The Career of an Art Therapist

I have always identified as an artist, but art therapy was not my original career goal. I planned to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and work in the graphic design industry. As an undergraduate art student, I devoted a significant portion of my time to community service and derived immense fulfillment from serving the homeless population. When I found the field of art therapy, it felt like something clicked into place. Art therapy was a way to connect my lifelong passion for art with my interest in community service. I volunteered as an artist in residence with an art therapy youth violence prevention program, went on to get a master’s degree, and entered the field of art therapy.

Erin Partridge with Poster

Dr. Partridge presenting her research at the conference of the American Society on Aging, March 2017

My internship and early work experiences were varied: I wanted to explore a range of settings and populations to find the right fit. Looking back on my career trajectory, what remains constant is an emphasis on art therapy as a means to connect where other forms of communication are limited or not available.

Sometimes art was actually the only shared language. I worked in a day program for older adults in Queens, New York. The elder population spoke seven different languages, and we often functioned without a translator.

Erin Partridge with client

Dr. Partridge with client

I also worked with hospitalized children. The art therapy sessions allowed children to connect in new ways; their medical and cognitive needs called out for the creativity and adaptive techniques of art therapy. I worked with a teen who painted using an adaptive brush held in his mouth and a motorized canvas he controlled through head movement sensors.

My most controversial job transition was from working with these children (a population likely to inspire “warm fuzzy” feelings) to working in a forensic state hospital with civilly committed men. I had never before encountered so many “Why are you working with them?” questions. Here too, art therapy provided a means for safe expression. So many of the individuals had had their words used against them in court or had used their words to deceive. The art they created in the therapy and leisure groups was a way for them to work on mental health and interpersonal concerns going back to their own childhoods and often over multiple generations.

I took a leap of faith by leaving that high-paying, stable government job to establish a new role for an art therapist in a nonprofit, elder-care organization. The new job represented a connection between the volunteer work I had done as an undergraduate and the formative experiences I had with older adults as an art therapy intern. My belief in the power of art therapy guided me as I expanded the breadth of my role—first working only in one community with one art class a week, to a full work week of art therapy groups for elders in four levels of care. My role expanded over the years, even during my studies in the Art Therapy Program at NDNU. I facilitated experiences for elders in all of the organization’s residential communities, and for the leadership. I also organized a large community art show around the theme of redefining stereotypes of age.

My experiences in the PhD program at NDNU reaffirmed my commitment to art therapy and art-based research as a viable and important way to understand and operate within the world around us. When I entered the doctoral program, I knew I would be transforming my professional practice and developing as a researcher. What I did not realize was how much I would grow as a human being.

One moment that stands out from my studies at NDNU was the individual practicum process. The class structured time to develop a plan. I created a series of workshops in my art studio geared toward supporting the educational and self-care needs of professionals. The professors and the class process also gave me confidence to imagine and propose a new role for myself at work. They continue to mentor me as I transition into work beyond the traditional clinical setting.

When I completed my research and earned my PhD, I moved into a new role at work. My current title is Experiential Researcher-In-Residence. I am continuing my inquiry process with the elders, supporting student researchers, and establishing a community of practice for our staff based on collaboration and creativity. It is so exciting to use my skills in art therapy and research to shape the work we do with older adults. Each day, I wake up excited to go to work, excited to engage in creative practice with my coworkers, the elders, and the community. I am so grateful to have found my perfect match in the field of art therapy.

For information about graduate study in Art Therapy at NDNU please visit the webpage of the MA or the PhD program.


The Zen of Education: Meditation at Notre Dame de Namur University

College students are under a lot of pressure to finish school in a tight four years, maintain enough extracurriculars to build a Johnny Bravo-buff resume, and live the kind of social life only seen in movies.

Samantha Rupel, NDNU student

Samantha Rupel, NDNU student

My first semester at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), I took the course Mindful Meditation with Amy Jobin. I hoped it would help ease me into my heavy workload. I had some vague familiarity with the practice of meditation, but I had never committed to sitting down Yoda-style with any consistency to see if it could help me reduce stress. In articles and on various websites, I kept reading how meditation practices produced the same striking list of results:

  • Improvements in concentration and attention
  • Improvement in focus under pressure
  • Improvements in academic achievement
  • Increase in self-awareness and overall emotional well-being
  • Improvements in sleep quality

NDNU has been adding mindful meditation events and resources to encourage students to take care of themselves, actively reducing their stress and anxiety using meditation. The university now offers the Mindful Meditation course, Freshman Seminar professors have been incorporating mindful breathing into the curriculum, and the campus’s Virtual Reality (VR) Lab is providing guided meditation.

Mindful Meditation is a one-unit course with Amy Jobin, who teaches students the history of meditation and traditional practices, as well as the application of mindful living. Students learn both seated and walking meditation, and can choose which they prefer to practice throughout the semester. This intimate course is not more than 10 students, making for interesting, open-floor conversations during class meetings. The class provides a good working knowledge of meditation, and helps students form a simple routine to maintain the habit.

Patti Andrews wears many hats at NDNU. She is the Student Success Center program director, Freshman Seminar director, and a history and political science professor. She incorporated more mindful meditation and mindful breathing exercises into the Freshman Seminar after discovering that an assignment to “hang out with a tree” became an unprompted habit for stressed-out students. This encouraged her to start incorporating mindful breathing into the beginning of her evening history courses: “When I see that students need to focus their energy, I might do a two-to-three minute guided meditation. Students really like it and get excited when they know it’s coming.” She watches her students giddily straighten up, folding their hands in their laps to get ready to relax and focus their energy before they dive into class.

The VR Lab offers a mindful meditation program where you can step into a fluorescent-lit room; pull on the squishy, padded visor with audio ear covers; and all of your surroundings disappear. You are dropped into one of five peaceful places of your choosing, like a Toy Story alien being chosen by The Claw to go on to a better place. The program is simple, it takes you to a quiet place and begins to guide your breathing using visual cues. The program is long enough to bring you to a calm state of mind without being so long that you are more stressed about losing valuable work time.

For me, meditation is a short and sweet way to maintain sanity through college and beyond. Notre Dame de Namur University has realized the effectiveness of meditation programs and is increasing access to these offerings for students, using yoga, seed-saving workshops, and guided meditation with live acoustic guitar. Students receive notification of these events through the Student Weekly Update from the Marketing and Communications Department.

As for the list of positive effects of meditation, I do find myself more focused and relaxed under pressure academically and personally. However, my sleep quality is not as high as promised. I thank the mindful meditation course and I blame my nocturnal, energetic cats.

Samantha Rupel is a senior in the Communication Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is currently an Intern with the Marketing and Communications Department and enjoys writing sassy blogs for her patient and understanding university.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page.

For International Students: Learning Styles at Universities in the U.S.A.

Teaching styles in the United States are different than in other countries. Your unique thoughts and ideas count in the U.S. Professors here accept a variety of opinions. In other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, for example, where I come from, respecting instructors and their way of teaching is more important than anything else. Here in the U.S., you get to experience learning from another perspective.

Samah Damanhoori

Teamwork/study groups

Universities in the U.S. appreciate teamwork. In many classes, it is essential for students to get the best out of their program. Teachers and students sometimes work on projects together, discussing and sharing ideas and opinions.

In Saudi Arabia, teamwork was based on dividing students into groups of four to five students. Usually, teamwork is all about getting high grades, and not for the sake of the projects. Instructors would give the students projects that had been already done, so the teachers would not expect much originality.

Class discussions

In the U.S., talking and discussing are a must in seminar classes. Professors welcome and are glad to hear students’ opinions and to learn more about students’ perspectives.

When I first started classes here, I was very quiet. I was a listener more than a talker.  The teachers were so open. I remember the first time I spoke after weeks of being silent: the professor was very happy and supportive of my point of view. She made me feel that my opinion is important.

Share your opinion/your opinion matters

If a thought comes to mind, you can say it out loud in a U.S. class. Where I come from, you ask permission to talk and you have to give an opinion that is considered correct. Here at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), I share my opinion freely, which has also helped me in gaining confidence outside of class.

Learning more than memorizing

U.S. universities focus on the learning experience rather than memorizing a lecture. Professors here are trained to show you the way to blossom. They focus on you as an individual and on how much you understand; the teachers evaluate themselves based on the students’ understanding.

Adding variety to the classroom

In the United States, you are a new color added to the rainbow in the class. For the most part, U.S. universities welcome international students with open hearts. U.S. students are often thrilled to learn about your culture, knowledge, and perspectives. If you land in the right place, you will feel that you are living in your second home.

Use the library

I come from a country where libraries are only for men. Coming here and being able to have access to libraries whenever I wanted was overwhelming! I can use a variety of materials, from research papers, to books, to encyclopedias, and more. I can go to the library for my classes or for pleasure.

Study groups

Study groups are a gathering of students who meet regularly to work together and explore a topic or class. They are usually classmates or they share the same major. Sometimes the study group is based on the students’ interest. Study groups can help students understand and explore lectures. It’s a way to keep students on track and help them do their homework successfully.

Professors’ office hours

Office hours are a time when a student can have a one-to-one meeting with a professor. They are a useful way for students to ask questions about a lecture or a reading assignment, brainstorm about topics for a paper or a project, or just to pose questions that arise during a course.

Though it may seem intimidating at first to meet with a professor one-on-one, office hours are an important chance to benefit from an instructor’s knowledge and to network about educational and professional opportunities that the professor may suggest.

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

Experiences as a Transfer Student: Notre Dame de Namur University Edition

When I got into Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), I was so happy I ugly cried on the phone with my transfer counselor. He was talking me through the details of transferring, but everything he said was muffled by my joy, like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher. NDNU had the Communication program I wanted most, with the student services I have grown to value so highly.

Samantha Rupel, NDNU transfer student

The application process alone with other schools was traumatizing, I could never get ahold of anyone for help with my paperwork or arrange a meeting longer than five minutes to discuss the details of my transfer application. When I applied to NDNU, I got a call from my admissions counselor letting me know when my application was being reviewed, and again at each step moving forward. My hand was held all the way through the transfer process, and I always had a quick response whenever I got nervous.

This experience convinced me that a small university was the right choice for me in finishing the last two years of my education. I signed my commitment forms on Argo Day (NDNU’s welcome day for admitted students), got my Polaroid picture taken with the NDNU Argonaut mascot, received my first NDNU T-shirt, and spoke with some students who would soon be my peers in the Communication Department.

When I got through the bureaucracy and into the school, I was assigned a guidance counselor, Leah Ferrari, to help lay out my two-year plan for graduation. She is incredibly attentive and careful with the details to ensure there is plenty of time and wiggle room for each of her students. This makes me feel looked after and comfortable to enjoy my top-of-the-line education, while trusting her to make sure I’m taking all the classes I need.

Brooke Becton’s transfer experience led her to be a transfer ambassador for NDNU’s Office of Admissions. “If you’re thinking about transferring, then take the next steps,” she says. “Also, if there are ever any doubts or questions during the transfer process, don’t be afraid to reach out to the counselors because they are great resources.”

NDNU promises to look at the applicant as a whole, and not just as a set of statistics, and they keep their promise. I transferred in with a 2.6 GPA, thinking I didn’t have a chance anywhere because no school would look beyond my below-average number. The people in the Admissions Office listened to me, they read what I wrote, and they took a leap of faith that would lead to my current 4.0 GPA.

Samantha Rupel is a senior in the Communication Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is currently an intern with the Marketing and Communications Department and enjoys writing sassy blogs for her patient and understanding university.

For information on transfering to Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the Transfer Admission page.

For International Students: Required Tests for Applying to U.S. Universities

Most U.S. universities require certain tests scores for applications from international students. The most important factors in meeting these requirements are time management and completing the required tests in a way that strengthens your application.

Time Management: plan ahead for test deadlines

Samah Damanhoori Notre Dame de Namur University student

Samah Damanhoori

U.S. university websites list the documents and test scores required for each major. For example, symptoms when I was applying for a master’s degree in creative writing, nurse universities were asking for a personal statement, a writing sample, and an English proficiency test. Studying and preparing for an English proficiency exam might take up to three or four months, so plan ahead.

What test scores are required for admission?

Required test scores vary significantly depending on the university. For example, a leading science and technology university in the U.S. requires a score of 90 or higher on the TOEFL exam even if you are applying for an undergraduate science major, while one private liberal arts college in the West requires scores in the range of 65–80 or higher on the TOEFL exam if you are applying for an English program.

English proficiency tests

An English proficiency exam is required for most international students whether you are applying for an undergraduate or a graduate program. Exceptions are often made for students who come from countries where English is one of the national languages, or for students who have attended English-language universities in the past. See the university’s website for details.

The most frequently required English proficiency exams are TOEFL and IELTS. If you are applying for an undergraduate program, usually the minimum required score is between 50–100 on the TOEFL exam or 4.0–5.0 on the IELTS exam. And if you are applying for graduate programs, usually the required test score is between 60–100 in TOEFL or 5.5–7.0 in IELTS. See the university’s website for details.

Some universities accept other exams, including TOEFL PBT  or PTE.

Which English proficiency test should I take?

First, you need to know which test you’re likely to do better on. For example, when I was applying to universities, I was hoping to get a score of 90 in TOEFL or 7.0 in IELTS. Initially I thought that the IELTS exam would be easier for me because the topics were not as academic. I tried the IELTS so many times, but I was not able to achieve the score I needed to apply. I actually found the the general topics on the IELTS exam difficult because they didn’t relate to my preparation for the test. For me, personally, the speaking and writing parts of the TOEFL exam ended up being easier, because the topics were more limited, predictable, and similar to what I had studied for the exam. I was able to score 95 on the TOEFL, a score that allowed me to submit a competitive application for the campus I wanted to attend, Notre Dame de Namur University.

In order to decide which language proficiency exam works best for you, try to take at least one practice test for both exams. Study for each before you take the test. Choose the test that works best for you. If you don’t get the score that you were hoping for the first time, don’t feel discouraged. That is a common experience. It often takes more than one try to get the test score you are aiming for.

How should I prepare for the English proficiency test?

In addition to taking practice tests, in the weeks before the exam, you might want to immerse yourself in English-language materials. For example, I read books in English, such as Everything You Need to Know about Science. I also read newspapers online: the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. When I saw a word I didn’t understand, I looked it up and memorized it. I also listened to songs in English that inspired me, such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and “What a Wonderful World,”

The night before the actual test, make sure to go to bed early. The day of the actual exam, eat a good breakfast and use the restroom before the test starts.

Required tests for freshman (undergraduate) admission

SAT and ACT tests: colleges and universities use these for admissions and merit-based scholarships .

These tests are both designed to meet the exam requirement for undergraduate admissions, but they are different. As with the TOEFL and the IELTS tests, you might want to take a practice test for both and see which one you score higher on. Most universities accept either one, but make sure to check the university’s website for details.

Requirements for international transfer students

For international transfer students, universities will usually ask for an ACT or SAT exam, English Proficiency test, and credit hours.

Required tests for graduate programs

Students applying for graduate programs in the U.S. are often required to take the GMAT or the GRE exam. See the university’s website for details. To study for theses exams, you need time and patience. There are both free and paid websites that can help you prepare for these tests. Some of the sites offer free tests, such as Khan Academy , Magoosh, and others.

Setting a test date

You need to plan ahead to set a test date. Usually you have to plan at least two weeks in advance, so you might want to register for an exam while preparing for it. Getting the results may take up to ten days.

Managing your budget

Exams cost a good deal of money and you might need to take an exam more than once, so budget for multiple tests.


Whatever your academic and career goals, taking the required test(s) is a necessary hurdle in applying to a U.S. university. If managed correctly, these tests do not present an insurmountable obstacle to an international student who is willing to do the work to prepare well for the exams.

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s degree student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

Jon Black Receives City of Belmont 2017 NDNU Student Community Service Award

Jon Black is both the associate director of admissions and the head coach of the lacrosse team at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU). This year he also finished a master’s in business administration degree at NDNU and was selected as the annual NDNU graduate to receive the City of Belmont Community Service and Leadership Award. Mayor Charles Stone of Belmont presented Jon Black with a plaque at the NDNU Commencement on May 6, 2017, and then issued a proclamation honoring Jon at the City Council meeting on May 9.

Jon Black Accepts Award

Jon Black accepts NDNU Community Service Award from Mayor Charles Stone

During Jon Black’s four-year tenure as associate coach and then head coach, he has personally volunteered for many causes. He has also inspired the entire lacrosse team to perform many thousands of hours of community service. Under Jon’s leadership, the team has raised close to $20,000 for a variety of charities. Lacrosse athletes have collected funds to fight childhood cancer through the Vs. Cancer Foundation. With the cross-country team and the Office of Spirituality, they have organized a 5K “NicaArgo” race on campus to help fund services to children with special needs and their families in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. The project is directed by Sister Rebecca Trujillo of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

The lacrosse team’s community engagement work is often done in a playful spirit. They played a game in pink uniforms to promote breast cancer awareness. The team helped stage Halloween in the Tenderloin for kids in one of San Francisco’s most troubled neighborhoods. At one lacrosse game, Jon challenged the team to make shots from half-court at halftime and offered to donate $100 to the American Cancer Society for each goal. “They made a lot of shots!” he remembers.

In addition to completing an MBA at NDNU, Jon Black earned his undergraduate degree at the university. “I didn’t know I was going to NDNU until two weeks before freshman year started, when a coach from the university saw me playing lacrosse in a club game,” he recalls. “As associate director of admissions I have a soft spot for students who end up registering close to the beginning of their first semester.”

Since 2004, Jon has spent much of his time at NDNU, either as a student, a staff member, or coach. “I really love the mission of the university. NDNU emphasizes being a global citizen and helping the local community. That speaks to me.”

Jon also likes the challenge of working in admissions: “I enjoy being able to make an impact in a prospective student’s life. In the Admissions Office, we develop a relationship with prospective students, and we like seeing them around NDNU once they get here. There’s a feeling of community that radiates throughout campus.”

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the Admissions page.

NDNU Alum Wais Abdiani Manages Finances for the Design and Construction of the New Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford

Wais Abdiani, who earned his MBA from Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) in 2009, is the program finance manager for the new state-of-the art Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, scheduled to open in December 2017.

Wais Abdiani

Wais Abdiani, MBA

More than doubling the facility’s original size, the new building for Packard Children’s Hospital will be the most technologically advanced, family-friendly, and environmentally sustainable hospital for children and expectant mothers in the nation.

“I’m excited to go to work every day to help with the construction of a hospital that will break new ground in many ways,” says Wais. The hospital is technologically advanced in its use of hybrid operating rooms equipped to take x-rays while a patient is in surgery, and it’s family friendly in providing homey private suites with accommodations for up to two relatives, as well as showers and kitchens. Wolf in gardenThe design is a work of art, filled with nature-themed play spaces, gardens, and artwork, and a cafeteria with a wood-burning pizza oven and local organic food.

The hospital offers activities for both patients and their siblings, from a video broadcast studio to a digital interactive wall where children use their body movements to engage with an educational nature story on the screen.

Fish mosaic

Fish mosaic in hospital lobby

“To outfit the new hospital involved the purchase of over 15,000 pieces of medical equipment and 4,700 pieces of furniture, among many other items,” Wais recounts. “What motivates me to do this work is knowing that children with the greatest medical challenges will come here and receive the best possible treatment.” The hospital is also environmentally friendly, including a wind turbine, and a cistern to collect rainwater for the gardens. “We used recycled wood and steel for many of the building components,” Wais describes.

Wais in lobby

Wais Abdiani in lobby of new hospital, under construction

Wais was born in a refugee camp and emigrated to the United States with his family at a young age. After earning a bachelor’s degree, Wais was able to enter the MBA program at NDNU with the help of financial aid. “Attending the MBA at NDNU was one of the best things that ever happened to me,“ he recalls. “The professors took an interest and encouraged me. At NDNU I took classes that offered project management skills I immediately applied to my work. The university also provided an atmosphere of compassion and harmony.”

Wais laments the current stigma that is often attached to refugees: “Refugees come to the United States to seek a safe haven from war, embrace Western values, raise families, and work hard to give back to this great country.”

For general information about Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the website. For information about earning an MBA at NDNU, please visit the program’s webpage.

Life as a Commuter Student at Notre Dame de Namur University

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m more than familiar with Silicon Valley heavy traffic. Now, I live in Santa Clara, California, and commute to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) in Belmont. While the trip is only 40 minutes in a car with no traffic, it can be more than an hour during peak times. Drivers can be angry and aggressive, and your Spotify playlist can only help you so much. I need a way to stay sane. Nobody wants to arrive on campus already pulling out her hair.

Student commuter Samantha Rupel

NDNU commuter student Samantha Rupel

I prefer to ride my bike in the morning—the cool air is a refreshing way to wake up—but I am not about to ride 25 miles to the Belmont campus and 25 miles home. Riding to the Sunnyvale train station is only four miles and saves me a few bucks cutting out an extra zone and then it’s only a mile up Ralston Avenue to our wooded little campus.

I love taking Caltrain—I think it’s relaxing. You get to chat with fellow commuters about the latest Cirque du Soleil show, read a book, listen to music, stare out the window, drink your coffee, and snack on a cheese danish without worrying about running into the car in front of you or getting pulled over.

I am a procrastinator, so I often work on my homework on the train. I can download my Google Doc and pop my headphones in, or crack open a book. I only carry the small ones on the train, though—nobody wants to carry a textbook around all day. Especially when you are already carrying your lunch and dinner, your laptop, a sweater, water bottle, coffee mug, purse, chargers, etc.

If your class schedule isn’t as smooth as Morgan Freeman’s voice, there are multiple places to set up shop in or near campus. On campus, there’s the commuter lounge and the library. If you’re looking for an off-campus coffee house vibe, Peets is right down Ralston Avenue from NDNU, you can grab a cup of joe or tea (If you are a friend of Queen Elizabeth). If you have a long break and you want to grab a pint at Fieldwork, they have a very cute outdoor area with a bocce court, picnic tables, amazing food, and quality wifi only two miles from campus.

In short, the life of a commuter student can provide exercise and entertainment, and it doesn’t necessarily involve traffic jams.

Samantha Rupel is a senior in the Communication Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is currently an intern with the Marketing and Communications Department and enjoys writing sassy blogs for her patient and understanding university.

For information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit the Admissions page.

Writing a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement for U.S. Universities

Samah Damanhoori

A personal statement or a statement of purpose is a key part of your application to a university in the United States. Your statement helps distinguish you from other candidates and paints a portrait of you as a person. Most U.S. universities evaluate candidates as a whole. They ask not only for test scores and grades, but also for information about you. They want your statement to reflect your academic career, your personal experiences, and your motivation for studying the major you are applying for.

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose

There is a difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. For undergraduate applicants, universities usually ask for a personal statement where you can write about individual experiences, such as the influence that a relative had on you, or a particular set of events that shaped you. A personal statement can be highly individual, and it can be an opportunity to think about and discuss the surroundings and circumstances that formed your interests. You can talk about challenges that you have faced, how you were able to overcome them, and what you have learned from them.

The statement of purpose is usually for graduate programs, where reviewers aren’t as concerned about personal matters. They are more interested in your reasons for choosing the major you are applying for and your experience in that field. In a statement of purpose, you should avoid mentioning experiences that are not related to your choice of major. You can also discuss the reasons you want to get a degree in higher education and what motivates you. Also, you should include information about why you are applying to this particular university and program and which professors you would like to study with.

A key question for a statement of purpose is: Why do you want to study in the program you applied for? You need to have a clear answer to this and to be confident about your response.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose


  • Be yourself. Don’t exaggerate.
  • Apply for the major that you really want.
  • Be honest; tell the truth about your interests.
  • Make a case for yourself. Why should this university should pick you?
  • Highlight what is unique about you.
  • Read your statement out loud. It will help you find grammatical mistakes and errors in logic.
  • Have a second reader. Ask your teacher at school or someone who is familiar with these types of essays to read it.


  • Make up information—stick to the facts
  • Copy anyone else’s personal statement—plagiarism is wrong and plagiarism detection software is commonly in use
  • List your scores or your grades already covered elsewhere on the application
  • Be dramatic just in order to be remembered—universities are interested in your academics skills and what you have done to acquire those skills
  • Copy and paste the same personal statement to all the universities you are applying for—each university has its own questions, prompts, or requirements

Case Study of a Personal Statement

Female applicant from Saudi Arabia
Successful applicant for a master’s degree program in economics

“Writing a personal statement did not come easy to me. The very idea of it scared me. I went to an English-language school in my country to talk to a teacher and asked if she would help me with the editing.To write a first draft of the statement, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and read several articles on the subject. The most difficult part for me was to show the ways in which I am unique. I wasn’t sure whether my accomplishments were important or impressive enough to be distinctive. But I knew that I had worked hard to prepare for this program, and that gave me the confidence to write the statement.

“First I composed a collection of paragraphs. Then I took what I had written to the teacher and asked her to cross out sentences that were either not as well written or didn’t fit the topic.

“If I had to do it over, I would start writing earlier. I would have done better and I would have had time to do more revisions. I would suggest seeking help from classmates and instructors who can give you feedback on how to edit your drafts.”

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s degree student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.

For International Students: Choosing a University in the United States

Applying for universities in North America can be confusing. There are hundreds of higher education institutions in the United States. When searching for a university in the U.S., here you might want to keep several factors in mind.

  • Leave time to complete your application
Samah photo

Samah Damanhoori

Applying for a U.S. university is a long process that begins with finding the right school, advice getting accepted, and starting your classes. Usually for universities in the United States., it takes three to four months to apply, take the required tests, and submit your application. For example, when I was applying for my master’s degree, I started looking for schools six months before the spring semester when I began classes. If you are applying for admission as a first-year student for a bachelor’s degree, you will typically want to start the process at least a year in advance.

  • Search for programs and topics of interest

To search for universities that are a good fit for you, look for ones that offer the subject you want to study. What was your favorite class at school? What are your career goals? For instance, when I was searching for programs that offered a master’s degree in English, I was also looking for a program that offered creative writing as a minor.

  • Narrow your search

Class size

At large universities, classrooms can hold as many as a thousand students.  The advantages of big schools are that students can learn how to thrive in a competitive atmosphere and have exposure to more people with varying ideas and backgrounds. Larger universities also offer more courses of study and more classes.

At smaller universities, on the other hand, students have more opportunities to ask questions, contribute to discussions, and get to know their professors. In my experience, I preferred smaller class sizes because I wanted more attention and focus from my professors, since writing was my passion and writing requires this kind of attention.


The location of the university is another important criterion to narrow your search.  Do you plan to go back to your home country often? How close is the university to an international airport, and to your home country? How is the weather where the university is located? Is it too hot or cold? How do you feel about snow?

You might want to consider if the university is in an urban or a rural area. Is it near a city? Is there is a beach close by? Or hiking areas? When I was searching for universities, I was looking for colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. I liked that the Bay Area’s weather is nice year-round, and it doesn’t snow in winter. The Bay Area has two major cities, San Francisco and San Jose. The school I applied to, Notre Dame de Namur University, is only half an hour commute to both cities, as the university is in the middle. The campus is also near three international airports. I like hiking and going to the beach, so it appealed to me that the university is close to scenic trails and the ocean.

For other students or applicants, location might not be as important as a particular area of study. For example, if you wanted to study veterinary medicine, you would probably select a school based on whether they offered this major: location might be a less important factor.

Safety and the community

The question of safety is another way to narrow your search, and it can be an important factor in choosing a university for international students. In a time like this, you might want to look for universities and communities that are welcoming to international students. When searching for a university, make sure that the university has a significant community of international students. Certain cities and states in the United States are more diverse and have larger populations of international students.

Find out about the international student community on campus

Contact the university admissions office. U.S. universities are very fast in replying via email or phone, and are usually very professional. In my country, Saudi Arabia, it is customary to make an initial contact with the campus in person rather than contacting them through email or calls, but in the U.S., it is the opposite. You can email the admissions office with questions like these:

  • Can I connect with one of the international students on campus?
  • How many international students does the university have?
  • Is there public transportation that is convenient to campus?

Visit the campus

Visiting the campus is another way to experience the vibe and the students’ life. Many universities have ways you can stay overnight and shadow a student to get a close-up look at the university. Visiting a campus also provides an opportunity to interview in person, which could improve your chances of admission. However, most universities do not require in-person interviews for international students.


After the process of narrowing down your choices, you will probably be left with only a few U.S. universities that you are seriously considering. Once you’ve picked the universities you want to apply to, you are ready to fill out the applications. I hope to discuss this in my next blog.

Samah Damanhoori is a second-year master’s student in the English Department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She is also an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department. Samah is working on various writing projects, and a short story she wrote is being made into an animated short movie.

For more information on applying to Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), please visit the admissions page. Information on international students at NDNU is here.