Academic Integrity

Writing Personal Statements for University Applications

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When applying for admission to a college or university, whether for undergraduate or graduate studies, there are few things more important than the personal statement required by many institutions. You want to give this particular piece of writing your full attention because this is where you can tell much more about who you are as a person than can be conveyed by ticking various boxes and filling in the blanks of an application. It often becomes a deciding factor in whether or not you’ll get into the school of your choice. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing personal statements for university admission:

Know Thyself, Be Thyself

Admissions officers want to see that you’ve spent some time reflecting on who you are and what you want both out of life in general and specifically for your higher education. They want to see that you’re self-aware. You also want to make sure that your writing shows who you are. Don’t put on airs or try to be someone you aren’t – just be yourself. Mention a few things about your background, your family, your dreams and your passions.

Show Your Difference

Another thing you want to show is how you’re different from everyone else. What makes you unique? What special mix of talents and experiences do you bring to this institution? You need to stand out from the pile of other applicants, and your personal statement is the way to do it. Write about some of the experiences in your life that have shaped who you are as a unique individual.

Customize to the Institution

You should also make sure that you’ve become familiar enough with the institution that you can write about how you think it’s going to be a good fit and why. You need to show that you’ve done your homework in terms of getting to know the institution and its priorities. If you take a completely cookie-cutter approach and submit essentially the same personal statement to multiple schools, the admissions officers will be able to tell – they’re looking for how you think you’ll fit into the school, and possibly a particular program in which you’re interested.

Follow Direction and be Concise

Like any other school assignment, the application will give you specific instructions on how to complete the personal statement, so be sure to follow those directions precisely. And especially pay attention to word counts. Admissions officers don’t have time to read a long essay, and especially if it goes way over the word-count guidelines. They’re often looking for reasons to dismiss applications from the pool, so don’t give them an easy out by not following directions.

Beyond the Numbers

Maybe you don’t have the highest GPA or test scores in the world. Your personal statement is your chance to go beyond the numbers and say what else you’ve got that brings value to the institution in terms of experiences, extra-curricular activities, and so on. If you can show that part of the reason your numbers aren’t so great is that you’re doing lots of great things with your time, it can make a big difference.

A Compelling Story

Think of your personal statement as telling a compelling story about this person and why they should be allowed to pursue further education at this particular institution. In including the word “compelling” because the last thing you want to do is bore the admissions officers.

You may still be feeling stumped and want some examples of great personal statements, so check out the following links:

1. Stanford University. Talk to anyone who writes novels and they’ll tell you that your opening line is absolutely critical. I just mentioned that telling a compelling story important, which means your opening line of your personal statement is super important. Stanford University provides some opening lines from personal statements that really grabbed their attention.

2. Connecticut College. This page contains at least a dozen different essays that made the cut at Connecticut College, and they update it every year, so you can be sure that the example essays you’re reading reflect the current trends, at least at that institution.

3. Hamilton College. Hamilton College also provides a page of examples, and these are especially good on the telling-a-compelling-story angle. Be sure to check them out.

4. Wheaton College. This collection of personal statements provides insights from the last 10 years of admissions at Wheaton College. Note that the page also specifically lists “errors to avoid,” which is something you’ll want to look for at whatever institution in which you’re interested.

The personal statement is one of the most important pieces of your university admissions application. Sitting down to write it may have you feeling overwhelmed, but with the guidance and examples above, you have everything you need. To check your own personal statements for plagiarism, use Unicheck plagiarism checker.