Personal Statement Content

Determining Your Content


First Draft

You will write multiple drafts of your personal statement, so your first draft should be completely honest and confident. Draw from your answers to the self-assessment questions to determine what you would like to include in your personal statement. Write directly from your heart; don’t worry about editing at this stage. Demonstrate knowledge of the program and why you are interested in it. Articulate your career goals. If you are a strong writer, consider building your essay around a theme (i.e., the message that ties your paragraphs together). You may wish to disclose particular challenges you have faced in your life or to explain any grades or test scores that don’t reflect your true potential. View this personal statement as an opportunity to tie the pieces of your application together.


Subsequent Drafts

As you go through the editing process, write your subsequent drafts as though you were sitting in the admission officer’s brain. Really read each section and ask yourself, “How will the reader respond to this?” However, try to avoid overanalyzing because this may cause you to revert to an entirely safe and boring personal statement. Look for the obvious and be careful not to throw out the majority of your first draft. Read your statement for lines that you can “spice up” to infuse your essay with interest. Stick with the idea that less is more. Rather than keeping all your initial points and saying less about each, throw out a few topics and develop your presentation of those that are left. Remember if a point is worth mentioning, it is worth illustrating. On that note, avoid self-promotions (i.e., “I am an intelligent, compassionate, caring individual”) in favor of describing events where you acted in an intelligent, compassionate, caring manner. Edit to get the message across and remember that you don’t need perfect spelling and grammar until your final draft (but at that stage it does need to be perfect). Wait until you think you have nearly a final draft to have someone critique it. Once you do receive feedback, listen to your reviewer’s suggestions but don’t let her make decisions for you.

Determining Your Approach and Style


Remember, there is no “perfect way” to write a personal statement, only the way that works best for you.

  • Be objective, yet self-revelatory. Write directly, explaining your experience and what it means to you.
  • Form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself, your field, and your future goals. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
  • Be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances.
  • Get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
  • Limit your personal statement to two pages or less. It may be longer only if indicated in the instructions.
  • Use the “what I did with my life” approach.
  • Use the “I’ve always wanted to be a _____” approach.
  • Merely list all your achievements. This is only a catalog of what you have done and tells nothing about you as a person.
  • Lecture the reader or tell him/her what skills and qualities a person in a certain field requires. A graduate admissions committee member already knows that.
  • Use vague words or words with negative connotations like “laborious” and “exhaustive.”