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There are a number of occasions that may call for one to provide a personal statement – an essay that focuses on some aspect of one’s personality, skills, talents, experience, etc. that uniquely qualifies him/her for admission or employment.  In such an essay, the candidate must highlight those personal strengths that will relate directly to the opportunity and to do it in such a way so as to set him/her apart from other candidates.  These types of statements require careful thought, solid organization, impeccable writing, and, possibly most important, creativity in presentation.  This single opportunity to sell oneself will never allow a “do-over,” so it must be right the first time.

There are two types of personal statement assignments given to candidates for admissions or employment.

  1. The General Personal Statement: The category of statement requires the applicant to provide a summation of his/her experience, background, and specific qualifications for the academic program or position offered.  While this type allows you a great deal of freedom, the process of deciding what to include and what to eliminate is a difficult one.
  2. The Response to Specific Essay Prompts:  Generally this category of personal statement writing involves responding to very specific questions and allows you to narrow the focus of your writing.  Again however, careful selection of those points to include will require thought and analysis.

Begin with some Basic Research

If you are applying for an undergraduate or graduate program, you have probably already researched the institution to which you are now a candidate for admission.  Do some more.  Delve into the research and writing of those who have graduated; what research has come out of this program to which you are applying?  Are there follow-up studies on their graduates?  All of these things may give you small pieces of information that you can inject into your personal statement to demonstrate that you have enough interest in the program to have done this type of research.

If your personal statement writing is in response to an application for a career position, you obviously have some knowledge of the company or organization to which you have applied.  Again, do more!  In this technological age, locating in depth information about almost any organization is relatively easy, and only the extremely lazy individual will not do this. 


Make a list of all of your accomplishments.  Do not go back to high school, but do consider anything that you have done since then.

Make a list of all accolades, awards, etc. you have received.  Perhaps you have had stellar grades thus far.  Perhaps you won a scholarship; perhaps you received awards from volunteer work.

Make a list of all activities in which you have engaged since high school.  Focusing on those that have community focus or that relate in some way to the program or position to which you are applying is obviously critical.

In short you are looking for all of those things that promote yourself!    


Every person has a list of life-changing events – those that have in some way have shaped who s/he is today.  Perhaps you were significantly influenced by another individual in your life.  Perhaps there were events that piqued your passion for the academic program or position for which you are applying.  Consider, as well the following:

What are your goals – focus on the long-term future

What personal qualities set you apart?  What events from your life reinforce your claims of these qualities?


Your lists contain a lot of irrelevant information, so eliminate those items that will not boost your personal statement’s effectiveness. Remember that personal statements are not meant to be more than 2-3 pages, so you must be selective. 


  1. Even though essay prompts from several different schools or organizations may appear the same, treat each one as a separate and different essay.  In the case of personal statement writing one size does not fit all!
  2. Try to illustrate your points with stories.  This lends credibility as well as human interest and allows decision-makers to know you as a person.
  3. Give specific examples to illustrate qualities skills or talents you claim.  Again you achieve credibility.
  4. Open your essay with an attention-grabbing statement or an anecdote that relates to the general theme of your statement or a goal you have.
  5. Be absolutely impeccable in your personal statement writing.  Not a comma should be omitted or out of place.  Be certain to have someone with expertise in English review your statement(s).  An objective opinion can be invaluable.
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