How do I get started writing a personal statement?
There are common elements to most personal statements, which should answer these questions:
- Why are you interested in this specific program?
- Why do you want to work toward this particular degree?
- What previous academic and personal experiences will assist you as you work toward that degree?
- What do you bring to the program that others might not? In other words, what makes you an exceptional and appropriate candidate?
There may be additional requirements for specific personal statements. Your personal statement for a graduate program should explain why you want to pursue a certain degree at a particular place and why that program should select you. Likewise, personal statements for internships or fellowships should speak to previous experiences that make you an excellent fit for the position, as well as why you wish to pursue that path of study or employment. While you don’t want to simply reiterate your resume or curriculum vitae, expanding upon previous work and educational experiences can show how you are qualified for a position, or explain how unconventional experiences will contribute to your success in a certain job or program.
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 that will contribute to your success in your selected field. Plus, specific experiences will make your essay more detailed and interesting to your readers, helping your application stand out. It is not necessary to include every experience in your personal statement. Instead you want to include a few examples that are particularly strong, detailed illustrations of the points your are making about why you belong in the program.
Note: Every discipline and program has unique expectations for the personal statement (sometimes called the “statement of purpose” or “application essay), so you should study individual program’s requirements or preferences for the personal statement before you begin.
Strategies for getting started
Use the first few drafts of your personal statement to explore and reflect upon your experiences without considering the word or page limits of any given institution. 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. Think of your experiences, both professional and personal, as part of your narrative moving toward this point—this opportunity. Then, you can begin refining your personal statement to include the most relevant information.
As an example of specificity, saying, “I have always wanted to be a teacher,” sounds vague. However, “I knew I wanted to teach when my eighth grade chemistry teacher not only made the material understandable, but also enjoyable, to my classmates and me,” gives the reader the narrative needed to distinguish your application from other applications.
You want to convey information confidently, but without seeming arrogant. Therefore, you should pay particular attention to the tone you use in writing your personal statement. Tone can be thought of as how you consider your reader (often called “the audience”) and shape your language choices accordingly. Since professors/professionals who can influence your acceptance or rejection will read your personal statement, the tone should be largely professional (no slang, profanity, or jokes/puns) but also sincere.
What can the Writing Center do to help?
All Writing Center consultants at the University of Louisville are graduate students who have composed various personal statement of their own, so they both know the conventions of the genre and understand the difficulty of distilling your experiences into a one or two page document. Whether you are still brainstorming connections, looking for feedback on an early draft, or just want a fresh opinion on something you have been working on for awhile, University Writing Center consultants can offer their advice and response to your personal statement.