Writing Personal Statements

The personal statement is a key component for application to educational programs and financial support (i.e. assistantships). This document typically comprises of a brief history about yourself while addressing your academic and career goals. It is your “voice” and allows you to portray relevant experiences that showcase your strengths and preparation.

  • Use clear organization and the mechanics of an academic essay by including a strong opening or thesis, details to support your claims, and a clear summarization.
  • Read each prompt carefully and make every effort to understand and respond to it.
  • Before writing, consider these questions which may shape your composition:

    • What are your career goals?
    • When did you originally become interested in the field?
    • What people or life events shaped or influenced your goals?
    • How have you learned about and explored the field?
    • What work or volunteer experiences contributed to your knowledge?
    • Are there gaps or discrepancies that should be explained?
    • Have you overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships?
    • What personal characteristics enhance your performance?
    • What skills and traits do you bring to the program?
    • Why are you interested in “x” school?

  • Tell a story—but be selective without boring the reader with too much detail.
  • Concentrate on your opening paragraph to capture attention but do not use quotes.
  • Be “non-generic” — your statement should be personal and analytical.
  • Avoid obvious clichés, i.e. medical school applicants saying they are good at science, or statements such as “I like working with people”.
  • Avoid controversial subjects where readers may have differing opinions from yours—such as religion and politics.
  • Type and proofread carefully. DO NOT rely upon spell-check. Have others review.
  • Write a draft (it does not have to be perfect initially); seek feedback; be prepared to edit. Useful resources include professors, friends, family, professionals you have worked with, and the Hacherl Research & Writing Studio, located in Wilson Library’s Learning Commons area.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.
–Henry David Thoreau


Asher, D. (2012). Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate School of Your Choice, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press
Stewart, M.A. (2009). How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement, Lawrenceville, NJ:Peterson’s, a Nelnet company