I have never written a personal statement and don’t know where to start.

To begin, you should understand that each discipline and program has its own expectations for what should be included in a personal statement, so before you begin composing a personal statement, you should check to make sure you understand what the specific program you are applying to wants to see in a personal statement. However, there are some general questions most personal statements should answer:

  • Why are you interested in the specific program you are applying to?
  • Why do you want to work towards the degree you are applying for?
  • What past academic and personal experiences have you had that will help you as you work towards that degree?
  • What do you bring to the program that others might not? (i.e. what makes you unique and a good candidate for that program?)

Not every personal statement will require answers to these questions, but many will. The purpose of a personal statement is to explain why you want to earn a certain degree at a certain place and why that program should select you out of the many candidates who are applying. You want to convey this information confidently, but you also do not want to sound arrogant or overly confident. Therefore, pay particular attention to the tone you use in writing it.

Additional Considerations

  • Think of your personal statement as a persuasive text.  You are trying to convince your readers that you have certain interests, motivations, and/or abilities.  The best way to convince your reader is by pointing to life or academic experiences that support the claims you’re making about yourself.  Plus, those experiences will make your essay more detailed and interesting to your readers.  Readers like stories and images.
  • When you’re writing those first few drafts of your personal statement, try not to limit yourself to the word count the prompt has asked you to follow.  Use those first few drafts to explore and reflect on your experiences.  You don’t want to miss out on talking about valuable experience that may not have come immediately to mind when you first started writing.  You might practice some freewriting before you begin a formal draft in order to help you explore your life for relevant and meaningful experiences.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

At the University of Louisville, Writing Center consultants are all graduate students, who have composed personal statements of their own, so they understand the general conventions of personal statements. Our consultants are also careful and experienced readers, who can offer insights into and feedback on your writing at any stage, whether you are brainstorming ideas for your personal statement, looking for feedback on an early draft, or just wanting another set of eyes to look over a final draft.