Recommended Posts

Hi. I'm planning to apply to clinical psychology PhD programs soon for Fall 2018 and I've decided to start on my personal statements. However, UC Berkeley's prompt (or rather multiple prompts) has me confused.


On the psychology department's Application Instructions page and Berkeley's general Writing a Personal Statement page, it says to write a personal statement about...

  • How you have overcome barriers to access in higher education.
  • Evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others.
  • Evidence of 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.
  • Evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality.
  • Evidence of your leadership among underserved populations.


However, the psychology department also has the FAQ - General Admissions page, which says...

The personal history statement should discuss how your personal background influences your decision to pursue a graduate degree in psychology. For example, please include information on how you have overcome barriers; evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically under represented in higher education; evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups. Some questions to consider are:

  • What hardships have you overcome?
  • What have been your successes?
  • What obstacles came up?  Show how you persevered.
  • How did you become interested in psychology?
  • Were you in some way different from the majority of students in your class?
  • Was your family supportive in your decision to choose psychology as a career field?
  • Were you influenced by your parents’ education and career?
  • Were you in a single parent family?
  • Was much of your time spent taking care of your siblings?
  • Did you work while going to school?
  • Is psychology a common career field for people of your cultural background?

Question 1: Which prompt do I write about?

I will admit that I am a white, privileged person whose life has been financially stable. I have ideas about what I would write about if I chose the first prompt (working in a hospital + growing up in a racially diverse area), but they will pale in comparison with the statements of other applicants who have essays that are closer to home. I feel like I could write a better essay if I chose the second prompt (enduring and overcoming the consequences of a natural disaster), but I feel like that's a cop-out. I know Berkeley wants diverse applicants and I shouldn't beat around the bush. Also, when they say "What hardships have you overcome?", do they mean hardships exclusively concerning diversity/underrepresented groups, or would it be inappropriate to write about a natural disaster? 

Question 2: Where do I put my interest in psychology: the PS or the SoP?

If you look at the FAQ - General Admissions page, it says to answer "What sparked your interest in psychology?" in your Statement of Purpose and to answer "How did you become interested in psychology?" I have a good story to tell about how I got interested in psychology, but I don't want to repeat myself. Do I answer in both statements? Maybe give a more lengthy answer in my SoP and briefly mention it in my PS? Can I assume that the AdComm will read one statement before the other so I could treat the two statements like two pieces of a longer work?

Thank you for getting this far and reading my wall of text :rolleyes:

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

For things like this, my advice is generally to follow the instructions that are the most closely related to the people reading your essays. So, to me, this means the second set of prompts makes more sense, as it is written by your department. That said, the first set of prompts is also consistent with what people expect when reading personal statements. If you compare the first set of prompts to other PS-like prompts around the country, you'll find a lot of similarities, I think. Therefore, I think you can also write about some of that stuff in your PS. Note that the second set says "some questions to consider are...", and does not expect you to answer all of them or limit yourself to only these questions.

By design, this section is supposed to be very free form. You're not going to repeat the prompt at the top of your essay or anything like that. You should just write. Ensure that you meet some of the ideas from the second set of prompts but feel free to also include your experience from the first set of prompts as well. This and many other grad school essays will be free-form, you're meant to interpret the prompt as the set of themes you should write about and then produce something that satisfies that need, rather than to answer a specific list of questions.

For what it's worth, when I applied to Berkeley (in a different department), my department's prompt had stuff from both of your "first set" and "second set" of prompts. Actually, upon further reading, the second set of prompt begins with a paragraph that discusses the same ideas presented in the first set of prompts. So, I would really advise you to consider all the questions you see as things you should touch on while writing this essya.

To your other questions, yes, I think you should write about your disaster experience, but be sure to relate that to your graduate career in some way. That is, what did you learn from this experience that would make you a good colleague in the department? And as I wrote above, don't write the entire essay for Berkeley only on this experience, include your original ideas for the first set of prompts too.

You can expect the committee to review both your SOP and PS but you should not expect them to have read them in depth, to have read them in any particular order, or even to have read them in the same sitting. You can't predict how your admissions committee is going to read your application. Some people might just skim the 100s of essays they receive and look for interesting things (whatever that means to them) and others might only go back to review an essay in depth once your application makes it past some first cut, or maybe another committee member mentions something about your package and they go back to look at that part.

Therefore, I would advise you to ensure each essay is a standalone document. Don't refer to something you wrote in another essay. At the same time, don't repeat things too much. So, when you want to tell your story in each of the two essays, only tell the details that directly lead to whatever point you want to make. Don't tell a story just for the sake of telling a story.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this