The personal statement generally falls into one of two categories:
- The general, comprehensive personal statement:
- This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
- The response to very specific questions:
- Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field, and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- What personal characteristics and skills (leadership, integrity, compassion, persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate who is more successful in the field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
1. Answer the questions that are asked
If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar, but don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. Answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, write separate statements.
2. Tell a story
Demonstrate through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack and making yourself memorable.
3. Be specific
Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement.
4. Find an angle
If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding a unique angle or “hook” is vital.
5. Concentrate on your opening paragraph
The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. It becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
6. Tell what you know
Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be specific and relate what you know about the field in the language professionals use. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. When you are selecting experiences, be sure to consider the appropriateness of this content.
7. Consider the Appropriateness of Content
There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political views).
8. Do some research, if needed
If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. Consider factors such as the schools research focus, reputation, how the program matches with your career goals, etc.
9. Write well and correctly
Be meticulous. Type your essay and proofread it multiple times. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
10. Avoid clichés
A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated statements.
Rules to Consider When Writing a Personal Statement
- Strive for depth rather than breadth. Narrow focus to one or two key themes, ideas or experiences
- Try to tell the reader something that no other applicant will be able to say
- Provide the reader with insight into what drives you
- Be yourself, not the 'ideal' applicant
- Get creative and imaginative in the opening remarks, but make sure it's something that no one else could write
- Address the school's unique features that interest you, including professors
- Focus on the affirmative in the personal statement; consider an addendum to explain deficiencies or blemishes
- Evaluate experiences, rather than describe them
- Proofread carefully for grammar, syntax, punctuation, word usage, and style
- Use readable fonts, typeface, and conventional spacing and margins
Pitfalls to Consider When Writing a Personal Statement
- Do not restate your resume
- Do not complain or whine about the "system" or circumstances in your life
- Do not preach to your reader. You can express opinions, but do not come across as fanatical or extreme
- Do not talk about money as a motivator
- Do not discuss your minority status or disadvantaged background unless you have a compelling and unique story that relates to it
- Do not solely discuss the schools rankings
- Do not use boring clichéd intros or conclusions:
- "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is..."
- T"his question asks me to discuss..."
- "I would like to thank the admissions committee for considering my application."
- "It is my sincere hope that you will grant me the opportunity to attend your fine school."
- "In sum, there are three reasons why you should admit me..."
- Do not use unconventional formats or submit your materials in fancy packaging
- Do not get the name of the school wrong
- Do not showcase your vocabulary for the sake of appearing intelligent; only incorporate technical language when it is necessary and relevant
There are several books, websites and resources available to assist you in writing your personal statement.
- The University of Georgia Writing Center
- The Zell B. Miller Learning Center
- Graduate Admission Essays: Write your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice by Donald Asher, Ten Speed Press, 2000
- How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School by Richard Stelzer, Petersons, 1997
- http://www.gradschools.com/ArticleIndex/Essay-Writing/50.html (includes more than a hundred pages of instruction)
Portions of this website were adapted from the Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab.