How to Write Your Personal Statement and Avoid Common Mistakes

By Karen Palmer on September 2019
Category: College Life

a girl standing on a street smilingA personal statement is an inevitable part of the university or college application and is often needed when applying for a job. Whether applying to college or trying to get hired, the aim of your personal statement is the same: to sell yourself. It might sound harsh, but that is what your personal statement is truly for – to let the committee or your potential employer know why you are the best candidate and why they should choose you.

So, when working on your statement, keep in mind that this is basically a type of advertisement and should:

  • Highlight your achievements
  • Explain your motivation and aspirations
  • Explain why you deserve to be chosen for this institution/scholarship/job

As you may have already discovered, putting all these things together in a personal statement is a pretty hard task. However, with the help of our useful tips, you will be able to create a decent piece of writing. Let’s get started!

Personal Statement Specifics

When talking about a personal statement, it’s important to mention what it is for. It is a common component of applications for scholarships, grants, jobs, and schools and its main purpose is to introduce your personal qualities. Many schools admit that while GPA is an important factor, personal statements can tell a lot more about the candidate as they provide space for creativity. That’s why it’s so crucial to put your effort into your personal statement and make it informative and genuine.

The key facts about a personal statement that you need to pay attention to are:

  1. There are specific requirements for personal statements from different learning institutions. Make sure to find out what they are before you start writing. For example, UCAS’ requirements for word count are pretty strict – no more than 4000 characters or 47 lines.
  2. If you are applying to several schools, don’t apply with the same personal statement. Tailor it to each institution instead to make it meet the requirements.
  3. Talk about your strengths and your skills that make you stand out from the crowd. Don’t mention the courses that you have experienced difficulties with or your flaws.
  4. If your learning institution requires a personal statement that is written in the form of an answer to a particular question (or questions), make sure to provide a precise and complete answer. For example, you might be asked to answer questions like “Why did you apply for this program?” or “What are your plans for the future?”
  5. A personal statement is unlike most essays. It doesn’t have a thesis statement as a core and uses a narrative voice.
  6. A personal statement is called so for a reason – it really should be personal and speak about you and your qualities. Being generic is not the case for this type of writing and there is no template that will fit everyone.

So, it’s understandable why so many students find writing a personal statement hard. However, there is nothing to fear if you follow our easy tips on writing a personal statement.

1. Brag a lot!

This is not a place for shyness, as you have to really sell yourself. It might sound harsh but that is the truth – your personal statement is like an advertisement and you need to depict yourself as well as possible.

This is the hardest thing for many students as they are not used to showing off while writing. You might also not know what you should include in your personal statement and what is better to be cast aside. Let’s find out.

What to include in your personal statement:

  • Your significant achievements in academic fields
  • Your achievements in sports, arts, etc.
  • Your talents and skills like time management, teamwork, organizational skills, etc.
  • Your participation in projects, volunteering events, extra-curricular activities, etc.
  • Your personal qualities like patience, perseverance, diligence, etc.
  • Your long-term plans for the future, your dreams, life goals, etc.

Things to avoid when writing your personal statement:

  • Repetition. Avoiding repeating yourself as it might look like you don’t have much to say and try to enhance the word count.
  • Talking about other people. Remember that this is your personal statement; keep the focus on you and your strengths.
  • Presenting your life history. It’s not a memoir, this is a brief and informative presentation of your best qualities and achievements. So, it’s better to avoid talking about your childhood, school friends, and your favorite cereal at the age of five.
  • Using fancy, long vocabulary words. Trying to sound smarter isn’t great when writing your personal statement. Use casual but polite language, avoid slang, and make sure to check your grammar.

If you find it hard to start your personal statement, you might need to create an outline first. To start, you can make a list of things about yourself to put into your writing. For example:

My motivation: I’ve always loved to write, and my dream is to become a successful journalist

Achievements: have won a local writing contest

Activities: student newspaper in high school, a creative writing club member

Also: great imagination, classic literature admirer

All these things can look really good in your personal statement if used correctly. Be sure not to use various clichés that might spoil the impression that you give with your statement. For example, a phrase like “I think that psychology is my calling” doesn’t look that good to the admission officers if they read it fifty times a day.

2. Answer the Questions

A classic question like “Why did you choose this college?” or “Why do you deserve this scholarship?” cause a lot of problems. It’s hard to avoid sounding banal when answering them and hard to be specific enough.

However, the main tip when answering such questions is to be honest and not be afraid of it. Don’t think too much and don’t try too hard.

Mention the University/Program

Personalizing your statement and tailoring it for a particular institution is a good way to show that you care enough and are a motivated and deserving candidate.

For example, you might write something like:

“The [name of the program] is what makes a perfect fit for me.”

“I know that [the name of the learning institution] is a perfect place for students with a passion for reading like myself.”

3. Create a Rough Draft First

As was said earlier, when you start writing your personal statement it is always good to stress the key points and this way create some kind of an outline. Then it’s time to create your first draft.

Never try to write your personal statement at first try. It’s a bad idea. Just as you are used to creating drafts for your essays, creating one for your personal statement is essential. The first draft is a piece that will give an understanding of a concept which later you can polish to make it look complete.

Tie all of your points together by adding a little story. Don’t just list your skills. Write how you use them and show your writing skills. Don’t just list your activities and experiences, write about what they have taught you. When reading your personal statement, admission officers are looking not for a set of qualities, but for personality with an ability to analyze, think critically, and learn.

4. Proofread and Edit

Revising your writing a few times is a good habit not only when it comes to personal statements, but to written pieces in general. You might also get help from your friends or relatives if ask them to read your personal statement critically and give you advice.

If you are not sure about your grammar or punctuation, you can check using services like Grammarly or you can push the quality of your personal statement even further by turning to a professional service and requesting editing.

Generally, when revising your work, you should make sure to:

  • Check the grammar and punctuation
  • Check the word count
  • Check the rules of the learning institution regarding word count, formatting, etc. and make sure your piece meets these requirements
  • Read your personal statement out loud, make sure it answers any posed questions
  • Check the logical flow of your statement
  • Make sure you cover all the key points

Don’t forget to keep your personal statement positive and enthusiastic. Focus on your strengths and aspirations, mention your plans and what you are looking forward to. Be creative and don’t try to amuse or surprise the admission officers as a genuine personal statement will do much more for you.

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