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Writing Center: Personal Statements

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

FAQs About Personal Statements

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a narrative essay that informs an admissions committee of who the applicant is and why they are qualified for a position. 

What is the purpose of a personal statement? 

Personal statements provide background on who the applicant is, illustrate why the applicant is interested in the position, explain why the applicant is qualified for the position, demonstrate the applicant’s writing skills, and create a story that makes the applicant memorable. 

How long is a personal statement? 

Generally, your personal statement should be a 2-3 page statement with double spacing, 1-inch margins, and a 12-point font. 

What should I write about? 

Your personal statement should be used to tell the admissions committee about you. You should answer the four questions of “Who am I?,” “Why am I interested in this career?,” What are my goals and interests for this career?,” and “Why do I need this program or job to pursue these goals?”

Can I submit the same personal statement to all the programs I apply to? 

Your personal statement should be written specifically for each program where you apply. While you can have the same general structure, each version should be modified to meet the requirements of the program and to explain why that program is right for you. 

How does the personal statement fit into the rest of my application? 

Your personal statement is an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn who you are beyond your transcript, resume, and test scores. Your personal statement democrats your character and your personality in a way that the other aspects of your application cannot. 

Steps For Writing A Personal Statement

Step 1: Brainstorm 

  • Write down your answers to the following questions: 
    • Who am I? 
      • What were some defining moments in my life? 
      • Whom or what am I inspired by? 
      • What do I spend my time doing? 
      • How have my past courses, experiences, and encounters shaped me? 
      • What are some of my personal accomplishments? 
      • What is not on my resume but is still an important aspect of who I am? 
      • What experiences, events, or individuals have motivated me to take this next step in my life? 
    • Why am I interested in this career? 
      • When did I realize this was the career I wanted to pursue? What event, person, or experience inspired this inspiration? 
      • Has an individual or organization inspired me to pursue this career? If so, why did they inspire me? 
      • What areas of this career interest me? 
      • How have my experiences, courses, etc. made me interested in this career? 
      • What is my experience with this career?  
    • What are my goals and interests for this career?
      • Where do I hope to work in the future?
      • What type of organization or venue do I hope to work in? 
      • What activities do I want to do in my career?
      • What impact do I hope my career will have on others? 
      • Who do I hope to interact with during my career? What do I hope they will take from these interactions? 
    • Why do I need this program or job to pursue these goals?
      • How does this program or job fit into and further my career goals? 
      • What aspects of the program or job make it a good fit for me? 
      • How does my past experience, coursework, interactions, etc. make me a good candidate for the program or job?
      • What makes this program or job a better fit for my goals than other positions in the same area of study? 

Step 2: Select the content 

  • After you brainstorm answers to these four questions, narrow your answers down. 
  • Select the aspects of your experience, life, and beliefs that you view most important to your career development. 
  • From this narrowed list, select aspects that create a cohesive theme/story about your career development. 
  • Example of a theme: 
    • A student applying to a graduate program believes that their experience going overseas on a mission trip, overcoming multiple injuries in a sport, and succeeding in school despite personal struggles are aspects that are relevant to a graduate program you want to join. After considering these three aspects of their identity, the student decides that the theme of perseverance through many trials ties these three aspects together. 

Step 3: Select a structure based on the information you plan to include

  • 70-80% of your personal statement will answer the questions of “Who am I?” & “Why am I interested in this career?”
  • 20-30% of your personal statement will answer the questions of “What are my goals and interests for this career?” & Why do I need this program or job to pursue these goals?”
  • Tentative structure: 
    • Introduction paragraph: Tell a story about how your initial interest or experience in your future career occurred 
    • Body paragraph 1: Explain how your passion for the career grew from this story
    • Body paragraph 2: Demonstrate how you know this is the career path for you through the experiences you’ve had in the field
    • Body paragraph 3: Discuss your current passions and future goals and how the program fits in this
    • Conclusion paragraph: Bring all this information together
  • Another tentative structure: 
    • Few sentences or one paragraph as an intriguing lead 
      • Avoid generic phrases, like “I’ve always wanted to do X.” 
      • Use a story about an interesting past experience
    • 1-3 paragraphs on your academic/professional history 
      • Focus on experiences that motivated you to pursue this career
      • Describe defining moments in your path to find a career 
      • Explain how your choice has developed and grown over time
    • 2-3 paragraphs on your interests/goals
      • Connect your past experiences to this section 
      • Discuss what you plan to do in and after graduate school
    • 1 paragraph on the connection between this program and yourself
      • Explain why this program is a good fit 
      • Mention specific aspects of the program,  such as faculty members
      • Describe how you would benefit from this program and how they would benefit from you

Step 4: Outline your structure

  • While keeping these tentative structures in mind, write down an outline for the structure your personal statement will follow

Step Five: Write your first draft

  • Find an area where you can write without distractions, set up your workplace, set a timer for an hour, and write. 
  • As you write your draft, try not to pay attention to grammar, spelling, phrasing, or writing skills. Focus on following your structure and tone.

Step 5: Revise

  • Act as if you are the admissions counselor or employer who will read your final personal statement. This will allow you to read your writing from the perspective that it is intended to be read. 
  • Ask someone else to revise your personal statement. The perspective of other individuals will help shape your personal statement into a well-polished shape. 
  • Questions to consider when revising:
    • Do I answer the four major questions? 
      • Who am I?: Do I successfully convey who I am and how my experiences have made me a strong candidate? 
      • Why am I interested in this career?: Do I state why I am interested in this career and what led me to this resume? 
      • What are my goals and interests for this career?: Do I mention my goals and hopes for my future career? 
      • Why do I need this program or job to pursue these goals?: Do I explain why I am interested in this program or position and why I should be selected? 
    • Central themeIs there a story and/or central theme to the writing? Or, are many different facts about the applicant stated without a connecting theme? 
    • Catchy introduction: Does the introduction, especially the first sentence, make me want to read the rest of the writing? 
    • Strong takeaway statement: Does the conclusion end with a statement or idea that will help me remember the applicant? 
    • DetailsDoes the writer evaluate or just describe their experiences? 
    • Personality: Do I sound like myself? Am I using too many big words or statements that take away from my voice? 
    • Polish: Is the grammar, spelling, and format of my writing polished? 
    • Tone: Do I have a professional tone in the writing? Do I sound “ready” for this position? Do I sound like myself? 
    • Spacing: Do I include too much or too little? Is any information missing? Can I cut any information? 
    • Uniqueness: Does my writing showcase who I am? Do I stand out from the other applicants? 

Tips For Writing Personal Statements

Tips For Writing Personal Statements

  • Make your personal statement consistent with other application materials 
  • Customize your writing to match the specific program or position you are applying for 
  • Pay attention to the prompt and requirements provided by the school or job 
  • Ensure that your personal statement opens with a strong sentence that draws the readers in 
  • Focus on one central theme throughout the entire personal statement
  • Focus on something that cannot be read on the applicant’s transcript or resume
    • Avoid writing your resume in a narrative form 
  • Write in your own voice to give the committee an understanding of who you are
    • Don’t use big words you normally would not use
  • Avoid overusing quotes, taking quotes out of context, and using cliches 
  • Ensure that spelling and grammar do not take away from your writing
  • Provide yourself with enough time to write and revise your personal statement 
    • Personal statements can take a couple of weeks or months to complete
  • Concentrate on highlighting your strengths and avoid mentioning weaknesses
  • Avoid throwing the “kitchen sink” at the admissions committee 
    • Focus on a few of the most relevant aspects about yourself to include

Tips for Writing Personal Statements

  • Make your personal statement consistent with other application materials 
  • Customize your writing to match the specific program or position you are applying for 
  • Pay attention to the prompt and requirements provided by the school or job 
  • Ensure that your personal statement opens with a strong sentence that draws the readers in 
  • Focus on one central theme throughout the entire personal statement
  • Focus on something that cannot be read on the applicant’s transcript or resume
    • Avoid writing your resume in a narrative form 
  • Write in your own voice to give the committee an understanding of who you are
    • Don’t use big words you normally would not use
  • Avoid overusing quotes, taking quotes out of context, and using cliches 
  • Ensure that spelling and grammar do not take away from your writing
  • Provide yourself with enough time to write and revise your personal statement 
    • Personal statements can take a couple of weeks or months to complete
  • Concentrate on highlighting your strengths and avoid mentioning weaknesses
  • Avoid throwing the “kitchen sink” at the admissions committee 
    • Focus on a few of the most relevant aspects about yourself to include

Checklist For Personal Statements

Content

  • Begins with a strong opening sentence 
  • Contains an engaging and interesting opening paragraph 
  • Describes the nature and significance of academic experiences, work experience, skills that make you a strong candidate 
  • Concrete examples are used to support claims about qualifications 
  • Explains personal attributes that set you apart from other applicants
  • Explains your career goals during the program and after completing the program 
  • Mentions what lead you to this career choice
  • Describes what lead you to the specific program you are applying to
  • Mentions how the program will help you reach your career goal 
  • Explains what you will offer to the program 
  • Notes specific programs, tracks, research, professors that you would like to work within the program
  • Describes why you are a good candidate for the program 
  • The conclusion paragraph summarizes the personal statement and main idea
  • Concludes with a strong takeaway statement so the committee will remember you
  • A consistent theme used throughout the whole statement 
  • Follows a clear narrative story
  • Reflects your genuine interest in the program 
  • Addresses the questions and/or prompt that the program wants to be answered
  • The topic sentence included at the beginning of each paragraph 
  • Avoids using “I” statements at the beginning of each sentence 
  • Sentence structure is varied 
  • Follows typical essay writing rules and structure 

Formatting 

  • Free of grammatical and spelling errors 
  • Meets the page or word requirements provided by the program 
  • Formatting is similar to the other application materials 
  • The statement is structured in a manner that is easy to follow and read
  • Spacing and formatting is appropriate and consistent throughout the document
  • Font and font size are professional and appropriate (Times New Roman, Arial, etc.)

Additional Resources For Personal Statements