How To Write a Personal Statement

how to write a personal statement
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“Your personal statement should be exactly that – personal. This is your opportunity to tell us about yourself — your hopes, ambitions, life experiences, inspirations. We encourage you to take your time on this assignment. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it honestly.”- University of California

A personal statement, also called a statement of purpose, or a letter of intent, tells college admissions officers who you are: your family background, your educational background, your careers goals, your personal qualities, and your motivation for selecting a specific college and/or program. Admissions officers learn more than facts about you through your personal statement, they also learn your style and presentation abilities. Ultimately, admissions officers must use this information, supplemented by your grades and test scores, to make a very critical decision that affects your future: whether or not to admit you to the incoming graduate school class.

Writing a personal statement is an exercise in self-exploration; before you start writing – you need to ask yourself several important questions. Why do I want to apply to this specific graduate program? What is my career goal and how can this graduate program help me achieve this goal? What experiences motivate me to complete this program? And most importantly — why should this university accept me instead of other well-qualified applicants?

A personal statement is an interesting story about you – basically, an excerpt from your autobiography. It needs to be “personal,” and not just include a list of achievements or extracurricular activities, but really reveal something about you that cannot be learned from a transcript. In the graduate school program application process, having a good GPA, impressive work experience, research opportunities with impressive faculty members, and high GRE, GMAT or MCAT scores alone will not guarantee you acceptance a to top graduate school program in this extremely competitive application environment. This is why your personal statement is so critical. It tells the admissions committee more about who you are than facts and figures – it makes you a person, rather than a score.

Although some colleges use the terms almost interchangeably, a personal statement can be subtly different from a statement of purpose. In a statement of purpose, applicants focus more on their future career plans and academic goals; a personal statement is just that – more about your personality and motivation. However, both essays must share several common themes with the admissions committee including your experience, your educational background, your cultural background, your extracurricular activities including work experience and volunteer work, and your professional influences that inspire your goals and worldview.

Above all, a personal statement must be unique. With some top graduate programs receiving thousands of applications (requiring the admissions committee to read thousands of personal statements), it is easy to get “lost in the shuffle” by having a statement that is too similar to other applicants. For example, you may be from China, therefore, it would be an appropriate topic to feature in your personal statement, but you need to dig deeper. There are lots of applicants who are also from China; you need to ask yourself, even among other Chinese applicants what experiences, observations, ideas, and personal background do I have that make me different? It is frequently helpful to begin with a simple brainstorming exercise: write a list of every activity, experience, job, person, book, teacher, and family member that influenced you, or changed you as a person. The next step is the more difficult one – to select which experiences are the best to feature in your personal statement.

Just like writing a novel or detective story, your personal statement should have a “major theme” like a hypothesis, a purpose, or a message that pervades your entire essay. You also need characters from your novel including family, professors, supervisors, people you met through travel or volunteer work – or others who have affected your life. Finally, any good novel has events, such as activities, classes, experiences, or historical events that dramatically affected the main character of the story – which in this case, is you.

After you have finished your outline which includes people, places, events, and activities that make you unique, and you have selected which of these you think are the most important in your life (and make you different from other applicants), you need to encourage yourself to write. Often students are intimidated by this step, but do not worry – nobody will ever see this first draft. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “there is no such thing as good writing – only good re-writing.” Basically, everything must be edited, changed and improved either by you, or by another professional editor. What is most important is to that you start the process by getting something on paper.

Even such distinguished writers as Ernest Hemingway lamented over the difficult process of starting to write. Hemmingway once said, “Write drunk, edit sober, you should write whatever comes out from your mind and don’t restrict yourself or care too much about the grammar, vocabularies or structure first. Later on you will have plenty of times to revise the work.” Now, we certainly do not advocated becoming inebriated before you begin your first draft – the key is not to put pressure on yourself, and do whatever it takes to get something on paper. Once you have a draft then comes the easier part – finding ways to improve it. Re-read it, decide what works and what does not, add material or delete material, but keep asking yourself – how can I make this better?

This is also an area where a friend, parent, or even a professional editing service like Top Admit Consulting can help. These resources can assist you with grammar, vocabulary, organization, sentence structure – and in the case of a professional editing service – whether or not your essay is unique and different from other students applying to the same program. While others can help you with the technical aspects of writing, and how to improve the essay – you are the only one that truly knows what is inside your head, your motivations, and your feelings.

In summary, writing a personal statement is not easy. It is often a challenging exercise in self-exploration. The key is to write honestly about yourself, start early, and be willing to edit and revise your draft based on feedback from others to truly achieve your potential in this very competitive graduate school admissions process. Top Admit Consulting and other professional editing services would love to help you with this process if you are interested. Our advice is to go for it! You only achieve your dreams if you are willing to take risks and try. Good luck!

For more information about writing personal statement, please visit: http://www.college.columbia.edu/students/fellowships/currentstudents/statement.php


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