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How to Create an Effective Thesis Statement in 5 Easy Steps
Creating a thesis statement can be a daunting task. It’s one of the most important sentences in your paper, and it needs to be done right. But don’t worry — with these five easy steps, you’ll be able to create an effective thesis statement in no time.
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
The first step is to brainstorm ideas for your paper. Think about what you want to say and write down any ideas that come to mind. This will help you narrow down your focus and make it easier to create your thesis statement.
Step 2: Research Your Topic
Once you have some ideas, it’s time to do some research on your topic. Look for sources that support your ideas and provide evidence for the points you want to make. This will help you refine your argument and make it more convincing.
Step 3: Formulate Your Argument
Now that you have done some research, it’s time to formulate your argument. Take the points you want to make and put them into one or two sentences that clearly state what your paper is about. This will be the basis of your thesis statement.
Step 4: Refine Your Thesis Statement
Once you have formulated your argument, it’s time to refine your thesis statement. Make sure that it is clear, concise, and specific. It should also be arguable so that readers can disagree with it if they choose.
Step 5: Test Your Thesis Statement
The last step is to test your thesis statement. Does it accurately reflect the points you want to make? Is it clear and concise? Does it make an arguable point? If not, go back and refine it until it meets all of these criteria.
Creating an effective thesis statement doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With these five easy steps, you can create a strong thesis statement in no time at all.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips
So, you have started your college application process and are hitting a wall. You got your high school transcripts and letters of recommendation in order. Your SAT scores are on the way. But your college personal statement is sitting there unfinished, and the deadline is coming fast!
But have no fear!
Because Wordvice edits thousands of essays every admissions season, we have seen some of the best (and worst) college application essays out there. This guide will tell you how to write the best personal statement for college possible for your college application. Included are examples of successful college personal statements and analyses.
What we will learn here about writing a personal statement for college:
- What is a college personal statement?
- How important is the personal statement for college admissions?
- Why do colleges require a personal statement?
- Read examples of successful personal statements
- Successful personal statement example & analysis
- Essay editing services can improve your personal statement
Personal Statements and Other College Admissions Essays
Even knowing what specific terms regarding college admissions documents means can be a bit confusing. To clear up any questions, here is a brief rundown of some main college application terms that are often used:
- Personal statement for college — an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It’s worth noting that, unlike “college essay,” this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.
- College admissions essay— this is essentially the same as a college personal statement. (I’ll be using the terms interchangeably.) It can also include supplemental essays or widely-used essays such as the Common App Essay .
- Essay prompt— a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.
- Supplemental essay— an additional school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement. Some schools require both a supplemental essay and a personal statement. Check your college’s application guidelines to determine which specific admissions essays are necessary for submission.
What is the personal statement for college?
The college personal statement is a key part of the college application and a key factor among admissions committees. It is the one opportunity for high school students applying to college to sell themselves on their own terms and using their own words.
Personal statements for college differ from SAT scores and academic transcripts, which are more standardized. Further, while letters of recommendation touch on many of the same issues as personal statements, they are not written by you but by a recommender.
A focused and effective personal statement for college serves three major functions:
1. Personal statements give broad, comprehensive insights into your personal and academic background.
Ultimately, your academic, personal, and even professional background can be the determining factor in your admission to any college program. But there’s a big difference between a personal statement and resume or CV.
2. It provides college admissions counselors with an accurate overview of your academic goals.
A good college personal statement must explain how your background relates to your university’s program and your goals. It must put in context the tools, resources, and background you bring to the table and how they are aligned with your school’s profile. In the business world, this is called “ vertical alignment .”
In other words, how you write about your background should make you stand out from other college applicants as well as connect with what you want to accomplish. Your background empowers you to succeed!
In admissions essays, small steps can yield big results.
3. Personal statements answer very specific questions.
Often, your college application will require you to apply to a specific program and will ask very specific questions. For example, applying to your university’s business college will require answering different application essay questions than applying to a performing arts program.
So be sure to research not only your target university’s profile but also your specific college major and professors in that department.
We illustrate this exact idea in the two successful personal statement examples below!
How Important is the personal statement for college to admissions officials?
Covid-19 has made the sat/act less important.
Common App announced that it will include a dedicated essay prompt on COVID-19 for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. As a result, students are scrambling to figure out how to write about COVID-19 in their college admissions essays .
There’s even more evidence that the college personal essay is becoming the most important part of the application process. As CBS News reports :
A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities are abandoning ACT and SAT scores as part of their admissions process. The so-called test-blind movement has gathered steam this year amid widespread cancellations of standardized tests because of COVID-19.
Moreover, a court recently ruled that the University of California public school system can no longer consider SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process . The days of the standardized test may be numbered.
This means that the application essay just got a lot more important.
How to Write a Personal Statement for College to Impress Admissions Officers
Why do college admissions committees rely on college application essays so much? The answer is that a college personal statement sets you apart from your high school peers by explaining three ideas:
Show your personality in your personal statement
College admissions committees rely on your transcripts and GPA as a measure of your academic prowess. Letters of recommendation focus more on how others view you and how you interact.
On the other hand, your college personal statement application essay gives admissions counselors a sense of your personality. It demonstrates how you will fit in as well as contribute to the university community.
Are you hyper-focused and ambitious with a lot of professional experience and projects to back it up? Or are you more curious, with a wide range of interests? Are your motivations related to achieving concrete objectives, or are they more personal or emotional in nature? The lens through which you interact with the world is exactly what your personal statement essay should show.
On paper, your SAT score, GPA, and extracurricular activities may be the same as other applicants. You may end up in the same college classes. College counselors know no two applicants are the same. What matters is that both fit in with what the university wants for its students.
Describe any extenuating circumstances
Are your grades a bit below average? Did you fail a class in high school? Those things jump out when it comes to numbers on paper. Universities want to know the context for abnormal records, and most importantly, how you view them.
As the world continues to become more global and aware of social disparities, the definition of “traditional success” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It has become standard for U.S. universities to have action plans for the diversity and inclusion of underprivileged students.
Most importantly, colleges want to understand how you struggled and overcame a difficult situation. Those are the exact students they want!
Explain why you are applying to this school
Besides selling your personality and explaining any drawbacks or holes in your record, a great college personal statement should provide insights into why you are applying to university. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, many students get caught up in proving themselves like a job application. They totally forget to explain why they are applying to college.
How to write about reasons for applying to college:
- Define what part(s) of the university appeal to you. Explain how they align with your personal goals and personality.
- Pick out a couple of unique characteristics of the school. These can be professors, programs of study, or facilities.
Successful College Personal Statement Examples
Now that we know how important a college personal statement is and what it does, what’s the first step?
Success imitates success
At Wordvice, we encourage college applicants to look at successful personal statement examples to really absorb and gain insights into what an engaging personal college essay is. Read as many as you can, as no two students are the same. But you will see many of the themes discussed above again and again in successful college personal statements.
College Personal Statement Examples and Sample Essays
To start, Wordvice is including a couple of successful personal statement essay examples, including comments and feedback provided by our editors to the students. Both of these essays were edited by Wordvice’s professional editors , with both students gaining admission!
Personal Statement Essay #1: The “Holistic Profile” Essay
Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing to express my interest in studying at the University of ________ as a Supply Chain Management student. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my letter. I am currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Public Finance and Supply Chain Management at ________ University. I have decided to apply to your Supply Chain Management programme because I am sure it would strongly enrich my future studies and help me in my prospective career. Moreover, I consider this programme as a great opportunity to get to know ________ culture and its well-developed logistic background. I am also very curious about the different approaches taken in this field at a prominent university. I have chosen to apply to the University of________ because it examines all types of supply chain management perspectives, from production to services. During my previous studies, I discovered that simply working on procurement is far from enough. My fellow students and I had the opportunity to create an e-commerce project. At the time, the only thing in our control was the procurement decision, but I soon realized I had the capacity and drive to learn more about solutions and innovations. Another reason I am applying for this programme at ________ is its close relationship with relevant companies in my desired field. I learned on the university’s website that there is a specific resource that helps to connect students with these companies. Since I am interested in working in the Netherlands after I graduate, this resource will definitely be useful for my career. In addition, the fact that this programme offers an option to participate in an apprenticeship is very appealing to me. This could not only broaden my horizons through practical experience but also provide a chance for me to expand my connections in the industry. My current undergraduate studies make me highly suitable for this programme. I have learned the basic foundations of supply chain management through courses such as operations management, strategic purchasing, and inventory management. I have also taken mathematics and statistics to help me understand data problems. In addition to my academic interests, I have a full and interesting life off-campus. I was a member of our school volleyball team, which won several championships; this led to me graduating as an honour’s student. Those times spent on the court have strengthened my team spirit and my ability to work under pressure. During summer vacations, I spend time travelling around Europe and the United States. My first experience in Amsterdam was unforgettable, and it made me consider coming back in the future. Planning the trip carefully, and living alone in an unfamiliar area, have turned me into a more independent young woman. Professionally, I have done internships in international companies such as Red Bull and ASUS. These experiences gave me the chance to work in a global context with people from different countries, which has encouraged me to have a more flexible and adaptive mindset. Because of these wonderful experiences, I am certain I will conquer all future challenges and make the most out of them. In conclusion, I am very eager to study Supply Chain Management at the University of ________, as it would give me a chance to deepen my skills and knowledge in one of the field’s top universities. I am confident I excel in this programme due to my solid educational foundation in business and personality strengths. Thank you again for reading my personal statement. I look forward to hearing from you.
Why was this personal statement for college successful?
The essay is well-organized and directly answers key questions.
The applicant clearly lays out her educational and professional background as well as her skills. She also includes two solid paragraphs about why she has chosen her program of study and later explains why she is both qualified and a perfect fit.
This essay displays excellent organization and has a natural flow of ideas indicative of a native English speaker who can write exceptionally well.
The essay is personal and does not feel like a resume or CV
This college applicant came with a very strong academic and professional background. A solid handle on supply chain management (not the most exciting major) with internships to back it up. But notice how she doesn’t dwell on just that? She is able to connect things like her academic math experience with personal motivation. She even includes her extracurricular activities to show she’s more than a number cruncher.
First, she shows that she is a well-rounded person , not just a student that studies for grades. Second, she conveys her well-developed personal identity that has chosen this course of study at this particular college in this particular country. Make sure your college essay communicates this!
The essay specifically targets the school
Every major university has a business school, and every business school has a supply chain management program. How do the college admissions counselors reading her personal statement know she’s motivated to apply there?
This applicant clearly explains how she personally wants to attend this particular university in The Netherlands. She lists her personal travel experience and mentions a specific mentorship program.
Personal Statement Essay #2: The “Enthusiastic Achiever” Essay
I am passionate about computers because technology will continue to play a fundamental role in our lives. Based on this fact, I researched colleges that have both a strong computer science program and co-op program, and this is when I found Hofstra. I visited the campus for a tour and was really impressed with what I saw. Not only are the campus facilities top-notch, but the advanced computer science labs are world-class. This shows Hofstra’s focus to be able to provide the best intellectual and technical resources for students. I asked my tour guide about the class sizes and curriculum style. I was thrilled when he told me that average class sizes are in the 20s and that the curriculum emphasizes experiential learning. I am looking for more than just academic excellence; extracurricular activities, including community service opportunities, are also very important to me. In researching schools that would provide students with the most well-rounded lifestyles, I was amazed to see the number of philanthropic events that the school hosts and supports. Philanthropy seems ingrained in the school’s culture. I also saw hundreds of clubs that can cater to everyone’s unique interests. Students are also welcome to start new clubs if no existing clubs can foster their interests. The energy on campus is something that I noticed right away. Both the students and staff show a lot of pride for Hofstra, and it’s truly memorable how enthusiastic the school spirit is among students. Leaving home to attend college is a big change for everyone, and I think school pride and a strong sense of community will help me make a smooth transition. I was very happy to hear that students get two tickets to events on campus. This is especially great because I am a sports fan and would love to experience the electric game-day atmosphere of a division one basketball game and cheer on the Lions! Hofstra’s location is also ideal because it has the advantages of being in a smaller town but also being very close to New York City. I do not want to attend college in a big city, but the fact that New York City is so close opens up a lot of opportunities. First off, there are numerous internships at top companies in the city. In addition, it would be great to visit the city from time to time and see a show or sports game. Being able to do that with friends would give me great experiences and memories. Hofstra is my top choice because it fulfills my most important criteria: esteemed faculty members, a strong computer science program, a strong sense of belonging, amazing internship and community service opportunities, and a diverse campus. I cannot wait to be a Hofstra Lion!
This personal statement is brief and under the word count
This essay is 461 words, which is perfectly under the 500-word limit on many college admissions essays. Although content is the main focus, your personal statement needs to abide by all rules laid out in the essay brief. That includes mundane but essential stipulations such as word count.
It is multi-faceted and hits major selling points
The student talks about Hofstra’s location, academics, sports, extracurriculars, and even philanthropy. The student doesn’t just list these as a marketing brochure would; each selling point is connected to the student personally and emotionally. Excitement is something that every student tries to portray in their admissions essay, so be sure you emulate something like this.
Improve Personal Statements with College Essay Editing Services
It’s an understatement that college is one of the most important factors, affecting your social and professional future. Unfortunately, college personal statements and admissions essays sometimes come a bit disorganized and unfocused, just like the students who write them. That’s where essay editing services like Wordvice come in. They are beneficial for a number of reasons.
Why Use an Admissions Essay Editing Service?
1. they help fix errors that you miss.
College admissions committees have to reject a certain number of applicants every year. You can be sure that your application essay will go straight into the reject pile if it has any grammar or spelling errors.
It definitely takes a bit of self-awareness and experience to realize when it’s best to let someone help you. No one person has a monopoly on knowledge or perspective, no matter how strong their background is. Ever played the “what’s the difference between these two pictures” game?
Our brains are hard-wired to lock in our own biases. That’s a major problem when it comes to writing a personal statement where the entire point is convincing someone else.
2. They save students time
College consulting services have stated that the average number of applications is about 5.9 per college applicant. Of course, students will try to maximize their chances of getting into a good college. The downside is lack of time, which no one can buy more of.
English editing services like Wordvice help free up time so you can do what you need to do: apply to college.
3. Editors help improve your ability to communicate
Whether you are an ESL student or a native English speaker, everyone can improve their writing. In the case of a college application essay, this can mean the difference between getting into your dream college and attending your second-choice school. In addition to fixing grammar and basic errors, editing services go above and beyond to match the flow and readability of your writing with your goal – academic or admissions.
If you are writing a personal statement or college essay, you want editors with first-hand college and university admissions experience reviewing and editing your essay.
Additional College Personal Statement Tips
We hope you learned a lot from these examples of successful college personal statements. So what’s next?
I want to learn more about the college admissions process
Interested in learning more tips from experts about the college admissions process, personal statements, or letters of recommendation? Check out the Wordvice Admissions Resources blog.
I am interested in professional editing for my personal statement
We also got you covered! Whether you choose personal statement editing , recommendation letter editing , resume editing , or any of our other essay editing services , you can find the help you need to improve your college essay.
I want to improve my college personal statement for college right now
Check out our turnaround times and conditions on our editing FAQ page. Or you can jump straight in and use our Editing Price Calculator to start the ordering process.
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How to write a personal statement for college (15+ examples).
Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University
Are you struggling to write your college personal statement? You’re in luck! Read on for a complete guide on how to write a strong personal statement.
Writing a personal statement can feel daunting. May students struggle to frame themselves the way they want to — and we get it! It’s not always easy to talk about yourself. With that said, how do you write a compelling personal statement?
We’ll review how to write the perfect personal statement, from what colleges look for to successful examples of personal statements. If you still have questions by the end, you can always set up a free consultation with one of our admissions experts to kickstart your college application.
Let’s get started!
What is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is a college admissions essay. A personal statement shares information beyond what admissions committees have already seen in your other application materials (transcripts, resume, etc.).
This is your chance to show colleges your personality, strengths, and what matters most to you. Generally speaking, there are two types of personal statements:
A general personal statement is an open-ended essay with very few constraints, sometimes with no prompt or word count. While this type of personal statement allows you to write about whatever you want, it should tell admissions committees about you. General or open-ended personal statements are common in med or law school applications.
A response personal statement is an essay answering a specific question and is more common for college applications. These questions guide your writing but are geared toward getting to know you. For example, you may be asked, “What matters most to you, and why?” or “How have your life experiences led you to your current interests or goals?”
Think about a story, moment, or lifestyle change that has shaped who you are today or influenced your educational and career goals. These experiences often make great personal statement topics!
Why Do Colleges Ask for a Personal Statement?
Colleges ask for personal statements to evaluate students apart from their stats. When admissions committees read your essay, they’ll already know your grades, achievements, awards, and qualifications. Essays humanize candidates, allowing them to express themselves and their passions.
Your personal statement can give you a competitive edge against other candidates if it stands out. When brainstorming topics, consider the unique experiences you’ve had that have shaped who you are.
What to Include in a Personal Statement for College
Before getting started, include all the necessary information you want admissions committees to know. Your personal statement could answer some or all of the following questions:
- What is something unique in your life that has shaped you into who you are today? (Consider your culture, heritage, hometown, health, family traditions, hobbies, etc.)
- What event first sparked your interest in your chosen field?
- What have you learned about your interest area so far, and what more do you hope to learn during college? (It’s a good idea to do school research to best answer this question.)
- Have you experienced any unique challenges in your life? If so, how have you overcome them?
- How do you specifically intend to contribute to your field in the future? (What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?)
- How does your unique experience set you up for a successful career as a student and a professional? (Think of things you’ve learned, your background, and challenges you’ve overcome.)
You can answer these questions before you start writing your essay and try to find links to connect them. While all of your answers may not be relevant to the prompt you chose, they can help you get started!
Note that a personal statement is different from a statement of purpose , in which you would focus more on your academic aspirations and goals. Statements of purpose are typically required for graduate school applications.
How to Write a Personal Statement for College
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to write a college personal statement.
Step 1: Brainstorm
Before you start writing, it’s essential to brainstorm; this is a valuable personal statement tip. Consider the questions above. What makes you unique? What challenges have you overcome? Ensure you answer each question in the brainstorming process.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you can ask a family member or a friend who knows you well what they think makes you unique. This can help you gather some ideas to craft your story.
Take plenty of time on this step and write down many ideas – even silly ones! You may be surprised by what comes to mind. By the time you move on to the next step, you should have at least five anecdotes to choose from and several pieces of information you want to include.
Make sure to keep the prompt in mind. Your prompt may cancel out some ideas if they don’t relate.
Step 2: Select Your Strongest Ideas
Evaluate your brainstorming notes. Which story from your life compels you the most? Whichever idea gets you excited to write is likely the one you should choose.
The story you write should have an apparent climax and a compelling takeaway. What did you learn from the experience? How has it shaped your life? This is what the reader should understand by the end of your essay.
Step 3: Write Your Introduction
When you write, your introduction should immediately grab the reader's attention. There are many ways to do so – if you’re feeling lost, you can always refer to these five effective ways to start your college essay .
In summary, avoid clichés and begin with a bang. Your introduction should only be one or two sentences before getting to the meat of the story.
Step 4: Tell Your Story
Your story should answer the prompt and show admissions committees what makes you a unique and qualified candidate. This is the main chunk of your essay. Ensure your writing is self-reflective, concise, and straightforward.
While your narrative should center on an experience you’ve had, the central theme should be bigger than that. Your takeaway should be a trait you’ve developed throughout the story or something you’ve learned that has made you a better person and candidate today.
Step 5: End on a High Note
The end of your college essay is a crucial moment for the reader, so spending a lot of time here is important. This is the last thing the admissions officers will read, so it should be memorable. You want to ensure your narrative comes full circle and has a common thread.
How you write your college personal statement’s conclusion is up to you; some students like to look toward the future, whereas others have different ideas about ending a personal statement !
Step 6: Revise, Revise, Revise
Once you’ve completed the writing portion, it’s crucial to revise like you’ve never revised before! There should be absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes, famous quotes, run-on sentences, clichés, or other errors.
When giving your essay to someone else, ask if they agree with the following points:
- Your writing is clear, concise, and straightforward.
- The essay is interesting from the very beginning, with a short yet compelling introduction.
- Your story is easy to follow.
- Your story tells the reader something unique about you.
- The essay has an effective conclusion in which the main theme of the essay is clear (i.e., what you’ve learned, your goals, or character traits).
You should also ask your revision partner what they’ve learned about you and ask yourself if their takeaway aligns with your original intention. Sometimes the intended message doesn’t always come across as it does in our heads, so this is an essential final step.
College Personal Statement Examples
Here are some examples of good personal statements and explanations of their success. These examples can provide inspiration to formulate your own writing.
#1. Personal Statement Example
This is an example of a personal statement that worked from a student named Rozanne who was accepted to Johns Hopkins University:
“ The white yarn slipped off my aluminium crochet hook, adding a single crochet to rows and rows of existing stitches, that looked to be in the form of a blob. Staring at the image of the little unicorn amigurumi lit up on the screen of my laptop, and looking back at the UMO (unidentified messy object) number five, I was extremely perplexed.
…The remaining rounds were blurred into hours and minutes that should have resulted in a little white creature in the likeness of a unicorn, but sitting on my desk (much like the four days before today) was a pool of tangled white yarn…
Very much like learning how to crochet, my journey in forging my own path and finding a passion was confusing, messy and at times infuriating. Even in primary school, I had heard all the stories of individuals finding their own route in life. I had been told stories of those who found their passion at a young age and were exceptionally proficient at their craft, of those that abandoned their interests and pursued a lucrative career, even those who chose their dreams but regretted it afterwards. This weighed heavily on me, as I was determined to have a success story as many of my other family members had. The only problem was that I did not have a direction.
In the years following primary school, I stepped out of my comfort zone in a frenzy to find a passion…At my ballet school, I branched out to contemporary and jazz dance. I stuffed myself with an experience similar to an amigurumi engorged with batting. I found myself enjoying all of those activities but soon enough, I was swamped with extracurriculars. Just like the tangles of white yarn on my desk, I was pulled in all directions. I still felt lost…
It was not until high school that I realized that I could view this mission to find a passion from another perspective. While successfully completing a crochet project is an accomplishment itself, the motions of making slip knots, single or double crochets takes you on an adventure as well. The knots that I had encountered in my craft were evidence of my experiences and what shaped me as an individual…
Through trial and error, the current adventure that I am on resonates the most with me, taking me down the path of service and environmental activism. However, I have learnt that no one path is static, and I can be on more than one path at a time. While I may only be halfway to the proportionate unicorn amigurumi that some others may have already achieved, I still have so much to learn and so much that I want to learn, and so my journey to grow continues. ”
Why This Personal Statement Worked
Rozanne’s narrative expertly showcases her hobby (which may not have been discussed elsewhere in her application) and connects it to her struggles to find direction and passion when everyone else seems to have everything figured out.
Her strength in this essay is reflecting upon that idea: it also shows us her vulnerability. Beyond continually weaving in the analogy of a messy crochet project and her perceived lack of direction, this essay also shows she’s a curious individual willing to try new things.
It also helps that she refers to the ideas in her introduction, conclusion, and the rest of her essay. Circling back to her crocheting hobby creates a nice narrative thread.
#2. Personal Statement Example
This is an NYU example that worked:
Prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
“In her cramped kitchen, Titi Nana cracked the egg in the center of the pan, the cheeriness of the bright yellow yolk contrasting the harshness of the caldero. In a flourish, she jerked the bottle of alcohol in her hand, flames erupting from the griddle. She instructed me: "Wipe it all off," gesturing to dust off my shoulders and arms into the inferno. I laughed nervously as I removed the maldad [evil] from my body, one brush at a time. I left Titi's apartment that day confused about how our family's practice of Santería [witchcraft] fit in with my outward embrace of my heritage. I felt as if the parts of my Latina identity I claimed openly -- dancing salsa to Celia Cruz or enjoying lechón y arroz con habichuelas en Navidad -- were contradicted by my skepticism towards Titi's rituals. My experience with Santería wasn't new, as proven by my mother's kitchen altar lit dimly by prayer candles and adorned with evil eyes, statues of San Miguel, and offerings to Elegua; however, I'd never before witnessed such a tangible demonstration of my family's ritualistic beliefs. Although it surrounded me, I refused to believe in the effects of Santería... so I shunned it entirely.
Moving to a predominantly white boarding school and away from the rituals my family had passed down, I avoided addressing the distance I had wedged between myself and my background. I pushed away all things Latina as my fear of failing to honor my Puerto Rican heritage intensified. This distance only grew as my classmates jokingly commented on my inability to speak Spanish and my white-passing complexion, further tearing away bits of my Latinidad with each snide remark.
In an effort to build myself back up, I began to practice the small bits of Santería that I comprehended: lighting candles for good luck, placing a chalice of water by my bedside to absorb all maldad, and saying my prayers to San Miguel and my guardian angels each day. To my disbelief, the comments that attacked my Latinidad, or lack thereof, faded along with the aching feeling that I had failed to represent my heritage. As I embraced the rituals that I initially renounced, I finally realized the power in Titi's practices. In all of her cleansing and prayer rituals, she was protecting me and our family, opening the doors for us to achieve our goals and overcome the negativity that once held us back. In realizing the potential of Santería, I shifted my practices to actively protecting myself and others against adversity and employed Santería as a solution for the injustice I witnessed in my community.
Santería once served as my scapegoat; I blamed the discomfort I felt towards black magic for the imposter syndrome festering inside me. Until I embraced Santería, it only served as a reminder that I wasn't Latina enough in the eyes of my peers. Now, I understand that while intangible, ethereal, even, the magic of Santería is real; it's the strength of my belief in myself, in my culture, and in my commitment to protect others.”
The writer has done an excellent job of telling a story related to their cultural background. We learn about the writer and their family in this heartwarming story, even learning things we might not have known about Santeria — but that’s not the central theme.
The main theme of this essay is the lesson of self-trust, cultural pride, and self-acceptance. While we are learning about this person's unique identity, the takeaway is that this person has a newfound respect for their identity and has learned to embrace themselves.
#3. Personal Statement Example
Our last example excerpt details Stella’s journey as she takes the skies and what she learned:
“ The first lesson I learned as a student pilot is that left and right don’t exist. Maybe driving on a highway or in a parking lot, left and right is precise enough to describe the location and movements of slow-moving bikers, pedestrians, and cars. But at 36,000 feet in the air in a steel tube hurdling almost 200 miles an hour? Left and right just don’t cut it.
During one of my first flights in a small Cessna-182, my flight instructor ordered me to scan the horizon for approaching aircrafts. To my right, I caught a glimpse of one: another Cessna with maroon stripes, the sun’s reflection glinting off its windows. Gesturing vaguely to my two o’clock, I informed my flying instructor, “There’s a plane to the right.”
“No, to your right. From his position, what direction does he see you?” From his angle, I was to his left. In that moment, I realized that perspective and precision of language is everything. The radio chirped: “Cessna One-Eight-Two Sandra, heading north to John Wayne Airport. Over.”
…Through flying, I began to consider all points of view, regardless of my personal perspective.
Perhaps it was my ability to scan the horizon to communicate a single story, uniting contrasting outlooks, that drew me to my love for journalism and the diverse melting pot that was my community.
To me, journalism modernizes the ancient power of storytelling, filled with imperfect characters and intricate conflicts to which I am the narrator. As editor-in-chief for my school newspaper, The Wildcat’s Tale, I aim to share the uncensored perspective of all students and encourage my editorial groups to talk — and listen — to those with whom they disagree. Starting each newspaper edition with a socratic, round-table discussion, I ask the other journalists to pursue stories that answer the questions: why did this happen and where will it lead?
Expanding beyond the perspectives of my classmates, I began writing articles for the Korea Daily, and later, the Los Angeles Times High School Insider. I schedule interviews with city council candidates, young and old voters, and mayors of my town, obtaining quotes and anecdotes to weave into my writing. My interviews with both Democratic and Republican voters have taught me to thoroughly report polarizing-opposite opinions through an unbiased lens. As a journalist, I realized I cannot presume the opinions of the reader, but instead simply provide them with the tools necessary to formulate their own conclusions.
I found that in my suburban community, people love to read about the small-town hospitality of their own friends and neighbors…My favorite stories to publish are the ones taped onto fridges, proudly framed on the mom-and-pop downtown diner, or pinned into the corkboard in my teacher’s classroom. I discovered the size of my story does not matter, but the impact I leave on the reader does.
In my time as both a student pilot and journalist, I grew to love these stories, the ones that showed me that living life with blinders, can not only be boring, but dangerous. Whether I was 36,000 feet in the air or on ground level, by flying and writing, I realized that the most interesting stories of life come straight from the people most different from me .”
Why This Personal Statement Worked
Although Stella opens with an anecdote about flying a plane, that’s not really what this personal statement is about. She reflected adequately on points of view in the sky and connected it to how the ability to see an issue from all sides was instrumental to her success as a journalist.
Stella shares some of her achievements in a way that doesn’t feel like a list, but her responsibilities give us a glimpse of her life. When she transitions to writing about the value in every story, big or small, we see her ability to connect with her community and deliver an impact, even without writing a years-long investigative story.
#4. Personal Statement Example
Please note that this and subsequent personal statements have been anonymized.
“‘ I have the audacity of equality.’ The roar of applause explodes from the television as I hunch over a rapidly cooling bag of popcorn, my world rocked by this single line. Enter Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix comedy special Homecoming King, an ode to all the brown kids born and raised in the U.S., caught between the country they have known their entire lives and the countries their immigrant parents are still deeply tied to. As I sat enamored by Minhaj’s performance, it was as if the fog that often obscured how to navigate that middle ground of living as a mixed kid in America was cleared. I am the daughter of a [COUNTRY] immigrant mother and a first-generation [COUNTRY] father raised in cookie-cutter American suburbia, and I have spent my entire life in a strained limbo of feeling not quite red, white, and blue enough to fit in with my almost entirely white peers, while also feeling far too disconnected from my parents’ countries to find solace in their cultures. After a lifetime of feeling unseen, not fitting into a boxed-off identity, Minhaj’s special felt like a beacon of understanding.
The day after watching the special, I announced my newest aspiration in life: to become a professional comedian. But after a few stale jokes fell flat, it was clear comedy would not be my future. Yet that image of Minhaj traipsing across the stage as his words held the live crowd, and me miles away, ensnared in their grasp, was unshakeable. I wanted to chase that feeling of using words to speak to and for others, especially those whose stories are often abandoned and unheard. So while I didn’t join any comedy clubs, I did sign up for my first year of competitive debate.
Soon after, I found that I too could use my words to influence and speak to others, even if my audience was limited to judges and my spotlight was the glare of fluorescent lights in high schools across the nation. Addicted to the thrill of getting to discuss pressing issues I had previously only seen in the news, I amassed unholy amounts of research on American water resource protection for the 2021 season. As I plowed through mountains of research, I unearthed the truth that how we distribute water is also how we exercise justice, particularly in my community. In [STATE], where agriculture consumes over 80% of my state’s water, every-day people, especially other people of color, struggle to deal with the disproportionate impacts of water scarcity. Though I sat stunned and disappointed by my state’s water conservation practices, the line ‘I have the audacity of equality’ echoed, reminding me that I don’t have to settle for historically inequitable systems of power decided decades before I was born. I have a right to fight for the change my community needs.
Thus, when the opportunity arose to speak to one of my city’s biggest newspapers and radio stations about water conservation, I took it. I was shepherded in front of a voice recorder and later into the radio station, palms sweating as the black microphone that would project my voice city-wide hovered imposingly before me. Yet, I remembered that this was my chance to use my voice to uncover the stories that had been silenced. As my words flowed, (yes, like water) I felt that same spark of advocacy ignited in me years prior.
However, it’s one thing to elevate silenced stories and another to act upon a desire to change those narratives. If outdated political decisions are to blame for water inequities, I know new ones from young, passionate people like myself must upend them. Accordingly, soon after my interviews, I sought out an internship where I could pitch those same ideas of water conservation to residents throughout [COUNTY NAME]. My audience morphed from high school debate judges to voters, porches as a stage where I amplify the voices of the people through the power of elections and democracy.
Upon revisiting Minhaj’s comedy special, a line I first missed stands out. Hands gesturing wildly, he asks, ‘Isn’t it our job to push the needle forward little by little?’ I have established the answer is decidedly yes. I no longer miss that line when I rewatch the special because over the course of my advocacy my habit of mind has changed along with my actions. No matter the audience, the stage, or the spotlight, I view each opportunity to speak to issues I care about as pushing that needle forward. Despite my brief dream of comedic glory never coming to fruition, I am no less fulfilled in how I choose to speak for what I believe in because I understand that I have that same potential to inspire change .”
This personal statement does an excellent job of keeping a narrative thread from the introduction to the conclusion. Through this statement, we learn about the author’s background, identity, values, passions, and skills without feeling like we’re reading from an itemized list.
Their explanation about comedy not being for them is light-hearted and comical, but their speaking up for water inequities is powerful and shows their determination.
#5. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement explores a student’s experiences with wildfires:
“ A cacophony of alert ringtones blared loudly from pockets, backpacks, and desks around the room. I grabbed my phone: “EMERGENCY ALERT: Wildfire evacuation for areas west of [STREET NAME].” I looked out the window of the [HIGH SCHOOL] classroom, where I and the other Link Crew members had planned to spend the week before school started organizing freshman orientation. An angry column of black smoke billowed from just beyond the football field. This fire was closer and more intense than most. We booked it to a nearby friend’s house. An hour later, I received yet another [STATE] Fire alert. My heart dropped – I wouldn’t be able to go home tonight. Instead, the Fire had spread, cutting me off from my dad, mom, and little brother. What’s more, the fire was rapidly approaching our location. After receiving a second evacuation notice, we loaded up the camper and drove through falling ash to the nearest evacuation center, where I spent hours refreshing the [STATE] fire page and anxiously watching the smoke-filled sky.
Since I moved in 2014 from the [CITY] suburbs to [TOWN], a town of [NUMBER] in the [MOUNTAIN] Foothills, I’ve witnessed climate change firsthand. Years of drought gradually turned much of my pine forest playground into sticks of tinder. Instead of running on once-shaded trails at cross-country practice, we now dash through blackened remains of burned-out trees. While my old friends in [CITY] mow their lawns, I clear scotch broom and dead manzanitas from our property to reduce wildfire hazards.
I recognize climate change for what it is – an existential threat. Yearly reminders during the fire season underscore the immediacy of the threat that climate change poses. Some think of our climate as a problem for the future. But I know that climate change already shapes the lives of me, my community, and millions around the world. Initially, my response to climate change was just on a personal level. After studying the meat industry’s carbon footprint at Tech Trek, a STEM camp at [COLLEGE], I cut meat out of my diet entirely and have been a vegetarian for almost five years. Last year, in response to the fire, I used the skills I learned in my engineering classes to design and construct garden boxes for people who had lost their plants in the blaze.
But I know that my actions alone aren’t enough to engender lasting change. I turned to my community to compound my impact. Partnering with nature preserves and conservation groups around [TOWN], my girl scout troop and I organize environmental cleanups of tributaries and hiking trails. I designed and taught Leave No Trace curriculum and organized challenges for local youth to increase community engagement in local ecological issues.
More recently, I’ve begun to think more deliberately about how to further my impact on a larger scale. I believe that my firsthand experience with climate change, when paired with my passion for designing technological solutions to environmental problems, allows me to think about innovative ways to tackle climate challenges. To address the lack of useful resources on native and invasive plants in the [MOUNTAIN] Foothills, I’ve created a database of plants with tips and educational materials for each plant in order to create a resource that scientists, gardeners, and enthusiasts alike can use. Using the skills I’ve developed over the course of the last three years in the engineering pathway, I am drawing inspiration from temperature-regulating termite mounds to design a biomimetic home that uses air movement to maintain comfortable interior temperatures.
My family and home were safe through the fire, but others weren't as lucky. My lived experience with climate change and subsequent response on a personal, community, and larger-scale level equip and motivate me to continue the fight for a more sustainable future. Climate change started this battle, it's up to me to finish it. ”
The introduction immediately catches our attention for its vivid imagery and charged emotion as the student navigates an emergency. They connect this anecdote to the broader theme of climate change and other experiences relating to their values.
Although the student describes what they’ve already accomplished, they share what they’d like to do to address climate change on a larger scale in the future and wrap up their story by referencing the anecdote from their introduction.
#6. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement explores a candidate’s love of fashion:
“ I nervously stand from behind my desk, ready for my turn. Eyes glare at me from all sides as the teacher beckons me to begin. I dread group introductions, the first days of school, or any icebreaker exercise because of this moment. I have never had a traditional fun fact to share, like ‘I play soccer’ or ‘I have a twin.’ I used to share something safe like, ‘I hate whipped cream.’ On this day, I decided to share my true passion. ‘I love fashion.’ Giggles float through the room. Whispers are exchanged through my classmates' smirks. I immediately began to second guess myself. Was my response too shallow? Too girly? No – fashion transcends the boundaries of gender and is the opposite of shallow. It is an intricate manifestation of a person's true, innermost feelings toward the outside world. It is a way to express oneself when words don't suffice. That does not seem shallow to me.
Each day, I gaze into my closet and try to answer the routine question of what to wear. A flowing white sundress or a worn, black leather jacket? A pleated blazer or a bright red band tee? I might choose a sundress when I feel carefree and lighthearted or a heavy jacket when the world seems overwhelming and I need protection. Though it may seem an insignificant question of comfort or trends, I am really deciding which version of myself I want to reveal that day through my clothing. I could wear a coastal, relaxed outfit, and tomorrow could feature urban business attire. By no means does this imply that I have an identity crisis. I am simply a human with a wide range of emotions that cannot be confined. It is because of my inner diversity that I am unique.
The fabric that wraps my body is not meant only for cover. It also allows others a window into my soul. Though the deep desires of my heart never waver, each day brings new emotions, obstacles, and circumstances that, at times, can be difficult to process. This daily change instigates a perpetual evolution that communicates I am not the same person I was yesterday.
It's human nature to try to categorize people and things. Certain styles and garments tend to connect with a particular aesthetic. For instance, a callous person must dress grunge, and a fun, free-spirited person must dress bohemian. But people are complex. We cannot be constrained by one specific personality type. The beauty of humanity is in its inherent diversity. People can be demographically grouped by their culture, surroundings, family, or upbringing. However, the people who make up those respective communities are capable of diverse and independent thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Fashion can express that.
Fashion is not just an opportunity to display the latest trend or designer clothes. Fashion is an intimate representation of the inner workings of one's being. Even those who claim not to care about their clothing subconsciously express their emotions through it. A girl going through a breakup would think she disregards fashion by putting on a pair of sweats and throwing her hair into a messy bun. In reality, she chose the sweats because she is vulnerable and wants to feel warm and safe, and her bun prevents her hair from drowning in her tears. Her attire tells us multitudes of details if we just pay attention. Acknowledging how she feels through her clothing choice can help her process difficult emotions. She deserves this outlet to express her current state of mind. Everyone deserves this chance. I believe in an industry that can provide the average person with clothing that helps them feel beautiful and confident, regardless of their stage of life or socioeconomic status. So maybe she and I deserve those few extra minutes to get ready in the morning so that we may define the current state of our ever-changing selves .”
This personal statement shows the author’s love for fashion, particularly how they describe the various pieces in their closet. Their writing shows how they connect apparel choices to a person’s personality and feelings.
This statement may be more metaphorical and poetic than others in this list, but it could be a compelling personal statement for an aspiring fashion or art student.
#7. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement showcases a high school student’s experience with physician shadowing:
“ As I sat observing the patients scattered around the waiting room, my eyes stopped on a man flushed and gasping. He met my gaze; his own eyes were brimming with fear. His face began to take on a deep shade of red. The woman by his side jumped up and began shouting for help. A group of doctors and nurses came rushing into the waiting room. The man held my gaze and I returned his panicked stare.
Over the four months I’d spent shadowing Dr. [NAME] at [HOSPITAL NAME], my days encompassed: accompanying him during his rounds, checking on patients, and taking vital signs for postoperative patients. I even shadowed him during a valve replacement procedure. I remember thinking that operating on a person’s most central organ, with calculated precision, was the pinnacle of what it meant to be a surgeon. However, as I sat paralyzed in the waiting room, unable to break eye contact with a terrified patient entering cardiac arrest— I knew I was experiencing a part of the medical field I’d never seen.
Dr. [NAME] and the nurses moved in a synchronous dance. The nurses placed the patient on his back and helped to hold him still. Dr. [NAME] centered his hand on the man’s chest and began performing CPR. I knew rationally things were moving in real time, but the doctor’s actions seemed to move in slow motion. Dr. [NAME] began cycling between mouth to mouth and chest compressions. I felt my own heartbeat pounding rapidly in my chest.
A piercing ‘beep’ filled the room as the monitor detected a heartbeat.
When the patient met my gaze, my first instinct was to leap from my chair and help him. However, my traitorous body had been paralyzed in terror; all I could do was hold his gaze. This concerned me. If I couldn't manage my anxiety for a patient during high stress situations, did I have what it took to be a surgeon?
‘How did you stay calm?’ I asked Dr. [NAME] as we sat in his office later that day. The regular sounds of the waiting room leaked under the door—as if nothing had happened. He paused for a moment, ‘I was nervous, of course, but years of experience has taught me to channel my nerves into treating the patient the best that I can.’
Although his words made sense, it still seemed impossible to not feel fear for a patient whose life is in danger. However, as I considered his words further, I realized Dr. [NAME] wasn’t telling me he didn’t feel emotionally invested in the patient’s safety. Rather, he was saying he had learned to channel his concern into focusing on providing the best patient care possible.
During my time shadowing Dr. [NAME], prior to the day of the resuscitation, I learned the importance of surgical precision, clinical expertise, and confidence under pressure. However, as I sat in his office that day, my perspective of the medical field changed. I now understood that staying confident in the midst of chaos isn’t instinctive; it is learned. Moreover, a good surgeon recognizes that she can use her fear for her patient as motivation to save the patient.
My inclination to help others and fascination with molecular biology is what attracted me to the medical field. From the waiting room ordeal, my preserving commitment to becoming a physician was only reaffirmed. It encouraged me that my natural empathy for others would fuel rather than hinder my ability to work efficiently during stressful situations. I look forward to using this thought process in my day-to-day leadership activities, and one day, as a surgeon. ”
This personal statement offers a glimpse into the writer’s time shadowing a physician and shows their vulnerabilities and fears. This statement shows what they’ve learned from the experience and how they’ll use these skills and knowledge to realize their dream of becoming a surgeon.
#8. Personal Statement Example
This sample personal statement is about an applicant’s journey with dance and religion:
“ I stepped barefoot onto the cool wooden floor and bent down to lay my sweaty palms on the ground. I quickly got into line with the other girls and waited for the music to begin playing. My hips swayed while my heartbeat matched the rhythm of the song. Through each segment, my movements changed, evolving from Jhumar and ending in Dhamal. Behind every motion, there was an intention to send a message to the audience.
I immediately found my place with Bhangra–a traditional Punjabi folk dance. I picked up the routines effortlessly, dancing with precision. I soon advanced to the older girls’ group, working on intricate choreography that required more stamina. Bhangra became not just a passion, but a path to better explore my Punjabi heritage. With each passing year, I came to see reflections of my life in Bhangra, connecting its many forms to different pieces of my identity.
Jhumar is delicate. It grows in intensity over time, but remains fragile. Full of smooth hand movements and soft placements, it builds on knowledge and experience, mirroring my relationship with Sikhism. For a long time, I was skeptical of practicing my faith. It seemed unnecessary–a method of control rather than a choice. My grandmother coaxed me to attend prayers and forced me to sit for long periods in the Gurdwara, all of which felt like more of a chore. Over the last two years, I found myself returning to the Gurdwara willfully. I had not completely restored my faith in God, but went there as a place of healing, finding comfort in the practices I once dreaded. I sat alone in the silence to calm myself. Gradually, my broken relationship with Sikhism wove itself back together, like the gentle motions of Jhumar.
In my teenage years, I began to perform Giddha with my mother, aunts, and cousins, clapping and laughing alongside figures who shaped me. The dance is usually performed by women, telling tales of village life through skip steps and illustrative motions. Each gesture conveys the emotion and content of the story told. Giddha captured the evolution of my self-identity, reminding me of my support system and my ancestral roots. Performing next to these strong women in my life allowed me to grow my confidence and granted me a fuller sense of myself.
Dhamal is the grand finale–bright and energetic, full of jumps on fast-paced beats. It is a dance that is usually performed at the end and demands the most energy. At the beginning of this segment, I am forced to make a decision: push forward and smile through the exhaustion, or flail my limbs and give up. I center myself to keep my hands sharp and clean while stepping with purpose, making every step count. I know I will regret becoming sloppy with my motions when I rewatch the performance, so I do my best to perform elegantly. It is a test of my drive.
What began as a lighthearted use of time became a fundamental part of me. Bhangra allowed me to restore my relationship with Sikhism and turn towards it as a source of healing from times I felt lost and overwhelmed. I formed meaningful connections to the women in my family, and through them, my ancestors, bonding over traditions and experiencing my culture in depth. I learned to handle pressure with grace, pushing through difficulty with determination, and further strengthening essential parts of my identity. As I dance, I step, clap, and move through the parts of myself that make me whole .”
This personal statement begins with an anecdote to immerse the reader in an event and showcases how Bhangra helped her reconnect with her heritage, religion, and culture. This narrative shows the applicant’s drive and talent while illuminating her journey toward strengthening her identity.
#9. Personal Statement Example
Let’s see how one applicant transformed their love of chess into a winning personal statement:
“ The wooden board promised possibilities and endless opportunities. On the maple wood of the battlefield, rooks, bishops, and knights stood ready in the most strategic war, chess.
My father lovingly taught me the game of chess as a young child. I immediately gravitated toward the game due to its strategic nature and quickly learned that chess appeared simple: just capture the king. Regardless of this apparent simplicity, my analytical mind always thought ten moves ahead. I never entered the battle without a full-fledged plan and a future-focused mindset that always seemed to be an advantage. From that point, many victories made me naive to the need to adjust my well-laid plans to meet outside challenges. Then, a particular game upended my strategies and confidence. This game began no differently from the others as I slowly set up the pieces and developed a seemingly invincible plan. And as my plan was forming, my confidence rose.
I started the game by bringing the king's pawn forward two spaces. In the very next move, I crossed my queen three places. I applied maximum pressure immediately to stay on offense and put my opponent on defense. After a few silly moves later by my father, I saw the opening to put his king in check, so I took it. I was executing my plan perfectly. However, my father started moving his rook closer to my queen, and in a matter of seconds, he captured my strongest piece. Playing it off as no sacrifice, for the rest of the game, I remained unwilling to change my plan, only to lose the game eventually. I realized at that moment that I had not appreciated the importance of adapting to changing circumstances and challenges–to the idea that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction, as I later learned in physics. Since that game, I began to balance my strategic planning with the need to adjust to the moves of my opponent as one must balance one’s strategic goals with the reality of the present; otherwise, life will deliver missed opportunities.
Yet one of my greatest passions was discovered by thinking far ahead in the future. From a young age, I became fascinated with engineering, both the physics of how objects move and fly and the potential for real innovation that accompanies the design and execution processes of engineering. Due to my logical nature, I prefer to set plans in order to optimize an outcome. When one identifies and defines problems logically and precisely, a plan is necessary, so thinking in future terms becomes essential. However, as time has passed, my love for engineering has grown, especially my passion for discovering how physical objects move and interact and plans can develop in creative and previously unthinkable ways. This future-focused mindset has influenced both my academic studies and my work in STEM internships as well as a recent apprenticeship with [LARGE COMPANY]. These pursuits, in turn, have allowed me to expand my vision of what my undergraduate studies and future career paths may hold. Still, future strategizing and adapting to the present are skills that will guide my future endeavors. Thus, engineering, like the game of chess, not only involves having a strategy going into the game, sometimes the key to victory, but also adapting to changing conditions can mean the difference between success and failure. ”
The author used their experiences with chess to describe the development of skills such as strategic planning and adaptation. They effortlessly connect their story about a chess game to their love of physics and engineering.
The chess game serves as a backdrop for their passion for STEM and what they’ve done to further explore their interests and connects the game to engineering and their cultivated skill to adapt amid changing conditions (such as new information) – a skill top colleges look for in candidates.
#10. Personal Statement Example
This candidate’s experience with a disposable camera helped them find the perfect personal statement:
“ When I was fourteen years old, my mother bought me a disposable film camera, a shiny green plastic gadget from Walmart. At first, I was bewildered by how this seemingly superfluous object could supplement my perfectly efficient iPhone camera. Dangling the gift between my fingers with confusion, I was torn between telling my mother I had no use for this fossil, and graciously giving in to her request to ‘just try it out.’ I took the high road, and settled on the latter.
Initially photography was an aesthetic hobby, however, it quickly turned into immense devotion to the art. I began to carry around the little green camera everywhere I went. Unfortunately, disposable film cameras have meager lifespans, and I could only take 27 pictures before the film was exhausted. After years of taking pictures with careless abandon, my photography was transformed by the idea of a tiny plastic box forcing me to choose my shots more carefully. Formerly, I could whip out my camera whenever I wanted to and take a picture, capturing a frame that would eventually disappear in the mass conglomeration of my iPhone camera roll. Conversely, my film camera required me to decide the right moment to capture a snapshot of a memory frozen in time.
Ultimately, the narrative I have captured through my film camera has also helped me find my authentic voice through writing. I love using language to express my character, demonstrating my willingness to explore my passions and capture my every emotion. When I first attempted to write a full length novel, I recognized it would be a massive time commitment, and there would be hundreds of revisions. However, upon completing my first manuscript, I did not feel worried, or overwhelmed by the editing process. I was excited to embark on this next journey of perfecting my work. I was immersed in finishing my novel when my mom convinced me to apply for a Writing Contest. I followed her advice, and the risk ended up paying off. A few months later, I opened up my laptop to see an email announcing I had received the [TOP PRIZE]. The thrill of my teachers and parents could not be compared to my own surprise. I was absolutely overjoyed that the judges were moved by my story. My devotion to the film camera is now reflected in my approach to everyday life and my profile as a student.
Throughout my high school career, I have dedicated myself to a few activities and developed my skill set, instead of spreading myself thinly in several fruitless activities. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I decided to sign up for a boxing class in my [HIGH SCHOOL] year. I looked forward to every training session, and began to transfer that energy into becoming an even better academic student. I loved learning new techniques and memorizing nuanced tips, until I eventually took the combat training style and made it my own. Yet another activity that began as a hobby, eventually helped build my self-confidence and provided strategies on how to approach adversity; from interactions with peers, to the boxing ring.
I have yet to fully appreciate the fleeting nature of every moment. Incorporating my film camera into my everyday life has allowed me to take control and fill my high school career with a rich and genuine photo album of experiences .”
The writer’s careful approach to using the film camera shows their deliberateness and newfound approach to their passion for art and photography. They connect this story to their love of writing, citing their finished full-length novel, a truly impressive feat.
They also show their ability to step outside their comfort zone and passion for artistic endeavors with their experiences in boxing. This personal statement showcases their commitment to their passions and how taking pictures with a disposable camera showed them how to take control of their journey.
#11. Personal Statement Example
Here’s another example detailing an applicant’s visit to the zoo:
“ As the sunlight trickles through the willow trees and glitters on the surface of the water, I squint. Where is it? Even though I’m in the shade, sweat is pouring down my face; it’s easily 115 degrees out. I scour the swamp beneath me one last time, sigh, and give up. Every time I visit the [ZOO NAME], this singular [ANIMAL] (a type of crocodilian) evades me. Somewhere in the murky water underneath the pedestrian bridge, the elusive false gharial hides from view. It’s enough to make most people give up in disappointment, potentially anger. Not me. Each time I visit, I enjoy my experience to the fullest, regardless of what I see.
Since I was a toddler, I have been enamored with every zoo I visit. My mother doesn’t exaggerate when she claims I had to be dragged out of zoos against my will as a toddler. The animal kingdom is beautifully diverse, unique, and absolutely breathtaking; it enraptured me as a child and still does today. The fact that toucans throw their food in the air and catch it with their beaks, parachute frogs glide from tree to tree, or sea cucumbers eject their insides as a self-defense mechanism–these are all such incredible adaptations and behaviors that I sometimes am unable to comprehend the incredible scope of evolution. I am easily swept up in my admiration of all aspects of the natural world, completely losing myself in the experience.
The last time I visited the [ZOO NAME] with my extended family, I was astonished by the new Dome structure. A shimmering glass dome sparkling under the bright, hot sun, the building was reminiscent of a giant greenhouse. Although the eponymous pangolins had not yet been moved to their new home where I could see them, reading about their story was eye-opening. These cute armored mammals are considered the most trafficked animals in the world. As I traversed the rest of the building, I discovered that different levels are devoted to depicting various aspects of the Rainforest, the most ecologically productive biome in the world. Starting from the bottom of the dome, viewers walk through the tropical, fish-filled waters, then climb through the forest’s various levels, getting to see the complex intersection of energy flows, water use, and nutrient cycles. I was humbled by the experience. I left that day with a clear understanding of why I love zoos so much: zoos are a chance for humans to learn how to better coexist with the environment.
We live in a world where human development and conservation are almost mutually exclusive. A forest, field, or beach has to be destroyed, drilled into, or paved in order for ‘civilization’ to exist. Zoos prove that this does not have to be the case; they are a source of inspiration for how we can better live in harmony with nature. Every exhibit is a microcosm of a distinct aspect of the environment and can teach us how facets of nature interact. The aforementioned Dome, for example, uses natural light to simulate a real biome while conserving energy. Other conservationist elements–resource recycling and reuse, water conservation, etc.–are evident throughout the zoo.
In what feels like an instant after stepping out of the tomistoma enclosure, I realize that the sun has already begun to set and the cicadas have already begun to buzz. As I am dragged back into the car by my uncle, I reflect on how I can apply the zoo’s sustainable techniques to the general public. How can we adapt nature’s solutions to certain problems and conform them to meet our needs? For example, can we reduce a city’s temperature and carbon levels? Planting green roofs can reduce both. Whenever I want to solve such environmental issues, I think of the [ZOO NAME]. Nature has solutions to all of our problems; we just have to embrace them. ”
This personal statement shares the author’s interest in biology and animal sciences through anecdotes showing their love and appreciation of zoos. The animal facts and musings about the new building show their passion for knowledge and happiness at the opportunity for humans to coexist with nature.
The conclusion raises the writer’s questions but shows their critical thinkins skills and how they can connect the zoo’s “sustainable techniques” to new solutions in cities. It also effectively wraps up the narrative.
#12. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement describes a candidate’s experience navigating the jungle and how it ignited a new passion:
“ Immersed in the core of the [NAME] jungle, I was set to embark on my first plant medicine journey. At age 14, I was depressed and anxiety scheduled my days. For a week, I lived with the [NUMBER] year-old [NAME] tribe: waking before the sun, drinking cleansing tea with the Chief and his counsel, and cutting through the wilds with a machete to hunt for dinner. Known for centuries to be cautious of welcoming Westerners, the village members embraced me. I had the chance to hear the tribe passionately share their knowledge about native plants and ways to live harmoniously with the land. Songs of exotic birds and warm, crisp air breathed love into my lungs, and I felt my nervous system recalibrating. I partook in the ceremony with [TEA NAME], a plant based entheogenic tea that activates the pineal gland, and I felt my connection growing stronger with divine nature. It felt like I was washing my brain in ice water and I was inspired by the tribe’s devotion to Her. At night, I feverishly scribbled down my day in my Moleskin journal. By the time the week was through, every page was filled with thoughts, questions and feelings.
When I returned back home, I wanted to learn more about these plants and why or how they became so scorned and abused in contemporary society. Taking research into my own hands, I proactively began to dig into the history of these plants. I was hooked after reading Terrance and Dennis McKenna's Stoned Ape Theory and listening to the podcast, ‘Avoid Gurus, Follow Plants.’ This year, I became the youngest to complete The Course [NAME] led by Dr. [NAME]. I learned about limbic healing, the psychoneuroendocrine immunology network, and the power of these sagacious teacher-plants. Dr. [NAME] discussed the harms of disrespecting plant medicines and how if we work for them, they may choose to work with us.
The course included conversations with Ph.D. student, [NAME], regarding her dissertation about the benefits of ketamine in psychotherapy. The thesis concluded that compounds in medicinal plants had healing properties to neurodegenerative diseases and those with terminal illnesses and trauma, all of which are imperative to our current and future concept of health. My enthusiasm for plant medicine spread into all aspects of my life; it was time for another journal and another journey. Thus, I began my podcast: [NAME]. Honoring the wisdom of the indigenous, the podcast bridged gaps between societies and generations, creating a safe space for curiosity to thrive and penetrating the walls of ignorance. Recently, I watched my mom transform from a senior executive at a major telecommunication company to a [NEW ROLE] and CEO of her own firm. As my first podcast guest, she shared her mission to guide one million souls into personal sovereignty. Since then, I have been blessed to speak with Dr. [NAME], the Chief of a [TRIBE], who discussed the preview of her new book and shared how surrendering invites harmony to a person’s life. It was then that I realized that The [PODCAST NAME] was more than a podcast; it was a quiet voice with something loud to say. Today, its purpose is to focus on integrating spirituality into everyday life, and how to work respectively with these venerated and still controversial plant medicines. It is paradise for thinkers, visionaries, and pioneers. The words exchanged in the podcast are the planks in a bridge that connect some of the world’s most remarkable leaders to a generation that may benefit from their wisdom. The journey that began in [COUNTRY] struck the match to the wildfire of my passion, curiosity and devotion to plant medicine .”
This personal statement illuminates the author’s experiences living with a different culture in a new environment, showing their ability to exit their comfort zone. The story shows the author’s cultural understanding, describes where their passion for plant medicine bloomed, and how it inspired them to start their own podcast.
#13. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement explores the writer’s love of painting:
“ I am a painter. The connection I feel to the art I create and love is — like the art itself — so much more than the words I can use to describe it. I become utterly absorbed in the process of creating, viewing, and studying art; it taps into my vulnerabilities and connects me to previously unknown parts of myself. Everything I paint, regardless of the apparent subject, reflects something about me. My recent painting ‘[NAME],’ for example, depicts a close friend curled up beneath a quilt festooned with red poppies. I have realized that it is a portrait of both of us that reveals our shared yearning for safety, warmth, and beauty. Likewise, my favorite pieces by other artists lay bare my own internal tensions and artistic aspirations. I believe that paintings unlock access to both the artist and the viewer. This has become apparent in an independent art history project I completed this summer about the early 20th-century painter Amrita Sher-Gil. I remember first seeing one of her works and feeling deeply drawn to her use of color. Compelled to learn more, I sought the mentorship of a local art history professor and embarked on an exploration of Sher-Gil’s work that has resulted in a tremendous affinity for her story – and a better understanding of my own.
In volumes of Sher-Gil’s letters, photographs, and paintings, I found an uncanny resemblance to myself. She was Indian and European, moved frequently, played the piano, and saturated her paintings with bold, warm colors. Sher-Gil drew inspiration from Rajput painting and stained her female subjects with a burning red that could have spilled out of the tube of cadmium red I squeeze each time I create an underpainting. In my work, the same Rajput-like red shines through the crevices of my overpainting and brings my subject matter to life.
As I became enthralled by Sher-Gil’s red, I learned about the color’s history and, in the end, I made an original discovery. Rajput artists surrounded their paintings with a luxurious red border and often used the color to adorn and highlight two lovers; this red became a mark of heterosexual longing. As I read Sher-Gil’s letters and looked at her paintings, I noticed that she used the Rajput-like red to allude to her own bisexuality; my paper pointed out that she reworked the color’s meaning to represent intimacy between and among women.
My research on Sher-Gil is a clear reflection of my own artistic process — sometimes confusing, far from neat, and often driving to an unclear conclusion. Nevertheless, it reinforced my relationship with art. Sher-Gil used paint to capture the complexity of her identity and illustrated her struggles, dilemmas, and moments of pleasure; in doing so, she has given me confidence in my own painting process and self-exploration. When I paint, I live in a space of meaningful and productive uncertainty. Just as the unexpected purple highlights on the arm of the figure beneath the poppies in my painting resulted from accidental layers of red, blue, and green, the meaning of my work may not be evident until the painting is complete.
In the same way, I am a work in progress. In art, I explore strength and vulnerability, femininity and masculinity, uncertainty and knowledge; I throw myself into my creative and intellectual interests as the practitioner and academic, the painter and viewer. When I paint, I value the companionship of my tubes of pigment, the subjects of my images, and painters like Sher-Gil, who has become a role model. I am eager to pursue studio art and art history and to introduce others to the possibilities of self-exploration through art. To know me, you should know my paintings: the ones I create, the ones I love, and the ones I will study, teach, and share with others. Painting reveals the fullest version of who I am .”
This student’s love of painting and Sher-Gil’s work spurred them to seek mentorship and how, like their artistic process, they’re a “work in progress.” The author’s experiences and passion for art intersect with their explorations of himself and their strengths.
#14. Personal Statement Example
This personal story begins with what appears to be a humorous anecdote that transforms into a well-written personal statement:
“ During my first week of kindergarten, I pulled the fire alarm.
We had just come in from recess and kindergartners were lined up single file against the wall. It was our ritual before returning to class. I felt antsy, fidgety, and bored; my body was not ready for the impending ‘circle time.’
A quick turn of my head and there it was – a red, shiny, attractive box. The allure was all-consuming. ‘Pull the lever,’ an internal voice told me. Before I knew it, my thoughts had become actions, and I instantly became a legend. Blue ink on my palms from the dye pack gave me away when the blaring alarm and chaos settled. Despite initial frustration, even the principal appreciated my clever argument: ‘Why can a small kid reach the fire alarm – is it even really my fault?’
For years, I struggled with that question as I learned that my brain craves action and I need to learn to ‘pause’ while most others don't. I also discovered that I have a passion for understanding how and why the brain works, and a resulting interest in neuroscience.
Recognizing that people learn and experience things differently and that it's not their ‘fault’ spurred my desire to help others from a young age. I cajoled my parents to take me to a library – an hour away, each way – that was willing to accept a 12-year-old tutor. Soon after, I developed [WEBSITE NAME], a service that provides a combination of learning and social support. I learned that each child has individual needs, different ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ for learning and experiencing the world – and I was fascinated by it all.
My high school serendipitously had a program perfectly designed for me - [PROGRAM NAME]. I didn’t realize until I started working as a fellow with the [PROGRAM NAME] – a center for mind, body, and education science – that my “field” experience as a tutor coupled with my fascination with learning differences made the intersection of neuroscience and education an ideal focus. My innate desire to understand the brain's inner workings guided me to help others learn and feel comfortable with their own brain wiring. Whether leading a study on the biggest stress factors for high school students or exploring what types of music best influence learning, I am inspired to gain a deeper understanding of brain function and its educational implications.
My parents often tell the fire alarm story – it is pretty funny, after all – but it also represents something more serious for me: the realization that impulsivity is part of my brain circuitry. It's arguably a blessing. As a five-year-old, I needed to pull that alarm. As a more mature student, I need to pursue my desire to understand the brain, recognize I have no ‘fault’ to fix, and use scientific research and insights to help myself and others. To this day, I still believe the fire alarm should be higher than a kindergartner's reach.”
Although this personal statement begins with a humorous anecdote, the tone remains serious enough to convey the author’s lived experiences and accomplishments influenced by their brain’s impulsivity. This exploration of themself led to their interest in neuroscience and how they’re inspired to learn more about brain function.
The conclusion brings the narrative full circle in a light-hearted way while the author shares their conviction to use scientific research in the future to better understand themselves and others.
#15. Personal Statement Example
This personal statement describes the a figure skater’s reflection of their path:
“ The frigid air bit my cheeks as music breathed life into the otherwise dead-silent arena. I felt the intimidating stares of a million eyes as I started gliding across the gleaming ice in sync with the music, yearning to flaunt the moves I’d assiduously perfected during my early-morning practices. Flawlessly landing the last double lutz in my program, I was homebound. As the music reached its final decrescendo, I slowly exited my last spin and struck my final pose facing the motionless audience. The silence returned momentarily but quickly turned into thunderous applause and cheers as I took my bow after another ‘gold medal’ performance.
Exiting the ice, I noticed a haze of silhouetted smiles. Most were unrecognizable, but a few jumped out at me before I was even off the ice: those of my coach, my parents, and my exuberant little sister. However, after performing this same program multifarious times this season, each warm post-program greeting by friendly or familiar faces felt like déjà vu.
Competition after competition caused me to gradually lose sight of my goal. An Olympic gold medal is known to be the pinnacle of a figure skating career, but the elusivity and cutthroat nature of the journey slowly became more of a deterrent to finding my way to the top of that podium. Instead, I was prompted to look beyond the bounds of this track as I sought to uncover a solution to the monotonous cycle that held me confined to the quotidian repetition of competition between training sessions and performances.
Serendipitously, I soon stumbled upon a volunteer coaching opportunity at my local rink. Through the [NAME] Skating Program, I was given the opportunity to work with individuals with a range of physical and developmental disabilities on the ice. Initially hesitant to fill this position because it’d be my first coaching opportunity, I was soon elated by each skater’s positive demeanor and excitement to reach their fullest potential. To them, skating wasn’t about a collection of gold medals, but instead about the freedom granted to them on the ice and the resultant sense of coach-and-skater camaraderie so freely formed.
After the program met each week, I continuously found myself exceptionally eager to return to the ice to improve my own skating skills. However, I began approaching practice sessions with a renewed sense of purpose, as I was no longer concerned with the minuscule details that’d cost me valuable points in competition. Shifting my focus from technicalities to the bigger picture, I could now enjoy my time spent on the ice while also enhancing my skills as a mentor. Precipitating fulfillment out of practice sessions, I discovered that the pride I held in my mentoring abilities was more valuable than any medal.
Reflecting on my decade of skating, I’ve come to find that the most rewarding times, just like the most rewarding and delicious recipes, tend to rely on a balance between leadership and zealousness, between seasoning and zest. The leadership seasoning has come from my coaching experiences, which have impelled me to thrust myself into even more leadership roles both inside and outside the rink. On the other side of the rink, my zest at my best is hard for the rest to test, so this equilibrium between leadership and enthusiasm is critical for me to maintain so that I can always be my best self not just for my own self, but also and mostly for others. Whether it be teaching a skating class, educating underclassmen on basic business fundamentals for DECA, or discussing how to write efficacious and mellifluous news articles for my school paper, I’ve constantly been able to find avidity in every activity I pursue through an equilibrium of mentorship and individual effort, even if it doesn’t earn me an Olympic gold medal in the end, because when it comes to being golden-hearted, I’ve already been Olympic-caliber all my life.”
While the beginning of this personal statement showcases the author’s figure skating talent, the “reflection” piece shows how they handled feeling deterred from their goal toward meaning an Olympic gold medal.
Their mentoring experience shows their community spirit, leadership potential, and adaptability – they connect these experiences to helping them enjoy their time on the ice again. This story conveys how they found balance and can apply it to other situations.
These examples of college personal statements are just that: examples. While your statement doesn’t need to look exactly like these, reading examples is a great way to gain inspiration.
Common Personal Statement Mistakes
Many students find it easy to fall into certain traps when writing their personal statements. Make sure to avoid these mistakes in your writing!
- Relying on cliches : It is imperative that you avoid cliche saying, topics, or ideas in your statement. Admissions officers read tons of statements daily, so you want to make yours stand out. Using cliches will give the impression that you aren’t putting honest effort in and only writing what you think they want to hear.
- Choosing an inappropriate topic : Stay away from topics involving illegal activities, highly personal or tragic situations, or controversial ideas. You don’t want to make your reader uncomfortable in any way.
- Using quotes : Your personal statement should come from you. Using a famous quote in your statement is not only cliche but also takes up valuable space that you could use for your own words and story.
- Not proofreading : If you want to look professional and polished, you need to avoid grammar or spelling mistakes at all costs. Proofread your work and then proofread it again. Try reading it aloud to catch small errors.
- Repeating your application : You don’t need to talk about your GPA or test scores in your personal statement. The admissions committee has already seen them. Your statement is a place for you to show them who you are in a personal sense.
FAQs: How to Write a Personal Statement for College
Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to write a college personal statement.
1. What Should a College Personal Statement Include?
Your college personal statement should include a unique story about you and how the event shaped you. You can include important lessons you’ve learned, qualities you’ve developed over time, and your goals.
2. How Do You Start a Personal Statement?
Your introduction should be short and enticing. Don’t spend too much time on your introduction; starting with one or two sentences to set up your story and grab the reader’s attention is best.
3. How Do I Make My Personal Statement Stand Out?
Your personal statement should highlight something unique to you. Think about your life experiences that meant a lot to you growing up and have shaped you into who you are today and who you want to be. Avoid clichés like famous quotes or general statements.
4. How Should I Format a Personal Statement?
College application platforms typically provide a personal statement format, such as a word count or page limit . Generally speaking, you’ll want to select a basic, legible font, such as 12 pt. Times New Roman.
5. How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?
Your personal statement should ideally be between 500 and 650 words. However, make sure you check the specific requirements for your school to confirm how long your statement should be .
6. What Should You Not Do in a Personal Statement?
There are numerous pitfalls to avoid as you write your personal statement, including using famous quotes, making small spelling/grammar errors, or choosing an inappropriate topic.
Your personal statement should be authentic, compelling, and give the reader an excellent idea of what makes you, you . The best personal statements include a punchy introduction, a compelling and unique anecdote, and conclude with a few lines nicely wrapping up the narrative.
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A guide to writing the best personal statement for your college application (with template and examples!)
Why is boasting about a best friend SO much easier than writing about yourself? Unfortunately, writing about yourself is exactly what a personal statement essay requires you to do–whether it’s for your college admissions application, or for a scholarship application to pay for college . Here’s our guide, to ensure you’re well-equipped to write a killer personal statement!
First off, what’s the purpose of a personal statement?
What topics can i write about, how do i decide what to focus on, in my college essay, okay, i’ve got my personal statement topic. but now i have to actually write it. 😱what do i do .
- Do you have personal statement examples?
Now it’s your turn.
Your personal statement should share something about who you are, something that can’t be found in your resume or transcript.
- It should paint a picture for colleges to understand who we are and what we bring to the table. This is why it’s often better to tell a story, or give examples, rather than just list accomplishments.
- It should complement the other parts of your application. Consider your college application as a whole. Your personal statement, application short answers, and supporting documentation should together tell a story about who you are. This also means not being super repetitive with your personal statement and your short essays. (For instance, if you have to answer 3 questions AND submit a personal statement, maybe they shouldn’t ALL focus on music.)
For scholarship applications:
- It should indicate why you’re deserving of the scholarship. This often means making sure your essay relates to the scholarship provider’s goals. (Get more help on writing a killer scholarship essay here , and then make sure you’re applying as efficiently as possible. )
- It should showcase your strengths. This doesn’t mean it can’t acknowledge any weaknesses, but it surely shouldn’t only focus on negative aspects!
It can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. First, figure out what your choices are. Some colleges may have very specific college essay prompts. That said, many students apply using the Common App, which this year offers these 7 topics to choose from :
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? ( Psst – If you choose this topic, you can sign up for Going Merry and apply for a scholarship bundle : one essay, multiple scholarships! )
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
You’ll notice that #7 is a catch-all that allows you to submit any personal statement about anything at all .
So maybe that doesn’t help you narrow it down.
Here’s a 3-step solution:
STEP 1. Brainstorm about your life
Dedicate 5-10 minutes each to brainstorming about these 4 sets of questions.
You can do this by yourself (writing down your thoughts), or do this exercise out loud with a friend or family member, and then jot down notes as you’re talking. If you “think out loud” better than you do on paper, brainstorming with someone else may be the way to go!
(A) What were defining moments in your life?
How did these moments in your life changed you, what did you learn from it, and how has it shaped your future plans? Some topics might include:
- An accident or injury
- A best friend you made (or lost)
- A defining talk with a peer
- Something new you tried for the first time
- Revealing a sexual or gender identity, to friends or family
- Discovering something about your family ( e.g., see Jesus’s story )
- Moving to a new city
- Traveling somewhere, or learning about a new culture ( e.g., see Gabby’s story )
- Your first pet (new responsibilities as a fur mom or dad)
(B) What have you chosen to spend time on?
Remember to focus not just on the what , but also the why – What were your motivations? How did you feel? What have you learned? Some topics on this might include:
- The moment you joined band, color guard, or the soccer team.
- A time you struggled with that activity – e.g., Maybe you got passed over for captain of the soccer? Or maybe you got an injury and had to sit out on the sidelines?
- Maybe a moment you really fell in love with that activity – e.g. Maybe the first time you investigated a story for the school newspaper and realized journalism was your calling?
(C) Whom or what are you inspired by?
How did you find out about this person or thing? Why are you inspired? In what ways are you inspired? Is there anything that inspiration has made you do (e.g. join a club, do an activity or internship on the topic)? Some topics on this might include:
- Technology – Maybe a specific App made you inspired to learn to code?
- Person in your life – Maybe meeting someone (or knowing someone in your family) has affected you?
- A show, movie, book, or podcast that inspired you to look at life differently
- A dance or song that has made you interested in performing arts
(D) What are you proud of?
Make a list of all the things you’re proud of. These can be milestones, hobbies, qualities, or quirks that are what make you, you. Topics to consider might be:
- Times you saved the day – like that epic left-handed catch you made on the field
- Personal qualities – Maybe you’re really funny, or amazingly calm under pressure. What are some examples of times when you showed those qualities?
- Random life things you’re amazing at – Baking a mean chocolate brownie. Guessing how many gumballs are in a jar. Tell a story when that amazing talent was handy!
Don’t worry if some of your ideas repeat between sections. This is just a way to get ideas flowing!
STEP 2. Shortlist your ideas
Identify your strongest ideas out of the bunch. This should probably be very few (2-4).
STEP 3. Freewrite about your possible essay topics.
Once you’ve brainstormed some ideas and identified 2-4 winners, we agree with Find the Right College – just start freewriting! Start by writing a few sentences or paragraphs about any of your shortlisted topics, and let the words flow. Write for about 15 minutes, on each shortlisted topic. Don’t worry about structure or organization – this is just an exercise so you feel comfortable getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
It will also allow you to see which of the topics seems to have the most “legs” — often, you’ll notice that your best topic will:
- Be the easiest to write about (those 15 minutes flew by!)
- Lead you to tell at least one interesting story
- Feel like it genuinely reveals something important about who you are
- Not be captured easily by other parts of your application (you’ll need a full 500 words to really be able to tackle this meaty topic)
Well, let’s start here: What makes a personal statement good or even great ?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Get personal.
Remember the “personal” in personal statement. We all have a story to tell, and we all have a different journey that led us to where we are today. We might think “someone already wrote about this” or we might think our story isn’t unique, but IT IS.
2. Speak like you.
Write your personal statement in a genuine tone that reflects who you are . There’s no right or wrong tone – just make sure your tone represents YOU. This means, in particular, not using big words just to show off. Often, this just seems like you’re trying to hard. (Or, even worse, you accidentally use the word incorrectly!)
3. Think about your audience.
Who will you be writing your personal statement for? What message do you want to convey? If it’s for to the college admissions committee, how do you show you’ll align well with the culture of the school? If it’s for a scholarship provider, how do you show you support their mission?
4. Hit the big three: Story, Implication, Connection to college/major.
Most successful college essays do at least 3 things:
- Mention at least one anecdote or story. (“Show, don’t tell.”)
- Explain why that anecdote or story is important to who you are.
- End (or begin) by connecting this information, to why you are applying to this specific college. This may include information about the major (why you think their department/program is great), or more general information about what attracts you to the school (e.g., location, sports, extracurricular activities, Greek life). Get specific so the school knows you’re really interested in them! This is the one piece of your personal statement that probably shouldn’t be cut & paste.
Here’s an example of how to use that personal essay template:
- Story: When I was 11, my family traveled to Italy and visited museums — one specific painting made me fall in love with art. ( 1-2 paragraphs )
- Why important: After that trip, I did lots of art and studied lots of art. Mention specific extracurriculars. ( 3 paragraphs )
- Why this college: I want to apply to X college because of its excellent art program, which I can also complement by joining Y and Z clubs. Since it’s in New York, it’ll also offer my the opportunity to visit the countless art museums like MOMA. ( 1 paragraph )
5. Hit the length.
Make sure you keep within the required length. Normally if you aim for 500 words, you’re golden. Some college or scholarship applications will allow you to write up to 600 or 650 words.
6. Edit your work.
Once you’ve written your personal statement, step away from it. There was a time when we used to rely on pencil and paper to write down all of our ideas and information (including first-draft college essays). Now, we mainly rely on screens, so our eyes grow tired, causing us to miss typos and grammar mistakes.
So save that document in an easy-to-find folder on your computer. Then stepping away from your computer and taking a break helps relax your mind and body and then refocus when you come back to edit the document.
( Psst – If you’re applying for scholarships with Going Merry, we’ve got built-in spellcheck, and we allow you to save essays in your documents folder, so no work will get lost! )
We can’t stress this one enough: Don’t submit your personal statement without checking your spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.! All the grammar things! Your personal statement reflects who you are, from the topic you choose to the style you write it in, so impress colleges (or scholarship providers) with excellent structure and great grammar!
7. Then, ask someone else to edit it too.
We recommend asking a friend, counselor, or parent to read your personal statement before you submit the document. One more set of eyes will really help you get a second opinion on the tone, writing quality, and overall representation of who you are in your personal statement.
8. Be brave, and hit that “submit” button on your personal statement!
Finally, when everything is completed, click submit! Don’t hold back!
9. Remember, personal statements for your college app, can also be reused as scholarship essays.
Get double-use out of your personal statement. Going Merry is your home for all things scholarships–fill out a profile, get matched to eligible scholarships, and apply. You can even save essays so that you can easily upload the same one for multiple scholarship applications. (We were inspired by the Common App to make applying for scholarships easier.)
Register for an account here , get the full lowdown on how it works , or just sign up for the newsletter below (to get 20 scholarship opportunities delivered to our inbox each each week!).
Do you have personal statement examples ?
Oh yes we do. First, here are some excerpts of personal statements from members of our very own Going Merry team!
Charlie Maynard, Going Merry CEO – wrote about what matters most to him and why, for his grad school application.
- The open paragraph read: “Being open to new ideas and able to take advantage of opportunities is what is most important to me. The most extraordinary times in my life have come as a result of moments when I’ve seized opportunities. This has been evident in my educational life, my travels around the world and my professional career.”
- This anchored the main topic of his essay. He then went on to explain examples.
Charlotte Lau, Going Merry Head of Growth – wrote for her college Common App personal statement:
“As a child, I was never close with my father, though we were always on good terms. He made me laugh and taught me all the things that made me into a young tomboy: what an RBI is, how to correctly hook a fish when I feel it biting, what to bring on a camping trip. But whenever I was upset, he wouldn’t know how to comfort me. He is a man of jokes and words, not of comforting motions.
But as I grew older and I too became infatuated with words—albeit in written form—our topics of conversation became more diverse and often more profound. We continued to watch sports games together, but during commercials, we’d have epistemological and ethical discussions more fitting for a philosophy class than a chat during a Knicks’ time-out. During these talks, my father would insert stories about his youth. They’d always be transitory or anecdotal, told as if they were beside the point. Still, I’d eagerly commit them to memory, and, over time, I began to get a sense of who my father was—and, in turn, who I am.”
Now, here are some excerpts from other sample personal statements:
These 3 are college essays about personal characteristics:
Essay 1: Humorous essay about getting a D and learning a lesson
“Getting a D probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s not something anyone wants to see, let alone put, on a college application. It came back to me, scrawled in red, on the first big history test of the year. The one the teacher had assured us was a third of our grade. I could already see my chances of a four-year college going up in smoke and my school year hadn’t even started yet.
What happened? I’m not a D student. I’ll get the occasional C as well as the occasional A. D’s are out of character for me, and enough of a stomach punch to really get my attention. The short version is, I didn’t study, and I don’t remember precisely why. There is always a reason not to study, isn’t there? I didn’t study and I went into a test woefully unprepared and got beaten up.
I had two options here. I could accept that I was in fact a D student despite what I had thought. Or I could study hard for the next test and try to bring my grade up by the force of the average.”
Essay 2: Why a talent (in this case, one at football) is also a responsibility
“Talent is not remarkable. It’s usually the first thing anyone compliments. “You’re so talented.” It doesn’t mean what they think it means. It doesn’t mean I worked hard. It means I was lucky, or blessed, or anything else you want to call it.
I have talent. I’ve known since I was old enough to hold a football. The game just makes intuitive sense to me. The pathways of the players, both my team and the others, where the ball has to go, and what I’m doing. In the silence before a snap, I’m already playing out what is going to happen, watching the holes in my lines, tracing the route of my receivers. […]
It is far too easy to view talent as an excuse. For me, it is a motivator. For my talent, I will accept nothing less than a dream that only a tiny percentage of people ever get to experience. To get there, I’m willing to work hard and wring every last accomplishment from myself.
Talent is a responsibility. Because you had nothing to do with acquiring it, you are compelled to achieve every last bit you can with it. While I had grown used to thinking varsity would be it, that was not the case. Now, I can focus on the goal while I accomplish the steps.”
Essay 3: On living with depression
“Before I was diagnosed, I had been told it was a normal part of growing up. I was told that teens are moody. I would grow out of it. I couldn’t imagine anyone growing out of what I was feeling. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving.
Diagnosis and medication have saved my life, allowing me to see the world as people without my brain chemistry would. […] what I found was a place of tiny kindnesses.
It might sound bad—as though kindness can only exist in the smallest forms. This is not what I mean. There are extraordinary people out there who devote their lives to doing very large, very important things for others. I’m not talking about them, partially because they are extraordinary. They are not the norm.
What is normal are the tiny kindnesses. These do not cost a person much of anything. A slice of time, a moment of openness, and little else. They are a smile when you’re feeling down, a comforting hand on the shoulder, a moment to talk.”
And here are 3 college personal statements, about what drove their interest in their intended major:
Essay 4: On why this applicant wants to study music
“My great-great-uncle Giacomo Ferrari was born in 1912 in Neverland, NY, the youngest of four sons. His parents had emigrated from Italy with his two eldest brothers in the early 1900s in search of a better life in America. Their struggles as immigrants are in themselves inspiring, but the challenges they faced are undoubtedly similar to those that many other immigrant families had to overcome; because of this, the actions that my relatives embarked upon are that much more extraordinary. Giacomo’s oldest brother Antonio, my great-grandfather, decided to take a correspondence course in violin, and to teach his youngest brother Giacomo how to play as well. Giacomo Ferrari eventually became an accomplished violinist and started a free “Lunchtime Strings” program for all the elementary schools in the Neverland area, giving free violin lessons and monthly concerts.
As a native English speaker who has had the privilege of studying viola and violin with trained, private teachers, I can only imagine the perseverance it took for my great-grandfather and great-great uncle to learn an instrument like the violin out of booklets and lessons that were not even written in their native language. Their passion and dedication to learning something new, something not part of their lives as blue-collar, immigrant workers, and their desire to share it with others, has inspired me as a musician and a person. It is this spirit that has motivated me to pursue an MA at Composition at the University of XXX.”
Essay 5: On why this applicant wants to be an allergy specialist
“Suddenly I started scratching my neck, feeling the hives that had started to form. I rushed to the restroom to throw up because my throat was itchy and I felt a weight on my chest. I was experiencing anaphylactic shock, which prevented me from taking anything but shallow breaths. I was fighting the one thing that is meant to protect me and keep me alive – my own body.
[…] After that incident, I began to fear. I became scared of death, eating, and even my own body. As I grew older, I became paranoid about checking food labels and I avoided eating if I didn’t know what was in the food. I knew what could happen if I ate one wrong thing, and I wasn’t willing to risk it for a snack. Ultimately, that fear turned into resentment; I resented my body for making me an outsider.
In the years that followed, this experience and my regular visits to my allergy specialist inspired me to become an allergy specialist. Even though I was probably only ten at the time, I wanted to find a way to help kids like me. I wanted to find a solution so that nobody would have to feel the way I did; nobody deserved to feel that pain, fear, and resentment. As I learned more about the medical world, I became more fascinated with the body’s immune responses, specifically, how a body reacts to allergens.”
Essay 6 : On why this applicant wants to study medicine
“My passion for teaching others and sharing knowledge emanates from my curiosity and love for learning. My shadowing experiences in particular have stimulated my curiosity and desire to learn more about the world around me. How does platelet rich plasma stimulate tissue growth? How does diabetes affect the proximal convoluted tubule? My questions never stopped. I wanted to know everything and it felt very satisfying to apply my knowledge to clinical problems. distinct concepts together to form a coherent picture truly attracts me to medicine.
It is hard to separate science from medicine; in fact, medicine is science. However, medicine is also about people—their feelings, struggles and concerns. Humans are not pre-programmed robots that all face the same problems. Humans deserve sensitive and understanding physicians. Humans deserve doctors who are infinitely curious, constantly questioning new advents in medicine. They deserve someone who loves the challenge of problem solving and coming up with innovative individualized solutions. I want to be that physician. I want to be able to approach each case as a unique entity and incorporate my strengths into providing personalized care for my patients. Until that time, I may be found Friday mornings in the operating room, peering over shoulders, dreaming about the day I get to hold the drill.”
You made it this far. Now, it’s time to write your personal statement!
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Nail your uni application with our personal statement examples.
Discover personal statements by subject, from A to Z. Find inspiration for your own application with these successful personal statement examples from real students.
A-Z of Personal Statements
Learn from previous student personal statements here. We have collated over 700 personal statement examples to help you on your university journey and to help you with how to write a personal statement.
These personal statement examples will show you the kind of thing that universities are looking for from their applicants. See how to structure your personal statement, what kind of format your personal statement should be in, what to write in a personal statement and the key areas to touch on in your statement.
A personal statement is a chance to tell your university all about you - a good personal statement is one that showcases your passion for the subject, what inspired you to apply for the course you’re applying for and why you think you would be an asset to the university.
Our collection includes personal statement examples in Mathematics, Anthropology, Accounting, Computer Science, Zoology and more.
Writing a personal statement has never been easier with our vast collection of personal statement examples.
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Personal Statement Help
What is a personal statement.
A personal statement is an essay written by a student applying to either a college or university. A personal statement is written and then uploaded to UCAS and is then attached to any university applications that the student may then make.
If you need more information check out our personal statement advice articles .
How to write a personal statement
There isn't a clearly defined personal statement template for you to use as each person's statement is different.
When it comes to writing a personal statement for universities, your personal statement should touch on your passions, your interest in the course, why you're applying for the course and why you would be an asset to the university you're applying to.
Talk about the clubs and societies that you belong to, any work experience you may have and any awards you might have won.
If you're still looking for information check out our article on how to write a personal statement .
How to start a personal statement
When it comes to starting your personal statement, the best thing to do is to be succinct and to have enough tantalising information to keep the reader informed and eager for more.
Your introduction should touch on your personal qualities and why you are applying for the subject you're applying for. Keeping things short and sweet means that it also allows you to break your personal statement up, which makes it easier for the reader.
We have plenty of advice for students that are wondering about what to include in a personal statement .
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How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
← What Is an Application Theme and Why Is It Important?
10 Personal Statement Examples That Work →
Most of the college applications process is fairly cut and dry. You’ll submit information about your classes and grades, standardized test scores, and various other accomplishments and honors. On much of the application, your accomplishments must speak for themselves.
The personal statement is different though, and it’s your chance to let your voice be heard. To learn more about the personal statement, how to choose a topic, and how to write one that wows colleges, don’t miss this post.
What is the Personal Statement?
Personal statements are used in both undergraduate and graduate admissions. For undergrad admissions, personal statements are any essays students must write to submit their main application. For example, the Common App Essay and Coalition Application Essay are examples of personal statements. Similarly, the ApplyTexas Essays and University of California Essays are also good examples .
Personal statements in college admissions are generally not school-specific (those are called “supplemental essays”). Instead, they’re sent to a wide range of schools, usually every school you apply to.
What is the Purpose of the Personal Statement?
The personal statement is generally your opportunity to speak to your unique experiences, qualities, or beliefs that aren’t elsewhere represented on the application. It is a chance to break away from the data that defines you on paper, and provide a glimpse into who you really are. In short, it’s the admissions committee’s chance to get to know the real you.
So, what are colleges looking for in your personal statement? They are looking for something that sets you apart. They are asking themselves: do you write about something truly unique? Do you write about something common, in a new and interesting way? Do you write about an aspect of your application that needed further explanation? All of these are great ways to impress with your personal statement.
Beyond getting to know you, admissions committees are also evaluating your writing skills. Are you able to write clearly and succinctly? Can you tell an engaging story? Writing effectively is an important skill in both college and life, so be sure to also fine-tune your actual writing (grammar and syntax), not just the content of your essay.
Is your personal statement strong enough? Get a free review of your personal statement with CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review.
How To a Choose A Topic For Your Personal Statement
Most of the time, you’re given a handful of prompts to choose from. Common personal statement prompts include:
- Central aspect of your identity (activity, interest, talent, background)
- Overcoming a failure
- Time you rose to a challenge or showed leadership
- Experience that changed your beliefs
- Problem you’d like to solve
- Subject or idea that captivates you
One of the questions that we hear most often about the personal statement is, “How do I choose what to write about?” For some students, the personal statement prompt triggers an immediate and strong idea. For many more, there is at least initially some uncertainty.
We often encourage students to think less about the exact prompt and more about what aspects of themselves they think are most worthy of highlighting. This is especially helpful if you’re offered a “topic of your choice” prompt, as the best essay topic for you might actually be one you make up!
For students with an interesting story or a defining background, these can serve as the perfect catalyst to shape your approach. For students with a unique voice or different perspective, simple topics written in a new way can be engaging and insightful.
Finally, you need to consider the rest of your application when you choose a topic for your personal statement. If you are returning from a gap year, failed a single class during sophomore year, or participated extensively in something you’re passionate about that isn’t elsewhere on your application, you might attempt to address one of these topics in your statement. After all, the admissions committee wants to get to know you and understand who you really are, and these are all things that will give them a deeper understanding of that.
Still, tons of students have a decent amount of writer’s block when it comes to choosing a topic. This is understandable since the personal statement tends to be considered rather high stakes. To help you get the ball rolling, we recommend the post What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for College
1. approach this as a creative writing assignment..
Personal statements are difficult for many students because they’ve never had to do this type of writing. High schoolers are used to writing academic reports or analytical papers, but not creative storytelling pieces.
The point of creative writing is to have fun with it, and to share a meaningful story. Choose a topic that inspires you so that you’ll enjoy writing your essay. It doesn’t have to be intellectual or impressive at all. You have your transcript and test scores to prove your academic skills, so the point of the personal statement is to give you free rein to showcase your personality. This will result in a more engaging essay and reading experience for admissions officers.
As you’re writing, there’s no need to follow the traditional five-paragraph format with an explicit thesis. Your story should have an overarching message, but it doesn’t need to be explicitly stated—it should shine through organically.
Your writing should also feel natural. While it will be more refined than a conversation with your best friend, it shouldn’t feel stuffy or contrived when it comes off your tongue. This balance can be difficult to strike, but a tone that would feel natural when talking with an admired teacher or a longtime mentor is usually a good fit.
2. Show, don’t tell.
One of the biggest mistakes students make is to simply state everything that happened, instead of actually bringing the reader to the moment it happened, and telling a story. It’s boring to read: “I was overjoyed and felt empowered when I finished my first half marathon.” It’s much more interesting when the writing actually shows you what happened and what the writer felt in that moment: “As I rounded the final bend before the finish line, my heart fluttered in excitement. The adrenaline drowned out my burning legs and gasping lungs. I was going to finish my first half marathon! This was almost incomprehensible to me, as someone who could barely run a mile just a year ago.”
If you find yourself starting to write your essay like a report, and are having trouble going beyond “telling,” envision yourself in the moment you want to write about. What did you feel, emotionally and physically? Why was this moment meaningful? What did you see or hear? What were your thoughts?
For inspiration, read some memoirs or personal essays, like The New York Times Modern Love Column . You could also listen to podcasts of personal stories, like The Moth . What do these writers and storytellers do that make their stories engaging? If you didn’t enjoy a particular story, what was it that you didn’t like? Analyzing real stories can help you identify techniques that you personally resonate with.
3. Use dialogue.
A great way to keep your writing engaging is to include some dialogue. Instead of writing: “My brothers taunted me,” consider sharing what they actually said. It’s more powerful to read something like:
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame.
Having dialogue can break up longer paragraphs of text, and bring some action and immediacy to your story. That being said, don’t overdo it. It’s important to strike a balance between relying too much on dialogue, and using it occasionally as an effective writing tool. You don’t want your essay to read like a script for a movie (unless, of course, that’s intentional and you want to showcase your screenwriting skills!).
Want free essay feedback? Submit your essay to CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review and get fast, actionable edits on your essay.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Personal Statements
1. giving a recap or report of all the events..
Your essay isn’t a play-by-play of everything that happened in that time frame. Only include relevant details that enrich the story, instead of making your personal statement a report of the events. Remember that the goal is to share your voice, what’s important to you, and who you are.
2. Writing about too many events or experiences.
Similarly, another common mistake is to make your personal statement a resume or recap of all your high school accomplishments. The Activities Section of the Common App is the place for listing out your achievements, not your personal statement. Focus on one specific experience or a few related experiences, and go into detail on those.
3. Using cliche language.
Try to avoid overdone quotes from famous people like Gandhi or Thoreau. Better yet, try to avoid quotes from other people in general, unless it’s a message from someone you personally know. Adding these famous quotes won’t make your essay unique, and it takes up valuable space for you to share your voice.
You should also steer away from broad language or lavish claims like “It was the best day of my life.” Since they’re so cliche, these statements also obscure your message, and it’s hard to understand what you actually mean. If it was actually the best day of your life, show us why, rather than just telling us.
If you want to learn more about personal statements, see our post of 11 Common App Essay Examples .
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, what is a personal statement everything you need to know about the college essay.
College Admissions , College Essays
In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.
In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.
College Essay Glossary
Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:
Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.
College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).
Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.
Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.
Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.
Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:
- Why colleges ask for an essay
- What kinds of essay questions you'll see
- What sets great essays apart
- Tips for writing your own essay
Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?
There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.
#1: Insight Into Your Personality
The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.
Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.
As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.
Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.
#2: Evidence of Writing Skills
A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.
That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.
No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .
#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances
For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.
Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.
#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School
Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .
I'll talk more about this type of essay below.
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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?
Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .
Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.
Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History
This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.
These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.
Common App 1
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Common App 5
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
University of California 2
Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
University of California 6
Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem
A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .
The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.
Common App 2
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Harvard University 7
The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
Prompt Type 3: Diversity
Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .
In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.
Common App 3
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Johns Hopkins University
Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins. This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.
Duke University Optional 1
We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community.
Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.
There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?
Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.
Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?
Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?
Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts
More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.
University of Chicago
“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).
University of Vermont
Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?
Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .
Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.
In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.
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As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).
Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.
Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.
Top Five Essay-Writing Tips
Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.
#1: Start Early!
No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.
You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.
Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.
#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About
One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .
"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."
You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .
This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.
Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.
When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .
At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.
Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.
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How to Write a Personal Statement – 5 Personal Statement Examples
How to write a personal statement? – Introduction
The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the college application process. For this reason, it’s often also one of the most anxiety-inducing. If you’ve been searching for personal statement examples because writing your personal statement has you worried (or excited), then you’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ll present five personal statement examples and teach you how to write a personal statement that highlights who you are and demonstrates your full potential to colleges. We’re going to outline what a personal statement is, how colleges use them in the application process, and which topics tend to work best for college applicants. Then, we’ll offer some advice and tools to help you draft, edit, and finalize your own personal statement. Finally, we’ll walk you through five personal essay examples, breaking them down individually, so you can see just what makes them work.
Writing a personal statement may seem like a daunting task, especially if you aren’t clear on just exactly what a personal statement for college is. After you see your first personal statement example, things may seem clearer. But first, let’s demystify the term “personal statement.”
What is a personal statement?
Learning how to write a personal statement starts with understanding the term . I’m sure throughout the college application process you’ve heard your counselors, teachers, and classmates talking about the importance of a personal statement. While you may know that the personal statement for a university is extremely important, you still might not be clear on just what it is. You may have never even seen a personal statement example. So, before you attempt to start writing , let’s answer the questions: what is a personal statement for college? And just how do universities use them to evaluate students?
A personal statement for college is your chance to set yourself apart from other students and show admissions who you are. A strong personal statement for a university will describe your unique experiences and background in a first-person narrative. And when done well, it’s your opportunity to catch the right attention of an admission officer.
No pressure, right? Don’t stress quite yet. The process of writing a personal statement can be fun! It’s an opportunity to write about something you’re passionate about. You’ll be able to see a personal statement example later on (five, actually!), and you’ll notice that it’s not about the perfect topic , but rather, how you tell your story.
Personal statement basics
Now, let’s talk about personal essay specifics. Generally speaking, a personal statement will be between 400-700 words, depending on the specific university guidelines or application portal. The Common App essay must be 250-650 words. The Coalition App , by contrast, suggests that students write 500-650 words. Try to aim for the higher end of those ranges, as you’ll be hard pressed to write a compelling personal statement without enticing descriptions.
Apart from the word count, what’s the personal statement format? The personal statement for a university should be written in a first-person conventional prose format. You may be a wonderful poet or fiction writer but refrain from using those styles in your personal statement. While using those styles in a personal essay could occasionally be a hit with admissions, it’s best to showcase that style of writing elsewhere. If you choose to add your creative writing style to your application, you should do so by submitting a writing portfolio. Generally speaking, the strongest personal statement will be written in first-person prose language.
General or prompted
When it comes to a personal statement for college, it will generally fall into one of two categories : general, comprehensive personal statement, or a response to a very specific personal essay prompt. In the open-ended option, you’ll want to share a story about something important related to your life. This could be about family, experiences, academics, or extracurriculars . Just be careful not to repeat your entire resume. That’s certainly not the goal of a personal essay.
Remember, it’s a personal statement. So, share something that you haven’t elsewhere. If given a prompt, it will likely be open-ended so that you can flex your creativity and show off your writing style. You’ll be able to write a story that genuinely matters to you, ideally sharing something that has made you who you are.
You may also need a personal statement when applying to certain programs, such as business or STEM programs. The basic idea is the same, but you’ll want to connect your experiences to the specific program. Check out the details of writing a personal statement for a specific field .
That extra push
The college application process can seem rigid at times; the personal statement for college is your chance to show off in a way that has nothing to do with GPA or transcripts. The personal statement is an opportunity for colleges to meet students on their own terms. It’s essentially your written interview .
At top universities, many students will have similar grades and test scores. A strong personal statement gives students the chance to stand out and show that they’re more than just numbers on a transcript. What’s the extra push that an admissions officer may need to admit a qualified student? A well-written, compelling personal statement can help you gain admittance to competitive schools .
Having a support system throughout the college admissions process is important. Keep your parents in the loop with this personal statement webinar that offers details about the common app essay and the personal essay for college.
You are probably wondering the same things as other students about the college application essay or college essay tips. Read an admissions officer’s response to some FAQs and get some useful college essay tips.
The CommonApp Essay vs. The Personal Statement
So, we’ve discussed what a personal statement is and why it matters. Now, let’s discuss one common type of personal statement: the Common App essay. While each school may have their own personal statement topics, the Common App essay section has general prompts that will serve as your personal statement. The Common App essay will respond to one of seven prompts.
For the most up-to-date information on the Common App essay, you can check their website .
Common App Essay Questions for 2022-2023:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
The Common App essay personal statement prompts are intentionally open-ended. They are meant to give you the chance to tell your unique story . However, one requirement is that your Common App essay must be between 250-650 words.
You can choose to respond to any one of the seven prompts. Remember to choose the best prompt for you. It may seem obvious, but the personal statement for college is your opportunity to share your personal story. You’ll want to choose a topic you can write well about that will show how you’ve grown or changed. It’s also your opportunity to show off your writing style. So, pick a topic you enjoy writing about!
Check out some tips on how to tackle each prompt from the Common App essay blog. You may also want to read this Common App essay overview for juniors . We’ll get into more specific details later on how to write the Common App essay– and other personal statement topics in general– later in this article.
How important is a Personal Statement?
As we’ve mentioned, the personal statement is your chance to stand out in a pool of applicants. It’s an extremely important part of any college application. A personal statement for college will be a requirement of nearly every application you complete. Admissions will use your personal statement to get a sense of who you are beyond your grades and scores. So, if you want to show colleges what makes you unique, your personal statement is the place to do it. Figuring out how to write a personal statement is key to a successful application.
Seeing what works when it comes to your personal statement for university can be a helpful first step. U.S. News breaks down the process of writing a personal statement and gives some successful personal essay examples. Reading another student’s successful personal statement example will give you an idea of what impresses admissions. It may even get you excited about writing your own personal statement for college!
While every school will likely require some sort of personal statement, it may actually be used differently in the admissions process. How your personal statement is judged during the admissions process will depend on a school’s size, ranking, acceptance rate , and various other factors. Larger state schools will likely put the most importance on an applicant’s grades and scores while spending little time reviewing a student’s personal statement.
Especially important at top tier schools
However, at Ivy League schools and other elite institutions, many students have the same impressive grades, scores, and extracurriculars. The personal statement allows these schools to distinguish between high-achieving students. If you’re looking at these types of institutions, then a lot of importance should be placed on writing a personal statement that is unforgettable and impresses admissions.
So, we know that learning how to write a personal statement is key to many successful applications, but you may be thinking: what’s the difference between a personal statement and supplemental essays? Every school you apply to via the Common App will receive an identical copy of your Common App essay. The Common App essay serves as your personal statement.
However, each school will have their own supplemental requirements, which may include additional supplemental essays . For schools with many supplemental college essay prompts, your personal essay may not have as much of an impact on your overall application. Admissions officers will see your writing style, and likely your personality, in all of the college essay prompts you submit.
Additional personal statements
Still, you should always treat your personal essay with the utmost care. It can make a huge difference in the admissions process. You may also need to write other personal statements when applying to scholarships or specific programs . It’s good to get used to the process and the personal statement format during college application season.
When should I start writing my Personal Statement?
When it comes to all things in the college application process, including any college application essay, it’s best to start early . Don’t leave your personal statement for a university until the last moment. Writing a personal statement will take time. The sooner you start your personal statement for college, the more likely you are to succeed.
This doesn’t mean that you should start writing your personal statement for university the summer before your sophomore year. High school is a time for development, and colleges want to get to know you at your most mature. It’s just good practice to start thinking about how to write a personal statement early on.
Review personal statement examples
Think about personal statement format, personal statement topics, and personal statement ideas. Look at other students’ personal statement examples. You can start jotting down potential ideas for your personal essay for college at any time, which may be useful down the line. But, you don’t need to actually start writing your personal statement until the summer before your senior year .
Be open-minded to changing your personal statement topic as you grow and discover new things about yourself. Check out this personal statement webinar on how one student switched her personal essay for college at the last moment. Just like there is no set personal statement format, there are no rules against mixing up your topic as you see fit. But, at least try to allow yourself some time to revise and edit your personal essay for college to perfection.
What do I write in a personal statement?
There’s no one-size-fits-all outline when it comes to how to write a personal statement. Your personal statement for university will depend on your own background, interests, and character. Overall, it’s not the personal statement topics that will catch the eye of admissions officers– it’s how you write your story that will. You need to know how to write a personal statement that not only checks the boxes but is also powerful .
Important things to keep in mind when writing your personal statement:
Choose a topic you’re passionate about.
What would you be excited to write about? Chase the personal statement topics that seem fun to write, think about, and talk about. If you’re passionate about your personal statement, your audience will feel it and be engaged.
Really be you
Authenticity is key when it comes to writing a personal statement. After all, it’s your chance to tell your story and really show admissions who you are. Whatever you write about, make sure it is true, honest, and authentic to your experiences.
Give it some flair
Ok, we don’t mean do something too unconventional like a personal statement haiku. But, you should show off your writing style in your personal statement for college. Admissions officers want to get to know you and your writing.
Knowing how to start a personal statement or how to start a college essay, in general, is often the most difficult part of the process. You’ll want to brainstorm some personal statement topics to get your creative juices flowing. CollegeAdvisor.com offers a masterclass on brainstorming personal statement topics for the Common App essay in case you need some help with how to start a college essay or a personal statement.
Still have doubts? Read more on how to write a personal statement and get some college essay tips from CollegeAdvisor.com’s admissions experts. It will also be helpful to look at some successful personal essay examples and understand why they worked . Good personal statement examples can inspire you to tackle writing your own personal essay for college.
Exploring Personal Statement Topics
It seems logical that when exploring the process of how to write a personal statement, you should start thinking about personal statement ideas. What are the best topics to write about in a personal statement? If you look at various successful personal statement examples, you’ll likely realize the topic isn’t necessarily the most important part. You don’t need to write about something that no one else has ever written about. You just need your personal statement to have its own unique spin. Lean into brainstorming personal statement ideas that show who you are. It’s helpful to read some personal statement examples for inspiration.
While there is no exact formula for “how to write a personal statement”, there are some basic guidelines that students should follow. The personal statement should be written in first-person nonfiction prose form. Often, a personal statement introduction will include a story or an anecdote and then expand to reveal the impact of that experience on the writer.
You may be specifically wondering how to start a personal statement. Well, it could be with a moment, a place, or a conversation that spurred some sort of change or growth within you. While this isn’t necessarily a “personal statement format,” it’s a very general format that works.
Things to avoid
We now know that the personal statement format is fluid, but there are some things to avoid when thinking about how to write a personal statement:
- Profanity, explicit content, or crude language.
- Lying or misinterpreting events. Keep it authentic.
- Sharing overly personal descriptions of troubling life experiences. Remember that applying to college requires professional boundaries.
- Writing a narrative that revolves around others. The personal statement is all about you and your experiences.
If you want to know what a bad personal statement example would look like, imagine one that includes any of the formerly listed items. You don’t want to catch an admissions officer’s attention for the wrong reasons. Good personal statement examples will be engaging, but inoffensive. Check out some more do’s and don’ts when it comes to how to write a personal statement.
When pondering “how to write a personal statement,” it’s good to know that you don’t need to follow conventional essay guidelines. The best personal statement examples will exude passion and professionalism, while a bad personal statement example will lack soul. If you’re excited about a topic, then that’s a great place to start! Now, let’s get into the actual writing.
How do you write a good Personal Statement?
To review, in the first part of this series of three articles on how to write a personal statement we answered the question “What is a personal statement?” We also explained how schools use a student’s personal statement for college to evaluate them. We described the Common App essay as an example of a personal statement for a university. Next, let’s dig into how to write a personal statement, including how to start a personal statement, the best tips for writing a personal statement, and some good personal statement examples and personal essay examples to inspire you.
First, you have probably wondered how to write a personal statement that stands out from the rest. It all comes down to one thing: authenticity. The best personal statement examples and personal essay examples show schools what makes the writer unique, and they are written in an authentic voice. When giving advice about how to write a personal statement, admissions officers say that the best personal statement examples tell them who the student is beyond their coursework and grades. They are personal, and they tell a unique and interesting story.
Considering Personal Statement topics
So, as you think about how to write a personal statement, you may also wonder what the best personal statement topics are. When writing a personal statement, including the Common App essay, you don’t have to share an exciting story about the time you wrestled a wild bear or how you discovered a cure for cancer. For example, in their advice on how to write a personal statement, Wellesley College advises , “Tragedy is not a requirement, reflection and depth are.”
Some of the best personal statement topics focus on insights about common experiences. Begin your brainstorming process by reviewing the list of Common App essay prompts as you think about writing a personal statement, and choose a story that genuinely matters to you. Then, get excited about telling it! Think about writing a personal statement, including the Common App essay and every other personal essay for college, as an opportunity to lean into your quirkiness or to share your unique insights.
What’s more, a good personal statement for a university should be well-written. Consider the advice offered by Purdue Online Writing Lab : “Be specific, write well and correctly, and avoid cliches.” This will take time—writing a good personal statement for a university or a good Common App essay doesn’t happen overnight. The process of writing a personal statement will include multiple sessions between the first phase of brainstorming and the final phase of editing. Be prepared to write and rewrite, and never hesitate to ask for help from an advisor, counselor, parent, or trusted adult. However, remember that your work should always be your own.
Now, let’s discuss how to start a personal statement.
How do you start a personal statement?
So, now you have the basic information on how to write a personal statement, including your Common App essay. Next, you’re probably asking, “But how do you start one?” In this section, we’ll break down the process of exploring personal statement ideas and how to start a personal statement. This information also applies to thinking about how to start a college essay. Then, we’ll discuss how to write a personal statement opening.
Brainstorming is usually the first phase of any writing project to generate personal statement ideas. You may want to read a personal statement example like those here or here for inspiration to help get your personal statement ideas flowing. Next, ask yourself some idea-generating questions : Who have your intellectual influences been? Which careers are you considering and why? What personal goals do you have? As you think about the answers to these typical college essay prompts, jot down personal statement ideas that occur to you. If you’re still feeling stuck, ask a close friend or family member , “What do you think differentiates me?,” or “What are my quirks?”
Pick a topic that excites you
Then, once you have a few good topics for your personal statement, choose one that you feel most excited to write about. Write a draft of your personal statement introduction and see what other ideas occur to you for later parts of your essay. Choose another topic and do the same thing. Don’t feel like these initial drafts need to be perfect—words on the page are always a great start! The goal right now is to decide which personal statement topics you feel most inspired to write about. Which ideas reflect something interesting about you ?
Once you have selected which topic you will focus on for your personal statement, Common App essay, or personal essay for college, think about crafting a strong hook. The opening line (or lines) of the best personal statement examples include a “hook” for the reader, grabbing their attention and making them want to keep reading. For example, you could start with a question, an unusual or surprising statement, or an anecdote that will leave readers wondering what comes next. Whichever approach you select when considering how to start a college essay, make sure to use engaging language and vivid imagery.
Remember, start early and write several drafts .
The personal statement is an opportunity to write about a topic that is important to you and that also reflects your personality . Now, let’s discuss the personal statement format.
How do you format a personal statement?
Different applications may require different approaches to your personal statement format. In some cases, you may copy and paste your personal statement into an application and it will format itself automatically. In other situations, you will need to set up your personal statement format yourself. If this is the case, Times New Roman font, 12-point, with conventional margins and double spacing is a safe personal statement format.
When you are submitting your personal statement or Common App essay through the Common App, you may notice that the Common Application text box only allows formatting for bold, italics, and underlining. Therefore, it’s best to write your personal statement in Google Docs or Word and to write your paragraphs with block formatting (not indented). In addition, using Google Docs or Word will also allow you to easily check spelling and word counts before pasting your personal statement into the Common App.
Editing your Personal Statement
Many students wonder what the editing process for their personal statement for college, including the Common App essay and other personal essays for college, should look like. This varies by student and by essay. But, the best personal statements for a university go through at least several rounds of edits.
Firstly, once you have written the first draft of your personal statement for a university or personal essay for college, take a step back for a few hours or even for a day. Then, return with fresh eyes. Is your narrative well organized? Are there sections that seem unclear, ideas that don’t support your main point, or awkward sentences? You may want to reorder your paragraphs or sentences or delete and rework other elements. Revisit a personal statement example and consider how it is organized for comparison.
Making the cut
In short, don’t be afraid to cut sentences that don’t directly relate to the main focus of the essay or convey some important detail of the story. This will help clarify your narrative. Also, make sure that you have centered your writing around your own experiences—the story should reflect your perspective and insights.
Next, once you are confident that your personal statement is well organized and your main ideas are clear, do another round of detailed editing. Eliminate any typos or repetitive language; make sure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout.
Finally, ask a trusted adult to read your personal statement and provide feedback. Something that you thought was clear may not be to them. Also, ask them how engaging your personal statement is, and if there are sections that seem dry or unimportant. Ask whether your hook is effective, and review tips on how to start a personal statement if necessary. Sometimes feedback can be difficult to hear, but it helps to remember that even professional writers seek input from others. The goal is to create the best personal statement possible!
For more detailed advice on revising your personal statement, check out this CollegeAdvisor personal statement webinar, “ Revising the Personal Statement .”
How do I know when my personal statement is done?
There’s no definitive way to know when your personal statement for a university is done—you can keep editing most writing forever. However, as you revise and edit, you’ll notice that you have fewer things to fix with every new draft. Once you feel like there’s nothing major left to change, get feedback from someone you trust.
Your College Advisor expert can also provide valuable feedback and guidance at this point. If the notes and suggestions from others are also limited, you may be nearly ready to finalize your personal statement for college and press “submit.”
6 Tips for Writing a Great Personal Statement
1. be authentic.
Remember, admissions officers want to know about you —your personality, your interests, your goals. A great personal statement is personal . Your personal statement for a university needs to express your unique ideas and insights in your own voice. Nobody can tell your story better than you. So, choose a topic that interests you and let your energy and ideas shine through.
Being personal also means that you should share sensory details and your internal dialogue. What did you see or hear at a critical moment? What were you thinking or feeling during that pivotal conversation? The more personal details you share, the more interesting your personal statement will be.
2. Start early
This is one of the most important tips on how to write a personal statement. You can start brainstorming topics for your personal statement at any time during high school. Some students keep a notebook where they write down personal statement topics and ideas as they occur to them over time. They also begin reading other good personal statement examples and Common App essays for inspiration.
Regardless, a good plan is to solidify a draft of your personal statement for college the summer before your senior year. This will give you time to work on supplemental essays and other parts of your applications during the fall of your senior year.
3. Brainstorm before you write
Take some time to think and reflect deeply before you begin writing. Don’t feel like you need to jump into a full essay draft as soon as you complete your junior year. Do some writing exercises and brainstorming activities first, including reading other personal statement examples.
In each personal statement example you read, pay close attention to the personal statement introduction, the narrative arc, and the conclusion. Did the writer incorporate an effective technique for how to start a college essay? Why is the essay interesting? What does it tell you about the writer?
4. Tell a story
Keep in mind that well-told stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They also engage the reader and arrive at a clear message or point by the end. In short, the best personal statement examples follow a narrative arc.
Start with an interesting hook and use it as an introduction to a story from your life that addresses the given college essay prompt. Then, use the latter half of your personal statement or Common App essay to show why this story matters and how it reveals a key part of your identity. And always remember: show, don’t tell.
5. Avoid common mistakes
Steer clear of cliches in your writing—they do not help you stand out or demonstrate strong writing skills. Also, do not use your personal statement or Common App essay as an opportunity to rehash your activities or achievements. Remember, these are included in other parts of your application.
The best personal statement examples show admission officers something about the writer that is not reflected in other parts of the application. They describe first-hand experiences and provide specific examples to illustrate ideas.
6. Edit carefully
Once you’ve written your personal statement for college, look for anything that doesn’t feel right. Eliminate awkward phrasing, delete or replace repeated words and phrases, and work to streamline your language. You might delete entire drafts, and that’s okay! It’s a process, and all the work you do gets you closer to your best work. Also, make sure to ask a few others whom you trust to read your essay and provide suggestions for edits.
Bonus tip: Ask for help
A second set of eyes can make a huge difference. Ask an advisor (like our team at CollegeAdvisor.com), counselor, or parent to look over your work. Don’t let anyone write your sentences for you—instead, use their input to help your voice shine through.
For more great college essay tips on how to write a personal statement and college essays, check out this advice from college admission experts.
Personal Statement- Frequently Asked Questions
Where can i find a good personal statement example.
There are a variety of websites that offer good personal essay examples as models you can use to inspire you. A good place to begin is here , and there are also examples of personal statements in the next article of this series. As you read these examples, take note of the personal statement introduction, as well as how the writer focuses the essay on a specific topic or idea that reflects their personality.
Is it ever too late to change my personal statement?
While it is much better to begin writing your personal statement early, sometimes students decide later in the writing process that they want to rethink the personal statement topic they have chosen. If you find yourself in this position, you will find some helpful advice in this CommonApplicant.com personal statement webinar .
My parents didn’t go to college. How do I explain personal statements and how to write a personal statement to them?
CollegeAdvisor.com has created a special personal statement webinar just for parents. In this webinar, we describe personal statements, the specifics of how to write a great college essay, and other college admissions terms.
I’m a high school junior. What should I be doing now to prepare to write my personal statement and college essays?
First, congratulations on thinking ahead! You can begin by reading “ Common App Essay Overview for Juniors .” Then, your CollegeAdvisor admissions expert can help you begin brainstorming and planning for your college application essays. They can provide you with examples of common college essay prompts, as well as helpful college essay tips. Also, they can provide suggestions on how to start a personal statement and share other resources on how to write a great college essay.
How will college admission officers evaluate my personal statement and college application essay?
Admission officers are looking for personal stories that are well told. How closely each of your college application essays is read will vary depending both on the school and the other components of your application. However, as more schools become test-optional, admission officers say that college essays are becoming even more important in the admissions process. So, as you plan your essays keep in mind that admission officers want to learn about you —your experiences, thoughts, and goals. They also want to see that you have solid writing skills, so make sure that you closely edit your essays before you submit them.
If you would like to hear directly from an admission officer and learn more about how to write a great college essay, including specific advice on how to start a college essay, check out this “ 39 Essay Tips ” article.
How is the personal statement for a university different from the Common App essay and personal essay for college?
The Common App essay asks students to write a personal statement in response to one of seven provided prompts. All types of personal essays for college provide students with an opportunity to introduce themselves to college admission officers on their own terms. For a more detailed description of each of these types of essays, check out the first article in this series, “How to Write a Personal Statement.”
For answers to more frequently asked questions about personal statements for college and college essays, click here .
In the first part of this series discussing how to write a personal statement, we answered the questions “What is a personal statement?” and “How important is the personal statement?” In this second article of the series, we have covered the specifics of how to write a personal statement, including descriptions of the writing phases of the personal statement and personal essay for the college writing process. In the next article, we will examine personal statement examples and highlight key elements of each personal statement example.
Introducing 5 Personal Statement Examples
By this point, you’ve gone from asking, “What is a personal statement?” to knowing how to write a personal statement. Now, let’s look at some personal statement examples. Reading personal statement examples is great preparation for writing your own personal statement for college.
However, keep in mind that reading about how to write a personal statement is one thing–writing a personal statement is entirely different. By reading these personal statement examples and why they worked, you’ll have a better grasp of how to write a personal statement.
Each of these personal statement examples shows something that isn’t clear in the rest of the application. Top schools accepted all the writers of these personal statement examples. Our guide will walk you through each of these personal essay examples and discuss what makes them work. We hope by reading these, you can learn more about how to write a personal statement.
Personal Statement Example #1: Choosing a Great Topic
The first of our personal statement examples was written by a student who was accepted to Yale, Princeton, and other top schools. Their personal statement discusses the legacy of antisemitic violence in their family. While political and religious topics can be difficult, this student writes a fantastic college application essay about their topic.
Personal Essay Example #1
Across the ocean, there is war. Children mistaking rockets for fireworks, parents too protective—too careful—to correct them. Back home, there are phone calls. To family, to friends. In English, in Hebrew. “Are you safe?” I pray they live far from Jerusalem. Right here, in my room, there is turmoil. Furiously swiping through Instagram, I wonder who will betray me next. I wonder which friend will decide that their loosely related, offensive commentary belongs on their profile. Once the deed is done, I am quick to unfollow. To cut off perpetrators of what Jewish journalists call “the Social Media Pogrom”: when targeting the Jewish people online turns to real antisemitic violence (and a powerful reason to unfollow my friends). So I flee from my friends’ Instagram accounts. But only because my family fled from much worse. My grandfather found himself wearing a yellow star, living in a ghetto, and losing everything to the Nazis. One day, he ripped off the star and ran. Even though it meant never seeing his family again. He did not flee for a better life; he fled for any life. His son came to marry another refugee: my mother. Her story is a familiar one, shared by many in my hometown: escaping yet another antisemitic regime whose existence threatened her own, my mother fled Revolutionary Iran in 1979. Fortunately, she was reunited years later with all eight of her siblings, who had escaped in various other creative, illegal ways—“on camelback” being a personal favorite. To this day, she bears a scar on her eyelid from antisemitic violence back home. My family tree’s roots are settled in the soil of persecution. Swastikas have sawed away at its structure, and Revolutionary Guards have bent its branches. I know too well which winds will threaten the leaves: words wishing my people death, implicitly or explicitly. Calling on my cousins to evacuate their homes, for they are on the Jewish side of the land dispute. Denying the reality that no one deserves to be displaced. When I hear these words, see them on a screen, I sense a chillingly familiar breeze. Sometimes, the breeze blows away a few leaves: a rabbi is stabbed, a synagogue vandalized. Suddenly my friends, teetering on the edge of antisemitism with waves of painful posts, are no longer my friends. They are my enemies. But then I hear a little voice: “David, what on Earth are you doing?” And I remember that they are not. They are not Nazis or Revolutionary Guards. I should not shun them or cease to show them love. I cannot wallow in my rage or simply “unfollow”—not on Instagram, not in life. I soon return those beloved friends to my circle. I “follow” them once again. Because dialogue is my lifestyle. I ought to be recruiting my friends to Model Congress or engaging them in class. Welcoming the people around me to a world of positive, exciting, and purposeful discourse is the best I can do. It’s also who I am. My family passed down a sensitive radar for harmful rhetoric, but also gifted me with a powerful belief—a Jewish belief—in informed discussion and coexistence. Holding no hate in their hearts, my ancestors wore lenses of love that did not belong to their oppressors. Today, I wear those same lenses with pride. Once infuriating Instagram posts no longer cloud my vision. I’ve instead fallen in love with the precious diversity of thought that surrounds me and find myself most at home when I am immersed in political dialogue. I will face many “enemy” opinions, but I will not shut my eyes and cover my ears, give up a dear human connection, and miss out on a meaningful experience. I will approach individuals with humanity rather than animosity, acceptance rather than judgement, and love rather than hate. I will live by the lessons of my ancestors.
What did this Common App essay do well? Firstly, it covers a great topic. This student writes about their family’s experience with antisemitic violence and its legacy in their life today. When writing a personal statement for college, such sensitive personal statement topics can be challenging. In this case, the writer successfully centers their experiences and thoughts rather than on controversial events.
Moreover, they cut through political tension with a core reality rooted in empathy: “No one deserves to be displaced.” This is a great strategy if you’re wondering how to write a personal statement on a sensitive topic. All personal statement topics have an angle that makes them universally relatable. If your personal essay for college is missing something, try an empathetic approach.
Ask for help revising
Don’t forget to ask other people to revise your personal statement for university. What makes sense to you may not read well to others. Especially with sensitive topics, share your work with someone you can trust to give you feedback. If possible, also include a non-family member like a teacher or guidance counselor who knows how to write a personal statement.
This student connects their family’s troubles with their own worldview. Good personal statement examples offer a look at the author as a person. A strong topic lets you reflect on how your experiences have impacted your engagement with the world and other people. And as shown above, the writer chose a great topic –not necessarily a great college essay prompt. College essay prompts are wide-ranging , and good personal statement ideas can come from any of them. Indeed, whatever your prompt is, personal essay examples are ultimately about you .
Evocative language and imagery
With this in mind, look at how the writer’s attitude changes throughout their Common App essay. Good personal statement examples contain precise, evocative language and imagery. When you’re writing a personal statement, find the right words—not necessarily the longest ones—and sentence structures you need. This personal statement begins in a panic; the writer “furiously swiping” in the “turmoil” of their room, keenly attuned to betrayal from friends. These words and the short paragraphs bring each thought into sharp focus.
The writer’s passion for their subject shows through their language. Using structural repetition in “Wishing…. Calling…. Denying…” establishes a serious tone and keeps the personal statement fresh. In the latter half, words like “beloved,” “lenses of love,” and “precious diversity” signify a shift to a gentle, loving attitude. The best personal essay examples choose their words precisely. By choosing words carefully in combination with poetic and rhetorical devices, you can write a stellar personal statement for university.
Certainly, family histories can be great personal statement topics. Even so, suffering doesn’t automatically make a strong personal statement for university. If you know how to write a personal statement, even at first mundane personal statement ideas can become good personal statement examples.
Personal Statement Example #2: Finding a Great Hook
The second of our personal statement examples is by a student who was accepted to UC San Diego, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, and more. In their personal statement for college, this student uses their interest in Rubik’s cubes to frame other parts of their life.
Personal Statement Example #2
My life is as simple as a Rubik’s Cube: a child’s toy that can be solved in 20 moves or less IF and only if enough knowledge is gained. I received one on my 9th birthday and over the following months, I became obsessed with it. I rotated the rows aimlessly, hoping that eventually the cube would solve itself. I was naive about the complexity of the cube which led me to apply some research. I began looking up tutorials on YouTube about solving the toy and was in awe over the amount of work that had to be done. I forced myself to go step by step until I could arrange a single face, and my progress pushed me forward until I could solve 4 of the 6 faces of the cube. Every night for an hour I would randomize the colors again and work my way back to ⅔ of the cube being complete. Until this point, I lacked the confidence in my everyday life and had never aimed for a difficult goal, especially one without external motivation. However, what I love about solving the cube is that you can follow the steps perfectly and still run into a stalemate based on the arrangement of the squares. This forces you to randomize the cube again and start from step 1. All the hard work and time put into this object can be useless, but it is unavoidable no matter what you do. Multiple times I faced this dilemma of running into a wall, but instead of giving up, my will pushed me forward. I shed many tears over my failures to solve a child’s toy. I needed to push through these failures until I could learn how to arrange the last faces of the cube. And just like that, it was complete! The Rubik’s Cube was arranged correctly. However, I wanted to get faster. I was inspired by the greatest, the individuals who could solve cubes within 5 seconds, and mix up the cube once more. I tried over and over until the point of obsession where I could get the cube arranged in under a minute. Sometimes it is necessary to disarrange a completed face of the cube in order to achieve the end goal of every face being complete. The colors of a cube can be compared to my academics, my athletics, my art, my leadership, my hobbies, and my family life. Though it is a struggle to juggle all these tasks, it is the desire to expand in all these subjects that pushes me forward. I want to learn more and master subjects within my academics, improve my form and get faster within my athletics, grow my skills of digital design within art, become a stronger role model as a leader, volunteer more within my hobbies, and get closer to supporting my family. This mindset will continue to push me to expand my present knowledge and learn new concepts in order to complete my goals. 43,252,003,274,489,856,000: That is how many combinations there are for a single 3×3 Rubik’s cube, and there are probably even more combinations ahead of me in my journey through college and beyond. I have to struggle to learn how to solve my cube and put in the hard work in order to succeed at this game of life. Once I finish school and solve my cube for the first time, the game is not over. The next steps are to refine my work and ethics until I can get the process of solving my own cube down to 20 moves or less. My life goal is to carve a name for myself among the best and the brightest in the surgical field, yet there is always more knowledge to obtain which will drive me to continue growing.
Take a look at that hook! The classic personal statement format begins with a hook to draw the reader into a story, and this is no different. This personal statement introduction, “My life is as simple as a Rubik’s cube”, is bold, even seemingly contradictory, until you read the rest of the sentence. Either way, it makes you want to keep reading this personal statement example.
The worst thing a personal statement for a university can be is boring. A good hook starts your reader off on the right foot. While many personal statement examples begin in the middle of a story, making a bold claim is also common. If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement, start thinking about what opening sentence would grab your attention.
Like the first essay’s writer, this student also uses descriptive language to bring their Common App essay to life. They didn’t simply try the Rubik’s cube, but they “rotated the rows aimlessly”. Rather than saying they kept working on the cube, the writer shows us how they scrambled and resolved it every night. When writing a personal statement, do your own experiences justice with the right descriptive language .
Thinking about tone
You may notice the tone of this personal essay example is very different from the first– intensity isn’t everything! In fact, it’s a reflection of the different subject matter of these personal essay examples. When writing your personal statement, your tone should match what you are trying to say. In the same way that one word can make a sentence, another can totally break it.
From a vivid description of their childhood, the writer expands the scope of their Common App essay to other areas of their life. Good personal statement examples explore subjects that other parts of your application don’t. In this case, this student uses the Rubik’s cube to represent their varied activities and their aspirations for each. They also reflect on life lessons and personal traits: perseverance, ambition, and curiosity.
In other words, the writer creates parallels between their interest in Rubik’s cubes and their personal journey. In the same way that they obsess over speed-solving, the writer works to excel in other subjects. Furthermore, the writer shows us this instead of directly telling — a maneuver fundamental to all good personal statement examples. The writer makes a compelling case as not only an applicant but also as a future member of the campus community.
Notice the chronological structure this student uses for their Common App essay. Specifically, see how it follows the writer’s life from their first Rubik’s cube to the present day. This is a simple way to craft a strong Common App essay. Personal essay examples like this make it easy to reflect on your growth, which is crucial for any personal statement for college. Lastly, by ending with the 20 moves needed to solve a cube, the writer neatly ties up this personal statement example.
Personal Statement Example #3: The Value of a Great Ending
The third of our personal statement examples is by a student who got into the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Southern California. The writer talks about how being on the swim team helped them cultivate confidence.
Personal Essay Example #3
When I joined the high school swim team, I never expected to go to school dressed as Shrek. Yet as Freshman Friday approached, I learned it was team tradition for upperclassmen swimmers to dress freshmen teammates in ridiculous costumes. Against my will, my teammates splotched green paint on my face, styled my hair into pigtails covered in green paper, and stuffed a pillow under my sweatshirt. Attending my classes was mortifying. With every stare, I buried my head further into my textbook and shifted my hand to cover my green and now bright red face; with every chuckle, I sank deeper into my seat, attempting to hide my massive pillow stomach. The frown on my face felt like a permanent fixture, and after dealing with the humiliation for a class period, I was done. I yanked the pillow out of my sweatshirt and ripped the paper from my hair. The only hint of swamp ogre that remained was the green face paint. When confronted about my lack of Shrek-ness at the end of the day, I claimed I was overheating and that the paper had fallen apart. I lied. I was just embarrassed. I always knew I was shy — the “too-timid-to-signal-the-waiter” type of shy — but until Freshman Friday, I hadn’t realized the extent to which it affected the social and academic aspects of my life. Ever since I was young, my jaw would clench at the thought of humiliating myself by deviating from the norm and bringing attention to myself. I often closed myself off from friends by diverting conversations to trivial topics like gym class when they probed me about deeper subjects like my mental health. I even avoided participating in class by scouring Google for hours for physics help to circumvent admitting to my classmates that I was confused by asking questions. By hiding in the shadows to avoid embarrassment, I hindered my ability to cherish the humor in being Shrek, and, more broadly, my comfort in freely expressing myself. However, I loved swimming and wanted to make my high school team’s environment as wonderful for me as my love for the sport. I slowly started creeping out of my shell, meeting the team, and participating in more voluntary dress-up days. Freshman year, I wore a dragon onesie on pajama day; sophomore year, I wore a Hawaiian shirt, a lei, and sunscreen for tacky tourist day. Junior year, I wore my swimsuit over leggings, goggles, medals, pigtails with award ribbons, and a towel cape, finally surpassing the ridiculousness of the Shrek costume. For the first time, I finally felt confident enough to prance around the school, laughing about my costume with my classmates. I felt like a true part of my team, joking with teammates, taking pictures, and letting the whole school know that I swam. With each year and its dress-up days, I gradually felt more of the sense of community, team spirit, and fun that I had craved. Dressing up unleashed my confidence. This, in turn, made me happier and more involved in my school community. Most surprisingly, though, was how dressing up eventually better prepared me to enter engineering. Hispanic women are severely underrepresented in engineering, so I used to fear that I would be incapable of establishing a strong enough presence and earning my peers’ respect for my ideas. However, with every group discussion I initiated, every question I asked, and every club meeting I hosted, I saw myself making a place for my input and noticed that my teachers and peers actually valued it. I realized that I had found my voice and even enjoyed sharing my opinions. I’m now ready to take on the challenge of expressing my thoughts in a male-dominated field. In the meantime, I’m just looking forward to my swim team’s next dress-up day.
Like our last essay, this personal statement has an awesome hook. In fact, the writer drops us right into the action. This technique, known as in media res , is great for a Common App essay. You can immediately set the scene for your reader, then build context from there. Not only does the writer bring us right in, but they also expertly use language for tone. “Ridiculous,” “against my will,” and “splotched” all illustrate the writer’s opposition to what’s about to happen. This is an effective technique in personal statement examples.
Following the anecdote, the writer reflects on their intense shyness. They show self-awareness by recounting specific instances where fear got the better of them. Yet again, we can see the importance of showing rather than telling in a personal statement. Each sentence provides an example of how the writer’s shyness had a negative impact on their social and academic success. Thus, we see the true conflict in this personal statement isn’t the costume, but the writer overcoming their lifelong shyness.
Personal growth and development
Ask anyone how to write a personal statement and they’ll tell you about growth. When writing a personal statement for university, demonstrating personal growth and an ability to reflect on it is key. Across college essay prompts, you should explore how your experiences have shaped or changed you. Being able to indicate specific causes and effects is part of all good personal statement examples.
From there, the writer clearly illustrates their journey from insecurity to confidence. They show us the ways that their shyness manifested before. Then, the writer shows us the increasingly ridiculous costumes they wore. Of course, the language changes, too—the writer goes from “creeping” to “prancing”! Yet another example of how small changes to wording can have a huge impact on your personal statement for college.
Finally, the writer provides a sound conclusion. They mention the numerous benefits of their newfound confidence and, more importantly, look forward. In the final paragraph, the writer takes the lessons they’ve learned and discusses how they will use them to accomplish their goals. Like both of the personal essay examples we’ve already seen, the writer closes by talking about the doors they want to open.
Circling back to your hook
We saw the effectiveness of linking the hook and closing paragraph in previous personal statement examples. Similarly, this personal statement example ends with the idea of dress-up day once again. This kind of personal statement format helps bring everything full circle. In learning about how to write a personal statement, the conclusion is one of the most important parts. Especially in chronologically structured personal statements, closing the loop in this way makes your personal statement feel complete .
The best personal statement examples have a well-written conclusion. Taking your personal statement ideas and addressing them neatly in the conclusion is important. Whether you explain particular future goals or simply affirm your personal values, you should have a future-facing closer. Colleges want to know not only how you’ve grown, but also how you will bring that growth to campus.
Personal Statement Example #4: Why This Essay Worked
Fourth on our list of personal statement examples is by a writer who applied to performing arts programs. This student wrote about their love for the performing arts and their heritage. They were accepted to schools like NYU Tisch, Point Park, and Roosevelt University. Look for the college essay tips we already mentioned in the personal statement below.
Common App Essay Example #4
At six years old, most kids I know get excited to help Blue find clues or recite Elmo’s songs on Sesame Street. So you can imagine my family’s surprise when they saw me ignoring the other kids to go belt alongside my grandfather’s mariachi trio in the backyard. Growing up, I had always loved performing for people. But my passion for performing in front of a packed house never compared to performing for my favorite audience: my great grandmother. From age seven to twelve, my dad would take our family on a three-hour road trip to visit my great grandmother’s nursing home every single weekend. I remember the clean, antiseptic smell, and the beeping of her oxygen concentrator as I perched myself next to her bed and sang all types of songs from romantic boleros to earwormy Disney tunes. Even as she began failing to recognize her loved ones due to her worsening Alzheimer’s, she would always remember me, her “palomita blanca,” or white dove. But as I got older, singing what once were innocent songs, like “Edelweiss” or “Almost There,” started to make me feel like an imposter. I knew I belonged on stage, but I never saw any Mexican representation in any of my favorite musicals and animated cartoons. By seventh grade, I was plucking away at my full eyebrows for community theatre the night before auditions because I was told it would give me a better chance at landing a lead role. When my great grandmother passed away, I had lost the person who constantly reminded me how powerful staying true to your identity is. Without her, I questioned whether I had a chance at pursuing the thing that lights my soul aflame. But I stuck through the late nights, sprained ankles, and endless sweating under stage lights, because I loved theatre more than anything else in the world. In my freshman year, I joined the Conservatory of the Arts program for dance and drama at my high school. After my first show, I remember feeling so comforted by the fact that I finally felt that I belonged in the theatre kid community. In sophomore year, I finally got my first lead role as Gertrude in my high school’s production of Seussical. At last! All of my hard work had paid off and I was going to be a lead after six years of ensembles. I was so excited to get the chance to show myself and the world that my identity was my power. I didn’t want to be any old Gertrude. I’d stay up until 2 a.m. on weekends coming up with ways to make her more memorable. Inspired by Juan Gabriel’s emotional ballads, I added vocal cry to Gertrude’s solos to better portray her insecurities. Instead of sticking to just belting in “All For You,” I sang runs similar to the high energy mariachi songs I grew up with to show off my character’s passion and newfound confidence. But in March 2020, the world stopped, and the show couldn’t go on. Distanced learning made the performing arts programs nowhere near as fun or educational as they used to be. Still though, as president of the drama program in 2021, I am determined to rebuild a community that was torn apart by a worldwide pandemic. I want to be the mentor I never had. My confidence in my identity has been an important tool in teaching others that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes progress. I work hard encouraging others not to be afraid to show the world what they have. Musical theatre is an art that thrives with innovation, so I’d like to bring the creative spice which my culture has enriched me with to the world’s stage. Maybe someday I can be that actress on stage or TV that’ll get a little Latina girl enthralled by the arts.
In this personal essay example, the writer uses vivid storytelling to show how they became the person they are today. Firstly, the hook tells us how the writer values both performance and her family. This light, fun personal statement introduction quickly goes for the heartstrings by introducing the writer’s great-grandmother. Personal statement examples sometimes avoid talking about family, because it’s easy to lose focus on the writer. But this writer never loses sight of their own memories, emotions, and experiences.
Equally important, those experiences are well-illustrated with rich imagery that clearly conveys the writer’s passion for their topic. Details like the smell and sound of the nursing home bring us into the moment. The writer also provides some examples of what they endured in theatre: “late nights” and “sprained ankles.” Use concrete images to get your personal statement ideas across with impact .
Also, the writer makes a point to explore the intersections of their Hispanic heritage and their passion for theatre. Particularly, the writer discusses their difficulty in putting them together, as shown by plucking their eyebrows. By establishing this conflict in the middle of her personal statement, the writer indicates their awareness of the wider world and their place in it. Many good personal statement examples will create context like this, showing the author thinking beyond themselves.
Show commitment to your topic
Broadly, the writer discusses their twin passions with powerful language and imagery. Exhibiting genuine enthusiasm for your personal statement topics is key. This personal statement shows that the writer has always been moved by their family and by the arts. Their triumph in combining the two feels huge precisely because we understand how much each of these things mean to them. Even if your personal statement topics aren’t as deep-seeded as this writer’s, you should show commitment to what you’re writing about.
If you’re reading this, COVID probably disrupted your school life at some point, as it did for this student. However, be careful not to linger on it more than necessary. This writer doesn’t completely gloss over the pandemic, but they keep their own journey at the center of the personal statement. The writer’s experience with distanced learning propelled them forward. Ideally, your personal statement for the university should keep a tight focus on you. The narrative personal statement format should show not only your experiences but also what you’ve learned from them.
Personal Statement Example #5: Pulling It All Together
The fifth and last of our personal statement examples is by another student who got into several top schools. They write about their participation and leadership at a club event. Keep an eye out for all the tips we’ve mentioned, from a good hook to showing-not-telling.
Personal Statement #5
One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Hannah, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Hannah enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels. Cold bagels were not the only thing weighing heavily on my mind that morning. As I walked from classroom to classroom helping set up committees, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Our conference wasn’t going to be like those of the private schools- there were no engraved pens or stylish water bottles. Instead, people got post-it notes and whatever pens we could steal from the supply closet. Forcing myself to stop worrying, I chose instead to think of why we made that choice. Since most of the food was donated, and all of the supplies had been “borrowed” from the supply closet, we could afford to charge only a nominal fee to everyone attending. Making Model UN accessible was one of my top priorities as Secretary-General; the same desire motivated me to begin including middle school students in the club. I hurried back down to the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that all the bagels looked warm and ready to eat. The bagels would not be the sole crisis that day. As debates were about to start, one of the Chairs sent me a panic stricken text: “We only have 5 people in our committee! We can’t reenact the creation of the Treaty of Versailles!” I hurried to where his debate was taking place, and sure enough, only five people were there. I quickly considered my options- cancel the committee? Convince some delegates to switch into this debate through bagel bribery? Or maybe, come up with a completely new topic? I settled on idea number three. But what topic could a committee of only five people spend a day discussing? I mulled it over until an idea began to form. I explained to the room, “Each one of you will represent one of the five major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The chair will guide you as you tweet, make campaign videos, and debate the most important political issues.” I spent a few minutes figuring out how to go about moderating such an unconventional committee, before heading off to check in on the other debates. As I walked from committee to committee, fixing problems and helping move debates along, I felt a sense of pride. I had spent months working on this conference, along with the other members of my team. At times, I worried I could never pull it off. A part of me had wished our faculty advisor would just organize the whole thing for us. After all, I’m just a high schooler, how could I put together such a big event? But as the day went by, I realized that with the help of my peers, I had done it. All the little crises that cropped up weren’t because I was doing a bad job; they were inevitable. The fact that I could find solutions to such a wide variety of problems was a testament to my leadership skills, and my level-headedness. I didn’t just feel like a leader—I felt like an adult. As I look towards my future in college and later the workforce, I know that I can succeed, even if my obstacles seem as insurmountable as a mountain of frozen bagels.
This writer has a great example of how to start a college essay. Their strong hook makes us curious – why are there so many? What’s going on, and can the writer fix it? The essay’s tone is clear from the outset, and we’re drawn in by the conflict. Moreover, the writer establishes themselves as a leader and problem-solver.
Like a short story character, this writer encounters various obstacles. Throughout this personal statement, the writer shows off their resourcefulness, leadership skills, and quick thinking. While other people are in this personal statement example, the focus never wavers from the writer’s thoughts and actions. Additionally, the writer details the thought process behind each of their solutions.
As we’ve mentioned, a good personal statement for a university shows information, rather than telling it. This writer walks through various aspects of the conference in the second paragraph, then explains their reasoning. Instead of just saying they wanted to make the conference accessible, the writer shows us how they made it possible by organizing food donations and only charging a small fee. This Common App essay shows us what the writer is like through actions as well as words.
A narrative of learning and growth
As with our other personal statement examples, the writer wraps up with a strong conclusion that recalls the hook. They recount their personal growth throughout this process. In addition, the writer elaborates on the lessons they have taken from this experience. As shown above, introspection on personal growth and values is part of any good personal essay for college. This Common App essay makes a solid case for its writer as a future student and community member.
In sum, this writer takes a seemingly insignificant anecdote and uses it to reveal something critical about their experiences. By highlighting particular, telling moments, the writer shows us their personality and capability. What’s more, by using engaging language and a clear structure, the writer makes a lasting impact on the reader. For these reasons, this is a superb example of a personal statement for college.
CollegeAdvisor Resources on Writing a Great Personal Statement
By now, you’ve seen several personal statement examples and confidently say you know how to write a personal statement. But maybe you feel you need a little more information. A good personal statement for college starts with early preparation. Getting a head start on writing your personal essay for college is a great idea.
We at CollegeAdvisor have no shortage of guides on how to write a personal statement. We’ve got quick college essay tips from our admissions experts . If you have some more time, here are some frequently asked questions answered by an Admissions Officer. If you’re more of a watcher than a reader, check out a personal statement webinar from CollegeAdvisor.
How to Write a Personal Statement: Final Thoughts
You made it to the end! Now you know how to write a great college essay. Let’s briefly recap what we covered in this “How to Write a Personal Statement” guide.
Firstly, we answered the question, “What is a personal statement?” We outlined the expected length, personal statement format, and how important they are in the application process. Then, we explored some of the most common and effective personal statement topics.
Next, we looked at how to write a personal statement. We gave advice and tips on drafting, editing, and finalizing your personal essay for college. Specifically, we talked about the value of strong hooks, your unique voice, and editing.
Finally, we reviewed five personal statement examples and discussed what made them work. Each of our personal essay examples had effective language, structure, and other techniques that may inspire your writing.
Still a little stuck on how to write a personal statement for college? Aside from college essay tips and personal statement webinars, CollegeAdvisor also offers one-on-one support. We have hundreds of Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers available to support you. Our Admissions Experts can work with you to help you craft a college application essay that highlights your potential.
This guide was written by Sarah Kaminski , Lori Dunlap , and Gina Goosby . No matter what stage you are at in your college search, CollegeAdvisor.com is here to help. We’ve created a wide range of guides, to help you navigate the college admissions process from building your school list all the way to packing for your freshman fall. For more specialized guidance on writing a personal statement, click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.
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What is a Personal Statement? Essential Guide
If you were about to invite a couple thousand strangers to live at your house for 4+ years, you’d probably want to get a sense of who was going to show up at your door.
Colleges are thinking the same thing.
One of the primary ways they do so is through your personal statement. A personal statement is an essay used as one major component of the application process by many colleges and universities, especially highly selective schools. It can vary in length, but most personal statements (written for the Common App or Coalition) will tend to be close to 650 words, and will help a reader get a sense, among other things, of who you are and what you value.
What is a Personal Statement?
Note: The below are shorter, more general versions of their longer, more in-depth articles.
At CEG, we generally define a personal statement (for the college application process—there are personal statements for other kinds of applications, such as scholarships) as an essay that helps a school understand the values, skills, interests, and qualities you bring to that campus and community. Schools use it to get a feel for who you are and, in some ways, how you and the school fit together.
Other components of the application—your transcript, test scores, recommendations, activities list, etc.—give them a sense of your academic merit and focus. And while it’s good if the personal statement dovetails with those things (if you’ve taken a ton of classes focused on STEM, interned at a lab, and have a rec letter from your chem teacher, and then you write an essay about wanting to be a fine arts major, that may cause some confusion, if not raise red flags), the personal statement’s goal isn’t simply to show your academic interests and accomplishments. Instead, its purpose is to help them get a feel for the human being behind those things—the moments, experiences, and insights that have shaped you.
To give you a more visceral sense of it: years and years (and years) ago, I worked in a summer teaching program, and one summer, there happened to be nine students named Paul Kim. They each had similar grades, test scores, interests, activities… on paper, they might have seemed like the same person. But they weren’t. You knew this after spending just a few minutes with them.
But the only way colleges were really going to know that was through their essays.
Before we dive into what you should include in your personal statement, a few more things this essay isn’t:
It’s not a typical 5 paragraph English class essay, with Intro/Argumentative Thesis/3 Body Paragraphs/Conclusion Kinda Like The Intro.
It’s not a resume.
It’s not simply a journal entry (*though some structural approaches can share similarities with one).
It’s not an academic essay, especially not one in which you avoid the word “I”.
What to Include in Your Personal Statement?
“Show who you are” might feel a bit nebulous. So here’s a clearer way to approach it: We think the easiest way to demonstrate who you are is through showing what you value—through moments, stories, and experiences that shaped those values in you, and that demonstrate how you have embodied those values. To find some clarity regarding your values, spend 5-10 minutes working through our Values Exercise .
Do you have to include academic and career goals in your personal statement? Nope. You definitely can, if you’re clear on what those are. But you aren’t required to—colleges understand that you may not know yet. For many schools, you’ll also have an opportunity to discuss academic and career aspirations in a Why Us or Why Major supplement.
In our experience, great personal statements for college undergraduate admission demonstrate (at least) these four qualities:
Core Values —We’re risking repetition here because we think demonstrating your values is pretty fundamental.
Insight/reflection —As in, have you worked on thinking about why these moments/experiences are important to you? Have you developed the ability to reflect?
Vulnerability —Does your essay offer moments that allow us readers to feel closer to you? Is your heart coming through?
Craft —Does your essay show that you’re ready to write in college?
Writing Your Personal Statement
If you want a step-by-step guide , from brainstorming to refining, head to that link.
I’ll cover the quick version here.
We think there are two basic structural approaches that can work for anyone (as in, literally every person could use one of these, and still write completely different, compelling essays).
Montage Structure —a series of experiences and insights, connected by a thematic thread. For example, 5 different “homes” that explore 5 different sides of you.
Narrative Structure —classic western story structure, focusing roughly equally on a) Challenges You Faced, b) What You Did About Them, and c) What You Learned. Paragraphs and events are connected causally.
If you didn’t do the Values Exercise above, do so—this will be the foundation for what you write.
A few other brainstorming we’ve found super helpful for students:
Essence Objects Exercise
21 Details Exercise
Everything I Want Colleges To Know About Me Exercise
Feelings and Needs Exercise (usually for Narrative)
Outlining well can save you a lot of time by giving you a clearer picture of whether or not an essay will probably work, and give you an easier time building your early draft.
For a montage, you’ll want to outline how different instances of your thematic thread (like “homes”) connect to different values through different experiences in your life.
For a narrative, you’ll want to outline the three aspects we mentioned above:
a) Challenges You Faced
b) What You Did About Them
c) What You Learned.
Once you’ve outlined the elements above, dive into drafting. And we’d highly recommend, if at all possible, going through multiple drafts. Most if not all of the example essays on our site went through 5+ drafts.
Knowing that you’ll be revising multiple times also makes writing your first draft easier—your goal here is to get it down, not get it “right” on your first shot. That mindset tends to help with anxiety and writer’s block.
One of the best general tips we can give you as you revise is to read your essay out loud to yourself. And try to read from a total stranger’s perspective.
Reading out loud will help you notice problems you may have missed when reading it in your mind. And reading from a stranger’s perspective will help ensure you aren’t relying on things in your brain that need to be on the page (but aren’t).
If you want to revise your beginning , here are 9 possible techniques.
Endings? Here are 10 different approaches .
This guide to Revising Your Essay in 5 Steps will help you strengthen the clarity and flow of your essay. As will this post on building better transitions .
You might also try reading your essay to a trusted family member, teacher, or friend. They might be able to give you some constructive feedback to make your piece more relatable or accessible for other people.
If you want to explore any of the above in much greater detail, check out our Ultimate Guide for writing your personal statement.
Personal Statement Examples
I’ve always been a hardcore dragon enthusiast; there are so many types of dragons, each of them with powerful mythologies. But there are certain ones I am constantly drawn to because I recognize them in parts of myself. Quetzalcoatl– The Aztec God of Creation. According to the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl created the human race from nothing but bones. Although I’ve never built my own Frankenstein’s Monster, I have built robots. I’m addicted to creating decision matrices, and to the thrill of seeing each bot work, knowing I’ve assembled everything correctly. I’ve also traveled with my school to build houses for the homeless of Tecate, Mexico. It was my first time using a hammer–I got hooked on the weight of it in my hand, and the ache in my arm afterward, knowing that I had built someone a home. Though I took great pride in it, I saw firsthand the limits of human labor. One house per week is simply not enough; I realized that, to help the most people, logic-based technology, like what I was using in robotics, could improve upon what humans can do. Efficiencies like this are what drive my desire to be an engineer. Kulshedra– The Albanian dragon of the Apocalypse Like this dragon, I too, am always tripping over myself. Although I don’t have a tail, I’m always breaking things: my Nintendo 3Ds, my laptop, my phone. I break myself sometimes too: my self-esteem, my confidence. Being clumsy is rough, especially when you’re clumsy in more ways than one. Thankfully, my knack for building things also applies quite well to fixing them. I’ve learned to repair electronics, and to forgive myself and get back up when I trip. Perhaps I’m not quite the catalyst for the end of the world, but the chaos that I embody has taught me that you can’t prevent or prepare for everything. I’ve learned to go with the flow, and how to cope and recover when it doesn’t move in my favor. Fuzanglong– The Chinese Volcano Maker I live in a world of fire. Although I can’t quite light candles with my breath, I can light them with a match, and that’s exactly what I do on my favorite holiday: Diwali. The popping of firecrackers mixing with the laughter of my brother and cousins is my favorite sound in the whole world. I was raised in a Hindu household, and we like things hot . I can eat a chili whole, and nothing is better than a plate of steaming biryani fogging up my glasses and burning my tongue. We speak rapid-fire Hindi at home, and it’s louder than any volcanic eruption. The culture I have grown up in has taught me to keep my family, blood-related or not, close to my heart. So while I can’t exhale fire, I never have to look far to find a flame. Ryūjin– The Japanese God of the Sea I used to fear the ocean. I was afraid of being pulled under a wave, so I rarely left the edge of the sand. It took time, but I’ve found the confidence to splash far into the water, where the ground sinks away. When I decided to create my own video game, it took many tries to get it right. But I knew from the waves that there are two types of courage in the world: the courage to start something, and the courage to start over. I’ve learned that the latter is harder to find than the former, and though it might be unpleasant, it’s better than getting swept out to sea. The dragons within me are powerful, fierce, and independent, but also gentle, helping, and kind. They remind me that I’m capable, that I have the power to take something and change it. They teach me how to be the absolute best I can be, and they push me to claw my own path to triumph. — — —
This essay offers a nice illustration of how a thematic thread can be used to build a montage of otherwise seemingly disconnected facets of who you are. And while it can be totally fine to use more common threads/themes (we’ve seen many “Food” montages, for example), finding something less common like “Dragons” can make it easier to stand out.
This structural approach helps the author accomplish one of the primary goals of a personal statement: Each paragraph gives us new insight through specific moments, experiences, and reflections into who the author is and what they value—engineer, humanitarian, tinkerer, etc—and we gain some understanding into their sense of cultural identity and values, intellectual interests, and career focus.
The author uses a nice, clear opening and ending. Rather than relying too heavily on a hook, the author uses some phrasing that can intrigue the reader (What does it mean to be a “hardcore dragon enthusiast”? Where are you heading with this?) then clearly sets up the direction of the body (different dragons = different parts of me), and allows the body itself to do the heavy lifting regarding audience interest. The conclusion is effective while concise, connecting to the values and qualities the author has illustrated in the body.
The different body paragraphs do a nice job of helping us understand who’s going to show up at our college’s door (Linked to that—as you read through the next sample essay, notice how different the two students feel to you, and how that stems from the different experiences and reflections they offer). The dragons themselves are intriguing, and show depth of exploration (I had no idea some of these existed, and it’s fun to learn about them). But far more importantly, the paragraphs highlight different values through different pursuits and experiences. And the author does a nice job offering both moments of vulnerability (for example, “Like this dragon, I too, am always tripping over myself. Although I don’t have a tail, I’m always breaking things: my Nintendo 3Ds, my laptop, my phone. I break myself sometimes too: my self-esteem, my confidence. Being clumsy is rough, especially when you’re clumsy in more ways than one.”) and insight/reflection (such as “But I knew from the waves that there are two types of courage in the world: the courage to start something, and the courage to start over. I’ve learned that the latter is harder to find than the former, and though it might be unpleasant, it’s better than getting swept out to sea.”).
“Salasha!” My parents called from upstairs. My grandfather named me: ‘Sa’ for Saraswathi, ‘La’ for Lakshmi, and ‘Sha’ for Shakthi, the Hindu goddesses of knowledge, prosperity, and power respectively. This meaning behind my name created the central mantra of my life: knowledge provides the power to become prosperous. Little did I know that answering my parents’ call to come upstairs would lead me to discover that the father I admired and loved was not my biological father. This knowledge rendered an indomitable feeling of powerlessness in me. It didn’t make any sense. But it did, all the same. All those vague memories of being present at my parents’ wedding, those times where I was denied access to the old photo albums--the pieces seemed to now come together. My first barrier of defense was to falsely claim that I somehow knew it all along. I was determined to be strong in front of my parents, to nonchalantly brush this off as a part of the past. I may have tried to fool my parents, but I wasn’t fooling myself. My brother was now my half-brother, my grandmother was suddenly my step-grandmother, and so on for my “father’s” entire family. I was devastated and no longer recognized myself. Who was I? Where did I come from? Why do I deserve this? These questions plagued me for the next few years. So, I immersed myself in fictional tales. I found synergy in the estranged child genius Artemis Fowl and the passionate fight for minor emancipation in My Sister’s Keeper . I discovered a quiet, strong power in books that empowered me with all the knowledge I thought I needed to take care of myself. Nevertheless, a part of me knew that closing myself off from real human connection was only a coping mechanism to ‘protect’ myself from insecurity and distrust. While I was creating my own fictional solitary version of a family, I was also beginning life in a brand new school. Looking up from books one day I found myself in an assembly run by an overly energetic yet welcoming group of people known as Leadership. With cheers reverberating in my ears that night, I accepted what I had been brushing under the carpet for so long--I genuinely missed being a part of something larger than myself. Leadership showed me a model of family that I wanted to participate in: honesty and assertive communication. Leadership has taught me confidence, but also how to find power in vulnerability. I slowly regained my ability to trust other people, which in turn led to bursting out of my self-imposed bubble, including my current position as Senior Class Vice President. Though I still engage in solitary acts, I now discern a clear line between being alone and being lonely. I go to concerts alone, but I see it as a connective experience. In a room full of strangers, we are all bonded by sharing the same joy. Learning to share my solitude with others felt like inhaling petrichor: the smell of the earth after rain, when everything is completely cleansed. I learned also to connect with my family again. Intentionally distancing myself didn’t do anyone any good, including me. Ironically, a whole journey that started with a betrayal of trust has made me more trusting. And so I carry my name sometimes as a blessing and sometimes as a burden. I take strength from those goddesses, and have been able to gain an inkling of their wisdom. I may not have the power to rewrite my past, but I do have the power to control how I navigate the future and the ability to feel connections with people that I have yet to meet. This to me is the very essence of prosperity. — — —
We wanted to offer this example because, among other things, it does a nice job of demonstrating narrative structure—roughly even parts of a) Challenge + Effects b) What I Did About It and c) What I Learned.
Because it’s particularly important, we want to emphasize that only about a third of a narrative should generally focus on the challenge and its impact on you—again, one of the primary purposes of a personal statement is to show us who you are, and we learn that far more from what you’ve done about and learned from challenges in your life than we do from the challenges themselves.
There are other elements of this essay’s structure that are great to emulate:
Its intro does a nice job of hooking us in (with a moment of suspense), then clearly setting up the conflict that drives the narrative forward. While not every narrative has to do this in the first paragraph, your readers will generally thank you for that kind of clarity.
Its body offers clear actions in response to the challenge that demonstrate increasing growth (from reading, but then recognizing that as avoidance, to branching out and connecting with her school/community).
And its ending offers some final insight/reflection while giving us a feeling of closure.
Content and structure go hand and hand here with those three components of narrative. That structural arc allows you to demonstrate how you have grown and changed through your experiences, why they matter to you, and why you feel these are fundamental to a reader’s understanding who you are. Notice that most of the essay focuses on what she did in response to the initial experience, with increasing growth and maturity, and what she learned through those choices.
The author offers nice, specific details that help us to understand her story (for example, “I found synergy in the estranged child genius Artemis Fowl and the passionate fight for minor emancipation in My Sister’s Keeper . I discovered a quiet, strong power in books that empowered me with all the knowledge I thought I needed to take care of myself.” instead of just “reading helped me cope.”). There are moments of vulnerability that make us feel closer to her (such as acknowledging “I may have tried to fool my parents, but I wasn’t fooling myself”, or even the entire idea of sharing such a destabilizing experience.) And one of the strongest aspects of the essay is the reflection the author includes (Like “Nevertheless, a part of me knew that closing myself off from real human connection was only a coping mechanism to ‘protect’ myself from insecurity and distrust.” or “Learning to share my solitude with others felt like inhaling petrichor: the smell of the earth after rain, when everything is completely cleansed.” or several others).
Special thanks to Andy for contributing to this post.
Andrew has worked as an educator, consultant, and curriculum writer for the past 15 years, and earned degrees from Stanford in Political Science and Drama. He feels most at home on mountain tops and in oceans.
Top Values: Insight/Growth | Truth | Integrity