Writing Personal Statements

Writing Personal Statements

Most college and scholarship applications require students to write a personal statement.  This one- to two-page document is an opportunity for you to shine in ways that weren’t possible in other parts of the application.  So then, how do you make your personal statement shine?  Here are a few suggestions that should help:

Say What Your Application Does Not 

Reread your application/resume and ask yourself these questions:  
Are my best attributes clearly shown – or do I need to say more?   Is it obvious that I am ready for academic rigor?  Is it clear that I persevere in the face of challenges?  Is it clear that I have strong time management and people skills?   If not, consider what life experiences could be shared to reflect these attributes.

Imagine a Reviewer has to decide between two equal applications

What might you share in your personal statement that would give you the edge?  What makes you unique?

Explain the Red Flags

(e.g. weak grades during a particular semester, or a lack of community service experience)?   How might you explain this in a way that highlights some of your strengths?  How might you tell a story which shows your ability to persevere despite challenging circumstances?

Reflect on Your Major Life Experiences

Draw a timeline of your life and make note of the most meaningful experiences.  Circle the top five.  Which ones reflect how your strongest attributes either developed or were used in an important way.  

Write a Draft Using Specific, Descriptive Language

Either tell a story that shows how you were transformed by specific experiences – or use a variety of specific examples that demonstrate the person you are.

Revision Is Everything

Instead, focus on what they don’t already know – especially the stories and images which best demonstrate your character.  As you reread your work, make sure to: 1) omit all vague words; 2) read your work aloud, adding in punctuation and transitions when needed, and combining or dividing sentences when they sound awkward; 3) ask other adults to read your draft and make suggestions; and, 4) ask your teacher to read your final draft.  Avoid saying anything obvious (e.g. “My name is John Doe and I’m writing this letter with hopes of being accepted at The University of Arizona”).

More Resources

“Personal Statement Workbook.” UA Office of Admissions  

“Scholarship Essay Writing Tips.” UA Office of Financial Aid.

 “College Application Essay Resources.” UA English Department    

”Personal Essay Tips.” UA Honors College  

“Tips for preparing an effective personal statement.” Harry Truman Scholarship Foundation        

“Writing Essays.” Swathmore College.  

 “Writing your story: The application essays.” Reed College.  

“Resources for Writing Autobiographical Essays” Michigan State University James Madison College          

“Writing the Personal Statement.”  Purdue Online Writing Lab