Personal statement


No student applying for graduate school or postgraduate professional programs can avoid it. Those pesky personal statement essays. Admissions committees want to know about you. They want to know about your goals and career plans; they want to know about your background and experiences; they want to decide if you are a good “fit” for their program.

And your job is to make sure that they see you as a great candidate for admission. This means crafting personal statement essays that will make you memorable – it’s a tall order.


There are two types of personal essays that you may have to write.

  1. The first is a general one, in which you have the freedom to determine your area of focus. These are often the types of essay that professional school request – medical, law, or business schools.

  2. The second type of essays is the one written in response to specific prompts that you are given. Usually, you have some options and must choose two or three. You will need to choose carefully and respond very specifically to the prompts you do select.  

Steps to Follow

  1. Ask Yourself Some Key Questions

Whether you are writing a general personal statement or responding to prompts, you need to ask some questions of yourself. The answers will give you the key points that will relate to whatever the topic of your essay may be:

  • What may be unique about your life story? Is there anything impressive or distinct that might capture the interest of an admissions committee?

  • What events, circumstances, etc. of your life may have shaped who you are today?

  • At what point did you become interested in this career field? And what brought about that interest? And what experiences or events furthered your interest?

  • What work experiences, activities, internships, field experiences etc. did you have during college or during work that you had during that time? Were you involved in leadership roles? How might these roles relate to the program you are hoping to enter?

  • Have you overcome any obstacles in your life and undergraduate studies that show your commitment and your steadfastness? This is important because an admissions committee is swayed by a student who has a story of overcoming challenges.

  • What skills do you have? Academic skills are shown by transcripts and test scores. Beyond that, make a list of the “soft” skills you have and the accomplishments that have demonstrated them.

  • List your career goals specifically.

  • What personal characteristics do you possess? Integrity? Empathy? Persistence? List some examples that show these.

  • What reasons can you give for an admissions committee to approve you for admission? This may be a bit tough and will require some serious thought. But what makes you a better candidate than most?

  1. If you are writing a personal statement without a prompt – tell your story

When you are not given a prompt, look over the list you have made. What are the most outstanding things about yourself that you want a committee to know? Choose those things that will show you are the best candidate for admission. One of the best ways to demonstrate your qualities is through telling your story. Admissions committees do not want to be bored – telling a story that shows some of your qualities and skills is always a good idea. This is how you become memorable.

  1. If You are Responding to a Prompt – Stick to the Point

One of the biggest mistakes that students make is to choose a prompt and then, in their enthusiasm to tell all, veer off of that topic and put in a lot of irrelevant content. When you choose a prompt, read it several times, take a look at the list you generated, and choose only those points that support the prompt.

One of the most famous (and successful) personal statement was written by a student applying for a graduate program at an Ivy League grad program. The prompt related to her ability to be a creative problem-solver and asked for a time when she actually utilized this skill. She recalled an incident during which a fly was in her room and distracting her from her work. She went through a series of problem-solving strategies to ultimately get rid of the fly. Her essay was a “hit” with the committee.

  1. Back Up All Statements with Evidence

Don’t just state that you have leadership skills. Provide specific examples of events and circumstances in which you demonstrated those skills. Admissions committees want the details – they are a part of your story.

  1. Your Opening Paragraph is Critical

Whether you are writing a general personal statement or responding to a prompt. Your introductory paragraph is the most important part of your essay. It is in this paragraph that you need to grab attention and present the thesis for your essay. You can begin with a startling statement or a short anecdote – something that will pique interest. And, just like any essay, your thesis should be included by the end of that paragraph.

  1. Craft an Outline

The body paragraphs should be coherent and follow a logical pattern. To keep yourself on track, you should create an outline with at least three points, for a minimum of three paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence and the detail that supports it. You have done this before – it’s the standard format for every essay you have ever written.

  1. Enlist Another “Reviewer”

Once you have crafted your rough draft, enlist the help of someone who is skilled in grammar and composition to review your piece.

The key points to look for are these:

  1. Is the opening paragraph compelling and engaging? Does it have a solid thesis statement?

  2. Does each paragraph have a thesis statement that really relates to the prompt that has been given?

  3. Are there solid transitions between paragraphs?

  4. Is sentence structure all correct? Is there enough variety in sentence length and complexity?

  5. Are verb tenses and agreement all correct?

  6. Is all punctuation correct?

  7. Craft the Final Draft and Review Again

Once your final draft is finished, set it aside for a few days. Then, re-read it. Are you genuinely, please? If so, it’s time to submit it and not look back.

Points to Think About

  • You may receive similar prompts from more than one school. Do not submit the same essay for all of these. Similar does not mean exactly the same. Craft each essay based on the absolute details of the prompt/question.

  • Always try to relate your skills, talents, and background to those of your chosen field and/or to what you will be studying

  • Find some angle that will make your story interesting to the readers.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Avoid speaking to certain “hot” topics – politics, religion, etc.

  • Don’t use trite expressions or clichés

  • Remember that even an error in punctuation could irritate a committee member

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Research on the school to which you are applying
  • Check and re-check for all grammar and proofread at least twice
  • Focus on the first paragraph and get help if you cannot make it amazing
  • Add anything that is not directly related to the prompt or question
  • Tell how many other schools would be happy to have you

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