Personal Statement: Sample Outline
A Sample Outline for Personal Statements
This outline is meant to be a guide to writing a personal statement. It does not represent the only format for a personal statement. Take the information that is most helpful to you and adapt it to meet your specific needs!
Although you may be tempted to jump right into a narrative of your earliest accomplishments, begin instead by focusing on why the law school/med school/grad school has attracted your interest and why you consider yourself an able candidate for the position. This opening paragraph need not be extensive, but it should sketch out your view of yourself as a capable individual who has the necessary confidence, maturity, and talent to success in this venture. Somewhere in your introductory paragraph, either in your first or last sentence, you should define yourself in a succinct way (this corresponds to the function of a thesis statement in an ordinary essay).
The Body of the Personal Statement, Part 1: The Recent Past
Saint Mary’s students generally tend to be reluctant to beat their own drum, either out of politeness or humility. But remember that only you can put your best foot forward and that all other candidates will do the same. A personal statement should not be egotistical, but it should not be modest. Your readers will be looking for reasons to stop reading your essay, so use all your ammunition (it isn’t bragging if you can back up your assertions with facts). When you write about your educational and/or employment background in the next two or three paragraphs, emphasize how these experiences and activities helped to shape the person you have become (in addition, of course, to family and other influences—but keep those references to a minimum to keep the spotlight on you). Find ways to illustrate the value of your educational and work experiences, providing as much detailed commentary as you can to make your experiences interesting to the reader.
The Body of the Personal Statement, Part 2: The Present
Add a paragraph or two presenting yourself as you are now. Stress the qualities that you believe best characterize you such as confidence, maturity, intellectual curiosity, and the determination to succeed. This part of your essay will answer the following question: who are you now and why? Once again, the more concrete you can be regarding your positive self-image, the more likely the reader is to accept what you say about yourself as more than mere rhetoric.
The Body of the Personal Statement, Part 3: The Future
In a paragraph or two, present a positive forecast of your future developement in relation to the specific career or profession you wish to pursue. Obviously, you will feel more confident and have a more specific idea about your immediate future, rather than your long-range plans, but visualizing your professional identity two or three decades from now demonstrates both vision and determination. In this part of the personal statement you may wish to address some of the following questions: How will the grad school/law school/med school you are presently pursuing be an important stepping stone leading to your life’s work? What do you hope to accomplish in life? What are your personal goals and/or career objectives? How do you see yourself evolving in the next several years?
The Concluding Paragraph
After forecasting your future, you may be tempted to end your personal statement on that visionary note. But a brief conclusion will help by summarizing, for the reader’s benefit, your past accomplishments, your present sense of identity, and your future goals. Try to make your last sentence a real clincher so that the reader has a vivid impression of you.
The Most Important Step
Now that you have written the first draft of your personal statement, prune it mercilessly so that only the most essential points remain. Edit your work thoroughly, as well, to make your sentences more concise and declarative. Remember, not everything in this guideline sheet will be applicable to every potential audience, so tailor your personal statement to the specific task at hand. Above all, don’t be discouraged by any rejections. Your diligence and belief in yourself will eventually be rewarded. Good luck!