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How to Write a Great Personal Statement

6 Min Read
November 07, 2022

personal statement

First of all, what is a personal statement?

For students who are preparing for their applications to undergraduate and graduate schools, summer time is a busy period when they are narrowing down their target schools and putting together their application packages. One of the most important component in a college application package is your personal statement. Personal statement, or also called Statement of Purpose, is an article written by the college applicant where he/she talks about his/her background, motivation in pursuing a particular degree, and also what he/she plans to do with the degree upon his/her graduation from the program. Another way to look at Personal Statement is to view it as a 2-page opportunity for an applicant to persuade the college admission committee why he/she is the perfect candidate for the department he/she is applying to. Personal Statement is such an important piece of the college application package and it carries a lot of weight in the college admission process. In this short article, we are discussing Personal Statement that is of a format normally required for UK undergraduate and US graduate school applications. US undergraduate applications may require an application essay with a different format and content. Here are some important tips to help you write a great Personal Statement.

  1. You have to write a UNIQUE Personal Statement

The reason why this advice is at the top of this list and why the word UNIQUE is in capital letters is because of the number of Personal Statements that an admission committee have to read through. Competitive universities and programs receive thousands of applications each year. The sheer number of applications forces the admission committee to make a quick judgment on the applicants. There have been some articles written describing that an admission committee may spend time as short as less than 30 seconds for reading Personal Statements. That is a very short window of opportunity to impress the admission committee! Think about the most unique project that you have done or the most unique extracurricular activity that you have joined. How about the most unique accomplishment that you have made? What's the most unique thing about you? You are presenting yourself to an admission committee that read thousands of Personal Statements and you only have less than 30 seconds. Therefore, you have to mention why you are unique in the beginning part of your Personal Statement and make sure that attribute sets you apart from the other applicants. Make sure your Personal Statement is memorable to the reader. Get as many friends as you can to read your Personal Statement and ask them to describe it in three words. If those three words are the unique attributes you would like to highlight to the admission committee, then you have a great Personal Statement right there!

  1. Go straight to the points

Point number two here is still related to the fact that an applicant only has a very narrow window of opportunity to impress the admission committee. The most common mistake that many applicants make when it comes to Personal Statement is to write a long-winded story about themselves and spread themselves too thin by pointing out too many achievements. With only two pages allowed, it is a wiser strategy to write a Personal Statement that goes straight to the points. Right off the bat, talk about your best accomplishments. We suggest focusing on not more than four of your best accomplishments, with the first three accomplishments mentioned in the first two paragraphs, and the whole story leading up to your greatest and most recent one in the second page of the Personal Statement. The idea here is to get the reader engaged within the first 30 seconds by flashing your three accomplishments and build the suspense which will eventually lead up to the climax; your greatest and most recent accomplishment. By going straight to the three major accomplishments in the beginning part of the Personal Statement, you make sure that you intrigue the reader and keep him/her wanting to know more about you.

  1. In your Personal Statement, YOU are the main character in the story

Use the power of words to invoke positive feelings in the readers' minds as they read your Personal Statement. As mentioned in tips #2 above, flash three of your great accomplishments in the beginning of the article and then build some story leading up to the climax; your greatest accomplishment. Share about how you got the insight (e. g. your “Eureka” moment) that led you to achieving your greatest accomplishment. You can also share about the main result of that accomplishment (e.g. “I created a solar cell with 15% efficiency, which was the world record at that time”). Show your human emotion in your words and make the readers feel they are there celebrating your greatest accomplishment with you. Many people tend to downplay their abilities and accomplishments. We tend to compare ourselves to others and oftentimes, our insecurity tells us that what we have accomplished is not big enough. The reality is, your accomplishment is great and worth sharing with the world. If you overcome your insecurity and learn some presentation (e. g. persuasive writing) skills, you can convince other people that your accomplishment is something beyond ordinary.

4.Learn and get inspirations from others

One piece of advice in writing a persuasive story for your Personal Statement is to read some sample Personal Statements of past applications who got accepted to top universities in your major of study. Google this and you will be able to find some great Personal Statement where you can get a lot of ideas. Read as many as you can find and study how each of these Personal Statements deliver their “punch line”. You will find yourself in awe after reading some of these great Personal Statements. Learn the writing styles of these articles, mix them with your personalities, and start writing your own.

In conclusion

There you have them! Those are some tips to help you compose a great Personal Statement. As mentioned in tip #3, read as many Personal Statements as possible, especially those that landed the applicants offers from multiple top universities. You can get a bunch of great ideas from these sources. Focus LESS on what you aspire to do in the future and focus MORE on what you have accomplished in the past. Having a big dream is easy – it is only words and promises. However, by sharing what you actually have accomplished, you show that you have big dreams and you achieved them! As a closing note, try to get as many friends as possible to read your draft and critique it for you. When the whole article already seems to be so perfect in your eyes, give it to your friends and ask for their opinions. Often, they will be able to give you insights that you are oblivious to. Iterate, get inputs, read others' Personal Statement to get ideas, and repeat to perfection. The end result is your very own great Personal Statement.