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:
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 help 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? What insights have you gained?
- 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)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles
or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- 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?
- What skills (for example, leadership,
communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for
graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field
than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can
give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you
are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application
that are somewhat similar.
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
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. This paragraph becomes the framework for
the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
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
Don't include some subjects
- 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 issues).
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. 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
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.
- 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 tired statements.
Structuring Your Personal Statement: The
Your introduction is where you establish the tone of your personal statement
and set the scene, define its theme, and generally hook your reader by sparking
interest with details and quotes. It's important that you avoid meaningless
prose and get right to the point. Be sure, too, that your language is clear and
specific--avoid filler words and clichés. Most importantly, be sure that the
introductory paragraph captures the main idea of your essay.
Sometimes the introduction is the last portion of the essay to be completed,
and that's okay. The introduction should provide a snapshot of what the rest of
the essay will develop and expand upon, so if you don't know where the rest of
the essay is headed, the introduction is impossible to write. Therefore, it is
important to outline your essay so that you know how each of your examples will
build upon one another and can better draft your introduction to reflect this.
Here are some sample introductory paragraphs. You're the judge--which one
1. On September 16, 1990 I experienced the worst feeling of my life the
feeling of incompetence. It was a feeling of indescribable disbelief. My mother,
my only parent, fell down the stairs of our home. It was then that I knew that I
had to become a doctor to help people who were suffering like my mother. By
attending your college, I will be able to fulfill my dream and to give back to
my community through medicine.
here if you selected this opener.
2. My father divorced us when I was in seventh grade. At that time, I was
going through what my mother called my "difficult stage" because my world
revolved around school, friends and boys, and "family" was often put on the back
burner. I was unprepared for the resulting family crisis; my father, the man who
nurtured my passion for art, literature and my love of languages, would no
longer be a part of my life. At the time, I thought that I could not go on. Now
I realize that my father's rejection, while extremely painful, gave me a
resiliency and strength of character that I did not previously know I possessed. Click
here if you selected this opener.
3. It was once said that "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and that
is a motto that I have lived by for all of my seventeen years on this earth. It
is a motto that I have based all of my academic endeavors on. It literally came
into effect one Wednesday morning earlier this year. I got called into the House
One Principal's office at our school. I walked towards the office a little
pondered. I had never been called into that office before, because that
principal only handled the math and science departments of the entire school. I
doubted that the principal even knew me. When I entered the office I was greeted
by a group of familiar faces that I knew from my physics class. Our principal
told us to have a seat and relax. The reason that we were called in was that
there was going to be a Science Competition happening that Saturday and the
school really wanted us to enter into it. The principal said that she knew it
was short notice, but based on our performances in all our science classes she
knew that we could pull it off. She stated that we were some of the only high
school juniors and seniors who had completed and gone beyond the required
science courses. (I personally had already taken a semester of both Physics and
Physiology that year, and two of the other girls that were in there with me had
already completed AP Biology.)
here if you selected this opener.
Read the sample
essay to visualize a strong
opener in the context of an essay.
Move on to: Body