Creating an Effective Personal Statement

The goal of a personal statement or university application essay is to sell you effectively as a candidate.  In addition to highlighting your strengths and qualifications, your personal statement should be glitch-free in that the writing compels the reader to go from beginning to end without stopping to check the time or becoming distracted.  Your personal statement is one among hundreds, so it needs to stand out among the many and maximize your chances of getting an interview or progressing to the next stage of the application process.      

Begin your personal statement with a ‘hook’ that immediately captures the committee’s or reader’s attention.The hook is often an interesting or unique anecdote that describes you or your qualifications, but can also focus on particular qualities or experiences which showcase your candidacy. 

Divide the remaining paragraphs of your statement into sections that focus on particular skills, experiences and interests.  Make sure to include essential details such as when and where, but avoid lists of qualifications and skills that read like they were copied from a resume. A good rule of thumb is that it is better to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ (or ‘show’ in addition to ‘tell’).  To show is present your story to the reader.  It is highly unlikely that other candidates will have the same story as you (i.e. experiences growing up, specific projects you worked on, volunteer work, interesting interactions with others that influenced your decision to pursue a course or study or career).  Other candidates will have some of the same qualities as you do – it is your story that makes you unique.

Use transition words to facilitate ease of reading (i.e. however, therefore, first, second, further) and transition sentences that improve flow (i.e. ‘An additional skill that qualifies me for the program is ____’). 

Avoid the overuse of common words such as ‘experience’ and strong words such as ‘passion’ or ‘commitment’.  Try not to start consecutive sentences with ‘I’ and ‘My’.   Word and sentence variation make a personal statement more interesting and readable.

Reference different examples of successful personal statements before you start and include qualifications and experiences that are unique to you as well as standard qualifications (i.e. some programs emphasize teamwork).

If appropriate, explain why you prefer to attend a program at a particular institution.  Referencing the institution’s website will familiarize you with keywords that can be included in your statement. 

Highlight any skills, aptitudes or experiences that distinguish you, (i.e. scholarships and awards of merit, cross-cultural competencies, work or volunteer positions which strongly support your candidacy).

If there are weaknesses in your application that will be obvious to the reader or committee (i.e. you changed educational programs, have scored below the required or preferred GPA, or have a gap in your resume), turn them into positives.  For example, you might note that you successfully met the challenge of improving your GPA or point out that as a mature student who has taken time away from school, you have gained clarity about your goals and aptitudes and explored different career possibilities.

Consider the information you have presented in your application and refer to it.  You might direct the reader to that information with a statement such as ‘The volunteer experience detailed on my application’. 

Also consider any reference letters you are submitting and note qualifications that have been commended by peers, teachers, or employers.

Lastly, creating an outstanding and glitch-free personal statement generally takes a lot of time.  When I’ve worked on statements from scratch it has taken me as much as an hour and a half for 100 words.  If you want to lower the time and money you need to spend on my service, you’ll need to put in more time on your own.  If I receive a statement that is fairly well done, the student has pretty much always put a lot of time in it.  Give yourself several days to develop and refine your statement, rather than several hours.