Knowing how to write a personal statement will come in handy for college entrance essays, scholarships, or professional applications. In some instances, you'll be asked to address specific points of interest. Other times, the door will be open for interpretation.
No matter the format, a personal statement needs to accomplish a couple things. First, it needs to address every question outlined in the task. Second, it needs to demonstrate a deep level of personal reflection rooted in honesty. Given their varied purposes, there's no set formula for personal statements. However, you can adhere to a checklist to remain as thorough as possible. Let's take a look.
Personal statement formats and lengths will vary from application to application: 250 to 500 words, or one to two standard pages, is often a safe bet if it's not otherwise stated. Another safe bet is the need to keep your margins at one inch all around and your font size at 12pt.
You can't summarize your entire life in one essay and you must avoid needless details. Which brings us to our next point: having a well-developed thesis will help you stay the course.
If you're stuck wondering how to start a personal statement, one of the best ways to begin is to develop a thesis statement or a theme about yourself. What makes you shine? Are you an endlessly hard worker? Are you fiercely loyal? Have you overcome enormous challenges in your life that taught you something powerful? Focus on what it is that makes you special and tie every point in your essay back to that central theme.
This will also help you from over-divulging.
Your next focus should be your personality. Try to include loads of personality within the confines of professionalism. Of course, your grammar needs to be pristine, and this is not the place for slang or casual writing. However, that shouldn't prohibit you from letting your personality shine through your writing style. Truth be told, if you're writing from a genuine place, your personality will poke through at the appropriate time.
For more on writing style, check out Is Character Voice Different from Author Voice? Although the focus here is creative writing, you can use it to consider your writing style and voice.
If you're having trouble coming up with a thesis statement, consider everything you've read about the school or organization you're sending your statement to. What are the commonalities between their mission and your life?
Is it a dedication to volunteerism or a Christian-based lifestyle? Is it forging a sense of community wherever you go? Conducting a thorough amount of research on the school or organization not only shows your interest, but also helps you align with their values and culture.
Once you've considered your theme and vowed to allow yourself the freedom of expression, it's time to begin your introduction. This is where your thesis statement will go. Your introduction is the hook that will make people want to read more.
Here's an example of an introduction and first paragraph from College Essay Guy:
"Dev, what's your religion?"
I felt hot; my heart quickened. I tensed with apprehension while hurriedly reviewing possible answer choices in my head-atheist, agnostic? Lurking much farther down the list-Muslim? Although my family is Ismaili, part of a small sect in the Shia branch of Islam, I couldn't identify myself as such. Not only did I fear that doing so would alienate me from my friends, but I also struggled to truly buy into the faith.
What I'd heard of my religion from the outside world seemed to stand in stark opposition to what I had seen at home and at the mosque: that Islam cherishes peace and pluralism, charity, and compassion. Teachers and friends denounced it as a religion rooted in violence; nightly news anchors reported on a seemingly unending avalanche of terrorist attacks, supposedly affirmed by messages of hate in the Quran. Left with scant parental guidance, I wondered if they were right. I wondered if extremist groups really did represent the religion of my parents and grandparents, if their religion really was one of intolerance.
Likewise, your concluding paragraph is what's going to stick with them. They're your closing remarks, your final opportunity to be memorable. This isn't just the place to summarize your main points; it's also the place to end with a rhetorical question or other powerful thought.
Here's the conclusion from the sample essay above:
When asked about my faith now, I still feel hot; my heart still quickens. Yet, now I'm able to recognize why I find my faith valuable. It has helped me to connect with my heritage, foster my sense of charity and civic duty, and better appreciate the unique importance of human values. It is with faith in those human values that I look towards a future in which the abilities of machines far outstrip my own and remain resolved to realize a future that is not only technologically advanced, but also morally sound.
For more tips and tricks, check out How to Write a Conclusion.
Also, although a personal essay is all about you, remember to tie it into the school or organization at some point. That's why you spent time researching them in the beginning. Explain why you're interested in the opportunity they're providing. Demonstrate that you spent some time researching their university or institution.
The excerpts from the personal statement above were highly specific. The writer shared particular, personal testimonies. The goal is to be as "real" as possible and avoid any vague generalizations. Take our first sample from College Essay Guy. The first three sentences alone were brilliant:
"Dev, what's your religion?"
I felt hot; my heart quickened. I tensed with apprehension while hurriedly reviewing possible answer choices in my head-atheist, agnostic?
What if this essay began with something like, "They asked me for my religion and I panicked." How vague; how bland. Already, we know that this was a serious moment and (since it's part of the personal statement) a defining moment in life. Best of all, this specific example was cited with color and flair.
While you want to include loads of personality, you don't want to try to be funny. Now's not the time to hope your joke will land well. Remember to keep it professional, even in the midst of your personal narrative.
You also want to disregard superfluous adjectives. In truth, you don't need an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes they only muddy the waters. Instead, let your theme shine through and leave phrases like "tremendously meaningful" or "enormously invaluable" to others who are trying too hard.
Finally, steer clear of negativity. Avoid spending too much time on any negative components of your academic or professional portfolio. Instead, remember that theme you developed and redirect each section back to it.
Personal statements encompass a broad topic. Anything autobiographical is going to be multi-faceted. So, it's best to develop a game plan. A checklist will help you maintain focus and precision:
Review the requirements and study the question or directions to develop a full understanding of what you need to provide.
Research the school or organization to which you're applying.
Write a three-sentence response to each question or point you need to address as a springboard for your writing.
Write the essay. Be honest, give examples and let your personality show through.
Edit the essay. Check for grammar and format errors, and ensure that the tone suits the application.
Ask someone you trust to review your personal statement, like a faculty member or a member of the professional community.
Read through it one more time, editing for accuracy, truthfulness, and grammatical precision.
Ready to see all these tips in action? Whether you're writing a personal statement for medical school, a personal statement for grad school, or a personal statement for your breakout bestseller, check out these Examples of Personal Statements.
Personal statements can be a lot of fun. You're sharing important components of your life, with the specific goal of expressing your worthiness for a certain role. As long as you remain true and share honest testimonials, you stand a good chance at achieving your goals.
Another excellent writing assignment is a personal essay. These, too, are full of honest truths that illustrative a main idea. For more, check out these Tips for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay.