Writing the Personal Statement
This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other
Source: Purdue OWL https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/642/01/
Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2012-05-08 09:59:04
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally
falls into one of two categories:
1. 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.
2. 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:
ï‚· What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
ï‚· 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
help set you apart from other applicants?
ï‚· 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? What insights have you gained?
ï‚· How have you learned about this fieldâ€”through classes, readings, seminars, work or
other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
ï‚· 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?
ï‚· What are your career goals?
ï‚· 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)?
ï‚· Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic,
familial, or physical) in your life?
ï‚· What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or 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?
ï‚· What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
ï‚· Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate schoolâ€”and more successful and
effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
ï‚· What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be
interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
ï‚· If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are
ï‚· Don’t be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer
each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write
separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
ï‚· Think in terms of showing or demonstrating 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. If you distinguish
yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
ï‚· 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. Your
application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
ï‚· 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 an angle or a “hook” is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
ï‚· The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the
reader’s attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the
Tell what you know
ï‚· The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your
particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people
graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they
hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use
the language professionals use in conveying this information. 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. Since you will have to select what you include in
your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don’t include some subjects
ï‚· 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
Do some research, if needed
ï‚· 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. If the
school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this
might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
ï‚· Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers
say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to
them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to
stated word limits.
ï‚· 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 or
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.
Writing the Personal Statement