Personal Statement Writing Tips

Why a Personal Statement is Important

Personal statements are used as part of the application process for many Ph.D. programs, medical schools, fellowship programs, and even, in some cases, jobs.  Personal statements help assess an individual’s commitment to their chosen area of study or work. In addition to strong writing skills, the admissions committee is also looking for something standardized tests and GPAs cannot quantify — your personal story or sense of purpose as it relates to the program or position you are seeking.  While the importance of the statement in terms of the overall application varies from place to place, it is a key factor in the decision-making process.

Consider two goals when writing your essay: persuading the admissions or hiring committee to admit/hire you and demonstrating that you are far more than a GPA or test score. You are an authentic person who would be an asset to the school or to the organization.

The Three-Step Process to Writing a Personal Statement:

1. Brainstorming

In this step you engage in self-reflection, research and the development of ideas for your personal statement.  Allow yourself time to perform this step, and consider the following questions:

  • What events, personal experiences, or difficult situations shaped my character?
  • What experiences were most influential in choosing my career path?
  • What skills, knowledge, and experiences distinguish me from other candidates?
  • What do I find meaningful or purposeful? What is my passion?
  • What are my goals or hopes for my future career?

2. Selecting Your Statement Topic

As you begin Step Two, ask yourself:  “What impression do I hope to create through my statement?” Select a topic that will allow you to synthesize the information from Step One into a well-written document, giving a positive and memorable impression.  Consider some of the following tips as you make your selection:

  • Avoid using gimmicks, but select a topic that grabs the reader’s attention in the first paragraph
  • Provide vivid supporting experiences to your topic
  • Avoid repeating information that can be found elsewhere in your application (such as GPA)
  • Seek feedback from your professors, advisors, and career counselor(s) about the topic

3. Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

As you write your statement, keep in mind that your goal is to convince admissions or the hiring committee that you are the candidate they want.

  • Start by creating an outline and journaling your first draft of your statement
  • Be yourself – your readers want to learn about who you are as a person
  • Use imagery and clear, vivid prose – describe your life experiences using graphic images
  • Determine if there is a theme to your statement – a common thread.
  • Spend the most time on your introduction—you should grab the reader’s attention immediately.
    • Don’t summarize in your introduction
    • Create curiosity or intrigue in the reader’s mind by raising questions. If there is a theme to your statement, introduce your theme at the beginning.
  • Relate all paragraphs in the body of essay to the introduction; or to your theme
  • Make smooth transitions  to preserve the flow of your essay
  • Conclusions are crucial; this is your last chance to convince the reader of your qualifications. Do not use phrases such as “in conclusion” “in summary.”  Consider the following suggestions:
    • Link your conclusion to you introduction; focus on your career goals – where do you see yourself in 5/10 years? How will this position help you get there?
    • Discuss the broader implications of your discussion.
    • Redefine a term previously used in the body of your essay, end with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument.
  • Take a break  from a draft of your statement – then come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes
  • Ask someone else to read a draft of your statement and request feedback.  In addition to reading for content and flow, others may spot grammatical errors or typos that you overlooked.

Additional Resources:

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