Top tips for writing a personal statement

Applications for university usually require personal statements. So do many internships, grant applications, and scholarships. Your personal statement is your opportunity to let readers know who you are and how you fit into their programme or organization. The following guidelines will help you tell that story.

1 Assemble your materials  

Collect your school records, your CV, and any recommendation letters you’ve received. Think about which accomplishments are relevant to your programme or course of study and prioritize the most important. When applying to study medicine, for example, your excellent marks in science are likely to outrank your diving experience.

2 Learn about the organization

Consult the university or programme website. Look for a mission statement or read the “About Us” section that describes who they are and what they do. You’ll get important information about the organization. Use it to match your own experiences and goals to theirs. The tone of the website will also help you determine how your own essay should sound.

3 Answer the question, if there is one

Applications often have candidates respond to a specific prompt. The question may have several parts. Make sure to address each one, not just those you read first or find most interesting. Focus on the aspects of your work or education that are most pertinent to the question.

4 Make a claim about yourself

Explain why you are the right person for this programme. Identify the skills and accomplishments that make you a strong candidate. Be as specific as possible. Illustrate not only what you’ve done, but also why it is relevant to the programme for which you’re applying.

5 Outline your statement

Order your statement clearly, with an introduction, examples, a conclusion, and transitions between paragraphs. Make it easy for your readers to understand your statement. Each body paragraph should focus on one skill or accomplishment and include examples. Begin and end strong, with specific references to the organization and what you would contribute.

Read more about structure and cohesion.

6 Create a strong opening

As with any other piece of writing, you need to get your readers’ attention. A compelling personal story can be an effective beginning. Let your story lead to a discussion of how you became interested in the type of work or education you are pursuing. You might also start by writing about someone you admire in the industry or organization.

7 Be specific

Unique details will make your statement stand out. People you’re competing with may have similar exam results or even work history. What is unique about your experience or circumstances that make you the better candidate for the position? Tell your readers why they should select you instead of anyone else.

8 Convey your knowledge

You are more than a list of your accomplishments. Inform your readers about any work you have done in your field. Mention research you have done and expertise you have developed, whether it’s from coursework, reading, or personal experience. Even if you haven’t yet held a job in your chosen field, you have valuable insights and perspectives.

9 Edit and proofread your statement

Carefully check your work for errors. Make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all correct. When you think your statement is perfect, have a friend check it again. There is no room for mistakes in your personal statement.


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