Advice for Writing Personal Statements
Personal statements are focused narratives that map out important experiences that shape you, what you value most, and how you plan to apply these toward your future. Personal statements provide a balanced explanation about the significance of your experiences, current objectives, and future goals. There is no set formula to follow. Personal statement prompts vary. Read and analyze them carefully, so that you can understand what they look for specifically. Some encourage personal reflection; others are more academically or professionally focused.
Essays should: 1. engage readers and clearly demonstrate what makes you a unique candidate; 2. be clear and concise; 3. express a vibrant and confident tone; and 4. provide a balanced discussion of your past experience with an explanation of your goals, plans, and aspirations.
Consider some of the following to begin writing the personal statement
- What makes you unique? What's the most important thing the committee should know about you?
- How and when did become interested in your field? How did you become committed to working in your field (what solidified your decision?) What do you expect to do and what do you hope to get out of it?
- What intellectual influences--writers, artists, books, professors, concepts-- have shaped how you think and what you want to do?
- How has your undergraduate academic experience—courses, research, internships, study abroad, etc.—prepared you for graduate/professional school or for a fellowship or scholarship? What research have you conducted, and internships or leadership roles have you had? What did you learn?
- What non-academic experiences contributed to your choice of field of study or career?
A few guidelines
Start writing early and get feedback from faculty, advisors, and peers. Applications and essays require research, planning, writing, rewriting, and revision. Make a schedule for yourself with self-imposed deadlines for drafts, getting letters of recommendation, transcripts, sending application. Work closely with faculty and mentors on essay drafts. They can provide valuable insight and feedback on your writing.
Focus essays on you and make an impression on the reader. While you might discuss someone who has been an important influence on you, the main components of the narrative should draw on your own observations, ideas, and feelings. Aim for a balanced portrait of your knowledge and skills, commitment and passion, and real-life goals.
Show purposefulness and responsibility. Demonstrate in your essays that you make decisions based on informed choices, and that you are capable and self-directed.
Write clearly. While the essay should be lively, it is not a creative writing exercise. Avoid using jargon. The writing does not have to be complex. Aim for clarity.
Describe major challenges in balanced way. If problems beyond your control—poverty, discrimination, serious illness, family difficulties—have played an important role in your experience and relate to how you approach your goals, write about them. However, the purpose should not be to elicit sympathy, but rather show how you have worked to overcome or address problems.