I am applying for a PhD program in Computer Science. The university asks each applicant to hand in an optional personal history statement. I have detailed my research experience, career goals clearly in my statement of purpose. Hence I don't really know what I should write in a personal history statement. I am an average Asian student and do not have anything special. Any ideas on this essay?

EDIT: below is what they actually require:

The purpose of this optional essay is to get to know you as an individual and as a potential graduate student, and to understand how your background will add to the diversity of our school. Please describe how your personal background has motivated you to pursue a graduate degree. You may discuss educational, familial, cultural, socioeconomic, or personal experiences or challenges; gender identity; community services, outreach services, first-generation college status or other matters relevant to your decision to pursue graduate education. Please note that the Personal History Statement is not meant to be a general autobiography.

  • Just write about yourself and your goals. Yes, some schools will also care about "diversity" and some even might include a separate, specific diversity statement(although that seems to be more common for post-doc and professorial applications), but your personal statement doesn't need to do that. It sounds like what you have written covers what you need it to cover.
    – JoshuaZ
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 13:45
  • In the US, the "personal history" statement is usually distinct from the "statement of purpose." Most of the UCs, for example, allow or require this document
    – cag51
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 14:09
  • 1
    For that matter, you may want to edit the title to reflect this ("diversity statement" maybe?) - this is an international site and non-US folks might not have a clue what you're talking about.
    – cag51
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 14:32
  • @cag51, actually I am looking at NYU GSAS, and they have these guidelines on their website: gsas.nyu.edu/admissions/gsas-application-resource-center/…
    – Zhao
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


Don't focus overly on diversity. US universities are more than happy to have diverse faculty and student body and spend some effort to achieve it, but not every member has to be "diverse" on any scale.

More important, focus on what you are rather than on what you are not. You don't even need to mention your ethnicity, though there is a check box in which you can. Focus on the things you have done and the things you hope to do in future. Why are you highly likely to succeed at this, rather than why you are different from (some) others.

For undergraduate admissions, even such things as sports and debate club can be important. This is less so (even unimportant) for doctoral study.


Concisely and honestly.

You'll look like an idiot if you cite your love of [insert minority] or your [questionable claim] heritage or your vast experience with [sympathetic cause].

Instead, just write a brief statement that explains how you'll bring "diversity" to the program through your interests and experiences. You can also briefly mention your cultural background. The key thing is to keep this concise and not to say things that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying to a professor in person over a conversation. The common trap is to "pour your guts out" or to pander by making tenuous claims.

If this is an optional statement, you can skip it (particularly in STEM fields), but most people use this as an opportunity to "humanize" themselves by telling non-work-related stories.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .