How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement
A personal statement is a short personal essay that you’ll need to write when applying for most colleges and some scholarships. You might also hear people refer to the personal statement as a “college essay,” “scholarship essay,” “Common app essay,” “Coalition app essay,” or a “statement of purpose”.
The personal statement is one of the only parts of the application where the people reviewing your application get to hear directly from you. It’s their opportunity to see what has shaped and inspired the person you are today. And, let’s be real. They’d never be able to get that information from a transcript, standardized test score, or even a recommendation letter.
That being said, the purpose behind personal statements for college applications and personal statements for scholarship applications does differ slightly.
For college applications, the purpose of the personal statement is to give college admissions officers insight into what makes you unique and how thoughtfully you can reflect on your life experiences. They’re looking for self-awareness, intellectual promise, creativity, and individuality.
For scholarship applications, the purpose of the personal statement is to show that you are an ideal candidate and representative of the scholarship foundation’s mission. It can definitely have some of the same qualities as the college personal statement. But, depending on the scholarship, you may need to directly answer in your essay questions like why you deserve the scholarship, what you plan to study in college, and what you hope to do in the future.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
College admissions and scholarship committees want to know who you are. And that means using your voice throughout the essay and avoiding throwing in big words just for the sake of trying to sound smart. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
You could also describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Whether you’re writing a personal statement for your college applications or scholarship applications, there are some general characteristics of good and bad personal statements.
Characteristics of a good personal statement:
- It reveals something about you not seen in other parts of your application
- It has a creative narrative structure
- It does more showing than telling
- It demonstrates your potential to thrive in college and in life
- It is free of careless mistakes in spelling, grammar, etc.
- Characteristics of a bad personal statement
On the other hand, a bad personal statement:
- Reads like a laundry list of your accomplishments
- Sounds more like a research paper than a creative story about your life
- Does more telling than showing
- Rambles without giving the reader any idea who you are
- Is full of clichés and mistakes in spelling, grammar, etc.
- How to write an amazing personal statement in 7 steps
- Alright, now that we have those general questions out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.
Here are some steps you can follow to help you write an amazing personal statement:
Step 1: Brainstorm to find the best topics to write about:
The personal statement is your one shot to truly show college admission officers and scholarship selection committees who you are. So, rather than picking the first idea that comes to your mind, do some brainstorming to find a few good potential options.
Ask yourself questions about your some of your greatest accomplishments and what you did to achieve those accomplishments, the kind of obstacles have you have overcome in your life and how those experiences have shaped how you view the world today etc. Write down the stories that stand out to you as being the most likely to be an interesting topic for a personal statement.
Step 2: Start with a strong introduction:
Your personal statement needs to hook the reader from the first line. Why? Because if not, you run the risk of the reader immediately starting to skim rather than actually read your essay.
Step 3: Get feedback from someone who can be objective about your essay topic:
Now that you have one or more stories for your personal statement topic, it’s time to get some feedback. But keep in mind that not all feedback is useful feedback when it comes to personal statements.
For example, your parents or friends might like the story you’ve chosen because it highlights one of the qualities they like most about you. But, without knowing much about the college admissions or scholarship application process themselves, they might encourage you to write about a topic that’s cliché or not suitable for your applications.
Instead, get feedback from someone like your school guidance counselor, your favorite teacher, or a student who recently applied to college.
Step 4: Outline a personal statement for the most promising topic
Once you have a promising idea for your personal statement, the next thing you’ll want to do is set yourself up for success with a solid outline.
A good outline will help you structure each section, avoid leaving out important information, and serve as a guide when you actually start writing. You can also use your outline to decide what two qualities you hope to express throughout the essay. For example, by the end of the essay, do you want the reader to think of you as highly-creative? An expert problem solver? Someone who is committed to giving back to their community?
Step 5: Free-write as much as you can in your first draft:
The first few drafts of your personal statement don’t need to be perfect. So, rather than stressing about the first sentence or the quality of your writing you could start by free-writing.
Step 6: Follow the word limit:
The word limit on personal statements is not a suggestion. It’s a requirement. That means any word over the word limit will not be included when you submit your application. So, to avoid leaving your readers confused by an incomplete concluding sentence, always follow the word limit!
Good ideas take time. To give yourself the best shot at writing the best personal statement, at least start brainstorming and free writing your ideas a few months before the application deadlines. Just because you started working on one idea for your personal statement doesn’t mean you should force it to be the topic of your personal statement. If after a few drafts, you find that the story you chose to tell in your personal statement just isn’t working, start over. You only get to submit the application once, so make sure it’s something you will be happy with.