Essay Examples 20 Personal Statement Examples That Stand Out + Why They Work

Essay Examples: Writing Your Personal Statement Essay

This is your ultimate list of Personal Statement examples.

In this post, you'll learn:

  • What makes a successful Personal Statement
  • How to write an irresistible Personal Statement
  • Ivy League personal essay examples

If you're looking to read and write Personal Statement essays, you've found the right place.

Ryan

In this post, I'm going to share everything you need to go from zero to having a Personal Statement essay you can be proud of.

This guide will help you get started writing an engaging Personal Statement essay. Or if you already have one, how to make it even better.

What is a Personal Statement Essay?

A personal statement, also called a statement of purpose (SOP) or personal essay, is a piece of creative, personal writing.

The purpose of your personal statement is to express yourself and your ideas. Personal statements usually aren't piece of formal writing, but still should be thoughtful and planned out.

Many applications for colleges, graduate schools, and scholarships require you to write a personal statement.

How to Write a Personal Statement Essay

While there are no rules or guidelines for writing a personal statement, the best ones often have these in common:

Have Strong Ideas:

Having compelling and interesting ideas shows you are a strong thinker.

It isn't necessarily about having all the answers, but asking the right questions.

For personal statement essays, the quality of your ideas matters more than your writing level. Writing interestingly is more important than writing beautifully.

I’ve stopped tripping over my own feet, and it’s led to me not being afraid to connect and interact with patients and customers or present in front of large crowds. Life is just one long Carioca – you might stumble at first, but if you keep pushing, the right feet will find themselves in the right place. From an accepted essay to UNC at Chapel Hill →

Be Authentic

Writing authentic essays means writing from the heart.

The best personal statements tend to come naturally, because the writer is excited about the topic.

Choose an idea that makes you feel excited to write about and start writing.

As you begin drafting, ideas will naturally arise related to your original idea. Exploring these tangential ideas is what leads to even better reflections for your essay.

That's why it's so important to be genuinely passionate about your subject. You can't just have an interest "in the topic," but there has to be something deeper you're writing about that moves you.

Use Narratives and Story-Telling:

Humans are naturally drawn to stories.

And often the best insights and ideas come from real life experiences.

Telling a story, or many, is the basis for developing your analysis and ideas. Remember, all stories need conflict in order to work.

It can help to think about the different types of conflict.

  • Character vs. Self
  • Character vs. Character
  • Character vs. Nature
  • Character vs. Society

And so on...

Once you've written a meaningful story, getting insights is as simple as answering the question: What did your experiences teach you?

The sounds of my knife striking kale unnerves my cat asleep in the corner. He quickly runs over to examine the situation but becomes instantly uninterested when he sees green and smells bitterness. Unfortunately, my family has this same reaction every day of every week. From an accepted essay to University of Southern California →

Showcase Your Values and Identity:

The purpose of a personal statement is to tell about who you are.

Personal statements are your opportunity to showcase what your values are, and how you would contribute to the school, scholarship opportunity, etc.

Good writers are those who write authentically. Write about your unique ideas and ask interesting questions, even if you don't know the answers.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

A typical personal statement can range in length from 500 to 650 words or more.

For applying to colleges, the Common Application essay personal statement has a word limit of 650 words.

For graduate school programs, the application essay will vary in length, but most schools require a personal statement essay of at least 500 words.

20 Personal Statement EssaysThatWorked

It can be difficult to understand what makes a great essay without seeing some for yourself.

Here's 20 of our favorite personal statement essays that we've chosen for being unique and high-quality.

There essays were all accepted into some of the most selective schools. And while it isn't the only factor in admissions that matters, having outstanding essays can help tip the scales in your favor.

Table of Contents

Prompt: Background, Identity, or Interest

  • 1. Uncomfortable Truths
  • 2. Romanian Heritage
  • 3. Film and Theater
  • 4. Person of the Woods
  • 5. Beautiful Walks

Prompt: Lessons from Obstacles

  • 6. My Father
  • 7. Self-Determination
  • 8. Game Design Music
  • 9. Speech and Debate

Prompt: Questioned or Challenged a Belief

  • 10. Finding Answers

Prompt: Accomplishment, Event, or Realization

  • 11. Connecting with Others
  • 12. Summer Confidence
  • 13. First Impressions
  • 14. Law Career
  • 15. Growing Up Asian

Prompt: Engaging Topic, Idea, or Concept

  • 16. Secrets of Riddles
  • 17. Rubik's Cube
  • 18. Narrative Diversity

Prompt: Any Topic of Your Choice

  • 19. Search for Dreams
  • 20. Recipe for Success

Personal Statement Example #1: Uncomfortable Truths

This is a personal statement that worked for Princeton . It is outstanding for many reasons, but most of all because of its ideas and the thoughtfulness put into organizing them.

Common App Prompt #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. (250-650 words)

Why This Essay Works:

Having a unifying idea is key to successful personal statements. Find your deepest idea or realization and focus your essay around that.

Find a way to showcase your achievements while connecting to broader, more universal ideas.

Connecting your ending to your beginning is a powerful way to bring your essay full circle. A great conclusion expands on your ideas introduced earlier, while leaving some room for more to be said.

Personal Statement Example #2: Film and Theater

This student's essay was accepted to USC , among other top schools. It's topic is seemingly simple—taking walks—but the author brilliantly shows how even in the mundane there can be meaningful reflections.

This essay has lots of moments where the author's character comes across vividly. By using conversational language and interjections like "I want to—no, need—to...", the author has a clear "voice" and you can easily imagine them as if they were speaking directly to you. This student also showcases self-awareness and a sense of humor, by using slightly self-deprecating phrases like "some chubby, nerdy girl" and by recognizing how the social approval of sitting with the "popular girls" was enthralling at the time. Self-awareness is a highly valuable trait to portray, because it shows that you're able to reflect on both your strengths and weaknesses, which is a skill needed to be able to grow and develop.

This author manages to tie in their activity of producing films and reference them specifically ("Cardboard Castles") by connecting them to their main point. Instead of listing their activities or referencing them out-of-the-blue, they show how these accomplishments are perfect examples of a greater message. In this case, that message is how meaningful it is to connect with others through storytelling. To write about your activities and achievements without seeming arbitrary or boastful, make them have a specific purpose in your essay: connect to a value, idea, or use them as examples to show something.

In the intro of this essay, there are some descriptions that seem fiction-like and are ultimately unimportant to the main idea. Sentences that describe Mrs. Brewer's appearance or phrases describing how their teacher stood up after talking to them ultimately don't contribute to the story. Although these provide "context," the only context that admissions are interested in is context and details which have a purpose. Avoid writing like fiction books, which describe all the characters and settings, and instead only describe exactly what is needed to "go somewhere" in your essay.

What They Might Improve:

This essay has a strong hook which captivates the reader by making them ask a question: "What are these lunch-time horror stories?" By sparking the reader's imagination early on, you can draw them into your writing and be more engaged. However, ultimately this is somewhat of a letdown because these intriguing "lunch-time horror stories" are never described. Although it may not be completely necessary for the main point, describing one example or hinting at it more closely would be satisfying for the reader and still connect to the main idea of storytelling. One idea is to replace the conclusion with a reference to these "lunch-time horror stories" more vividly, which would be a satisfying ending that also could connect to filmmaking and storytelling. In general, anticipate what the reader will be looking for, and either use that expectation to your advantage by subverting it, or give them what they want as a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.

Although this conclusion could work as is, it could be stronger by seeming less arbitrary and less "fancy for fancy sake." Often, a good strategy is to connect your conclusion to something earlier in your essay such as your introduction or specific wording that you used throughout. In this essay, it could work much better to end by revealing one of those "lunch-time horror stories" in a way that also emphasizes their main point: how storytelling is a powerful tool to connect people.

About This Personal Essay:

Personal statement example #3: romanian heritage.

This personal statement worked for UMichigan , among many other top schools like MIT, Rice, UNC at Chapel Hill , University of Pittsburgh, UW Madison, and more.

This author is able to vividly bring you into their world using cultural references and descriptive writing. You can practically taste and smell Buni's kitchen through her words.

This essay starts off by posing a challenge, which is typical of essays. But rather than showing how they overcame this particular challenge of speaking Romanian without an accent, this reader shows how something unexpected—baking—came to satisfy what was missing all along. By the end, this creates a conclusion that is both surprising, connected to the beginning, and makes perfect sense once you've read it. In other words, the conclusion is inevitable, but also surprising in content.

This student uses Romanian words to help exemplify the culture and language. If you're writing about a culture, using foreign language words can be a compelling way of adding depth to your essay. By including specific terms like "muni" and "cornulete," it shows a depth of knowledge which cannot be faked. Always use specific, tangible language where possible, because it is "evidence" that you know what you're talking about.

This student exhibits strong self-awareness by noting characteristics about themself, even some which may not be the most glamorous ("can be overbearing at times, stubborn in the face of offered help"). Rather than telling the reader flat out about these personal attributes, they are able to discuss them by connecting to another person—their grandmother Buni. Using another person to showcase your own character (through comparison or contrast) is a literary "foil," which can be an effective way of showing your character without stating it outright, which generally is boring and less convincing.

This student doesn't focus on surface-level ideas like "how they got better at speaking Romanian." Instead, they reflect in a creative way by connecting the Romanian language to baking. Revealing unseen connections between topics is a great way to show that you're a thoughtful and clever thinker. Ultimately, having unique ideas that are specific to you is what will create a compelling essay, and this essay is a perfect example of what that could look like.

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Personal Statement Example #4: Person of the Woods

This essay was accepted into Dartmouth College . It is a brilliant example of showing how any experience, even those which originally may have been unpleasant, can be the topic of meaningful reflection.

Using visuals, like descriptions of scenarios and environments, can help bring the reader into your world. However, make sure that all of your descriptions are relevant to your main point, or else they could be distracting. For example, in this essay it would be unnecessary to describe what they're wearing or the appearance of canoes, but it makes sense to describe the nature as it relates to the main topic.

People are not isolated units. Instead, everyone depends on and is defined by those around them. By showing how you relate and connect with other people, you can provide insights into your character. In this essay, the student does a great job of delving into their strong friendships, particularly what they've learned from their friends.

Admissions officers love to see self-growth. Showing how your perspective on something has changed (in this case, how they went from disliking to loving an activity) conveys a development of your character. Ask yourself: what preconceived notions did I have before, and how did they change? This student reflects in a humble way, by first emphasizing what they've learned from others, before offering up what they might have contributed themselves. Always try to have a tone of gratitude in your essays because it makes you more likeable and shows strong character.

Personal Statement Example #5: Beautiful Walks

Personal statement example #6: my father.

This personal statement was admitted to Michigan in recent years. It is an outstanding example of how you can write about topics that are often cliché if done poorly, such as the death of a family member.

But unlike other essays, this one works because it has a unique take and genuine approach to the topic that makes it come off as heartfelt.

Common App Prompt #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? (250-650 words)

Writing about a tragedy like a loss of a parent is a tricky topic for college essays. Many students feel obligated to choose that topic if it applies to them, but it can be challenging to not come across as trying to garner sympathy ("sob story"). This student does a graceful job of focusing on positive elements from their father's legacy, particularly the inspiration they draw from him.

This student does a great job of connecting their educational and career aspirations to their background. Admissions officers want to understand why you're pursing what you are, and by explaining the origin of your interests, you can have compelling and genuine reasons why.

In this essay, the student writes from their hypothetical perspective as an infant. This doesn't quite work because they likely wouldn't remember these moments ("I have no conscious memories of him"), but still writes as though they do. By writing about things you haven't seen or experienced yourself, it can come across as "made up" or inauthentic.

Personal Statement Example #7: Self-Determination

Some of the best essay topics are dealing with challenges you've faced, because difficulties make it easier to reflect upon what you've learned. Admissions officers ultimately are looking for self-growth, and showing how you've handled personal challenges can demonstrate your new understandings as a result. However, avoid talking about "tragedy" or difficulty without a clear purpose. Don't write about it because you think "you should," only write about challenges if they are true to yourself and you have something meaningful and unique to say about them. Otherwise, it can come off as trying to garner sympathy (i.e. "sob stories") which admissions officers generally dislike.

More convincing than telling admissions officers, is presenting them with "evidence" and allowing them to come to the conclusion themselves. If you want to show the idea "I couldn't learn due to this condition," it is far more effective to do what this student did and say, "I'd just finished learning complex trig identities, and I now couldn't even count to ten." When drafting, it is normal and okay to start off with more "telling" as you get your ideas on paper. But as your essay progresses, you should transform those moments of "telling" into more powerful and convincing moments of "showing."

Having meaningful reflections is a critical part of having compelling essays. But make sure your takeaways are not surface-level or generic. Each admissions officer has likely read thousands of essays, so they are well aware of the common ideas and tropes. Avoid cliché ideas at all costs, because it comes across as forgettable and unoriginal. Instead, it is okay to start with surface-level ideas, but keep asking yourself probing questions like "Why" and "How" to push your ideas deeper.

This essay tells a nice story of overcoming their physical impediment, but ultimately lacks meaningful reflections in the conclusion. Too much time is spent on "the problem" and not enough on how they overcame it. Your conclusion should have your best, most compelling ideas in your entire essay. Try ending your essay by connecting to the beginning with a new perspective, expanding on your idea with a new takeaway, or connecting to broader, more universal themes. Avoid having a conclusion that "sounds nice," but ultimately is lacking in meaningful content.

Personal Statement Example #8: Game Design Music

This essay was admitted into Cornell University . It discusses a common conflict of ideology that comes with pursuing the arts. What the author does brilliantly is show how that conflict was reconciled, as well as how it changed their perspective.

My mom used to tell me this a lot. She’d always disapproved of my passion for the arts.

In this essay, the author does a fantastic job of showing how they are thoughtful in considering the perspectives of others, even though they may disagree. Showing that you can entertain ideas that you may disagree with is an admirable trait that admissions officers love to see, because intellectual discussion is all about trying to see other people's views. When writing about things that you may disagree with, try to play devil's advocate and see things from their point of view. Doing so will make you come off as thoughtful, understanding, and inquisitive, and it will strengthen your own viewpoint if you can identify arguments against it.

The best essays help admissions officers understand how you think about things. One strategy is to offer up questions to explore. These can be questions that arose during a particular moment or questions that you're reflecting upon right now. By using questions in your essay, you'll also present yourself as a thoughtful and curious thinker. Ultimately, you want to help the reader see things from your perspective by showing your thought process.

A good starting place for reflection can be in comparing and contrasting different topics. This could finding the similarities and differences in an extracurricular and an academic class, or any other number of things. By finding the similarities in things often thought of as "opposing," or finding the differences in things thought of as "similar," you can get to interesting ideas. Comparisons are useful because they force you to think from a different viewpoint. For example in this essay: How does "programming" relate to "song lyrics"?

This essay ends on a note that feels somewhat off-topic and not as interesting as their main idea. The conclusion leaves more to be wanted, as the reader ends up thinking: Are you simply seeking the approval of your parents? Or are you carving your own path in life? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Avoid ending your essay with a tangential idea. Instead, a strong conclusion is often closely related to the main point of your essay, but with a slight twist. By planning out your essay before writing, you can make sure that each point (from start to finish) connects the way you want it to and that your conclusion ends on a strong, well-connected note.

Personal Statement Example #9: Speech and Debate

I was still high off the competition, poring over ballots by the soft streetlights as we drove. “Are you sure you want to do this?” My Dad was worried about me. Worried about my world crashing down around me, losing friends, being crushed by hate. Scarred by controversy. I laughed it off, and we rode in silence.

Fast forward to my second or third year in the league. I wanted to have some fun. I emailed the regional coordinator, asking if there’s a rule against a speech advocating for same-sex marriage.

This essay has lots of interesting ideas about having discussions between people of different viewpoints. This student is able to reflect sincerely about what the benefit of that dialogue is ("iron sharpening iron") and able to draw meaningful conclusions ("hope lives in that laughter") that express deeper ideas. By focusing on these compelling reflections, this student shows themself as a brilliant and thoughtful thinker, while demonstrating what they value: discourse between opposing viewpoints. Rather than focusing on the literal happenings (i.e. giving a speech to their club), the student reflects on what that experience represents more broadly, which allows them to connect to deeper ideas.

This essay is full of details, without being wordy or drawn out. Even small details like naming the show "The Daily Show" or giving a number of "40,000+ theologies" makes their writing much more engaging and compelling. By avoiding broad and vague language, this student paints a fascinating picture that allows the reader to enter their world. It is always better to be specific than to be generic, but make sure that the specific details are always relevant to your point. This essay is a great example of how to do both.

This essay does a fantastic job of creating a "voice." That is, you can easily imagine the student as if they were speaking to you while reading it. To craft this voice, this student uses small moments of more informal language and interjecting remarks that show their thought process. Using parentheses can be a good way to show your voice by jumping in when you have a small remark to add. This student also demonstrates a sense of humor and lightheartedness while still discussing meaningful ideas. The sarcastic remark "because controversy has no place in a debate club!" demonstrates their values (of dialogue between differing viewpoints) as well as showing their sense of personality.

This essay's weakest point is its intro or "hook." In fact, it could work much better by excluding the introduction paragraph and starting off with the second paragraph: "Forgive the melodrama: this is a story..." That short phrase is much more captivating and immediately draws the reader in. The introduction paragraph in this essay is too much of a meandering and vague story: you don't know what they're talking about, and ultimately it doesn't matter. Rather than using a fancy story or descriptions to introduce your essay, try jumping into the "meat" of your essay immediately. Consider using a short, declarative sentence or phrase like "Forgive the melodrama" as a hook, which is more impactful and draws the reader immediately into your essay.

Personal Statement Example #10: Finding Answers

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (250-650 words)

My grandmother’s concern faded rather quickly as sirens fell distant and time passed.

After about 30 minutes, my grandfather’s friend ran toward the beach. My grandfather was not next to him. He was not there at all. At that moment, my grandma knew.

“Burt...he was with me...he slipped...he fell...I ran down the side of the mountain, off the trail, but I couldn’t find him. The park rangers are looking...” She stopped listening. She could see his lips moving, yet she heard nothing.

This essay repeats a lot of the same ideas or information, just using different words. Rather than "getting to the point," this repetition makes the essay feel meandering and like it is going nowhere ultimately. When drafting your essay, it is okay to have repetition (your drafts shouldn't be perfect, after all). But when editing, ask yourself with each sentence: does this add something new? Is this necessary to my main point? If not, you should exclude those sentences.

This essay starts off with a drawn-out story of the tragedy involving the author's grandfather. Most of this story is unnecessary, because all that really matters for this student's main idea is the fact that their grandfather passed away from a tragic accident. Details about his grandmother or his grandfather's best friend are unnecessary and distracting.

An important "rule" in college essays is to only write from your perspective. That is, don't describe things that you couldn't have seen or experienced. In this essay, the author spends a lot of time describing their grandfather's incident as if they was there to witness it. But we later learn that the author was not even alive at this point, so how could they be describing these things? On a smaller level, don't describe yourself from an outside perspective. For example, instead of, "I grimaced when I heard the news" (how did you see yourself grimace?) you could say, "I felt my stomach pang when I heard the news."

Your ideas are most valuable in your essays. Admissions officers want to see how you think, and having interesting ideas that are unique to you is how you demonstrate that you're thoughtful and insightful. Avoid surface-level ideas at all costs, as it comes off cliché. It is okay to start with more generic ideas, but you should always delve deeper. To get at deeper and more unique ideas, the key is to ask yourself questions. For example: Why is this the case? Why don't things work differently? What does this mean for other people? What does this represent? How can I apply this to other areas of life?

Personal Statement Example #11: Connecting with Others

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

It's important to create a "voice" in your personal statement, so that admissions officers can imagine your character and personality. Try to write as you would speak, but refined and polished. In this essay, natural-sounding phrases like "...let me admit, I was awful..." humanizes the author and makes the reader feel like they're being spoken to.

This essay is a perfect example of how effective essays don't need to have a super unusual story to be compelling. What makes this essay's story compelling is not necessarily the topic itself (meeting distant relatives), but instead how the student reflects and makes interesting connections to broader ideas. Even seemingly mundane experiences can make for meaningful personal statements topics.

This conclusion works well by connecting to the main story of the essay. However, certain phrases like "As a global citizen" and "I am hoping to forge relationships" are potentially too generic. Instead, try taking your main idea (in this case forming connections with others) and broaden it or connect to more universal ideas.

Personal Statement Example #12: Summer Confidence

This essay has a heartfelt moment where the author connects deeply with a camper and feels a sense of genuine gratitude. By showing their newfound connection with a person they were mentoring, this creates a sense of humanity and also tells a lot about the author themself. By talking about other people in your life, you create a literary "foil" which in turn describes something about yourself. Showing how you interact with others can be telling into your character, such as showing your empathy, sense of humor, friendliness, or how you draw inspiration from others.

This essay does a good job of expressing vulnerability, specifically the author's fears about the future and "deteriorating friendships" after going to college. By being vulnerable, these moments feel more relatable to the reader. Showing your struggles (especially emotional ones) can also make your later "successes" feel more impactful when you show how you've overcame them or persist in face of those struggles. By recognizing your flaws or insecurities, you also show self-awareness, which is a positive trait because you need to be self-aware in order to improve the areas of yourself you want to fix.

Although this essay does reflect upon the lessons learned during their time at this camp, the takeaways are ultimately surface-level and not delved into. Rather than saying things like "I had more confidence," it would be more engaging to show how that confidence made an effect and what exactly that "confidence" meant. This essay touches upon some meaningful lessons, but ultimately they fall flat because the nuances of these lessons are glossed over. Phrases like "upon further consideration it no longer fills me with...apprehension" don't delve into the most interesting part: How and why did that fear go away? What changed about your perspective and why? Instead, these are explained away with "confidence and maturity," which are too broad of terms and feel meaningless because they are overused in essays.

In your personal statement, it is completely OK to reference people by their first name. Using names makes your essay more vivid and engaging, while showing a deeper connection that you have with others. Rather than saying "other people" or "one of the older campers," it would be more impactful to use their first name. There are some caveats, however. Don't use their name if you're showing them in a negative light (which you probably shouldn't do anyway) or if you're revealing something personal about them. If you are revealing something personal, you can substitute their name for another name, or ask them for their direct permission.

Personal Statement Example #13: First Impressions

It had a nice ring to it, but I wasn’t a fan. Unfortunately, that’s what I imagined everyone saw first, and first impressions stick.

A caveat of my surgery was that the hair would grow, then one-third would fall off. My scar will never be completely gone, but I no longer feel defined by it like I did in elementary school.

An effective hook doesn't need to be complicated. Often, the best hooks are simple, declarative sentences. By using a short sentence, you'll immediately draw the reader into your essay and create a point of emphasis. In general, avoid long and meandering sentences to start your essay, and save those for later in your essay. Clear and succinct phrasing is often the hallmark of a strong hook.

To convey your ideas more strongly, show them using concrete examples. In this essay, the author does a great job of that by not saying "classmates only saw me for my scar," but instead showing that idea through the memorable image of "I learned about my classmates through their lunchbox covers...they saw me as the boy with the scar." Using tangible imagery makes for a compelling way of expressing your ideas, as it allows the reader to come to the conclusions you want them to, without just "telling" them.

Avoid exaggerating or "fluffing up" experiences in your essays. Instead, be realistic and tell them for what they are. This essay does that perfectly by using phrases like "I didn't have a sudden epiphany about my scar." Avoid using phrases like "suddenly, I..." which are often overused and unrealistic. Most new understandings aren't acquired in one moment in particular, but are developed over time.

This essay touches on some compelling ideas, such as how people can distill down other people into their physical attributes or ailments. However, it would be even stronger to delve deeper into these reflections by asking further questions: Why do we gravitate towards "categorizing" people based on surface-level attributes? What is the impact of only be acknowledged for surface-level characteristics by others, but knowing that you have much more depth to your character? This essay has some meaningful ideas, but other ideas such as "I can be whatever I want to be" feel surface-level and somewhat generic.

Personal Statement Example #14: Law Career

One great way to have interesting ideas is to show things that you find fascinating that other people may find boring. This essay describes how a judge mandating "reprimands for speeding tickets might be dull for some," but how they find it interesting. Everything, even the seemingly mundane, has interesting aspects if you're willing to look closely enough. When brainstorming, ask yourself: what do I find fascinating that others find boring? What do I think is "fun" while others may think it is "hard" or boring? By following these threads, you can often find unique and compelling ideas that allow you to bring the reader into your world and show them how you see the world uniquely.

A common trap when writing a personal statement is to use a descriptive, fiction-like story to start your essay. Although this may sound like a good idea, it is often ineffective because it buries what is most interesting (your ideas and reflections) and can easily be long and drawn out. Short, concise stories with a focus can be effective introductions, but in general avoid overly descriptive storytelling to start your essay. Also, avoid describing things that aren't critical to your main point. There is little to no benefit in describing things like "I smoothed my skirt and rose slowly from the chair." Focus on why your stories matter, rather than telling stories in a descriptive manner.

This essay does have some reflections, particularly about how the author discovered their passion for law by joining the Youth Court. However, most of these ideas end there, and there aren't any deep, unique ideas. The closest the author comes to having a unique and compelling idea is the final sentence where they write "the value of prioritizing the common good above individual success." This could be a fascinating topic to explore, but ultimately is cut short because it is tagged onto the ending. Your focus when brainstorming and drafting should be to have specific and original ideas—ideas that are not generic, not cliché, and not surface-level. To get to those ideas, ask yourself probing questions like "Why" and "How" over and over.

Personal Statement Example #15: Growing Up Asian

Personal statement example #16: secrets of riddles.

Common App Prompt #6: 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? (250-650 words)

As I was going to St. Ives, Upon the road I met seven wives; Every wife had seven sacks, Every sack had seven cats: Cats, sacks, and wives, How many were going to St. Ives?

The riddles of life were not as straightforward as the puzzles in my books and websites. In fact, they were not straightforward at all, like winding mazes of philosophical quandary.

One of the most thought-provoking subjects that preoccupies my mind regards the existence of aliens. Initially, my mind was settled on the possibility of intelligent life. A universe so big could not possibly be lifeless.

As for the solution to the riddle at the start:

How many were going to St. Ives?

This essay does well by having a unique central topic—riddles—which allows the author to draw out interesting ideas related to this theme. Your topic doesn't necessarily need to be profound or hugely significant, because this author shows how you can take a seemingly unimportant topic and use it to make meaningful connections. In this essay, riddles grow to represent something greater than the activity itself, which is something you can do with almost any topic.

One of the most effective ways to "show, not tell" is to use specific and tangible examples. This essay does a great job of exemplifying their ideas. Rather than just saying "I enthralled my friends with questions," the author also shows this: "Over peanut butter and sliced ham, I assumed the role of story teller..." Examples are always more convincing because they are proof, and allow the reader to interpret for themselves. Don't tell the reader what you want them to think. Instead, set up moments that guide the reader to come to those conclusions themselves.

This conclusion connects back to the beginning, which is generally a good idea as it creates a cohesive structure. However, this ending doesn't quite make sense in the context of the riddle. Rather than creating new meaning, it comes off as arbitrary and contrived. Make sure your conclusion isn't creative just for creative-sake, and instead also has significant meaning attached to it.

Personal Statement Example #17: Rubik's Cube

Personal statement example #18: narrative diversity.

If your cultural background or identity is an important part of who you are, then writing about it can make for a compelling essay. Often times in college admissions, Asian-Americans in particular are advised to "hide" their ethnic background, because it can be perceived to hurt their application. This student embraces their Asian heritage by recognizing ways in which they faced societal barriers. As this essay shows, regardless of your identity, there are unique aspects you can delve into that can make for compelling topics.

This essay does a great job of reflecting upon previously held beliefs, such as "I unconsciously succumbed to the 'reserve and quiet' Asian stereotype," and challenging them. Questioning your beliefs and where they came from can often be a good starting point for interesting reflection. Showing your new perspectives over time also conveys self-growth. Ask yourself: what did I once believe (in regards to myself, an activity, other people, etc.), what do I believe now, and how has this changed?

Rather than starting off with an activity and then reflecting upon it, this student takes a different approach. By introducing an interesting idea (the representation of underrepresented groups in media) and then later connecting to their activities, it makes the incorporation of those extracurriculars seem more appropriate and natural. The last thing you want to do is list your activities plainly, but it's still important to reference them. One strategy to naturally talk about your activities and accomplishments is to attach them to interesting ideas, as this essay shows.

Personal Statement Example #19: Search for Dreams

Common App Prompt #7: 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. (250-650 words)

The diamond leaves of gnarled oak trees throw spectrums of color onto mounds of frosty snow that gleam melancholily under the moonlight. The leaves chime as wind violently rustles them in a haunting melody. I splinter a leaf off its branch and inspect the shard of my illusion, eyes dancing with amusement.

As I dwell in my worries, a cold hand reaches from behind me and taps my shoulder.

I jerk away, fear bubbling in my amygdala as I look into the nonexistent eyes of my intruding visitor.

The moon illuminates a blob of pink squish as it draws back slowly, points its spindly hands towards my drink and asks: “Could I have some of that?”

The blob wipes its invisible mouth with its nonexistent sleeve. I ask: “What are you?”

The blob tells me to stop looking at it so suspiciously. “I can prove it,” It says. I tell it, please, go ahead.

Suddenly we are back in the glowing forest. “Diamonds? Pah!” The blob dismisses them. Instantly, the leaves turn solid gold, the snow melts, and the wintry world is thrown into a blistering summer.

The blob laughs heartlessly. “Your cortex is under my control,” it says smugly.

“I heard you had a question for me?” It taps its invisible ears knowingly.

The blob wriggles its invisible brows as it waits.

It smiles that wicked smile. It laughs that sinful laugh. Then that insufferable blob wakes me up.

As I sit up in the dark and rub my bleary eyes, I am vaguely aware of the deep­set unfulfillment settling itself inside me. I yawn and plop back into bed, the soft red glow of my alarm clock indicating that it is still before midnight.

One thing is for sure about this essay: it has a unique idea that has surely not been written before. Regardless of your topic, you want your essay to be unique in some way, even if it isn't as fantastical as this essay. You can use a unique structure, such as having central symbolism, metaphor, or being structured as a recipe, for example. But this can easily become "gimmicky" if it doesn't have a clear purpose. In general, the most effective way to have a unique essay is to focus on having deep and unique ideas and reflections. By focusing on interesting takeaways and connections that are ultra-specific to you and your experiences, your essay will standout regardless of the structure.

This essay uses a lot of fiction-like writing that is fantastical and "flowery." Although moments of this kind of writing can make your essay more vivid, it is quite easy to end up with dense storytelling and descriptions that ultimately don't share anything interesting about you. The purpose of your essay is ultimately to learn about you: your values, your ideas, your identity, etc. By using dense story-like writing, it can be easy to lose focus of what admissions officers are looking for. In general, avoid writing "fancy" stories like this essay, unless you have a clear and distinct purpose for doing so. Everything in your essay should have a purpose in "going somewhere" (i.e. reaching interesting ideas and takeaways).

This essay is definitely creative, but lacks meaningful takeaways and ideas. By the end of the essay, we don't know much about the author besides the fact that they have an affinity for creative writing and are "on a search." Although the content is unique, the end result comes off as quite generic and surface-level because no interesting thoughts are explored deeply. The most interesting part of this essay is "I open my mouth and ask it my most crucial question," but this is super unsatisfying because the question is never divulged. Instead, the reader is teased by this fantasy story and the essay goes nowhere meaningful, which comes off as gimmicky and "creative for creative's sake," rather than deeply personal and interesting.

This essay ends on the idea of "continuing my search," but for what exactly? It is never explained, elaborated, or even implied (besides one reference to painting earlier). That makes this conclusion comes off as somewhat surface-level and uninteresting. Admissions officers won't care about "your search" unless they have a reason to care. That is, unless it tells something specific about you. On it's own, this idea of "exploring" and "searching" is meaningless because it is too broad and unelaborated.

Personal Statement Example #20: Recipe for Success

Step 1: Collect the ingredients

Step 2: Marinate the meat

Step 3: Wrap the dumplings

Step 4: Boil or pan-fry?

Step 5: Share and enjoy!

This essay has a clearly unique format in that it is structured as a dumpling recipe. By walking the reader through each step of dumpling-making, the student is able to explore various ideas and use the dumpling process as a metaphor for their own self-discovery. Having a creative structure like this can be beneficial, so long as you also have compelling ideas and the structure isn't unique just for the sake of being unique.

This whole essay is one big metaphor: the student compares their self-growth to the process of making dumplings. In doing so, the student introduces their heritage, while also having a creative literary device that they can use to explore various topics. By having a "central theme" such as this essay does, it makes it easier to explore a variety of ideas and activities, without seeming like you're listing them.

Struggles are one of the most defining aspects of self-development, and admissions officers are interested to see how you have overcome challenges. These difficulties don't need to be extreme tragedies or insurmountable obstacles, but everyone has faced difficulties. By reflecting upon those difficulties, you can draw out interesting ideas, showcase vulnerability, and express your personality.

What You Can Learn From These Personal Statement Examples

With these 20 Personal Statement examples, you can get inspired and improve your own essays. If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your essays need to make you stand out.

These 20 examples show how real students got into highly selective schools and teach us several lessons for writing your own successful Personal Statement essay:

  • Write a compelling first sentence that grabs the reader
  • Be specific and reference things by name
  • Tell a meaningful story
  • Reflect on your life and identity. Be self-aware.

If you enjoyed these personal statement examples, check out some of our top Common App Essays , which are also personal statements essays, but for the Common Application.

Which of these personal statement examples was your favorite?

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How to Write a Personal Statement

A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.

[Featured Image] A lady with pink hair is holding a piece of paper with a laptop on her lap.

When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.  

The information you provide in your personal statement can help build on your other application materials, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and build a more cohesive picture to help the admissions committee understand your goals.

In this article, we'll go over more about personal statements, including why they're important, what to include in one, and tips for strengthening yours.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement—sometimes known as a college essay —is a brief written essay you submit with other materials when applying to college or university. Personal statements tend to be most common for undergraduate applications, and they're a great opportunity for an admissions committee to hear your voice directly.

Many colleges and universities in the US, especially those using Common App , provide prompts for you to use. For example, "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea" or "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time" [ 1 ]. If the school you're interested in attending doesn't require prompts, you will likely want to craft a response that touches on your story, your values, and your goals if possible.

In grad school, personal statements are sometimes known as letters of intent , and go into more detail about your academic and professional background, while expressing interest in attending the particular program you're applying to.

Why is a personal statement important?

Personal statements are important for a number of reasons. Whereas other materials you submit in an application can address your academic abilities (like your transcripts) or how you perform as a student (like your letters of recommendation), a personal statement is a chance to do exactly that: get more personal.

Personal statements typically:

Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values

Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate 

Provide an opportunity for you to talk about past employment, volunteer experiences, or skills you have that complement your studies 

Allow colleges to evaluate your writing skills 

Bring life to a college application package otherwise filled with facts and figures 

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How to write a personal statement.

As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response.

Create a solid hook .

To capture the attention of an admissions committee member, start your personal statement with a hook that relates to the topic of your essay. A hook tends to be a colorful sentence or two at the very beginning that compels the reader to continue reading.

To create a captivating hook, try one of these methods:

Pose a rhetorical question. 

Provide an interesting statistic. 

Insert a quote from a well-known person.

Challenge the reader with a common misconception. 

Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. 

Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it comes from a reliable source.

Follow a narrative.

The best personal statements typically read like a story: they have a common theme, as well as a beginning, middle, and end. This type of format also helps keep your thoughts organized and improves the flow of your essay.

Common themes to consider for your personal statement include:

Special role models from your past

Life-altering events you've experienced

Unusual challenges you've faced

Accomplishments you're especially proud of

Service to others and why you enjoy it

What you've learned from traveling to a particular place

Unique ways you stand out from other candidates

Be specific.

Admissions committees read thousands of personal statements every year, which is why being specific on yours is important. Back up your statements with examples or anecdotes.

For instance, avoid vague assertions like, "I'm interested in your school counseling program because I care about children." Instead, point out experiences you've had with children that emphasize how much you care. For instance, you might mention your summer job as a day camp counselor or your volunteer experience mentoring younger children.

Don't forget to include detail and vibrancy to keep your statement interesting. The use of detail shows how your unique voice and experiences can add value to the college or university you're applying to.

Stay on topic.

It's natural to want to impress the members of the admissions committee who will read your personal statement. The best way to do this is to lead your readers through a cohesive, informative, and descriptive essay.

If you feel you might be going astray, ensure each paragraph in your essay's body supports your introduction. Here are a few more strategies that can help keep you on track:

Know what you want to say and do research if needed. 

Create an outline listing the key points you want to share.

Read your outline aloud to confirm it makes logical sense before proceeding. 

Read your essay aloud while you're writing to confirm you're staying on topic.

Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and make suggestions.

Be true to your own voice.

Because of the importance of your personal statement, you could be tempted to be very formal with structure and language. However, using a more relaxed tone is better than you would for a classroom writing assignment. 

Remember: admissions committees really want to hear from you . Writing in your own voice will help accomplish this. To ensure your tone isn't too relaxed, write your statement as if you were speaking to an older relative or trusted teacher. This way, you'll come across as respectful, confident, and honest.

Tips for drafting an effective personal statement.

Now that you've learned a little about personal statements and how to craft them, here are a few more tips you can follow to strengthen your essay:

1. Customize your statement.

You don't have to completely rewrite your personal statement every time you apply to a new college, but you want to make sure you tailor it as much as possible. For instance, if you talk about wanting to take a certain class or study a certain subject, make sure you adjust any specifics for each application.

2. Avoid cliches.

Admissions committees are ultimately looking for students who will fit the school, and who the school can help guide toward their larger goals. In that case, cliches can get in the way of a reviewer understanding what it is you want from a college education. Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me."

3. Stay focused.

Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written. Does every paragraph flow from one point to the next? Are the ideas you're presenting cohesive?

4. Stick to topics that aren't controversial.

It's best not to discuss political beliefs or inappropriate topics in your essay. These can be controversial; ideally, you want to share something goals- or values-driven with an admissions committee.

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Article sources

1. Common App. " 2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/blog/2022-2023-common-app-essay-prompts." Accessed January 9, 2024.

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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

best personal statement essay

The personal statement. It’s one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn’t exactly easy. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to nail your personal statement, complete with example essays . Each essay was reviewed and commented upon by admissions expert Bill Jack. Let’s dive in!

Related: How to write an essay about yourself  

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a special type of essay that’s required when you’re applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you’re expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application. Personal statements are typically around 400 – 600 words in length. 

What can I write about? 

Pretty much anything, as long as it’s about you . While this is liberating in the sense that your writing options are nearly unlimited, it’s also overwhelming for the same reason. The good news is that you’ll probably be responding to a specific prompt. Chances are you’re applying to a school that uses the Common App , which means you’ll have seven prompts to choose from . Reviewing these prompts can help generate some ideas, but so can asking yourself meaningful questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process. For each of the following questions, spend a few minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind. 

  • What experiences have shaped who you are? 
  • What’s special or unique about you or your life story? 
  • Who or what has inspired you the most? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What are your goals for the future? How have you arrived at those goals? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most interesting scene? 
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you respond and what did you learn? 

The purpose of these questions is to prompt you to think about your life at a deeper level. Hopefully by reflecting on them, you’ll find an essay topic that is impactful and meaningful. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice on actually writing your essay. 

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

How do I write my personal statement? 

Once you’ve found a topic, it’s time to start writing! Every personal statement is different, so there’s not really one formula that works for every student. That being said, the following tips should get you started in the right direction:  

1. Freewrite, then rewrite 

The blank page tends to get more intimidating the longer you stare at it, so it’s best to go ahead and jump right in! Don’t worry about making the first draft absolutely perfect. Instead, just get your ideas on the page and don’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details. Think of this initial writing session as a “brain dump”. Take 15-30 minutes to quickly empty all your thoughts onto the page without worrying about things like grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. You can even use bullet points if that helps. Once you have your ideas on the page, then you can go back and shape them exactly how you want. 

2. Establish your theme 

Now that you’ve got some basic ideas down on the page, it’s time to lock in on a theme. Your theme is a specific angle that reflects the central message of your essay. It can be summarized in a sentence or even a word. For example, let’s say you’re writing about how you had to establish a whole new group of friends when you moved to a new city. The theme for this type of essay would probably be something like “adaptation”. Having a theme will help you stay focused throughout your essay. Since you only have a limited number of words, you can’t afford to go off on tangents that don’t relate to your theme. 

3. Tell a story

A lot of great essays rely on a specific scene or story. Find the personal anecdote relevant to your theme and transfer it to the page. The best way to do this is by using descriptive language. Consult the five senses as you’re setting the scene. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell? How were you feeling emotionally? Using descriptive language can really help your essay come to life. According to UPchieve , a nonprofit that supports low income students, focusing on a particular moment as a “ revised version of a memoir ” is one way to keep readers engaged. 

Related: College essay primer: show, don’t tell  

4. Focus on your opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your essay. In most cases, this is the best place to include your anecdote (if you have one). By leading with your personal story, you can hook your audience from the get-go. After telling your story, you can explain why it’s important to who you are. 

Related:  How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

5. Use an authentic voice 

Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn’t use fancy words just to show off. This isn’t an academic paper, so you don’t have to adopt a super formal tone. Instead, write in a way that allows room for your personality to breathe. 

6. Edit, edit, edit…

Once you’re done writing, give yourself some time away from the essay. Try to allow a few days to pass before looking at the essay again with fresh eyes. This way, you’re more likely to pick up on spelling and grammatical errors. You may even get some new ideas and rethink the way you wrote some things. Once you’re satisfied, let someone else edit your essay. We recommend asking a teacher, parent, or sibling for their thoughts before submitting. 

Examples of personal statements 

Sometimes viewing someone else’s work is the best way to generate inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. The following essays are written in response to four different Common App prompts: 

Prompt 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.”

When I was eight years old, I wanted a GameCube very badly. For weeks I hounded my dad to buy me one and finally he agreed. But there was a catch. He’d only get me a GameCube if I promised to start reading. Every day I played video games, I would have to pick up a book and read for at least one hour. At that point in my life, reading was just something I had to suffer through for school assignments. To read for pleasure seemed ludicrous. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this proposed agreement. But I figured anything was worth it to get my hands on that shiny new video game console, so I bit the bullet and shook my dad’s hand. Little did I know that I had just made a life-changing deal. 

At first, the required hour of reading was a chore — something I had to do so I could play Mario Kart. But it quickly turned into something more than that. To my complete and utter surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed reading. One hour turned into two, two turned into three, and after a while I was spending more time reading than I was playing video games. I found myself captivated by the written word, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Lord of the Rings , Percy Jackson , Goosebumps — you name it. I was falling in love with literature, while my GameCube was accumulating dust in the TV stand. 

Soon enough, reading led to writing. I was beginning to come up with my own stories, so I put pen to paper and let my imagination run wild. It started out small. My first effort was a rudimentary picture book about a friendly raccoon who went to the moon. But things progressed. My stories became more intricate, my characters more complex. I wrote a series of science fiction novellas. I tried my hand at poetry. I was amazed at the worlds I could create with the tip of my pen. I had dreams of becoming an author. 

Then somewhere along the way my family got a subscription to Netflix, and that completely changed the way I thought about storytelling. My nose had been buried in books up until then, so I hadn’t really seen a lot of movies. That quickly changed. It seemed like every other day a pair of new DVDs would arrive in the mail (this was the early days of Netflix). Dark Knight, The Truman Show, Inception, Memento — all these great films were coming in and out of the house. And I couldn’t get enough of them. Movies brought stories to life in a way that books could not. I was head over heels for visual storytelling. 

Suddenly I wasn’t writing novels and short stories anymore. I was writing scripts for movies. Now I wanted to transfer my ideas to the big screen, rather than the pages of a book. But I was still doing the same thing I had always done. I was writing, just in a different format. To help with this process, I read the screenplays of my favorite films and paid attention to the way they were crafted. I kept watching more and more movies. And I hadn’t forgotten about my first love, either. I still cherished books and looked to them for inspiration. By the end of my junior year of high school, I had completed two scripts for short films. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to turn my love of storytelling into a career. I’m not totally sure how to do that yet, but I know I have options. Whether it’s film production, creative writing, or even journalism, I want to find a major that suits my ambitions. Writing has taken me a long way, and I know it can take me even further. As I step into this next chapter of my life, I couldn’t be more excited to see how my craft develops. In the meantime, I should probably get rid of that dusty old GameCube. 

Feedback from admissions professional Bill Jack

Essays don’t always have to reveal details about the student’s intended career path, but one thing I like about this essay is that it gives the reader a sense of the why. Why do they want to pursue storytelling. It also shows the reader that they are open to how they pursue their interest. Being open to exploration is such a vital part of college, so it’s also showing the reader that they likely will be open to new things in college. And, it’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the student’s family, especially if the reader can learn about how the students interacts with their family. 

Prompt 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?”

I remember my first impression of Irvine: weird. It was foggy, stock-full of greenery and eucalyptus trees, and reminded me of my 5th grade trip to a “science camp” which was located in the San Bernardino mountains. Besides Irvine, that was one of the few places in Southern California where you’d find so many non-palm trees. 

Of course, perhaps my initial impression of Irvine was biased, motivated by a desire to stay in my hometown and a fear of the unknown. While that was true to an extent, Irvine was certainly still a little peculiar. The city itself was based on a “master plan” of sorts, with the location of each of its schools, parks, shops, and arguably its trees having been logically “picked” before the foundation was poured. Even the homes all looked roughly the same, with their beige, stucco walls almost serving as a hallmark of the city itself.

Thus, this perfectly structured, perfectly safe city seemed like a paradise of sorts to many outsiders, my parents included. I was a little more hesitant to welcome this. As I saw it, this was a phony city – believing that its uniformity stood for a lack of personality. My hometown, although not as flawlessly safe nor clean as Irvine, was where most of my dearest memories had occurred. From the many sleepovers at Cindie’s house, to trying to avoid my school’s own version of the “infamous” cheese touch, to the many laughs shared with friends and family, I shed a tear at the prospect of leaving my home.

Moving into the foreign city, remnants of the hostility I held towards Irvine remained. Still dwelling in my memories of the past, I was initially unable to see Irvine as a “home.” So, as I walked into my first-ever Irvine class, being greeted by many kind, yet unfamiliar faces around me, I was unable to recognize that some of those new faces would later become some of my dearest friends. Such negative feelings about the city were further reinforced by newer, harder classes, and more complicated homework. Sitting in the discomfort of this unfamiliar environment, it started to seem that “change” was something not only inevitable, but insurmountable.

As the years went on, however, this idea seemed to fade. I got used to my classes and bike racing through Irvine neighborhoods with my friends, watching the trees that once seemed just a “weird” green blob soon transform into one of my favorite parts of the city. While I kept my old, beloved memories stored, I made space for new ones. From carefully making our way over the narrow creek path next to our school, to the laughs we shared during chemistry class, my new memories made with friends seemed to transform a city I once disliked into one I would miss. 

Through this transformation, I have come to recognize that change, although sometimes intimidating at first, can open the door to great times and meaningful connections. Although Irvine may have once seemed like a strange, “phony” place that I couldn’t wait to be rid of, the memories and laughs I had grown to share there were very real. As I move onto this next part of my life, I hope I can use this knowledge that I have gained from my time in Irvine to make the most of what’s to come. Even if the change may be frightening at first, I have learned to embrace what’s on the other side, whether green or not.

One huge plus to writing an essay that focuses on a place is that you might have it read by someone who has been there. Yet, what’s really helpful about this essay is that even if someone hasn’t been there, a picture is painted about what the place is like.  Admission officers have the hard task of really understanding what the student sees, so the use of adjectives and imagery can really help.  It’s also really clever to see that the green that’s mentioned at the beginning is mentioned at the end.  It’s a nice way to bookend the essay and tie it all together.

Prompt 6: “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?”

I like getting lost. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Whether it be in the story of a love song by Taylor Swift, or in the memories brought back by listening to my favorite childhood video game’s background music, I’ve always appreciated music’s ability to transport me to another place, another time, another feeling. 

Alas, I cannot sing, nor have I practiced an instrument since my middle school piano class days. So, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. As he puts it, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” While I cannot speak for others, I have certainly not debunked his theory. Writing allows many, including myself, to attempt to mimic the transformative power of music – even if our singing voices aren’t exactly “pleasant.” Just as you can get lost in music, you can do so in a story. Whether it is in George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, or Little Women’s Orchard House, the stories outlined in novels can provide an amazing look into the lives and worlds of others, and an escape from the worries and problems of those in your own.

While I am certainly not claiming to have the storytelling abilities of the Orwells or Alcotts before me, I’ve had fun trying to recreate such transformative feelings for others. When I was nine, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods, only managing to get a couple pages through. As I got older, whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, I wrote about the same pig, Phil. He was always angry: in my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my school in 11th grade, I knew I had to join. I wanted to discern whether writing was just a hobby I picked up now and then, or a true passion. If it was a passion, I wanted to learn as much as possible about how I could improve. Although my high school’s writing club certainly wasn’t going to transform me into Shakespeare, I knew I could learn a lot from it – and I did. The club challenged me to do many things, from writing on the spot, to writing poetry, to even writing about myself, something that’s hopefully coming in handy right now. 

From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, storing short ideas, skits, and more in appropriately-labeled Google Drive folders. At around the same time, I became interested in classic literature, which largely stemmed from a project in English class. We had been required to choose and read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was certainly interesting and unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the writing club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and allowed me to develop new skills, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing as part of my future. In this endeavor, I hope that Phil, and the music I inevitably listen to as I write, will accompany me every step of the way.

Admission officers might read 70 (or more!) essays in one day. It’s not uncommon for them to start to blend together and sound similar. This essay might not make you laugh out loud. But, it might make the reader chuckle while reading it thanks to the subtle humor and levity. Being able to incorporate a little humor into your essay (if it is natural for you to do… do not force it), can really be a great way to shed additional light into who you are. Remember, the essay isn’t merely about proving that you can write, but it should also reveal a little bit about your personality.

Prompt 5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

I learned a lot of things during the summer I worked at Tropical Smoothie. I discovered the value of hard work. I figured out how to save money. I even mastered the art of the Mango Magic smoothie (the secret is lots of sugar). But most importantly, I learned the power of perspective. And I have Deja to thank for that. 

Deja was my shift supervisor, and one of Tropical Smoothie’s best employees. She was punctual, friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand. She knew the store from top to bottom, and could handle pretty much any situation thrown her way. She made everyone around her better. On top of all that, she was four months pregnant! I was always impressed by Deja’s work ethic, but I gained an entirely new level of respect for her one day.

It was a Friday night, and Deja and I were working the closing shift together. It was very busy, and Deja and I were the only ones on shift. We managed to get by, but we were exhausted by the end of the evening. After wiping down the counters and mopping the floors, we closed up shop and went our separate ways. I was eager to get home. 

I walked a couple blocks to where I had parked my car. Well, it wasn’t my car actually. It was my dad’s ‘98 Chevy pickup truck, and it was in rough shape. It had no heat or A/C, the leather seats were cracked beyond repair, and the driver’s side door was jammed shut. I sighed as I got in through the passenger side and scooted over to the driver’s seat. The whole reason I was working at Tropical Smoothie was to save up enough money to buy my own car. I was hoping to have something more respectable to drive during my senior year of high school. 

I cranked the old thing up and started on my way home. But soon enough, I spotted Deja walking on the side of the road. There was no sidewalk here, the light was low, and she was dangerously close to the passing cars. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She got in and explained that she was on her way home. Apparently she didn’t have a car and had been walking to work every day. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was complaining about my set of wheels, while Deja didn’t have any to begin with.

We got to talking, and she confessed that she had been having a tough time. You would never know from the way she was so cheerful at work, but Deja had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her mother, her boyfriend had just lost his job, and she was worried about making ends meet. And of course, she was expecting a baby in five months. On top of all that, she had been walking nearly a mile to and from work every day. The whole thing was a real eye opener, and made me reconsider some things in my own life. 

For one, I didn’t mind driving my dad’s truck anymore. It was banged up, sure, but it was a lot better than nothing. My mindset had changed. I appreciated the truck now. I began to think about other things differently, too. I started making mental notes of all the things in my life I was thankful for — my family, my friends, my health. I became grateful for what I had, instead of obsessing over the things I didn’t. 

I also gained more awareness of the world outside my own little bubble. My encounter with Deja had shown me first-hand that everyone is dealing with their own problems, some worse than others. So I started paying more attention to my friends, family members, and coworkers. I started listening more and asking how I could help. I also gave Deja a ride home for the rest of the summer. 

These are all small things, of course, but I think they make a difference. I realized I’m at my best when I’m not fixated on my own life, but when I’m considerate of the lives around me. I want to keep this in mind as I continue to grow and develop as a person. I want to continue to search for ways to support the people around me. And most importantly, I want to keep things in perspective.

Too often we can be focused on our own problems that we fail to realize that everyone has their own things going on in their lives, too.  This essay showcases how it’s important to put things in perspective, a skill that certainly will prove invaluable in college… and not just in the classroom.  Another reason I like this essay is because it provides deeper insight into the student’s life.  Sure, you might have mentioned in your activities list that you have a job.  But as this essay does, you can show why you have the job in the first place, what your responsibilities are, and more.

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal statement) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable, whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate). Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Ultimately, your essays should reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are, and should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to write your personal statement. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal statement essay is all about effort. Thus, so long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Also see:  Scholarships360’s free scholarships search tool

Key Takeaways

  • It may take some people longer than others to know what they want to write about, but remember that everyone, including you, has something unique to write about!
  • Personal statements should be personal, which means you should avoid being too general and really strive to show off what makes you “you”
  • Time and effort are two of the most important things you can put into your personal statement to ensure that it is the best representation of yourself
  • Don’t forget to ask people who know you to read your work before you submit; they should be able to tell you better than anyone if you are truly shining through!

Frequently asked questions about writing personal statements 

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  • Applying to graduate school
  • How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.

To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:

  • Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
  • Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
  • Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?

This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.

Urban Planning Psychology History

Table of contents

Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.

Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.

For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.

There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.

The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.

Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene

An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:

  • A personal experience that changed your perspective
  • A story from your family’s history
  • A memorable teacher or learning experience
  • An unusual or unexpected encounter

To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.

Strategy 2: Open with your motivations

To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.

Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:

  • Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
  • Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
  • How does it fit into the rest of your life?
  • What do you think it contributes to society?

Tips for the introduction

  • Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
  • Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.

Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.

To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.

Strategy 1: Describe your development over time

One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.

  • What first sparked your interest in the field?
  • Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
  • Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?

Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.

My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.

Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles

If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.

  • Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
  • Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.

Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.

Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.

Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field

Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.

  • Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
  • Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
  • Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.

The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.

In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.

Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions

Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.

  • If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
  • If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
  • If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.

Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.

One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.

Tips for the main body

  • Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
  • Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.

Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.

Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.

Strategy 1: What do you want to know?

If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?

If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.

Strategy 2: What do you want to do?

If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?

Tips for the conclusion

  • Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
  • Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.

You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.

Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.

Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.

A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.

A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.

However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.

The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.

Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.

Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.

If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.

If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.

If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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How to Write a Personal Statement (with Tips and Examples)

Hannah Yang headshot

Hannah Yang

How to write a personal statement

Table of Contents

What is a personal statement, 6 tips on how to write a personal statement, personal statement examples (for college and university), faqs about writing personal statements, conclusion on how to write a personal statement.

How do you tell someone who you are in just a few hundred words?

It’s certainly no easy task, but it’s one almost every college applicant must do. The personal statement is a crucial part of any college or university application.

So, how do you write a compelling personal statement?

In this article, we’ll give you all the tools, tips, and examples you need to write an effective personal statement.

A personal statement is a short essay that reveals something important about who you are. It can talk about your background, your interests, your values, your goals in life, or all of the above.

Personal statements are required by many college admission offices and scholarship selection committees. They’re a key part of your application, alongside your academic transcript, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities.

The reason application committees ask you to write a personal statement is so they can get to know who you are. 

Some personal statements have specific prompts, such as “Discuss a period of personal growth in your life” or “Tell us about a challenge or failure you’ve faced.” Others are more open-ended with prompts that essentially boil down to “Tell us about yourself.”

No matter what the prompt is, your goal is the same: to make yourself stand out to the selection committee as a strong candidate for their program.

Here are some things a personal statement can be:

It can be funny. If you have a great sense of humor, your personal statement is a great place to let that shine.  

It can be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to open up about hardships in your life or failures you’ve experienced. Showing vulnerability can make you sound more like a real person rather than just a collection of application materials.  

It can be creative. Candidates have got into top schools with personal statements that take the form of “a day in the life” descriptions, third-person short stories, and even cooking recipes.

Now we’ve talked about what a personal statement is, let’s quickly look at what a personal statement isn’t:

It isn’t a formal academic paper. You should write the personal statement in your natural voice, using first-person pronouns like “I” and “me,” not in the formal, objective language you would use to write an academic paper.

It isn’t a five-paragraph essay. You should use as many paragraphs as you need to tell your story instead of sticking to the essay structure you learned in school.

It isn’t a resumé. You should try to describe yourself by telling a clear and cohesive story rather than providing a jumbled list of all of your accomplishments and ambitions.

personal statement definition

Here are our top six tips for writing a strong personal statement.

Tip 1: Do Some Serious Self-Reflection

The hardest part of writing a personal statement isn’t the actual process of writing it.

Before you start typing, you have to figure out what to write about. And that means taking some time to reflect on who you are and what’s important in your life.

Here are some useful questions you can use to start your self-reflection. You can either answer these on your own by writing down your answers, or you can ask a trusted friend to listen as you talk about them together.

What were the key moments that shaped your life? (e.g. an important friendship, a travel experience, an illness or injury)

What are you proud of? (e.g. you’re a good listener, you always keep your promises, you’re a talented musician)

How do you choose to spend your time? (e.g. reading, practicing soccer, spending time with your friends)

What inspires you? (e.g. your grandmother, a celebrity, your favorite song)

Doing this self-reflection is crucial for figuring out the perfect topics and anecdotes you can use to describe who you are.

Tip 2: Try to Avoid Cliché Topics

College application committees read thousands of personal statements a year. That means there are some personal statement topics they see over and over again.

Here are a few examples of common personal statement topics that have become cliché:

Winning a tournament or sports game

Volunteering in a foreign country

Moving to a new home

Becoming an older sibling

Being an immigrant or having immigrant parents

If you want to make a strong impression in the application process, you need to make your personal statement stand out from the crowd.

But if your chosen personal statement topic falls into one of these categories, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t use it. Just make sure to put a unique spin on it so it still delivers something the committee hasn’t seen before.

best personal statement essay

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Tip 3: Show, Don’t Tell

One common mistake you might make in your personal statement is to simply tell the reader what you want them to know about you, such as by stating “I have a fear of public speaking” or “I love to cook.”

Instead of simply stating these facts, you should show the committee what you’re talking about through a story or scene, which will make your essay much more immersive and memorable.

For example, let’s say you want the committee to know you overcame your fear of public speaking. Instead of writing “I overcame my fear of public speaking,” show them what it was like to be onstage in front of a microphone. Did your palms get clammy? Did you feel light-headed? Did you forget your words?

Or let’s say you want the committee to know you love to cook. Instead of writing “I love to cook,” show them why you love to cook. What’s your favorite dish to cook? What does the air smell like when you’re cooking it? What kitchen appliances do you use to make it?

Tip 4: Connect the Story to Why You’re Applying

Don’t forget that the purpose of your personal statement isn’t simply to tell the admissions committee who you are. That’s an important part of it, of course, but your ultimate goal is to convince them to choose you as a candidate.

That means it’s important to tie your personal story to your reasons for applying to this specific school or scholarship. Finish your essay with a strong thesis.

For example, if your story is about overcoming your fear of public speaking, you might connect that story to your ambition of becoming a politician. You can then tie that to your application by saying, “I want to apply to this school because of its fantastic politics program, which will give me a perfect opportunity to use my voice.”

Tip 5: Write in Your Own Voice

The personal statement isn’t supposed to be written in a formal tone. That’s why they’re called “personal” statements because you have to shape it to fit your own voice and style.

Don’t use complicated or overwrought language. You don’t need to fill your essay with semicolons and big words, unless that’s how you sound in real life.

One way to write in your own voice is by speaking your personal statement out loud. If it doesn’t feel natural, it may need changing. 

Tip 6: Edit, Edit, Edit!

It’s important to revise your personal statement multiple times in order to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible.

A single typo won’t kill your application, but if your personal statement contains multiple spelling errors or egregious grammar mistakes, you won’t be putting your best foot forward.

ProWritingAid can help you make sure your personal statement is as clean as possible. In addition to catching your grammar errors, typos, and punctuation mistakes, it will also help you improve weaknesses in your writing, such as passive voice, unnecessary repetition, and more.

Let’s look at some of the best personal statements that have worked for successful candidates in the real world. 

Harvard Personal Statement Example

Love. For a word describing such a powerful emotion, it is always in the air. The word “love” has become so pervasive in everyday conversation that it hardly retains its roots in blazing passion and deep adoration. In fact, the word is thrown about so much that it becomes difficult to believe society isn’t just one huge, smitten party, with everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” In films, it’s the teenage boy’s grudging response to a doting mother. At school, it’s a habitual farewell between friends. But in my Chinese home, it’s never uttered. Watching my grandmother lie unconscious on the hospital bed, waiting for her body to shut down, was excruciatingly painful. Her final quavering breaths formed a discordant rhythm with the steady beep of hospital equipment and the unsympathetic tapping hands of the clock. That evening, I whispered—into unhearing ears—the first, and only, “I love you” I ever said to her, my rankling guilt haunting me relentlessly for weeks after her passing. My warm confession seemed anticlimactic, met with only the coldness of my surroundings—the blank room, impassive doctors, and empty silence. I struggled to understand why the “love” that so easily rolled off my tongue when bantering with friends dissipated from my vocabulary when I spoke to my family. Do Chinese people simply love less than Americans do?

This is an excerpt from a personal statement that got the applicant admitted to Harvard University. The applicant discusses her background as a Chinese-American by musing on the word “love” and what that means within her family.

The writer uses vulnerable details about her relationship with her grandmother to give the reader an understanding of where she comes from and how her family has shaped her.  

You can read the full personal statement on the Harvard Crimson website.

Tufts Personal Statement Example

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon. Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration. Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear. I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

This is the beginning of a personal statement by Renner Kwittken, who was admitted into Tufts University as a pre-medical student.

Renner uses a humorous anecdote about being a pickle truck driver to describe his love for nanomedicine and how he got involved in his field. You can feel his passion for medicine throughout his personal statement.

You can find Renner’s full essay on the Tufts Admissions page.

Law School Personal Statement Essay Example

For most people, the slap on the face that turns their life around is figurative. Mine was literal. Actually, it was a punch delivered by a drill sergeant at Fort Dix, New Jersey, while I was in basic training. That day’s activity, just a few weeks into the program, included instruction in “low-crawling,” a sensible method of moving from one place to another on a battlefield. I felt rather clever for having discovered that, by looking right rather than down, I eliminated my helmet’s unfortunate tendency to dig into the ground and slow my progress. I could thus advance more easily, but I also exposed my unprotected face to hostile fire. Drill sergeants are typically very good at detecting this type of laziness, and mine was an excellent drill sergeant. So, after his repeated suggestions that I correct my performance went unheeded, he drove home his point with a fist to my face. We were both stunned. This was, after all, the New Army, and striking a trainee was a career-ending move for a drill sergeant, as we were both aware. I could have reported him; arguably, I should have. I didn’t. It didn’t seem right for this good sergeant, who had not slept for almost four days, to lose his career for losing his temper with my laziness. Choosing not to report him was the first decision I remember making that made me proud.

These are the first three paragraphs of an anonymous personal statement by a Wheaton College graduate, who used this personal statement to get into a top-25 law school.

This statement describes a time the applicant faced a challenging decision while in the army. He ended up making a decision he was proud of, and as a result, the personal statement gives us a sense of his character.

You can find the full essay on the Wheaton Academics website.

Here are some common questions about how to write a personal statement.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

The length of your personal statement depends on the specific program you’re applying to. The application guidelines usually specify a maximum word count or an ideal word count.  

Most personal statements are between 500–800 words. That’s a good general range to aim for if you don’t have more specific guidelines.  

Should Personal Statements Be Different for Scholarships?

Many scholarship applications will ask for personal statements with similar prompts to those of college applications.

However, the purpose of a personal statement you’d write for a scholarship application is different from the purpose of one you’d write for a college application.

For a scholarship application, your goal is to showcase why you deserve the scholarship. To do that, you need to understand the mission of the organization offering that scholarship.

For example, some scholarships are meant to help first-generation college students get their degree, while others are meant to help women break into STEM.

Consider the following questions:

Why is this organization offering scholarships?

What would their ideal scholarship candidate look like?

How do your experiences and goals overlap with those of their ideal scholarship candidate?

You can use the same personal anecdotes you’d use for any other personal statement, but you’ll have a better chance of winning the scholarship if you tailor your essay to match their specific mission.

How to Start a Personal Statement

You should start your personal statement with a “hook” that pulls the reader in. The sooner you catch the reader’s attention, the more likely they’ll want to read the entire essay.

Here are some examples of hooks you can use:

A story (e.g. When the spotlight hit my face, I tried to remind myself to breathe. )

A setting description (e.g. My bedroom floor is covered with dirty laundry, candy wrappers, and crumpled sheet music. )

A funny anecdote (e.g. When I was a little kid, my friends nicknamed me Mowgli because of my haircut. )

A surprising fact (e.g. I've lived in 37 countries .)

There you have it—our complete guide to writing a personal statement that will make you stand out to the application committee.

Here’s a quick recap: 

A personal statement is a short essay that shows an application committee who you are

Start with a strong hook that pulls the reader in

Tell a story to engage the reader 

Write in your own voice, not in a formal tone

Good luck, and happy writing!

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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Last updated February 9, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Blog > Common App , Essay Examples , Personal Statement > 15 Amazing Personal Statement Examples (2024 Update)

15 Amazing Personal Statement Examples (2024 Update)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

What’s that old saying? “The best way to learn is by doing.” Well, we believe that, in personal statements and in life, cliches like this should be avoided. For some people, the best way to start writing a personal statement is indeed just to start.

But for most writers, jumping right into the writing process is a daunting task. If you’ve never written a personal statement before, then how do you know where to begin?

That’s where example essays come in. There are millions of opinions in the college admissions world about whether or not students should read example essays. But here’s ours:

You absolutely should be reading example personal statements.

Let’s get into it.

Why you should read example personal statements

Reading example personal statements helps you understand why they work (or don’t work) in the admissions process.

Now, the point of reading them isn’t to copy them. It’s not even necessarily to be inspired by them.

Instead, the point of reading examples is to know what personal statements look like. Think about it: if you’d never seen a children’s book before, would you know how to write one? Probably not! Same goes for personal statements.

In this post, we show you some exceptional, solid, and need-to-be-improved personal statements.

And to help you understand how these essays function as personal statements, we’ve also gotten our team of former admissions officers to grade and provide feedback on each.

What does an admissions officer look for in a personal statement?

Before we get to the essays, let’s briefly walk through what goes through an admissions officer’s head when they open an application.

Admissions officers (AOs) read hundreds to thousands of applications in a single year. Different institutions require admissions officers to use different criteria when evaluating applications, so the specifics will vary by school. Your entire application should cohere to form a seamless narrative . You'll be crafting that narrative across the following categories:

  • Transcripts and course rigor : AOs look at the classes you’ve taken to assess how much you’ve challenged yourself based on the classes your school offers. They’re also looking at how well you've done in these classes each term.
  • Extracurricular activities : When reading through your activities list, AOs look at the activities you’ve done, how many years you’ve participated in them, and how many hours a week you devote to them. They’re assessing your activities for the levels of magnitude, impact, and reach that they demonstrate. (Want to know more about these terms? Check out our extracurricular impact post .)
  • Background information : This background information briefly tells admissions officers about demographic and family information, your school context, and any honors or awards you’ve received.
  • Letters of recommendation : Letters of recommendation give AOs insight into who you are in the classroom.
  • Essays : And, finally, the essays. Whether you’re writing a personal statement or a supplemental essay, essays are the main place AOs get to hear your voice and learn more about you. Your personal statement in particular is the place where you get to lay out your overall application narrative and say something meaningful about your personal strengths.

So, with all that in mind, what does an admissions officer actually look for when reading your personal statement?

A few traits tend to surface across the best personal statements, no matter the topic or format. There are four primary areas you should focus on as you craft your personal statement.

  • Strengths: AOs want to know about your strengths. That doesn’t mean bragging about your accomplishments, but it does mean writing about a topic that lets you showcase something positive about yourself.
  • Personal meaning: Personal statements shouldn’t be fluff. They shouldn’t be history essays. They should be personal essays that ooze meaning. The topic you choose should show something significant about yourself that the admissions officers won’t get from any other part of your application.
  • Authenticity and vulnerability: These characteristics can be the most difficult to achieve. Being “vulnerable” doesn’t mean airing all your dirty laundry. It means revealing something authentic and meaningful about who you are. To be vulnerable means to go beyond the surface level to put yourself out there, even to admissions officers who you’ve never met.
  • Clear organization and writing: And lastly, admissions officers also want your essay to be organized clearly so it’s easy to follow along. Remember that admissions officers are reading lots of applications, even in one sitting. So you want to make your reader’s job as easy as possible. Thoughtful and skillful writing can also help take your personal statement to the next level.

If you want to know more about how to incorporate these traits into your own essay, we have a whole guide about how to write the perfect personal statement .

But for now, let’s get into the examples.

We’ve broken up the example personal statements into three categories: best personal statement examples, good personal statement examples, and “bad” personal statement examples. These categories show you that there is a spectrum of what personal statements can look like. The best examples are the gold standard. They meet or exceed all four of the main criteria admissions officers are looking for. The good examples are just that: good. They’re solid examples that may be lacking in a specific area but are still effective personal statements. The “bad” examples are those that don’t yet stack up to the expectations of a personal statement. They’re not objectively bad, but they need some specific improvements to align with what admissions officers are looking for.

Here we go!

The Best Personal Statement Examples

Writing an exceptional personal statement takes a lot of time and effort. Even the best writers can find the genre challenging. But when you strike the perfect chord and get it right, it’s almost like magic. Your essay jumps off the page and captures an admissions officer’s attention. They feel like you’re right there with them, telling them everything they need to know to vote “yes” on your admission.

The following essays are some of our favorites. They cover a range of topics, styles, and student backgrounds. But they all tell meaningful stories about the writers’ lives. They are well-organized, use vivid language, and speak to the writers’ strengths.

For each essay, our team of former admissions officers have offered comments about what makes the essay exceptional. Take a look through the annotations and feedback to see what lessons you can apply to your own personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #1: Thankful

My family has always been broke. Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings, always the same drill: the kids (my brothers and me) would be loaded in the car with my parents and off we’d all go to the food pantry. New clothes were few and far between, and going on vacation was something that we could only dream of. Despite our financial struggles, one year, my parents decided to surprise us with a trip to Disney Land. It was a complete shock to me and my siblings. We were over the moon. In fact, the screams of excitement that emanated from my younger brother’s mouth still ring in my ears.

But as the trip drew close, my excitement tempered and I began to worry. Being poor when you’re young doesn’t just affect you materially. It also affects how you see the world and loads you up with a whole range of anxieties that, in an ideal world, no child should have to face. How were my parents going to afford this, I wondered? Would an expense like this push us over the brink?(( The beginning of this essay, and especially this sentence, show the writer’s empathy. They are not selfish; they understand their broader family context and take that into consideration.)) I didn't want to ruin the surprise by asking, but I couldn't shake the feeling of dread building inside of me.

The day of our trip arrived and we set off for the airport. In the car, my dad made an off-the-cuff comment about a new video game that he’d wanted to play but didn’t buy, and everything clicked—my parents had made the trip possible by saving for months, cutting back on expenses and sacrificing their own comforts to make the trip happen.

As we boarded the plane, I was filled with a mix of emotions. I was grateful beyond words for my parents' sacrifice, but I was also overwhelmed by the guilt of knowing that they had given up so much for us. I didn't know how to express my gratitude; when we deplaned in LAX, I gave my mom and dad a rib-crushing hug.

The trip itself was everything that I had dreamed of and more. We spent four magical days at Disney Land(( Nice use of vivid details here. The reader can picture the sights and smells of Disney—and the ensuing hunger when passing a churro stand.)) , speed running the roller coasters and campy boat rides from the 70s. Sure, we packed our own food and walked right by the churro stands with a hungry look in our eyes. But I will never forget the feeling of unmitigated joy that my family shared on that trip, the smiles that painted my parents’ faces.

But the trip itself was nothing compared to the gratitude I felt for my parents(( Here, the writer transitions to reintroducing the theme of gratitude.)) . They had given us the gift of a lifetime, and I knew that I would never be able to repay them for their sacrifice.

In the years since that trip, I have carried that feeling of gratitude with me. It has motivated me to work hard and to always strive to be the best person that I can be. I want to make my parents proud and to show them that their sacrifice was worth it(( Finally, the writer sums things up with an eye to the future. It’s helpful for an admission officer to picture what the essay’s lessons might mean for the student as a future community member.)) .

I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for what my parents did for us, but I will always remember their selflessness and their willingness to put their own needs aside for the sake of our happiness. It was a truly surprising and incredible act of love, and one that I will always be thankful for.

AO Notes on Thankful

This essay accomplishes a few things even though it essentially tells one story and offers a quick reflection. It gives some important context regarding the challenges of being from a lower-income family. It does that in a way that is authentic, rather than problem-focused. It also shows that the writer is empathetic, family-oriented, and reflective.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Vulnerability : This essay is upfront about a challenging topic: financial insecurity. While you don’t have to tell your most difficult challenge in an essay, this writer chose to write about a circumstance that gives additional context that may be helpful as admissions considers their application.
  • Personal : The writer gets into some family dynamics and paints a picture of how their family treats and takes care of each other.
  • Values: We clearly see some values the writer has and that they don’t take their parents’ sacrifices for granted. As an admission officer, I can picture this student using their education to give back—to their family or to others.

Personal Statement Example #2: Pickleball

I’ve always been one to have a good attitude no matter the circumstances. Except when it comes to exercise. From dodgeball in PE class to family Turkey Trots, I’m always the first one out and the last one across the finish line. These realities aren’t from a lack of skill—I’m actually quite coordinated and fast. They are from a lack of effort(( This is a quick hit of… either humor or vulnerability. I chuckled at the blunt honesty, and am intrigued to learn more.)) . Despite my best intentions, I can never get myself to care about sports or competitions. So when my dad first asked me to be his pickleball partner last summer, I did nothing but laugh.

But soon, I realized that he was serious. My dad started playing pickleball two years ago as a fun way to exercise. He’d become a star in our city’s recreation league, and I always enjoyed cheering him on from the sidelines. When his doubles partner got relocated for work, my dad decided that the disruption was a good opportunity for us bond through pickleball. Even though I was mortified by the thought of running back and forth to hit a bouncing ball, I reluctantly agreed.

The next Saturday morning, we went to the court for our first practice. I was wearing sweatpants, an old sweatshirt, and a grimace. My dad showed me how to hold the paddle, serve, and return the ball to our opponents. He told me about staying out of the kitchen—an endearing pickleball term that references the “kitchen,” or the middle part of the court—trying to make me laugh. Instead, I sighed impatiently and walked to my end of the court, ready to get it over with.

My dad remained patient in spite of my bad attitude. He gently served me the ball, and I gave a lackluster attempt to return it. The ball bounced into the net. I hadn’t even made it to his side of the court. Trying his best to encourage me, my dad gave me the ball so I could serve it to him instead. I tossed the ball up and hit it underhand toward my dad. It hit the net again. I tried again and again, each attempt with less care than the last. I grew frustrated and threw my paddle down in anger(( Okay, this paragraph gives a good dose of openness to the emotions of the writer. They’ve served up an opportunity to learn a lesson soon…)) .

After seeing my mini-meltdown, my dad crossed the kitchen to talk to me. During our conversation, I began to ask myself why I got so frustrated when I wasn’t trying very hard in the first place. I thought pickleball was a miserable sport, but I realized that it wasn’t pickleball that I cared about. I cared about my dad. I wanted to make him proud(( Ah, and there it is! A realization. As the admission officer I’m thinking, “Go on…”)) . Playing pickleball with him was the least I could do to thank him for everything he’d done for me. I dusted off my bad attitude alongside my paddle, and I got up to try another serve.

That serve hit the net again. But more determined now, I kept trying until my serves went over the net and through my dad’s weak side. I couldn’t believe it. My attitude adjustment helped me see the game for what it was: a game. It wasn’t supposed to be agonizing or cruel. It was supposed to be fun.

I learned that my attitude towards sports was unacceptable. This experience taught me that it’s okay to have preferences about what you enjoy, but it’s important to always maintain a positive attitude(( And the lesson learned! )) . You may just enjoy it after all.

Now my dad and I are both stars in our recreation league. Soon, we will make our way to our league’s semi-finals. We’ve worked our way through the bracket and are close to the championship. What I appreciate more about this experience, however, is how close it’s brought my dad and I together. His patience, positivity, and persistence have and will always inspire me. I want to be more like him every day, especially on the pickleball court.

AO Notes on Pickleball

This is a strong “attitude adjustment” essay, a bit of a remix of a challenge essay. The challenge, in this case, was a fixed mindset about sports that needed to be adjusted. The writer takes us on a witty journey through their own attitude towards organized athletic activities and their father.

  • Self-aware : Similar to the vulnerability of other essays, this writer is willing to criticize themselves by recognizing that they need an attitude adjustment. Even before they changed their attitude, we get the sense that they are at least aware of their own lack of effort.
  • Strong conclusion : We see a nice lesson at the end that relates both to having an open mind and caring for others. They even make a point about simply enjoying things because they are fun.
  • Life lesson : Beyond the stated lesson, as an admission officer with a few more years on this Earth than the writer, I can tell this lesson will apply beyond sports. In fact, I can easily picture this student trying a new class, club, or group of friends in college because they are now more open to novel experiences.

Personal Statement Example #3: The Bird Watcher

I’m an avid walker and bird watcher(( Okay, the writer gets right into it! I think this simple introduction of the topic works well because they are writing about a less common hobby among teenagers. If they had said “I am an avid baseball player”, I would have been less eager to learn more.)) . Growing up, I’d clear my head by walking along the trail in the woods behind my house. By the time I was immersed in the chaos of high school, these walks became an afternoon routine. Now, every day at three o’clock, I don my jacket and hiking shoes and set off. As I walk, I note the flora and fauna around me. The wind whispering through the trees, the quiet rustling of a chipmunk underfoot, and the high-pitched call of robins perched atop branches, all of it brings me back to life after a difficult day.

And recently, the days have been more difficult than not. My grandparents passing, parents divorcing, and doctor diagnosing me with ADHD have presented me with more challenges than I’ve ever experienced before. But no matter what’s going on in my life, the wildlife on my walks brings me peace. As an aspiring ornithologist, the birds are my favorite(( This paragraph accomplishes a lot: a montage of difficult circumstances, context for their application, and declares their future career.)) .

I became interested in ornithology during long childhood afternoons spent at my grandparents’ house. They would watch me while my parents finished up work. I’d listen to the old bird clock that hung on the wall in the kitchen. Each number on the clock corresponded with a different bird. Every hour, the clock would chirp rather than chime. When the cardinal sang, I knew my parents would be arriving soon. Those chirps are all seared into my memory.

Twelve o’clock: robin. The short, fast, almost laugh-like sound of the robin always makes me hungry. All those Saturday afternoons filled with laughter and good food have resulted in a Pavlovian response. I’d cook meatballs with my grandma, splashing sauce on her floral wall paper. We’d laugh and laugh and enjoy the meal together at her plastic-covered kitchen table. This wasn’t my home, but I felt at home just the same.

Three o’clock: blue jay. It’d chime as soon as we walked in the door after school. The blue jay was my grandpa’s favorite. It was also mine. Why he loved it, I’m not completely sure. But it was my favorite because it marked the beginning of the best parts of my day. Symbolizing strength and confidence, blue jays always remind me of my grandpa.

Six o’clock: cardinal. The sharp whistle and staccato of the cardinal indicated that it was almost time for me to leave. Like the whistle of a closing shift, I’d hear it and start to pack my things. The cardinal has always been my least favorite.

Nine o’clock: house finch. The high, sweet, almost inquisitive call of the house finch was the one my grandma loved most. It was also the one I rarely heard. Either too early or too late in the day, the house finch was reserved for the occasional weekends when I’d spend the night at their house. My grandma would explain that finches symbolize harmony and peace. They are petite but mighty, just like she was(( This is a clever and sweet way of describing summer days with grandparents, while sprinkling in some vivid details to bring the story to life.)) .

This past weekend was the anniversary of my grandpa’s passing. Longing for my grandparents, I went for a walk. Winter is approaching, so the sky was darkening quickly. I walked slowly. As the sun set, I heard the tell-tale squawk of a blue jay, loud and piercing through the chill of the wind. I looked around and saw it sitting on an old stump, a small house finch behind it. I extracted my binoculars from my backpack, hoping to get a better glimpse through the dark. I turned the dial to focus the lenses, just as the birds flew away together. I took a deep breath, binoculars in hand, and continued on, spotting a robin in the distance(( The ending stylistically wraps the essay up without tying a bow on it. It’s a more artful way of concluding, and it works well here.)) .

AO Notes on Birdwatcher

This first two paragraphs are well-written and fairly to-the-point in their language. They do a nice job of setting the scene, but the third paragraph transitions into the writer’s distinctive voice. They detail the birds on the clock to chronicle the hours of their summer days and end, not without concluding, but leaving the reader wanting to read more of their stories.

  • Voice: The writer transitions to writing in their own distinct voice, which comes to a crescendo in the final paragraph.
  • Interesting approach: Sometimes students use an approach to tell a story that feels overly forced or cleche. This one feels organic and relates nicely to the writer, their family, and the story as a whole.
  • Career path : This is far from a “What I want to be when I grow up” essay, but it clearly shows an academic interest grounded in family and childhood memories. This is an artistic and beautiful approach to showing admissions how the writer may use their college education.

Personal Statement Example #4: Chekov’s Wig

At the age of six, I starred in an at-home, one-woman production of Annie. My family watched as I switched between a wig I’d fashioned from maroon yarn, a dog’s tail leftover from Halloween, and a tie I’d stolen from my dad.

When the reveal came that Annie’s parents had actually passed away, I took a creative liberty: they had left Annie a small unicorn farm. The rest of the play proceeded as normal. When the curtain closed, I bowed to the sound of my family’s applause. But one set of hands was missing: my grandmother’s. Instead she sat, arms raised, and jokingly exclaimed, “But what about the unicorns?”(( Wow, an interesting intro! We see creativity and a silly side to the writer. As the admission officer, I’m eager to see where this leads.))

My grandma, an avid thespian, taught me a lot about life. But one of the most important lessons followed this production of Annie . After we laughed about her remark, she introduced me to the concept of Chekov’s gun. For Anton Chekov, brilliant playwright, the theory goes something like this: a writer shouldn’t write about a loaded gun if it’s not going to be fired. In other words, writers shouldn’t include details about something if it won’t serve a purpose in the story later. My unicorn farm had committed this writing faux pas egregiously.

I’m not a natural writer, and I have no goal to become one, but I’ve taken this concept of Chekov’s gun to heart—it forms the foundation of my life philosophy. I don’t believe that everything was meant to be(( This philosophical reflection is a nice introduction to the paragraphs that follow. )) . In fact, I think that sometimes bad things just happen. But I believe that these details will always play a part in our larger story.

The first test of my Chekov’s gun philosophy occurred shortly after Annie when my grandma, my biggest supporter, passed away. My family tried to console me saying that “it was her time to go,” but I disagreed. I couldn’t see how a death could be destined. Instead, I found comfort knowing that her presence, her support, and her death wasn’t for nothing. Like Chekov’s gun, I wasn’t quite sure how or why, but I knew that she would return for me.

As I grew older, my philosophy was tested time and again. Most recently, I fell back on Chekov’s gun as I coped with my parents’ divorce and my subsequent move to a new town. Both events shattered my world. My happy family theatre productions turned into custody hearings and overnight bags. The community I’d found at my old school became a sea of unfamiliar faces at my new one. None of this was meant to be. But as the writer of my own life, I won’t let the details become inconsequential.

I’ve used these events as plot points in my high school experience. Dealing with my parents’ divorce has taught me how to make the best of what’s given to me. I got the chance to decorate two bedrooms, live in both the suburbs and the city, and even have twice the amount of pets. And without the inciting incident of the divorce and move(( We see that the writer is able to make lemonade out of lemons here.)) , I never would have joined a new drama club or landed leading roles in Mama Mia and Twelfth Night. The divorce and move, like Chekov’s gun, have been crucial details in getting me where I’m at today.

I know that Chekov’s gun is more about the details in a story, but this philosophy empowers me to take what happens, the good and the bad, as part of my personal character development. Nothing would be happening if it weren’t important.

This summer, as we cleaned our garage in preparation for yet another move, I found my old Annie wig, yarn tangled from the box. Next to the wig was a note, handwritten in a script I’d recognize anywhere. My darling star, it read. You are going to go on to do great things. Love, Grandma ((And a sweet, or bittersweet, conclusion.)) .

AO Notes on Chekov’s Wig

This essay tells a beautiful story about a foundational philosophy in this young writer’s life. As their admission officer, I can see how grounded and positive they are. I can also imagine them taking this lesson to college: really paying attention to life, reflecting on the past, and understanding the value of even the smallest instances. There is an inherent maturity in this essay.

  • Creativity: From the first few sentences, we can see that this student is now, and was as a child, creative. An original thinker.
  • Reflective: When challenged by their grandmother, the writer didn’t insist that their way was correct. They took the criticism in stride and absorbed it as a salient life lesson. This shows open-mindedness and an uncommon level of maturity.
  • Silver linings: It’s clear that this young writer has had some familial challenges that are likely familiar to some of you. They don’t gloss over them, but instead they learn from them. From having more pets to starring in the school musicals, there are lessons to glean from even life’s more difficult challenges.

Personal Statement Example #5: An Afternoon with Grandmother

The Buddhist temple on the hillside above my home has always possessed a deep power for me. With its towering spires and intricate carvings thousands of years old, it is a place of peace and serenity(( This writer opens with some wonderful imagery. I like how the imagery mirrors the meaning.)) —somewhere I can go to escape the chaos of the world and connect with myself and with my sense of spirituality. When my grandmother called me one January to let me know that she would be coming to visit, I smiled, my mind darting immediately to the temple and to the visit of it we would take together.

My relationship with my grandmother is a special one. After my parents passed away, she and my grandfather raised me for three years before I moved in with my father’s sister. In that time, she was my sole companion; she shared her recipes with me, told me stories, and most importantly, she taught me everything I know about spirituality. We spent countless nights staying up past bed-time, talking about the teachings of the Buddha, and she encouraged me gently to explore my own path to enlightenment(( This topic is accomplishing a lot: we see the writer’s relationship with their grandmother, their personal values, and their ideas about who they want to be in the future.)) .

When my grandmother finally arrived, I felt bathed in a warm glow. After catching up and preparing her favorite meal—red rice with miso soup and hot green tea—I told her about the plans I had for us to visit my special place.

Later that afternoon, as we entered the temple, I felt the calmness and tranquility wash over me. I took my grandmother's hand and led her to the main hall, where we knelt before the altar and began to recite the prayers and mantras that I had learned from her years before.

As we prayed, our voices joined together, echoing throughout the temple. A gentle rain began to fall outside and, as the cold crept around where we knelt, I was engulfed by a deep sense of connection with my grandmother and with the universe. It was as if the barriers between us were falling away, and we were becoming one—with each other, and with our shared connection to the divine.

We finished our prayers and sat in silence, lingering in the serenity of the temple. I could feel my grandmother's hand in mine, and I was filled with a sense of gratitude and love(( A great example of weaving vivid language with explicit reflection!)) .

Spirituality has been essential in my life. It gives me a sense of grounding and purpose, and it teaches me the value of compassion. My spirituality has also given me a way to connect with my grandmother on a deeper level—like a private language that only we speak together. In a world that can often feel chaotic and disconnected, faith and spirituality provide a sense of stability and connection.

As we left the temple, I held my grandmother's hand and felt suffused by a sense of peace and contentment. Too often people who are disconnected from spirituality misunderstand the role it plays in billions of people’s lives. They see it as a way to “check out” from the issues the world faces, ignoring their responsibilities to others. This may be true for others, but not me. Quite the opposite. My spirituality helps me empathize with others(( Wonderful reflection.)) ; it helps me focus on the obligations we each have to every other person and creature on this planet. For me, it is the ultimate way to “check in” to the needs of the world and my community in a way that grounds me emotionally.

Spirituality offers a way to find meaning and purpose in life, and to connect with something greater than ourselves. For that, and for my grandmother, I am truly grateful.

AO Notes on An Afternoon with Grandmother

In this deeply reflective essay, the writer uses spirituality and their relationship with their grandmother to reveal a very personal part of themselves. The writer isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and they clearly showcase strengths of wisdom and compassion.

  • Vivid language: This author is a talented writer who has included a bunch of vivid language. But it’s not over the top. They include just enough to hold a reader’s attention and add some interest.
  • Reflection: The reflection throughout this essay is excellent. Notice how it’s not just at the beginning or the end. It’s woven throughout. The writer follows up each major detail with an explanation of why it’s personally meaningful.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion combines vivid language and reflection perfectly. By the end of the essay, we know exactly what the writer wants us to take away: spirituality is personally meaningful to them because it helps them connect with the people around them. And I especially like how the writer chose to end on a note of gratitude—always a good value to have in a personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #6: Rosie’s

While most people find their lowest point at rock bottom, I found mine in an Amerikooler DW081677F-8(( We’re definitely off to an odd start. I’m curious where this is headed!)) . With drops rolling down my back and my cheeks, I snuck into the walk-in freezer for a moment of chill.

At that point, I had worked at Rosie's for nearly a year. The job was a good one: it fit with my school schedule, paid well, and introduced me to close friends. But as a workplace, Rosie’s was pure chaos. The original owners passed on a host of problems the new owners were working hard to fix. But the problems ran deep. From an inefficient kitchen organization to a malfunctioning scheduling software, we never knew what to do or when.

The day I found myself in the Amerikooler was the day everything caught up with us(( This is a good transitional phrase that helps readers navigate this fairly complex narrative.)) . An error in our scheduling software led to us operating with only 30% of our typical team. As the only waitress on duty, I ran between the kitchen and the guests, stopping mid-delivery to put new vegetables in the steamers. The kitchen staff were barely getting through each dish before customers lost patience.

Then, in all the commotion, I dropped a plate of macaroni and cheese all over a customer. I apologized over and over again. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I always tried to be one step ahead to give my customers the best service, so my mistake felt like an utter failure. After helping them clean up, I ran immediately to the freezer. I realized that something had to change.

In the Amerikooler, a pea and corn mix cool on my back, I considered my options. The easiest option was to quit. I could find another job, one that didn’t cause me so much stress. But quitting wouldn’t just mean giving up. It would mean accepting my failure. It would also mean abandoning the coworkers I had grown close to. Leaving them would only burden them more. While I knew it wasn’t my job to fix the restaurant, I knew that leaving wasn’t the answer either. Instead, I decided to focus on solutions(( I like the focus on solutions and action steps here!)) . I stood up from the cold, dirty freezer floor, dusted off my work pants, washed my hands, and got back to work.

Despite being the newest and youngest member of the Rosie’s staff, I recognized that I brought a new perspective to the workplace. Having spent the previous three summers scheduling volunteers for my local food drive, I used my organizing experience to devise a new scheduling system, one that didn’t rely on our outdated technology. I brought up the system at our weekly meeting, and after initial pushback, everyone agreed to give it a try. Three months later, my system keeps everyone happy and our kitchen and floor staffed.

But it wasn’t just the staffing problem that was the issue. Our workflows were inefficient, and we didn’t know how to communicate or collaborate effectively. I know that identifying an issue is always the first step to a solution, so I raised the question at our most recent staff meeting. Having earned my coworkers’ and bosses’ trust(( And here we see some good growth and leadership.)) , I led us in outlining a few new processes to streamline our productivity. In stark contrast to the failure I felt after spilling the macaroni and cheese, developing a new workflow with my coworkers made me proud. I hadn’t given in to the chaos, but I had worked thoughtfully and collaboratively to create new solutions.

I’m sure that won’t be my last time working in a disorganized environment or spilling macaroni and cheese. But I know that I’ll be ready to address whatever comes my way.

AO Notes on Rosie’s

If you’ve ever worked in a food establishment, then something in this essay will probably resonate with you. But I appreciate how the writer doesn’t get pulled into the negativity they experience. Instead, they focused their efforts (and their essay) on how they could make things better for everyone. That’s the kind of student admissions officers want to see on their campuses.

  • Organization: The writer has to narrate and backtrack a bit at the beginning of the essay to make the introduction work. But it’s not confusing for a reader because they have very solid transitions. I also like how the action steps and reflection are organized in the narrative.
  • Positive outlook: As an admissions officer, I would admire this student for their problem-solving skills. Working in that environment was surely tough, but they didn’t give up. They got to work and helped everyone out in the process.
  • Humor: From the introduction to the conclusion, the writer incorporates subtle humor throughout. Because of it, we actually feel like we know the writer by the conclusion. Too much humor can overwhelm a personal essay, but just enough can help readers see who the writer really is.

Personal Statement Example #7: Gone Fishing

I pulled the line with my left hand and snapped the rod back with my right. The line split through the air above me like a knife through cake. I rigidly waved my right arm up and down to dry off my fly, which had started sinking from the weight of the water. Ready to cast, I loosened the grip on my left hand to release a few more feet of line, pulled my right arm back in a grandiose motion, and hammered it back down. I expected my line to fly out in front of me, gracefully floating back onto the surface of the water. Instead, I was met with a startling resistance. My fly had lodged itself into the bush behind me(( This opening paragraph has great vivid description. Here, we end on a moment of suspense that has left me intrigued about what will happen next.)) .

Annoyed, I waded through the tall, thick grass, rod under my arm and mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. This was the reality of fly fishing. In my short time as a fisherman, I’d caught far more trees, bushes, and riverweed than I had fish. What seems so elegant in movies like A River Runs Through It is actually a grueling process of trial and error. I took up flyfishing a year ago to conquer my fear of the outdoors(( Ah ha—we learn that this essay isn’t really about fly fishing. It’s about conquering a fear. And with that, we see that the stakes are high.)) . I could have (and probably should have) chosen a more mild activity like hiking or kayaking, but I’ve always been one to take on a challenge.

I had been afraid of the outdoors since childhood. Coming from a family that prefers libraries to parks and bed and breakfasts to tents, I never learned how to appreciate nature. I limited my time outside as much as I could. I feared the bugs, the sun, and the unknown.

I decided to try flyfishing when I realized I didn’t want to be controlled by my fear any longer(( As an AO, I would applaud this student’s bravery.)) . All the birthday parties I’d turned down, the memories that were made without me, I had missed out on so much. Being outside was an integral part of the human experience—or, at least, that’s what I’d been told. Without being willing to enjoy nature, I was missing out on what it meant to be myself.

Soon after this realization, I found an old rod in my grandpa’s garage and took it as a sign from the universe. On my first time out, my Honda Civic lurched over a ditch on the gravel road Google Maps had directed me to. I’d spent hours watching YouTube videos of proper technique. Stepping out of my car, I felt my skin crack under the dry heat, and I wanted to leave. But I continued on, walking through branches and over logs to the riverbank. I was doing it( More vivid detail that really gives us a sense of the writer’s discomfort—yet they’re persisting.)) .

I pushed myself to continue, no matter how uncomfortable I got. I went back, Saturday after Saturday, each time noticing improvements in my abilities. Along the way, I learned to push myself to do things that make me uncomfortable. I saw myself in a new light. I wasn’t Charlie, afraid of the outdoors. I was Charlie, fisherman.

The first time I caught a fish, I could hardly believe it. Thinking I had caught another piece of riverweed, I tugged on my line and rolled my eyes. But suddenly, it started tugging back. It was a sensation I’d never experienced before, one of haste, pride, and panic. I instantly collected myself, bracing against the bank as I secured the line with my finger and slowly pulled the fish ashore. Delicately removing my hook from its mouth, I admired its beauty. Whereas I had once feared creatures like this trout, I now respected it. Its holographic scales glistened in the sunlight. I thanked it for helping me grow, and I placed it back in the water. It swam away. I wiped the slime off my hands and picked up my rod, left hand tugging at the line, right hand snapping back again((This conclusion is quite long, but I really like this poetic ending. It shows so much growth, and there’s a subtle nod to the fact that the writer is continuing to fish.)) .

AO Notes on Gone Fishing

From all this imagery, I really felt like I was fishing alongside them. What’s better, I feel like I really get where this student is coming from because of their vulnerability. They show immense growth and open-mindedness, which is exactly what admissions officers are looking for.

  • Imagery: This writer definitely likes creative writing. From the introduction, we can envision ourselves going on this journey with the writer. There is some excellent “show, don’t tell” here.
  • Deep personal meaning: Biggest fears are hard to overcome, especially with such a good attitude. It’s clear that this topic is a meaningful one to the writer. Even the act of fly fishing, which they didn’t seem to like much at first, becomes a meaningful act.
  • Narrative arc: We have a classic “going on a journey” essay, where the writer transforms on a journey from point A (being afraid of the outdoors) to point B (catching a fish). The writer’s implementation of this structure is excellent, which makes the essay easy to follow along.

Good Personal Statement Examples

Even if your essay isn’t worthy of The New Yorker , you can still make your mark on admissions officers. Writing an essay that fulfills all the goals of a personal statement, whether or not it meets every single criterion an admissions officer is looking for, can still get you into a great college.

Most personal statements are good personal statements, so don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amazing essay examples you see online. The key to writing a good personal statement is writing your personal statement. Focus on finding a topic that lets you communicate your own meaning and voice, and you’ll be set.

The following examples are awesome personal statements. There may be a little room for improvement in places, but the essays do exactly what they need to do. And they say a lot about their writers. Let’s see what the writers and admissions officers have to say.

Personal Statement Example #8: Beekeeper’s Club

As I lift the heavy lid of the hive, the hum of thousands of bees fills my ears. I carefully smoke the entrance to calm the bees, and I begin to inspect the frames. The bees are busy at work, collecting nectar and pollen, and tending to their young. I am in awe of their organization.

I never would have thought that I, a high school student, would become a beekeeper(( An interesting hobby for a high school student! I’m intrigued to see where this is going.)) . But now it’s something I can’t imagine my life without.

It all started when I found a beekeeping suit at a garage sale two summers ago. At a mere five dollars, it was yellowing and musty, but it appeared to be fully intact and without any holes. I’ve lived many lives as a hobbyist, always willing to try new things. I’ve been a sailor, a gardener, a basketball player, a harpist, a rock climber, and more. The problem is that I can never manage to see these hobbies through(( I see. Here we get a sense of what’s at stake in this new venture. The problem is that writer can’t seem to hold down a hobby. Will beekeeping solve that problem? Let’s find out .)) . As a perpetual novice, I always lose interest or become overwhelmed by all the information. But that’s never stopped me from taking up a new hobby, so I brought the beekeeping suit to the make-shift register and handed the seller a five-dollar bill.

To embark on my new hobby, I first went to the library and read everything I could find about beekeeping. Research is always my first step when starting something new. I like to know what I’m in for. As I read, I became fascinated by the fact that such small creatures can serve such a critical role on our planet. I learned about the importance of bees for pollinating crops, and I read that their populations have been declining in recent years. I was determined to do my part to help. This wasn’t just a hobby anymore— it was a mission(( And the stakes just got higher.)) .

But like the bees I’d been reading about, I knew I couldn't do it alone. My years of abandoning hobbies had taught me that this time, I needed guidance from someone with experience. I knew the first place to look. At the farmer’s market that Saturday, I went straight to the honey stand and introduced myself. The vendor’s name was Jeremy, and he was excited to see someone so young taking up beekeeping. I asked if I could come see his hives sometime, and he agreed.

I showed up the next weekend with my used beekeeping suit in hand. Jeremy gave me a tour. I was astounded by the simultaneous simplicity and complexity. As the months went by, Jeremy became my mentor. He taught me the importance of monitoring the health of the hive, how to properly harvest honey, and even the ins and outs of the farmer’s market business.

I was grateful for his guidance and friendship. I found myself becoming more and more passionate about bees and the art of beekeeping.

After months of tending to my hive, I finally had it up and running. These bees were in my care(( The writer has shown us that they’ve learned a big lesson from their past failures: they need support and guidance. I’m impressed that this time they are making an intentional change.)) —this was one hobby I couldn’t abandon. With that knowledge and Jeremy’s support, one hive grew to five. I’m not in it for the money or even the honey. I’m in it for the bees, for the millimeter of difference I’m making in their lives and in the life of the earth.

Through beekeeping, I have found a community of people who share my love for bees. Jeremy, the bees, and the entire beekeeping community have taught me not to quit. We support each other, share tips and advice, and work together to help protect these important insects. And in the process, I have learned that I can take up any new hobby I want and stick with it if I just put in enough effort(( Yep—the writer has come out of this journey on the other side, having learned that their effort does pay off.)) .

AO Notes on Beekeeper’s Club

As an admissions officer, it’s always fun to read about students’ eccentric hobbies. I’d count this as one of them. But what’s better than learning about the hobby is seeing a student’s personal growth.

What makes this essay good:

  • Personal journey: Most good personal statements show some kind of personal growth. In this case, we see that the writer has grown mature and aware enough to hold down a hobby. We see that it wasn’t an easy road, but they got there.
  • Strengths: There are lots of strengths in this personal statement. We see self-awareness, initiative, teamwork, and care for the bees and the planet.
  • Reflection: Part of what makes this personal journey so good is that the writer takes us on the journey with them through reflection. At each stage of the journey, we know exactly what the writer is thinking and feeling. By the end, we’re celebrating their success with them.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Personal meaning: Yep, “personal journey” and “personal meaning” can be two separate things. Although the writer goes on a great personal journey, the personal meaning seems to be lacking a bit. It’s clear that this is an important topic to the writer, but it doesn’t exactly come across as an especially vulnerable one. The writer could make it more vulnerable by incorporating more personal meaning into their reflection: what would it have meant if they had quit beekeeping too? What’s the problem with dropping hobbies in the first place? Why is it personally important to learn to stick with things?

Personal Statement Example #9: Ann

Pushing her blonde curls from her forehead, she pursed her lips in focus(( This vivid, detailed description really draws me in.)) . She sat with legs crossed across the kitchen chair. This was it: the moment she’d been preparing for. Her tiny hand gripped the pencil as if it were a stick of dynamite and twitched her fingers up, down, and back again. She looked up at me and smiled, teeth too big for her growing mouth. “Ann,” the paper read. As I glowed back at my mini-me, I saw in her my whole heart(( And here the focus switches from Ann to the writer—an important transition.)) .

My sister was technically an accident, born when I was eleven years old. But I know that, in the grand scheme of things, Ann’s existence was destined by the cosmos. Watching her write was like looking in a mirror. My hair has long since turned brown, but she and I deal with the same unmanageable curls. Her toothy grin developed over five years of mutual laughter. And she got that unwavering focus from watching me do my own homework each night. At the same time I’ve taught her the ways of the world, she’s taught me joy, patience, and persistence(( Lessons learned! This sentence really draws attention to the main theme. It could be a little more specific because “joy, patience, and persistence” are almost cliche.)) .

I had been an only child for my first decade of life. I remember being lonely and without purpose. With Ann came the opportunity to make a real impact on someone, even as a child myself. The night she was born, I vowed to protect her. I had never seen anyone so small and fragile, and I begged my parents to let me hold her. Next to mine, her hand looked like a doll’s. It was purple and pink from the ordeal of birth. Her eyes barely opened, but I couldn’t keep mine off her.

Many older siblings find their younger siblings to be nuisances. But Ann has always been my best friend. Her first two years of life, she struggled with health issues that scared us all. I felt helpless and afraid, but I knew I had to fight alongside her. I did everything I could: I grabbed diapers and bottles for my parents, I talked to her for hours on end, and, when she was old enough, I spoon fed her and encouraged her to eat. As Ann grew bigger and stronger, I grew stronger, too(( It sounds like this was a really difficult challenge for the writer and their family. I appreciate this picture we get of the writer in relation to Ann.)) .

Each year has gotten better than the previous. I was there to catch Ann when she took her first steps, teach her her first words, and get her dressed every day. She tagged behind me as I took photos before my first dance, got my learner’s permit, and went on my college tours. While being a teen with a toddler sibling wasn’t always perfect, Ann’s mere presence makes those around her feel loved and appreciated. She’s exactly who I aspire to be.

Watching her write her name at the kitchen table, I became overwhelmed with the thought of leaving her to head off to college. She still has so much to learn, so many ways to grow. But just as the thought entered my mind, she spoke in her high-pitched and innocent voice. “When you go to college,” she asked, “will you tell me about your classes?” I blinked away the tears gathering in my eyes, smoothed her curls with my hand, and pulled her in close.

Going to college won’t mean leaving Ann. It will mean opening her world—and mine—to endless new knowledge and possibilities. She’ll grow and change, and so will I. When we reunite, we’ll smile our toothy smiles and embrace each other, our curly hair intertwining. We’ll sit at the kitchen table, focused and laughing, like nothing has changed(( I like how the siblings are continuing to grow together, but at the end of the day, they still have their amazing relationship.)) .

AO Notes on Ann

I always find sibling essays like this one so sweet. It’s amazing how clearly we can understand someone solely through their interactions with a loved one. As an admissions officer, I would see that this student would be a great community member (and roommate!).

  • Deeply meaningful: Especially with the family context, it’s apparent that this topic is deeply meaningful to the writer. Because it’s so meaningful a topic, the writer is able to show an immense amount of care for Ann without even trying. AOs love seeing traits like care, maturity, and the ability to grow.
  • Clear message: Personal statements should have themes that encompass the main message the writer wants to convey. This essay’s message is clear as day: the writer is a better, happier, more generous person because of Ann. They are an awesome sibling.
  • More about the self: This one’s tricky because we get an implicit sense of who the writer is now through the overall tone and meaning. But a lot of the personal examples the writer chose are old examples from childhood and early adolescence. Some of those are important to provide family context, but I still would have liked to get a more recent picture of the writer.

Personal Statement Example #10: Running through My Neighborhood

My mind and eyes began to wander as I turned the corner on my fourth mile. I’ve always been a runner. It's a way for me to relax and challenge myself. Running makes me feel like I’m one with the world around me. As I run, I can't help but be struck by the beauty of the buildings and people that make up my city. Each is a work of art—a carefully-crafted expression of my community. With every step, I feel a deep connection to the life around me(( This introduction covers a lot, so this last sentence could be a bit more specific.)) .

On my run, I find myself drawn to the intricate details of the buildings. I admire the way the light catches on centuries-old bricks, casting shadows that dance across the pavement below. I look up at the skyscraper windows that nearly touch the sky, frightened at the sight of window washers. Old and new, the buildings all carry stories.

In the same way, I admire the neighbors around me. I see them feeding pigeons, smiling at me as I pass by. They’re walking dogs and babies, talking on a park bench, and playing hopscotch. I run by them, fast but steady, and breathe it all in. I’m on this beautiful city block, surrounded by people whose whole lives are familiar yet mysterious, and I’m running.

But it's not just the aesthetic beauty of the buildings that grabs my attention. As I run, I find myself thinking about the stories and histories behind each one. I wonder about the people who built them, the families they had at home, the lives they led. I think about the people who have lived and worked in these buildings and the memories that have been made within their walls.

Take the local bakery, for instance. I’ve run by there a thousand times in my life, each time soaking up the smell of freshly-baked bread and pastries. The building seems unassuming at first, with a simple glass door and brick façade. But once you step foot inside, you’re immediately hit with the warmth of the staff and patrons. The old photos on the wall and cozy furniture that has been there since the bakery’s opening back in the 1950s—it feels like home(( These are great vivid details.)) . The bakery is everything I value about my neighborhood. It completely represents what kind of neighbor I want to be. Plus, it’s not a bad place for a post-run snack.

Through my runs, I’ve also made connections with those who frequent the sidewalks alongside me. One of the people I see regularly on my runs is Mrs. Carter, an elderly woman who always has a kind word and a smile for everyone she meets. Her white hair is carefully curled, and her face is dimpled with laugh lines from thousands of conversations like ours. She often stops to chat with me, asking how my day is going and sharing stories from her own life. I always look forward to seeing her. She’s like the grandmother I never had. Mrs. Carter inspires me to be a better community member every day(( This kind of reflection brings the focus back to the writer’s personal journey.)) .

Running through my neighborhood is about more than just staying fit. It’s also about being in community with those around me. As I weave through the people on the sidewalk, I feel as though I am weaving myself through their stories, picking up tidbits and adding them to my own narrative. I wouldn’t be who I am today without these runs that have taught me so much. I can’t wait to run across my college campus, admiring my new surroundings and meeting my new neighbors(( I like this gesture to the future—as an AO, I would start to picture this student running through my campus, too!)) .

AO Notes on Running through My Neighborhood

Running essays can get a bad rap in college admissions. But this one overcomes that stereotype. At its core, this essay is about the runner’s relationship to their community. I really appreciate how much care and enthusiasm this writer shows for those around them.

  • Writing: The writer’s voice shines through. They have great vivid descriptions, and we’re really able to envision ourselves in the neighborhood alongside them.
  • Personal meaning: The way the writer describes those they encounter in their neighborhood shows that this isn’t a minor part of their life. Their runs are a big deal. The people they see along the way have greatly shaped who they are.
  • Greater focus on self: Now, there are much worse culprits when it comes to personal essays that focus on people other than the writer. But the writer does toe the line. Their descriptions mostly focus on those around them, and while there is some reflection that connects their own experience to other people, it doesn’t actually take up much space in the essay. To level up, the writer could make this essay more about themself.

Personal Statement Example #11: Musical Installation Art

As a child, I was always drawn to stringed instruments(( The hook could have more punch, but this gets the job done.)) . I would pluck at my dad's old guitars, create makeshift harps with dental floss, and even play around with the banjo and harp in music class. As I got older, I realized that I wanted to focus on making my own instruments. And where better to start than in my dad's scrapyard? The yard sprawled out for almost five acres behind our house. It was a marvel of junk and oddities, with the accumulated garbage from hundreds of junker cars built up in our backyard. I grew up playing there, leading a childhood that most parents would probably see as reckless—rolling tires through narrow alleyways between crushed cars stacked high. But for me, the backyard was an endless playground for my imagination.

It was there that I discovered the joys of welding and soldering. I would rummage through piles of metal and find pieces that I could fashion into something new. My first sculptures were simple, resembling birds or dogs and pieced together from strips of metal. I’d look for similar art everywhere I went, grasping for inspiration. At a fair one weekend, I saw a booth run by an artist who built guitars. After speaking with him about his art, he asked to see a picture of my sculptures. I showed him and explained that I hoped to make my own instruments one day, too. He scuttled to the back of his tent and returned with a gift: a set of thick copper strings. “Try using those,”(( What an endearing story.)) he told me.

My first sculpture instrument was a crude thing—little more than a board of metal with pegs that I used to pull the copper strings tight. But I tightened them, I was in love—spending all night plucking away. At first, the instrument wailed and screeched. String by string, I delicately tuned the wires into sirens. I had created something that played music, and I was so proud.

My experience building the instrument motivated me to enroll in a sculpture class at the local community college. It was there that I learned how to properly solder metal and create more complex structures. For my final project, I made a three-foot-tall, four-stringed metal instrument in the shape of a dragon.

But as I worked, I started to realize that my dragon wasn't going to be beautiful in the traditional sense. Its metal body was jagged and uneven, and the strings were stretched tight across its back in a way that produced discordant, almost abrasive music. I tried to adjust the tuning, but no matter what I did, the music remained harsh and unpleasant.

At first, I was disappointed. I wanted my dragon to be a work of art, something that people would marvel at and love listening to. But as I continued to play with it, I started to see the beauty in the chaos(( This paragraph shows wonderful growth. And as a reader, I’m drawn in trying to imagine what the sculpture actually looks like.)) . The music it produced was like a musical language that I had invented, one that was wild and untamed. It was a reflection of my own creativity and individuality. A discordant collection of notes that sounded like they’d been tuned so as to be atonal. But I didn't care. I was a scrapyard kid, and this dragon played the song of my people: strong, innovative, and beautiful.

The combination of sculpture and music fascinates me. How does the shape of a fabrication affect the kind of sound that the object produces? What sounds do different materials produce? As I’ve learned more about sculpture, I’ve also become interested in installation art that has sound dimensions. I want to capture people’s visual and aural attention to inspire questions about how we navigate the aesthetic world(( It sounds like this topic potentially relates to the student’s future goals. If that’s true, there could be a clearer academic connection here.)) . And I’ll use whatever scraps I can find to make my creations.

AO Notes on Musical Installation Art

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of musical installation art myself, so this topic really held my attention. I appreciate the journey the writer went on to learn that their art may not look like everyone else’s, but it can be just as impactful.

  • Topic: I like this topic not only because it’s not one you see every day but also because it lets the writer reveal a lot about themself and their background. We see where they grew up and who they grew up with, and we also learn about this deeply meaningful personal interest.
  • Writing style: This author has a very distinct writing style. In some ways, the writing style mirrors their art style—abrupt at times, melodic at others.
  • Organization: The first half of this essay doesn’t always match up with the second half. Even though we’re still able to see the writer’s journey as a metal artist and musician, there’s still a bit of streamlining that needs to happen.

Personal Statement Example #12: Ski Patrol

I can never get enough of being in the mountains(( This hook isn’t very compelling, so it could use some more attention.)) . I am a skier through and through. Growing up, I spent countless family vacations on the slopes with my dad and siblings. I love the rush I get speeding down the mountain—I’ve improved so much over my life that I can now handle most runs I come across. But last year, I took my love for skiing to a whole other level by joining ski patrol.

It was mid-December, and my family had decided to take a weekend away to go skiing. Everything was going normally at first. We had a good day on the slopes and wanted to go one more run before calling it a night. We took a moment to rest and watched the person in front of us go. Only seconds after she headed down the mountain, something happened with her ski. She catapulted into a nearby tree. People raced to check on her, while we stayed back and alerted ski patrol.

When ski patrol arrived, I watched in amazement. They moved in such a precise way. They were like a machine—everyone knew exactly what to do when. Thankfully, it was a false alarm and the skier only had a few scratches. But my own life was changed forever. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this team, to help others in a tangible way and to make a difference on the mountain that had always been my home.

As soon as I could, I applied for the Junior Ski Patrol team. I had to go through a tryout process on the hill, which made me nervous. But it felt good to be surrounded by people who loved skiing as much as I do. Thankfully, I was accepted shortly after; it was one of the best days of my life. Now on Junior Ski Patrol, I have the opportunity to do what I love – skiing – while also making a positive impact on others(( And here we get to the heart of the essay. The writer wants to help others while doing something they love. It’s a noble pursuit!)) . My team shadows the adult Ski Patrol, and we learn a lot of lessons along the way.

On the mountain (and in life), you never know what challenges might arise. One of the most important things I’ve learned from Junior Ski Patrol is to be prepared for anything. I’ve gotten my CPR and first aid certifications so I’m always prepared to administer life-saving care to anyone who might need it. I know how to pack a bag full of enough essentials to survive harsh weather or injuries.

But ski patrol has also taught me so much more than just how to help others. It has shown me how I work best on a team. I’m not naturally a leader, which is something I’ve always felt ashamed about. After learning from our mentors who all fulfill different roles on their adult Ski Patrol team, I realized that I don’t have to be a leader to be a good team member. The quiet collaborators who can follow the lead, take initiative when needed, and do their jobs really well are just as important as the people who are front-and-center(( An important personal insight.)) .

Being on ski patrol as a high school student has been an incredible journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a dedicated team. More importantly, I’m proud of the growth I’ve experienced. I went from a person who just loves skiing to a person who is more confident in herself. I no longer feel unprepared or timid. I know exactly how to keep myself safe and work alongside others. While I don’t want to be a professional Ski Patroller or even go into medicine, I know these lessons will serve me well wherever life takes me(( As an AO, I would have been wondering if being on JSP made them want to study medicine, so I appreciate that they answered it for me!)) . But no matter where I end up, when the mountain calls, you know I’ll answer.

AO Notes on Ski Patrol

In this fun hobby-meets-accomplishment essay, the writer shows us their strengths of care and teamwork. I like the crossover between something that they really enjoy and this impressive accomplishment they have of being on Junior Ski Patrol.

  • Lessons learned: The writer makes it very clear what lessons they learned from Junior Ski Patrol. Lessons don’t always have to be this explicit, but I appreciate how the writer really takes the time to reflect on what they’ve learned.
  • Personal insight: Okay, this point is related to the lessons learned. But it’s important to draw out on its own because personal essays are, of course, personal. This topic easily could have been just about skiing down a mountain or administering first aid on patrol. Instead, the writer kept the focus inward to meet the expectations of a personal essay.
  • What’s at stake?: We do get a good sense of personal meaning. But the writer could do a better job of speaking to the significance of this activity to their life. A good question to ask is, “What’s at stake?” What would I have lost or gained if this story had turned out differently? Asking these questions can also help you figure out what it is that you want an admissions officer to learn from your personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #13: The Regulars

One pump of vanilla syrup. Frothed milk. One espresso shot. Caramel drizzle(( Starting with some version of the following sentence would have been a stronger hook.)) . Like a scientist at her bench, I have methodically repeated these steps four days a week for the past two years. During my time as a Starbucks barista, I’ve learned hundreds of recipes and customizations. I know all the secret menu hacks, and I’ve developed several recipes for friends and family too. I pride myself on speed, quality, and memory. My favorite part of the job is the customer service. As one of the busiest locations in the region, I’ve caffeinated thousands. But it’s my regular customers, those whose orders I know like the back of my hand, who have truly impacted me.

Venti Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, hold the vanilla syrup. A busy mom of four, Chelsea is always in a hurry. I try to catch her the moment she enters the store so I can get started right away. Her Venti drink fuels her through school dropoffs and pickups, gymnastics lessons, and evening math homework. Throughout my conversations with her, I’ve learned that Chelsea is a scheduling virtuoso. As someone with ADHD(( This paragraph is almost too much about Chelsea, so this sentence is crucial to bring the focus back to the writer.)) , I became so inspired by her ability to juggle so many people and schedules simultaneously. After asking her for advice, she helped me find a time management system that I can keep up with. I have Chelsea to thank for my improved grades.

Grande dark roast, no room for cream. Mr. Williams is a retired businessman who always tips 100%. Mr. Williams is a quiet man, so it took me months to draw any information from him. Instead of using my over-the-top customer service voice, I eventually learned to be myself. When I got him to open up, I discovered that he was a service worker himself before he made it big in business in his sixties. The truth is, Mr. Williams has tipped me hundreds of dollars throughout my time here, which is extra money that will help me pay for college. He’s taught me the value of quiet generosity(( Let’s be honest. Mr. Williams sounds like a cool guy. But Mr. Williams isn’t applying to college—the writer is! I like that we get small glimpses into who the writer is through this paragraph, but there’s still room for more.)) .

Tall soy London Fog. Sweet Darla gave up coffee twenty-five years ago, but she still loves an occasional treat. When Darla enters, I clear my schedule. She always has stories to tell about the eighty years of life she’s lived. Darla is everything I want to be at that age: she’s spunky, opinionated, and hilarious(( Here we learn a lot about the writer through Darla.)) . Sometimes I tell Darla stories of my own. When I explained the dramatic series of events that led to me landing first chair in my symphony, she said she was going to retell it her bridge club. Making Darla laugh so hard will always be one of my proudest moments.

Grande iced matcha. Taylor is my age and goes to my school. When I took her order for the first time, I felt embarrassed that I needed to work to support myself while she could enjoy expensive drinks. But her kindness softened me. As time went on, I learned that she visited Starbucks so much because she wanted to get out of her house, which wasn’t a very happy place. While I have to take on as many shifts as possible, I still have a happy home to return to afterward. Now Taylor comes in near the end of my shift so we can take our drinks and have dinner at my house.

When you work in customer service, customers enter and exit your life like a revolving door. But the regulars, those special people who draw connections from daily but brief interactions, stick with you for life. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for these people, and I would never have met them if it weren’t for my job as a barista. I haven’t just been making drinks these past two years. I’ve been making friends(( The conclusion does a good job tying all these different stories back together. )) .

AO Notes on The Regulars

No one appreciates a good barista story more than a tired admissions officer on their 30th application of the day! I like the personality that comes through in this essay especially. But this is one of those cases where it’s almost too much about other people.

  • Creative take: Not every college essay needs a creative flair. In fact, sometimes going for “unique” structures can detract from an essay. But I like how the writer uses this format to structure the essay.
  • Organization: This essay isn’t one a reader is bound to get lost in. The introduction sets up the essay well, it’s easy to see the connections between the points the writer is conveying, and the conclusion brings the focus back to the writer.
  • More focus on self: While we do learn about the writer in this essay, we also learn a lot about Chelsea, Mr. Williams, Darla, and Taylor. The writer could have pared down the descriptions of other people—or cut one of the examples altogether—to save more room for personal reflection.

“Bad” Personal Statement Examples

These “bad” essays aren’t necessarily bad. They just aren’t very effective personal statements. Specifically, these two essays make some of the biggest college essay mistakes.

Making mistakes, especially when you’ve never written a personal statement before, is to be expected. We’ve included these examples so you can see what those mistakes look like in real-time. Learning from ineffective examples can be just as helpful as learning from the exceptional ones, so grab your pencil and start taking notes.

Our admissions officers have highlighted what’s working and what’s not. They offer helpful commentary and advice for revisions that you can use to assess whether your own personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #14: The Worst Year

My sophomore year of high school presented me with so many challenges(( This hook definitely gets straight to the point, but it doesn’t draw me in as a reader.)) . I struggled with a lot that year and barely managed to get by. It was the greatest challenge I ever faced.

The year started out like any other but soon went into chaos. My brother suddenly started struggling with drugs and alcohol. Before that, we didn’t know how bad he was hurting. But one night he finally came to us for help because apparently he had been using substances to cope with his emotions. He was scared because he felt like he had reached a breaking point and needed support. My parents didn’t want to help because they thought that he didn’t have a problem but I know my brother and I knew that he didn’t seem like himself. It was so sad to watch him go through that. I tried my best to help him but I was only a kid. I couldn’t really do anything besides tell him I loved him. Eventually my parents decided to get him some help, so he went away for a while and I wrote him letters every week and visited him as much as I could. The treatment he got helped thankfully. He’s doing better now and I am grateful that he is my brother.

But then Covid hit and I couldn’t even leave my house. We thought it would just be a two week vacation to school but it turned into two whole years of my life gone just like that. At the beginning I was stuck in my bedroom while my parents were working their jobs from the living room. Everyone was constantly getting annoyed with each other and driving each other wild. I would be doing a class Zoom in my room and I could hear my parents in a meeting in the living room. I had a hard time not being able to see my friends. I couldn't focus and my grades dropped. Even my teachers didn’t really seem to care. I was sick of staring at black Zoom screens all the time that I even stopped logging on. All of that combined led to me becoming very depressed and anxious. My grades dropped even more because I just couldn’t pay attention or focus enough to do my homework. I ended up getting grades way lower than I ever thought I would that year and I’m so frustrated about it because it felt like I was trying my best but it just wasn’t enough(( Here we see the writer opening up a bit and reflecting on what it was like to go through that experience.)) .

Even once we finally got back in school things didn’t get much better. The pandemic was just too much for my family so my parents ended up getting divorced at the beginning of my junior year. After all we had been through together seeing them separate made me devastated. My dad got an apartment and I had to go back and forth between their houses and pack up all my stuff every time. It was like moving my entire life every weekend. My brother was out of the house by this point so it was just me all by myself. My school was far from my dad’s new place so I’d have a long commute on the weeks I was with him. He was stressed at work and about the divorce and I just ended up feeling so lonely and spending most of my time in my room. My grades got better once online school stopped(( This moment of hope does a lot for moving the essay forward.)) but I had a hard time keeping close relationships with my friends because they didn’t like that I was living far away now and that we couldn’t really hang out anymore.

I couldn’t believe that two years would change so much. Getting through everything really challenged me. But I’m glad to be moving forward with my life.

AO Notes on The Worst Year

This student definitely had a challenging year. It’s clear that they’ve overcome a lot, and I appreciate their willingness to share their struggles. I like that the very last sentence

What this essay does well:

  • Vulnerability: Writing about challenges is never easy, especially when you’re writing to people you don’t know. This writer is bold and unafraid in doing so.

What could be improved on:

  • Not enough positivity: Here’s the thing. You definitely don’t need to be able to spin all of your challenging experiences into positive ones. But the topics you choose to write your college essay about should ultimately conclude on a positive note. You want your college essay to show you in a positive light, so you should choose a topic that lets you find a light, positive, or hopeful resolution.

Personal Statement Example #15: The Strikeout that Changed my Life

The stadium lights shone brightly in my eyes. I stepped up to the plate and drew back my bat. I wiggled my fingers, waiting. The pitcher wound up his arm and threw the ball towards me. My eyes worked overtime to track the ball. I watched as it flew directly towards the center of the plate and made a last-minute curve(( I like this vivid description.)) . It went straight into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike three!” the umpire yelled. That was the time I struck out at the quarter-finals. My team was so close to making it to the championship that we could taste it. It was the bottom of the sixth, and I gave up a valuable chance to score game-winning runs. We ended up losing. I learned a valuable lesson that fateful day. I never wanted to let my team down like that again(( And the writer jumps quickly into the main theme of the essay. Still, the message here could be more specific.)) .

We had advanced through our bracket without much trouble. The other teams were no match for our work ethic and teamwork. We were in perfect sync. As the first baseman, I was ready for any throw that came my way. We were also hitting well. I scored three home runs throughout the course of the tournament. We were a high-functioning machine. But for a machine to work, each cog has to function correctly. When I stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning, I was a broken cog.

After our quarter–final loss, I grieved with my teammates. Then I went off on my own to think. How had I let my team down so badly? How did I not even try to swing at that pitch? It was all my fault. I had to figure out what I had done wrong so I would never make the mistake again. I realized that I had been thinking selfishly. I was concerned about my own performance, my own at-bat averages(( This is a good reflection.)) . I was scared of failing because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. And worrying about all of those things caused me to lose focus and miss my chance to make a difference. Instead, I should have been thinking about how my at-bat would contribute to my team’s overall goal of winning the game.

I returned to where my teammates were congregating, and several of them patted me on the back. The next day, we went over how the game went as a team and talked about how we could improve at our tournament the following weekend. I admitted that I felt like I let the team down. My teammates said that they understood and reassured me that mistakes happen. It wasn’t my failed at-bat alone that lost us the game. Like winning, losing is a team effort. It was a culmination of lots of little issues. At the end of the day, the other team just out-performed us. But we could try hard, practice a lot, and return triumphant next weekend.

Letting my team down was a crushing blow to my self-esteem. I never want to feel like that again, but I know that the experience caused me to grow. Through all of this, I learned that I have to trust myself and my team(( Here we get to the lesson learned.)) . Focusing on myself alone can only get me so far. But focusing on my team can get me to where I want to go. I’m actually thankful that I struck out in that sixth inning because it caused me to learn an important life lesson.

AO Notes on The Strikeout that Changed My Life

This essay on its own definitely isn’t “bad.” As far as essays go, it’s clear, well-written, and organized nicely. But as a college essay, it could be doing more work on the writer’s behalf. See, as an admissions officer, I don’t actually learn that much about the writer from this essay alone. I see that they like baseball, are a good teammate, and can overcome failure. Those are wonderful traits, but they don’t exactly help set this student apart on the admissions committee floor. Instead, the student could make this essay more vulnerable and personal.

  • Writing: The writer uses some great creative writing skills to really set the scene for the readers. In that first paragraph, I really feel like I’m there watching the game.
  • Reflection: Even though the topic could be more significant, the writer does a great job reflecting on the meaning they drew from the experience.
  • Significance: It’s very clear that this topic holds a lot of meaning to the writer. But as a college essay topic, it’s lacking vulnerability and stakes.

Key Takeaways

Writing a personal statement is a difficult ask, especially when you’ve never even read one before. But now, with these fifteen examples in your back pocket, you’re ready to write your own.

If you’re not sure what steps to take next, hop on over to our guide to writing personal statements for advice. You can also find more extensive guidance on the Essay Academy , a comprehensive college essay writing video course and community.

Happy writing! 🥳

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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!

Student writing 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.

For colleges:

  • 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!

Student writing personal statement draft

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! 

College student writing

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)

Student reviewing personal statement template

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!).

High school student writing personal statement

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.”

Students writing personal statements

You made it this far. Now, it’s time to write your personal statement!

Ready to reuse your personal statement for scholarship applications? Sign up for Going Merry today for free to keep track of your scholarship applications and essays. We’re your one-stop shop for scholarship searches and applications.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing the Personal Statement

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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

College Application Essays and Admissions Consulting

5 Ivy-level Personal Statement Examples [Updated 2023]

by Winning Ivy Prep Team | Apr 4, 2023 | College Essay Examples , Personal Statement Examples

best personal statement essay

Here, we have 5 high quality   Personal Statement essay examples  from my students over the years. Great Common App Personal Statements tend to give a glimpse into each student’s life, thought processes, growth, and maturity.

Another trend that you may notice with these essay examples is that they’re not entirely CAREER or ACADEMIC based. It depends on the vibe you’re going for, but the general rule of thumb is to think about these essays from the perspective of the admissions officer.

In other words, it’s NOT as simple as “showing off your personality” in personal statement. You might hear this or read this somewhere, but, seriously, don’t listen to it. Your personality will not get you into a top school (unless you’re trying to hustle your way into a party when you’re not on the guest list, then that’s different.)

Think about it rationally: An admissions officer’s JOB is to assemble a cohort of great students into his/her university. Upon reading each application, an admissions professional is thinking: “How will this student contribute to our school? What will this person bring to the table?”

So, your personal statement needs to help answer that question. 

Note: O fficial Common App Personal Statement Prompts are posted here.

Remember, the word count is 650 words! And, just an FYI — titles for college app essays are completely unnecessary. I just included them in this post to refer to them more easily.

best personal statement essay

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

best personal statement essay

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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best personal statement essay

How to Write a Personal Statement for a Scholarship + Examples

What’s covered:, what is the purpose of the scholarship personal statement, what to include in your personal statement, personal statement example: breakdown + analysis, how to make sure your writing is effective.

Either before or after you’ve gotten into your dream school, you’ll have to figure out how to pay for it. For most students, this involves a combination of financial aid, parent contributions, self-contributions, student loans, and scholarships/grants. Because scholarships are money out of someone else’s pocket that you never have to pay back, they are a great place to start!

Scholarships come in two forms: merit-based and need-based. Need-based scholarships are also often called grants. These designations tell you whether an organization looks at your financial situation when deciding about your scholarship.

Additionally, different scholarships fall under different categories based on the mission of the organization or person providing the scholarship’s financing. These missions typically emphasize different things like academic achievement, specific career goals, community service, leadership, family background, skill in the arts, or having overcome hardship. As you select scholarships to apply for and complete your applications, you should keep these missions in mind.

No matter what type of scholarship you are applying for, you will be asked to provide the review committee with standard materials. This includes your transcript, GPA, and resume/extracurriculars, but also, importantly, your personal statement. A scholarship personal statement is a bit different from your normal college essay, so we’ve put together this guide and some examples to help you get started!

The purpose of your personal statement is to help a review committee learn more about your personality, values, goals, and what makes you special. Ultimately, like with your college essays, you are trying to humanize your profile beyond your transcript, GPA, and test scores.

College essays all have one goal in mind (which is why you can apply to multiple schools at once through applications like the Common App or Coalition App): convince admissions officers that you would be a valuable addition to the university environment. The goal of your scholarship personal statement is different and differs more from one scholarship to the next. Rather than convincing various review committees that you are a generally good candidate for extra funding for college, you need to convince each review committee that your values have historically aligned with their organization’s mission and will continue to align with their organization’s mission.

Common missions amongst those who give scholarships include:

  • Providing opportunities for students with career ambitions in a particular field
  • Helping students who have experienced unexpected hardship
  • Supporting students who show outstanding academic achievement
  • Funding the arts through investing in young artists with strong technical skill
  • Supporting the development of civic-minded community service leaders of the future
  • Providing opportunities for historically underrepresented ethnic communities 

If a specific mission like this is outlined on an organization’s website or in the promotional material for its scholarship, the purpose of your personal statement is to show how you exemplify that mission.

Some scholarships ask for your personal statement to be guided by a prompt, while others leave things open for interpretation. When you are provided a prompt, it is obvious what you must do: answer the prompt. When you are not provided a prompt, you want to write a personal statement that is essentially a small-scale autobiography where you position yourself as a good investment. In either case, you should identify a focus or theme for what you are trying to say about yourself so that your application does not get lost in the shuffle.

Prompts include questions like:

  • Why do you deserve this scholarship?
  • How have you shown your commitment to (leadership/community service/diversity) in your community?
  • When did you overcome adversity?
  • Why is attending college important to you?

If you are provided a prompt, develop a theme for your response that showcases both your values and your achievements. This will help your essay feel focused and will subsequently help the review committee to remember which candidate you were as they deliberate.

Themes include things like:

  • I deserve this community service scholarship because my compassion for intergenerational trauma has inspired me to volunteer with a local after-school program. I didn’t just sympathize. I did something about my sympathy because that’s the type of person I am. Within the program, I have identified avenues for improvement and worked alongside full-time staff to develop new strategies for increasing attendance.
  • I overcame adversity when my mother had to have a major surgery two months after giving birth to my younger brother. I was just a kid but was thrown into a situation where I had to raise another kid. It was hard, but I’m the kind of person who tries to grow from hard times and, through my experience taking care of a baby, I learned the importance of listening to body language and nonverbal cues to understand the needs of others (baby and nonbaby, alike).

Without a prompt, clarity can be harder to achieve. That said, it is of the utmost importance that you find a focus. First, think about both your goals and your values.

Types of goals include:

  • Career goals
  • Goals for personal growth
  • The type of friend you want to be
  • The change you want to make in the world

Values could include:

  • Authenticity
  • And many more!

After you write out your goals/values, write out your achievements to see what goals/values you have “proof” of your commitment to. Your essay will ultimately be an exploration of your goal/value, what you have done about your goal/value in the past, and what you aspire to in the future.

You might be tempted to reflect on areas for improvement, but scholarships care about you living out your values. It is not enough to aspire to be exemplary in leadership, community service, or your academic field. For scholarships, you have to already be exemplary.

Finally, keep in mind that the review committee likely already has a copy of your extracurricular activities and involvement. Pick one or two accomplishments, then strive for depth, not breadth as you explore them.

My interest in the field of neuroscience began at a young age.  When I was twelve years old, my sister developed a condition called Pseudotumor Cerebri following multiple concussions during a basketball game.  It took the doctors over six months to make a proper diagnosis, followed by three years of treatment before she recovered.  During this time, my love for neuroscience was sparked as I began to research her condition and, then, other neurocognitive conditions.  Later, my love of neuroscience was amplified when my mother began to suffer from brain-related health issues.  My mother had been a practicing attorney in Dallas for over twenty years.  She was a determined litigator who relentlessly tried difficult cases that changed people’s lives.  Now, she suffers from a cognitive impairment and is no longer able to practice law.  Oftentimes, she has headaches, she gets “cloudy,” her executive functioning slows down, she feels overwhelmed, and she forgets things.  My mother has gone from being the strong, confident, emotional and financial caretaker of our family to needing significant help on a daily basis. Once again, with this illness came a lot of research on my part — research that encouraged me to pursue my dreams of exploring neuroscience.

Due to my experiences with my mother and sister when I was in middle school, I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the field of neuroscience.  I also knew that, to obtain this goal, I needed to maintain superior grades in school while also pursuing opportunities outside of school to further my education.  In school, I was able to maintain superior grades to the point where I am currently valedictorian in a class of 567 students.  In addition, in school, I challenged myself by taking 16 Advanced Placement classes and 19 Honors classes.  Two of the most beneficial classes were AP Capstone Seminar and AP Capstone Research.  AP Capstone Seminar and AP Capstone Research are research-oriented classes where students are given the opportunity to pursue whatever track their research takes them down.  As a junior in AP Capstone Seminar, I researched the effects of harmful pesticide use on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children.  This year, as a senior in AP Capstone Research, I am learning about the effects of medical marijuana on the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  

Outside of school, I furthered my education through taking advantage of the Duke TiP summer program. Duke TiP is a summer program run by Duke University where students who score extremely well on the SAT as middle schoolers are able to take college classes at different universities throughout the summers of their middle school and high school years.  I took advantage of this opportunity twice.  First, I went to Trinity University in San Antonio to expand my horizons and learn more about debate.  However, once I was done exploring, I decided I wanted to go into neuroscience.  This led me to take an Abnormal Psychology class at Duke University’s West Campus.  This class opened my eyes to the interaction between neuroscience and mental health, mental illness, and personality.  Years later, I am currently continuing my education outside of school as an intern at the University of Texas Dallas Center for Brain Health.  Through this internship, I have been able to see different aspects of neuroscience including brain pattern testing, virtual reality therapy, and longitudinal research studies.  With this background, I have positioned myself to be accepted by top neuroscience programs throughout the nation.  So far, I have been accepted to the neuroscience department of University of Southern California, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, and Southern Methodist University, as well as the chemistry department at University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.  

It is with this passion for neuroscience driven by my family and passion for education driven by internal motivation that I will set out to conquer my career objectives.  My educational aspirations consist of acquiring a bachelor’s degree in a biological or health science that would assist me in pursuing a medical career as a neuroscience researcher.  I decided to attain a career as a researcher since my passion has always been assisting others and trying to improve their quality of life.  After obtaining my Masters and my PhD, I plan to become a professor at a prestigious university and continue performing lab research on cognitive disorders.  I am particularly interested in disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  In the lab, I hope to find different therapies and medications to help treat the 3.5 million people around the world suffering from ASD.  Furthermore, I want to contribute back to underserved populations that struggle because they do not have as much access to medical assistance as other privileged groups.  As such, I hope to do a part of my research in less developed or developing Spanish-speaking countries. This will also allow me to pursue my love of Spanish while pursuing my love of neuroscience.  I think that following such a career path will provide me the opportunity to learn about the medical needs of the autistic community and improve their quality of health.  Furthermore, I hope to train a new generation of students to strive to research and make comparable discoveries.  Whether it be through virtual reality labs or new drug discoveries, I believe that research leads to innovation which leads to a brighter future. 

This student does a great job of making themself appear competent and dedicated to the field of neuroscience. This is primarily because they provided tangible evidence of how they have pursued their dedication in the past—through their AP Capstone courses, their Abnormal Psychology class at Duke TiP, and their internship at UTD. There is no doubt in the mind of a reader that this student is high-achieving. 

This student also engages successfully with a past-future trajectory, where they end with a vision of how they will continue to use neuroscience in the future. This helps the review committee see what they are investing in and the ways that their money will go to good use.

This student has two major areas for improvement. As we have said, the purpose of a personal statement is for a student to humanize themself to a review committee. This student struggles to depict themself separately from their academic achievements. A solution to this would be for the student to establish a theme towards the beginning of their essay that relates to both their values as a human and their achievements.

At the beginning of the essay, the student explores how their interest in neuroscience began. They explain their interest through the following sentences: “During this time, my love for neuroscience was sparked as I began to research her condition and, then, other neurocognitive conditions” and “Once again, with this illness came a lot of research on my part — research that encouraged me to pursue my dreams of exploring neuroscience.” The student made the great decision to tell the backstory of their interest, but they described their research in very mundane and redundant terms. Instead, they could have focused on their value of intellectual curiosity as a magnetic force that encouraged them to research their mother and sister’s ailments. Curiosity, then, could serve as a value-related thematic throughline to taking AP Capstone classes, taking college courses during the summer that weren’t required, and interning before even graduating high school.

A second area for improvement would be avoiding statistics. As the student identifies their valedictorian status and the number of AP classes they have taken, they might turn away certain personalities on a review committee by appearing braggy. Even further, these statistics are a waste of space. The review committee already has access to this information. These words distract from the major theme of the essay and would have been better used to humanize the student.

Throughout my academic career, I have been an avid scholar, constantly pushing myself towards ambitious goals. I held and continue to hold myself to a high standard, enrolling myself in rigorous curriculum, including Honors and Advanced Placement courses to stretch my mental potential. During my junior year of high school, I took four AP tests, two on the same day, and earned the AP Scholar with Honor Award. Additionally, I received the Letter of Commendation for the PSAT/NMSQT, and qualified for Rotary Top 100 Students both my freshman and senior year, a sign of my commitment to my studies. However, school has not been all about having the best GPA for me; beyond the numbers, I have a deep drive to learn which motivates me to do well academically. I truly enjoy learning new things, whether it be a new essay style or a math theorem. I always give each class my best effort and try my hardest on every assignment. My teachers have noticed this as well, and I have received school Lancer Awards and Student of the Month recognitions as a result. It is a major goal of mine to continue to aspire towards a high level of achievement regarding future educational and occupational endeavors; I plan on continuing this level of dedication throughout my educational career and implementing the skills I have learned and will learn into my college experience and beyond.

This fall, I will begin attending the University of California Los Angeles as an English major. I chose this major because I am fascinated by written language, especially its ability to convey powerful messages and emotions. I also enjoy delving into the works of other authors to analyze specific components of their writing to discover the meaning behind their words. In particular, I cannot wait to begin in-depth literary criticism and learn new stylistic techniques to add more depth to my writing. Furthermore, I recently went to UCLA’s Bruin Day, an event for incoming freshmen, where I was exposed to many different extracurriculars, some of which really piqued my interest. I plan on joining the Writing Success Program, where I can help students receive free writing help, and Mock Trial, where I can debate issues with peers in front of a real judge. The latter, combined with a strong writing background from my undergraduate English studies will be extremely beneficial because I plan to apply to law school after my undergraduate degree. As of now, my career goal is to become a civil rights lawyer, to stand up for those who are discriminated against and protect minority groups to proliferate equality.

As a lawyer, I wish to utilize legislation to ameliorate the plight of the millions of Americans who feel prejudice and help them receive equity in the workplace, society, and so on. Though this seems a daunting task, I feel that my work ethic and past experience will give me the jumpstart I need to establish myself as a successful lawyer and give a voice to those who are often unheard in today’s legal system. I have been a Girl Scout for over a decade and continually participate in community service for the homeless, elderly, veterans, and more. My most recent project was the Gold Award, which I conducted in the Fullerton School District. I facilitated over ten workshops where junior high students taught elementary pupils STEM principles such as density and aerodynamics via creative activities like building aluminum boats and paper airplanes. I also work at Kumon, a tutoring center, where I teach students to advance their academic success. I love my job, and helping students from local schools reach their potential fills me with much pride.

Both being a Girl Scout and working at Kumon have inspired me to help those in need, contributing significantly to my desire to become a lawyer and aid others. My extracurriculars have allowed me to gain a new perspective on both learning and teaching, and have solidified my will to help the less fortunate. In college, I hope to continue to gain knowledge and further develop my leadership skills, amassing qualities that will help me assist others. I plan to join multiple community service clubs, such as UCLA’s local outreach programs that directly aid residents of Los Angeles. I want to help my fellow pupils as well, and plan on volunteering at peer tutoring and peer editing programs on campus. After college, during my career, I want to use legal tactics to assist the underdog and take a chance on those who are often overlooked for opportunities. I wish to represent those that are scared to seek out help or cannot afford it. Rather than battling conflict with additional conflict, I want to implement peaceful but strong, efficient tactics that will help make my state, country, and eventually the world more welcoming to people of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. These goals are close to my heart and therefore I will be as diligent as I am passionate about them. My perseverance and love for learning and community service drive my ambition in both education and life as a whole, and the drive to make the world a better place is one that I will carry with me for my entire life.

This student emphasizes two values in this essay: hard work and community service. These are values that go together nicely, and definitely make sense with this student’s end goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer! That said, some changes could be made to the way the student presents their values that would make their personal statement more convincing and engaging.

Structurally, instead of using a past-future trajectory, this student starts by explaining their academic achievements, then explains their career goals, then explains their history of community service, then explains their future desires for community service. This structure loses the reader. Instead, the student should have started with either the past or the future. 

This could look like 1) identifying their career goals, 2) explaining that hard work and a commitment to community service are necessary to get there, and 3) explaining that they aren’t worried because of their past commitment to hard work and community service. Or it could look like 1) providing examples of their hard work and community service in the past, then 2) explaining how those values will help them achieve their career goals.

Additionally, like with our other example, this student shows a heavy investment in statistics and spouting off accomplishments. This can be unappealing. Unfortunately, even when the student recognizes that they are doing this, writing “beyond the numbers, I have a deep drive to learn which motivates me to do well academically. I truly enjoy learning new things, whether it be a new essay style or a math theorem,” they continue on to cite their achievements, writing “My teachers have noticed this as well, and I have received school Lancer Awards and Student of the Month recognitions as a result.” They say they are going beyond the numbers, but they don’t go beyond the awards. They don’t look inward. One way to fix this would be to make community service the theme around which the essay operates, supplementing with statistics in ways that advance the image of the student as dedicated to community service.

Finally, this student would be more successful if they varied their sentence structure. While a small-scale autobiography can be good, if organized, every sentence should not begin with ‘I.’ The essay still needs to be engaging or the review committee might stop reading.

Feedback is ultimately any writer’s best source of improvement! To get your personal statement edited for free, use our Peer Review Essay Tool . With this tool, other students can tell you if your scholarship essay is effective and help you improve your essay so that you can have the best chances of gaining those extra funds!

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Looking for grad school personal statement examples? Look no further! In this total guide to graduate school personal statement examples, we’ll discuss why you need a personal statement for grad school and what makes a good one. Then we’ll provide three graduate school personal statement samples from our grad school experts. After that, we’ll do a deep dive on one of our personal statement for graduate school examples. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of other grad school personal statements you can find online.

Why Do You Need a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is a chance for admissions committees to get to know you: your goals and passions, what you’ll bring to the program, and what you’re hoping to get out of the program.  You need to sell the admissions committee on what makes you a worthwhile applicant. The personal statement is a good chance to highlight significant things about you that don’t appear elsewhere on your application.

A personal statement is slightly different from a statement of purpose (also known as a letter of intent). A statement of purpose/letter of intent tends to be more tightly focused on your academic or professional credentials and your future research and/or professional interests.

While a personal statement also addresses your academic experiences and goals, you have more leeway to be a little more, well, personal. In a personal statement, it’s often appropriate to include information on significant life experiences or challenges that aren’t necessarily directly relevant to your field of interest.

Some programs ask for both a personal statement and a statement of purpose/letter of intent. In this case, the personal statement is likely to be much more tightly focused on your life experience and personality assets while the statement of purpose will focus in much more on your academic/research experiences and goals.

However, there’s not always a hard-and-fast demarcation between a personal statement and a statement of purpose. The two statement types should address a lot of the same themes, especially as relates to your future goals and the valuable assets you bring to the program. Some programs will ask for a personal statement but the prompt will be focused primarily on your research and professional experiences and interests. Some will ask for a statement of purpose but the prompt will be more focused on your general life experiences.

When in doubt, give the program what they are asking for in the prompt and don’t get too hung up on whether they call it a personal statement or statement of purpose. You can always call the admissions office to get more clarification on what they want you to address in your admissions essay.

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What Makes a Good Grad School Personal Statement?

A great graduate school personal statement can come in many forms and styles. However, strong grad school personal statement examples all share the same following elements:

A Clear Narrative

Above all, a good personal statement communicates clear messages about what makes you a strong applicant who is likely to have success in graduate school. So to that extent, think about a couple of key points that you want to communicate about yourself and then drill down on how you can best communicate those points. (Your key points should of course be related to what you can bring to the field and to the program specifically).

You can also decide whether to address things like setbacks or gaps in your application as part of your narrative. Have a low GPA for a couple semesters due to a health issue? Been out of a job for a while taking care of a family member? If you do decide to explain an issue like this, make sure that the overall arc is more about demonstrating positive qualities like resilience and diligence than about providing excuses.

Specific Examples

A great statement of purpose uses specific examples to illustrate its key messages. This can include anecdotes that demonstrate particular traits or even references to scholars and works that have influenced your academic trajectory to show that you are familiar and insightful about the relevant literature in your field.

Just saying “I love plants,” is pretty vague. Describing how you worked in a plant lab during undergrad and then went home and carefully cultivated your own greenhouse where you cross-bred new flower colors by hand is much more specific and vivid, which makes for better evidence.

A strong personal statement will describe why you are a good fit for the program, and why the program is a good fit for you. It’s important to identify specific things about the program that appeal to you, and how you’ll take advantage of those opportunities. It’s also a good idea to talk about specific professors you might be interested in working with. This shows that you are informed about and genuinely invested in the program.

Strong Writing

Even quantitative and science disciplines typically require some writing, so it’s important that your personal statement shows strong writing skills. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and that you don’t have any grammar and spelling errors. It’s helpful to get other people to read your statement and provide feedback. Plan on going through multiple drafts.

Another important thing here is to avoid cliches and gimmicks. Don’t deploy overused phrases and openings like “ever since I was a child.” Don’t structure your statement in a gimmicky way (i.e., writing a faux legal brief about yourself for a law school statement of purpose). The first will make your writing banal; the second is likely to make you stand out in a bad way.

Appropriate Boundaries

While you can be more personal in a personal statement than in a statement of purpose, it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries in your writing. Don’t overshare anything too personal about relationships, bodily functions, or illegal activities. Similarly, don’t share anything that makes it seem like you may be out of control, unstable, or an otherwise risky investment. The personal statement is not a confessional booth. If you share inappropriately, you may seem like you have bad judgment, which is a huge red flag to admissions committees.

You should also be careful with how you deploy humor and jokes. Your statement doesn’t have to be totally joyless and serious, but bear in mind that the person reading the statement may not have the same sense of humor as you do. When in doubt, err towards the side of being as inoffensive as possible.

Just as being too intimate in your statement can hurt you, it’s also important not to be overly formal or staid. You should be professional, but conversational.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

Our graduate school experts have been kind enough to provide some successful grad school personal statement examples. We’ll provide three examples here, along with brief analysis of what makes each one successful.

Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 1

PDF of Sample Personal Statement 1 – Japanese Studies

For this Japanese Studies master’s degree, the applicant had to provide a statement of purpose outlining her academic goals and experience with Japanese and a separate personal statement describing her personal relationship with Japanese Studies and what led her to pursue a master’s degree.

Here’s what’s successful about this personal statement:

  • An attention-grabbing beginning: The applicant begins with the statement that Japanese has never come easily to her and that it’s a brutal language to learn. Seeing as how this is an application for a Japanese Studies program, this is an intriguing beginning that makes the reader want to keep going.
  • A compelling narrative: From this attention-grabbing beginning, the applicant builds a well-structured and dramatic narrative tracking her engagement with the Japanese language over time. The clear turning point is her experience studying abroad, leading to a resolution in which she has clarity about her plans. Seeing as how the applicant wants to be a translator of Japanese literature, the tight narrative structure here is a great way to show her writing skills.
  • Specific examples that show important traits: The applicant clearly communicates both a deep passion for Japanese through examples of her continued engagement with Japanese and her determination and work ethic by highlighting the challenges she’s faced (and overcome) in her study of the language. This gives the impression that she is an engaged and dedicated student.

Overall, this is a very strong statement both in terms of style and content. It flows well, is memorable, and communicates that the applicant would make the most of the graduate school experience.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 2

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 2 – Musical Composition

This personal statement for a Music Composition master’s degree discusses the factors that motivate the applicant to pursue graduate study.

Here’s what works well in this statement:

  • The applicant provides two clear reasons motivating the student to pursue graduate study: her experiences with music growing up, and her family’s musical history. She then supports those two reasons with examples and analysis.
  • The description of her ancestors’ engagement with music is very compelling and memorable. The applicant paints her own involvement with music as almost inevitable based on her family’s long history with musical pursuits.
  • The applicant gives thoughtful analysis of the advantages she has been afforded that have allowed her to study music so extensively. We get the sense that she is insightful and empathetic—qualities that would add greatly to any academic community.

This is a strong, serviceable personal statement. And in truth, given that this for a masters in music composition, other elements of the application (like work samples) are probably the most important.  However, here are two small changes I would make to improve it:

  • I would probably to split the massive second paragraph into 2-3 separate paragraphs. I might use one paragraph to orient the reader to the family’s musical history, one paragraph to discuss Giacomo and Antonio, and one paragraph to discuss how the family has influenced the applicant. As it stands, it’s a little unwieldy and the second paragraph doesn’t have a super-clear focus even though it’s all loosely related to the applicant’s family history with music.
  • I would also slightly shorten the anecdote about the applicant’s ancestors and expand more on how this family history has motivated the applicant’s interest in music. In what specific ways has her ancestors’ perseverance inspired her? Did she think about them during hard practice sessions? Is she interested in composing music in a style they might have played? More specific examples here would lend greater depth and clarity to the statement.

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Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3

PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 3 – Public Health

This is my successful personal statement for Columbia’s Master’s program in Public Health. We’ll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I’ll highlight a couple of things that work in this statement here:

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  • This statement is clearly organized. Almost every paragraph has a distinct focus and message, and when I move on to a new idea, I move on to a new paragraph with a logical transitions.
  • This statement covers a lot of ground in a pretty short space. I discuss my family history, my goals, my educational background, and my professional background. But because the paragraphs are organized and I use specific examples, it doesn’t feel too vague or scattered.
  • In addition to including information about my personal motivations, like my family, I also include some analysis about tailoring health interventions with my example of the Zande. This is a good way to show off what kinds of insights I might bring to the program based on my academic background.

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Grad School Personal Statement Example: Deep Dive

Now let’s do a deep dive, paragraph-by-paragraph, on one of these sample graduate school personal statements. We’ll use my personal statement that I used when I applied to Columbia’s public health program.

Paragraph One: For twenty-three years, my grandmother (a Veterinarian and an Epidemiologist) ran the Communicable Disease Department of a mid-sized urban public health department. The stories of Grandma Betty doggedly tracking down the named sexual partners of the infected are part of our family lore. Grandma Betty would persuade people to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, encourage safer sexual practices, document the spread of infection and strive to contain and prevent it. Indeed, due to the large gay population in the city where she worked, Grandma Betty was at the forefront of the AIDS crises, and her analysis contributed greatly towards understanding how the disease was contracted and spread. My grandmother has always been a huge inspiration to me, and the reason why a career in public health was always on my radar.

This is an attention-grabbing opening anecdote that avoids most of the usual cliches about childhood dreams and proclivities. This story also subtly shows that I have a sense of public health history, given the significance of the AIDs crisis for public health as a field.

It’s good that I connect this family history to my own interests. However, if I were to revise this paragraph again, I might cut down on some of the detail because when it comes down to it, this story isn’t really about me. It’s important that even (sparingly used) anecdotes about other people ultimately reveal something about you in a personal statement.

Paragraph Two: Recent years have cemented that interest. In January 2012, my parents adopted my little brother Fred from China. Doctors in America subsequently diagnosed Fred with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My parents were told that if Fred’s condition had been discovered in China, the (very poor) orphanage in which he spent the first 8+ years of his life would have recognized his DMD as a death sentence and denied him sustenance to hasten his demise.

Here’s another compelling anecdote to help explain my interest in public health. This is an appropriately personal detail for a personal statement—it’s a serious thing about my immediate family, but it doesn’t disclose anything that the admissions committee might find concerning or inappropriate.

If I were to take another pass through this paragraph, the main thing I would change is the last phrase. “Denied him sustenance to hasten his demise” is a little flowery. “Denied him food to hasten his death” is actually more powerful because it’s clearer and more direct.

Paragraph Three: It is not right that some people have access to the best doctors and treatment while others have no medical care. I want to pursue an MPH in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia because studying social factors in health, with a particular focus on socio-health inequities, will prepare me to address these inequities. The interdisciplinary approach of the program appeals to me greatly as I believe interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective way to develop meaningful solutions to complex problems.

In this paragraph I make a neat and clear transition from discussing what sparked my interest in public health and health equity to what I am interested in about Columbia specifically: the interdisciplinary focus of the program, and how that focus will prepare me to solve complex health problems. This paragraph also serves as a good pivot point to start discussing my academic and professional background.

Paragraph Four: My undergraduate education has prepared me well for my chosen career. Understanding the underlying structure of a group’s culture is essential to successfully communicating with the group. In studying folklore and mythology, I’ve learned how to parse the unspoken structures of folk groups, and how those structures can be used to build bridges of understanding. For example, in a culture where most illnesses are believed to be caused by witchcraft, as is the case for the Zande people of central Africa, any successful health intervention or education program would of necessity take into account their very real belief in witchcraft.

In this paragraph, I link my undergraduate education and the skills I learned there to public health. The (very brief) analysis of tailoring health interventions to the Zande is a good way to show insight and show off the competencies I would bring to the program.

Paragraph Five: I now work in the healthcare industry for one of the largest providers of health benefits in the world. In addition to reigniting my passion for data and quantitative analytics, working for this company has immersed me in the business side of healthcare, a critical component of public health.

This brief paragraph highlights my relevant work experience in the healthcare industry. It also allows me to mention my work with data and quantitative analytics, which isn’t necessarily obvious from my academic background, which was primarily based in the social sciences.

Paragraph Six: I intend to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in how social factors affect health, particularly as related to gender and sexuality. I intend to pursue a certificate in Sexuality, Sexual Health, and Reproduction. Working together with other experts to create effective interventions across cultures and societies, I want to help transform health landscapes both in America and abroad.

This final paragraph is about my future plans and intentions. Unfortunately, it’s a little disjointed, primarily because I discuss goals of pursuing a PhD before I talk about what certificate I want to pursue within the MPH program! Switching those two sentences and discussing my certificate goals within the MPH and then mentioning my PhD plans would make a lot more sense.

I also start two sentences in a row with “I intend,” which is repetitive.

The final sentence is a little bit generic; I might tailor it to specifically discuss a gender and sexual health issue, since that is the primary area of interest I’ve identified.

This was a successful personal statement; I got into (and attended!) the program. It has strong examples, clear organization, and outlines what interests me about the program (its interdisciplinary focus) and what competencies I would bring (a background in cultural analysis and experience with the business side of healthcare). However, a few slight tweaks would elevate this statement to the next level.

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Graduate School Personal Statement Examples You Can Find Online

So you need more samples for your personal statement for graduate school? Examples are everywhere on the internet, but they aren’t all of equal quality.

Most of examples are posted as part of writing guides published online by educational institutions. We’ve rounded up some of the best ones here if you are looking for more personal statement examples for graduate school.

Penn State Personal Statement Examples for Graduate School

This selection of ten short personal statements for graduate school and fellowship programs offers an interesting mix of approaches. Some focus more on personal adversity while others focus more closely on professional work within the field.

The writing in some of these statements is a little dry, and most deploy at least a few cliches. However, these are generally strong, serviceable statements that communicate clearly why the student is interested in the field, their skills and competencies, and what about the specific program appeals to them.

Cal State Sample Graduate School Personal Statements

These are good examples of personal statements for graduate school where students deploy lots of very vivid imagery and illustrative anecdotes of life experiences. There are also helpful comments about what works in each of these essays.

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However, all of these statements are definitely pushing the boundaries of acceptable length, as all are above 1000 and one is almost 1500 words! Many programs limit you to 500 words; if you don’t have a limit, you should try to keep it to two single-spaced pages at most (which is about 1000 words).

University of Chicago Personal Statement for Graduate School Examples

These examples of successful essays to the University of Chicago law school cover a wide range of life experiences and topics. The writing in all is very vivid, and all communicate clear messages about the students’ strengths and competencies.

Note, however, that these are all essays that specifically worked for University of Chicago law school. That does not mean that they would work everywhere. In fact, one major thing to note is that many of these responses, while well-written and vivid, barely address the students’ interest in law school at all! This is something that might not work well for most graduate programs.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 10

This successful essay for law school from a Wheaton College undergraduate does a great job tracking the student’s interest in the law in a compelling and personal way. Wheaton offers other graduate school personal statement examples, but this one offers the most persuasive case for the students’ competencies. The student accomplishes this by using clear, well-elaborated examples, showing strong and vivid writing, and highlighting positive qualities like an interest in justice and empathy without seeming grandiose or out of touch.

Wheaton College Personal Statement for Graduate School Sample 1

Based on the background information provided at the bottom of the essay, this essay was apparently successful for this applicant. However, I’ve actually included this essay because it demonstrates an extremely risky approach. While this personal statement is strikingly written and the story is very memorable, it could definitely communicate the wrong message to some admissions committees. The student’s decision not to report the drill sergeant may read incredibly poorly to some admissions committees. They may wonder if the student’s failure to report the sergeant’s violence will ultimately expose more soldiers-in-training to the same kinds of abuses. This incident perhaps reads especially poorly in light of the fact that the military has such a notable problem with violence against women being covered up and otherwise mishandled

It’s actually hard to get a complete picture of the student’s true motivations from this essay, and what we have might raise real questions about the student’s character to some admissions committees. This student took a risk and it paid off, but it could have just as easily backfired spectacularly.

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Key Takeaways: Graduate School Personal Statement Examples

In this guide, we discussed why you need a personal statement and how it differs from a statement of purpose. (It’s more personal!)

We also discussed what you’ll find in a strong sample personal statement for graduate school:

  • A clear narrative about the applicant and why they are qualified for graduate study.
  • Specific examples to support that narrative.
  • Compelling reasons why the applicant and the program are a good fit for each other.
  • Strong writing, including clear organization and error-free, cliche-free language.
  • Appropriate boundaries—sharing without over-sharing.

Then, we provided three strong graduate school personal statement examples for different fields, along with analysis. We did a deep-dive on the third statement.

Finally, we provided a list of other sample grad school personal statements online.

What’s Next?

Want more advice on writing a personal statement ? See our guide.

Writing a graduate school statement of purpose? See our statement of purpose samples  and a nine-step process for writing the best statement of purpose possible .

If you’re writing a graduate school CV or resume, see our how-to guide to writing a CV , a how-to guide to writing a resume , our list of sample resumes and CVs , resume and CV templates , and a special guide for writing resume objectives .

Need stellar graduate school recommendation letters ? See our guide.

See our 29 tips for successfully applying to graduate school .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

best personal statement essay

Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics. View all posts by Ellen McCammon

best personal statement essay

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College Essays

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If you're applying to any University of California (UC) campus as an incoming first-year student , then you have a special challenge ahead of you. Applicants need to answer four UC personal insight questions, chosen from a pool of eight unique prompts different from those on the Common App. But not to worry! This article is here to help.

In this article, I'll dissect the eight UC essay prompts in detail. What are they asking you for? What do they want to know about you? What do UC admissions officers really care about? How do you avoid boring or repulsing them with your essay?

I'll break down all of these important questions for each prompt and discuss how to pick the four prompts that are perfect for you. I'll also give you examples of how to make sure your essay fully answers the question. Finally, I'll offer step-by-step instructions on how to come up with the best ideas for your UC personal statements.

What Are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

If you think about it, your college application is mostly made up of numbers: your GPA, your SAT scores, the number of AP classes you took, how many years you spent playing volleyball. But these numbers reveal only so much. The job of admissions officers is to put together a class of interesting, compelling individuals—but a cut-and-dried achievement list makes it very hard to assess whether someone is interesting or compelling. This is where the personal insight questions come in.

The UC application essays are your way to give admissions staff a sense of your personality, your perspective on the world, and some of the experiences that have made you into who you are. The idea is to share the kinds of things that don't end up on your transcript. It's helpful to remember that you are not writing this for you. You're writing for an audience of people who do not know you but are interested to learn about you. The essay is meant to be a revealing look inside your thoughts and feelings.

These short essays—each with a 350-word limit—are different from the essays you write in school, which tend to focus on analyzing someone else's work. Really, the application essays are much closer to a short story. They rely heavily on narratives of events from your life and on your descriptions of people, places, and feelings.

If you'd like more background on college essays, check out our explainer for a very detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application .

Now, let's dive into the eight University of California essay questions. First, I'll compare and contrast these prompts. Then I'll dig deep into each UC personal statement question individually, exploring what it's really trying to find out and how you can give the admissions officers what they're looking for.

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Think of each personal insight essay as a brief story that reveals something about your personal values, interests, motivations, and goals.

Comparing the UC Essay Prompts

Before we can pull these prompts apart, let's first compare and contrast them with each other . Clearly, UC wants you to write four different essays, and they're asking you eight different questions. But what are the differences? And are there any similarities?

The 8 UC Essay Prompts

#1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

#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.

#3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

#4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

#5: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

#6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

#7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

#8: Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

How to Tell the UC Essay Prompts Apart

  • Topics 1 and 7 are about your engagement with the people, things, and ideas around you. Consider the impact of the outside world on you and how you handled that impact.
  • Topics 2 and 6 are about your inner self, what defines you, and what makes you the person that you are. Consider your interior makeup—the characteristics of the inner you.
  • Topics 3, 4, 5, and 8 are about your achievements. Consider what you've accomplished in life and what you are proud of doing.

These very broad categories will help when you're brainstorming ideas and life experiences to write about for your essay. Of course, it's true that many of the stories you think of can be shaped to fit each of these prompts. Still, think about what the experience most reveals about you .

If it's an experience that shows how you have handled the people and places around you, it'll work better for questions in the first group. If it's a description of how you express yourself, it's a good match for questions in group two. If it's an experience that tells how you acted or what you did, it's probably a better fit for questions in group three.

For more help, check out our article on coming up with great ideas for your essay topic .

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Reflect carefully on the eight UC prompts to decide which four questions you'll respond to.

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How Is This Guide Organized?

We analyze all eight UC prompts in this guide, and for each one, we give the following information:

  • The prompt itself and any accompanying instructions
  • What each part of the prompt is asking for
  • Why UC is using this prompt and what they hope to learn from you
  • All the key points you should cover in your response so you answer the complete prompt and give UC insight into who you are

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 1

The prompt and its instructions.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking a lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

What's the Question Asking?

The prompt wants you to describe how you handled a specific kind of relationship with a group of people—a time when you took the reigns and the initiative. Your answer to this prompt will consist of two parts.

Part 1: Explain the Dilemma

Before you can tell your story of leading, brokering peace, or having a lasting impact on other people, you have to give your reader a frame of reference and a context for your actions .

First, describe the group of people you interacted with. Who were and what was their relationship to you? How long were you in each others' lives?

Second, explain the issue you eventually solved. What was going on before you stepped in? What was the immediate problem? Were there potential long-term repercussions?

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Leadership isn't limited to officer roles in student organizations. Think about experiences in which you've taken charge, resolved conflicts, or taken care of loved ones.

Part 2: Describe Your Solution

This is where your essay will have to explicitly talk about your own actions .

Discuss what thought process led you to your course of action. Was it a last-ditch effort or a long-planned strategy? Did you think about what might happen if you didn't step in? Did you have to choose between several courses of action?

Explain how you took the bull by the horns. Did you step into the lead role willingly, or were you pushed despite some doubts? Did you replace or supersede a more obvious leader?

Describe your solution to the problem or your contribution to resolving the ongoing issue. What did you do? How did you do it? Did your plan succeed immediately or did it take some time?

Consider how this experience has shaped the person you have now become. Do you think back on this time fondly as being the origin of some personal quality or skill? Did it make you more likely to lead in other situations?

What's UC Hoping to Learn about You?

College will be an environment unlike any of the ones you've found yourself in up to now. Sure, you will have a framework for your curriculum, and you will have advisers available to help. But for the most part, you will be on your own to deal with the situations that will inevitably arise when you mix with your diverse peers . UC wants to make sure that

  • you have the maturity to deal with groups of people,
  • you can solve problems with your own ingenuity and resourcefulness, and
  • you don't lose your head and panic at problems.

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Demonstrating your problem-solving abilities in your UC college essay will make you a stronger candidate for admission.

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

So how can you make sure those qualities come through in your essay?

Pick Your Group

The prompt very specifically wants you to talk about an interaction with a group of people. Let's say a group has to be at least three people.

Raise the Stakes

Think of the way movies ratchet up the tension of the impending catastrophe before the hero swoops in and saves the day. Keeping an audience on tenterhooks is important—and distinguishes the hero for the job well done. Similarly, when reading your essay, the admissions staff has to fundamentally understand exactly what you and the group you ended up leading were facing. Why was this an important problem to solve?

Balance You versus Them

Personal statements need to showcase you above all things . Because this essay will necessarily have to spend some time on other people, you need to find a good proportion of them-time and me-time. In general, the first (setup) section of the essay should be shorter because it will not be focused on what you were doing. The second section should take the rest of the space. So, in a 350-word essay, maybe 100–125 words go to setup whereas 225–250 words should be devoted to your leadership and solution.

Find Your Arc

Not only do you need to show how your leadership helped you meet the challenge you faced, but you also have to show how the experience changed you . In other words, the outcome was double-sided: you affected the world, and the world affected you right back.

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Give your response to question 1 a compelling arc that demonstrates your personal growth.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 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.

Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

This question is trying to probe the way you express yourself. Its broad description of "creativity" gives you the opportunity to make almost anything you create that didn't exist before fit the topic. What this essay question is really asking you to do is to examine the role your brand of creativity plays in your sense of yourself . The essay will have three parts.

Part 1: Define Your Creativity

What exactly do you produce, make, craft, create, or generate? Of course, the most obvious answer would be visual art, performance art, or music. But in reality, there is creativity in all fields. Any time you come up with an idea, thought, concept, or theory that didn't exist before, you are being creative. So your job is to explain what you spend time creating.

Part 2: Connect Your Creative Drive to Your Overall Self

Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it for external reasons—to perform for others, to demonstrate your skill, to fulfill some need in the world? Or is your creativity private and for your own use—to unwind, to distract yourself from other parts of your life, to have personal satisfaction in learning a skill? Are you good at your creative endeavor, or do you struggle with it? If you struggle, why is it important to you to keep pursuing it?

Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future

The most basic way to do this is by envisioning yourself actually pursuing your creative endeavor professionally. But this doesn't have to be the only way you draw this link. What have you learned from what you've made? How has it changed how you interact with other objects or with people? Does it change your appreciation for the work of others or motivate you to improve upon it?

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Connecting your current creative pursuits with your chosen major or career will help UC admissions staff understand your motivations and intentions.

Nothing characterizes higher education like the need for creative thinking, unorthodox ideas in response to old topics, and the ability to synthesize something new . That is what you are going to college to learn how to do better. UC's second personal insight essay wants to know whether this mindset of out-of-the-box-ness is something you are already comfortable with. They want to see that

  • you have actually created something in your life or academic career,
  • you consider this an important quality within yourself,
  • you have cultivated your skills, and
  • you can see and have considered the impact of your creativity on yourself or on the world around you.

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College admissions counselors, professors, and employers all value the skill of thinking outside the box, so being able to demonstrate that skill is crucial.

How can you really show that you are committed to being a creative person?

Be Specific and Descriptive

It's not enough to vaguely gesture at your creative field. Instead, give a detailed and lively description of a specific thing or idea that you have created . For example, I could describe a Turner painting as "a seascape," or I could call it "an attempt to capture the breathtaking power and violence of an ocean storm as it overwhelms a ship." Which painting would you rather look at?

Give a Sense of History

The question wants a little narrative of your relationship to your creative outlet . How long have you been doing it? Did someone teach you or mentor you? Have you taught it to others? Where and when do you create?

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

Anything worth doing is worth doing despite setbacks, this question argues—and it wants you to narrate one such setback. So first, figure out something that interfered with your creative expression .  Was it a lack of skill, time, or resources? Too much or not enough ambition in a project? Then, make sure this story has a happy ending that shows you off as the solver of your own problems: What did you do to fix the situation? How did you do it?

Show Insight

Your essay should include some thoughtful consideration of how this creative pursuit has shaped you , your thoughts, your opinions, your relationships with others, your understanding of creativity in general, or your dreams about your future. (Notice I said "or," not "and"—350 words is not enough to cover all of those things!)

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Dissecting Personal Insight Question 3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Things to consider: If there's a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it. You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

Basically, what's being asked for here is a beaming rave. Whatever you write about, picture yourself talking about it with a glowing smile on your face.

Part 1: Narrative

The first part of the question really comes down to this: Tell us a story about what's amazing about you. Have you done an outstanding thing? Do you have a mind-blowing ability? Describe a place, a time, or a situation in which you were a star.

A close reading of this first case of the prompt reveals that you don't need to stress if you don't have an obvious answer. Sure, if you're playing first chair violin in the symphony orchestra, that qualifies as both a "talent" and an "accomplishment." But the word "quality" really gives you the option of writing about any one of your most meaningful traits. And the words "contribution" and "experience" open up the range of possibilities that you could write about even further. A contribution could be anything from physically helping put something together to providing moral or emotional support at a critical moment.

But the key to the first part is the phrase "important to you." Once again, what you write about is not as important as how you write about it. Being able to demonstrate the importance of the event that you're describing reveals much more about you than the specific talent or characteristic ever could.

Part 2: Insight and Personal Development

The second part of the last essay asked you to look to the future. The second part of this essay wants you to look at the present instead. The general task is similar, however. Once again, you're being asked to make connections:  How do you fit this quality you have or this achievement you accomplished into the story of who you are?

A close reading of the second part of this prompt lands on the word "proud." This is a big clue that the revelation this essay is looking for should be a very positive one. In other words, this is probably not the time to write about getting arrested for vandalism. Instead, focus on a skill that you've carefully honed, and clarify how that practice and any achievements connected with your talent have earned you concrete opportunities or, more abstractly, personal growth.

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Remember to connect the talent or skill you choose to write about with your sense of personal identity and development.

What's UC Hoping to Learn About You?

Admissions officers have a very straightforward interest in learning about your accomplishments. By the end of high school, many of the experiences that you are most proud of don't tend to be the kind of things that end up on your résumé .

They want to know what makes you proud of yourself. Is it something that relates to performance, to overcoming a difficult obstacle, to keeping a cool head in a crisis, to your ability to help others in need?

At the same time, they are looking for a sense of maturity. In order to be proud of an accomplishment, it's important to be able to understand your own values and ideals. This is your chance to show that you truly understand the qualities and experiences that make you a responsible and grown-up person, someone who will thrive in the independence of college life. In other words, although you might really be proud that you managed to tag 10 highway overpasses with graffiti, that's probably not the achievement to brag about here.

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Unless you were hired by the city to paint the overpasses, in which case definitely brag about it.

The trick with this prompt is how to show a lot about yourself without listing accomplishments or devolving into cliche platitudes. Let's take it step by step.

Step #1: Explain Your Field

Make sure that somewhere in your narrative (preferably closer to the beginning), you let the reader know what makes your achievement an achievement . Not all interests are mainstream, so it helps your reader to understand what you're facing if you give a quick sketch of, for example, why it's challenging to build a battle bot that can defeat another fighting robot or how the difficulties of extemporaneous debate compare with debating about a prepared topic.

Keep in mind that for some things, the explanation might be obvious. For example, do you really need to explain why finishing a marathon is a hard task?

Step #2: Zoom in on a Specific Experience

Think about your talent, quality, or accomplishment in terms of experiences that showcase it. Conversely, think about your experiences in terms of the talent, quality, or accomplishment they demonstrate. Because you're once again going to be limited to 350 words, you won't be able to fit all the ways in which you exhibit your exemplary skill into this essay. This means that you'll need to figure out how to best demonstrate your ability through one event in which you displayed it . Or if you're writing about an experience you had or a contribution you made, you'll need to also point out what personality trait or characteristic it reveals.

Step #3: Find a Conflict or a Transition

The first question asked for a description, but this one wants a story—a narrative of how you pursue your special talent or how you accomplished the skill you were so great at. The main thing about stories is that they have to have the following:

  • A beginning: This is the setup, when you weren't yet the star you are now.
  • An obstacle or a transition: Sometimes, a story has a conflict that needs to be resolved: something that stood in your way, a challenge that you had to figure out a way around, a block that you powered through. Other times, a story is about a change or a transformation: you used to believe, think, or be one thing, and now you are different or better.
  • A resolution: When your full power, self-knowledge, ability, or future goal is revealed.

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If, for example, you taught yourself to become a gifted coder, how did you first learn this skill? What challenges did you overcome in your learning? What does this ability say about your character, motivations, or goals?

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 4

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you—just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

Cue the swelling music because this essay is going to be all about your inspirational journey. You will either tell your story of overcoming adversity against all (or some) odds or of pursuing the chance of a lifetime.

If you write about triumphing over adversity, your essay will include the following:

A description of the setback that befell you: The prompt wants to know what you consider a challenge in your school life. And definitely note that this challenge should have in some significant way impacted your academics rather than your life overall.

The challenge can be a wide-reaching problem in your educational environment or something that happened specifically to you. The word "barrier" also shows that the challenge should be something that stood in your way: If only that thing weren't there, then you'd be sure to succeed.

An explanation of your success: Here, you'll talk about what you did when faced with this challenge. Notice that the prompt asks you to describe the "work" you put in to overcome the problem. So this piece of the essay should focus on your actions, thoughts, ideas, and strategies.

Although the essay doesn't specify it, this section should also at some point turn reflexive. How are you defined by this thing that happened? You could discuss the emotional fallout of having dramatically succeeded or how your maturity level, concrete skills, or understanding of the situation has increased now that you have dealt with it personally. Or you could talk about any beliefs or personal philosophy that you have had to reevaluate as a result of either the challenge itself or of the way that you had to go about solving it.

If you write about an educational opportunity, your essay will include the following:

A short, clear description of exactly what you got the chance to do: In your own words, explain what the opportunity was and why it's special.

Also, explain why you specifically got the chance to do it. Was it the culmination of years of study? An academic contest prize? An unexpected encounter that led to you seizing an unlooked-for opportunity?

How you made the best of it: It's one thing to get the opportunity to do something amazing, but it's another to really maximize what you get out of this chance for greatness. This is where you show just how much you understand the value of what you did and how you've changed and grown as a result of it.

Were you very challenged by this opportunity? Did your skills develop? Did you unearth talents you didn't know you had?

How does this impact your future academic ambitions or interests? Will you study this area further? Does this help you find your academic focus?

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If writing about an educational obstacle you overcame, make sure to describe not just the challenge itself but also how you overcame it and how breaking down that barrier changed you for the better.

Of course, whatever you write about in this essay is probably already reflected on your résumé or in your transcript in some small way. But UC wants to go deeper, to find out how seriously you take your academic career, and to assess  how thoughtfully you've approached either its ups or its downs.

In college, there will be many amazing opportunities, but they aren't simply there for the taking. Instead, you will be responsible for seizing whatever chances will further your studies, interests, or skills.

Conversely, college will necessarily be more challenging, harder, and potentially much more full of academic obstacles than your academic experiences so far. UC wants to see that you are up to handling whatever setbacks may come your way with aplomb rather than panic.

Define the Problem or Opportunity

Not every challenge is automatically obvious. Sure, everyone can understand the drawbacks of having to miss a significant amount of school because of illness, but what if the obstacle you tackled is something a little more obscure? Likewise, winning the chance to travel to Italy to paint landscapes with a master is clearly rare and amazing, but some opportunities are more specialized and less obviously impressive. Make sure your essay explains everything the reader will need to know to understand what you were facing.

Watch Your Tone

An essay describing problems can easily slip into finger-pointing and self-pity. Make sure to avoid this by speaking positively or at least neutrally about what was wrong and what you faced . This goes double if you decide to explain who or what was at fault for creating this problem.

Likewise, an essay describing amazing opportunities can quickly become an exercise in unpleasant bragging and self-centeredness. Make sure you stay grounded: Rather than dwelling at length on your accomplishments, describe the specifics of what you learned and how.

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Elaborating on how you conducted microbiology research during the summer before your senior year would make an appropriate topic for question 4.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 5

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, "How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends, or with my family?"

It's time to draw back the curtains and expand our field of vision because this is going to be a two-part story of overcoming adversity against all (or some) odds.

Part 1: Facing a Challenge

The first part of this essay is about problem-solving. The prompt asks you to relate something that could have derailed you if not for your strength and skill. Not only will you describe the challenge itself, but you'll also talk about what you did when faced with it.

Part 2: Looking in the Mirror

The second part of question 5 asks you to consider how this challenge has echoed through your life—and, more specifically, how what happened to you affected your education.

In life, dealing with setbacks, defeats, barriers, and conflicts is not a bug—it's a feature. And colleges want to make sure that you can handle these upsetting events without losing your overall sense of self, without being totally demoralized, and without getting completely overwhelmed. In other words, they are looking for someone who is mature enough to do well on a college campus, where disappointing results and hard challenges will be par for the course.

They are also looking for your creativity and problem-solving skills. Are you good at tackling something that needs to be fixed? Can you keep a cool head in a crisis? Do you look for solutions outside the box? These are all markers of a successful student, so it's not surprising that admissions staff want you to demonstrate these qualities.

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The challenge you write about for question 5 need not be an educational barrier, which is better suited for question 4. Think broadly about the obstacles you've overcome and how they've shaped your perspective and self-confidence.

Let's explore the best ways to show off your problem-solving side.

Show Your Work

It's one thing to be able to say what's wrong, but it's another thing entirely to demonstrate how you figured out how to fix it. Even more than knowing that you were able to fix the problem, colleges want to see how you approached the situation . This is why your essay needs to explain your problem-solving methodology. Basically, they need to see you in action. What did you think would work? What did you think would not work? Did you compare this to other problems you have faced and pass? Did you do research? Describe your process.

Make Sure That You Are the Hero

This essay is supposed to demonstrate your resourcefulness and creativity . And make sure that you had to be the person responsible for overcoming the obstacle, not someone else. Your story must clarify that without you and your special brand of XYZ , people would still be lamenting the issue today. Don't worry if the resource you used to bring about a solution was the knowledge and know-how that somebody else brought to the table. Just focus on explaining what made you think of this person as the one to go to, how you convinced them to participate, and how you explained to them how they would be helpful. This will shift the attention of the story back to you and your efforts.

Find the Suspenseful Moment

The most exciting part of this essay should be watching you struggle to find a solution just in the nick of time. Think every movie cliché ever about someone defusing a bomb: Even if you know 100% that the hero is going to save the day, the movie still ratchets up the tension to make it seem like, Well, maybe... You want to do the same thing here. Bring excitement and a feeling of uncertainty to your description of your process to really pull the reader in and make them root for you to succeed.

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You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

This question is really asking for a glimpse of your imagined possibilities .

For some students, this will be an extremely straightforward question. For example, say you've always loved science to the point that you've spent every summer taking biology and chemistry classes. Pick a few of the most gripping moments from these experiences and discuss the overall trajectory of your interests, and your essay will be a winner.

But what if you have many academic interests? Or what if you discovered your academic passion only at the very end of high school? Let's break down what the question is really asking into two parts.

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

At first glance, it sounds as if what you should write about is the class in which you have gotten the best grades or the subject that easily fits into what you see as your future college major or maybe even your eventual career goal. There is nothing wrong with this kind of pick—especially if you really are someone who tends to excel in those classes that are right up your interest alley.

But if we look closer, we see that there is nothing in the prompt that specifically demands that you write either about a particular class or an area of study in which you perform well.

Instead, you could take the phrase "academic subject" to mean a wide field of study and explore your fascination with the different types of learning to be found there. For example, if your chosen topic is the field of literature, you could discuss your experiences with different genres or with foreign writers.

You could also write about a course or area of study that has significantly challenged you and in which you have not been as stellar a student as you want. This could be a way to focus on your personal growth as a result of struggling through a difficult class or to represent how you've learned to handle or overcome your limitations.

Part 2: Relevance

The second part of this prompt , like the first, can also be taken in a literal and direct way . There is absolutely nothing wrong with explaining that because you love engineering and want to be an engineer, you have pursued all your school's STEM courses, are also involved in a robotics club, and have taught yourself to code in order to develop apps.

However, you could focus on the more abstract, values-driven goals we just talked about instead. Then, your explanation of how your academics will help you can be rooted not in the content of what you studied but in the life lessons you drew from it.

In other words, for example, your theater class may not have stimulated your ambition to be an actor, but working on plays with your peers may have shown you how highly you value collaboration, or perhaps the experience of designing sets was an exercise in problem-solving and ingenuity. These lessons would be useful in any field you pursue and could easily be said to help you achieve your lifetime goals.

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If you are on a direct path to a specific field of study or career pursuit, admissions officers definitely want to know that. Having driven, goal-oriented, and passionate students is a huge plus for a university. So if this is you, be sure that your essay conveys not just your interest but also your deep and abiding love of the subject. Maybe even include any related clubs, activities, and hobbies that you've done during high school.

Of course, college is the place to find yourself and the things that you become passionate about. So if you're not already committed to a specific course of study, don't worry. Instead, you have to realize that in this essay, like in all the other essays, the how matters much more than the what. No matter where your eventual academic, career, or other pursuits may lie, every class that you have taken up to now has taught you something. You learned about things like work ethic, mastering a skill, practice, learning from a teacher, interacting with peers, dealing with setbacks, understanding your own learning style, and perseverance.

In other words, the admissions office wants to make sure that no matter what you study, you will draw meaningful conclusions from your experiences, whether those conclusions are about the content of what you learn or about a deeper understanding of yourself and others. They want to see that you're not simply floating through life on the surface  but that you are absorbing the qualities, skills, and know-how you will need to succeed in the world—no matter what that success looks like.

Focus on a telling detail. Because personal statements are short, you simply won't have time to explain everything you have loved about a particular subject in enough detail to make it count. Instead, pick one event that crystallized your passion for a subject   or one telling moment that revealed what your working style will be , and go deep into a discussion of what it meant to you in the past and how it will affect your future.

Don't overreach. It's fine to say that you have loved your German classes so much that you have begun exploring both modern and classic German-language writers, for example, but it's a little too self-aggrandizing to claim that your four years of German have made you basically bilingual and ready to teach the language to others. Make sure that whatever class achievements you describe don't come off as unnecessary bragging rather than simple pride .

Similarly, don't underreach. Make sure that you have actual accomplishments to describe in whatever subject you pick to write about. If your favorite class turned out to be the one you mostly skipped to hang out in the gym instead, this may not be the place to share that lifetime goal. After all, you always have to remember your audience. In this case, it's college admissions officers who want to find students who are eager to learn and be exposed to new thoughts and ideas.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place— like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

This topic is trying to get at how you engage with your environment. It's looking for several things:

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

Because the term "community" is so broad and ambiguous, this is a good essay for explaining where you feel a sense of belonging and rootedness. What or who constitutes your community? Is your connection to a place, to a group of people, or to an organization? What makes you identify as part of this community—cultural background, a sense of shared purpose, or some other quality?

#2: Your Empathy and Ability to Look at the Big Picture

Before you can solve a problem, you have to realize that the problem exists. Before you can make your community a better place, you have to find the things that can be ameliorated. No matter what your contribution ended up being, you first have to show how you saw where your skills, talent, intelligence, or hard work could do the most good. Did you put yourself in the shoes of the other people in your community? Understand some fundamental inner working of a system you could fix? Knowingly put yourself in the right place at the right time?

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

How did you make the difference in your community? If you resolved a tangible issue, how did you come up with your solution? Did you examine several options or act from the gut? If you made your community better in a less direct way, how did you know where to apply yourself and how to have the most impact possible?

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Clarify not just what the problem and solution was but also your process of getting involved and contributing specific skills, ideas, or efforts that made a positive difference.

Community is a very important thing to colleges. You'll be involved with and encounter lots of different communities in college, including the broader student body, your extracurriculars, your classes, and the community outside the university. UC wants to make sure that you can engage with the communities around you in a positive, meaningful way .

Make it personal. Before you can explain what you did in your community, you have to define and describe this community itself—and you can only do that by focusing on what it means to you. Don't speak in generalities; instead, show the bonds between you and the group you are a part of through colorful, idiosyncratic language. Sure, they might be "my water polo team," but maybe they are more specifically "the 12 people who have seen me at my most exhausted and my most exhilarated."

Feel all the feelings. This is a chance to move your readers. As you delve deep into what makes your community one of your emotional centers, and then as you describe how you were able to improve it in a meaningful and lasting way, you should keep the roller coaster of feelings front and center. Own how you felt at each step of the process: when you found your community, when you saw that you could make a difference, and when you realized that your actions resulted in a change for the better. Did you feel unprepared for the task you undertook? Nervous to potentially let down those around you? Thrilled to get a chance to display a hidden or underused talent?

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To flesh out your essay, depict the emotions you felt while making your community contribution, from frustration or disappointment to joy and fulfillment. 

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Things to consider: If there's anything you want us to know about you, but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.

If your particular experience doesn't quite fit under the rubrics of the other essay topics , or if there is something the admissions officers need to understand about your background in order to consider your application in the right context, then this is the essay for you.

Now, I'm going to say something a little counterintuitive here. The prompt for this essay clarifies that even if you don't have a "unique" story to tell, you should still feel free to pick this topic. But, honestly, I think you should  choose this topic only if you have an exceptional experience to share . Remember that E veryday challenges or successes of regular life could easily fit one of the other insight questions instead.

What this means is that evaluating whether your experiences qualify for this essay is a matter of degrees. For example, did you manage to thrive academically despite being raised by a hard-working single parent? That's a hardship that could easily be written about for Questions 1 or 5, depending on how you choose to frame what happened. Did you manage to earn a 3.7 GPA despite living in a succession of foster families only to age out of the system in the middle of your senior year of high school? That's a narrative of overcoming hardship that easily belongs to Question 8.

On the flip side, did you win a state-wide robotics competition? Well done, and feel free to tell your story under Question 4. Were you the youngest person to single-handedly win a season of BattleBots? Then feel free to write about it for Question 8.

This is pretty straightforward. They are trying to identify students that have unique and amazing stories to tell about who they are and where they come from. If you're a student like this, then the admissions people want to know the following:

  • What happened to you?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • How did you participate, or how were you involved in the situation?
  • How did it affect you as a person?
  • How did it affect your schoolwork?
  • How will the experience be reflected in the point of view you bring to campus?

The university wants this information because of the following:

  • It gives context to applications that otherwise might seem mediocre or even subpar.
  • It can help explain places in a transcript where grades significantly drop.
  • It gives them the opportunity to build a lot of diversity into the incoming class.
  • It's a way of finding unique talents and abilities that otherwise wouldn't show up on other application materials.

Let's run through a few tricks for making sure your essay makes the most of your particular distinctiveness.

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

Many experiences in our lives that make us feel elated, accomplished, and extremely competent are also near universal. This essay isn't trying to take the validity of your strong feelings away from you, but it would be best served by stories that are on a different scale . Wondering whether what you went through counts? This might be a good time to run your idea by a parent, school counselor, or trusted teacher. Do they think your experience is widespread? Or do they agree that you truly lived a life less ordinary?

Connect Outward

The vast majority of your answer to the prompt should be telling your story and its impact on you and your life. But the essay should also point toward how your particular experiences set you apart from your peers. One of the reasons that the admissions office wants to find out which of the applicants has been through something unlike most other people is that they are hoping to increase the number of points of view in the student body. Think about—and include in your essay—how you will impact campus life. This can be very literal: If you are a jazz singer who has released several songs on social media, then maybe you will perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique: If you have a disability, then you will be able to offer a perspective that differs from the able-bodied majority.

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

Nothing will make your voice sound more appealing than writing without embellishment or verbal flourishes. This is the one case in which  how you're telling the story is just as—if not more—important than what you're telling . So the best strategy is to be as straightforward in your writing as possible. This means using description to situate your reader in a place, time, or experience that they would never get to see firsthand. You can do this by picking a specific moment during your accomplishment to narrate as a small short story and not shying away from explaining your emotions throughout the experience. Your goal is to make the extraordinary into something at least somewhat relatable, and the way you do that is by bringing your writing down to earth.

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Your essays should feature relatable thoughts and emotions as well as insights into how you will contribute to the campus community.

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

No matter what personal insight questions you end up choosing to write about, here are two tips for making your writing sparkle:

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

Have you ever heard the expression "show; don't tell"? It's usually given as creative writing advice, and it will be your best friend when you're writing college essays. It means that any time you want to describe a person or thing as having a particular quality, it's better to illustrate with an example than to just use vague adjectives . If you stick to giving examples that paint a picture, your focus will also become narrower and more specific. You'll end up concentrating on details and concrete events rather than not-particularly-telling generalizations.

Let's say, for instance, Adnan is writing about the house that he's been helping his dad fix up. Which of these do you think gives the reader a better sense of place?

My family bought an old house that was kind of run-down. My dad likes fixing it up on the weekends, and I like helping him. Now the house is much nicer than when we bought it, and I can see all our hard work when I look at it.

My dad grinned when he saw my shocked face. Our "new" house looked like a completely run-down shed: peeling paint, rust-covered railings, shutters that looked like the crooked teeth of a jack-o-lantern. I was still staring at the spider-web crack in one broken window when my dad handed me a pair of brand-new work gloves and a paint scraper. "Today, let's just do what we can with the front wall," he said. And then I smiled too, knowing that many of my weekends would be spent here with him, working side by side.

Both versions of this story focus on the house being dilapidated and how Adnan enjoyed helping his dad do repairs. But the second does this by:

painting a picture of what the house actually looked like by adding visual details ("peeling paint," "rust-covered railings," and "broken window") and through comparisons ("shutters like a jack-o-lantern" and "spider-web crack");

showing emotions by describing facial expressions ("my dad grinned," "my shocked face," and "I smiled"); and

using specific and descriptive action verbs ("grinned," "shocked," "staring," and "handed").

The essay would probably go on to describe one day of working with his dad or a time when a repair went horribly awry. Adnan would make sure to keep adding sensory details (what things looked, sounded, smelled, tasted, and felt like), using active verbs, and illustrating feelings with dialogue and facial expressions.

If you're having trouble checking whether your description is detailed enough, read your work to someone else . Then, ask that person to describe the scene back to you. Are they able to conjure up a picture from your words? If not, you need to beef up your details.

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It's a bit of a fixer-upper, but it'll make a great college essay!

#2: Show Your Feelings

All good personal essays deal with emotions. And what marks great personal essays is the author's willingness to really dig into negative feelings as well as positive ones . As you write your UC application essays, keep asking yourself questions and probing your memory. How did you feel before it happened? How did you expect to feel after, and how did you actually feel after? How did the world that you are describing feel about what happened? How do you know how your world felt?

Then write about your feelings using mostly emotion words ("I was thrilled/disappointed/proud/scared"), some comparisons ("I felt like I'd never run again/like I'd just bitten into a sour apple/like the world's greatest explorer"), and a few bits of direct speech ("'How are we going to get away with this?' my brother asked").

We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies . We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League.

What's Next?

This should give you a great starting point to address the UC essay prompts and consider how you'll write your own effective UC personal statements. The hard part starts here: work hard, brainstorm broadly, and use all my suggestions above to craft a great UC application essay.

Making your way through college applications? We have advice on how to find the right college for you , how to write about your extracurricular activities , and how to ask teachers for recommendations .

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Writing a Personal Statement for Law School

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best personal statement essay

Writing a Personal Statement for Law School was originally published on College Recruiter .

In order to gain entrance into law school, prospective students are required to write an essay detailing the reasons why they want to become lawyers. Unlike the college entrance application, personal statements for law school are essays that have an open format. Successful lawyers are high achievers long before they enter law school. They exude confidence and accomplish their goals. When you write your law school statement, you need to write in a way that shows your skills, competence, and achievements. Think of the person reading your essay as you write. He or she will want to know what you have to offer society as a lawyer. That person also has an interest in your motivations for wanting to be a lawyer and what it is that makes you a better prospect than other law school applicants. Remember that admissions officers review hundreds of applications. Tell them the true story of the things in your life that made you decide to become an attorney. Do not embellish or say anything false because they will see through it. Do not use cliches that you have heard from someone else or tell them what you think they want to hear. For instance, if you really enjoy helping the homeless, write it down in such a way that it shows your reasons rather than telling them. What qualifies you to be a lawyer? What character traits, skills, and talents do you have that would make you a good lawyer? Describe everything you know about yourself that you feel qualifies you above other people. Don’t be disingenuous by exaggerating your skills and accomplishments. If you have any weaknesses that you feel may potentially disqualify you from law school, how do you get around them in your personal statement? That is a tough question. If you have a period of time where you had below average grades, using excuses is not the solution to your dilemma. Try to find something positive that you learned that helps you overcome the flaw. In the case of grades, you could tell how you improved them. One writer’s technique that works effectively on essays and personal statements is active voice. Use active verbs in your senses. Passive voice sounds weak and that is not the way you want to come across to the admissions board. That however does not mean that you should try to impress anyone with your knowledge of legal terminology. A personal statement does not mean writing your complete personal life memoirs. In other words, don’t write a book. Instead, write a 1 to 2 page statement using the tips contained here. When you’re finished, ask people you know to read your statement. Take their suggestions seriously. This is perhaps the most important step of all in writing your personal statement. Revise once. Set it down for a day. Revise twice. Set it down for another day. Read it again and revise and edit once more. Let someone read it again and get their opinion of your statement. Writing our personal statement for law school is not rocket science. When you put the time and effort into writing it, you will likely end up with a personal statement that will effectively get the notice of the Board of Admissions. Tip: Get a head start on writing your own personal statement by starting with a sample personal statement . Your writing will be faster, easier, and more professional as a result. Jason Kay is a professional writer offering advice in a number of areas including resume writing and personal statement writing. You can learn more useful tips at his resume writing blog .

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What Medical School Personal Statements Have in Common

Experts Reveal 7 Things the Best Medical School Personal Statements Have Square

As qualified as you might feel when applying to Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs, it’s important not to get ahead of yourself and to remain thoughtful while completing each and every component of your applications. Your medical school personal statement is a particularly critical element that gives you the opportunity to convey your best qualities to admissions teams.

This medical school essay provides a more intimate look at who you are as a person, what made you choose to become a doctor, and what you envision for your career after earning your MD. In addition to the content of this narrative, your quality of writing, organization of ideas, and attention to detail can also be indicative of your potential to succeed as a med student.

Before you start planning your own approach, consider the following advice on how to write a personal statement for medical school.

6 Features of a stand-out medical school personal statement

It’s helpful to note that the following elements are important to keep in mind when crafting personal statements within the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS), and the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) alike.

1. Make them personal

Most elements of your med school applications will seem entirely un-personal. While things like your GPA, MCAT score, and transcripts can certainly speak to your academic qualifications, they don’t necessarily provide admissions teams with a full picture of who you are as an individual.

Your medical school personal statement, on the other hand, allows you to represent your authentic motivations and interests to your target programs. Before you start writing, take some time to reflect on why you are interested in becoming a doctor. Having a clear understanding of the driving force behind your medical career goals can be a great jumping off point as you determine how to frame your essay.

Rather than simply listing your achievements, think about where you have been and why you have continued down this unique path. You may also want to speak to an area of specialization that piques your interest or a particular topic you hope to research during medical school.

2. Tell a compelling story

Your journey thus far hasn’t solely been about attending classes and getting good grades in your medical school prerequisite courses. If you want your medical school personal statement to stand out, you’ll need to provide some notable takeaways within your captivating narrative.

Think about some memorable experiences you’ve had that relate to your personal development or your goals in medicine. Consider narrowing down your ideas by discussing them with a mentor or a few of your peers to determine which might seem the most unique or interesting.

Keep in mind that an experience doesn’t have to be extravagant to make for good subject matter; the key is selecting something that has been impactful for you personally. A seemingly unremarkable event in your life can still serve as a great essay topic, so don’t get stuck trying to think of a monumental moment.

3. Reveal your best qualities

Whatever narrative thread you choose for your medical school essay, you’ll want to be sure it highlights your personal selling points. Ideally, your personal statement should speak to how you exhibit many of the core competencies for entering medical students highlighted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Consider the following AAMC Pre-med Competencies:

Pre-Medical Compentencies

Keep these in mind as you craft your med school personal statement and find ways to highlight your proficiency in some of those competencies.

4. Clean and professional

Even the most compelling medical school personal statement can fall flat if it is full of grammatical errors, sloppy paragraph structure, or punctuation mistakes. There’s no excuse for basic writing mishaps, so be sure to proofread meticulously. If possible, enlist multiple people to check your work.

5. Have substance

It’s also helpful to remember that there will likely be a character limit for your medical school personal statement, so there isn’t room for language that doesn’t add to the overall narrative.

Simply following the basic outline format for essays is wise. Strive for clarity with an introduction, three to five supporting points, and a definitive conclusion. This personal statement format has become a go-to choice because it’s usually quite effective.

6. Answer the Questions

If you’ve ever researched medical school personal statement examples, you’ve likely noticed the essays that stand out to admissions teams clearly introduce the topic and tell a cohesive narrative. To achieve the same success, start brainstorming themes before you sit down to write. Try to align that topic with your personal story when writing, and be sure to end on a strong note.

“The closing paragraph is the second most important piece of your essay, right behind the opening paragraph,” Moon notes. “It must tie everything together.”

Apply to MD programs with confidence

You’re now better equipped to put your best foot forward when crafting your medical school personal statement. As you focus on how you might be evaluated by admissions committees. Find out more about the process by reading our article “7 Questions About Medical School Applications”.

This article has been updated to reflect information since 2021

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1 Data as of June 2023.

2 Average of 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 residency placement rates. Residency placement rate is defined as the total number of students/graduates who obtained a US residency divided by the total number of students/graduates who applied to a US residency program in a given year as of September 2023.

3 Total results from the five calendar years 2018-2022. First-time pass rate is defined as the number of US students (US citizens/permanent residents) passing USMLE Step 1 on their first attempt divided by the total number of US students taking USMLE Step 1 for the first time within the given time range. In order to be certified to take USMLE Step 1, students are required to pass all basic sciences courses.

4 Total results from the five academic years 2019-2023. First-time pass rate is defined as the number of US students passing USMLE Step 2 CK on their first attempt divided by the total number of US students taking USMLE Step 2 CK for the first time. USMLE Step 2 CK is typically taken upon completion of third-year core clinical rotations

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US Residencies in over 20 specialties in 2023 1

US residency placement rate for graduates over the last three years 2

USMLE Step 1 pass rate for first-time test-takers over the last three years 3

USMLE Step 2CK pass rate for first-time test takers over the last three years 4

2 Average of 2021, 2022, 2023 residency placement rate. Residency placement rate is defined as the total number of students/graduates who obtained a US residency divided by the total number of students/graduates who applied to a US residency program in a given year as of March 2023.

3 Average of 2019, 2020, 2021 scores. First-time pass rate is defined as the number of students passing USMLE Step 1 on their first attempt divided by the total number of students taking USMLE Step 1 for the first time. In order to be certified to take USMLE Step 1, students are required to pass all basic sciences courses.

4 Average of academic years 2019, 2020, 2021 scores. First-time pass rate is defined as the number of students passing USMLE Step 2 CK on their first attempt divided by the total number of students taking USMLE Step 2 CK for the first time. USMLE Step 2 CK is typically taken upon completion of third-year core clinical rotations.

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  1. Best Personal Statement Examples in 2023 + Why Do They Work?

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  2. Professional and Best 500 Word Personal Statement Samples Online

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  3. 018 Personal Statement Sample Essays High School Infographic What

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  1. Best Personal statement hacks part 1 #personalstatement #sixthform #school

COMMENTS

  1. 12 Outstanding Personal Statement Examples

    In our work with students, we often encourage students to review examples of personal statements to get a sense of what a great essay might look like and to just generally share a wide range of topics, structures, and writing styles so that they can see what's possible when writing this essay.

  2. How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

    Let's go. What is a personal statement? That just means "essay" … right? A personal statement is an essay in which you demonstrate aspects of who you are by sharing some of the qualities, skills, and values you'll bring to college.

  3. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Essay 1: Summer Program Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American Essay 3: Why Medicine Essay 4: Love of Writing Essay 5: Starting a Fire Essay 6: Dedicating a Track Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders Essay 8: Becoming a Coach Essay 9: Eritrea Essay 10: Journaling Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough? What is a Personal Statement?

  4. 20 Brilliant Personal Statement Examples + Why They Work

    Be Authentic Writing authentic essays means writing from the heart. The best personal statements tend to come naturally, because the writer is excited about the topic. Choose an idea that makes you feel excited to write about and start writing. As you begin drafting, ideas will naturally arise related to your original idea.

  5. 16 Winning Personal Statement Examples (And Why They Work)

    1. Personal statement example for graduate school A personal statement for graduate school differs greatly from one to further your professional career. It is usually an essay, rather than a brief paragraph. Here is an example of a personal statement written for graduate school admission: Jean Smith

  6. How to Write a Personal Statement

    Degree Advice How to Write a Personal Statement How to Write a Personal Statement Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on Jan 9, 2024 A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.

  7. How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

    Edited by Maria Geiger Updated: May 18th, 2023 The personal statement. It's one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn't exactly easy.

  8. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene An effective way to catch the reader's attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you're stuck, try thinking about: A personal experience that changed your perspective A story from your family's history A memorable teacher or learning experience

  9. How to Write a Powerful Personal Statement

    Matt Ellis Updated on June 2, 2022 Students A personal statement is a short essay that highlights the best qualities of the writer, usually in the context of school or job applications. Somewhat autobiographical, personal essays delve into the talents, skills, passions, ambitions, and accomplishments of the writer.

  10. How to Write a Personal Statement (with Tips and Examples)

    Tip 3: Show, Don't Tell. One common mistake you might make in your personal statement is to simply tell the reader what you want them to know about you, such as by stating "I have a fear of public speaking" or "I love to cook.". Instead of simply stating these facts, you should show the committee what you're talking about through a story or scene, which will make your essay much ...

  11. 15 Amazing Personal Statement Examples (2024 Update)

    15 Amazing Personal Statement Examples (2024 Update) "Bad" Personal Statement Examples Key Takeaways Last updated February 9, 2024 Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

  12. How to write the best personal statement, with examples

    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.

  13. Personal Statement Format + Examples

    The Common Application and Coalition Application, which are the most prevalent applications, will give you a word count of 650 words for your main personal statement, but will usually give a smaller word count for school-specific supplemental essays.

  14. How To Write a Good Personal Statement (With Examples)

    Updated March 10, 2023 Show Transcript Video: How To Write a Standout Personal Statement Jenn, a certified career coach, shares her key steps for crafting a personal statement that is authentic, impressive and helps you stand out from the crowd.

  15. The Personal Statement

    1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. 2. The response to very specific questions:

  16. What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the

    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.

  17. 5 Ivy-level Personal Statement Examples [Updated 2023]

    Common App Personal Statement Example #1: Treasure Hunt Armed with a Tesoro metal detector, my father and I trekked up the 19-mile Dutchman Trail, the 6am sun peeking behind Saguaro cacti dotting the dusty desertscape.

  18. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it. Be creative. "Show, don't tell," and that applies here ...

  19. How to Write a Personal Statement for a Scholarship + Examples

    Brooke Elkjer June 5, 2022 13 College Essays, Scholarships How to Write a Personal Statement for a Scholarship + Examples What's Covered: What is the Purpose of the Scholarship Personal Statement? What to Include in Your Personal Statement Personal Statement Example: Breakdown + Analysis How to Make Sure Your Writing is Effective

  20. How to start a personal statement: The attention grabber

    2. Write about why you want to study that course. Think about why you want to study the course and how you can demonstrate this in your written statement: 'Your interest in the course is the biggest thing. Start with a short sentence that captures the reason why you're interested in studying the area you're applying for and that ...

  21. THE PERSONAL STATEMENT

    Read example essays and write your personal statement for college and university admission using our free and low-cost video courses and step-by-step guides. ... 35+ Best College Essay Tips from College Application Experts.

  22. 3 Successful Graduate School Personal Statement Examples • Pr

    Sample Personal Statement for Graduate School 3. PDF of Sample Graduate School Personal Statement 3 - Public Health. This is my successful personal statement for Columbia's Master's program in Public Health. We'll do a deep dive on this statement paragraph-by-paragraph in the next section, but I'll highlight a couple of things that ...

  23. How to Write a Perfect UC Essay for Every Prompt

    In general, the first (setup) section of the essay should be shorter because it will not be focused on what you were doing. The second section should take the rest of the space. So, in a 350-word essay, maybe 100-125 words go to setup whereas 225-250 words should be devoted to your leadership and solution.

  24. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    number of paragraphs in your essay should be determined by the number of steps you need to take to build your argument. To write strong paragraphs, try to focus each paragraph on one main point—and begin a new paragraph when you are moving to a new point or example. A strong paragraph in an academic essay will usually include these three ...

  25. Writing a Personal Statement for Law School

    Writing our personal statement for law school is not rocket science. When you put the time and effort into writing it, you will likely end up with a personal statement that will effectively get the notice of the Board of Admissions. Tip: Get a head start on writing your own personal statement by starting with a sample personal statement. Your ...

  26. Medical School Personal Statement

    This personal statement format has become a go-to choice because it's usually quite effective. 6. Answer the Questions. If you've ever researched medical school personal statement examples, you've likely noticed the essays that stand out to admissions teams clearly introduce the topic and tell a cohesive narrative.

  27. MedSchoolCoach Premed

    The free Personal Statement guideb..." MedSchoolCoach 📚 Premed | MCAT | MedEd on Instagram: "Ready to start writing your medical school personal statement? The free Personal Statement guidebook from @MedSchoolCoach compiles the best personal statement advice from admissions consultants, physicians, and past applicants.