Mastering Your Personal Statement: 10 Expert Tips for Success

Writing a personal statement is hard. 

The best personal statements often have some elements of storytelling, precision, and wit. However, exceptions always exist, so as a student, it’s difficult to discern the truth. For example, you may purposely choose to be wordy and use awkward sentence structure to create an effect that mimics the substance of your story.

What follows is a list of ten general tips – some obvious and some not so obvious – that should serve you well when writing your personal statement. These tips can also be used to prepare your diversity statement. 

              1. Don’t tell the reader how the wind blows; show them the leaf flickering in the distance

        • Saying “I have a passion for working out” is not as good as saying “I remember mornings in high school. I would wake up at 5:00 a.m. and go to the gym with my notebook that tracked each workout meticulously for the last three months…”


               2. Do not be wordy

          • Saying “I realized that I had something special here” is likely better than saying “Based on my life experiences and my belief about [X], I realized I had something special here.” A good story could show the reader some of those life experiences and beliefs and then make an appropriate statement regarding the same.          


                 3. Write about something that is meaningful to you

            • Great personal statements come from some unique experience or belief. Don’t write about something that you don’t have first-hand experience with. It is a personal statement after all. 


                   4. Revise, revise, revise

              • If you want to craft an excellent personal statement, it will likely take 3-6 versions over a span of a couple/few months. These essays take time and are meant to show the reader a glimpse into your soul, so you shouldn’t rush it. 


                     5. Start with a powerful image or idea

                • As with most writing, you need to create a “hook” that grabs the attention of your audience (i.e., the admissions officer). This is more art than science and dependent on the content of your essay, but a good general idea is to make the most powerful statements in the beginning and then explain what that means later on in the essay (either directly through storytelling or indirectly through themes that touch upon the meaning).


                       6. Link ideas in the conclusion with ideas in the introduction

                  • We all love a story that shows growth. Connecting some elements of your introduction with your conclusion will help the reader better appreciate your story. For example, in the introduction you discuss how when you were young you did/believed [X], and now in the conclusion, you discuss how [X] has impacted you in [Y] way[s].


                         7. Remember that you cannot include everything

                    • Even if you’ve spent hours crafting a beautiful sentence that rivals the great writers of our time, if it’s out of place or does not fit the overall theme of your essay, scratch it. Every word, every sentence, and every paragraph should push the story – your story – forward. 


                           8. Each paragraph should narrowly focus on one thought or idea

                      • Paragraphs should be narrowly focused. Each paragraph should have a general point that you want to make through the use of examples and explanations. If you are discussing how your college fraternity impacted you in the paragraph, you want the discussion to center around that and the things you learned from that experience. 


                             9. Don’t have one or two giant paragraphs

                        • As a rule of thumb, it’s better to have several smaller paragraphs than a few larger paragraphs. It makes it easier on the reader and allows you to break out separate thoughts into succinct bits.


                               10. Have an overarching theme and logical progression (past, present, future)

                          • You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to tell a story – either your life story or some aspect of your life – that resonates with your audience that centers around a theme. While not a necessity, organizing your story around growth is always a good strategy that works (e.g., here’s who I was, here’s what I learned from that and who I am today, here’s what I plan to do tomorrow).