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Sound Writing

Section 11.2 Writing Personal Statements

What is a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is just that—a statement about you! While that sounds simple, writing about yourself in a succinct, honest, humble, and articulate way can actually be some of the most difficult writing you will do. Personal statements are generally written for graduate or professional school applications and include a narrative-style account of your professional interests, intellectual strengths, and any other background information that highlights your ambitions and qualifications for that program. Personal statements will likely be read quickly by admissions committee members who are also reading a slew of other applications, so consider the statement as a personal story that highlights a few important and (ideally) distinctive aspects about yourself rather than a mere list of your academic merits and accomplishments. Nonetheless, remember that because your personal statement will likely respond to a question specific to that application, it’s important to organize and articulate your statement accordingly.
A stick figure in a thoughtful stance has a purple thought bubble that reads "Who am I?" and also has a pencil next to their head.

Helpful Questions 11.2.1. Writing Personal Statements.

  • When do I feel the most fulfilled or happiest?
  • Why do I feel fulfilled by that area of my life?
  • Why am I interested in or passionate about it?
  • Where do these interests originate in my life history? What has influenced me to pursue these interests?
  • How do my current activities/commitments reflect these interests, values, and beliefs?
  • How have these activities and my particular experiences prepared me for a career in my chosen field? In what way did they change my perspective or approach to a certain problem?
  • How will these values and interests allow me to contribute to my chosen field of study? What contributions do I plan on making?
List 11.2.2. Strategies for Writing Personal Statements
  • Use your personal statement to complement your application.
    You’re likely writing this statement alongside a number of other application materials (see Section 11.4 and Section 11.5), so make sure you don’t just repeat what you included in these other documents. Think of your personal statement as an opportunity to showcase the qualities and interests that you don’t have room to display in your other materials.
  • Be as clear and succinct as possible.
    Most personal statements are fairly short (two to three pages) and are read quickly, so it’s important to get your main points across clearly and quickly—don’t make your reader have to search for your qualities amidst complicated prose. However, personal statements should ensnare the reader’s attention, so use language that is not overly formal and businesslike.
  • Tell a story.
    While it’s easy to just list your characteristics and experiences, conveying them with a story is a much more powerful way to showcase your writing as well as convey who you are as a person. Towards this end, try to consider the personal statement as a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Maybe describe a few critical experiences that have influenced your outlook on a certain issue, or include a couple anecdotes that display how you responded to a certain challenge. Most importantly, your statement should, like a story, reflect an evolution of yourself in relation to the specific experience/program to which you’re applying: How have these experiences changed your perspective about X over time? How are you different in relation to X than you were in the “beginning”? How do you plan on using this accumulated knowledge to contribute to the program/experience/field to which you’re applying?
  • Be humble and honest.
    Developing an appropriate stance is hard. How are you supposed to showcase your qualities without being self-congratulatory or pandering? This difficulty is one of the reasons using narrative instead of just listing adjectives is so important: with a narrative you can avoid bragging and instead, paint an honest and human picture of yourself by describing a regret you’ve had, a challenge you’ve encountered, or a situation in which you didn’t respond as you now would. It’s all right (even great) to talk about failure and frustration, just as long as you describe how you overcame or learned from it.
For more tips and tricks on how to write a personal statement, see the “Hints for a Successful Essay 1 ” page on the Puget Sound website. Remember that you can bring in your personal statement drafts to the Office of Graduate and Undergraduate Fellowships (Howarth 114) and the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching (CWLT) (Howarth 109) for brainstorming and editing ideas—even after you graduate from Puget Sound.