- How To Write Your Undergraduate Personal Statement
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How to end your personal statement
- How to start a personal statement: The attention grabber
- Introducing the personal statement tool
- Personal statement dos and don'ts
- Using your personal statement beyond a university application
What to include in a personal statement
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What's on this page?
What’s a personal statement, preparing to write your personal statement, how to open your personal statement, your personal skills and achievements, work experience and future plans.
An undergraduate personal statement is a chance to get noticed for the unique talents and experiences you have. It’s an important part of the application process as it’s an opportunity to talk about yourself and your passions, outside of your grades.
In this article, we’re going to talk you through how to write an undergraduate personal statement that stands out, without leaving you feeling overwhelmed.
Chloe Ng, HE Career Coach, Manchester Metropolitan University
You’ll have heard the saying preparation is key, and that’s no different when you’re tackling your personal statement. There are two things to think about when you’re planning. The practical and factual information you need to get across, and the more emotional, human parts of you that make you different to everyone else.
Before you start writing, take some time to think about the key things you’d want an admissions tutor to know about you, and get them down on paper. Don’t worry too much about making your notes perfect – this is more about making sure you know why you should be offered a place.
You can also look at the course description as this’ll help you with what to include and give you a good idea of what each uni is looking for.
Here are a few questions you can answer to help you get started:.
- Why have you chosen this course?
- What excites you about the subject?
- Is my previous or current study relevant to the course?
- Have you got any work experience that might help you?
- What life experiences have you had that you could talk about?
- What achievements are you proud of?
- What skills do you have that make you perfect for the course?
- What plans and ambitions do you have for your future career?
Admissions Tutors will be reading a lot of personal statements so it’s important to grab their attention right from the start.
Remember, it can only be 4,000 characters, which is about two sides of A4. So, you’ll need to use your words wisely to fit everything in.
You can find a full guide on How to start a personal statement: the attention grabber , but here are the main things to think about .
- Don’t overthink the opening. Just start by showing your enthusiasm for the subject, showcasing your knowledge and understanding, and sharing your ambitions of what you want to achieve.
- Avoid cliches! Remember, this opening part is simply about introducing yourself, so let the admissions tutor reading your personal statement get to know you.
- Keep it relevant and simple. You’re limited on how much you can include so avoid long-winded explanations. Why use 20 words when 10 can make your point?
Annabell Price, L’Oréal degree apprentice (Professional Products Division)
Next, you’ll need to write about your personal skills and achievements. Universities like to know the abilities you have that’ll help you on the course, or generally with life at university.
Don’t forget to include evidence to back up why you’re so excited about the course(s) you’ve chosen.
- Be bold and talk about the achievements you’re proud of.
- Include positions of responsibility you hold, or have held, both in and out of school.
- What are the things that make you interesting, special, or unique?
Your work experience and future plans are important to include. You should share details of jobs, placements, work experience, or voluntary work, particularly if it's relevant to your course.
- Try to link any experience to skills or qualities that’ll make you successful.
- If you know what you’d like to do after as a career, explain how you plan to use the knowledge and experience that you’ll gain to launch your career.
It’s always good to connect the beginning of your statement to the end and a great way to reinforce what you said at the start.
You want to see the ending as your chance to finish in a way that’ll make the admissions tutor remember you.
This final part of your personal statement should emphasise the great points you’ve already made and answer the question of why you should be offered a place on the course.
Read our full guide on How to finish your statement the right way.
Want to read more?
Check out our full list of Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts
See how you can use a personal statement beyond a university application
Now you’ve written your undergraduate personal statement, you’ll need to do a couple of final things before you submit it.
- Have you proofread it?
Don’t just rely on spellcheckers. We’d recommend reading it out loud as that’s a great way to spot any errors as well as checking it sounds like you.
- Have you asked for feedback?
Ask friends, family or a careers advisor to have a read through your personal statement and take their feedback on board.
Want more advice on your personal statement? Use the links below.
Use the UCAS’ personal statement tool alongside this guide to help you structure your ideas. Are you interested in how you can turn you Personal Statement into your CV? Read our advice here
UCAS scans all personal statements with the Copycatch system, to compare them with previous statements.
Any similarity greater than 30% will be flagged and action could be taken against you.
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Personal statements for university.
by Amber Rolfe
Applying for university can be a stressful time…
Not only do you have to decide on a subject you want to spend three years of your life doing, you also have to be one of the chosen few to make it onto your number one choice of course and university.
To make sure you’re selling yourself effectively, here’s everything you need to know about writing your personal statement for university, and a personal statement example to help you get started:
What is a personal statement for university?
A personal statement for university is a key part of the UCAS application process.
It involves writing about your skills, experience, and ambitions – in order to persuade your chosen university that you’re a suitable applicant for their course.
Essentially, it shows how your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and other relevant experience has made you interested in taking the course.
How long should a personal statement for university be?
Although it’s similar to a personal statement for your CV , personal statements for university are slightly longer and more detailed.
According to UCAS, a personal statement should be no more than 4000 characters .
How should I structure my personal statement for university?
Unlike a CV, it’s important to structure your personal statement in clear paragraphs (usually around three or four) – rather than one block of text.
Although you won’t need to follow a set structure, here’s a rough guideline of how you could order your personal statement for university:
- Reasons for wanting to study
- Why you’re suitable
- How your current study is relevant
- Your related hobbies and interests
- Your skills and achievements
When do I need to submit my personal statement for university?
Your personal statement should be submitted along with the rest of your application by the deadline given by UCAS.
This will vary depending on your course and university choice, but most are expected to be sent off by the 15th January on the year you’re looking to start – with some art and design courses extending a later deadline (24 th March).
However, courses at Oxford or Cambridge (along with courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary or science) will require students to submit their applications earlier – by the 15 th of October (the year before your course starts).
Any applications submitted after the 30 th of June will go into clearing .
UCAS clearing: How does it work?
How to write a personal statement for university
Writing a good personal statement is vital if you want to be accepted into your chosen course.
And although there aren’t any set rules on how to write one, there are a few things you should always cover. Not only will this ensure you’re selling yourself effectively, it’ll also demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm about the course you’re applying for.
Here’s a guideline of what you should include:
- Reasons for wanting to study. First things first, you need to explain why you’re interested in the course. This involves being specific, whilst demonstrating enthusiasm. Talk about what you like about the subject, how your interest developed, and how it would help you towards achieving your long-term career goals.
- Why you’re suitable. Not only do you have to want to do the course, you also have to fit the criteria. This means that explaining why your skills and experience are relevant is vital. To really impress, always ensure you’ve done your research and are aware of what the course involves. That way, you can be more specific about how you match up.
- How your current study is relevant. Even if the subjects you’ve studied in the past aren’t exactly the same as your chosen university course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t taught you the skills needed to progress into a different field. Make the most of these in your personal statement.
- Your related hobbies and interests. Hobbies are a great way to show that you’re a well-rounded person. Possible examples could be anything from clubs and societies, to summer schools, online courses, or even just museum/gallery/theatre visits. Any wider reading and/or research around your chosen subject could also be mentioned here.
- Your skills and achievements. Admissions tutors aren’t only interested in you telling them your most impressive (and relevant) skills and achievements, they also want to how you got them. This means that providing examples is essential – whether it’s referring to how you developed your communication skills in group projects, or how you worked in a team.
- Your work experience. Whether its full or part-time work, temporary placements, or internships – work experience teaches you a range of practical skills. Discuss the roles that are most relevant to your course and explain how studying at university would help you get the career you want.
How can I make my personal statement stand out?
With university places in high competition, your personal statement gives you the perfect opportunity to key to stand out.
So how can you do it right? Here are a few tips:
Make it relevant – remember: there’s a character limit. Don’t waste space on details that have no relevance to your chosen course and career path.
Show how you’re unique – through your own examples, independent research, and personality.
Present a good balance of academic and extra-curricular credentials – but don’t feel like you have to include hobbies if you don’t have any.
Make it engaging (whilst avoiding clichés) – lines like ‘I was born to be a dancer’ are definitely not unique, and generic clichés like this might risk mildly irritating the admissions tutor.
Think outside the box – let’s face it, no one wants to read through thousands of English students talk about how Shakespeare opened their eyes to poetry. Avoid the obvious, and think laterally.
Personal statement for university example
I’m applying to do a degree in English language because the modules involved will help me to expand on what I’ve learnt in school and college, and eventually start a career in writing. As an active blogger with an interest in entering a career in the media, I was particularly attracted to the module, language in the media – as well as language, society and power.
I’ve always been interested in reading, writing, and analysing language. Whether it’s listening to different dialects and colloquialisms, understanding the ways adverts use words to sell a product, or even just reading a book – language has many uses.
As a hardworking student with an ability to meet deadlines and produce work to a high standard, I think I would be able to put my skills to good use in this course. As I have a proficiency in language and a keen interest in learning more, this course would be a perfect fit.
Having studied English Language at A level and GCSE, I have built a strong knowledge base around it. As demonstrated in my most recent assignments covering language development and language change over time, I’ve gained an active interest in understanding words and meaning on a new level.
I’m an active fashion blogger and have my own website, where I post articles weekly – whether it’s reviewing new products or just talking about my life. I also helped out in writing a monthly newsletter at school, where I used my writing skills to keep students up-to-date with news and events.
My ability to work well in a team has been demonstrated in a number of group projects. Not only did I develop my communication and skills, I also learnt how to negotiate and juggle tasks. I’m also particularly proud of my creative writing ability, which has been shown and expanded on throughout a number of essays and assignments (as well as my own blog). I’m also extremely organised, with a high attention to detail.
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12 Personal Statement Examples + Analysis
If you’re applying to college, you’ll most likely need to write a personal statement as part of your college application.
But before diving into analyzing some great personal statement examples, it helps to get some context on what a personal statement actually is, and what writers should plan to include when writing their own personal statement.
What is a personal statement?
It’s the main essay required by the Common Application as well as most other application systems. They basically require you to answer some version of the question “Who are you, and what do you value?” And in recent years, the main Common Application essay has become more and more important in colleges’ decision making process, especially as many colleges are relying less and less on standardized test scores.
Why read personal statement examples?
In our work with students, we often encourage students to review examples of personal statements to get a sense of what a great essay might look like and to just generally share a wide range of topics, structures, and writing styles so that they can see what’s possible when writing this essay. In this spirit, we’re sharing 12 of our favorite examples from the past few years. We’ve also included analysis for what makes them outstanding to (hopefully) help you uplevel your own essay.
What should a personal statement include?
The personal statement should demonstrate the qualities, skills, and values that you’ve cultivated over your life and how those skills have prepared you for attending college. I (Ethan) have spent the last 15 years answering this question, which you can learn more about in my free 1-hour guide .
In our opinion, a great personal statement example has 4 qualities . After reading the essay, you can identify whether your essay or topic show each of the four qualities by asking yourself the questions below:
Values : Can you name at least 4-5 of the author’s core values? Do you detect a variety of values, or do the values repeat?
Vulnerability : Does the essay sound like it’s mostly analytical or like it’s coming from a deeper, more vulnerable place? Does it sound like the author wrote it using mostly his or her head (intellect) or his or her heart and gut? After reading the essay, do you know more about the author AND feel closer to him or her?
Insight : Can you identify at least 3-5 “so what” moments of insight in the essay? Are these moments kind of predictable, or are they truly illuminating?
Craft : Do the ideas in the essay connect in a way that is logical, but not too obvious (aka boring)? Can you tell that the essay represents a series of carefully considered choices and that the author spent a lot of time revising the essay over the course of several drafts?
Want a more thorough guide on how to write a personal statement? We’ve got you covered.
Let’s read some essays.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Example #1 - The Tally on My Uniform Example #2 - Quattro Lingue Example #3 - 12 Example #4 - Flying Example #5 - Arab Spring in Bahrain Example #6 - Poop, Animals and the Environment Example #7 - Entoptic Phenomena Example #8 - The Builder & Problem Solver Example #10 - The Little Porch and a Dog (With Spanish Translation) Example #10 - Life As an Undocumented Student Example #11 - Umbra Example #12 - Angry brown girl, feminist, singer, meme lover
Personal Statement Example #1 The Tally on My Uniform
Day 19: I am using my school uniform as a slate to tally the days. As the ink slowly seeps through the fabric of my shirt, I begin to understand that being a conscious Arab comes with a cost.
Day 7: I come across a live stream on social media, 1,200 Palestinian political prisoners are on their seventh day of a hunger strike against the Israeli occupation. It is the first I have heard of its occurrence. I allow myself to follow the news daily through social media while regional mainstream media and our local news channels refrain from reporting any news of the strike.
Day 13: I am engulfed by the cry for justice. I feel helplessly overwhelmed, not wanting to confront reality, but I force myself to anyway; actively searching, refreshing my phone to tune into live streams from protests, plugging in “Palestinian hunger strike” on the search engine to stay connected to the cause.
Day 18: No one else seems to know anything about what is going on. I am compelled to find a way to embody the struggle. In my first period class, I see a marker beside the whiteboard. I pick it up, not sure what I’m going to do, but then hear myself asking my classmates to each draw a vertical line on my shirt. It seems funny at first--they laugh, confused. But each time the marker touches the fabric it tells a story. It is a story of occupied countries, a story in which resisting apartheid becomes synonymous with criminality, a story we refuse to address because we have grown too apathetic to value life beyond our borders. As my classmates draw the tally, together we tell the story of the hunger strike and mourn the distance human beings have created between each other.
Day 20: My uniform has become a subject of question. Each pair of eyes that fix their gaze on the ink, I share the story of our Palestinian compatriots. The initial responses are the same: disbelief, followed by productive conversation on our moral responsibility to educate ourselves on the conflict.
Day 28: Each day the strike continues, I have asked my classmates to draw another line on the tally. While it still comes across as unsettling, it seems to no longer represent the reality of the hunger strike. My classmates are no longer interested in what it means. I am supposed to move on already. I am called in to the principal’s office. After being instructed to get a new shirt, I choose to challenge the order. As long as the hunger strike lasts, I will continue to voice the reality of the hundreds of prisoners, in hopes of recreating the sense of responsibility I originally sensed in my peers.
Day 41: A compromise deal is offered to the political prisoners and they suspend their hunger strike. I walk out of school with a clean uniform and feel whole again, but unnaturally so. I was left feeling an unspoken kind of weakness where I broke under the realisation that not all sorrows could resonate with people enough for me to expect them to lead movements.
I would need to be the one to lead, to recreate the energy that the tally once inspired. I decided to found a political streetwear brand, Silla, where fashion choices transcend superficial aesthetics by spreading a substantial message of equality and donating the profits to NGOs that advocate for social change. Through Silla, I am able to stay in touch with my generation, keeping them engaged with issues because of how they can now spend their money Silla has mobilized people to voice their opinions that align with equity and equality. Because of my adherence to justice, I was elected student government president and I use it as a platform to be vigilant in reminding my peers of their potential, inspiring them to take action and be outspoken about their beliefs. When the ink seeped through the fabric of my uniform it also stained my moral fibres, and will forever remind me that I am an agent of change.
Why This Essay Worked:
Uncommon topic and uncommon connections. Overall, this is just a stand out piece. The unique story of how the author had lines drawn on her shirt pulls the reader in. But while this story is not something you’d typically find in other people’s applications, don’t feel intimidated. Having an uncommon topic makes writing a strong essay a bit easier, but by itself is not enough for a great essay. What really elevates this piece is the connections and observations that the author makes about her classmates and the school’s collective response to distant but important political conflict. The student does a great job evoking the emotional response of her peers and beautifully articulates her own indignation with the apathy that emerges. When you write your essay, consider how you can use uncommon connections to take your reader to places they may not have expected to go.
Experimental structure. One of the many cool things about this essay is its structure, which demonstrates the quality of craft . The author uses a montage structure that emphasizes numbers and chronology, two ideas that are central to the content of the piece itself. By playing with the idea of time and distance, the applicant emphasizes some of the critical ideas in her essay and shows that she’s unafraid to think outside the box. Remember, admissions officers read tons of personal statements; an uncommon structure can go a long way in setting you apart from the crowd.
Answers the question “so what?” The thing that really brings this essay home is the last paragraph. Although the story of the uniform being marked by lines for each day of the hunger strike is fascinating, we’re not totally sure of its relevance to the life of the author until she gets to that last bit. In it, she tells us about her politically-aware fashion line and her appointment as school president. This answers the question of “so what” because it shows us that she took the lessons she learned during the strike and applied it to her life outlook/practices more broadly. After you’ve written your first draft, go back through it and make sure you’ve clearly shown what you’ve done to act upon your reflections or values .
Personal Statement Example #2 Quattro Lingue
Day 1: “Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk. Labbayk Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk,” we chant, sweat dripping onto the wispy sand in brutal Arabian heat, as millions of us prepare to march from the rocky desert hills of Mount Arafat to the cool, flat valleys of Muzdalifa. As we make our way into the Haram, my heart shakes. Tears rolling down my cheeks, we circumvent the Ka’ba one last time before embarking on Hajj, the compulsory pilgrimage of Islam. It became the spiritual, visceral, and linguistic journey of a lifetime.
“Ureed an Aśhtareę Hijab.”
“Al-harir aw al-Qathan?”
“La. Khizth sab’een.”
“Show me hijabs.”
“Silk or cotton?”
“How much do these cost?”
“No. Take 70.”
“Fine. Thanks Hajjah.”
In Makkah, I quickly learn shopkeepers rip off foreigners, so exchanges like this, where I only have to say a few Arabic words, make me appear local. It also connects me with real locals: the Saudi Arabian pharmacist who sells me cough syrup, the Egyptian grandmother seeking directions to the restroom, the Moroccan family who educates me on the Algerian conflict. As the sounds of Arabic swirl around me like the fluttering sands (Jamal, Naqah, Ibl, Ba’eer…), I’m reconnecting with an old friend: we’d first met when I decided to add a third language to English and Bengali.
Day 6: The tents of Mina. Temperature blazing. Humidity high. I sleep next to an old woman who just embarked on her twentieth Hajj. When I discover she’s Pakistani, I speak to her in Urdu. Her ninety-year old energy--grounded, spiritual, and non-materialistic--inspires me. So far, every day has been a new discovery of my courage, spirit, and faith, and I see myself going on this journey many more times in my life. My new friend is curious where I, a Bengali, learned Urdu. I explain that as a Muslim living in America’s divided political climate, I wanted to understand my religion better by reading an ancient account of the life of Prophet Muhammad, but Seerat-un-Nabi is only in Urdu, so I learned to read it. I was delighted to discover the resonances: Qi-yaa-mah in Arabic becomes Qi-ya-mat in Urdu, Dh-a-lim becomes Zaa-lim… Urdu, which I had previously only understood academically, was the key to developing a personal connection with a generation different from mine.
Day 8: “Fix your hair. You look silly,” my mom says in Bengali. When my parents want to speak privately, they speak our native tongue. Phrases like, “Can you grab some guava juice?” draw us closer together. My parents taught me to look out for myself from a young age, so Hajj is one of the only times we experienced something formative together. Our “secret” language made me see Bengali, which I’ve spoken all my life, as beautiful. It also made me aware of how important shared traditions are.
As I think back to those sweltering, eclectic days, the stories and spiritual connections linger. No matter what languages we spoke, we are all Muslims in a Muslim country, the first time I’d ever experienced that. I came out of my American bubble and discovered I was someone to be looked up to. Having studied Islam my whole life, I knew the ins and outs of Hajj. This, along with my love for language, made me, the youngest, the sage of our group. Whether at the Al-Baik store in our camp or the Jamarat where Satan is stoned, people asked me about standards for wearing hijab or to read the Quran out loud. I left the journey feeling fearless. Throughout my life, I’ll continue to seek opportunities where I’m respected, proud to be Muslim, and strong enough to stand up for others. The next time I go to Hajj, I want to speak two more languages: donc je peux parler à plus de gens and quiero escuchar más historias.
It’s visceral and evocative. Details about the specific resonance of Urdu words and the conversations this author shared with the people they met on their Hajj brings this essay to life. Nearly every line is full of vivid imagery and textured language . Those details make this piece fun to read and truly bring us into the world of the author. Whenever you’re writing, think about how you can engage all five senses to show, not simply tell, how you experienced something.
Uses images to convey a sense of time, place, and self. Notice how this author’s use of images and details give this personal statement a dream-like quality, hopping between spaces, people, languages, and thoughts. As a result, the author is able to talk about so many different aspects of their culture. The way the details are conveyed also speaks to the aesthetic sensibilities of the author, providing another window into who they are as a person. When you’re writing, think about how you can use imagistic language to show the reader what you care about.
Uses dialogue effectively. Dialogue isn’t always the best strategy, as it can take up a good chunk of your word count without explicitly saying anything about who you are. In this piece, however, the author does a great job of using their conversations with people they meet along their journey to convey their values and interests. Not only does the dialogue emphasize their fascination with language and cultural exchange, but it breaks up what would have been dense paragraphs into nice manageable chunks that are easier to read.
Learn how to write your personal statement here
Personal statement example #3 12.
12 is the number of my idol, Tom Brady. It’s the sum of all the letters in my name. It’s also how old I was when I started high school.
In short, I skipped two grades: first and sixth. Between kindergarten and eighth grade, I attended five schools, including two different styles of homeschooling (three years at a co-op and one in my kitchen). Before skipping, I was perennially bored.
But when I began homeschooling, everything changed. Free to move as fast as I wanted, I devoured tomes from Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison to London, Kipling, and Twain. I wrote 10-page papers on subjects from Ancient Sparta and military history to the founding of the United States and the resounding impact of slavery. I discovered more than I ever had, kindling a lifelong joy for learning.
While high school offered welcome academic opportunities--studying two languages and taking early science APs chief among them--the social environment was a different beast. Many classmates considered me more a little brother than a true friend, and my age and laser focus on academics initially made me socially inept. I joined sports teams in spring and built better relationships, but my lack of size (5’1”) and strength relegated me to the end of the bench. Oftentimes, I secretly wished I was normal age.
That secret desire manifested itself in different ways. While I’ve loved football since I was a little kid, I soon became obsessed with personal success on the gridiron--the key, I figured, to social acceptance and the solution to my age problem. I had grown up obsessively tracking my New England Patriots. Now, instead of armchair quarterbacking, I poured hours into throwing mechanics and studying film after my homework each night. Itching to grow, I adopted Brady’s diet, cutting dairy, white flour, and processed sugar. But in the rush to change, my attitude towards academics shifted; I came to regard learning as more a job than a joy. No matter what talents I possessed, I viewed myself as a failure because I couldn’t play.
That view held sway until a conversation with my friend Alex, the fastest receiver on the team. As I told him I wished we could switch places so I could succeed on the gridiron, he stared incredulously. “Dude,” he exclaimed, “I wish I was you!” Hearing my friends voice their confidence in my abilities prompted me to reflect: I quickly realized I was discounting my academic talents to fit a social construct. Instead of pushing myself to be something I wasn’t, I needed to meld my talents and my passions. Instead of playing sports, I recognized, I should coach them.
My goal to coach professionally has already helped me embrace the academic side of the game--my side--rather than sidelining it. I have devoured scouting tomes, analyzed NFL game film, spoken with pros like Dante Scarnecchia, and even joined the American Football Coaches Association. Translating that coach’s mentality into practice, I began explaining the concepts behind different plays to my teammates, helping them see the subtleties of strategy (despite Coach Whitcher’s complaints that I was trying to steal his job). And I discovered that my intellectual understanding of the game is far more important in determining my success than my athletic tools: with the discipline, adaptability, and drive I had already developed, I’ve become a better player, student, and friend.
Physically and mentally, I’ve changed a lot since freshman year, growing 11 inches and gaining newfound confidence in myself and my abilities. Instead of fighting for social acceptance, I’m free to focus on the things I love. Academically, that change re-inspired me. Able to express my full personality without social pressure, I rededicated myself in the classroom and my community. I still secretly wish to be Tom Brady. But now, I’m happy to settle for Bill Belichick.
There’s a wonderful hook. The first line is great. It’s funny, intriguing, and doesn’t give too much away. In just the first bit we already know that the author is a football enthusiast, detail-oriented, and academically gifted. Not only does it tell us a lot about him, but it allows him to transition into the meat of his story about how his unconventional educational trajectory influenced the person he is today. Think about how you can use the first sentence or two of your personal statement to effectively introduce readers to your narrative voice and rope them into reading more.
It has a great “Aha!” moment. Great personal statements often convey growth. In this example, the author struggles to find a place for himself in high school after skipping two grades and being homeschooled for a significant portion of his life. It isn’t until his friend on the football team affirms his value that he starts to see all of the ways in which his unique skills benefit the people around him. If you think of your essay like a movie reel of your life, this moment is sort of like the climax. It’s when the mindset of the main character changes and allows him to embrace what he’s got. The anticipation and release of this “aha moment” keeps readers engaged in the piece and demonstrates your ability, as the applicant, to be self-reflective and adaptable to change.
It covers a broad time frame, but still fits in tons of nice details. This essay essentially talks about the author’s life from 5th grade to present day. He’s not focusing on one specific moment. This is absolutely something you can do as well if you want to demonstrate how you’ve grown over a longer period of time. However, notice that the author here doesn’t sacrifice depth for breadth. Even though he’s covering a pretty significant chunk of time, he still touches on great details about his favorite classes and authors, football role models, and conversations with friends. These are what make the essay great and specific to his life. If you’re going to talk about more than just one event or moment, don’t forget to highlight important details along the way.
Personal Statement Example #4 Flying
As a young child, I was obsessed with flying. I spent hours watching birds fly, noting how the angle of their wings affected the trajectory of their flight. I would then waste tons of fresh printer paper, much to the dismay of my parents, to test out various wing types by constructing paper airplanes.
One day, this obsession reached its fever pitch.
I decided to fly.
I built a plane out of a wooden clothes rack and blankets, with trash bags as precautionary parachutes. As you can imagine, the maiden flight didn’t go so well. After being in the air for a solid second, the world came crashing around me as I slammed onto the bed, sending shards of wood flying everywhere.
Yet, even as a five-year-old, my first thoughts weren’t about the bleeding scratches that covered my body. Why didn’t the wings function like a bird’s wings? Why did hitting something soft break my frame? Why hadn’t the parachutes deployed correctly? Above all, why didn’t I fly?
As I grew older, my intrinsic drive to discover why stimulated a desire to solve problems, allowing my singular passion of flying to evolve into a deep-seated love of engineering.
I began to challenge myself academically, taking the hardest STEM classes offered . Not only did this allow me to complete all possible science and math courses by the end of my junior year, but it also surrounded me with the smartest kids of the grades above me, allowing me access to the advanced research they were working on. As such, I developed an innate understanding of topics such as protein function in the brain and differential equation modeling early in high school, helping me develop a strong science and math foundation to supplement my passion for engineering.
I also elected to participate in my school’s engineering pathway . As a team leader, I was able to develop my leadership skills as I identified and utilized each member’s strength to produce the best product. I sought to make design collaborative, not limited to the ideas of one person. In major group projects, such as building a hovercraft, I served as both president and devil’s advocate, constantly questioning if each design decision was the best option, ultimately resulting in a more efficient model that performed significantly better than our initial prototype.
Most of all, I sought to solve problems that impact the real world . Inspired by the water crisis in India, I developed a water purification system that combines carbon nanotube filters with shock electrodialysis to both desalinate and purify water more efficiently and cost-effectively than conventional plants. The following year, I ventured into disease detection, designing a piezoresistive microcantilever that detected the concentration of beta-amyloid protein to medically diagnose a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, a use for cantilevers that hadn’t yet been discovered. The project received 1st Honors at the Georgia Science Fair.
Working on these two projects, I saw the raw power of engineering – an abstract idea gradually becoming reality . I was spending most of my days understanding the why behind things, while also discovering solutions to prevalent issues. In a world that increasingly prioritizes a singular solution, I am captivated by engineering’s ability to continuously offer better answers to each problem.
Thirteen years have passed since that maiden flight, and I have yet to crack physical human flight . My five-year-old self would have seen this as a colossal failure. But the intense curiosity that I found in myself that day is still with me. It has continued to push me, forcing me to challenge myself to tackle ever more complex problems, engrossed by the promise and applicability of engineering.
I may never achieve human flight . However, now I see what once seemed like a crash landing as a runway, the platform off of which my love of engineering first took flight.
The author isn’t afraid to ask questions. This writer is clearly a curious and intellectual person. The questions they ask in the first part of the essay (“Why didn’t the wings function like a bird’s wings? Why did hitting something soft break my frame? Why hadn’t the parachutes deployed correctly? Above all, why didn’t I fly?”) highlight that. In your essay, don’t shy away from asking tough questions. In the end, the author still hasn’t achieved human flight, but you can clearly see how his interest in the whys of life has propelled him to take on new engineering problems. Sometimes, you don’t need to answer the questions you pose for them to serve a purpose in your essay.
It returns back to where it started. There’s something satisfying about returning to your intro in your conclusion. In this case, the author comes back to his first flying experience and re-evaluates what the experience means to him now as well as how his thinking has evolved. Think of your essay as a circle (or maybe a blob depending on what you’re writing about). Your end should loop back to where you started after your narrative arc is mostly complete.
Uses specific jargon (but not too much). We might not know what a “piezoresistive microcantilever” is or how it relates to “beta-amyloid proteins,” but that’s not really the point of including it in this essay. By using these terms the author signals to us that he knows what he’s talking about and has a degree of expertise in engineering. On the flip side, you don’t want to use so much jargon that your reader has no idea what you’re saying. Including a little bit of field-specific language can go a long way, so you don’t want to overdo it. If you’re not sure what specific details or language to include, check out our 21 Details Exercise and see if that helps you brainstorm some ideas.
Personal Statement Example #5 Arab Spring in Bahrain
February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain.
I learned to be alert to the rancid smell of tear gas. Its stench would waft through the air before it invaded my eyes, urging me inside before they started to sting. Newspaper front pages constantly showed images of bloodied clashes, made worse by Molotov cocktails. Martial Law was implemented; roaming tanks became a common sight. On my way to school, I nervously passed burning tires and angry protesters shouting “Yaskut Hamad! “ [“Down with King Hamad!”]. Bahrain, known for its palm trees and pearls, was waking up from a slumber. The only home I had known was now a place where I learned to fear.
September 2013– Two and a half years after the uprisings, the events were still not a distant memory. I decided the answer to fear was understanding. I began to analyze the events and actions that led to the upheaval of the Arab Springs. In my country, religious and political tensions were brought to light as Shias, who felt underrepresented and neglected within the government, challenged the Sunnis, who were thought to be favored for positions of power. I wanted equality and social justice; I did not want the violence to escalate any further and for my country to descend into the nightmare that is Libya and Syria.
September 2014– Pursuing understanding helped allay my fears, but I also wanted to contribute to Bahrain in a positive way. I participated in student government as a student representative and later as President, became a member of Model United Nations (MUN), and was elected President of the Heritage Club, a charity-focused club supporting refugees and the poor.
As an MUN delegate, I saw global problems from perspectives other than my own and used my insight to push for compromise. I debated human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an Israeli perspective, argued whether Syrian refugees should be allowed entry into neighboring European countries, and then created resolutions for each problem. In the Heritage Club, I raised funds and ran food drives so that my team could provide support for less fortunate Bahrainis. We regularly distributed boxed lunches to migrant workers, bags of rice to refugees and air conditioners to the poor.
April 2016 – The Crown Prince International Scholarship Program (CPISP) is an intensive leadership training program where participants are chosen on merit, not political ideologies. Both Shia and Sunni candidates are selected, helping to diversify the future leadership of my country. I was shortlisted to attend the training during that summer.
July 2016 – The CPISP reaffirmed for me the importance of cooperation. At first, building chairs out of balloons and skyscrapers out of sticks didn’t seem meaningful. But as I learned to apply different types of leadership styles to real-life situations and honed my communication skills to lead my team, I began to see what my country was missing: harmony based on trust. Bringing people together from different backgrounds and successfully completing goals—any goal—builds trust. And trust is the first step to lasting peace.
October 2016 – I have only begun to understand my people and my history, but I no longer live in fear. Instead, I have found purpose. I plan to study political science and economics to find answers for the issues that remain unresolved in my country. Bahrain can be known for something more than pearl diving, palm trees, and the Arab Spring; it can be known for the understanding of its people, including me.
Orients the reader in time. As you’ve seen in several other example essays already, date and time can be used very effectively to structure a piece. This author talks about an intensely political topic, which changed drastically over the course of a specific timeframe. Because of that, the use of timestamps elevates the piece and makes it easier for readers to follow the chronology of the story. If your essay topic is something that has changed significantly over time or has developed in a chronological way, this might be a great blueprint for you. Check out our Feelings and Needs Exercise to brainstorm for this kind of essay where you learn something along a narrative arc from Point A to Point B.
Gives us the right amount of context. When you’re talking about political or cultural issues or events, don’t assume that your reader has a base level of knowledge. Although you don’t want to spend too much time on the nitty gritty details of policy reform or history, you should offer your reader some sense of when something was taking place and why. The author of this piece does that very succinctly and accessibly in his “September 2013” entry.
Emphasizes the author’s role and contributions. With political topics, it’s easy to get carried away talking about the issue itself. However, remember that this is ultimately a personal statement, not a political statement. You want to make sure you talk about yourself in the essay. So, even though the author is discussing a huge event, he focuses on his participation in Model UN, CRISP, and Heritage Club. When possible, think about how big issues manifest in your day to day life as well as what you specifically are doing to take action.
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Personal statement example #6 poop, animals and the environment.
I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays.
I don’t mind it, either. For that matter, I also don’t mind being pecked at, hissed at, scratched and bitten—and believe me, I have experienced them all.
I don’t mind having to skin dead mice, feeding the remaining red embryonic mass to baby owls. (Actually, that I do mind a little.)
I don’t mind all this because when I’m working with animals , I know that even though they probably hate me as I patch them up, their health and welfare is completely in my hands. Their chances of going back to the wild, going back to their homes, rely on my attention to their needs and behaviors.
My enduring interest in animals and habitat loss led me to intern at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley over the summer , and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet those opossum joeys that defecated on my shoes whenever I picked them up (forcing me to designate my favorite pair of shoes as animal hospital shoes, never to be worn elsewhere again). It was there that a juvenile squirrel decided my finger looked fit to suckle, and that many an angry pigeon tried to peck off my hands.
And yet, when the internship ended, I found myself hesitant to leave . That hesitation didn’t simply stem from my inherent love of animals. It was from the sense of responsibility that I developed while working with orphaned and injured wildlife. After all, most of the animals are there because of us—the baby opossums and squirrels are there because we hit their mothers with our cars, raptors and coyotes end up there due to secondary rodenticide poisoning and illegal traps. We are responsible for the damage, so I believe we are responsible for doing what we can to help. And of course, there is empathy—empathy for the animals who lost their mothers, their homes, their sight and smell, their ability to fly or swim. I couldn’t just abandon them.
I couldn’t just abandon them the same way I couldn’t let big oil companies completely devastate the Arctic, earth’s air conditioner . The same way I couldn’t ignore the oceans, where destructive fishing practices have been wiping out ocean life.
These are not jobs that can be avoided or left half-finished. For some, the Arctic is simply too far away, and the oceans will always teem with life, while for others these problems seem too great to ever conquer. And while I have had these same feelings many times over, I organized letter-writing campaigns, protested, and petitioned the oil companies to withdraw. I campaigned in local parks to educate people on sustaining the seas. I hold on to the hope that persistent efforts will prevent further damage.
I sometimes wonder if my preoccupation with social and environmental causes just makes me feel less guilty. Maybe I do it just to ease my own conscience, so I can tell people “At least I did something.” I hope that it’s not just that. I hope it’s because my mother always told me to treat others as I want to be treated, even if I sometimes took this to its logical extreme, moving roadkill to the bushes along the side of the road because “Ma, if I was hit by a car I would want someone to move me off the road, too.”
The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it . I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others.
Another great hook. Much like the football essay, this one starts off with a bang. After hearing about all the pecking, hissing, pooping, and clawing that the author endured, chances are you want to read more. And notice how the initial pooping hook comes back in the last line of the essay.
The scope gets wider as the piece progresses. The author starts with specific details about an internship opportunity then gradually works her way to broader topics about social justice and environmental activism. Every part of the piece emphasizes her values, but they are more explicitly stated towards the end. This trajectory is nice because it allows the reader to ease themselves into the world of the author and then see how specific opportunities or interests connect to broader goals or ambitions. When you’re revising your essay, take a look at each paragraph and see if each one brings something new to the table or moves the narrative forward in some way.
It’s funny . This author does a great job of using humor as a tool to endear her to readers, but not as a crutch to lean on when she has nothing else to say. Not only is she cracking jokes about poop, but also deeply interrogating her own motivations for being interested in social and environmental activism. The balance of humor and genuine reflection is fun to read while also saying a lot about the author and her values/interests.
Personal Statement Example #7 Entoptic Phenomena
I subscribe to what the New York Times dubs “the most welcomed piece of daily e-mail in cyberspace.” Cat pictures? Kardashian updates? Nope: A Word A Day.
Out of the collection of diverse words I received, one word stuck out to me in particular.
Entoptic : relating to images that originate within the eye (as opposed to from light entering the eye). Examples of entoptic phenomena: floaters, thread-like fragments that appear to float in front of the eye but are caused by matter within the eye. (for a picture: https://wordsmith.org/words/entoptic.html)
As I read through this entry, I was suddenly transported back to the first grade, when I was playing Pokémon Go one day with my friends during recess. Our version was epic: we escaped into virtual reality with our imagination rather than our phone screens, morphing into different Pokémon to do battle.
My friend Ryan had just transformed into an invisible ghost-type Pokémon capable of evading my attacks. Flustered, I was attempting to evolve my abilities to learn to see the invisible. Between rubbing my eyes and squinting, I began to make out subtle specks in the air that drifted from place to place. Aha—the traces of the ghost Pokémon! I launched a thunderbolt straight through the air and declared a super-effective knockout.
...Of course, I never was able to explain what I was seeing to my bewildered friends that day in first grade. But after learning about entoptic phenomena, I realized that my entoptic adventure was not a hallucination but, in fact, one of my first intellectual milestones, when I was first able to connect meticulous observation of my environment to my imagination.
Nowadays, I don’t just see minuscule entoptic phenomena: I see ghosts, too. Two of their names are Larry and Kailan, and they are the top-ranked players in the Exynos League.
Exynos is the name of the elaborate basketball league I have created in my imagination over the last ten years of playing basketball on the neighborhood court in the evenings. As I play, I envision Larry and Kailan right there with me: reaching, stealing, and blocking. Undoubtedly, I might look a little silly when I throw the ball backwards as if Larry blocked my layup attempt—but imagining competitors defending me drives me to be precise in my execution of different moves and maneuvers. More than that, it is a constant motivator for all my endeavors: whether I’m researching for debate or studying for the next math contest, I am inventing and personifying new competitive ghosts that are hard at work every minute I’m off task.
But I perceive perhaps the most vivid images through music, as I tell a different story with each piece I play on the violin. When I play Bach’s lively Prelude in E Major, for example, I visualize a mouse dashing up and down hills and through mazes to escape from an evil cat (à la Tom and Jerry). But when I play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, I describe a relationship plagued by unrequited love. I revel in the intellectual challenge of coming up with a story that is not only consistent with the composer’s annotations but also resonates with my own experiences.
Between re-living Tom and Jerry episodes and shooting fadeaway three-pointers against ghosts, then, perhaps entoptic phenomena don’t tell my whole story. So, here’s my attempt—in the form of a word of the day, of course:
Pokémon Boom : a legendary form of augmented reality so pure that it is commonly mistaken for hallucination. Denizens of this world are rumored to watch Netflix re-runs without WiFi and catch many a Pikachu via psychokinesis.
It makes tons of uncommon connections. Think about the range of topics covered in this piece: words, Pokémon, basketball, ghosts, debate, math, and music (to name just a few). Yet the author uses the idea of imagination and its relation to vision to weave these disparate topics into a coherent narrative. In fact, his ability to do so emphasizes his ability to think creatively in ways that the average person may not. To find these, consider brainstorming everything you want colleges to know about you and then think of interesting ways in which these might intersect.
It doesn’t try to be overly intellectual. This essay spends most of its time talking about things that we wouldn’t traditionally consider “academic” or “college-y.” In fact, at least a third of it is devoted solely to Pokémon. The author briefly touches on his interest in math and debate, but otherwise it’s used more as a short example than a key point. The takeaway is: you don’t have to talk about classes or academic interests to write a killer essay. You absolutely can if you want to, but feel free to let your imagination run wild. If something excites or intrigues you, try writing a draft about it and see where it takes you.
It’s specific to the author. The combination of examples and insights you see in this essay truly couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Imagine you’re the admissions officer reading this application. It would absolutely stand out from the other essays in the bunch. Sure, other people play basketball. Sure, other people might like Pokémon or enjoy music. But, the particular way in which the author articulates his interests and connects them makes it memorable.
Personal Statement Example #8 The Builder & Problem Solver
Since childhood, I have been an obsessive builder and problem solver . When I was 6, I spent two months digging a hole in my backyard, ruining the grass lawn, determined to make a giant koi pond after watching a show on HGTV. After watching Castaway when I was 7, I started a fire in my backyard--to my mother's horror--using bark and kindling like Tom Hanks did. I neglected chores and spent nights locked in my room drawing pictures and diagrams or learning rubik's cube algorithms while my mother yelled at me through the door to go to sleep. I've always been compulsive about the things I set my mind to. The satisfaction of solving problems and executing my visions is all-consuming.
But my obsessive personality has helped me solve other problems, too.
When I was 8, I taught myself how to pick locks . I always dreamed of how cool it must have been inside my brother’s locked bedroom. So I didn't eat at school for two weeks and saved up enough lunch money to buy a lockpicking set from Home Depot. After I wiggled the tension wrench into the keyhole and twisted it counterclockwise, I began manipulating the tumblers in the keyhole with the pick until I heard the satisfying click of the lock and entered the room. Devouring his stash of Lemonheads was awesome, but not as gratifying as finally getting inside his room.
As the projects I tackled got bigger, I had to be more resourceful . One day in history class after reading about early American inventions, I decided to learn how to use a Spinning Jenny. When my parents unsurprisingly refused to waste $500 on an 18th century spinning wheel, I got to work visiting DIY websites to construct my own by disassembling my bike and removing the inner tube from the wheel, gathering string and nails, and cutting scrap wood. For weeks, I brushed my two cats everyday until I had gathered enough fur. I washed and soaked it, carded it with paddle brushes to align the fibers, and then spun it into yarn, which I then used to crochet a clutch purse for my grandmother on mother's day. She still uses it to this day.
In high school, my obsessive nature found a new outlet in art . Being a perfectionist, I often tore up my work in frustration at the slightest hint of imperfection. As a result, I was slowly falling behind in my art class, so I had to seek out alternate solutions to actualize the ideas I had in my head. Oftentimes that meant using mixed media or experimenting with unconventional materials like newspaper or cardboard. Eventually I went on to win several awards, showcased my art in numerous galleries and magazines, and became President of National Art Honors Society. Taking four years of art hasn't just taught me to be creative, it’s taught me that there are multiple solutions to a problem.
After high school I began to work on more difficult projects and I channeled my creativity into a different form of art - programming . I’m currently working on an individual project at the Schepens Institute at Harvard University. I'm writing a program in Matlab that can measure visual acuity and determine what prescription glasses someone would need. I ultimately plan to turn this into a smartphone app to be released to the general public.
The fact is that computer coding is in many ways similar to the talents and hobbies I enjoyed as a child—they all require finding creative ways to solve problems . While my motivation to solve these problems might have been a childlike sense of satisfaction in creating new things, I have developed a new and profound sense of purpose and desire to put my problem solving skills to better our world.
It turns a perceived weakness into a critical strength. At the beginning of the essay, the author talks about all of the problems she caused because of her obsession (ironically) with problem-solving. However, as the piece progresses, we begin to see how her childlike curiosity and interest in making things became a clear asset. It becomes a way of emphasizing values like resourcefulness, empathy, and dedication. In several other essay examples, we’ve highlighted this idea of growth. This example is no exception. Highlighting the ways in which you’ve changed or reframed your thinking is a great thing to show off to college admissions officers. If you know you’ve experienced some significant change but you’re not sure how to describe it, use our Feelings and Needs Exercise to get started.
There’s a discussion of what’s next. Many colleges are interested not only in what you’ve done, but also how you’d like to pursue your interests in the future. The author here spends some time at the end talking about her plans for a prescription-measuring smartphone app and her general interest in learning more about computer coding. While the piece has a clear conclusion, these examples highlight the ongoing nature of her educational journey and her openness to further learning. It answers the question of “ so what? ”
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Personal statement example #9 the little porch and a dog.
It was the first Sunday of April. My siblings and I were sitting at the dinner table giggling and spelling out words in our alphabet soup. The phone rang and my mother answered. It was my father; he was calling from prison in Oregon.
My father had been stopped by immigration on his way to Yakima, Washington, where he’d gone in search of work. He wanted to fulfill a promise he’d made to my family of owning our own house with a nice little porch and a dog.
Fortunately, my father was bailed out of prison by a family friend in Yakima. Unfortunately, though, most of our life savings was spent on his bail. We moved into a rented house, and though we did have a porch, it wasn’t ours. My father went from being a costurero (sewing worker) to being a water-filter salesman, mosaic tile maker, lemon deliverer, and butcher.
Money became an issue at home, so I started helping out more. After school I’d rush home to clean up and make dinner. My parents refused to let me have a “real” job, so on Saturday afternoons I’d go to the park with my older brother to collect soda cans. Sundays and summertime were spent cleaning houses with my mother.
I worked twice as hard in school. I helped clean my church, joined the choir, and tutored my younger sister in math. As tensions eased at home, I returned to cheerleading, joined a school club called Step Up , and got involved in my school’s urban farm, where I learned the value of healthy eating. Slowly, life improved. Then I received some life-changing news.
My father’s case was still pending and, due to a form he’d signed when he was released in Yakima, it was not only him that was now in danger of being deported, it was my entire family. My father’s lawyer informed me that I’d have to testify in court and in fact our stay in the US was now dependent on my testimony.
The lawyer had an idea: I had outstanding grades and recommendation letters. If we could show the judge the importance of my family remaining here to support my education, perhaps we had a chance. So I testified.
My father won his case and was granted residency.
Living in a low-income immigrant household has taught me to appreciate all I’ve been given. Testifying in court helped me grow as a person, has made me more open-minded and aware of the problems facing my community. And my involvement in the urban farm has led me to consider a career as a nutritionist.
Though neither of my parents attended college, they understand that college is a key factor to a bright future and therefore have been very supportive. And though we don't yet have the house with the small porch and the dog, we're still holding out hope.
I believe college can help.
Drops us in a moment in time. The beginning of this essay is a bit disorienting because it places us in a scene within the author’s life as they experience it. We don’t know all of the information, so we’re a bit confused, but that confusion makes us want to read more. This is a great tactic when done well because it helps us identify with the author and piques our curiosity.
Shows the agency, independence, and resilience of the applicant. The author here goes through a lot over the course of the essay. They have to face very real fears about incarceration, deportation, and financial instability on a daily basis. Talking about the ways in which they approached these obstacles highlights their ability to think clearly under pressure and make the most of what they have. If you have faced significant hardships , worked through them, learned valuable lessons, and want to share these with colleges, the personal statement can be a good place to do that. If you’d prefer to write about something else in your personal statement, but you’d still like to mention your challenges somewhere in your application, you can instead briefly describe them in your Additional Information section. If you want to write about struggles that are particularly related to COVID-19, check out our guide for specific suggestions.
Era el primer domingo de abril. Mis hermanos y yo estábamos sentados en la mesa del comedor riendonos y deletreando palabras en nuestra sopa de letras. El teléfono sonó y mi madre respondió. Era mi padre. El estaba llamando desde la cárcel en Oregon.
Mi padre había sido detenido por inmigración en su camino a Yakima, Washington, donde había ido en busca de trabajo. Quería cumplir una promesa que le había hecho a mi familia de tener nuestra propia casa con un pequeño y agradable porche y un perro.
Afortunadamente, mi padre fue rescatado de la cárcel por un amigo de la familia en Yakima. Pero lamentablemente la mayor parte de nuestros ahorros se gastó en su fianza . Nos mudamos a una casa alquilada, y aunque teníamos un porche, no era nuestra. Mi padre pasó de ser un costurero (trabajador de coser) de ser un vendedor de filtros de agua, fabricante de baldosas de mosaicos, libertador de limones, y carnicero.
El dinero se convirtió en un problema en casa, así que comencé a ayudar más. Después de la escuela llegaba temprano a mi hogar para limpiar y preparar la cena. Mis padres se negaron a dejarme tener un trabajo "real.” Por lo tanto, los sábados por la tarde me iba al parque con mi hermano mayor para recoger latas de refrescos. En domingos y en el verano limpiaba casas con mi madre.
Trabajé dos veces más duro en la escuela. Ayudé a limpiar mi iglesia, me uní al coro, y dí clases particulares a mi hermana menor en las matemáticas. Mientras las tensiones disminuyeron en casa, volví al grupo de porristas, me uní a un club escolar llamado Step Up, y me involucré en la granja urbana de mi escuela, donde aprendí el valor de la alimentación saludable. Poco a poco, la vida mejoraba. Luego recibí una noticia que cambia la vida.
El caso de mi padre todavía estaba pendiente, y debido a una forma que había firmado cuando fue liberado en Yakima, no sólo era él que estaba ahora en peligro de ser deportado, era toda mi familia. El abogado de mi padre me informó que yo tendría que declarar ante los tribunales, y de hecho, nuestra estancia en los EE.UU. ahora dependia de mi testimonio.
El abogado tuvo una idea: yo tenía sobresalientes calificaciones y cartas de recomendaciones. Si pudiéramos demostrar a la juez la importancia de que mi familia se quedará aquí para apoyar a mi educación, tal vez tuviéramos una oportunidad. Así que di mi testimonio.
Mi padre ganó su caso y se le concedió la residencia.
Vivir en un hogar de inmigrantes de bajos ingresos me ha enseñado a apreciar todo lo que se me ha dado . Dar mi testimonio en el tribunal me ha ayudado a crecer como persona y me ha hecho más consciente de los problemas que se enfrentan en mi comunidad. Y mi implicación en la granja urbana me ha llevado a considerar una carrera como nutricionista .
Aunque ninguno de mis padres asistieron a la universidad, ellos entienden que la universidad es un factor clave para un futuro brillante, y por lo tanto, han sido un gran apoyo . Y aunque todavía no tenemos la casa con el pequeño porche y el perro, todavía estamos tendiendo la esperanza.
Creo que la universidad puede ayudar.
Personal Statement Example #10 Life As an Undocumented Student
At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. I held tightly to a tube of toothpaste because I’d been sent to brush my teeth to distract me from the commotion. Regardless, I knew what was happening: my dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.
Living without a father meant money was tight, mom worked two jobs, and my brother and I took care of each other when she worked. For a brief period of time the quality of our lives slowly started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became an integral part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me. But our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more and more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, my mom continued working, and Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.
As undocumented immigrants and with little to no family around us, we had to rely on each other. Fearing that any disclosure of our status would risk deportation, we kept to ourselves when dealing with any financial and medical issues. I avoided going on certain school trips, and at times I was discouraged to even meet new people. I felt isolated and at times disillusioned; my grades started to slip.
Over time, however, I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.
Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix a bike, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I became resourceful, fixing shoes with strips of duct tape, and I even found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.
I also worked to apply myself constructively in other ways. I worked hard and took my grades from Bs and Cs to consecutive straight A’s. I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and learned how to play the clarinet, saxophone, and the oboe. Plus, I not only became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam, I’m currently pioneering my school’s first AP Physics 2 course ever.
These changes inspired me to help others. I became president of the California Scholarship Federation, providing students with information to prepare them for college, while creating opportunities for my peers to play a bigger part in our community. I began tutoring kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices crafted to individually push my comrades to their limits, and I’ve counseled friends through circumstances similar to mine. I’ve done tons, and I can finally say I’m proud of that.
But I’m excited to say that there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, explored how perpetual motion might fuel space exploration, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see the person that Fernando will become.
I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to. Because I choose to.
Again, the author shows growth. We’ve said it a couple times, but it’s nice to highlight growth when possible. Although the author’s family circumstances and immigrant status meant he had to face significant hardships, he learned how to take care of themselves and use his obstacles as motivation to succeed. We see concrete signs of growth in the way he improved his grades and got more involved in school clubs like the California Scholarship Federation as well as athletic extracurriculars like swimming. Essentially, he shows how he made the best of his situation.
The author’s curiosity is palpable. One of the best things about this essay is the very end. The writer has already shown us how much he has had to overcome and how much he’s thrived in high school despite his circumstances. However, he doesn’t just stop. He tells us about all the other things he hopes to do and conveys a clear excitement at the possibility for learning in the future. There’s something lovely about seeing someone who is excited for what the future might hold. It endears him to readers and demonstrates his natural inclination to continue pushing forward, no matter what life might throw his way. Plus, it’s worth noting that he ends on the quality of autonomy , which was his #1 value when you completed the Values Exercise .
Personal Statement Example #11 Umbra
Umbra: the innermost, darkest part of a shadow
The fifth set of chimes rings out and I press my hands against the dusty doors. My nose itches, but scratching would smudge the little black whiskers painted onto my face. I peer through the tiny crack between the cupboard doors, trying to glimpse the audience. The sixth set of chimes, my cue, begins, and I pop onto stage, the brilliant lights flooding my vision. Clara and Drosselmeyer stand to my left, and in front of me lies an endless ocean of audience. I pause a moment, taking it in, then do my best mouse scurry towards the wings. I love performing and dancing to connect with an audience. I dance to inspire others, to share my joy and passion, and because I love the rush of excitement while I’m surrounded by the stage lights .
My hands, covered in grease, hurt terribly as I help another girl with the wire crimper. We force the handles together, and our Anderson connector is finally ready. People scurry around us—several students are riveting metal, assisted by my father (for me, robotics is a family activity), while another pair, including my younger brother, works on assembling the drive train. The next room is filled with shouted Java commands and autonomous code. I’m working on a system that will focus on the reflective tape on our target, allowing the camera to align our shooting mechanism. I love the comradery in robotics, the way teams support each other even amid intense competitions. I love seeing the real world application of knowledge, and take pride in competing in front of hundreds of people. Most of all, I love spending time with my family, connecting with them in our own unique way. Back in the electrical room, I plug in my connector, and the room is filled with bright green light .
I pull on a pair of Nitrile gloves before grabbing my forceps. I carefully extract my latest Western Blot from its gel box, placing it on the imaging system. I’m searching for the presence of PARP1 and PLK1 in dysplasia and tumor cells, especially in reference to DNA damage and apoptosis. I’ve already probed the blot with a fluorescent reagent for imaging. On the screen, I see my bands of protein expression, the bands of red light showing PARP1 and the bands of green showing PLK1. I haven’t been doing research for long, but I’ve already fallen in love with constantly having something new to learn.
Christmas carols play softly as I chase my little brother around the living room, trying to get him to wear a Santa hat. The smell of tamales wafts through the air as my mom and grandmother stand over the pot of mole sauce. The ornament boxes are opened on the floor, each one special to our family, representing our adventures, our love, our history. My dad is winding a mile-long string of lights around the tree, covering the room with a soft glow. My homemade gifts—hats, scarves, blankets I’ve knitted—lie messily wrapped beneath the tree. My family has made tamales on Christmas Eve for generations, and each year it’s a way for us to connect to both each other and our heritage.
Light will usually travel in a perfectly straight line, but if it comes in contact with something it can bounce off it or bend around it, which is why people make shadows. The very innermost part of that shadow, the umbra, is where no light has bent around you—it has completely changed direction, bounced off. People are constantly changing and shaping the light around them, and never notice. But in hindsight, I see it’s the lights that have shaped me.
It demonstrates craft. This author went through 10+ drafts of this essay, and her effort shows in her refined language and structure. She uses images to beautiful effect, drawing us into each experience in her montage, from the moments on stage to robotics to the lab to her family. She also demonstrates craft through the subtlety of her structural thread—we’ve bolded light above, to make it more obvious, but notice how she essentially saves what would traditionally be her introduction for her final paragraph (with some beautiful, refined phrasing therein), and uses “Umbra” and light to thread the paragraphs. This is very hard to pull off well, and is why she went through so many revisions, to walk a fine line between subtlety and clarity.
Show and tell. Rather than just “ Show, don’t tell ,” in a college essay, we think it’s useful to show your reader first, but then use some “telling” language to make sure they walk away with a clear understanding of what’s important to you. For example, this author shows her values through details/actions/experiences—more on values in a sec—then uses the ends of her body paragraphs to more directly tell us about those values and reflect on what they mean to her. And her final paragraph both shows and tells, using language that offers strong symbolism, while also ending with some poetic phrasing that tells us how this all comes together (in case we somehow missed it).
Values and insight/reflection. Because values are core to your essay and application, we’re going to end this post discussing them one more time. Notice how each paragraph demonstrates different values (art/performing, community, engagement, inspiration, joy/passion in the first paragraph alone) and reflects on how or why those values are important to her. We walk away with a strong sense of who this student is and what she would bring to our college campus.
Personal Statement Example #12 Angry brown girl, feminist, singer, meme-lover
My Twitter bio reads: angry brown girl, feminist, singer, meme-lover. You will notice live-tweets of my feminist Pride and Prejudice thoughts, analyses of Hamilton’s power for musical representation, and political memes. Just as my posts bring together seemingly disparate topics, I believe there is a vibrancy that exists at the multidimensional place where my interests intersect.
Growing up as a debater and musician, it was easy to see the two as distinct entities where I had to make unequivocal choices. At the start of my junior year, I decided not to participate in the musical in order to work for Emerge California, an organization that helps Democratic women run for office. There I learned about data science, gender distributions in public office, and how to work with the evil printer. I also halted my voice and piano lessons to focus on building my student-led non-profit, Agents of Change. As someone who has diverted my energy into community activism, I can attest to the power of grassroots movements. It has been so rewarding to measure the impact that my team has had on my community. But even so, I felt that I was losing touch with the music that was such a profound part of me.
I found a new way of being when I started combining my artsy and political sides. I took an intensive class on protest music, where I learned how political movements have been shaped by the music of their time. While in the class, we were asked to compose our own songs. I am not a songwriter, but I am an activist, and I embraced the opportunity to turn music into an outlet for my political beliefs. As a first-generation American, I am dedicated to raising awareness about refugee rights and immigration. My songs about the Syrian Refugee Crisis let me find a way to bring the two sides of me together and gave me a rush that neither music nor politics by themselves would have provided.
This introduction led me to apply to the Telluride Association Protest Poetics program, where I dove deeper into my own identity. I wrote songs about police brutality and the ways that as a non-black person of color I am implicated in instances of subliminal racism. Over the course of the program, as I became more familiar with the visual, literary, and performance art we analyzed, I slowly started to realize that, though I confront colorism, jokes about Indian culture, and intra-community violence in some form every day, my proximity to whiteness still gives me immense amounts of privilege. I have come to know that this means I have a responsibility to both be at the forefront of movements, and conscious of not stepping over the voices of other intersectional identities. I hope that the music I choose to perform and the way I live my life can amplify, not overwrite, any of the struggles that others deal with daily.
Last year, I had another opportunity to use music to pay homage to an issue I care deeply about. In my South Asian community, mental health is an issue that is often papered over. When a member of my school community committed suicide, I was asked to sing “Amazing Grace” for the school to both unify and honor the student. Though I thought that I had really understood the power of music, holding that space for my entire school had a profound resonance that I still don’t fully understand.
My voice is an instrument for change -- whether it be through me raising my hand to contribute to a discussion in a classroom, speaking out against gun violence at a rally, or singing at an event of solidarity. I know that someday my voice, in conjunction with many other unique voices and perspectives, will make a difference.
Get clear on the story you’re telling. Debate? Political organizing? Musical theater? Protest music? This writer probably had a lot more to say about all of those experiences. But we don’t get the whole backstory about her journey toward musical theater. Why? Because she’s clear on what this story is about (she may have even written a logline to get that clarity…). We don’t need a lot of context about her decision “not to participate in the musical” because this essay isn’t about her experiences with musical theater; it’s about her forging a new identity by combining seemingly disparate interests (e.g., music and political advocacy). Telling us every musical she’s ever been in won’t help us “get” what she’s saying in this essay (and she has the activities list to tell us that…). Instead, she shows us only the details relevant to her trying to balance a love of music with her newfound interests: she decides “not to participate in the musical,” and she “halts voice and piano lessons.”
Bridge the gap (between paragraphs). Stronger essays have paragraphs with clear relationships to one another. This writer uses various phrases to achieve that clarity. When she starts paragraph four with “this introduction,” you understand that she’s referring to her “songs about the Syrian Refugee Crisis” from the end of paragraph three. Similarly, she resolves the problem of her “losing touch” with music at the end of paragraph two by beginning paragraph three by stating she found a “new way of being…” She’s using those key moments of transition to tell her readers: hey, I’m going somewhere with all these ideas, you can trust me.
You don’t have to have all the answers . When the writer tells us that she sang “Amazing Grace” to honor someone in her community who died by suicide, she gets vulnerable—she says that she still doesn't “fully understand” the effects of that moment. In admitting that she’s still coming to terms with that experience, she comes off as a mature, reasoned person who thinks deeply about lived experience. No one reading your essay is going to expect you to have fully processed every difficult experience you’ve ever had in your life. That would be outrageous. What they will appreciate seeing, though, is that you’ve reflected deeply on lived experiences. Sometimes reflection yields answers. Sometimes it just yields more questions. Either is okay—just don’t feel like you need to have everything figured out to write about it (or that you need to pretend like you do).
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10 Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for University Applications
By Dora Petra Olah
The personal statement is a crucial part of university applications in the UK. It’s your chance to show what makes you unique, besides your birth name and UCAS ID. In just 4,000 characters you have to convince your chosen university that you are the best applicant, and that they should make you an offer immediately. These 4,000 characters are your only chance, so your personal statement needs to be good. Really good. Here are some tips on how to write a truly outstanding piece.
1. Make a draft without a character counter.
When I started writing, I thought it would be a good idea to start with the character counter turned on, so I wouldn’t go over the 4,000 limit. First mistake… After 3,500 characters I started panicking because I was only halfway through my story. So I turned off the character counter and continued writing. At the end I had 7,000 characters instead of 4,000, but I had written down everything I wanted to say, and I only had to delete some words and compress it. That’s far easier than inserting more ideas while keeping it under 4,000 characters at the same time. By the way, the final version was 3,999 characters!
2. Take your time.
Do not rush it. A superb personal statement will not be ready in a couple of hours. Or even a couple of days. It took me more than a month to complete the version I finally sent in. Sometimes it’s worth taking a break for a few days, then coming back to it afresh.
3. Find the perfect words and expressions.
It sounds more professional and elegant if you use ‘accomplish’ rather than ‘do’, or ‘presume’ rather than ‘think’. As an international applicant, it was even more difficult since English is not my native language, but there are some useful translation and synonym programs on the internet to help with this. I used Google Translate primarily, which includes a great deal of synonyms if you translate words from English to another language. But this synonym thing should be carefully performed, as using too many fancy words could make your statement sound overdone and difficult to read.
4. Concentrate on your strengths.
In these 4,000 characters you are trying to sell yourself to the university. A perfect product proposer is all about how great that thing is, and it’s the same with your personal statement. You should write about your experiences, your knowledge and your future plans. You should NOT write, “I wanted to learn Spanish but I gave it up after a week” or “I am not very good at maths, but I think this is understandable since I hate it so much.”
5. Find the perfect opening sentence.
Starting with something funny, interesting, unusual or surprising will give a good first impression. But do not try to squeeze something funny out of your brain; that is useless. The perfect opening sentence will just hit you in a random moment, when you have already worked hours and hours on your personal statement. So, just wait and do not overthink it.
6. Make it your own work, voice and ideas.
I suggest that you should not read any other personal statements before writing the first few drafts of yours. It will simply give you a false idea. You are most definitely unique, and it is worthless to follow some set rules or patterns, or someone else’s ideas. After all, this is about you, not somebody else.
7. Be honest.
Do not write that you are fluent in Spanish if you can only say “I love you” in Spanish. Do not write that you are good at problem-solving if your sole example is a trick of carrying five bottles in one hand. If you are good, you are good the way you are. There is no need to create a false image, and indeed the truth will always come out sooner or later.
8. Get someone to proofread your statement.
Your parents, your teachers, your friends, your enemies… The more people you show it to, the more feedback you will get, and the better the final version will be. Of course, some advice will be better and some less so, but it is easier to ask many people first, and differentiate later.
9. Read it out loud many times.
It helped me a lot when I read my personal statement out to my family and friends. When you are writing it sentence by sentence, you might not realize that there is no cohesion between your paragraphs. But when you read it out, all the vague parts will magically appear, so you can correct them.
10. Once you submit your university application, stop reading it!
I’d recommend not reading it for a few months once you’ve sent it in. You might feel it’s not as good as you thought previously, but this is normal. Waiting to hear from universities is the worst part of the whole process (even worse than completing the application form…). After you get the offer you wanted (which you will surely get, I know!), you will know that your application was just perfect the way you sent it.
To sum up, be yourself and write honestly about your experiences. Use your own voice, because that is who you are, and the universities are interested in you, not an ideal text based on a “how to write a personal statement” article…
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This article was originally published in June 2015 . It was last updated in April 2021
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Dora is from Hungary and preparing to start university in the UK. She will study chemical engineering because she loves chemistry, mathematics and physics. She is also a huge environmental enthusiast. Do not ask her about the cardinality of number sets, because she can talk about them for infinity! She blogs about chemistry, mathematics, university and life in general here .
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How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
← What Is an Application Theme and Why Is It Important?
10 Personal Statement Examples That Work →
Most of the college applications process is fairly cut and dry. You’ll submit information about your classes and grades, standardized test scores, and various other accomplishments and honors. On much of the application, your accomplishments must speak for themselves.
The personal statement is different though, and it’s your chance to let your voice be heard. To learn more about the personal statement, how to choose a topic, and how to write one that wows colleges, don’t miss this post.
What is the Personal Statement?
Personal statements are used in both undergraduate and graduate admissions. For undergrad admissions, personal statements are any essays students must write to submit their main application. For example, the Common App Essay and Coalition Application Essay are examples of personal statements. Similarly, the ApplyTexas Essays and University of California Essays are also good examples .
Personal statements in college admissions are generally not school-specific (those are called “supplemental essays”). Instead, they’re sent to a wide range of schools, usually every school you apply to.
What is the Purpose of the Personal Statement?
The personal statement is generally your opportunity to speak to your unique experiences, qualities, or beliefs that aren’t elsewhere represented on the application. It is a chance to break away from the data that defines you on paper, and provide a glimpse into who you really are. In short, it’s the admissions committee’s chance to get to know the real you.
So, what are colleges looking for in your personal statement? They are looking for something that sets you apart. They are asking themselves: do you write about something truly unique? Do you write about something common, in a new and interesting way? Do you write about an aspect of your application that needed further explanation? All of these are great ways to impress with your personal statement.
Beyond getting to know you, admissions committees are also evaluating your writing skills. Are you able to write clearly and succinctly? Can you tell an engaging story? Writing effectively is an important skill in both college and life, so be sure to also fine-tune your actual writing (grammar and syntax), not just the content of your essay.
Is your personal statement strong enough? Get a free review of your personal statement with CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review.
How To a Choose A Topic For Your Personal Statement
Most of the time, you’re given a handful of prompts to choose from. Common personal statement prompts include:
- Central aspect of your identity (activity, interest, talent, background)
- Overcoming a failure
- Time you rose to a challenge or showed leadership
- Experience that changed your beliefs
- Problem you’d like to solve
- Subject or idea that captivates you
One of the questions that we hear most often about the personal statement is, “How do I choose what to write about?” For some students, the personal statement prompt triggers an immediate and strong idea. For many more, there is at least initially some uncertainty.
We often encourage students to think less about the exact prompt and more about what aspects of themselves they think are most worthy of highlighting. This is especially helpful if you’re offered a “topic of your choice” prompt, as the best essay topic for you might actually be one you make up!
For students with an interesting story or a defining background, these can serve as the perfect catalyst to shape your approach. For students with a unique voice or different perspective, simple topics written in a new way can be engaging and insightful.
Finally, you need to consider the rest of your application when you choose a topic for your personal statement. If you are returning from a gap year, failed a single class during sophomore year, or participated extensively in something you’re passionate about that isn’t elsewhere on your application, you might attempt to address one of these topics in your statement. After all, the admissions committee wants to get to know you and understand who you really are, and these are all things that will give them a deeper understanding of that.
Still, tons of students have a decent amount of writer’s block when it comes to choosing a topic. This is understandable since the personal statement tends to be considered rather high stakes. To help you get the ball rolling, we recommend the post What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for College
1. approach this as a creative writing assignment..
Personal statements are difficult for many students because they’ve never had to do this type of writing. High schoolers are used to writing academic reports or analytical papers, but not creative storytelling pieces.
The point of creative writing is to have fun with it, and to share a meaningful story. Choose a topic that inspires you so that you’ll enjoy writing your essay. It doesn’t have to be intellectual or impressive at all. You have your transcript and test scores to prove your academic skills, so the point of the personal statement is to give you free rein to showcase your personality. This will result in a more engaging essay and reading experience for admissions officers.
As you’re writing, there’s no need to follow the traditional five-paragraph format with an explicit thesis. Your story should have an overarching message, but it doesn’t need to be explicitly stated—it should shine through organically.
Your writing should also feel natural. While it will be more refined than a conversation with your best friend, it shouldn’t feel stuffy or contrived when it comes off your tongue. This balance can be difficult to strike, but a tone that would feel natural when talking with an admired teacher or a longtime mentor is usually a good fit.
2. Show, don’t tell.
One of the biggest mistakes students make is to simply state everything that happened, instead of actually bringing the reader to the moment it happened, and telling a story. It’s boring to read: “I was overjoyed and felt empowered when I finished my first half marathon.” It’s much more interesting when the writing actually shows you what happened and what the writer felt in that moment: “As I rounded the final bend before the finish line, my heart fluttered in excitement. The adrenaline drowned out my burning legs and gasping lungs. I was going to finish my first half marathon! This was almost incomprehensible to me, as someone who could barely run a mile just a year ago.”
If you find yourself starting to write your essay like a report, and are having trouble going beyond “telling,” envision yourself in the moment you want to write about. What did you feel, emotionally and physically? Why was this moment meaningful? What did you see or hear? What were your thoughts?
For inspiration, read some memoirs or personal essays, like The New York Times Modern Love Column . You could also listen to podcasts of personal stories, like The Moth . What do these writers and storytellers do that make their stories engaging? If you didn’t enjoy a particular story, what was it that you didn’t like? Analyzing real stories can help you identify techniques that you personally resonate with.
3. Use dialogue.
A great way to keep your writing engaging is to include some dialogue. Instead of writing: “My brothers taunted me,” consider sharing what they actually said. It’s more powerful to read something like:
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame.
Having dialogue can break up longer paragraphs of text, and bring some action and immediacy to your story. That being said, don’t overdo it. It’s important to strike a balance between relying too much on dialogue, and using it occasionally as an effective writing tool. You don’t want your essay to read like a script for a movie (unless, of course, that’s intentional and you want to showcase your screenwriting skills!).
Want free essay feedback? Submit your essay to CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review and get fast, actionable edits on your essay.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Personal Statements
1. giving a recap or report of all the events..
Your essay isn’t a play-by-play of everything that happened in that time frame. Only include relevant details that enrich the story, instead of making your personal statement a report of the events. Remember that the goal is to share your voice, what’s important to you, and who you are.
2. Writing about too many events or experiences.
Similarly, another common mistake is to make your personal statement a resume or recap of all your high school accomplishments. The Activities Section of the Common App is the place for listing out your achievements, not your personal statement. Focus on one specific experience or a few related experiences, and go into detail on those.
3. Using cliche language.
Try to avoid overdone quotes from famous people like Gandhi or Thoreau. Better yet, try to avoid quotes from other people in general, unless it’s a message from someone you personally know. Adding these famous quotes won’t make your essay unique, and it takes up valuable space for you to share your voice.
You should also steer away from broad language or lavish claims like “It was the best day of my life.” Since they’re so cliche, these statements also obscure your message, and it’s hard to understand what you actually mean. If it was actually the best day of your life, show us why, rather than just telling us.
If you want to learn more about personal statements, see our post of 11 Common App Essay Examples .
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
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James Madison College
How to write a personal statement.
What is it? An autobiographical essay introducing yourself, the way you think, and the way you express yourself. When do I need one? Usually required with application to graduate or professional schools. Also required with some scholarship applications.
There are two kinds of personal statements:
- Comprehensive- you write about yourself and have the most freedom in what you write.
- Responses- you answer specific questions asked on an application.
Goals of a Personal Statement:
- Set yourself apart from other candidates.What makes you unique?
- Engage the reader. Be creative and interesting.
- Be concise.
- This is a sample of your writing ability.
- This is often your only chance to set yourself apart. Most law schools don’t have interview processes, and test scores, GPAs, and résumés tend to look alike.
- This is your only opportunity to explain any circumstances that have adversely affected your academic record.
Getting Ready to Write your Personal Statement:
Taken from Donald Asher’s Graduate Admissions Essays: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. What makes you unique? Different? Unusual?
Who/What have your intellectual influences been? Think about:
- Writers and articles you have read in your field that have influences your development
- Who were your favorite professors in college and why
- The best paper you ever wrote (in your major) and why it was good
- What was the most important book, play, article, or film you have ever read/seen, and how has it influenced you
- What is the single most important concept you have learned in college
- Any other educational milestones that seem relevant
- Think about the reasons why you are choosing to go to grad school, and to what career you hope it leads.
- Why are you choosing grad school rather than some other path?
- What are the options you have without going to grad school?
- When did you first become interested in your current career direction? How has that interest evolved?
- How did you become certain of this choice?
- How have your work/internship experiences, volunteer activities, and/or family or life experiences led you to pursue grad school?
- How have you prepared yourself to succeed in grad school?
- What body of relevant knowledge will you take with you?
- What study or laboratory skills have you honed to date?
- What personal attributes or characteristics would help you succeed in your career choice/field of study?
- What research have you completed to date? Any publications?
- What role did you play in any research project?
- What was the outcome or purpose?
- What did you learn ( Really learn ) from your research? It may not be just facts, but concepts, techniques, or skills.
- What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
- Are there any professors at the school you are applying to that have influenced your work, or who you’d like to work with? (You MUST be sincere! Name-dropping isn’t cool.)
- What are your specific career plans?
- How will graduate education facilitate those plans?
- What is your five-year goal? Ten-year goal?
- Will you be pursuing additional education beyond the program you are applying to? (Think hard before you write about this one. Would the admissions officials really want to hear that you’ll be getting more education?)
- Finally, remember: Tact, Sincerity, Honesty. Be clear and concise, but don’t leave out the obvious!
Writing Personal Statements
Don’t try to guess what the admissions committee wants to read. Don’t try to outsmart them nor impress them. Just write honestly, simply, and clearly about yourself and your aspirations.
Understand your motivations for applying and include them. Attending grad school is a huge commitment of not only money but several years of your life. You should know why you want to attend a certain school. Let them know what those reasons are too. A compelling personal statement enables you to stand out in a field with other high-achieving persons and helps you overcome any gaps or inadequacies in your record.
Get a mentor or critic to help you with your personal statement. Think strategically about yourself and your candidacy. Ask yourself: “What are the most important characteristics and values, goals and ambitions, life experiences and service activities that define who I am?” Then decide which of these you wish to emphasize in your personal statement. Don’t try to cover every aspect. Keep in mind that while you might not have had any traumatic experiences nor come from a financially challenged family environment, you still have likely had experiences that are interesting to relate and that have been formative in your development as a future leader.
Read good personal statements to see how effective and revealing they can be. Come to the writing consultancy for some, or go to the library- there are lots of books about writing personal statements with lots of examples.
Decide on a story line for your personal statement. In telling your story, use your responses to bring out some dimensions that are not obvious from reading your list of activities. Reveal why you are committed to making a difference in the world. Tell the story in an interesting, compelling, and perhaps amusing way. But remember: it must be authentic .
Maintain focus. Don’t try to share every interest, every societal concern, every accomplishment, every ambition, and every passion.
Show what makes you tick. Reveal your career goals and the source of the motivations for your ambitions. Show how you are already well along the path for success.
Build a good case for your chosen path. Make clear what you want to study/do, why you would be an excellent student in this field, and how it will benefit you in the long run. Consider having fun and lightness in your personal statement.
Explain ‘understandable’ gaps or weaknesses. If you had a serious illness or unusually heavy family obligations that temporarily affected your grades or limited your participation in various activities, share it. Just don’t use a ‘sob story’ in an attempt to advance your candidacy. An effective personal statement reveals clearly and memorably your uniqueness with particular attention to your intellectual interests, passions, leadership potential, personality, and creativity. From “The Rhodes Scholarship: Notes for Truman Scholars and Other College Students” by Louis H. Blair, Executive Secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, < www.rhodesscholar.org> ____________________________________________________
Structuring your Personal Statement
- An introductory paragraph that provides your essay’s controlling theme.
- 2-4 body paragraphs that develop your theme through examples and detailed experiences and build upon each other. The final body paragraoh will contain you most poignant information.
A conclusion that widens the lens and wraps up your essay without summarizing or repeating what has already been written. Advice from Professor Judge (who used to read Personal Statements for Admissions Committees):
- Grab your reader’s attention. Does it pass the 20-second test?
- Find a “hook” for your essay, a controlling idea that ties it all together. It could be a story or an interesting characteristic.
- Be positive and upbeat in tone.
- Be as selective as possible. Avoid listing or too much detail.
- Use concrete examples from your life experiences to support your thesis and distinguish yourself from other applicants.
- Ask friends and family to help you remember the details of past experiences.
- Include information that is personal in nature when appropriate. It is a personal statement.
- Be honest. The admissions people want to find out who you really are.
- Write about what really interests or excites you.
- Show you know more about the field than what you have seen on TV or movies.
- Explain your weaknesses. Succinct explanations work best.
- Fit your essay into the big picture of your application. If you declare a lifelong interest in a career but have no supporting evidence, your words will be suspect.
- Visit the Writing Consultancy. If your consultant is bored by your essay, so will the admissions committee.
- Ask your friends and family to read it. Ask them if it sounds like you.
- Just tell a story. If you use a story, be sure to analyze it and explain why it is important, what you learned, etc.
- Just repeat your résumé. Your application already includes one. This is your chance to fill in the blanks.
- Dwell on something from the distant path. High school happened too long ago to make an impact. Exceptions are lifelong struggles, such as disability or economic hardship.
- Assume the names of places will be understood by the reader. Describe your school, workplace, etc.
- Write what you think they want to hear! They can detect BS!
- Use clichés or generalities.
- Try to be too creative (writing poems) or controversial. You never know who’s reading this.
- Brag. Statements like “I plan to win the Nobel Prize” or “I am a caring person” do not reflect well on you.
- Try to impress the readers with your vocabulary.
- Rely solely on your computer for spell-checking.
- Make proofreading errors. They say a lot about you and how much effort you put forth
Still having trouble getting started?
Having trouble determining what makes you unique or why you would be a good candidate? Try asking family, friends, professors, employers, or anyone else who knows you well what they think your strengths are. One idea is to hand out a “Preparatory Questionnaire” to help you get started. (Just remember to start early enough to give them time to think out their responses and get back to you!) Here is one example:
- What do you think is most important for the admissions committee to know about me?
- What do you regard as most unusual, distinctive, unique, and/or impressive about me (based on our association)?
- Are you aware of any events or experiences in my background that might be of particular interest to those considering my application to graduate school?
- Are there any special qualities or skills that I possess that tend to make you think I would be successful in graduate school and/or the profession to which I aspire?
- Did my opening paragraph capture your attention?
- Did you find the statement as a whole to be interesting?
- Did you find it to be well written?
- Did it seem positive, upbeat?
- Did it sound like me?
- Do you regard it as an honest and forthright presentation of who I am?
- Did it seem to answer the question(s)?
- Can you think of anything relevant that I might have inadvertently omitted?
- Is there material within the statement that seems inappropriate?
- Did you gain any insight about me from reading this?
- Did you notice any typos or other errors?
- Do you think the statement has in any way distinguished me from other applicants?
- Do you think my application to _______________ is logical?
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Writing the Personal Statement
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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
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:
- What's 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 memorable.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .
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How to write a personal statement for college.
Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University
Are you struggling to write your college personal statement? Well, you’re in luck! Read on for our complete guide on how to write a strong personal statement for college.
Writing a personal statement can feel like a daunting task. Most students have difficulty framing themselves the “right” way–and we get it! It’s not always easy to talk about yourself. With that said, how do you write a compelling personal statement?
In this guide, we’ll go over how to write the perfect personal statement, from what colleges look for in the essay to successful examples. If you still have questions by the end, you can always set up a free consultation with one of our admissions experts to kickstart your college application.
Let’s get started!
What is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is a college admissions essay. It allows students the opportunity to share information about themselves that goes beyond what admissions committees have already seen in other application materials (transcripts, resume, etc.)
This is your chance to show colleges your personality, your strengths, and what matters most to you. Generally speaking, there are two types of personal statements:
A general personal statement is an open-ended essay with very few constraints, sometimes with no prompt or word count. While this type of personal statement allows you to write about whatever you want, it should still tell admissions committees about you. General or open-ended personal statements are common in medical or law school applications.
A response personal statement is an essay answering a specific question. These questions will guide your writing but are usually geared towards getting to know who you are. For example, you may be asked “What matters most to you, and why?” or “How have your life experiences led you to your current interests or goals?”
Even if there is no prompt, these are the sort of questions you should answer in your personal statement. Think about a story, a moment, or a lifestyle change that has shaped who you are today and makes you passionate about your current educational goals and future career goals.
Why Do Colleges Ask for a Personal Statement?
Colleges ask for personal statements and essays to get to know the person behind the numbers. By the time the admissions committee reads your essay, they’ll already know your grades, achievements, awards, and other qualifications. Essays humanize candidates, allowing you to express yourself and your passion.
Your personal statement can give you a competitive edge against other candidates if it does a good job of standing out and is authentic. When brainstorming topics for your personal statement, you should think about unique experiences you’ve had that have shaped who you are. Avoid clichés like famous quotes; this is the time to give your unique perspective.
What Should a Personal Statement for College Include?
Before getting started, it’s essential to make sure you include all the necessary information you want admissions committees to know. Your personal statement should answer the following questions:
- What is something unique in your life that has shaped you into who you are today? (think about your culture, heritage, hometown, health, family traditions, hobbies, etc.)
- What event first sparked your interest in the school/major you are applying for?
- What have you learned about your field of interest so far, and what more do you hope to learn during your degree? (It’s a good idea to do school research to best answer this question)
- Have you experienced any unique challenges in your life? If so, how have you overcome them?
- Are there any academic discrepancies on your resume that require an explanation? (Low GPA during one year, a low test score, a gap in your resume, etc.)
- How do you specifically intend to contribute to your field of interest in the future? (what are your goals, and how will you achieve them?)
- How does your unique experience set you up for a successful career as a student and a professional? (think of things you’ve learned, your background and challenges you’ve overcome)
You can answer these questions before you start writing your essay and try to find links to connect them.
Here is a step-by-step breakdown on how to write a personal statement for college as recommended by our experts .
Step 1: Brainstorm
Before you start writing, it’s essential to brainstorm your ideas. Consider the questions in the above section. What makes you unique? What challenges have you overcome that have made you who you are? Make sure to answer each question in the initial brainstorming process.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you can ask a family member or a friend who knows you well what they think makes you unique. This can help you gather some ideas to craft your story.
Take plenty of time on this step and write down lots of ideas - even silly ones! You may be surprised by what comes to mind when you allow yourself a few days to write everything down. By the time you move on to the next step, you should have at least five story ideas to choose from and several pieces of information you want to include.
Make sure to keep the prompt in mind during this step. The prompt you receive may cancel out some of your ideas right away if they do not align with the question you’ve been asked to answer.
Step 2: Select Your Strongest Ideas
Take a look at your brainstorming notes. Which story from your life compels you the most? Whichever idea gets you excited to write is the one you should choose. When you go with your gut, you’ll have less trouble with the flow of your writing.
The story you choose to write about should have an apparent climax and a compelling takeaway. What did you learn from the experience? How has it shaped your life? This is what the reader should understand by the end of your essay.
Step 3: Write Your Introduction
When you begin writing, your introduction should immediately grab the reader's attention. There are many ways to do so–if you’re feeling lost, you can always refer to these five effective ways to start your college essay .
In summary, avoid clichés and begin with a bang. Your introduction should only be one or two sentences in length before you begin telling your story.
Step 4: Tell Your Story
The story you choose to include should answer the prompt and tell the admissions committee about what makes you a unique and qualified candidate. This is the main chunk of your essay. Make sure your writing is self-reflective, concise, and straightforward.
According to Joyce P. Curll , Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Law School, a good personal statement should be interesting and tell her who the person is. Additionally, she notes:
“The more a (personal) statement conveys how a person thinks, what he or she thinks is important, or other such insights, the better. You should think of the statement as an opportunity to round out pieces to the puzzle that makes up your application. Write about issues or problems you think about and how you have dealt with them. The more personal you can be – the more you can bring in your own background or history – the more valuable the statement can be.”
She continues, “In some of the most successful statements, applicants have reflected on who they are, what they’re all about, and why they have done what they have done, and have left the committee with one or two thoughts about them.”
While your story should be about a unique experience or passion you’ve had, the central theme should be bigger than that. Your takeaway should be an admirable trait you’ve developed throughout the story, or something you’ve learned that has made you a better person and candidate today.
Step 5: End on a High Note
The ending of your college essay is a crucial moment for the reader, so it’s important to spend a lot of time on this section. This is the last thing the admissions officers will read, so it should be memorable and heartwarming. This will tie in how your story has shaped you as a person and what you intend to do in the future.
Including some school-specific research here can be a good idea if there is a specific resource your school offers that will help you achieve a relevant goal. Don’t just throw in a quote or a mission statement here - only mention the school if there’s something specific about your program that you feel really passionate about.
Step 6: Revise, Revise, Revise
Once you’ve completed the writing portion, it is crucial to revise like you’ve never revised before! There should be absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes, famous quotes, run-on sentences, clichés, or other errors. This is a highly important piece of your college application.
When giving your essay to a partner to revise, show them the following points and ask if they agree:
- Your writing is clear, concise, and straightforward.
- The essay is interesting from the very beginning, with a short yet compelling introduction.
- Your story is easy to follow.
- Your story tells the reader something unique about you.
- The essay has a heartwarming conclusion, in which the main theme of the essay is clear (i.e., what you’ve learned, your goals, character traits).
You should also ask your revision partner what they feel they’ve learned about you in the end, and ask yourself if their takeaway aligns with your original intention. Sometimes the intended message does not always come across the way it does in our heads, so this is an essential final step.
Personal Statement For College Examples
Here are some personal statement examples for college and explanations on why they were successful.
#1. Personal Statement from UChicago
“I fell in love for the first time when I was four. That was the year my mother signed me up for piano lessons. I can still remember touching those bright, ivory keys with reverence, feeling happy and excited that soon I would be playing those tinkling, familiar melodies (which my mother played every day on our boombox) myself.
To my rather naïve surprise, however, instead of setting the score for Für Elise on the piano stand before me, my piano teacher handed me a set of Beginner’s Books. I was to read through the Book of Theory, learn to read the basic notes of the treble and bass clefs, and practice, my palm arched as though an imaginary apple were cupped between my fingers, playing one note at a time. After I had mastered the note of ‘C,’ she promised, I could move on to ‘D.’
It took a few years of theory and repetition before I was presented with my very first full-length classical piece: a sonatina by Muzio Clementi. I practiced the new piece daily, diligently following the written directives of the composer. I hit each staccato note crisply and played each crescendo and every decrescendo dutifully. I performed the piece triumphantly for my teacher and lifted my hands with a flourish as I finished. Instead of clapping, however, my teacher gave me a serious look and took both my hands in hers. ‘Music,’ she said sincerely, ‘is not just technique. It’s not just fingers or memorization. It comes from the heart.’
That was how I discovered passion.
Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn: the arcs and passages of intricate notes are lines of genius printed on paper, but ultimately, it is the musician who coaxes them to life. They are open to artistic and emotional interpretation, and even eight simple bars can inspire well over a dozen different variations. I poured my happiness and my angst into the keys, loving every minute of it. I pictured things, events, and people (some real, some entirely imagined— but all intensely personal) in my mind as I played, and the feelings and melodies flowed easily: frustration into Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, wistfulness into Chopin’s nocturnes and waltzes, and sheer joy into Schubert. Practice was no longer a chore; it was a privilege and a delight.
In high school, I began playing the piano for church services. The music director gave me a binder full of 1-2-3 sheet music, in which melodies are written as numbers instead of as notes on a music staff. To make things a bit more interesting for myself—and for the congregation—I took to experimenting, pairing the written melodies with chords and harmonies of my own creation. I rarely played a song the same way twice; the beauty of improvisation, of songwriting, is that it is as much ‘feeling’ as it is logic and theory. Different occasions and different moods yielded different results: sometimes, ‘Listen Quietly’ was clean and beautiful in its simplicity; other times, it became elaborate and nearly classical in its passages. The basic melody and musical key, however, remained the same, even as the embellishments changed. The foundation of good improvisation and songwriting is simple: understanding the musical key in which a song is played—knowing the scale, the chords, the harmonies, and how well (or unwell) they work together—is essential. Songs can be rewritten and reinterpreted as situation permits, but missteps are obvious because the fundamental laws of music and harmony do not change.
Although my formal music education ended when I entered college, the lessons I have learned over the years have remained close and relevant to my life. I have acquired a lifestyle of discipline and internalized the drive for self-improvement. I have gained an appreciation for the complexities and the subtleties of interpretation. I understand the importance of having both a sound foundation and a dedication to constant study. I understand that to possess a passion and personal interest in something, to think for myself, is just as important.”
Why this essay works: This essay is an excellent example of how to demonstrate a unique passion through a compelling story. We learn that the writer has a passion for piano and music, although it is not the main theme of the story.
Through the writer's story, we understand their fundamental characteristics: the writer loves to learn, shows discipline, and understands the value of following through on a commitment. These skills can be applied to any aspect of life and are incredibly valuable.
In summary, the writer demonstrates their unique characteristics and passions while also telling a compelling story that ends with what they have learned. This personal statement is a 10/10 in our books.
#2. Personal Statement from NYU
Prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
“In her cramped kitchen, Titi Nana cracked the egg in the center of the pan, the cheeriness of the bright yellow yolk contrasting the harshness of the caldero. In a flourish, she jerked the bottle of alcohol in her hand, flames erupting from the griddle. She instructed me: "Wipe it all off," gesturing to dust off my shoulders and arms into the inferno. I laughed nervously as I removed the maldad [evil] from my body, one brush at a time. I left Titi's apartment that day confused about how our family's practice of Santería [witchcraft] fit in with my outward embrace of my heritage. I felt as if the parts of my Latina identity I claimed openly -- dancing salsa to Celia Cruz or enjoying lechón y arroz con habichuelas en Navidad -- were contradicted by my skepticism towards Titi's rituals. My experience with Santería wasn't new, as proven by my mother's kitchen altar lit dimly by prayer candles and adorned with evil eyes, statues of San Miguel, and offerings to Elegua; however, I'd never before witnessed such a tangible demonstration of my family's ritualistic beliefs. Although it surrounded me, I refused to believe in the effects of Santería... so I shunned it entirely.
Moving to a predominantly white boarding school and away from the rituals my family had passed down, I avoided addressing the distance I had wedged between myself and my background. I pushed away all things Latina as my fear of failing to honor my Puerto Rican heritage intensified. This distance only grew as my classmates jokingly commented on my inability to speak Spanish and my white-passing complexion, further tearing away bits of my Latinidad with each snide remark.
In an effort to build myself back up, I began to practice the small bits of Santería that I comprehended: lighting candles for good luck, placing a chalice of water by my bedside to absorb all maldad, and saying my prayers to San Miguel and my guardian angels each day. To my disbelief, the comments that attacked my Latinidad, or lack thereof, faded along with the aching feeling that I had failed to represent my heritage. As I embraced the rituals that I initially renounced, I finally realized the power in Titi's practices. In all of her cleansing and prayer rituals, she was protecting me and our family, opening the doors for us to achieve our goals and overcome the negativity that once held us back. In realizing the potential of Santería, I shifted my practices to actively protecting myself and others against adversity and employed Santería as a solution for the injustice I witnessed in my community.
Santería once served as my scapegoat; I blamed the discomfort I felt towards black magic for the imposter syndrome festering inside me. Until I embraced Santería, it only served as a reminder that I wasn't Latina enough in the eyes of my peers. Now, I understand that while intangible, ethereal, even, the magic of Santería is real; it's the strength of my belief in myself, in my culture, and in my commitment to protect others.”
Why this essay works : This personal statement essay is in response to a prompt, and the writer has done an excellent job of telling a story related to their cultural background. We get to know more about the writer and their family in this heartwarming story, even learning things we might not have known about Santeria - but that’s not the central theme.
The main theme of this essay is the lesson of self-trust, cultural pride, and self-acceptance. While we are learning about this person's unique identity, the takeaway is that this person has a newfound respect for their identity and has learned to embrace themselves– a skill that, as they mentioned, improved all areas of their life.
#3. Personal Statement from UC Berkeley
“I was a shy thirteen-year-old who had already lived in six locations and attended five schools. Having recently moved, I was relieved when I finally began to develop a new group of friends. However, the days following September 11, 2001, were marked with change. People began to stare at me. Many conversations came to a nervous stop when I walked by. However, it wasn’t until one of my peers asked if I was a terrorist that it really hit me. Osama, my name is Osama. I went from having a unique name that served as a conversation starter to having the same name as the most wanted man in America. The stares and the comments were just the beginning. Eventually I received a death threat at school. I remember crying alone in my room, afraid to tell my parents in fear that they might not let me go to school anymore.
My experience opened my eyes up to racial and religious dynamics in the United States. I started to see how these dynamics drove people’s actions, even if some were not aware of the reasons. The more I looked at my surroundings with a critical eye, the more I realized that my classmates had not threatened me because of hate, but because of fear and ignorance. This realization was extremely empowering. I knew that mirroring their hostility would only reinforce the fear and prejudice they held. Instead, I reached out to my peers with an open mind and respect. My acceptance of others served as a powerful counter example to many negative stereotypes I had to face.With this approach, I was often able to transform fear into acceptance, and acceptance into appreciation. I chose not to hide my heritage or myself, despite the fear of judgment or violence. As a result, I developed a new sense of self-reliance and self-confidence. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the change that I had brought about in my own life. I wanted to empower others as well. My passion for equality and social justice grew because I was determined to use my skills and viewpoint to unite multiple marginalized communities and help foster understanding and appreciation for our differences and similarities alike.
The years following September 11th were a true test of character for me. I learned how to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This allowed me to become a dynamic and outgoing individual. This newfound confidence fueled a passion to become a leader and help uplift multiple minority communities. During the last two summers I made this passion a reality when I took the opportunity to work with underprivileged minority students. All of the students I worked with came from difficult backgrounds and many didn’t feel as though college was an option for them. I learned these students’ goals and aspirations, as well as their obstacles and hardships. I believed in them, and I constantly told them that they would make it. I worked relentlessly to make sure my actions matched my words of encouragement. I went well above the expectations of my job and took the initiative to plan several additional workshops on topics such as public speaking, time management, and confidence building. My extra efforts helped give these students the tools they needed to succeed. One hundred percent of the twenty-one high school juniors I worked with my first summer are now freshmen at four-year universities. I feel great pride in having helped these students achieve this important goal. I know that they will be able to use these tools to continue to succeed.
Inspired by my summer experience, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the position of Diversity Outreach Ambassador for the San Francisco Bar Association Diversity Pipeline Program. In this position, I was responsible for helping organize a campus event that brought educational material and a panel of lawyers to UC Berkeley in order to empower and inform minority students about their opportunities in law school. In this position I was able to unite a diverse group of organizations, including the Black Pre-Law Association, the Latino Pre-Law Society, and the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association. Working in this position was instrumental in solidifying my desire to attend law school.
The lawyers who volunteered their time had a significant impact on me. I learned that they used their legal education to assist causes and organizations they felt passionate about. One of the lawyers told me that she volunteered her legal services to a Latino advocacy association. Another lawyer explained to me how he donated his legal expertise to advise minority youth on how to overcome legal difficulties. Collaborating with these lawyers gave me a better understanding of how my passion for law could interact with my interest in social justice issues.
My experiences leading minority groups taught me that I need to stand out to lead others and myself to success. I need to be proud of my culture and myself. My experiences after September 11th have taught me to defeat the difficulties in life instead of allowing them to defeat me. Now, whether I am hit with a racial slur or I encounter any obstacles in life, I no longer retreat, but I confront it fearlessly and directly. I expect law school will help give me the tools to continue to unite and work with a diverse group of people. I hope to continue to empower and lead minority communities as we strive towards legal and social equality.”
Why this essay works: Don’t be intimidated by the amount of work experience this writer mentioned in their essay. The reason it worked is the demonstration of vulnerability and the clear future goals they have expressed.
It is admirable that this student took a negative experience from their childhood and turned it into a lifelong career goal. This is an excellent example of taking something that makes you unique, even if you’ve been picked on for it, and turning it into a positive.
The writer's story shows strength, persistence, and compassion. All of which are valuable skills in any field of study. Additionally, mentioning work experience that pertains to the writer's future goal is an excellent way to show how they turn their words into actions.
FAQs: How to Write a Personal Statement for College
Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning how to write a college personal statement.
1. What Should a College Personal Statement Include?
Your college personal statement should include a unique story about you and how it has shaped you into who you are today. Important lessons you’ve learned, qualities you’ve developed over time, and your future goals are all excellent things to include.
The story should highlight your individual qualities, while the main theme should reveal itself at the end.
2. How Do You Start a Personal Statement for College?
Your introduction should be short and enticing. Don’t spend too much time on your introduction; it’s best to start with one or two sentences max to set your story up and grab the reader’s attention immediately.
3. How Do I Make My Personal Statement Stand Out?
Your personal statement should highlight something unique to you. Think about your life experiences, even silly ones, that meant a lot to you growing up and have shaped you into who you are today and who you want to be.
Avoid clichés like famous quotes or general statements. Doing thorough school research can also help your essay stand out.
4. What Should a Personal Statement Format Be?
Each school typically provides guidelines, such as a word count or page limit. Generally speaking, your personal statement should be 2-3 pages in length and can be anywhere between 500-1000 words in length. Sentences should be double spaced, Times New Roman font (or another popular, easy-to-read font), typically in 12-pt.
Your personal statement should be authentic, compelling, and give the reader an excellent idea of what makes you, you . The best personal statements include a punchy introduction, a compelling and unique story about something personal to the writer, and conclude with a lesson learned and a look toward the future.
Don’t be afraid to get personal–it’s a personal statement after all! Just make sure that you end on a high note. Remember, your conclusion is the last thing admissions officers will read, so it should be memorable and impactful. Think of the ending to your favorite movie, except the main character is you. What will the audience take away?
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By Tamsyn McLennan (Writer, The Uni Guide) | 12 December 2022 | 22 min read
How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 steps
Stand out from the crowd: here's how to write a good personal statement that will get you noticed
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Your personal statement forms a core part of your university application, and the sooner you get going, the better you can make it. You may think that your personal statement won’t matter as much to unis as your grades and experience but a great personal statement could make all the difference between you and a candidate with the same grades. Sure, your application might not reach that deal breaker stage. But is it something you want to leave to chance? Here we’ll take you through the process of planning, writing and checking a good personal statement, so you end up with something you can submit with confidence. And to make sure the advice we're giving you is sound, we’ve spoken to admissions staff at loads of UK universities to get their view. Look out for video interviews and advice on applying for specific subjects throughout this piece or watch our personal statement playlist on YouTube .
- Read more: 6 steps you need to take to apply to university
Personal statement deadlines
You'll need to make sure you've got your personal statement written well in advance of your application deadline. Below are the main university application deadline dates for 2023 entry.
2023 entry deadlines
15 October 2022: Deadline for applications to Oxford and Cambridge universities, along with most medicine, dentistry, and veterinary courses. 25 January 2023: Deadline for applications to the majority of undergraduate courses. After this date, universities will start allocating places on these courses – but you can still apply after the 25 January deadline , as this article explains. 30 June 2023: Students who apply after this date will be entered into Clearing .
- Read more: Ucas deadlines and key application dates
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a central part of your Ucas application, where you explain why you’ve chosen a particular course and why you’ll be good at it. It's your chance to stand out against other candidates and hopefully get that all-important offer. You only write one personal statement which is then read by each university you apply to, so if you are applying for more than one subject (or it's a combined course) it's crucial that you include common themes or reference the overall skills needed for all subjects. Personal statements are especially important if you’re trying to get on a very competitive course, where you need to do anything you can to stand out to admissions tutors. Courteney Sheppard, senior customer experience manager at Ucas, advises that your personal statement is "the only part of the application that you have direct control over. Do lots of research to demonstrate your passion, curiosity and drive to pursue your chosen subject." There’s a limit on how much you can write: your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters (including spaces); whichever is shorter. This may appear generous (read: long) but once you've got going you may find yourself having to edit heavily.
- Read more: teacher secrets for writing a great personal statement
1. Plan what you want to cover
The first thing you need to do is make a plan. Writing a personal statement off the top of your head is difficult. Start by making some notes, answering the following questions:
- What do you want to study?
- Why do you want to study it?
- What is there about you that shows you’re suited to studying this subject at university? Think about your personality, as well as your experiences.
- What are your other interests and skills?
These few points are going to form the spine of your personal statement, so write them in a way that makes sense to you. You might want to make a simple bulleted list or you might want to get all arty and use a mindmap. Whatever you choose, your aim is the same. You want to get it clear in your own head why a university should offer you a place on its course. Getting those details down isn't always easy, and some people find it helpful to make notes over time. You might try carrying a notebook with you or set up a memo on your phone. Whenever you think of something useful for your personal statement, jot it down. Inspiration sometimes comes more easily when you’re thinking about something else entirely. It might help to take a look at The Student Room for some sample personal statements by university and sample personal statements by subjects , to give you an idea of the kind of thing you want to include.
- Read more: personal statement FAQs
2. Show off your experience
Some things are worth adding to your personal statement, some things are not. Firmly in the second camp are your qualifications. You don’t need to mention these as there’s a whole other section of your personal statement where you get to detail them very precisely. Don’t waste a single character going on about how great your GCSE grades are – it’s not what the admissions tutor wants to read. What they do want to see is: what have you done? OK, so you’ve got some good grades, but so do a lot of other applicants. What have you done that’s different, that shows you off as someone who really loves the subject you’re applying for? Spend some time thinking about all the experience you have in that subject. If you’re lucky, this might be direct work experience. That’s going to be particularly appropriate if you’re applying for one of the more vocational subjects such as medicine or journalism . But uni staff realise getting plum work experience placements is easier for some people than others, so cast your net wider when you’re thinking about what you’ve done. How about after-school clubs? Debating societies? Are you running a blog or vlog? What key skills and experience have you picked up elsewhere (eg from hobbies) that could be tied in with your course choice? Remember, you’re looking for experience that shows why you want to study your chosen subject. You’re not just writing an essay about what you're doing in your A-level syllabus. Use this checklist as a guide for what to include:
- Your interest in the course. Why do you want to spend three years studying this subject at university?
- What have you done outside school or college that demonstrates this interest? Think about things like fairs/exhibitions, public lectures or voluntary work that is relevant to your subject.
- Relevant work experience (essential for the likes of medicine, not required for non-vocational courses such as English )
- Skills and qualities required for that career if appropriate (medicine, nursing and law as obvious examples)
- Interest in your current studies – what particular topics have made an impression on you?
- Any other interests/hobbies/experiences you wish to mention that are relevant either to the subject or 'going to uni'. Don't just list your hobbies, you need to be very selective and state clearly what difference doing these things has made to you.
- Plans for a gap year if you’re deferring entry.
3. Be bold about your achievements
Don't be bashful about your achievements; that’s not going to help you get into uni. It's time to unleash your inner Muhammed Ali and get all “I am the greatest” with your writing. Do keep it focused and accurate. Do keep your language professional. But don’t hide your qualities beneath a layer of false modesty. Your personal statement is a sell – you are selling yourself as a brilliant student and you need to show the reader why that is true. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and if you’re finding it difficult to write about how great you are it’s time to enlist some help. Round up a friend or two, a family member, a teacher, whoever and get them to write down your qualities. Getting someone else’s view here can help you get some perspective. Don’t be shy. You are selling your skills, your experience and your enthusiasm – make sure they all leap off the screen with the way you have described them.
- Read more: the ten biggest mistakes when writing your personal statement
4. How to start your personal statement
Type your personal statement in a cloud-based word processing program, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word and don’t copy and paste it into Ucas Hub until it’s finished. One of the benefits of doing it this way is that you can run spell check easily. (Please note, though, that Word adds "curly" quotation marks and other characters (like é or ü) that won't show up on your Ucas form, so do proofread it on Ucas Hub before submitting it to ensure it is how you typed it.) Another big benefit is that you'll always have a backup of what you've written. If you're being super careful, you could always save your statement in another place as well. Bear in mind that extra spaces (eg adding spaces to the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation) are removed on Ucas. In your first sentence, cut to the chase. Why do you want to do the course? Don’t waste any time rambling on about the daydreams you had when you were five. Just be clear and concise – describe in one line why this course is so important to you. Then, in the rest of your intro, go into more detail in demonstrating your enthusiasm for the course and explaining how you decided this is what you want to do for the next three or more years. However you choose to start your statement, just avoid the following hoary old chestnuts. These have been some of the most used lines in personal statements over the years – they are beyond cliche, so don’t even think about it.
- From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…
- For as long as I can remember, I have…
- I am applying for this course because…
- I have always been interested in…
- Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…
- Reflecting on my educational experiences…
- [Subject] is a very challenging and demanding [career/profession/course]…
- Academically, I have always been…
- I have always wanted to pursue a career in…
- I have always been passionate about…
5. Focus your writing on why you've chosen that subject
So you’ve got your intro done – time to nail the rest of it. Bear in mind that you’ve got to be a little bit careful when following a personal statement template. It’s easy to fall into the trap of copying someone else’s style, and in the process lose all of your own voice and personality from your writing. But there is a rough order that you can follow, which should help keep you in your flow. After your opening paragraph or two, get into any work experience (if you’ve got it). Talk about extracurriculars: anything you've done which is relevant to the subject can go here – hobbies, interests, volunteering. Touch on your career aspirations – where do you want this course to take you? Next, show your enthusiasm for your current studies. Cite some specific examples of current work that you enjoyed. Show off your relevant skills and qualities by explaining how you’ve used these in the past. Make sure you’re giving real-world examples here, not just vague assertions like “I’m really organised and motivated”. Try to use examples that are relevant. Follow this up with something about you as a person. Talk about non-academic stuff that you like to do, but link it in some way with the course, or with how it shows your maturity for dealing with uni life. Round it all off by bringing your main points together, including a final emphasis of your commitment to studying this particular course.
- Read more: how to write your personal statement in an evening
6. How long should a personal statement be?
You've got to work to a very specific limit when writing your personal statement. In theory you could use up to 4,000 characters – but you’re probably more likely to be limited by the line count. That's because it's a good idea to put line breaks in between your paragraphs (to make it more readable) and you only get a maximum of 47 lines. With this in mind, 3,500 characters is a more realistic limit. But when you’re getting started you should ignore these limits completely. At first, you just want to get down everything that you feel is important. You'll probably end up with something that is far too long, but that's fine. This is where you get to do some polishing and pruning. Keep the focus of your piece on the course you’re applying for, why you want to do it and why you’re perfectly suited to it. Look through what you’ve written so far – have you got the balance right? Chop out anything that goes on a bit, as you want each point to be snappy and succinct.
- Read more: universities reveal all about personal statements
7. Keep it simple
8. Smart ways to end your personal statement
Writing a closing line that you’re happy with can feel as tricky as coming up with your opener. What you’re looking for here is a sign-off that is bold and memorable. The final couple of sentences in your statement give you the opportunity to emphasise all the good stuff you’ve already covered. Use this space to leave the reader in no doubt as to what an excellent addition you would be to their university. Pull together all your key points and – most importantly – address the central question that your personal statement should answer: why should you get a place on the course?
- Read more: universities explain how to end your personal statement with a bang
9. Make sure your personal statement has no mistakes
Now you’ve got a personal statement you’re happy with, you need to make sure there are no mistakes. Check it, check it a second time, then check it again. Once you’ve done that, get someone else to check it, too. You will be doing yourself a massive disservice if you send through a personal statement with spelling and/or grammatical errors. You’ve got months to put this together so there really is no excuse for sending through something that looks like a rush job. Ask your teachers to look at it, and be prepared to accept their feedback without getting defensive. They will have seen many personal statements before; use what they tell you to make yours even better. You’ve also got another chance here to look through the content of your personal statement, so you can make sure the balance is right. Make sure your focus is very clearly on the subject you are applying for and why you want to study it. Don’t post your personal statement on the internet or social media where anyone can see it. You will get picked up by the Ucas plagiarism checker. Similarly, don't copy any that you find online. Instead, now is a good time to make your parents feel useful. Read your personal statement out to them and get them to give you feedback. Or try printing it out and mixing it up with a few others (you can find sample personal statements on The Student Room). Get them to read them all and then try to pick yours out. If they can't, perhaps there's not enough of your personality in there.
10. Don't think about your personal statement for a whole week
If you followed the advice at the very start of this guide, you’ve started your personal statement early. Good job! There are months before you need to submit it. Use one of these weeks to forget about your personal statement completely. Get on with other things – anything you like. Just don’t go near your statement. Give it a whole week and then open up the document again and read through it with fresh eyes. You’ll gain a whole new perspective on what you’ve written and will be well placed to make more changes, if needed.
- Read more: how to write your personal statement when you have nothing interesting to say
10 steps to your ideal personal statement
In summary, here are the ten steps you should follow to create the perfect personal statement.
Personal statement dos and don'ts
- Remember that your personal statement is your personal statement, not an article written about your intended field of study. It should tell the reader about you, not about the subject.
- Only put in things that you’re prepared to talk about at the interviews.
- Give convincing reasons for why you want to study the course – more than just "enjoying the subject" (this should be a given).
- For very competitive courses, find out as much as you can about the nature of the course and try to make your personal statement relevant to this.
- Be reflective. If you make a point like 'I like reading', 'I travelled abroad', say what you got from it.
- Go through the whole thing checking your grammar and your spelling. Do this at least twice. It doesn’t matter if you’re not applying to an essay-based course – a personal statement riddled with spelling mistakes is just going to irritate the reader, which is the last thing you want to do. If this is something you find difficult then have someone look over it for you.
- Leave blank lines between your paragraphs. It’s easier for the reader to get through your personal statement when it’s broken into easily digestible chunks. Remember that they’re going to be reading a lot of these! Make yours easy to get through.
- Get someone else's opinion on your statement. Read it out to family or friends. Share it with your teacher. Look for feedback wherever you can find it, then act upon it.
- Don’t write it like a letter. Kicking off with a greeting such as "Dear Sir/Madam" not only looks weird, it also wastes precious space.
- Don’t make jokes. This is simply not the time – save them for your first night in the union.
- Don’t criticise your current school or college or try to blame teachers for any disappointing grades you might have got.
- Be afraid of details – if you want your PS to be personal to you that means explaining exactly which bits of work or topics or activities you've taken part in/enjoyed. It's much more compelling to read about one or two detailed examples than a paragraph that brushes over five or six.
- Just list what you're doing now. You should pull out the experiences that are relevant to the courses which you're applying to.
- Mention skills and activities without giving examples of when they have been demonstrated by you or what you learnt from them. Anyone can write "I have great leadership skills" in a PS, actually using a sentence to explain when you demonstrated good leadership skills is much rarer and more valuable.
- Refer to experiences that took place before your GCSEs (or equivalent).
- Give explanations about medical or mental health problems. These should be explained in your reference, not your PS.
- Apply for too many different courses, making it difficult to write a convincing personal statement which supports the application.
- Write a statement specific to just one institution, unless you're only applying to that one choice.
- Copy and paste the statement from somewhere else! This means do not plagiarise. All statements are automatically checked for plagiarism by Ucas. Those that are highlighted by the computer system are checked manually by Ucas staff. If you’re found to have plagiarised parts of your statement, the universities you apply to will be informed and it could jeopardise your applications.
You may want to look at these...
How to write your university application.
Tips for writing your university application, including deadlines and personal statements
What to do if you miss the 25 January Ucas deadline and still want to apply to uni
How long does it take for universities to reply to your application?
When can you expect to get an offer (hopefully!) from a university you've applied to? As our guide explains, response times on decisions can vary.
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Tips for writing your personal statement
How to write a personal statement it's difficult to know where to begin. get hints and tips on structure, content and what not to write from a university expert..
- An insider's view
- What admissions tutors look for
Structuring and preparing your personal statement
What to write in a personal statement, examples to avoid, an insider’s view .
Personal statements may seem formulaic, but they can be critical to the decision-making process, and admissions tutors do read them.
If you’re applying for a high-demand course, your personal statement could be the deciding factor on whether or not you get an interview.
The Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment at the University of Gloucestershire , James Seymour, shares some top tips on how to write a personal statement.
What makes a good personal statement?
This is your chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment and show us what value you can add to a university. In the vast majority of cases, universities are finding ways to make you an offer, not reject you – the personal statement is your chance to make this decision easier for them!
First, you need to explain why you want a place on a course. Take a look at James’ tips on what you should include:
- Explain the reason for your choice and how it fits in with your aspirations for the future
- Give examples of any related academic or work experience
- Show you know what the course will involve and mention any special subjects you’re interested in
- Demonstrate who you are by listing any positions you’ve held, memberships of teams or societies, and interests and hobbies
- Show consistency in your five UCAS choices. It may be difficult for an admissions tutor to take you seriously if your other choices, and references to them, are totally different. If your choices are different, you should explain this in your statement. The UCAS form is blind. Admissions tutors don’t know the other universities you’ve applied to, or your priorities, but you should still be consistent
- Keep it clear and concise – UCAS admissions are increasingly paperless – so most admissions tutors/officers will read your statement onscreen
Explain what you can bring to a course and try not to just list experiences, but describe how they have given you skills that will help you at university.
Don’t just say: I am a member of the college chess club. I also play the clarinet in the orchestra.
When you could say: I have developed my problem-solving skills through playing chess for the college; this requires concentration and analytical thought. I am used to working as part of a team as I play clarinet in the college orchestra and cooperate with others to achieve a finished production.
- Applying to university and UCAS deadlines
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- University interviews
What will admissions tutors look for in your personal statement?
To decide if you’re the right fit, universities and colleges are interested in how you express your academic record and potential. This should be backed up by your reference.
Those working in admissions look for evidence of:
- Motivation and commitment
- Leadership, teamwork and communication
- Research into your chosen subject
- Any relevant key skills
Admissions tutors aren't seeking Nobel laureates. They’re looking for enthusiasm for the course being applied for, and self-reflection into why you’d be suitable to study it. What value could you add to the course? Where would you like to go once you graduate?
Ben, the Admissions Manager for Law at the University of Birmingham , shared with us what he expects applicants to tell him in their personal statement:
The personal statement is not only an excellent opportunity to showcase applicants individual skills, knowledge, and achievements, but it also provides us with an insight into the type of student they aspire to be and how they could fit into the academic community. Ben Atkins, Law Admissions Manager at University of Birmingham
Real-life example: the good
Real-life example: the not-so-good
- How to make your personal statement stand out
You could have excellent experiences, but if they’re arranged in a poorly-written statement then the impact will be reduced. So, it’s important to plan your statement well.
A well-written personal statement with a clearly planned and refined structure will not only make the information stand out, but it’ll demonstrate you have an aptitude for structuring written pieces of work – a crucial skill needed for many university courses.
You can use it for other things too, such as gap year applications, jobs, internships, apprenticeships and keep it on file for future applications.
There's no one ‘correct’ way to structure your personal statement. But it’s a good idea to include the following:
- A clear introduction, explaining why you want to study the course
- Around 75% can focus on your academic achievements, to prove how you’re qualified to study it
- Around 25% can be about any extracurricular activity, to show what else makes you suitable
- A clear conclusion
- How to start a personal statement
Your personal statement is your chance to really show why you deserve a place on your chosen course.
Remember to keep these in mind:
- Be clear and concise – the more concentrated the points and facts, the more powerful
- Use positive words such as achieved, developed, learned, discovered, enthusiasm, commitment, energy, fascination…
- Avoid contrived or grandiose language. Instead use short, simple sentences in plain English
- Insert a personal touch if possible, but be careful with humour and chatty approaches
- Use evidence of your learning and growth (wherever possible) to support claims and statements
- Plan the statement as you would an essay or letter of application for a job/scholarship
- Consider dividing the statement into five or six paragraphs, with headings if appropriate
- Spelling and grammar DO matter – draft and redraft as many times as you must and ask others to proofread and provide feedback
- For 2022 – 23 applications, refer to the challenges you've faced during the pandemic in a positive way
- Come across as pretentious
- Try to include your life history
- Start with: "I’ve always wanted to be a..."
- Use gimmicks or quotations, unless they're very relevant and you deal with them in a way that shows your qualities
- Be tempted to buy or copy a personal statement – plagiarism software is now very sophisticated and if you're caught out you won’t get a place
- Make excuses about not being able to undertake activities/gain experience – focus on what you were able to do positively, e.g. as a result of coronavirus
For further details, read our detailed guide on what to include in a personal statement and the best things to avoid.
Note that if you decide to reapply for university the following year, it's a good idea to consider making some changes to your personal statement. Mention why you took a year off and talk about what skills you've learnt. If you're applying for a completely different subject, you'll need to make more changes.
James gives us real-life examples of things to avoid:
I enjoy the theatre and used to go a couple of times a year. (Drama)
I am a keen reader and am committed to the study of human behaviour through TV soaps!
I have led a full life over the last 18 years and it is a tradition I intend to continue.
I describe myself in the following two words: 'TO ODIN!' the ancient Viking war cry. (Law)
My favourite hobby is bee-keeping and I want to be an engineer.
My interest in Medicine stems from my enjoyment of Casualty and other related TV series.
I have always had a passion to study Medicine, failing that, Pharmacy. (A student putting Pharmacy as her fifth choice after four medical school choices – Pharmacy can be just as popular and high status as Medicine.)
Some final advice
Above all, remember that a personal statement is your opportunity to convince a university why it should offer you a place. So, make it compelling and there’s a much higher chance they will.
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