How to Write A Personal Statement

BY KEVIN AVERY, BRITISH COUNCIL TEACHER

 

What is a Personal Statement?

Personal statements are commonly requested when applying for scholarships and graduate / professional schools.

It is a sample of writing (often around 2 pages) describing you at your best, your reasons for choosing the course you have chosen, your research interests, your objectives, and the unique ways you can contribute to the program to which you are applying.

A great personal statement shows five things:

  1. Your writing abilities – grammar, punctuation, organization, creativity, expression, etc.
  2. The connections between your past education / experiences and future goals.
  3. Your philosophy of the field and why you are pursuing an opportunity in that area.
  4. What makes you unique and how you can add to the diversity of the program.
  5. How you can be an asset to the University, now and in the future.

What makes a good personal statement?

Good personal statements tell stories that demonstrate your strengths.

Know your strengths – How can you be of value or how can you contribute? Begin by looking at your good experiences for evidence of your strengths and then ask those who know you best for their thoughts. Many people find they have hidden strengths that are only obvious to their close friends and family.

Know your audience – Research the program(s) and organisation(s) you are applying to through online searches, program descriptions, and emailing for more information. Talk with professors, graduate students, and advisers.

Show the university that there is a good match between you and the program you are applying for.

Tell a story that shows your strengths with examples. Avoid just writing a first-person essay where each paragraph is a direct response to the points you are being asked to address. Avoid starting every sentence with “I” or “I want.”

How do I get started?

  1. Set a timetable for yourself.  Ideally, you should work on your essay for at least a month.
  2. Ask yourself some hard questions:
  • Intellectual influences: Who were your favourite professors (and why)? Identify the best paper you ever wrote, the most influential book you have read, and the single most important concept you have learned.
  • Encouragement: Recall and write out the actual words of a professor, teacher, or someone else in your life who encouraged you to go in this direction.
  • Turning points: Where were you and what were you doing when you first thought of going in this particular direction?  How have your interests developed?
  • Experiences: List volunteer, travel, family, and life experiences that have inspired you to go in this career direction.
  • Academic Studdy: How have you prepared yourself to succeed?
  • Skills: What skills have you developed through your career and education?
  • Personal attributes: What personal attributes make you particularly likely to succeed?
  1. Make sure you match your statement to each scholarship or course you are applying for.
  2. Create an outline for each paragraph before you write it, making sure that all components of the question being asked are addressed.

Some more tips

  • Write in the active voice.
  • Be yourself – don’t use words or styles you wouldn’t normally use
  • Be clear, concise, and direct.  Make each word meaningful.
  • Try not to repeat an idea too many times.
  • Don’t write an autobiography.  You are marketing yourself, not telling your life story.
  • Follow directions regarding length.  If no limit is given, aim for 1.5 to 2 pages of singlespaced text.
  • Link your paragraphs with transitions.
  • End your essay with a conclusion that refers to the introduction, relates to your theme, or summarizes your main points.
  • Revise your essay at least three times.
  • Ask someone to critique your personal statement and then proofread!

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