A personal statement (or statement of purpose as it is sometimes called) is a paper that demonstrates how your experiences, aspirations, skills, and unique qualities match with the offerings and requirements of the college program, university research project, or a job opportunity. It is a crucial part of your application that adds a personal dimension to all the scores, stats, and achievements listings, zeroing in on the human being behind it all.
Personal statements for academic programs are usually longer and more detailed than statements for job applications. They combine your past, present, and future and show how it all aligns with the program you are applying to. Writing a personal statement that puts you ahead of the pack and proves you are the perfect candidate is no mean feat. Still, it’s nothing that couldn’t be achieved with a little bit of advice and practice.
In this post, we will explore the basic rules and strategies for writing a winning personal essay that will set your application apart from the rest.
Before You Write
Before you start writing or even brainstorming ideas for your personal statement, here are the things to consider:
- Program requirements
- School’s character
- Your unique strengths
Some schools will ask for a general, comprehensive personal statement where you are free to choose what to write about to represent yourself. However, others ask concrete questions. Some will let you choose one prompt among several options, while others will favor multiple essays addressing different questions. Make sure you understand what is asked of you and always answer the prompt question with your statement.
Do your homework and learn as much as possible about your prospective school and any specific program you are applying to. Study the wording, and pay particular attention to qualities and skills they are looking for in their “perfect candidate.” Also, note the general tone of the materials you find in the open access. You will notice that each school has a distinct personality, even on this surface level. Try it on. See if it fits.
To get more information, contact college representatives and request more information. Reach out to students and alumni of your target school. The information you’ll obtain will help you decide whether the school is indeed a good match for you. If so, it will also provide tools to write a perfectly tailored statement that will win the hearts of the admission officers. “But,” I can hear you saying, “Why can’t I write my essay once and then just send it wherever I apply? Isn’t it the entire point of platforms like Common App?”
Yes and no. Resist the temptation to recycle your personal statement for all the applications. Even if programs and personal essay prompts are very similar, you should still tailor your personal statement to fit the school. It doesn’t mean that you cannot use any parts of your personal statement more than once and must find a new story for every school you apply to. However, always highlight the qualities that each particular school values above all and seeks in their prospective students.
This is probably the most critical step. Ask yourself before you start writing: what is unique about me and my story? Remember, your personal statement must make your application stand out. Practice some introspection and think about:
- What unique experiences do you have to share?
- What is impressive or distinctive about you, setting you apart from other applicants?
- Which details of your life could help the admission officers understand you better?
- Have you had to overcome any economic, physical, or personal hardships to be where you are now?
- How and when did you become interested in the field you plan to enter?
- How did you learn more about the field (readings, workshops, classes, conversations with professionals in the subject area)?
- What qualities and skills do you possess that are vital for your future profession?
- What makes you a strong candidate? Why should admission officers choose you over other applicants?
- Are there any discrepancies in your academic record that you might want to address and explain?
Now match the unique qualities you possess with those your school (or your employer) seeks in their candidates. Having crystallized these core characteristics (for example, integrity, persistence, communication, and experience in the field), you can start brainstorming topics for your essay.
Why brainstorm topics when you have prompts to answer? Because prompts aren’t topics! They are merely conversation starters that should prompt your story. What the story is going to be is entirely up to you.
- Find the story
Your essay must consider three key points: the audience, the purpose, and the author. Packing your statement as a story addresses all three points brilliantly.
- You, as the author, are also the main subject of the statement. Through the medium of a story, you can showcase your qualities without naming them. Your actions and choices will speak for you.
- Your audience is the admission officers who will read your statement. They are people. They get bored. Imagine the number of essays they have to read. A story is much more entertaining than any other format and will keep them engaged.
- The purpose is to make your personal statement memorable and prove your compatibility with the school and the program you are applying to. Within the context of a story, you will have an opportunity to share your past experiences, your plans during the selected course, as well as your plans for the future – and tie it all together.
Let’s be honest: most people don’t have a particularly dramatic story to tell, so keeping the admission officers on the edge of their seats will be difficult. However, putting an unexpected, interesting spin on a mundane story can make it exciting and engaging. Find this angle.
This can be an unusual composition with a teaser in the introduction. Another plot device you can choose is a physical object that will serve as a symbol. For example, a notebook where you wrote down your dreams. Even a light-hearted, friendly tone can be your distinguishing feature. Keep in mind that your goal is not to tell the most unlikely and surprising story. It is to leave your readers with a specific and lasting impression that will make them think favorably about your application.
In the body of your statement, you will convey how you have prepared for the program you’re applying to, what you can contribute to the school, and how it will help you achieve your goals. This way, you will demonstrate that your past, present, and future align with the chosen program, making you a perfect candidate. However, instead of simply stating these facts, be specific and demonstrate them with details.
For example, compare the following statements:
#1 “As long as I can remember myself, I wanted to be a vet.”
#2 “During my recent internship at Small Door Veterinary in Brooklyn, I have learned the importance of patience and empathy.”
As much as you want to tell how you dreamed about your future profession from an early age, imagine how many people applying to this program can say the same. Find details that will make you stand out. The second statement gives those specific details: practice, understanding of the profession, steps taken to join the professional community, etc. Such particulars make this statement unique and memorable.
The first paragraph is the most important part of your essay. If it fails to grab your reader’s attention, things are unlikely to pick up the pace later.
However, it is important to stay authentic and on point. “Quirky quotations are never original… don’t bother!” warns the applicants Rosemarie Lowe, Program Director for the Early Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University. “Instead,” she continues, “it’s more important to explore what skills and interests you have, as well as your experiences.” Use a strong opening line that mentions the most relevant aspects of your personality and interests that make you an asset to the school or company.
For your essay to leave a cohesive impression, summarize and restate once again why you decided to apply, what you hope to achieve, and what makes you a strong candidate. For example, David Gibson, an Associate Professor at Birmingham City University, expects students to demonstrate their interest in the field of study through their hobbies, extra-curricular activities, and other pro-active things outside of their work.
An effective conclusion to a personal statement should urge the reader to take action. At best – to admit you right away. At least – put your essay into the “For further consideration” stack and go through the rest of your application more thoroughly.
After Your Statement Draft Is Ready
A personal statement can be life-changing. Such a paper is never done after merely one draft. That is why after you have finished writing, the editing and proofreading stage begins – often even longer and more painstaking than the previous ones.
- Don’t overshare
- Check your tone
- Don’t overcomplicate
- Make sure the grammar is flawless
Although it’s essential to be authentic and honest, you shouldn’t make your personal statement too... personal. Some subjects are better to leave out. For example, potentially controversial issues (political, religious, etc.) or emotional things that are irrelevant to your application. It’s a tricky balance, especially if you want to show your vulnerable side and highlight your honesty and openness. No one can be a better judge than yourself. So the rule of the thumb is to remove anything that makes you uncomfortable when you re-read.
You want to write in your own voice, making your personal statement natural, unforced, and unique to you. Also, see if you sound affirmative. Check if you use positive and active language that demonstrates your enthusiasm for the program and gratitude for your application’s consideration. Change passive voice for active wherever it’s possible and use strong verbs.
Your personal statement should be engaging and readable. To achieve it, use simple language and short sentences. Using professional terminology can be a winning strategy to demonstrate your knowledge and experience in the chosen field. However, make sure you don’t lose your personal style behind big words. Also, don’t use exotic words to sound more sophisticated – this can lead to embarrassing mistakes.
Among other things, your personal statement aims to demonstrate your writing skills and your command of English. Any spelling mistakes, grammar issues, graphical inconsistencies, typos, etc., must be hunted down and eliminated. Proofread your essay very carefully. Here is a tip: print it out if you can. Often tiny mistakes that fly under the radar when you read from the screen become blindingly obvious once you see the text on paper.
A personal statement is only a part of your application, but it is a vital part. If there is still anything in your power to influence your chances of admission or employment – it is this piece of writing. See your personal statement as your final argument and make it a strong one. Need any help with writing, editing, and formatting? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Good luck and happy writing!