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Last updated February 9, 2024

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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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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 .

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

best personal statement for university admission

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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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

best personal statement for university admission

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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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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  • 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 Start a Personal Statement

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One of the first hurdles students encounter when writing college essays is how to start a personal statement. As a core element of many applications, understanding how to write a personal statement is crucial. Learning how to write a personal statement that is an authentic representation of yourself can be challenging. However, mastering this skill will help you craft personal essays that make a lasting impact on admissions officers. 

Specific, actionable college essay tips can help you learn how to write a personal statement for college. If you spend time learning how to start a college essay, you’ll feel even more confident as you begin the process. So, let’s demystify just exactly how to start a personal statement. 

In this guide, How to Start a Personal Statement, we’ll cover everything you need to know about personal statements, including:

  • Personal statement meaning, goals, and expectations
  • Common personal statement formats
  • The importance of a hook and how to write one
  • Steps for how to start a personal statement
  • Tips for how to write a personal statement
  • How to approach the editing phase
  • Coming up with personal statement ideas
  • Examples of personal statements and how to use them

Remember, any writing process takes time. This applies whether you’re figuring out how to start a college essay or how to write a personal statement for college. No matter what approach you take, the key to how to write a great college essay is to start early! 

Now, let’s start with the basics: what is a personal statement?

What is a personal statement?

best personal statement for university admission

Simply put, a personal statement is a type of college application essay. But, if you’re looking for answers to, “What is a personal statement?” you probably already know that. At its core, the personal statement should be the essay that most clearly reflects your application narrative . By reading your personal statement, colleges should gain a better understanding of who you are. That means having a clear sense of your strengths, values, and interests.

However, this doesn’t mean that your personal statement needs to capture your entire life story. In fact, often, your personal statement will likely center around just one particular moment or experience. Specifically, one that has defined your identity, passions, or personal growth. 

If you search for a personal statement meaning by school, you may find slightly varying definitions. However, all personal essays have the same goal. Personal essays show colleges your authentic voice while highlighting a part of yourself that isn’t captured elsewhere in your application. You’ll notice this if you read any example of a personal statement for college. 

Engaging in self-reflection

To understand the personal statement meaning in the simplest terms, think of two words: self-reflection . Identifying pivotal life moments, values, and skills are all a part of how to write a great college essay. However, the process of how to write a personal statement for college takes more than just describing an experience. Instead, it forces you to find the balance between contextualizing what happened and expressing how it impacted you.

Successful personal essays will generally do two things. One, they’ll capture the meaning of your past experiences, specifically the ways you were changed and the lessons you learned. Two, they’ll connect your past experiences to your current and future goals. For many students, college applications are the first time they’ve been asked to write about themselves. So, the process of making these personal connections may seem daunting.

Preparing for the future

Knowing exactly what is a personal statement and how to write a personal statement can also help you in other facets of life. For example, consider the overlap between the college application process and the job application process. When applying to jobs, you need to highlight pertinent skills, values, and beliefs—just like in a college application essay. You can even use the skills and principles for writing a personal statement to write a cover letter (with certain nuances, of course).

For more information on the personal statement meaning, check out the application/essay page for schools on your college list. Their advice and resources can help students understand exactly what’s expected from them in these types of essays. And, many colleges will even provide their own tips for how to write a great college essay. They might also provide an example of a personal statement for college. 

We’ve answered the question, “What is a personal statement?” So, now, let’s get into the personal statement format.

Personal statement format

best personal statement for university admission

When learning how to write a personal statement, you’ll encounter some different personal statement formats. While there is no singular or “best” personal statement format, most personal essays share a few key attributes. So, understanding these key features can greatly help students learning how to write a great college essay.

Many students’ personal statements tell stories. In fact, discovering these important stories forms a key component of how to start a college essay. Much of the work that goes into discovering how to write a personal statement starts before you even begin writing. (We’ll discuss brainstorming ideas in a later section of this guide.)

Before we dive into how to start a personal statement, we need to pinpoint the starting point for your personal statements: the prompts.

Common/Coalition Application Personal Statement

In many cases, the personal statement refers to the Common App essay or Coalition Application essay. While there are some differences between the two application portals, both follow the same personal statement format. Students will choose from a selection of college essay prompts and write an essay (650 words max). Then, they will submit that essay to every school they apply to via that particular portal. In these cases, the process of how to start a college essay begins with reading through the provided prompts.

Learning how to write a personal statement for college includes learning how to choose the best prompt for you. The personal statement topic you ultimately choose is extremely important; your topic is essentially the soul of your essay. You’d be hard-pressed to find a well-written example of a personal statement for college that wasn’t based on an impactful topic. 

The Common App essay

Let’s take a closer look at how to start a college essay for the Common App. In the Common App, students have seven college essay prompts to choose from. Each of these college essay prompts allows students to share important anecdotes from their lives. Most of these college essay prompts ask specific questions, however, the seventh prompt is slightly different. Prompt #7 actually allows students to choose any topic for their essay.

10 Exceptional Common App Essay Examples

The coalition app essay.

The Coalition Application offers a similar personal statement format. Prompt #6 also asks students to submit an essay on any topic. You might think that responding to such an open-ended prompt would change your approach for how to write a great college essay. However, you can still use the college essay tips provided in this guide, no matter what prompt you decide to respond to.

The Common App and the Coalition Application are the most common personal statement formats you’ll encounter. However, some schools have their own unique personal statement format and requirements.

Coalition Essay Prompts 2023-24

Other personal statements

The method you take when figuring out how to write a personal statement will largely depend on your personal statement prompt. However, a personal statement for college isn’t always based on specific college essay prompts. You might simply be asked to share more about yourself. However, even if your personal statement format doesn’t directly ask you for a particular narrative, your essay still needs a focus. So, you should still aim to have your personal statement tell a story about some critical aspect of your identity. 

That being said, always double-check the specific personal statement format and requirements for each program you apply to. For instance, if you apply to universities in the UK, the UCAS personal statement is far different from other personal essays. Namely, these personal statements focus almost entirely on academics. 

When considering how to start a personal statement, look to admissions websites or university blogs for advice. Often, they’ll have a page dedicated to helpful college essay tips with insight into what they look for from students’ personal essays. For example, check out this blog from UChicago that provides tips on how to approach their quirky prompts. Additionally, check out this personal statement webinar in which an admissions officer shares helpful college essay tips. 

Now, let’s define an important attribute of how to start a personal statement: the hook.

How to start a personal statement: Understanding the “hook”

how to start a personal statement

It’s impossible to learn how to start a personal statement or how to write a personal statement that “wows” without a hook. A hook is an opening statement that catches the reader’s attention. It draws them in and makes them want to keep reading to see how the story unfolds. In personal essays, the hook is key to getting your reader invested in your story. 

But, if the idea of coming up with a compelling hook intimidates you, don’t panic! The hook isn’t necessarily the step you need to start with when learning how to start a college essay. That being said, it forms a crucial component of the personal statement introduction. You’ll notice that almost every successful example of personal statement for college has an engaging hook.

Let’s check out some hooks that impressed to help give you a better idea of how to start a personal statement.

College Personal Statement Examples

Example of personal statement for college: hook #1.

My life is as simple as a Rubik’s Cube: a child’s toy that can be solved in 20 moves or less IF and only if enough knowledge is gained.

In this personal statement introduction, this student intrigues the reader by comparing their life to a toy. Simply by reading this hook, we can see this student’s self-reflection as well as their creativity. And, most importantly, we’re intrigued to see the connection of how and why this person is fascinated by a Rubik’s cube. In this example, the Rubik’s cube is both unique and genuinely important to the writer. Moreover, by the end of the essay, we gain some valuable insight into how this person navigates the world. And, it all started with this hook. 

Example of Personal Statement for College: Hook #2

When I joined the high school swim team, I never expected to go to school dressed as Shrek.

After reading this hook, you’re probably left with more questions than answers. “What does having to be on the swim team have to do with dressing up as Shrek?” We don’t know yet! And, that’s the point. This surprising hook has the reader curious about the connection the writer will make. However, when figuring out how to start a personal statement, don’t go overboard with the shock factor. Keep in mind that personal essays can’t come from wild statements alone. Rather, they need to connect to a meaningful moment in the writer’s life. 

Example of Personal Statement for College: Hook #3

At six years old, most kids I know get excited to help Blue find clues or recite Elmo’s songs on Sesame Street. So you can imagine my family’s surprise when they saw me ignoring the other kids to go belt alongside my grandfather’s mariachi trio in the backyard.

Your hook doesn’t have to be just one sentence. Rather, it might be a couple of sentences or even the first paragraph, like in this example. Keep in mind that there are no definitive rules to how to start a personal statement—other than sharing important information about yourself that will stand out to admissions officers.

Students who want to master how to write a personal statement need to learn how to craft an engaging hook. This particular hook shows how the writer is different from their peers. As the reader, we can learn a lot from just these few sentences. We already know that this writer isn’t afraid to be themselves and do what they love from a young age. This college application essay gets into much deeper themes as the narrative continues. However, the most important part of the personal statement introduction—the hook—has already done its job of pulling the reader in to learn more. 

Using these examples

These are just a few successful hooks that students have used in their approach to how to start a personal statement. Each of these comes from a strong example of a personal statement for college. As you can see from each example of a personal statement for college, the best personal statement topics are unique. However, even the most quirky hooks always lead the reader into an essay of substance.

Use each example of personal statement for college to help inspire your “how to write a personal statement” journey. When considering how to write a great college essay, analyzing examples of what works can help. 

Want to see how others figured out how to start a personal statement? Check out these personal statement examples as well as these Common App essay examples for inspiration.

When to write your hook

Having a hook is a crucial part of how to write a personal statement that impresses. However, coming up with your hook won’t necessarily form the first step in your process. Just as there’s no one right way of how to write a personal statement, there’s no one right way to write a hook. 

When considering how to start a personal statement, you don’t need to dive into the hook right away. You may even write a whole draft of your essay before figuring out the best hook for your personal statement introduction. 

So, if a hook doesn’t jump to your brain as you consider personal statement ideas, just start writing! Sometimes, it’s best to write a straightforward beginning (maybe even dry!) and then work your way backward. Remember, it doesn’t matter when you come up with it. Just be sure to add that sparkly hook to your personal statement before submitting your final draft.

Do all colleges require a personal statement?

how to start a personal statement

It’s more than likely that you will need to know how to write a personal statement during the college application process. However, not every college requires a personal statement—though most top schools do. 

So, before stressing about how to start a college essay, check the requirements of the schools on your college list . However, keep in mind that most of the nation’s top schools require applicants to submit a personal statement for college.

Additionally, you might want to adjust your personal statement for different programs. You’ll still submit the same personal statement for college for each school you apply to through the Common App. However, other specialized programs and applications might request a slightly different personal statement format. So, always check the admissions requirements and do your research on every school and each individual program. Your approach to how to start a college essay will depend on each program’s prompts and formats. You can also always look at an example of a personal statement for college for inspiration. 

33 Colleges Without Supplemental Essays

Do colleges care about the personal statement? 

A strong college application essay is extremely important in the admissions process. So, put simply, yes—colleges really do care about the personal statement. Understanding how to start a personal statement means understanding the weight that it carries. Of course, you shouldn’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the process. Rather, try to feel excited by the opportunity to truly show off your personality, skills, background, future goals, and more.

That being said, the extent to which your personal statement impacts your admissions decision will likely vary by school. For instance, some larger state schools may focus foremost on your grades or standardized test scores (due to the fact that they receive such a large volume of applicants and have more spaces available). While these schools will still care about your personal statement, other factors may have a more immediate impact on their admissions decisions. 

On the other hand, top universities with smaller enrollments often place a considerable amount of emphasis on the personal statement. These schools receive more qualified applicants than the places they have available. Your personal statement lets you highlight what makes you unique and how you’ll enrich their campus community. 

How to write a personal statement – Step-by-step guide

A successful personal statement for college will read as passionate and authentic. You’ll notice this in each example of personal statement for college that you read. But how exactly do you write a passionate and authentic essay?

To begin, you’ll likely brainstorm personal statement ideas and decide on your personal statement topic.  However, understanding how to write a personal statement will require more than simply knowing how to start a personal statement. And remember, you can always check out an example of a personal essay for college if you’re feeling stuck. 

How to write a personal statement isn’t a strict process—as seen in this personal statement webinar about rethinking your essay . However, you should follow certain key steps as you craft your essays. Following each step, and allotting yourself sufficient time to do so, will make the writing process all the better. (Tips about staying on track are just as important as the best college essay tips about writing!)

Next, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to write a personal statement. This includes brainstorming personal statement ideas, exploring personal statement topics, and reviewing and submitting your personal essays.

Ready to learn just how to write a personal statement? Let’s get started!

How to start a personal statement – First steps

how to start a personal statement

Now, let’s dive into how to start a personal statement. The first steps to how to start a personal statement can be broken down into two parts:

During these steps, you’ll generate personal statement ideas and select your personal statement topics. Without a strong topic, you’ll struggle to write a genuine essay. So, let’s talk about how to generate an essay topic that highlights your passion. 

Step 1: Brainstorm

How to start a personal statement begins with brainstorming a list of ideas. Each stellar example of a personal statement for college likely came from a brainstorming session. But, why is brainstorming so important? 

While some personal statement requirements won’t provide specific prompts for applicants, many will, including the Common App essay. So, you should make sure to choose a great topic that directly answers the prompt. 

Let’s check out some brainstorming exercises that can help you get the great ideas flowing. 

The best way to choose a great topic for a personal statement for college is through your passions. If you’re stuck when it comes to pinpointing your passions, try answering this question: If you were going to host a TED talk, what would it be and why? We all know that TED talks are addicting—that’s because they’re engaging. And they’re engaging because the hosts are talking about their passions. 

So, think about something you would be excited to spend 30-40 minutes discussing in front of an audience. What would you say about it? You might find using voice notes and recording yourself is easier than writing out your ideas. For some students, talking about something may feel easier than immediately putting pen to paper. 

If a TED talk doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, try a classic essay brainstorming method: mind maps. You’ve likely done mind maps in your high school English class. But for those who haven’t, let’s break down the process. 

First, take the prompt for your essay. For instance, maybe it asks about a challenge you’ve faced. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write the prompt on a sheet of paper. Then, next to the prompt, start writing every experience you’ve had that relates to the prompt. This is not the time to get into the details—just focus on potential topics. Even if you’re not sure if something is a perfect fit, include it! At this stage, all ideas are fair game. Later, you can narrow them down to find the topic that you have the most to write about. 

Defining values

Another useful brainstorming exercise for a college application essay, especially when it comes to how to start a personal statement, has to do with defining your values. Most successful personal essays center around a value that students have. Think about the values that are most important to you (loyalty, kindness, empathy, honesty, etc.). Then, create a list of 4-6 values. After that, for each of your values, come up with a list of experiences that reflect them. You can even set a timer for each value. 

Alternatively, you might work backward by coming up with a list of experiences that you find were the most impactful in your life. From these experiences, you can identify values that they instilled or that you embodied. Make sure to focus on an experience that highlights something critical about who you are as a person, student, or community member. You might also consider doing this same activity for qualities or skills depending on the essay prompt. 

Step 2: Free-write

how to start a personal statement

Once you have your topic, it’s time to flex your writing muscles. Don’t feel constrained by the word count at this stage. In fact, forget about a hook, a conclusion, and other literary details. Now is just the time to get your ideas on paper stress-free. 

Struggling with Step 2 in how to start a personal statement? You might benefit from doing a timed free write. Set a timer for 20 minutes and don’t stop writing about the topic until the time is up. Don’t stress about writing the perfect sentence or having the right flow–just keep writing on the topic at hand. You may want to do this step a couple of times if you’re still deciding on the best prompt to respond to. You won’t always find the perfect personal essay topic on the first try, and that’s okay.

However, keep in mind that some topics may read as inappropriate or cliché. If you end up choosing an overused essay topic, you may struggle to come up with a unique angle. (But that doesn’t mean these topics are entirely off-limits!) However, you should not talk about illegal or illicit behavior and never use explicit language. 

While you have free range to pick an essay topic, there are certain errors you can make. Make sure you don’t join the club of students who missed the mark with their personal essays. Learn from this personal statement webinar reviewing common mistakes that students make in their personal essays. Then, you’ll know what to avoid when deciding how to start a personal statement.

How to start a personal statement – Writing & editing

how to start a personal statement

You’ve gotten some answers to the question “what is a personal statement?” and learned how to start a personal statement. Now, it’s time to start a draft. 

For some students, figuring out how to start a college essay is the most stressful part of writing their personal essays. Indeed, you may have to write four to six drafts of your college application essay before you’ve written a personal statement for college that makes you feel proud. 

This is why our top piece of advice for how to write a great college essay is to start early. If you start early, you’ll have plenty of time to learn how to write a personal statement. You’ll also have the flexibility to write multiple drafts of your personal essays. Additionally, you’ll be able to read an example of a personal statement for college. 

Time also allows you the freedom to try out multiple personal statement topics. That way, you can find the personal statement format that makes for a powerful college application essay.

In this section, we’ll provide some college essay tips for outlining your personal statement, an important step for how to start a personal statement.

One idea for how to start a college essay is to draft an outline. An outline is simply a list of the ideas that will go into each part of your essay. You can format your outline in any way that makes sense for you. 

By outlining, you can remove some of the pressure around how to start a personal statement. Instead of putting pen to paper to write a whole essay , you just have to jot down what order you want your ideas to go in. Think of an outline as a sketch of a picture you want to draw. Once you have that sketch, drawing the rest of the picture is usually easier.

However, outlining is not for everyone. Some students find outlining stressful, limiting, or confusing. If you’d rather jump into writing your personal statement on a blank page, do so. At the end of the day, when figuring out how to start a personal statement, you should follow the writing process that works best for you.  

Drafting Your College Essay

Regardless of whether you choose to outline your ideas, here are some tips for how to start a college essay draft:

Find a beginning, middle, and end to your story.

As we’ve shared, a strong personal statement for college tells a story about who you are and demonstrates what you would bring to a college campus. 

To write a strong example of a personal statement for college, you must have a beginning, middle, and end. By this, we mean that your essay should introduce and build upon ideas until they lead to some kind of resolution usually related to your personal growth. Think about your favorite book or movie – how did the story develop and resolve itself? Make sure your personal essays do the same.

Develop your hook.

The key to how to start a personal statement is with a hook. As we shared above, a hook is an engaging personal statement introduction that catches the reader’s attention. In your outline, consider adding some ideas for potential hooks. 

A hook can include, but is not limited to, any of the following types of opening sentences:

  • A piece of dialogue (i.e. “Do you remember the summer we went to Turkey?” said my mother.)
  • A description of a scene (i.e., The Alaskan lake was warm that summer, the sun gleaming off its gentle ripples.)
  • A thought-provoking question (i.e., What makes a house feel like a home?)
  • A relevant and powerful quote (i.e., When Steve Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back,” he gave words to a struggle I have long faced.) 
  • An unexpected thought (i.e., I am the fourth of eleven children in my family and the first one to dream of going to college.)

Each of the above personal statement introductions is unique and original. Additionally, all of these hooks make the reader wonder what else is coming in the essay. Indeed, each of these hooks is a great idea for how to start a college essay. 

When thinking about how to start a college essay, avoid using cliché or generic personal statement introductions. In general, don’t directly answer college essay prompts like “A challenge I have faced is…”. These types of personal statement introductions are so common that they tend to lose the reader’s attention quickly.

Jot down details.

After identifying a hook, begin telling your story. In your outline, include any details that make your story unique. While some students assume that personal statement topics must be very rare or ground-breaking, in most cases the details are what set essays apart. 

What do you remember that can help the reader experience your story vividly? How can you evoke their senses or emotions in a way that makes them feel and remember your story? Keeping these questions in mind will unlock many tools for how to write a great college essay.

Identify reflections.

Stories are powerful not only for how they make us feel but for what they teach us. When you jot down your outline, consider what reflections or lessons you have to share. Why does your story matter? What does it demonstrate about who you are? 

Your essay should be descriptive and show us what you were experiencing. However, you can also include a few lines that tell the reader what you want them to take away. Usually, these reflections come towards the end of the essay, but they can also be sprinkled throughout. 

How to Write a Personal Statement – Polish and Revise 

how to start a personal statement

Now that you’ve learned how to start a personal statement, let’s discuss what some consider to be the most critical part of writing an essay – revising. Polishing and revising an essay are the keys for how to write a great college essay. When you look at an example of a personal statement for college, remember that the student probably spent many hours revising that essay.

When revising your personal essays, avoid getting frustrated by how long the process takes. The key for how to write a personal statement without getting too overwhelmed is to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Just like living your story takes time, energy, and resilience, so does writing your story in a college application essay. Rather than getting frustrated, celebrate how much you have learned about how to start a college essay.

In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into college essay tips for revising your personal essays. 

Step 4: Revise

best personal statement for university admission

If you’re wondering how to write a personal statement for college, you’re probably also wondering how to revise one. Revision is the process during which you review what you have written for errors and to check whether the ideas make sense. You might also revise to find ways to shorten your essay if it is too long or expand on ideas that you didn’t fully flesh out. 

Here are some college essay tips for revision:

College Essay Revision Tips

1. take breaks.

After you write your first draft, step away from it for at least 24 hours. When we spend a long time working on a piece of writing, sometimes our brains find it hard to focus. Stepping away will give you time to let your brain rest and return to it with fresh eyes.

We also recommend taking breaks whenever you feel stuck, a condition sometimes called writer’s block. While you might feel that pushing through is the best option, stepping away for a glass of water or a stretch can rejuvenate your body and give new energy to your mind as well. Taking care of yourself is actually one of the keys for how to write a personal statement that represents your best work. 

2. Make a revision checklist

Create a list of items to look for as you revise. That way, you won’t miss anything. Here are some ideas for what how to start a personal statement revision checklist:

  • Structure/flow – Does the structure of my essay support its meaning? A structure can refer to the length of paragraphs, the order of ideas, or the format. Maybe your essay has a lot of dialogue, but now you have realized the dialogue is distracting. 
  • Repetitive language – Do you use the same words or phrases over and over again? While you may have fallen into repetition when figuring out how to start a personal statement, try varying vocabulary or rephrasing sentence structure to keep the reader interested.
  • Spelling/grammar/syntax – Run your essay through an app like Grammarly and always use spell check. Look for ways to remove unnecessary words or shorten sentences. Generally, the fewer words you use to express an idea, the easier it will be for the reader to understand.
  • Narrative voice – This refers to the voice you use to tell your story. Is it very informal? Do you sound like you are texting with friends? One of the keys for how to write a personal statement is to use your own voice while still remembering that you are speaking to a college admissions officer. As experts in how to write a great college essay know, avoid slang and spell out contractions for added formality.

3. Read your essay aloud

Reading your essay out loud can help you find mistakes. Even more importantly, it can also help you feel if the essay captures your voice. When you read it out loud, does your essay sound like you? Are there words in your essay that you would never use in real life? These questions can help you determine if you need to adjust the narrative voice of your essay. After all, admissions officers want to hear what you sound like, not a parent or friend.

4. Get help

Whether you’re stuck on how to write a personal statement or not, it’s always a good idea to get another set of eyes on your essay. Just be careful who you select. Make sure you are asking someone who knows how to write a personal statement and can give you the right kind of feedback. 

Also, consider asking both someone who knows you well and someone who does not know you well. The person who knows you well, like a teacher, parent, counselor, or college advisor (like our team of experts at CollegeAdvisor) can make sure your voice comes across. A person who does not know you well can provide input from an outsider’s perspective. Ultimately, when you submit your college essay, you will be sending it to someone who has never met you. As such, it should make sense to people who don’t know you as well.

5. Don’t be afraid to start over

Sometimes, during the revision process, you may realize that your topic doesn’t work for you. Perhaps you realize that you were so worried about how to start a personal statement that you chose a topic you thought others wanted to read instead of one that really resonates with you. Or, maybe you just thought of a new idea for how to start a personal statement that you like a lot better. It is totally normal to redraft entire paragraphs or simply throw out the essay and start over . Even though it may seem like you have wasted time, you were learning throughout the entire process about how to write a personal statement. 

Starting over might be the best approach for you and allow you to write an essay that feels more authentic . However, do not simply start over because you are being hyper-critical of yourself. Focus as much on what you like about your essay as the parts that you do not. Do not let perfectionism cause you to throw away a perfectly good essay.

On average, students learning how to write a great college essay need to write four to six drafts until they are ready to submit. However, if you have done your research on how to write a personal statement, it may take you less. After six drafts, ask yourself if you really need to keep working on the essay, or if you are letting perfectionism get the best of you. Remember, no essay is perfect. As long as your personal statement reflects your true voice and shares a compelling story about how you became who you are, you’re likely ready to submit it.

In the next section, we will dive deeper into the final steps for how to write a great college essay that you should take before hitting submit.

Step 5: Final Review & Submit

how to start a personal statement

Congratulations! You’re almost ready to submit your personal statement for college. You’ve learned how to write a personal statement, brainstormed and drafted one, and revised it. Before you hit submit, here is a final checklist of questions to ask yourself: 

1. Did I answer the prompt fully?

Just like you plug your answer back into a math equation to see if it works, plug your essay back into the prompt. Make sure each part of the question is being answered.

2. Did I meet the word or character count?

While it is okay to be a bit under the word count, as long as you answer the question fully, going over the word count will usually mean you cannot submit your essay. 

3. Does my essay paste neatly into the application?

Before pasting your essay into the online application, we recommend pasting your essay into a Word document or Google document. Make sure to remove any formatting like bolding, italics, or comments. Left-align your essay so that it is easy to read. And, double check that spacing between sentences and paragraphs is uniform. 

While these might seem like small details, they all add to the impression you make upon admissions officers about how prepared you might be to attend their school.  Take advantage of the option to download the PDF summary of your application, if it exists, to ensure everything looks neat before you submit it.

If you can answer all these questions with a yes, you’re probably ready to submit your essay. Now, you can teach others how to write a personal statement, too. 

How to start a personal statement

At this point, you have reviewed all the steps for how to write a personal statement for college. We’d like to remind you of some important parts of this process that will help ease any stress related to writing your college essays.

First, try brainstorming first. Writing a college essay is a lot different than most academic writing you’ll have done, and it’s natural to face some writer’s block. By taking advantage of brainstorming exercises, you can get used to the idea of writing about yourself in a low-pressure environment. Some students want to skip brainstorming because they find this step unnecessary or a waste of time. 

In fact, brainstorming can help you write your essay faster because your personal statement ideas will already be on paper. Brainstorming can also help you avoid writing an essay and then realizing you do not like your topic, leading to you having to write a whole new draft.

Another key point in how to start a personal statement is to write a good “hook.” However, this doesn’t need to be the first thing that you write as you begin the drafting process. Just like writing a title sometimes is easier after you have written a paper, it can be easier to find your hook after you have fleshed out other parts of your essay.

Starting early

Regardless of what approach you take, remember that the most important piece of advice for how to start a personal statement is to start early. If you begin the process early, you’ll have time to learn about personal statement format and personal statement meaning, brainstorm essay ideas, watch personal statement webinars, and review sample essays. All of these steps will help you learn how to write a personal statement that is strong and clear.

Below, we’ll help you learn more about how to start a personal statement by providing brainstorming exercises to come up with personal statement ideas.

Generating personal statement ideas

how to start a personal statement

The first question many students ask when learning how to start a personal statement is how to come up with personal statement ideas. As we have mentioned, brainstorming forms a key part of this process.

Importantly, there are many ways to brainstorm. So, even if you think you do not like to brainstorm, consider revising these brainstorming methods. One of them might open up ideas for how to start your personal statement that you had never considered.

One important note is that you do not have to use college essay prompts as the starting point for your brainstorming process. While they can certainly jog your thinking, sometimes they can also limit your creativity. Since most of the Common App and Coalition App prompts are open-ended, you can usually turn most ideas into a great response to college essay prompts.

Keep reading for activities that can help you brainstorm your personal statement for college. 

Here are some ideas for brainstorming personal statement topics:

Brainstorming Activities

1. make a timeline of important life events.

Students who ask “what is a personal statement?” are often concerned that they have to tell their entire life story in 650 words. While this is not true, your personal statement should highlight key life events. A life event can include a big change, an accomplishment, or a time of deep personal growth. 

For this activity, consider making a timeline of important life events. Do so without judgment or filtering. No event is too small to include. After you have completed your timeline, consider if any event is one that you want to share in your college application essay. One of these events might be a great hook for your personal statement introduction and give you ideas for how to start a personal statement.

2. Make lists

Lists are an excellent way to brainstorm personal statement topics. Try making lists of accomplishments, challenges you have faced, people who have taught you important life lessons, values, fears, hobbies, or mistakes you have made. Remember that it is perfectly fine to talk about times when you feel you failed or made mistakes if you can show how you learned and grew from the experience.

3. Ask trusted people for ideas

Brainstorming does not have to happen alone. Ask friends, family, mentors, teachers, classmates, or others who know you well to tell you what your most important character traits are. You’d be surprised what people will share. Perhaps one of your friends sees you as adventurous because you like to take new routes to school every day, and you had never considered that to be a noteworthy trait of yours. This feedback could be the inspiration you need for how to start a personal statement.

4. Free-write

Rather than trying to find an idea, allow yourself the freedom to free-write. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write without stopping. Write a response to any of the following questions :

  • What matters to you?
  • What do you want others to know about you?
  • What is the hardest thing you have ever gone through? How did you get through it?
  • What brings you joy?
  • How have you grown or changed in the past few years?

If you feel at a loss for words, write “I don’t know” over and over until a new idea pops into your head. The idea is to allow your brain to flow without restriction or pressure. Do not judge what you write, just allow it to be. When you have completed your free-write, look through what you wrote looking for meaningful stories or learnings you might want to share.

Undoubtedly, these are just a few ideas for how to start a personal statement and find a good personal statement introduction. If none of these work, do not despair. Instead, try a different route for coming up with personal statement topics. For instance, you may try reading an example of a personal statement for college or checking out this personal statement webinar. 

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to use sample essays when figuring out how to write a personal statement.

Using personal statement examples

how to start a personal statement

When looking for answers to questions like “What is a personal statement?” or “How to start a personal statement?” college application essay examples can be very helpful. In this section, we’ll look at how to write a personal statement for college and identify college essay tips with the help of sample essays .

Sample Personal Essays

In this article , we review ten essays that provide ideas for how to start a personal statement. Whether writing about books or gymnastics, each example of a personal statement for college highlights a unique important aspect of a student’s life. In addition, each student provides meaningful insights into how their thinking developed over time.

How to Write a Personal Statement: 5 Personal Statement Examples

Check out this resource to see five excellent responses to the Common App college essay prompts. Note how each essay has a unique hook that captures the reader’s attention.

College Essay Examples: 10 Best Examples of College Essays and Why They Worked

Wondering how a personal statement format impacts the essay’s meaning? This essay compilation answers that question and much more, providing college essay tips based on what worked in these personal essays.

How to Analyze an Example of a Personal Statement for College

If you’re looking for ideas on how to start a personal statement, then reading sample essays is an excellent idea. However, be careful not to copy others’ work. In this section, we’ll discuss how to use these samples when you develop your own personal statement meaning and personal statement format.

First, be authentic. While it is important to find inspiration in others’ work, copying topics or phrases is dangerous. At best, it will come across as disingenuous to admissions officers, who read thousands of essays. At worst, it can get you into serious trouble. 

Instead, use these samples to learn about how to write a personal statement. As you read them, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why did the writer choose this topic?
  • How does the first sentence of the essay engage the reader?
  • What structure does the personal statement use?
  • How does this personal statement format add to the essay’s intrigue?
  • What does this essay teach us about the writer?
  • In what ways might this essay be an expression of the writer’s personal brand ?

Take notes as you read each example of a personal statement for college. In your notes, identify general thoughts regarding the questions “What is a personal statement?” and “How to start a college essay?” If you can answer these questions fully after reading sample essays, you’re on your way to acing your college essay.

How to Start a Personal Statement: Final Thoughts

With this article, we answered the question: “What is a personal statement?” By breaking the personal statement meaning, we found tips for approaching many kinds of college essay prompts. We also identified why personal statement meaning is important to colleges and how to write a great college essay that will help your application shine.

Even skilled writers struggle with how to write a personal statement. Personal essays are difficult not only because they require a certain level of vulnerability , but also because the personal statement format is not something we use often in our day-to-day lives. For that reason, it is difficult to know how to start a college essay.

Throughout this guide, we provided resources like personal statement webinars and sample essays. We also highlighted how to use an example of a personal statement for college in your own process. Within these samples, you’ll find lots of ideas for how to start a personal statement.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by thinking about how to start a personal statement, remember that you are not alone. Our team can provide you with additional insights and individualized coaching about how to write a personal statement for college. With support, you will be able to express who you are and ace your personal statement. Good luck!

how to start a personal statement

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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What to include in a Personal Statement

best personal statement for university admission

Personal Statement Tips

Nail your uni application with our personal statement examples.

Discover personal statements by subject, from A to Z. Find inspiration for your own application with these successful personal statement examples from real students.

A-Z of Personal Statements

Learn from previous student personal statements here. We have collated over 700 personal statement examples to help you on your university journey and to help you with how to write a personal statement.

These personal statement examples will show you the kind of thing that universities are looking for from their applicants. See how to structure your personal statement, what kind of format your personal statement should be in, what to write in a personal statement and the key areas to touch on in your statement.

A personal statement is a chance to tell your university all about you - a good personal statement is one that showcases your passion for the subject, what inspired you to apply for the course you’re applying for and why you think you would be an asset to the university.

Our collection includes personal statement examples in Mathematics, Anthropology, Accounting, Computer Science, Zoology and more.

Writing a personal statement has never been easier with our vast collection of personal statement examples.

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Personal Statement Help

What is a personal statement.

A personal statement is an essay written by a student applying to either a college or university. A personal statement is written and then uploaded to UCAS and is then attached to any university applications that the student may then make.

If you need more information check out our personal statement advice articles .

How to write a personal statement

There isn't a clearly defined personal statement template for you to use as each person's statement is different.

When it comes to writing a personal statement for universities, your personal statement should touch on your passions, your interest in the course, why you're applying for the course and why you would be an asset to the university you're applying to.

Talk about the clubs and societies that you belong to, any work experience you may have and any awards you might have won.

If you're still looking for information check out our article on how to write a personal statement .

How to start a personal statement

When it comes to starting your personal statement, the best thing to do is to be succinct and to have enough tantalising information to keep the reader informed and eager for more.

Your introduction should touch on your personal qualities and why you are applying for the subject you're applying for. Keeping things short and sweet means that it also allows you to break your personal statement up, which makes it easier for the reader.

We have plenty of advice for students that are wondering about what to include in a personal statement .

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Tips for writing your personal statement

How to write a personal statement it's difficult to know where to begin. get hints and tips on structure, content and what not to write from a university expert..

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  • An insider's view
  • What admissions tutors look for

Structuring and preparing your personal statement

What to write in a personal statement, examples to avoid, an insider’s view .

Personal statements may seem formulaic, but they can be critical to the decision-making process, and admissions tutors do read them.

If you’re applying for a high-demand course, your personal statement could be the deciding factor on whether or not you get an interview.

The Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment at the University of Gloucestershire , James Seymour, shares some top tips on how to write a personal statement.

What makes a good personal statement?

This is your chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment and show us what value you can add to a university. In the vast majority of cases, universities are finding ways to make you an offer, not reject you – the personal statement is your chance to make this decision easier for them!

First, you need to explain why you want a place on a course. Take a look at James’ tips on what you should include:

  • Explain the reason for your choice and how it fits in with your aspirations for the future
  • Give examples of any related academic or work experience
  • Show you know what the course will involve and mention any special subjects you’re interested in
  • Demonstrate who you are by listing any positions you’ve held, memberships of teams or societies, and interests and hobbies
  • Show consistency in your five UCAS choices. It may be difficult for an admissions tutor to take you seriously if your other choices, and references to them, are totally different. If your choices are different, you should explain this in your statement. The UCAS form is blind. Admissions tutors don’t know the other universities you’ve applied to, or your priorities, but you should still be consistent
  • Keep it clear and concise – UCAS admissions are increasingly paperless – so most admissions tutors/officers will read your statement onscreen
Explain what you can bring to a course and try not to just list experiences, but describe how they have given you skills that will help you at university.

Don’t just say: I am a member of the college chess club. I also play the clarinet in the orchestra.

When you could say: I have developed my problem-solving skills through playing chess for the college; this requires concentration and analytical thought. I am used to working as part of a team as I play clarinet in the college orchestra and cooperate with others to achieve a finished production.

  • Applying to university and UCAS deadlines
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What will admissions tutors look for in your personal statement?

To decide if you’re the right fit, universities and colleges are interested in how you express your academic record and potential. This should be backed up by your reference.

Those working in admissions look for evidence of:

  • Motivation and commitment
  • Leadership, teamwork and communication
  • Research into your chosen subject
  • Any relevant key skills

Admissions tutors aren't seeking Nobel laureates. They’re looking for enthusiasm for the course being applied for, and self-reflection into why you’d be suitable to study it. What value could you add to the course? Where would you like to go once you graduate?

Ben, the Admissions Manager for Law at the University of Birmingham , shared with us what he expects applicants to tell him in their personal statement:

The personal statement is not only an excellent opportunity to showcase applicants individual skills, knowledge, and achievements, but it also provides us with an insight into the type of student they aspire to be and how they could fit into the academic community. Ben Atkins, Law Admissions Manager at University of Birmingham

Real-life example: the good

Good personal statement

Real-life example: the not-so-good

Not so good personal statement

  • How to make your personal statement stand out

You could have excellent experiences, but if they’re arranged in a poorly-written statement then the impact will be reduced. So, it’s important to plan your statement well.

A well-written personal statement with a clearly planned and refined structure will not only make the information stand out, but it’ll demonstrate you have an aptitude for structuring written pieces of work – a crucial skill needed for many university courses.

You can use it for other things too, such as gap year applications, jobs, internships, apprenticeships and keep it on file for future applications.

There's no one ‘correct’ way to structure your personal statement. But it’s a good idea to include the following:

  • A clear introduction, explaining why you want to study the course
  • Around 75% can focus on your academic achievements, to prove how you’re qualified to study it
  • Around 25% can be about any extracurricular activity, to show what else makes you suitable
  • A clear conclusion
  • How to start a personal statement

Your personal statement is your chance to really show why you deserve a place on your chosen course. 

Remember to keep these in mind:

  • Be clear and concise – the more concentrated the points and facts, the more powerful
  • Use positive words such as achieved, developed, learned, discovered, enthusiasm, commitment, energy, fascination…
  • Avoid contrived or grandiose language. Instead use short, simple sentences in plain English
  • Insert a personal touch if possible, but be careful with humour and chatty approaches
  • Use evidence of your learning and growth (wherever possible) to support claims and statements
  • Plan the statement as you would an essay or letter of application for a job/scholarship
  • Consider dividing the statement into five or six paragraphs, with headings if appropriate
  • Spelling and grammar DO matter – draft and redraft as many times as you must and ask others to proofread and provide feedback
  • For 2022 – 23 applications, refer to the challenges you've faced during the pandemic in a positive way

Don’t 

  • Over-exaggerate
  • Come across as pretentious
  • Try to include your life history
  • Start with: "I’ve always wanted to be a..."
  • Use gimmicks or quotations, unless they're very relevant and you deal with them in a way that shows your qualities
  • Be tempted to buy or copy a personal statement – plagiarism software is now very sophisticated and if you're caught out you won’t get a place
  • Make excuses about not being able to undertake activities/gain experience – focus on what you were able to do positively, e.g. as a result of coronavirus

For further details, read our detailed guide on  what to include in a personal statement  and the best things to avoid.

Note that if you decide to reapply for university the following year, it's a good idea to consider making some changes to your personal statement. Mention why you took a year off and talk about what skills you've learnt. If you're applying for a completely different subject, you'll need to make more changes.

James gives us real-life examples of things to avoid:

I enjoy the theatre and used to go a couple of times a year. (Drama)
I am a keen reader and am committed to the study of human behaviour through TV soaps!
I have led a full life over the last 18 years and it is a tradition I intend to continue.
I describe myself in the following two words: 'TO ODIN!' the ancient Viking war cry. (Law)
My favourite hobby is bee-keeping and I want to be an engineer.
My interest in Medicine stems from my enjoyment of Casualty and other related TV series.
I have always had a passion to study Medicine, failing that, Pharmacy. (A student putting Pharmacy as her fifth choice after four medical school choices – Pharmacy can be just as popular and high status as Medicine.)

Some final advice

Above all, remember that a personal statement is your opportunity to convince a university why it should offer you a place. So, make it compelling and there’s a much higher chance they will.

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How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges

← What Is an Application Theme and Why Is It Important?

10 Personal Statement Examples That Work →

best personal statement for university admission

  Most of the college applications process is fairly cut and dry. You’ll submit information about your classes and grades, standardized test scores, and various other accomplishments and honors. On much of the application, your accomplishments must speak for themselves. 

The personal statement is different though, and it’s your chance to let your voice be heard. To learn more about the personal statement, how to choose a topic, and how to write one that wows colleges, don’t miss this post.

What is the Personal Statement?

Personal statements are used in both undergraduate and graduate admissions. For undergrad admissions, personal statements are any essays students must write to submit their main application. For example, the Common App Essay and Coalition Application Essay are examples of personal statements. Similarly, the ApplyTexas Essays and University of California Essays are also good examples .

Personal statements in college admissions are generally not school-specific (those are called “supplemental essays”). Instead, they’re sent to a wide range of schools, usually every school you apply to. 

What is the Purpose of the Personal Statement?

The personal statement is generally your opportunity to speak to your unique experiences, qualities, or beliefs that aren’t elsewhere represented on the application. It is a chance to break away from the data that defines you on paper, and provide a glimpse into who you really are. In short, it’s the admissions committee’s chance to get to know the real you.

So, what are colleges looking for in your personal statement? They are looking for something that sets you apart. They are asking themselves: do you write about something truly unique? Do you write about something common, in a new and interesting way? Do you write about an aspect of your application that needed further explanation? All of these are great ways to impress with your personal statement.

Beyond getting to know you, admissions committees are also evaluating your writing skills. Are you able to write clearly and succinctly? Can you tell an engaging story? Writing effectively is an important skill in both college and life, so be sure to also fine-tune your actual writing (grammar and syntax), not just the content of your essay.

Is your personal statement strong enough? Get a free review of your personal statement with CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review.

How To a Choose A Topic For Your Personal Statement

Most of the time, you’re given a handful of prompts to choose from. Common personal statement prompts include:

  • Central aspect of your identity (activity, interest, talent, background)
  • Overcoming a failure
  • Time you rose to a challenge or showed leadership
  • Experience that changed your beliefs
  • Problem you’d like to solve
  • Subject or idea that captivates you

One of the questions that we hear most often about the personal statement is, “How do I choose what to write about?” For some students, the personal statement prompt triggers an immediate and strong idea. For many more, there is at least initially some uncertainty.

We often encourage students to think less about the exact prompt and more about what aspects of themselves they think are most worthy of highlighting. This is especially helpful if you’re offered a “topic of your choice” prompt, as the best essay topic for you might actually be one you make up!

For students with an interesting story or a defining background, these can serve as the perfect catalyst to shape your approach. For students with a unique voice or different perspective, simple topics written in a new way can be engaging and insightful.

Finally, you need to consider the rest of your application when you choose a topic for your personal statement. If you are returning from a gap year, failed a single class during sophomore year, or participated extensively in something you’re passionate about that isn’t elsewhere on your application, you might attempt to address one of these topics in your statement. After all, the admissions committee wants to get to know you and understand who you really are, and these are all things that will give them a deeper understanding of that.

Still, tons of students have a decent amount of writer’s block when it comes to choosing a topic. This is understandable since the personal statement tends to be considered rather high stakes. To help you get the ball rolling, we recommend the post What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?

Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for College

1. approach this as a creative writing assignment..

Personal statements are difficult for many students because they’ve never had to do this type of writing. High schoolers are used to writing academic reports or analytical papers, but not creative storytelling pieces.

The point of creative writing is to have fun with it, and to share a meaningful story. Choose a topic that inspires you so that you’ll enjoy writing your essay. It doesn’t have to be intellectual or impressive at all. You have your transcript and test scores to prove your academic skills, so the point of the personal statement is to give you free rein to showcase your personality. This will result in a more engaging essay and reading experience for admissions officers. 

As you’re writing, there’s no need to follow the traditional five-paragraph format with an explicit thesis. Your story should have an overarching message, but it doesn’t need to be explicitly stated—it should shine through organically. 

Your writing should also feel natural. While it will be more refined than a conversation with your best friend, it shouldn’t feel stuffy or contrived when it comes off your tongue. This balance can be difficult to strike, but a tone that would feel natural when talking with an admired teacher or a longtime mentor is usually a good fit.

2. Show, don’t tell.

One of the biggest mistakes students make is to simply state everything that happened, instead of actually bringing the reader to the moment it happened, and telling a story. It’s boring to read: “I was overjoyed and felt empowered when I finished my first half marathon.” It’s much more interesting when the writing actually shows you what happened and what the writer felt in that moment: “As I rounded the final bend before the finish line, my heart fluttered in excitement. The adrenaline drowned out my burning legs and gasping lungs. I was going to finish my first half marathon! This was almost incomprehensible to me, as someone who could barely run a mile just a year ago.”

If you find yourself starting to write your essay like a report, and are having trouble going beyond “telling,” envision yourself in the moment you want to write about. What did you feel, emotionally and physically? Why was this moment meaningful? What did you see or hear? What were your thoughts?

For inspiration, read some memoirs or personal essays, like The New York Times Modern Love Column . You could also listen to podcasts of personal stories, like The Moth . What do these writers and storytellers do that make their stories engaging? If you didn’t enjoy a particular story, what was it that you didn’t like? Analyzing real stories can help you identify techniques that you personally resonate with.

3. Use dialogue.

A great way to keep your writing engaging is to include some dialogue. Instead of writing: “My brothers taunted me,” consider sharing what they actually said. It’s more powerful to read something like:

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

Having dialogue can break up longer paragraphs of text, and bring some action and immediacy to your story. That being said, don’t overdo it. It’s important to strike a balance between relying too much on dialogue, and using it occasionally as an effective writing tool. You don’t want your essay to read like a script for a movie (unless, of course, that’s intentional and you want to showcase your screenwriting skills!).

Want free essay feedback? Submit your essay to CollegeVine’s Peer Essay Review and get fast, actionable edits on your essay. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Personal Statements

1. giving a recap or report of all the events..

Your essay isn’t a play-by-play of everything that happened in that time frame. Only include relevant details that enrich the story, instead of making your personal statement a report of the events. Remember that the goal is to share your voice, what’s important to you, and who you are. 

2. Writing about too many events or experiences. 

Similarly, another common mistake is to make your personal statement a resume or recap of all your high school accomplishments. The Activities Section of the Common App is the place for listing out your achievements, not your personal statement. Focus on one specific experience or a few related experiences, and go into detail on those. 

3. Using cliche language.

Try to avoid overdone quotes from famous people like Gandhi or Thoreau. Better yet, try to avoid quotes from other people in general, unless it’s a message from someone you personally know. Adding these famous quotes won’t make your essay unique, and it takes up valuable space for you to share your voice.

You should also steer away from broad language or lavish claims like “It was the best day of my life.” Since they’re so cliche, these statements also obscure your message, and it’s hard to understand what you actually mean. If it was actually the best day of your life, show us why, rather than just telling us.

If you want to learn more about personal statements, see our post of 11 Common App Essay Examples .

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

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best personal statement for university admission

Academic Personal Statement Guide + Examples for 2024

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You have a bright future ahead of you in academia and you’ve already found the program of your dreams.

The only problem? 

You have to write an impressive academic personal statement that sets you apart from a sea of applicants.

We know that writing about yourself might not come naturally. And when the academic program you have your sights set on is on the line, it doesn’t make it any easier.

But there’s no need to worry!

We’ve prepared this guide to help you write your academic personal statement and secure your spot in your program of choice.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • What Is An Academic Personal Statement?
  • 7 Steps to Writing the Best Academic Personal Statement
  • An Example of a Stellar Academic Personal Statement

Let’s dive in.

academic cv

You’ll need an academic CV alongside your personal statement. Create one with ease with Novorésumé !

What Is an Academic Personal Statement?

A personal statement is an essential part of the academic application process.

Much like a motivation letter , your academic personal statement serves to demonstrate why you’re the right candidate for the course and sell yourself as a capable student.

Your goal is to show the admissions committee that they’ll benefit from having you in their university as much as you’ll benefit from joining the program.

Academic Vs CV Personal Statement

The term ‘personal statement’ can mean different things depending on your field.

In the world of job hunting, a personal statement usually refers to a few sentences that go at the top of your CV . This paragraph is meant to convey your top skills, relevant experiences, and professional goals to a hiring manager from the get-go and increase your chances of getting an interview.

However, in the world of academia, a personal statement refers to a more in-depth description of you as a candidate. 

In a nutshell, an academic personal statement shows the admissions committee your academic achievements so far, as well as what motivated you to apply and pursue this position.

Personal statements are also often required when applying for certain jobs, much like writing a cover letter . If you’re looking at a position as a faculty member in a university or other academic institution, for example, you might be asked to provide an academic personal statement.

7 Steps to Write an Academic Personal Statement

Preparation is the key to success and this is exactly where our guide comes in handy.

So just follow these steps and you’re sure to secure your spot:

#1. Read the Brief (Carefully!)

Academic personal statements aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all piece of writing. 

Typically, every institution has its specific requirements on what candidates should include in their academic personal statement.

To make sure you’re on the right track with your academic personal statement, read the brief carefully. Consider taking notes and highlighting important points from your program’s brief as you go through it.

Pay attention to any specific question the university wants you to answer. If you don’t address everything the admissions board expects, your personal statement will look sloppy and you’ll be considered an inattentive candidate.

Be sure to re-read the brief after you’ve finished writing your academic personal statement, too. This way you can make sure you’ve answered everything adequately and you’ll have the opportunity to correct any slips.

#2. Research the Program

Make sure you do your homework on the academic program you’re applying to.

You can’t write a good academic personal statement without research, let alone a great one. Much like researching your employer , taking the time to learn more about your desired school and personalizing your application can make a huge difference.

For example, you can dive into how your values align with that of the school you’re applying to, and how your experience and interests relate to specific things about the program. The more you focus on how you’re the right fit for this specific position, in this specific program – the better.

Carefully read through the school and program’s official pages since everything you would need to know is probably on the school’s official website. You can also ask current and former students for help but remember that whatever they say should never replace official information when crafting your academic personal statement.

#3. Plan Your Statement

An academic personal statement is meant to explain your academic interests and shouldn’t contain irrelevant details about your personal life.

Focus on why you want to study the course you’ve chosen and provide any information about your achievements so far.

Ask yourself the following questions to get the ball rolling on what to write:

  • Why do you want to study (or work) in this program? How will it benefit you?
  • How do your skills match the position?
  • What makes you stand out from other applicants?
  • What are your exact career aspirations?
  • How can you and your work benefit the institution you’re applying to?
  • If you changed fields, how did you decide to apply in this direction?
  • What insight can you bring thanks to your different experiences?
  • How will this change of field help your future career?

Write down your answer to these questions in the first draft of your academic personal statement.

#4. Look at Example Statements

Don’t hesitate to read other people’s academic personal statements online. They’re a great source of inspiration and can help get rid of any remaining writer’s block.

If you’re struggling to understand how to meet the language and formatting requirements for your academic personal statement, seeing actual examples is the best way to learn.

But be careful – don’t copy any lines you read, no matter how impressive you think they are. 

Most universities run every academic personal statement through intensive plagiarism checking, and even a paraphrased sentence could lead to your application being rejected for plagiarism.

So pay more attention to the overall structure of the academic personal statements you read, rather than copying the exact wording.

#5. Structure the Contents

There should be a cohesive argument that your entire essay follows. Each sentence and paragraph should complement and build on the one that comes before it.

The structure of your personal statement should include:

An intriguing introduction to you as a candidate

The introductory paragraph should grab the admission committee’s attention and keep them engaged.

Here you should be sure to avoid cliches like saying how you’ve “always dreamt” of graduating from this university or of studying this exact program. Instead, give an example of what really influenced you to pursue this dream.

Here’s an example:

  • I’ve always loved reading and since I was a child, it’s been my dream to graduate from Oxford University and contribute to the world of literary analysis. That’s why I spent the past year volunteering at my local writers’ society and giving constructive feedback during workshops and book discussions.
  • It wasn’t until I failed my first essay assignment in secondary school that I realized the depth that lies beneath each sentence in a given text. I began to delve into the rich layers of literary texts and the intricacies of literary analysis became my passion. Although initially challenging, the depth of understanding that this field offers about human emotions, cultural contexts, and narrative structures enthralled me. I found myself questioning the narrative structures and character motivations that I had previously taken for granted, and I was eager to understand how the subtle and often overlooked elements within a text could have a profound impact on its overall interpretation. This need to fundamentally understand a given author’s work has stayed with me since and led me to pursue literary analysis as a postgraduate student.

An engaging body

The main part of your academic personal statement should detail your interests, experience, and knowledge, and how they make you suitable for the position.

This is where you should expand on your motivation and use the following tips:

  • Why this university? Provide strong reasons for your choice, related to your future career or the institution’s reputation.
  • Mention your relevant studies and experience. This includes projects, dissertations, essays, or work experience.
  • Give evidence of key skills you have, such as research, critical thinking, communication, and time management, and explain how you can contribute to the department with them.
  • Say what makes you unique as a candidate and provide an example.
  • Explain who have been the main influences who put you on this path and why they’ve influenced you.
  • Mention other relevant experiences, such as memberships in clubs related to the subject, awards you might have won, or impressive papers you’ve written.
  • Talk about your career aspirations and how the program ties into your goal of achieving them.

Depending on the guidelines of the specific university, you could also divide your academic personal statement’s body with subheadings, such as:

  • Academic background
  • Research interests
  • Methodological approaches
  • Research experience
  • Personal experience
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Relevant skills
  • Career aspirations

A logical conclusion

Your academic personal statement needs a conclusion that ends on an enthusiastic note.

Make sure the conclusion reiterates the main points from the body of your text.

Your relevant accomplishments and desire to attend this specific program should be clear to any reader.

#6. Pay Attention to the Language

When writing the first draft of your academic personal statement, pay attention to the language and tone you’re using.

An academic personal statement is also a formal text, so your writing should reflect that. Colloquialisms aren’t appropriate, as they would take away from the well-mannered impression you want to give the admissions committee.

However, you also want your personal statement to be straightforward and avoid any complex jargon from your field of study.

For example, your opening sentence shouldn’t be overly complicated. You should communicate everything as clearly as possible, and be inclusive to those outside of your field of study since they might be on the admissions board that’s reading your academic personal statement.

Make sure that the tone throughout your text is positive and conveys your enthusiasm for the program. Your academic personal statement should show the admissions committee that you really want to be there, and why that’s beneficial to everyone involved.

#7. Proofread Your Statement

This step probably isn’t surprising to you but it’s worth paying attention to.

Your academic personal statement is a very formal document and it should be spotless. 

So, make sure it adheres to academic writing conventions . For example, contractions like “I’m” instead of “I am” are informal, and should be avoided.

Mistakes like these are very common when writing about yourself, particularly when you’re used to describing yourself in informal environments.

Carefully proofread your academic personal statement, then run it through a grammar checker like Grammarly or Quillbot, then proofread it again.

The tiniest grammar mistake or typo could make the admissions board reject your application.

Academic Personal Statement Example

Ever since my first encounter with the enchanting worlds spun by Flaubert, Balzac, and Proust, my intellectual pursuits have gravitated toward French literature. With an undergraduate degree focused on French Language and Literature, I have been fortunate to explore my passions both theoretically and empirically, embedding them within broader themes of cultural theory and comparative literature. It is with great excitement that I apply for the postgraduate research position in the French Literature program at Kent University, with the aim of contributing novel scholarly perspectives to this captivating field.

Academic Background and Research Interests

During my undergraduate studies, I delved deeply into the realms of 19th-century Realism and Naturalism. My senior thesis, which examined the dialectics of morality and social structures in Balzac's "La Comédie Humaine," was not merely an academic exercise; it served as a crucible where my theoretical understandings were rigorously tested. This research experience intensified my interest in the complex interplay between literature and societal norms, a theme I am eager to further explore in my postgraduate work.

Methodological Approaches

My academic approach is fundamentally interdisciplinary. I strongly believe that literature should not be studied in a vacuum; rather, it should be contextualized within historical, sociological, and psychological paradigms. During a semester abroad in Paris, I took courses in cultural anthropology and French history, an enriching experience that complemented my literature-focused studies. This holistic approach will enable me to contribute a multifaceted perspective to the research endeavors at Kent University.

Previous Research and Scholarly Engagements

My scholarly activities have also extended beyond the classroom. Last summer, I participated in an international conference on French Literature and Post-Colonial Theory, presenting a paper on the depictions of colonial landscapes in Dumas' adventure novels. The opportunity to engage with academics from various disciplines provided me with fresh insights and underscored the importance of collaborative research. Further, I've had the honor of having a review article published in the Sheffield Journal of Contemporary Literary Explorations, where I critiqued a groundbreaking new translation of Verne's works.

Extracurricular Contributions and Skills

In addition to my academic achievements, I have sought to enrich my department’s intellectual community. I served as the editor of our departmental journal and organized a series of seminars featuring guest speakers from the worlds of academia and publishing. My strong organizational skills, combined with proficiency in both written and spoken French and English, make me a versatile candidate capable of adding value to the French Literature program’s broader objectives.

To summarize, my deep-rooted passion for French literature, fortified by rigorous academic training and interdisciplinary methodologies, makes me an ideal candidate for the postgraduate research position in your esteemed program. The prospect of contributing to academic discourse at Kent University is an opportunity I find deeply compelling. I am especially excited about the potential for collaborative research and interdisciplinary inquiries, which aligns perfectly with my academic philosophy. I am fully committed to leveraging my skills, experiences, and enthusiasm to make a substantive scholarly contribution to the study of French Literature. Thank you for considering my application; I am keenly looking forward to the possibility of furthering my academic journey in this vibrant intellectual community.

FAQs on Academic Personal Statements

If you’re wondering anything else about academic personal statements, check out the answers to the most frequently asked questions related to them here:

#1. How do you start a personal statement for an academic job?

Applying for an academic job is different from applying for a position as a student. First, you need to establish your qualifications and enthusiasm for the role immediately.

Start by explaining your current status, for example, as a postdoctoral researcher or an experienced member of the faculty, and specify the position you are applying for. Then follow up with your research interests or personal philosophy towards teaching.

You can add a personal anecdote or compelling fact that summarizes your academic journey so far, or your passion for the field. After that, your academic personal statement can go deeper into the qualifications from your academic CV and how you’re a great fit for the position.

#2. How do I introduce myself in an academic personal statement?

The introduction of your academic personal statement is the key to grabbing the attention of the admissions committee.

Start by stating the field or subject that interests you, and why. You can share a specific personal anecdote or observation that led you to this academic pursuit and set the stage for the detailed explanation in your main body.

The goal of your introduction is to give the reader a sense of who you are, what drives you, and why you would be a valuable addition to their department.

#3. Is an academic personal statement like an essay?

Yes, an academic personal statement can be considered a type of essay.

Both essays and academic personal statements are structured forms of writing that are meant to deliver a coherent argument and are divided into an introduction, body, and conclusion. They provide supporting evidence to prove the point and maintain a logical flow to guide the reader to the final conclusion.

However, essays tend to be objective and explore a specific topic or question in depth. Academic personal statements use similar techniques but they present the candidate’s qualifications, experiences, and aspirations in a way that’s meant to persuade the admissions committee.

#4. How long is an academic personal statement?

Typically, an academic personal statement is between 500 and 1000 words long.

The exact length of the text varies depending on the university and program you’re applying to. You should always check the specific requirements for your desired program, and stick to the guidelines you find.

However, if the university you’re applying to doesn’t specify a word count, you should aim for one to two pages.

#5. What do I avoid in an academic personal statement?

Since your personal statement is a crucial part of your academic application, it’s important to avoid any common mistakes.

Make sure the content of your academic personal statement isn’t too generic. Its goal is to give insight into you as an individual, beyond what can be read in your CV . 

You should also avoid cramming too many points in your text. Your academic personal statement should follow a logical flow, and focus on the relevance of what you’re sharing about yourself and how it relates to the academic program you’re pursuing.

Key Takeaways

And that concludes our guide to writing an academic personal statement!

We hope you feel more confident when crafting your application for that academic program or faculty position you have your sights set on.

Now let’s recap what we talked about so far:

  • Academic personal statements are very different from CV personal statements. While CV personal statements are brief paragraphs at the top of the page, an academic personal statement is an in-depth text that details why you’re interested in a given position, and what makes you a good candidate.
  • The guidelines on academic personal statements vary according to the institution you’re applying to. Read the brief very carefully, and pay attention to what it says about word count and questions your personal statement should answer. Any mistakes here could result in rejection.
  • There are differences between applying for a postgraduate program and applying for a faculty position. But in both cases, you should research the exact place you want to apply to and adjust your application accordingly to match the institution’s values.
  • Always proofread your academic personal statement before sending it, even if you’re sure there are no errors.

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Getting Into College , Going Back to College

10 Best Personal Statement Tips for University Applications

Personal-Statement-Tips

Follow these personal statement tips to ensure you are giving the college admissions team exactly what they need to get to understand who you are and why you want to attend their institution.

During your college application process, you will likely be asked to provide a personal statement. These personal statement tips are designed to help you develop the most well-rounded, succinct and engaging personal statement to catch the attention of the admissions committee.

What is a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is an essay that gives the college admissions team insight into who you are why you are a good fit for their school. Sometimes, application requirements will refer to a personal statement as a “college essay,” but they are the same thing.

Why is a Personal Statement so Important?

Personal statements are necessary and useful for various reasons. For one, they give the admissions committee an idea of who you are. Other than your grades, test scores and resume/CV , a personal statement is your first real opportunity to showcase both your personality and your reasoning for why you want to attend their institution.

Furthermore, a personal statement helps to showcase your writing and communication skills. At times, there may be some extenuating circumstances in your life which have affected your grades or caused gaps in your educational experience, and a personal statement can offer you an opportunity to explain such events.

best personal statement for university admission

Source: Unsplash

Top 10 personal statement tips.

Personal statements vary by subject matter and length depending on the application requirements. The truth is, some schools, like University of the People , may not even require a personal statement. But, for the applications that do, here are some helpful tips to follow so that you can ensure your personal statement is the best it can be.

1. Outline First

Before you begin to write, organize your thoughts on paper and then place them into an outline that follows a flow moving from introduction to conclusion. When you are able to write down what’s important to include, you can better stick to the character count as you can remove any pieces that don’t serve to support the story.

2. Talk to Others

A lot of people find it challenging to write about themselves. If this is the case, it may be useful to ask others who know you well to describe you. Share the prompt with friends and family and ask them for feedback on what you intend to write. Sometimes, they may have an idea that you didn’t even consider that could better answer the question.

3. Don’t Procrastinate

It’s easy to push off writing essays until the last minute, but when it comes to a personal statement for a college application, one thing is for sure and that’s that there is a deadline. Waiting until last minute will not only cause unnecessary stress, but it will also limit the amount of time you have to receive feedback and make revisions and edits. When it comes to writing, the editing process can at times be more challenging and time consuming than the initial draft, so you want to give yourself adequate time to perform the rewrites.

4. Ignore Character Count

A lot of personal statements will be given a character count limit. A character count not only takes into account words, but it also includes spaces and grammatical notations like periods and commas as a “character.” If you’ve written any kind of essay, you probably already know that it can be harder to write a short piece than a long piece because you have to remain laser focused and prioritize the most important information. During your first draft, remain mindful of the character count, but start writing by ignoring it. Get everything on the page first and then you can narrow down the pieces you don’t need by asking yourself, “If I remove this sentence or section, does the essay lose any of its meaning or impact?”

5. Lead Them In

College admissions teams will be reading a ton of statements at a time, so you want to reel them in from the first sentence. The first sentence is called a hook sentence because it’s meant to hook them in! Some tips for writing a great hook sentence is to remain relatable, insight curiosity, or even use dialogue to pull out a piece of the story which will make the reader want to know what happened next.

6. Focus on Strengths

The personal statement is the real introduction to your character. Outside of your achievements that can be read through your documentation, you want to be honest and entirely yourself. Throughout this process, focus on your strengths and explain why the school is a good fit for you.

7. Cover Any Gaps

In life, things come up which can of course affect your academic achievements. Whether you had to take a gap year for health reasons or to take care of family or overcome financial struggles or flee from war within your country , these are all understandable extenuating circumstances that should be explained and taken into consideration during the admissions process. Your personal statement may offer you the chance to explain your story.

best personal statement for university admission

8. Get Feedback

Published authors all have editors. Be sure to ask people you trust for feedback on your personal statement. Whether you ask teachers, parents or friends, be sure to take their feedback seriously, but not personally. The intention of editing is to make the personal statement more understandable.

9. Read it Out Loud

Our brain can fill in missing words to make sense of sentences even when they are not written properly. That’s why one of the best ways to proofread your own work is to read it out loud. When reading out loud, you are more likely to catch mistakes and typos.

10. Let It Go

Upon submitting your personal statement, you may feel the urge to go back and read it over and over. But, since it’s already been sent off, it’s best if you don’t read it anymore. You have done the heavy lifting, now move on and wait for your acceptance letter!

Personal statements are meant to be exactly that, personal. But, in order to collect your thoughts strategically and answer the prompt well, you’ll want to leverage resources and people close to you to make sure you’re telling your story in a cohesive flow. Make sure to give yourself adequate time for editing and be completely honest because the ultimate goal is for the college admissions team to get a sense of who you are!

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How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement [With Examples]

best personal statement for university admission

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

What are the big challenges students should be aware of before writing their UCAS Personal Statement?

  • The essential ingredients for writing a great Personal Statement
  • How to write the UCAS Personal Statement [with examples]

Final hints & tips to help your students

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The UCAS Personal Statement can sometimes be a student’s only chance to impress a UK university. Read our in-depth guide to helping your students plan & write a winning application.

There are hundreds of articles out there on how to write a UCAS Personal Statement that will grab the attention of a UK university admissions officer.  

But if you’re working with students to help them perfect their Personal Statement in time for the  relevant UCAS deadlines , we can sum up the secret to success in three words.

Planning, structure and story. 

The UCAS Personal Statement is a student’s chance to talk about why they want to study for a particular degree, course or subject discipline at a UK university. 

As they set about writing a personal statement, students need to demonstrate the drive, ambition, relevant skills and notable achievements that make them a  suitable candidate for the universities they have chosen to apply to . 

But the UCAS Personal Statement requires students to write a lot about themselves in a relatively short space of time. That’s why lots of planning, a tight structure and a compelling story are essential if a student’s Personal Statement is to truly excel. 

As important deadlines for UK university applications grow closer, we at BridgeU have put together a guide, outlining some of the strategies and techniques to help your students to write a personal statement which is both engaging and truly individual.

Handpicked Related Content

Discover the simple steps that will boost the confidence of your native English speaking & ESL students alike in  University Application Essays: The 5 Secrets of Successful Writing .

As they begin to plan their Personal Statement, students may feel intimidated. It’s not easy to summarise your academic interests and personal ambitions, especially when you’re competing for a place on a course which is popular or has demanding entry requirements. In particular, students will likely come up against the following challenges.

Time pressure

Unfortunately, the Personal Statement (and other aspects of university preparation) comes during the busiest year of the student’s academic life so far.

Students, and indeed teachers and counsellors, must undertake the planning and writing of the personal statement whilst juggling other commitments, classes and deadlines, not to mention revision and open day visits!

Because there is already a lot of academic pressure on students in their final year of secondary school, finding the time and headspace for the personal statement can be hard, and can mean it gets pushed to the last minute. The risks of leaving it to the last minute are fairly obvious – the application will seem rushed and the necessary thought and planning won’t go into  making the personal statement the best it can be . 

Sticking closely to the Personal Statement format

The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict – up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it’s also important that they don’t feel the need to fill the available space needlessly.  Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential .

Making it stand out

This is arguably the greatest challenge facing students – making sure that their statement sets them apart from everyone else who is competing for a place on any given course; in 2022 alone, UCAS received applications from 683,650 applicants (+1.6k on 2021) students. In addition, UCAS uses its own dedicated team and purpose built software to check every application for plagiarism, so it’s crucial that students craft a truly  original personal statement which is entirely their own work .

The essential ingredients for writing a great UCAS Personal Statement 

We’ve already mentioned our three watch words for writing a high quality Personal Statement.

Planning. Structure. Story. 

Let’s dig deeper into these three essential components in more detail.

Watch: How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement with University of Essex

Planning a ucas personal statement.

It might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s vital that students plan their Personal Statement before they start writing it. Specifically, the planning phase could include: 

  • Students thoroughly researching the UK university courses they plan on applying to. 
  • Deciding on what relevant material to include in their Personal Statement (we’ll cover this in more detail later on). 
  • Writing an unedited first draft where they just get their thoughts and ideas down on paper. 

Structuring a UCAS Personal Statement

As we’ve discussed, the UCAS Personal Statement requires students to be extremely disciplined – they will be required to condense a lot of information into a relatively short written statement. This means that, after they’ve written a rough first draft, they need to think carefully about how they structure the final statement. 

A stand out Personal Statement will need a tight structure, with an introduction and a conclusion that make an impact and really help to tell a story about who your student is, and why they are drawn to studying this particular degree. 

This brings us nicely to our third and final ingredient…

Telling a story with a Personal Statement

The UCAS Personal Statement is a student’s opportunity to show a university who they are and how their life experiences have shaped their academic interests and goals. 

So a good Personal Statement needs to offer a compelling narrative, and that means making sure that a student’s writing is well-structured, and that every sentence and paragraph is serving the statement’s ultimate purpose –  to convince a university that your student deserves a place on their subject of choice. 

How to help your students start their UCAS Personal Statement

In order to ensure that a personal statement is delivered on time and to an appropriate standard, it’s essential to plan thoroughly before writing it. Here are some questions you can ask your students before they start writing:

How can you demonstrate a formative interest in your subject?

It may sound obvious but, in order for any UCAS personal statement to have the necessary structure and clarity, students need to think hard about why they want to study their chosen subject. Ask them to think about their responses to the following questions:

What inspired you to study your chosen subject?

Example answer:  My desire to understand the nature of reality has inspired me to apply for Physics and Philosophy

Was there a formative moment when your perspective on this subject changed, or when you decided you wanted to study this subject in more detail?

Example answer:  My interest in philosophy was awakened when I questioned my childhood religious beliefs; reading Blackburn’s “Think”, convinced me to scrutinise my assumptions about the world, and to ensure I could justify my beliefs.

Can you point to any role models, leading thinkers, or notable literature which has in turn affected your thinking and/or inspired you?

Example answer :  The search for a theory of everything currently being conducted by physicists is of particular interest to me and in “The Grand Design” Hawking proposes a collection of string theories, dubbed M-theory, as the explanation of why the universe is the way it is.

Asking your students to think about the “why” behind their chosen subject discipline is a useful first step in helping them to organise their overall statement. Next, they need to be able to demonstrate evidence of their suitability for a course or degree. 

How have you demonstrated the skills and aptitudes necessary for your chosen course?

Encourage students to think about times where they have demonstrated the necessary skills to really stand out. It’s helpful to think about times when they have utilised these skills both inside and outside the classroom. Ask students to consider their responses to the following questions. 

Can you demonstrate critical and independent thinking around your chosen subject discipline?

Example answer :  Currently I am studying Maths and Economics in addition to Geography. Economics has been a valuable tool, providing the nuts and bolts to economic processes, and my geography has provided a spatial and temporal element.

Are you able to demonstrate skills and competencies which will be necessary for university study?

These include qualities such as teamwork, time management and the ability to organise workload responsibly.

Example answer:  This year I was selected to be captain of the 1st XV rugby team and Captain of Swimming which will allow me to further develop my leadership, teamwork and organisational skills.

How have your extracurricular activities helped prepare you for university?

Students may believe that their interests outside the classroom aren’t relevant to their university application. So encourage them to think about how their other interests can demonstrate the subject-related skills that universities are looking for in an application. Ask students to think about any of the following activities, and how they might be related back to the subject they are applying for.

  • Clubs/societies, or volunteering work which they can use to illustrate attributes such as teamwork, an interest in community service and the ability to manage their time proactively.
  • Have they been elected/nominated as a team captain, or the head of a particular club or society, which highlights leadership skills and an ability to project manage?
  • Can they point to any awards or prizes they may have won, whether it’s taking up a musical instrument, playing a sport, or participating in theatre/performing arts?
  • Have they achieved grades or qualifications as part of their extracurricular activities? These can only help to demonstrate aptitude and hard work. 

How to write the UCAS Personal Statement [with examples] 

If sufficient planning has gone into the personal statement, then your students should be ready to go!

In this next section, we’ll break down the individual components of the UCAS Personal Statement and share some useful examples.

These examples come from a Personal Statement in support of an application to study Environmental Science at a UK university. 

Watch: King’s College London explain what they’re looking for in a UCAS Personal Statement

Introduction.

This is the chance for an applying student to really grab an admission tutor’s attention. Students need to demonstrate both a personal passion for their subject, and explain why they have an aptitude for it .  This section is where students should begin to discuss any major influences or inspirations that have led them to this subject choice. 

Example :  My passion for the environment has perhaps come from the fact that I have lived in five different countries: France, England, Spain, Sweden and Costa Rica. Moving at the age of 15 from Sweden, a calm and organized country, to Costa Rica, a more diverse and slightly chaotic country, was a shock for me at first and took me out of my comfort zone […] Also, living in Costa Rica, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, definitely helped me realize how vulnerable the world is and how we need to take care of it in a sustainable manner. 

This opening paragraph immediately grabs the reader’s attention by giving the reader an insight into this student’s background and links their academic interests with something specific from the student’s personal backstory. 

Discussing Academic Achievements 

The next paragraph in this Personal Statement discusses the student’s academic achievements. Because this student has had an international education, they frame their academic achievements in the context of their personal background. They also cite useful examples of other curricula they have studied and the grades they have achieved. 

Example : 

Throughout my academic life I have shown myself to be a responsible student as well as a hard working one, despite the fact that I have had to move around a lot. I have achieved several other accomplishments such as a high A (286/300) in AS Spanish at age 15, and also completed a Spanish course of secondary studies for ‘MEP’(Ministerio de Educacion Publica), which is a system from Costa Rica.   

You’ll notice that this student doesn’t just list their achievements – their strong academic performance is always linked back to a wider discussion of their personal experiences. 

Showcasing Extracurricular Activities

As well as discussing academic achievements, a good Personal Statement should also discuss the student’s extracurricular activities, and how they relate back to the student’s overall university aspirations. 

By the third/fourth paragraph of the Personal Statement, students should think about incorporating their extracurricular experiences, 

Another valuable experience was when my class spent a week at a beach called ‘Pacuare’ in order to help prevent the eggs of the endangered leatherback turtle from being stolen by poachers who go on to sell them like chicken eggs. We all gained teamwork experience, which was needed in order to hide the eggs silently without scaring the mother turtles, as well as making it more difficult for the poachers to find them. 

When the poachers set fire to one of the sustainable huts where we were staying, not only did I gain self-awareness about the critical situation of the world and its ecosystems, I also matured and became even more motivated to study environmental sciences at university.

This is a particularly striking example of using extracurricular activities to showcase a student’s wider passion for the degree subject they want to study. 

Not only does this Personal Statement have a story about volunteering to save an endangered species, it also illustrates this applicants’ wider worldview, and helps to explain their motivation for wanting to study Environmental Science. 

Concluding the UCAS Personal Statement

The conclusion to a UCAS Personal Statement will have to be concise, and will need to tie all of a student’s academic and extracurricular achievements. After all, a compelling story will need a great ending. 

Remember that students need to be mindful of the character limit of a Personal Statement, so a conclusion need only be the length of a small paragraph, or even a couple of sentences. 

“ After having many varied experiences, I truly think I can contribute to university in a positive way, and would love to study in England where I believe I would gain more skills and education doing a first degree than in any other country.  “

A good Personal Statement conclusion will end with an affirmation of how the student thinks they can contribute to university life, and why they believe the institution in question should accept them. Because the student in this example has a such a rich and varied international background, they also discuss the appeal of studying at university in England. 

It’s worth taking a quick look at a few other examples of how other students have chosen to conclude their Personal Statement. 

Medicine (Imperial College, London) 

Interest in Medicine aside, other enthusiasms of mine include languages, philosophy, and mythology. It is curiously fitting that in ancient Greek lore, healing was but one of the many arts Apollo presided over, alongside archery and music.   I firmly believe that a doctor should explore the world outside the field of  Medicine, and it is with such experiences that I hope to better empathise and connect with the patients I will care for in my medical career. 

You’ll notice that this example very specifically ties the students’ academic and extracurricular activities together, and ties the Personal Statement back to their values and beliefs. 

Economic History with Economics (London School of Economics)

The highlight of my extra-curricular activities has been my visit to Shanghai with the Lord Mayor’s trade delegation in September 2012. I was selected to give a speech at this world trade conference due to my interest in economic and social history. […] I particularly enjoyed the seminar format, and look forward to experiencing more of this at university. My keen interest and desire to further my knowledge of history and economics, I believe, would make the course ideal for me.

By contrast, this conclusion ties a memorable experience back to the specifics of how the student will be taught at the London School of Economics – specifically, the appeal of learning in seminar format! 

There’s no magic formula for concluding a Personal Statement. But you’ll see that what all of these examples have in common is that they tie a student’s personal and academic experiences together – and tell a university something about their aspirations for the future.

Watch: Bournemouth University explain how to structure a UCAS Personal Statement

best personal statement for university admission

Know the audience

It can be easy for students to forget that the person reading a personal statement is invariably an expert in their field. This is why an ability to convey passion and think critically about their chosen subject is essential for a personal statement to stand out. Admissions tutors will also look for students who can structure their writing (more on this below). 

Students should be themselves

Remember that many students are competing for places on a university degree against fierce competition. And don’t forget that UCAS has the means to spot plagiarism. So students need to create a truly honest and individual account of who they are, what they have achieved and, perhaps most importantly, why they are driven to study this particular subject.

Proof-read (then proof-read again!)

Time pressures mean that students can easily make mistakes with their Personal Statements. As the deadline grows closer, it’s vital that they are constantly checking and rechecking their writing and to ensure that shows them in the best possible light. 

Meanwhile, when it comes to giving feedback to students writing their Personal Statements, make sure you’re as honest and positive as possible in the days and weeks leading up to submission day. 

And make sure they remember the three key ingredients of writing a successful Personal Statement. 

Planning, structure and story! 

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How to write a personal statement

If you want to give current article to your teenage child you might be right. But adults can be interested in it too. Personal statement is a piece of individual writing a person usually encloses to his or her university application. It's never too late to study, universities accept not only young and enthusiastic people but representatives of all ages. Anyway, we think it's vital to know how to write a personal statement. Who knows maybe next year you'll express desire to go back to school! Internet as usual can offer you a huge amount of personal statement examples for any case. We prefer to stick to theory that it should be unique and reflect best traits of your character and has a full story of your achievements. Personal statement format is not strict but of course there is a plan to follow. First is introduction. It should be catchy and captivate reader's attention from first sentence. In several blocks tell briefly but vividly about your education, experience and skills. Don't ask anyone for help, use your own words and phrases, let the committee know what a person you are. Search for tips on how to write a personal statement but do writing part yourself, without appropriating anyone's thoughts. In personal financial statement explain need of scholarship or financial aid. In personal mission statement define your primary goals you plan to achieve in life with help of high school.

Personal statement examples for different aims

Not to get lost under flood of information about personal statements, everyone should know that for each type of high school there should be a unique piece of paper.

Personal statement for graduate school won't contain any information about your desperate need of financial assistance in studying. This is what a personal financial statement for.

Planning to become a famous doctor and getting a medical certificate? Write a medical school personal statement, describe your preference. There is surely a noble reason for choosing career of doctor. After finishing studies and applying for a place in hospital as an intern there is a necessity to write residency personal statement. And again you say what made you think this very hospital would provide the best experience for you.

Dreaming of a career in jurisprudence? Be sure to make best law school personal statement ever. The competition between applicants is quite hard, as there are plenty of them. With moderate or low grades knowledge of how to write a personal statement is not just important, it's vital. When looking through samples ignore those that don't belong to necessary sphere. Medical school personal statement examples are not proper when applying for law school.

Importance of a good statement

Use of correct personal statement format is significant. Grades matter too but a brilliant piece of writing may win you a place in high school. Devote as much time as possible to compose it. Even when making a personal statement for college do your best. Examine your work several times, make notes, change part you don't like, give it to you teacher or senior to evaluate. Personal mission statement examples will help to make a right decision and sometimes completely change your mind.

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  1. 12 Outstanding Personal Statement Examples + Why They Work 2023

    Example #8 - The Builder & Problem Solver. Example #10 - The Little Porch and a Dog (With Spanish Translation) Example #10 - Life As an Undocumented Student. Example #11 - Umbra. Example #12 - Angry brown girl, feminist, singer, meme lover.

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    Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions Key Takeaway Before you start writing your own personal statement, you might find it helpful to read some examples. In this post, we've compiled 15 personal statement examples for you to learn from.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:

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

    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.

  7. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay, University of California Essays, or Coalition Application Essay. This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application.

  8. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    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 ...

  9. 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

  10. A Guide on How to Write the Best Personal Statement for Your University

    Technically, you have to reinforce the most important aspects of your personal statement: summarize why you're fit for the programme and what makes you stand out. >> Watch this video by Admissions Officer Jane Marshall to learn what admissions officers want to see in a personal statement: How to Write a UCAS Undergraduate Personal Statement

  11. How to Start a Personal Statement

    College Personal Statement Examples Example of Personal Statement for College: Hook #1. My life is as simple as a Rubik's Cube: a child's toy that can be solved in 20 moves or less IF and only if enough knowledge is gained. In this personal statement introduction, this student intrigues the reader by comparing their life to a toy.

  12. Writing Your Personal Statements

    Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment. 1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many ...

  13. 500+ Personal Statement Examples

    See hundreds of personal statement examples that will guide you when you write yours. Every courses subject is available for FREE as part of our library.

  14. Tips for writing your personal statement

    Avoid contrived or grandiose language. Instead use short, simple sentences in plain English. Insert a personal touch if possible, but be careful with humour and chatty approaches. Use evidence of your learning and growth (wherever possible) to support claims and statements. Plan the statement as you would an essay or letter of application for a ...

  15. How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges

    Are you able to write clearly and succinctly? Can you tell an engaging story? Writing effectively is an important skill in both college and life, so be sure to also fine-tune your actual writing (grammar and syntax), not just the content of your essay. Is your personal statement strong enough?

  16. How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 steps

    Do lots of research to demonstrate your passion, curiosity and drive to pursue your chosen subject." There's a limit on how much you can write: your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters (including spaces); whichever is shorter.

  17. Academic Personal Statement Guide + Examples for 2024

    Academic Vs CV Personal Statement 7 Steps to Write an Academic Personal Statement #1. Read the Brief (Carefully!) #2. Research the Program #3. Plan Your Statement #4. Look at Example Statements #5. Structure the Contents #6. Pay Attention to the Language #7.

  18. How to Write a Personal Statement for University

    1. Understand the requirements. The first step toward writing a great personal statement is understanding what admissions officers will be looking for when they review your application — and that varies from university to university and course to course. Check the specific admissions requirements for the course and university you're ...

  19. 10 Best Personal Statement Tips for University Applications

    Source: Unsplash Top 10 Personal Statement Tips. Personal statements vary by subject matter and length depending on the application requirements. The truth is, some schools, like University of the People, may not even require a personal statement.But, for the applications that do, here are some helpful tips to follow so that you can ensure your personal statement is the best it can be.

  20. Best Rated Example Personal Statements

    Computer Science Personal Statement Example 1. From an early age I've always been deeply interested in computing. It was my dad, introducing me to the computer systems at his work place that first sparked this interest. I can always remember the feeling of wanting to know just how computers worked, why they worked and what else they could do...

  21. How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement [With Examples]

    The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict - up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it's also important that they don't feel the need to fill the available space needlessly. Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential.

  22. 16 Winning Personal Statement Examples (And Why They Work)

    Here are 16 personal statement examples—both school and career—to help you create your own: 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 ...

  23. Writing the personal statement online

    Personal statement is a piece of individual writing a person usually encloses to his or her university application. It's never too late to study, universities accept not only young and enthusiastic people but representatives of all ages. ... Be sure to make best law school personal statement ever. The competition between applicants is quite ...