company. Again, make sure your future is logically connected to your past and present as well as your goals at INSEAD.

Career Essay 3: Career Path Narrative

This essay is your opportunity to elaborate on your career journey since university.

  1. Chronological Narrative: Start from your first role post-university and work your way to the present. This chronological approach helps in painting a clear picture of your career progression.

  1. Rationale Behind Choices: Emphasize why you made specific career moves. This insight is crucial in understanding your decision-making process and career strategy.

  1. Highlight Transitions: If you’ve made significant shifts, such as industry changes or geographical moves, explain the reasoning and what you gained from these experiences.

Career Essay 4: Post-MBA Aspirations

With a tight 100-word limit, this essay must be direct yet impactful.

  1. Immediate and Long-Term Goals: Clearly state your post-MBA goal and your vision for 10-15 years down the line. How does one lead to the other?

  1. Specificity: Mention specific roles, companies, industries, and locations. Explain briefly why you are passionate about this trajectory.


Motivation Essays


Motivation Essay 1: Candid Self-Description

This essay is a deep dive into your personal characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and influential life events. Be honest, but make sure that you’re neither overly negative nor too effusive in self-praise. One good trick is to ask that person in your life who both loves you AND can speak to you bluntly about your missteps. Ask them, “what’s my superpower, what’s my kryptonite, and if you had to introduce me to a stranger at the start of a long trip together, what would you say?” These sorts of lighthearted questions can help your friend provide you with useful insights that can inform how you write this essay.

  1. Personal Qualities: Identify and discuss the personal traits you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and introspective.

  1. Life Influences: Reflect on the key factors and events that have shaped your personal development. Use examples to illustrate these influences.

  1. Depth Over Breadth: Choose a few significant themes rather than trying to cover too much. This approach allows for more meaningful insight into your personality.


Motivation Essay 2: Achievement and Failure

This essay requires you to discuss a proud achievement and a situation where you failed.

  1. Balanced Narrative: Allocate roughly equal space to both the achievement and the failure. Be specific about the circumstances, your role, and the outcome. Also, you’re likely smart to avoid something that is cringy and overly personal, BUT don’t humble brag. Saying something like, “I fail because I just work too hard and care too much” will make your reader groan with annoyance.

  1. Lessons Learned: Reflect on what these experiences taught you and how they have affected your relationships and personal growth. Frankly, the lesson you learned is the most important part of the failure piece of this essay, so focus mostly on that. The specific mistake is less important than your response to it, how you grew, and how it highlights the kind of person you aspire to become.

  1. Professional and Personal Balance: While professional examples are valuable, don’t shy away from including a personal story if it provides meaningful insight into your character.

Motivation Essay 3: Extra-Professional Activities

This essay is about your life outside of work and how these activities enrich you.

  1. Diverse Activities: Discuss various involvements such as volunteering, hobbies, or sports, focusing on those with significant time commitment or impact.

  1. Personal Enrichment: Explain how these activities have contributed to your personal development. What skills or insights have you gained?

  1. Depth and Insight: Go beyond a mere listing of activities. Delve into why these activities are meaningful to you and how they shape your worldview.


NSEAD’s Holistic Admissions Approach

Finally, a note about INSEAD’s holistic admissions approach. They take this very (!!) seriously, so make sure that your essay shows lots of different aspects of your life and passions. Their admissions process is multifaceted and seeks to understand applicants as individuals, assess their fit with the program, and look beyond mere test scores or

professional achievements. This approach is about uncovering the person behind

the application. As such, keep these things in mind:

  1. Understanding the Individual: INSEAD aims to grasp the entirety of an applicant’s journey, including their personal experiences, values, and motivations. This understanding allows the admissions committee to see how applicants have evolved over time and how they respond to challenges and opportunities.

  1. Assessing Fit: Fit is about more than academic ability. It’s about how an applicant’s aspirations, personality, and values align with INSEAD’s culture and ethos. The school looks for evidence that applicants can thrive in its dynamic, diverse, and rigorous environment.

  1. Looking Beyond Clichés and Test Scores: INSEAD values uniqueness and authenticity. The admissions committee seeks applicants who can bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to the table, rather than those who fit a stereotypical mold.

  1. Comprehensive Evaluation: Every aspect of the application is important. Essays, recommendations, interviews, and academic records collectively paint a picture of the applicant. This comprehensive approach ensures a fair and thorough assessment of each candidate’s potential. They values:

* Originality is Key: Avoid clichés. Be honest and reflective about your unique

experiences. Balance professional details with personal insights.

* Diverse Profiles: INSEAD values diversity. Whether your background is in business, medicine, humanities, or the military, focus on what sets you apart.

* Personal and Professional Anecdotes: Use stories from different stages of your life to illustrate your points. Ensure these narratives are relevant and add depth to your answers.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement

graduate student writing personal statement
how is a statement of purpose and personal statement different?


         Most graduate programs require only a personal statement, but many (particularly, some of the BigTen schools) require both a personal statement AND a statement of purpose. Many applicants can find the distinction confusing, so we’re here to clear that up.

For the last 17 years, the consultants and editors at Gurufi have helped applicants earn admission into a variety of STEM, humanities, social sciences, and arts Master’s and Ph.D. programs. We are quite familiar with these kinds of finder distinctions and can help you build either (or both) a compelling personal statement or a strong statement of purpose. Although these two essays may seem similar at first glance, they serve distinct functions and require different approaches.

Statement of Purpose

Purpose and Focus

The Statement of Purpose is primarily focused on an applicant’s academic and professional aspirations. It is a forward-looking document that outlines the applicant’s research background, career goals, and how a specific graduate program aligns with these goals. A strong SOP should explain why the applicant is interested in a particular field of study and how they plan to use their graduate education to advance in that field.


At the heart of an SOP is the applicant’s research, writing, or other relevant experience and a clear explanation of how this has laid the groundwork for further studies in a particular field. This includes any relevant projects, papers, presentations, or studies the applicant has undertaken. The SOP should provide evidence of the applicant’s ability to undertake graduate-level research and their potential to contribute to the academic community. It should also articulate the applicant’s understanding of the field and how they envision contributing to it.

When working with clients, I will sometimes say, “okay, imagine that it’s 6 years from now, you’ve earned admission and are writing your thesis or dissertation. In 75 words or less, what is your thesis?” The reason is that it helps if you have a highly specific, clear, and well-tailored (more on this in a second) sense of what you aspire to study. The closer you can get to describing your intended field of study, the better.

Note that some people disagree with this strategy and they worry that this kind of specificity will make them seem either dogmatic or uncurious or limit their opportunities for admission. For reasons I lay out in this video, and will write about tomorrow, these concerns are unfounded. But, the long-story-short version is that there are ways to demonstrate breadth of thinking and curiosity while still using a specific and well-developed vision of your intellectual mission to indicate that you’d arrive to graduate school well-versed and prepared enough in the field to do high-level work.

Tailoring to Specific Programs

A key feature of the SOP is its specificity to each application or school. Applicants must customize their SOP to reflect how their goals and interests align with the particular program’s strengths, faculty expertise, and resources. This customization demonstrates the applicant’s knowledge of and fit for the program. Again, this is a topic that I’ll cover in greater depth later this week, but for now I’ll just note that if you’re applying to multiple schools that require SOPs, you can repurpose MOST of it for multiple schools and you don’t have to write a completely original document for each application.


Personal Statement


Purpose and Focus

In contrast, the Personal Statement is more narrative, personal, reflective, and introspective. It focuses on the applicant’s background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, and educational aspects, and how these experiences have shaped their decision to pursue a graduate degree. The Personal Statement is a narrative that provides a more holistic view of the applicant as an individual. If the Statement of Purpose feels more like a hybrid between your CV and a research proposal, then a Personal Statement is more like a story of your intellectual journey.


A PS often includes personal stories or anecdotes that reflect the applicant’s resilience, determination, and motivation. It might describe significant challenges or obstacles the applicant has overcome, such as financial hardships, cultural barriers, or personal adversities. The aim is to provide insight into the applicant’s character, values, and the unique perspective they will bring to the graduate program.

Importantly, these stories should explain or contextualize the reasons for your intellectual interests. The old joke is that “all research is ‘ME search’” so explain why this path resonates with you.

Overcoming Challenges

A significant aspect of the Personal Statement is highlighting how the applicant has navigated and overcome major challenges to achieve their goals. This narrative not only demonstrates resilience but also shows the applicant’s ability to thrive in challenging environments, an important quality in graduate studies.


Combination Statements

An important note: most graduate programs require only a personal statement. In that case, most of this advice doesn’t apply. Instead, if you’re sending only a single document, it needs to be a mashup of the two essay types described above. In other words, the applicant needs to weave together their personal narrative with their academic and professional aspirations. This hybrid statement should reflect both the applicant’s personal journey and their specific vision for their future in the context of the graduate program.


For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Ten Tips for Acing Your MBA Interview

At Gurufi, we focus on helping clients brainstorm, build, write, and revise powerful personal statements that move the needle on their admissions. But just because we don’t charge for the other stuff doesn’t mean we don’t give it away for free! 🙂 With that in mind, here are ten tips for nailing your MBA interview!

If there’s one part of the MBA admissions process that rattles many applicants, it’s the interview. At many schools, earning an interview is an achievement in itself, and you don’t want to fumble this important opportunity. It’s a precious opportunity to elevate above your written application and showcase your personality, aspirations, and fit for the program. The committee can see you as a fully formed person and ask you about your aspirations. Excelling in this interview requires more than just thorough preparation; it demands an understanding of nuanced interpersonal skills, research acumen, and an ability to engage genuinely and thoughtfully.

Mastering Interpersonal Skills and Politeness

The foundation of a successful MBA interview lies in getting the basic interpersonal dynamics right. Politeness and courtesy are not just niceties; they are critical indicators of your ability to navigate future professional interactions. This includes simple gestures like greeting the interviewer with a warm, confident smile, maintaining appropriate eye contact, and showing gratitude for the opportunity. These seemingly minor details can set a positive tone for the entire conversation.

If you do an in-person interview, be polite and kind to secretaries. They have remarkable sway in office settings, and a bad word from them because you couldn’t deign to be nice to someone you saw as maybe beneath you can (rightly) sink your application.

Also, afterward, be sure to send a short thank-you email to your interviewers. It shouldn’t be more than 100ish words long. I actually prefer sending a short hand-written note instead, but other people find that old-fashioned.

Research: Your Secret Weapon

One cannot overstate the importance of doing your homework on the school and the interviewer. Understanding the school’s ethos, culture, and values helps tailor your responses to align with what they are looking for in a candidate. If possible, research your interviewer’s background. This knowledge can provide valuable context during the conversation, allowing for a more personalized and engaging interaction.

Preparing Questions: Show Your Engagement

Coming prepared with thoughtful questions is a strategy often overlooked by candidates. These questions should not be generic but tailored to the specific program and its offerings. Inquiring about aspects like faculty, course structure, or specific initiatives demonstrates your genuine interest and investment in the school. It also provides an opportunity to further assess whether the program aligns with your career objectives.

Responsive and Genuine Answers

While it’s crucial to prepare for common interview questions, equally important is the ability to be responsive and genuine in your answers. Listen attentively to the questions asked and provide direct, succinct responses. This reflects your ability to process information and communicate effectively — key skills in any business setting.

Avoiding the Humble-Brag Pitfall

A common misstep in interviews is the tendency to ‘humble-brag’. It’s essential to showcase your achievements and strengths, but this should be done with humility and authenticity. Overstating accomplishments or framing them in a boastful manner can leave a negative impression. Instead, focus on sharing experiences and learnings that genuinely reflect your growth and potential.

The Virtual Interview Environment

In today’s digital age, many interviews are conducted virtually via platforms like Zoom or Skype. It’s crucial to ensure your background is clean, professional, and free of distractions. An interesting, yet appropriate background can also serve as a conversation starter. Test your equipment beforehand to avoid technical glitches and ensure good lighting and sound quality.

Practice Makes Perfect

Extensive practice is the key to confidence. Engage in mock interviews, record yourself to analyze body language and speech patterns, and seek feedback from mentors or peers. Practicing under simulated conditions can help alleviate anxiety and improve your overall performance.

You Can Do It!!!

Nailing your MBA interview is an art that balances preparation with spontaneity, professionalism with personality. It’s about demonstrating your capability and fit for the program while also assessing the school’s alignment with your goals. Remember, the interview is not just an evaluation of you — it’s a two-way street. Approach it with the right mindset, and you’ll not only impress your interviewers but also gain valuable insights into your own aspirations and potential as a future business leader.

For help with your MBA personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Acing Duke Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” Essay

Fuqua MBA application
Duke Fuqua’s ’25 Random Things’ essay requires thought and planning helps clients brainstorm, build, write, and revise their personal statements. With 17 years of industry experience, Gurufi’s Ivy League-educated consultants and editors have helped thousands of applicants earn admission to their dream schools.

         Let’s face it: most MBA admissions essays are pretty much the same: what have you done, how do you fit, what do you hope to do? While it’s obviously smart to tailor these essays to particular schools, it’s also true that once you’ve written your first personal statement, you can repurpose much of that text for subsequent schools. But Duke Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” list / essay is its own thing.

         Now, as a consultant, I love this prompt because it forces people to break through the carefully constructed “Application Self” that they deploy anytime they’re trying to sell the best version of themselves and instead embrace the discomfort of moving beyond their controlled and comfortable self-presentations. That’s why this prompt works… and why it’s so confusing and borderline terrifying.

         Here at Gurufi, we’ve had great success helping people get into Duke, and in part it’s because of the advice we provide them when constructing this list, both in terms of what to select and how to say it. So here are seven tips that you can use, including a list of potential questions to ask to help you create a strong, personal, and effective list that reflects your personality, values, and yes, quirks. Remember, rather than focusing solely on professional achievements, this prompt asks for a glimpse into the more personal and human sides of candidates. Understanding how to tackle this essay

can set you apart in the admissions process.



  1. Embrace the ‘Random’ but Keep It Relevant

The term ‘random’ may suggest that anything goes, but the best essays show a strategic selection of

facts that collectively paint a picture of who you are. Random does not mean irrelevant. Each fact should offer a fresh perspective or insight into your character, values, and how you engage with the world. Whether it’s your knack for remembering obscure facts, a passion for salsa dancing, or your experience volunteering across continents, each tidbit should add a new color to the portrait you’re presenting to the admissions committee. A good place to start is to ask three good friends: “suppose you were going to tell your mom about me. What stories about me would you include to give her a picture of who I was, what I cared about, and what I was like to be around?” These replies might give you some insights into things that people find most distinctive about your and / or what moments from your life best exemplify your personality and character.

  1. “We, Not Me.” Your Character and Team Spirit

During a recent conversation with Duke Fuqua’s Russ Morgan, he noted that the admissions staff often keep an informal tally of how many times applicants use “me” versus “we.” The idea being that Duke cares deeply about collaboration and building a dynamic and interactive community, and as such want to see whether applicants view success as mostly personal as opposed to within the context of a shared goal. As such, your essay should reflect your ability to contribute to and thrive in a collaborative and collegial environment. Rather than simply stating that you work well in a team, share anecdotes that show your collaborative spirit in action. This could include a story about a time you resolved a conflict, led a group to success under tight deadlines, or went above and beyond to support a teammate.


  1. Diversity and Cultural Competency Are Key

With a significant international student body and an emphasis on diverse perspectives, Fuqua

values cultural competency. Indeed, in recent years, the school has redoubled its efforts to make DEI a substantive part of its education. Your essay should highlight your experiences and comfort with diversity. Have you worked on global teams, navigated cross-cultural communication challenges, or learned a great deal from someone with a very different background? These stories can demonstrate your readiness to join and contribute to the diverse Fuqua community.


  1. Honesty and Vulnerability Can Be Strengths

As a whole, your essay should have balance. This means showing successes and achievements, but also including a bit of quirkiness and also a few moments where you talk about vulnerabilities or setbacks. Admission officers are well aware that no candidate is perfect, and they appreciate honesty and self-awareness. Sharing a fear, a mistake, or a lesson learned shows maturity and depth. It reassures the admissions team that you are someone who is reflective, able to grow from experiences, and relatable. Similarly, talking a bit about passions outside of work can show that you’re well-rounded and also allow you to show that you’d bring some variety and spice to the incoming class.


  1. Verbs.


In terms of writing an interesting set of random factoids, a great exercise for revision is to highlight every verb in the text. If you find that you are repeating verbs, especially “to be” (and its variants: am, was, were, are, etc.) then swap those out. Verbs show what you DID, which is ultimately the most important information in these essays. Give real attention to them.

  1. Vary the Length and Depth to Create Dynamic Rhythm

Since you have a maximum word count (750), use it strategically. Not every entry needs to be a deep

dive; some can be short and light-hearted, while others may require more explanation. A mix of lengths and tones will keep the reader engaged and offer a more complete view of your multi-faceted personality.



  1. I’m at 17, and I’m Stuck!!!


If you’re having trouble populating your list, here are some ideas that you can explore to generate additional items.


  • Regrets and Learning: Share a regret not just as a missed opportunity, but as a catalyst for future actions, showing your growth mindset and resilience.
  • Unique Skills as Superpowers: Relate a unique skill to how it has helped you in your career and personal life, showing your resourcefulness and impact on others.
  • Soft Spots and Personality: Your penchant for something unusual can reflect your creativity or unique way of seeing the world.
  • Quirks and Individuality: Your differences make you memorable. Illustrate how these quirks play into your life choices and interactions.
  • Ever got lost? Is there some city, place, or time that you remember with particular vividness? Why? What about that place or moment excites you still?
  • Pride and Accomplishments: Share what you’re proud of with an emphasis on the journey, not just the destination.
  • Desires and Motivations: Talk about something you desire, not for its material value but for what it represents in your life story.
  • First Experiences: Reflect on a ‘first’ that was a turning point or a significant learning moment.
  • Wishes and Aspirations: Connect a deep wish to your overall narrative, showing how it aligns with your life’s mission.
  • What does your family mean to you? Are you close? A parent? How has family shaped your worldview? Are you a spunky youngest child? A deal-making middle kid? A confident and assertive oldest child?
  • Nicknames and Stories: Use a nickname to introduce a story that offers insight into your character and past experiences.
  • Likes with Meaning: Explain a like or preference in a way that reveals more about your personality or values.
  • Entrepreneurial Ventures: Describe a time you made money in an unconventional way, showing your initiative and problem-solving skills.
  • Conquering Fears: Share a fear you’ve overcome, the process behind it, and what it taught you about yourself.

Remember, the point of this essay isn’t to show that you’re perfect and amazing in 25 different ways. Lean into your individuality, and for each one, ask yourself “why?” and “why is this important?” View this essay / list as a chance to stand out as an individual and showcase the unique attributes you would bring to the Fuqua community. By being thoughtful, honest, and creative, you can craft an essay that will capture the attention of the admissions committee and help pave your way into the Duke MBA program.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Stanford GSB Essay Tips

Stanford GSB MBA essays
How to earn admission into Stanford GSB helps clients brainstorm, build, write, and revise their personal statements. With 17 years of industry experience, Gurufi’s Ivy League-educated consultants and editors have helped thousands of applicants earn admission to their dream schools.


         Last year, seven of our nine clients who applied to Stanford GSB earned admission (not bad for a school with a 6% acceptance rate!), so I was happy to see that they kept the same personal statement that they’ve used the past several years. But beyond the selfish reason of not having to learn and build strategies for a new essay, I was also happy because I think that this is one of the best personal statement prompts at any school. It does a fantastic job of allowing applicants to express their strengths, shine a light on their values, and demonstrate how they fit into arguably the best business school in the world. (Hey Wharton and HBS… before you get mad, I said, “arguably!” you and about a dozen other schools also are in this discussion)

         But what does that mean for YOU? In other words, what are some strategies YOU can use to conquer these two essays? I’ll give you three tips for each of the respective essays, but before I do, I want to give three big-picture hints that apply to these two essays as a package.

  • First, it’s important to view these essays as complementary. When planning them out, almost think of them as one essay broken in two. Obviously, each needs to have its own structure, theme, and ideas, but while you should want the essays to feel connected -in terms of tone and theme- you don’t want to content or ideas to be too repetitive. If you go over something at length in Essay 1, don’t feel the need to do anything more than mention or nod at it in Essay 2.
  • Second, keep the core strengths of Stanford GSB in mind. This is a school that loves entrepreneurs; they’re not looking to train the next generation of middle managers. So, don’t be afraid to talk about the big ideas you want to conquer so long as you can ground those big ideas in substantive accomplishments and personal knowledge.
  • Lastly, perhaps more than any other school, Stanford’s prompt really is begging you to open up your soul. So think in terms of stories and experiences, and how they inform, created, or explain your values and also why these sensibilities make you a good fit for Stanford.

Okay, now to explain how we at Gurufi like to think about these two essays. First, Essay One: “What matters most to you and why?”

The mindset I’d like you to keep throughout this process is that this essay isn’t an application, it’s a journey of self-discovery and deep reflection. Now look… obviously it IS an application, but allow yourself to shift your mindset so that you’re thinking in ways that produce meaning and deeply personal stories.

  1. Delve Deep Into Self-Reflection

At its heart, this prompt asks for a narrative that transcends professional achievements and the kinds of rote clichés that litter MBA applications. It’s an invitation to introspection, a call to articulate the values and experiences that define your essence. The foundational tip here is to engage in profound self-examination. Reflect on the moments that have sculpted your character, the lessons that have crystallized your values, and the reasons why these elements have risen above all else in importance.

How can you do this? Ask friends, “what do you think seems most important to me?” Ask yourself, “what moments have been the most important to me? Why did they have such importance?” Then, sit and engage in a process of brainstorming where you just write out your ideas about this topic. You want to make sure that the value you define is clear, direct, and relates to everything else you’re going to build in this essay.

(also, a small point: many people feel the need to open their essay with “Nothing matters more to me than…” This is very middle school. Don’t do that. You can trust that the reader won’t stop reading if you don’t say it right away. In fact, two of my applicants (who were admitted last year) began their essays with framing / introductory stories and then had their “nothing matters more to me than…” at the start of Paragraph Two)

  1. Craft a Cohesive and Engaging Narrative

In other words: think in terms of stories that show you putting your most cherished value in action. Your essay must not only present your values but also weave them into a narrative that resonates with authenticity and engagement. Tell a story replete with emotion, humor, or inspiration, one that imbues your personal growth with relatable and vivid anecdotes. Remember that admissions officers seek to uncover the ‘why?’ behind your values through this conversation on paper. The effectiveness of your essay hinges on how well you translate your values into compelling life stories.

  1. Link Your Values to Your Vision

Finally, Stanford is not just looking at who you are, but who you aspire to be. Your values should not exist in a vacuum; they should propel you forward. Stanford’s mission—to change lives, organizations, and the world—should echo in your narrative. Illustrate how your values have shaped your vision and how they drive your purpose and future ambitions.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

  1. Identify Unique Aspects of Stanford GSB… But don’t turn it into a Stanford brochure

When addressing ‘Why Stanford?’, specificity is key. It’s not enough to laud the school’s prestigious reputation or vibrant location. A good question to ask when thinking about whether to mention something is, “do all top schools have this?” For instance, if you add, “the school’s use of the case method and its strong alumni connections…” could be said of any top business school. So either go deep and get more specific, or leave that out. Instead, pinpoint particular resources, opportunities, and facets of the GSB experience that align precisely with your aspirations. Show how Stanford’s distinctive offerings intertwine with your goals and how they are instrumental in your envisioned future.

But, also make sure that you don’t turn this essay into just a list of stuff you found on Stanford’s website. The easiest way to avoid this is to select just a few specific things (say, no more than 4-5) and explain their meaning and utility to you, giving specific attention to how your past would prepare you to maximally leverage these opportunities and why doing so would position you to attain your long-term goals.

  1. Exhibit Intellectual Curiosity and Problem-Solving Orientation

Stanford prizes intellectual rigor and a problem-solving mindset. To convey this, focus on the challenges you wish to tackle post-MBA and how Stanford’s curriculum, culture, and community are conducive to equipping you for these endeavors. Demonstrate a clear understanding of how the school’s academic ethos and practical opportunities serve as a catalyst for your problem-solving capabilities.


  1. Contribute to the Stanford Community

Admissions officers also want to discern what you’ll contribute to Stanford. Reflect on your unique experiences, skills, and perspectives. How will you enrich the GSB community? Articulate your potential contributions and envisage your role within the school’s tapestry, reinforcing why your presence at Stanford will be mutually beneficial.


I know that this is a lot to take in, but these are two deceptively complex prompts that require a nuanced, thoughtful, highly specific, and polished essay. These two essays, taken together, should narrate the stories of your life that reveal your deepest values and aspirations and delineate a future intertwined with Stanford GSB’s transformative education. With these tips, take the challenge head-on: reflect deeply, narrate compellingly, link values to vision, specify your reasons for choosing Stanford, demonstrate intellectual vitality, and project your contributions to the GSB community. By doing so, you’ll not only answer Stanford’s questions but also engage in an exercise of profound self-awareness. Remember, at the heart of these essays is you—your truth, your story, and your vision for a future that Stanford can help you realize.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.