Writing the Personal Statement
This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 02:18:40
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.
Personal Insight Essay
This page is designed to assist UC applicants with the Personal Insight questions. Here you will find links to various online guidelines as well as tips on how to write a winning personal insight essay.
Personal Insight Questions: Guide for Transfer Applicants
UC Personal Insight Essay
Comprehensive Review: The University of California has a strong commitment to admitting and enrolling a student body that is both highly qualified and diverse.
Writing a Winning Personal Insight Essay:
To assist you in writing a winning Personal Insight Essay we have added a link to the Guide to Writing A UC Personal Insight essay, by UC, Berkeley as well as a link to the University of California Personal Insight Essay Page.
Presenting Yourself on the UC Application- (Includes the Personal Insight Essay)
Direct Links to Handouts for UC Personal Insight Essay:NEW!
- UC Page: Guide to Personal Insight Essay -
Tips on how to write a winning Personal Insight Essay: Applicants should respond to all three short-answer questions below using a total of 1,000 words.
- Two of your answers must be limited to approximately 200 words each. A third question should be given an extended answer of at least 600 words. You may choose which question to answer at more length. (A rationale is provided with each question to help you understand what the University is looking for in your response.)
- Stay within the 1,000-word-count guidelines as closely as you can. It is acceptable if you run a little over or under on an individual question (for example, 205 or 199 words is fine on your 200-word responses).
1) Academic Preparation
The University seeks to enroll students who take initiative in pursuing their education (for example, developing a special interest in science, language or the performing arts; or becoming involved in special programs, including summer enrichment programs, research or academic development programs such as EAOP, MESA, PUENTE, COSMOS or other similar programs). This question seeks to understand a student’s motivation and dedication to learning.
Transfer applicants only:
What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.
2) Potential to Contribute
UC welcomes the contributions each student brings to the campus learning community. This question seeks to determine an applicant’s academic or creative interests and potential to contribute to the vitality of the University.
Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
Additional Suggestions for Writing The University of California Personal Insight Essay*
1. Write to the prompt. There are three different prompts to address. Too many personal insight essay responses wander away from those prompts, so stay focused.
2. Write your own essay. A format copied from other successful essays is easy for Admission readers to spot and is usually met by a negative first impression from the reader.
3. Write in your own voice. Using "I" is perfectly acceptable. This personal insight essay is taking the place of an interview, and the reader is trying to find out who the student is.
4. Do not mistake a list for an essay. This is the biggest problem seen in essays. Some students feel the need to list all their accomplishments in the personal insight essay, even if they have listed the information on the application.
5. Read the essay aloud to yourself first, then to someone with a critical ear. Parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses are not usually the best to give helpful criticism. Teachers, counselors and students currently at the institution you want to attend can be helpful. Listen to their criticism with a critical ear yourself. It’s okay to make recommended changes, but don’t lose the soul of the essay.
6. Don’t try to be wildly funny.
7. Avoid clichés and trite statements, such as "I want to be a doctor so I can help people." Or "Going to college was a struggle for me.". Your desire to "help people”"can be described in terms of a personal experience where you helped people. Your "struggle" can be described by the balancing act you had between work, family obligations and/or health issues. Show, don’t tell. Explain, don’t whine.
8. Proofread and edit. Treat this as a "personal manifesto" you would be proud to have published in The New York Times.
*Reprinted with permission from The Nannini Guide: Navigating Your Way to Successful Transfer to the University of California