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Personal History Statement (PHS) | 3 min read

• Personal History Statement is required in some graduate programs.
• Personal History Statement should have the answer to the question: Who are you?
• The admission committees look for your attitude which isn't shown on the Statement of Purpose.

Some graduate schools require applicants to submit the Personal History Statement (PHS) as well as the Statement of Purpose (SOP). For example, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of California at Irvine in the U.S. are the case in point.

Difference between SOP and PHS

The SOP should focus on your study objective and research plan whereas the PHS describes more of your personal aspects - values you stick to, your character, and earnestness - who you are. That they ask for PHS indicates that the admission committees would put emphasis on your attitude as well as your academic achievements and research excellence.

In other words, the PHS should contain the answers to this ultimate question: “Who are you?”. The readers might figure out who you are from the SOP and CV but it illustrates mainly about the studies and academics. So it might be hard to identify who you are, which background you have, where you’ve grown up, and etc. That’s why the admission committees ask for the PHS to read the narratives from the applicants themselves.

What should be incorporated in the PHS

As aforementioned, there needs to be an answer to the question of who you are. Some graduate programs give suggestions in their applications. Let’s see the case of the University of California at Berkeley below.

The Personal History Statement is required from all applicants. Please note that the Personal History Statement should not duplicate the Statement of Purpose.

Please describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. In this section, you may also include any relevant information on the following:

• How you have overcome barriers to access higher education
• How you have come to understand the barriers faced by others
• Your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women racial minorities and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education
• Your research focusing on underrepresented populations or related issues of inequality
• Your leadership among such groups

Make sure to check on the appropriate departmental website to find out if your statement should include additional or more specific information.

As referred to in the introduction of UCLA above, some programs ask specific questions to include in your PHS. That shows that the core of the PHS writing is to have personal narratives as a future researcher. You might explain the barriers/circumstances you had experienced before, related to the studies. It could be the finances, health, and other difficulties but keep in mind that it should be compelling.

Overall, you should describe what has formed you through the growing up process, maybe chronologically from childhood to the university. You might write about the social issues, topics, and stories you’re interested in. If you have any incidents which made your value transformed, deal with them. Elaborate from the details might be easier to describe who you are, and it might be more impressive than just plain writing. I know that doesn’t happen that often but you need to think deeply about yourself and how to market your potential.

The university and graduate schools would like to embrace diversity. Because the future ahead of the alumni and current students would be more complicated in an advanced society. That the students learn how to respect others from different backgrounds and social status from the university would definitely affect their life after. The admission committees would see the potentials in applicants who are likely to spread the positive influences in the society and that’s what they expect from the PHS.

The Steps of Applying to Graduate Schools will be more discussed in the continued articles.

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