Personal Statement

Writing a Personal Statement

Before you begin, take time to think about the following key concepts you'll be writing about.

Tell a Story

As you explore these questions, look for a single concept that best defines who you are and/or where you are going. The unifying theme you choose is important: It will help you organize your ideas, select supporting evidence for claims of what you have achieved, and provide a roadmap for your readers. It will also convey to the readers how you see and understand yourself.

You might begin by asking yourself:

  • “What are the qualities, values, goals, experiences, and activities that best define who I am?”
  • “What individuals, experiences and challenges that have influenced my thinking and career goals?”
  • “What are the most important things for the committee to know?”
  • “What do I hope to achieve and why I believe my goals are worth working toward?”

Your Personal History

  • Family and friends – those who influenced your values, ideas, interests, and goals
  • Education - special programs, influential classes and/or professors, and independent research projects; informal experiences, such as books or lectures that have had an impact on your thinking and/or career choices
  • Work experiences and internships – those that enabled you to develop/discover leadership abilities, introduced you to new ways of thinking about the world, taught you new skills
  • Travel – opportunities to learn new perspectives, new ways of doing things; experiences that have made you aware of challenges and/or problems that you would like to help solve
  • Community service – activities that put you in touch with people who are different from you, that enabled you to assume new responsibilities, that gave you a vision of what might be achieved
  • Political activities – experiences that instilled an appreciation of the democratic process or, conversely, alerted you to the problems our society faces
  • Talents – the importance of music, art, writing, sports, etc. to your life

Before You Begin

Read the assignment carefully and be sure you clearly understand what you are asked to write about.

Get to Know Your Audience

Review the application materials carefully. They often provide information about who will be reading your application as well as guidance on how you should think about your audience. Committee members may or may not have in-depth knowledge of your field.

If you are applying for a specialized fellowship, you can probably assume that readers will have some technical knowledge of your field. If, on the other hand, you are applying for a general scholarship – i.e. one that is open to students from a broad range of fields, you should explain briefly the points that would not necessarily be understood by a general audience.

Get Organized

A personal statement should flow naturally. That does not mean, however, that it should, in its final form, lack any organizational structure.

As one final step before you begin to write, you might sketch out a basic outline – i.e. a logical progression of ideas that you want to include. In the process of writing, you are likely to discover a better arrangement, and, as that happens, follow your instincts.

The initial outline can serve as a check that important ideas and critical points are not lost in the creative process. It should not, however, undermine the creativity, originality, or inspiration that accompanies the writing process. Let your personality – including a sense of humor – emerge.

Writing the Personal Statement

A few pointers to keep in mind as you write and, further down the line, as your re-write and revise your essay:

  • Be yourself. Speak with your own voice, sharing your own ideas about your own goals. Ask others to read your essay and give you feedback, but preserve your own voice.
  • Think in terms of telling a story: make your writing fresh and engaging.
  • Write clearly, simply, and concisely. Write clearly and honestly about yourself and your aspirations.
  • Open the essay with a strong paragraph that provides a framework and introduces critical elements that you intend to explore in the main body of the essay. Find a way to catch the readers’ attention.

In the main body of the essay

  • Describe your experience in your field of study and convey your knowledge of the field.
  • Refer to classes, conversations with experts, books you have read, seminars you have attended, experiences you have had.
  • Make a convincing argument that you know something about the career you have chosen.
  • Do not overstate your achievements. Be prepared to acknowledge your role as part of a team.
  • Focus on a few, well-chosen examples, and use these to develop your ideas. Depth is better than breadth. Select experiences that have been most important, those that have shaped your development and defined the direction you have chosen.
  • Be current. Concentrate on where you are now and where you are going.
  • Address weaknesses in your resume by providing honest explanations – for example, feel free to explain that you had financial responsibilities that prevented you from participating in community service or assuming leadership positions.
  • Avoid obvious clichés.

Once finished with the essay:

  • Proofread and ask others to proofread. -Check spelling and grammar.
  • Review the quality of the writing. -Is the writing clear? Concise?
    • Does the essay flow naturally? Is it organized? Logical?
    • Does the main theme come through clearly? Is it powerful? Convincing?
    • Have you provided relevant examples and explained them appropriately?