You may be almost done with high school and are getting ready to apply to your dream college.
Or maybe you are already enrolled in your undergraduate studies and are in the process of applying to graduate school.
Regardless of your post-secondary status, did you know that admissions committees consider more than just your GPA in the application process when deciding whether or not to accept you?
One significant college application component that application committees consider is your personal statement.
Continue reading for everything you need to know about a personal statement and how to write one that helps you stand out.
What is a personal statement?
A personal statement is a way to let college admissions know more about you than just your grades.
This is where you can talk about yourself, your passions, your role models, your life experiences and any unique skills or real-world experience that may help you stand out.
It is also where you describe why you want to attend that specific college and program and why you deserve to be admitted to their school.
The main difference between a personal statement and a college essay is that personal statements can also be used for application to grad school.
What can you include in your personal statement?
There are two critical components of a great personal statement.
These include the factual information admissions officers seek and the more personal facts that make you unique.
Below are a few questions to consider to write a strong personal statement:
- Why did you choose this particular course?
- What about this subject matter do you find exciting?
- Do you have any experience in this field?
- Do you have any related work experience?
- Do you have any life experiences you would like to explain?
- What achievements are you the most proud of?
- What skills do you possess that would make you an ideal fit?
- What are your professional goals?
Tips for writing a great personal statement
While there is no defined right or wrong way to write a personal statement, below are some guidelines that the best personal statements follow to help them stand out.
Answer all the questions asked
If you are applying to more than one school, it is imperative to answer all the questions each school asks.
Schools ask different questions, so make sure you take your time and answer all their questions thoroughly.
Tell your story
Want to kill your chances of getting accepted? One of the worst things you can do is bore the admissions committee.
Instead, use your own experiences to make sure your personal statement is exciting and unique and shows who you are and why you would be a good fit for their college.
If you can uniquely tell your personal story, it can help you stand out from the other applicants, as the reader can get a strong sense of who you are.
Be specific and use examples
It is imperative to be specific in your personal statement as to why you want to enroll at their college and in that particular course.
You want to use examples of why you are interested in that field of study and why you want to pursue a career in that industry.
For example, don’t simply say you want to enter healthcare and would make a great doctor.
Instead, state that you would make a fantastic doctor and list your traits and experiences related to excelling in that field.
These can include examples like if you have a family member who is dealing with mental health issues, and you want to be able to help others in a similar situation.
Find your angle
Not everyone has led a life full of excitement and adventure to write about.
This could include any personal struggles you have faced, special talents you possess, unique extracurricular activities you are a part of or how you have overcome obstacles or hardships in your life.
Focus on your opening statement
Your opening statement is where you want to hook the reader and grab their attention.
Your first paragraph is usually the most critical, setting the tone for your personal essay.
In this paragraph, stress why the admissions committee may be interested in you and what sets you apart from the rest.
Talk about what you know
The middle portion of your personal statement is where you can describe your interests and experience in the field you want to study and any previous knowledge of it.
When brainstorming ideas to write about, it is crucial to be as specific as possible regarding expressing what you know about the field.
It is a good idea to use in-depth professional language specific to that field and relate any previous experience, classes, conversations with people in that field, books you have read and seminars you have attended that pertain to that subject matter.
Do your research
Putting in some hard work and being well-educated about any questions the school may have is vital.
This can include what sets them apart from other schools and is why you want to attend their institution.
If attending that particular school would provide a geographical or cultural convenience for you, those are also important factors to mention.
It is critical to proofread your personal statement carefully.
Many admissions officers say a well-written, easy-to-read personal statement showing a good English language command is essential.
Sticking to the word count and getting your point across clearly and concisely is also imperative.
Stay away from cliches
To stand out and be unique, try to avoid cliches.
This can be as simple as applying to medical school and writing that you want to be a doctor because you are good at science and want to help people.
Avoiding common statements and expressing unique and original thoughts is vital.
Some typical cliches to stay away from include:
- From a young age…
- For as long as I can remember…
- I have always been interested in…
- Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed…
Questions to ask after you write your first draft
Once you have written the first draft of your personal statement, it is time for revisions.
This step is crucial in submitting a great personal statement, so take your time.
At this stage, it is helpful to read it out loud so you can hear any areas that might need work. Finding someone objective to read it and provide feedback can also be beneficial.
It is recommended to ask yourself the following questions when it comes to revising your statement:
- Does your statement answer all the required questions?
- Is your opening statement exciting and captures the readers’ attention? Is your entire statement unique and captures your personal experiences?
- Does your statement help you stand out from the rest?
- Is your statement positive and confident?
- Does your statement contain controversial material (such as religion or politics) that can be omitted?
- Have you expressed yourself clearly?
- Is your personal essay written in standard essay format? Does it have an introduction, body and conclusion?
- Do you have a smooth transition between sentences and paragraphs?
- Have you proofread your entire statement for any spelling and grammatical mistakes?
3 Personal statement examples
Here are some excellent personal statement essay examples that you can use as inspiration to write your own.
1. Athletic personal statement
Personal Statement of Laura Marx, hailing from Menomonee Falls, WI:
I have been playing basketball since I was five years old. Since I first stepped on the court, I have aspired to play at the collegiate level. I know that playing in college is a once in a lifetime opportunity that could change my whole life.
I have strong ball handling skills, strong physical defense, mental toughness, and high basketball IQ. I am a team leader and try to lead by example while also encouraging my teammates. I am very coachable and assist my coach with leading practices and coaching other teammates to success. I strive to be one of the hardest working players and one of the hardest working recruits you’ll find.
I work hard year round on my basketball skills, participating in Select Basketball, then the last several years on an AAU Team, also participating in years of Little League, Select Soccer, High School Soccer, Cross Country and Track and lifting in the weight room, which all contributes to my athleticism.
In the classroom, I study hard and maintain a high GPA. Inducted into both the National Honor Society and German National Honor Society. Received High Honorable Mention in Metro Conference. I also volunteer at local youth basketball camps and soccer camps along with my volunteer work at my Church, Elmbrook Church.
I want to attend a college where I can push myself in the classroom and on the basketball court. I am open to all options and want to ultimately find the right college match at the highest level of competition possible. I hope to become a great role model to all my peers, in my community and make my parents proud.
2. Medical personal statement
Here is an outstanding medical sample essay that you can use as a template to base your application essay on:
I realize that medicine may not always have positive outcomes, having witnessed two deaths at a young age. However, the inevitable fallibility of the human body has driven my desire to acquire a better understanding of the complicated processes and mechanisms of our body. I am captivated by the prospect of lifelong learning; the rapid and ceaseless pace of change in medicine means that there is a vast amount of knowledge in an astonishing number of fields.
Work experience and volunteering have intensified my desire to pursue the profession; it gave me the chance to observe doctors diagnosing problems and establishing possible routes of treatment; I found the use of monoclonal antibodies in kidney transplantation fascinating. A doctor needs to be skilled, dexterous and creative. Medicine is a scientific discipline that requires a profound understanding of the physiology of the body, but the application of medicine can be an art, especially when communications between the doctor and the patient can influence the outcome of the treatment. I admire the flexibility of doctors; an inpatient needs to be approached with sensitivity and reassurance, whereas an acute admission patient would benefit more from hands-on assessments. I have been volunteering at Derriford Hospital since 2010. The most valuable part is taking time to converse with the patients to alleviate their stress and appreciate their concerns, demonstrating my understanding of the importance of listening. I appreciate that the quality of life is more important than the quantity of years, as a recent death at the ward made me realise that despite all the technological advances and our increasing understanding of the human body, there is a limit to what we can achieve.
My Nuffield Bursary project was based on finding potential medical treatments for sepsis by working on the molecular genetics of bacteria-infected cells. Using theory to interpret laboratory experiments allowed me to show how an enzyme was involved in the inflammatory response mechanism. My skills of organisation and time management were recognised by the Individual Achievement Award for my role as Finance Director in the Young Enterprise team. I used my leadership skills to assign team members to tasks to which their talents were best suited and demonstrated effective communication and teamwork to meet the deadlines. I took part in the British Mathematical Olympiad after receiving the Gold and Best in School prize for the Senior Maths challenge last year. Regular participation in the Individual and Team Maths Challenge enhanced my lateral thinking. The numerous awards I have won such as Best Results at GCSE and Bronze in the Physics Olympiad not only show my ability in a range of subjects but also my commitment to my academic career. As a subject mentor, I developed my ability to break down problems, explaining them in a logical, analytical yet simpler way. I cherished the opportunity to work with the younger pupils; enabling them to grasp new concepts, and I believe that discussing ideas, problems or case studies with colleagues will be even more rewarding.
A keen pianist, I have been playing for 14 years. At the age of 12, I became the pianist for the Children’s Amateur Theatre Society. Perseverance was essential as I was learning numerous songs each week showing commitment, resilience and attention to detail, which are transferable skills applicable to medicine. Playing in front of 300 people regularly helped me to build my confidence and taught me to stay calm under pressure. Playing the piano is a hobby that I love and I will continue to pursue it to balance my academic life.
I believe I possess the ability, devotion, diligence and determination required for this course that demands a holistic understanding of both the sciences and the arts. I will relish the challenges on an academic and personal level and I look forward to following this vocation in the future.
3. Law school personal statement
Personal statement of Tucker, Harvard Law School:
I did not know that my home town was a small one until I was 15 years old. Growing up, I thought I lived in the big city, because Greensboro has skyscrapers—isn’t that the dividing line between the big city and not? It’s also the first town that appears on interstate signs in North Carolina once you get on I-40, headed west from Durham. I figured if the interstate thought we were important, why shouldn’t I? So when I went to Rochester, New York in tenth grade for a student conference with my friends at school, I proudly announced that I was from Greensboro to the first person who asked, only to have her, a Bronx resident, respond, “Uh, where?” It was then that I learned one thing it could not claim to be was “the big city.”
That student conference, as well as the handful of other opportunities I had to travel in high school, was my first inkling that, for many people, the Blue Ridge Mountains were not a known part of the very big world I grew up aching to see more of. Because even before I realized that Greensboro was no major landmark, I still wanted to explore beyond it. My mother taught French and Spanish and was always eager to ensure I realized there were places beyond my backyard. I was also exhausted by the idea of graduating college and returning home to work in Greensboro, where, at the time, jobs were not always plentiful and hobbies were few. But, for financial reasons, college was not my long-dreamt-of exodus. I went to the University of North Carolina, which, while an hour away, certainly belongs to the same chunk of Carolina as Greensboro.
In Chapel Hill, I loved long drives. My road of choice was Mount Sinai Road. It winds down the banks of Old Field Creek, bridging the gap between Durham and I-40. It’s the start of the route I took back to High Point to visit my family, and it’s where I rode my bike during Chapel Hill summers. It was on Mount Sinai that I first realized how attached to this region I am.
Along Mount Sinai’s twists and turns, you can get a real sense of what North Carolina is and can be. There’s a deep agrarian heritage and rolling hills that hide the sun from their most intimate holler. Along these roads live a people who do not mind being heard, as their “These are God’s roads, so don’t drive like hell” sign would have you know. Most of all, though, Mount Sinai was one of many places over the last 25 years in Appalachia that taught me how much this land means to me. I recognize the grasses and the trees and the architecture and the people in a way that I could not possibly know another place, and that knowledge has rooted me in a way that I did not expect as a child at a student conference in Rochester, New York.
As I realized how distinctly Appalachian my own personal history is, I started to see similar connections in my family. I learned of our family struggles with substance use and of my mother’s father’s affinity for our Confederate heritage. I learned I’m only a few generations removed from the McCoys of Hatfield-McCoy fame. I learned that the not-so-rosy Appalachian existence was not a storybook reality but a familial one. However, I also learned of my grandfather’s sense of adventure and of the unique sense of play my father was gifted with as a child by being able to spend so much time outside in the crick. I learned that my grandmother once modeled for the rail photographer O. Winston Link and that my great uncle once threw a snowball at Elvis.
In the last year, I also saw Appalachia couched in a larger national context, especially as I tried to reckon with my home place from afar while living and working abroad last summer. I intimately knew the people, “the poor, white, rural voters,” being bandied about as political caricatures on television. As the opiate crisis worsens, a national spotlight is being thrust on my neighbors in West Virginia. As commentators wonder how much historical context justifies the presence of Confederate monuments, attention turns to Charlottesville. My home place, my Appalachia, is becoming a topic of a much larger conversation about how to support the plight of the rural American while not also succumbing to the part of that population that longs for an unequal, racist past. I believe my voice adds to that conversation. So, I took to door-knocking for Representative Edward Mitchell, knowing that the first impact I might have could be a political one. I don’t want to stop there. The law can open even more doors.
The Appalachian conversation is necessarily a legal one. As some Carolinians line up along racial boundaries, many good lawyers are working to combat the mass incarceration of minority populations, while other good lawyers champion free speech for even the most maligned activists. When free speech intertwines with debates about white nationalism and the South’s history, impact litigators argue multiple sides to arrive at good legal judgments that do not stop at popular opinion. As my own mayor was maligning the presence of refugees, Virginia immigration lawyers were ensuring that local migrants were educated about their rights and responsibilities. The rigor in pursuit of justice that legal conversation applies has an immense role to play in these heated debates.
In particular, the conversation about race can go deeper here at home than most are willing to take it. One issue that has faced recent attention in the highest courts is equal representation in the electorate. Studying at Harvard will train me to ensure that existing civil rights are protected. It will teach me about the viewpoints informing present discussions of how civil rights are defined and advocated for. While race, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws are contentious issues on a national scale, both recent attention and my deep roots in the region have made it clear to me that North Carolina is a place where the legal conversation needs to be carried further. I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.
A personal reflection of you
Unlike just looking at your GPA, your personal statement allows the admissions board to see who you are as a person.
This is your opportunity to let your personality shine and wow them with the person you are and want to become.
By following the steps and examples outlined above, you can be well on your way to writing an impressive personal statement that can help open the door to the college of your dreams.
Check out Entrepreneur’s other articles for more information about personal statements and other professional topics.