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:

Answer the questions that are asked

Tell a story

Be specific

Find an angle

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

Tell what you know

Don't include some subjects

Do some research, if needed

Write well and correctly

Avoid clichés

Structuring Your Personal Statement: The Introductory Paragraph

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 is strongest?

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. Click 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.) Click 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 Paragraphs