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How to Write a Personal Statement

A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.

[Featured Image] A lady with pink hair is holding a piece of paper with a laptop on her lap.

When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.  

The information you provide in your personal statement can help build on your other application materials, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and build a more cohesive picture to help the admissions committee understand your goals.

In this article, we'll go over more about personal statements, including why they're important, what to include in one, and tips for strengthening yours.  

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement—sometimes known as a college essay —is a brief written essay you submit along with other materials when you're applying to college or university. Personal statements tend to be most common for undergraduate applications, and they're a great opportunity for an admissions committee to hear your voice directly.

Many colleges and universities in the US, especially those using Common App , provide prompts for you to use. For example, "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea" or "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time" [ 1 ]. If the school you're interested in attending doesn't require prompts, you will likely want to craft a response that touches on your story, your values, and your goals if possible.

In grad school, personal statements are sometimes known as letters of intent , and go into more detail about your academic and professional background, while expressing interest in attending the particular program you're applying to.

Why is a personal statement important?

Personal statements are important for a number of reasons. Whereas other materials you submit in an application can address your academic abilities (like your transcripts) or how you perform as a student (like your letters of recommendation), a personal statement is a chance to do exactly that: get more personal.

Personal statements typically:

Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values

Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate 

Provide an opportunity for you to talk about past employment, volunteer experiences, or skills you have that complement your studies 

Allow colleges to evaluate your writing skills 

Bring life to a college application package otherwise filled with facts and figures 

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How to write a personal statement

As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response.

Create a solid hook .

To capture the attention of an admissions committee member, start your personal statement with a hook that relates to the topic of your essay. A hook tends to be a colorful sentence or two at the very beginning that compels the reader to continue reading.

To create a captivating hook, try one of these methods:

Pose a rhetorical question. 

Provide an interesting statistic. 

Insert a quote from a well-known person.

Challenge the reader with a common misconception. 

Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. 

Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it comes from a reliable source.

Follow a narrative.

The best personal statements typically read like a story: they have a common theme, as well as a beginning, middle, and end. This type of format also helps keep your thoughts organized and improves the flow of your essay.

Common themes to consider for your personal statement include:

Special role models from your past

Life-altering events you've experienced

Unusual challenges you've faced

Accomplishments you're especially proud of

Service to others and why you enjoy it

What you've learned from traveling to a particular place

Unique ways you stand out from other candidates

Be specific.  

Admissions committees read thousands of personal statements every year, which is why being specific on yours is important. Back up your statements with examples or anecdotes.

For instance, avoid vague assertions like, "I'm interested in your school counseling program because I care about children." Instead, point out experiences you've had with children that emphasize how much you care. For instance, you might mention your summer job as a day camp counselor or your volunteer experience mentoring younger children.

Don't forget to include detail and vibrancy to keep your statement interesting. The use of detail shows how your unique voice and experiences can add value to the college or university you're applying to. 

Stay on topic.

It's natural to want to impress the members of the admissions committee that will read your personal statement. The best way to do this is to lead your readers through a cohesive, informative, and descriptive essay.

If you feel you might be going astray, check to make sure each paragraph in the body of your essay supports your introduction. Here are a few more strategies that can help keep you on track:

Know what you want to say and do research if needed. 

Create an outline listing the key points you want to share.

Read your outline aloud to confirm it makes logical sense before proceeding. 

Read your essay aloud while you're writing to confirm you're staying on topic.

Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and make suggestions.

Be true to your own voice

Because of the importance of your personal statement, you could be tempted to be very formal with structure and language. However, it's better to use a more relaxed tone than you would for a classroom writing assignment. 

Remember: admissions committees really want to hear from you . Writing in your own voice will help accomplish this. To ensure your tone isn't too relaxed, write your statement as if you were speaking to an older relative or trusted teacher. This way, you'll come across as respectful, confident, and honest. 

Tips for drafting an effective personal statement

Now that you've learned a little about personal statements and how to craft them, here are a few more tips you can follow to strengthen your essay: 

1. Customize your statement.

You don't have to completely rewrite your personal statement every time you apply to a new college, but you do want to make sure that you tailor it as much as possible. For instance, if you talk about wanting to take a certain class or study a certain subject, make sure you adjust any specifics for each application.

2. Avoid cliches.

Admissions committees are ultimately looking for students who will fit the school, and who the school can help guide toward their larger goals. In that case, cliches can get in the way of a reviewer understanding what it is you want from a college education. Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me." 

3. Stay focused.

Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written. Does every paragraph flow from one point to the next? Are the ideas you're presenting cohesive?

4. Stick to topics that aren't controversial

It's best not to talk about political beliefs or inappropriate topics in your personal essay. These can be controversial, and ideally you want to share something goals-driven or values-driven with an admissions committee.

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Article sources

1. Common App. " 2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/blog/2022-2023-common-app-essay-prompts." Accessed June 9, 2023.

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College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips

personal statements college application

So, you have started your college application process and are hitting a wall. You got your high school transcripts and letters of recommendation in order. Your SAT scores are on the way. But your college personal statement is sitting there unfinished, and the deadline is coming fast!

But have no fear!

Because Wordvice edits thousands of essays every admissions season, we have seen some of the best (and worst) college application essays out there. This guide will tell you how to write the best personal statement for college possible for your college application. Included are examples of successful college personal statements and analyses.

What we will learn here about writing a personal statement for college:

  • What is a college personal statement?
  • How important is the personal statement for college admissions?
  • Why do colleges require a personal statement?
  • Read examples of successful personal statements
  • Successful personal statement example & analysis
  • Essay editing services can improve your personal statement

Personal Statements and Other College Admissions Essays

Even knowing what specific terms regarding college admissions documents means can be a bit confusing. To clear up any questions, here is a brief rundown of some main college application terms that are often used:

  • Personal statement for college — an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It’s worth noting that, unlike “college essay,” this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.
  • College admissions essay— this is essentially the same as a college personal statement. (I’ll be using the terms interchangeably.) It can also include supplemental essays or widely-used essays such as the Common App Essay . 
  • Essay prompt— a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.
  • Supplemental essay— an additional school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement. Some schools require both a supplemental essay and a personal statement. Check your college’s application guidelines to determine which specific admissions essays are necessary for submission.

What is the personal statement for college?

The college personal statement is a key part of the college application and a key factor among admissions committees. It is the one opportunity for high school students applying to college to sell themselves on their own terms and using their own words.

Personal statements for college differ from SAT scores and academic transcripts, which are more standardized. Further, while letters of recommendation touch on many of the same issues as personal statements, they are not written by you but by a recommender.

A focused and effective personal statement for college serves three major functions:

1. Personal statements give broad, comprehensive insights into your personal and academic background.

Ultimately, your academic, personal, and even professional background can be the determining factor in your admission to any college program. But there’s a big  difference between a personal statement and resume or CV.

2. It provides college admissions counselors with an accurate overview of your academic goals.

A good college personal statement must explain how your background relates to your university’s program and your goals. It must put in context the tools, resources, and background you bring to the table and how they are aligned with your school’s profile. In the business world, this is called “ vertical alignment .”

In other words, how you write about your background should make you stand out from other college applicants as well as connect with what you want to accomplish. Your background empowers you to succeed!

In admissions essays, small steps can yield big results.

3. Personal statements answer very specific questions.

Often, your college application will require you to apply to a specific program and will ask very specific questions. For example, applying to your university’s business college will require answering different application essay questions than applying to a performing arts program.

So be sure to research not only your target university’s profile but also your specific college major and professors in that department.

We illustrate this exact idea in the two successful personal statement examples below!

personal statement examples, person studying

How Important is the personal statement for college to admissions officials?

Covid-19 has made the sat/act less important.

Common App announced that it will include a dedicated essay prompt on COVID-19 for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. As a result, students are scrambling to figure out how to write about COVID-19 in their college admissions essays .

There’s even more evidence that the college personal essay is becoming the most important part of the application process. As CBS News reports :

A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities are abandoning ACT and SAT scores as part of their admissions process. The so-called test-blind movement has gathered steam this year amid widespread cancellations of standardized tests because of COVID-19.

Moreover, a court recently ruled that the University of California public school system can no longer consider SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process . The days of the standardized test may be numbered.

This means that the application essay just got a lot more important.

How to Write a Personal Statement for College to Impress Admissions Officers

Why do college admissions committees rely on college application essays so much? The answer is that a college personal statement sets you apart from your high school peers by explaining three ideas:

Show your personality in your personal statement

College admissions committees rely on your transcripts and GPA as a measure of your academic prowess. Letters of recommendation focus more on how others view you and how you interact.

On the other hand, your college personal statement application essay gives admissions counselors a sense of your personality. It demonstrates how you will fit in as well as contribute to the university community.

Are you hyper-focused and ambitious with a lot of professional experience and projects to back it up? Or are you more curious, with a wide range of interests? Are your motivations related to achieving concrete objectives, or are they more personal or emotional in nature? The lens through which you interact with the world is exactly what your personal statement essay should show.

On paper, your SAT score, GPA, and extracurricular activities may be the same as other applicants. You may end up in the same college classes. College counselors know no two applicants are the same. What matters is that both fit in with what the university wants for its students.

Describe any extenuating circumstances

Are your grades a bit below average? Did you fail a class in high school? Those things jump out when it comes to numbers on paper. Universities want to know the context for abnormal records, and most importantly, how you view them.

As the world continues to become more global and aware of social disparities, the definition of “traditional success” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It has become standard for U.S. universities to have action plans for the diversity and inclusion of underprivileged students.

Most importantly, colleges want to understand how you struggled and overcame a difficult situation. Those are the exact students they want!

Explain why you are applying to this school

Besides selling your personality and explaining any drawbacks or holes in your record, a great college personal statement should provide insights into why you are applying to university. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, many students get caught up in proving themselves like a job application. They totally forget to explain why they are applying to college.

How to write about reasons for applying to college:

  • Define what part(s) of the university appeal to you. Explain how they align with your personal goals and personality.
  • Pick out a couple of unique characteristics of the school. These can be professors, programs of study, or facilities.

hands covered in paint, personal statement examples

Successful College Personal Statement Examples

Now that we know how important a college personal statement is and what it does, what’s the first step?

Success imitates success

At Wordvice, we encourage college applicants to look at successful personal statement examples to really absorb and gain insights into what an engaging personal college essay is. Read as many as you can, as no two students are the same. But you will see many of the themes discussed above again and again in successful college personal statements.

College Personal Statement Examples and Sample Essays

To start, Wordvice is including a couple of successful personal statement essay examples, including comments and feedback provided by our editors to the students. Both of these essays were edited by Wordvice’s professional editors , with both students gaining admission!

Personal Statement Essay #1: The “Holistic Profile” Essay

Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing to express my interest in studying at the University of ________ as a Supply Chain Management student. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my letter. I am currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Public Finance and Supply Chain Management at ________ University. I have decided to apply to your Supply Chain Management programme because I am sure it would strongly enrich my future studies and help me in my prospective career. Moreover, I consider this programme as a great opportunity to get to know ________ culture and its well-developed logistic background. I am also very curious about the different approaches taken in this field at a prominent university. I have chosen to apply to the University of________ because it examines all types of supply chain management perspectives, from production to services. During my previous studies, I discovered that simply working on procurement is far from enough. My fellow students and I had the opportunity to create an e-commerce project. At the time, the only thing in our control was the procurement decision, but I soon realized I had the capacity and drive to learn more about solutions and innovations. Another reason I am applying for this programme at ________ is its close relationship with relevant companies in my desired field. I learned on the university’s website that there is a specific resource that helps to connect students with these companies. Since I am interested in working in the Netherlands after I graduate, this resource will definitely be useful for my career. In addition, the fact that this programme offers an option to participate in an apprenticeship is very appealing to me. This could not only broaden my horizons through practical experience but also provide a chance for me to expand my connections in the industry. My current undergraduate studies make me highly suitable for this programme. I have learned the basic foundations of supply chain management through courses such as operations management, strategic purchasing, and inventory management. I have also taken mathematics and statistics to help me understand data problems. In addition to my academic interests, I have a full and interesting life off-campus. I was a member of our school volleyball team, which won several championships; this led to me graduating as an honour’s student. Those times spent on the court have strengthened my team spirit and my ability to work under pressure. During summer vacations, I spend time travelling around Europe and the United States. My first experience in Amsterdam was unforgettable, and it made me consider coming back in the future. Planning the trip carefully, and living alone in an unfamiliar area, have turned me into a more independent young woman. Professionally, I have done internships in international companies such as Red Bull and ASUS. These experiences gave me the chance to work in a global context with people from different countries, which has encouraged me to have a more flexible and adaptive mindset. Because of these wonderful experiences, I am certain I will conquer all future challenges and make the most out of them. In conclusion, I am very eager to study Supply Chain Management at the University of ________, as it would give me a chance to deepen my skills and knowledge in one of the field’s top universities. I am confident I excel in this programme due to my solid educational foundation in business and personality strengths. Thank you again for reading my personal statement. I look forward to hearing from you.

Why was this personal statement for college successful?

The essay is well-organized and directly answers key questions.

The applicant clearly lays out her educational and professional background as well as her skills. She also includes two solid paragraphs about why she has chosen her program of study and later explains why she is both qualified and a perfect fit.

This essay displays excellent organization and has a natural flow of ideas indicative of a native English speaker who can write exceptionally well.

The essay is personal and does not feel like a resume or CV

This college applicant came with a very strong academic and professional background. A solid handle on supply chain management (not the most exciting major) with internships to back it up. But notice how she doesn’t dwell on just that? She is able to connect things like her academic math experience with personal motivation. She even includes her extracurricular activities to show she’s more than a number cruncher.

First, she shows that she is a well-rounded person , not just a student that studies for grades. Second, she conveys her well-developed personal identity that has chosen this course of study at this particular college in this particular country. Make sure your college essay communicates this!

The essay specifically targets the school

Every major university has a business school, and every business school has a supply chain management program. How do the college admissions counselors reading her personal statement know she’s motivated to apply there?

This applicant clearly explains how she personally wants to attend this particular university in The Netherlands. She lists her personal travel experience and mentions a specific mentorship program.

Personal Statement Essay #2: The “Enthusiastic Achiever” Essay

I am passionate about computers because technology will continue to play a fundamental role in our lives. Based on this fact, I researched colleges that have both a strong computer science program and co-op program, and this is when I found Hofstra. I visited the campus for a tour and was really impressed with what I saw. Not only are the campus facilities top-notch, but the advanced computer science labs are world-class. This shows Hofstra’s focus to be able to provide the best intellectual and technical resources for students. I asked my tour guide about the class sizes and curriculum style. I was thrilled when he told me that average class sizes are in the 20s and that the curriculum emphasizes experiential learning.   I am looking for more than just academic excellence; extracurricular activities, including community service opportunities, are also very important to me. In researching schools that would provide students with the most well-rounded lifestyles, I was amazed to see the number of philanthropic events that the school hosts and supports. Philanthropy seems ingrained in the school’s culture. I also saw hundreds of clubs that can cater to everyone’s unique interests. Students are also welcome to start new clubs if no existing clubs can foster their interests. The energy on campus is something that I noticed right away. Both the students and staff show a lot of pride for Hofstra, and it’s truly memorable how enthusiastic the school spirit is among students. Leaving home to attend college is a big change for everyone, and I think school pride and a strong sense of community will help me make a smooth transition. I was very happy to hear that students get two tickets to events on campus. This is especially great because I am a sports fan and would love to experience the electric game-day atmosphere of a division one basketball game and cheer on the Lions!  Hofstra’s location is also ideal because it has the advantages of being in a smaller town but also being very close to New York City. I do not want to attend college in a big city, but the fact that New York City is so close opens up a lot of opportunities. First off, there are numerous internships at top companies in the city. In addition, it would be great to visit the city from time to time and see a show or sports game. Being able to do that with friends would give me great experiences and memories.   Hofstra is my top choice because it fulfills my most important criteria: esteemed faculty members, a strong computer science program, a strong sense of belonging, amazing internship and community service opportunities, and a diverse campus. I cannot wait to be a Hofstra Lion!

This personal statement is brief and under the word count

This essay is 461 words, which is perfectly under the 500-word limit on many college admissions essays. Although content is the main focus, your personal statement needs to abide by all rules laid out in the essay brief. That includes mundane but essential stipulations such as word count.

It is multi-faceted and hits major selling points

The student talks about Hofstra’s location, academics, sports, extracurriculars, and even philanthropy. The student doesn’t just list these as a marketing brochure would; each selling point is connected to the student personally and emotionally. Excitement is something that every student tries to portray in their admissions essay, so be sure you emulate something like this.

spools of colored thread, personal statement examples

Improve Personal Statements with College Essay Editing Services

It’s an understatement that college is one of the most important factors, affecting your social and professional future. Unfortunately, college personal statements and admissions essays sometimes come a bit disorganized and unfocused, just like the students who write them. That’s where essay editing services like Wordvice come in. They are beneficial for a number of reasons.

Why Use an Admissions Essay Editing Service?

1. they help fix errors that you miss.

College admissions committees have to reject a certain number of applicants every year. You can be sure that your application essay will go straight into the reject pile if it has any grammar or spelling errors.

It definitely takes a bit of self-awareness and experience to realize when it’s best to let someone help you. No one person has a monopoly on knowledge or perspective, no matter how strong their background is. Ever played the “what’s the difference between these two pictures” game?

Our brains are hard-wired to lock in our own biases. That’s a major problem when it comes to writing a personal statement where the entire point is convincing someone else.

2. They save students time

College consulting services have stated that the average number of applications is about 5.9 per college applicant. Of course, students will try to maximize their chances of getting into a good college. The downside is lack of time, which no one can buy more of.

English editing services like Wordvice help free up time so you can do what you need to do: apply to college.

3. Editors help improve your ability to communicate

Whether you are an ESL student or a native English speaker, everyone can improve their writing. In the case of a college application essay, this can mean the difference between getting into your dream college and attending your second-choice school. In addition to fixing grammar and basic errors, editing services go above and beyond to match the flow and readability of your writing with your goal – academic or admissions.

If you are writing a personal statement or college essay, you want editors with first-hand college and university admissions experience reviewing and editing your essay.

Additional College Personal Statement Tips

We hope you learned a lot from these examples of successful college personal statements. So what’s next?

I want to learn more about the college admissions process

Interested in learning more tips from experts about the college admissions process, personal statements, or letters of recommendation? Check out the  Wordvice Admissions Resources blog.

I am interested in professional editing for my personal statement

We also got you covered! Whether you choose personal statement editing , recommendation letter editing , resume editing , or any of our other essay editing services , you can find the help you need to improve your college essay.

I want to improve my college personal statement for college right now

Check out our turnaround times and conditions on our editing FAQ page. Or you can jump straight in and use our Editing Price Calculator to start the ordering process.

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

personal statements college application

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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Writing Your Personal Statement: A Crash Course

A personal statement is the primary essay that prospective college students send to all colleges and universities to which they’re applying. There are two main ways to send a personal statement, through the Coalition Application or the Common Application . It’s approximately 650 words detailing who you are, how you’ve changed and/or who you want to become.

What do I write about?

Oftentimes, people feel like they either need some dramatic pity story or an insane accomplishment for their Common App essay. But this isn’t true!

Your essay is less about what you achieved and more about your personality and things that you can’t put on your resume. It’s about who you are as a person.

Sometimes, a life story or an accomplishment can illustrate your personality, but not always. And you certainly don’t need one of the two in order to show who you are. There are so many different ways you can go, so as long as you talk with passion and show intellectual vitality, you really can make any topic work.

In fact, in my experience, incredibly niche and personal topics make the most interesting essays.

Which prompt is the right prompt?

One big mistake that people make is that they care too much about which prompt they choose on the Common App. Realistically, it doesn’t matter at all which prompt you select. Colleges have zero preference for one prompt over another. The prompts are just points to bounce off of, but as you will note, one of the choices is to pick your own prompt.

When you spend too much time thinking about what prompt to pick, you spend too much time thinking about what colleges want to see. But this isn’t about what this unseen “other” wants to read about—it’s about who you are and what you can bring to the table.

I would actually recommend writing a Common App essay without picking a prompt. Usually at the end, you will find that your essay naturally falls into one of them. And if it doesn’t, then that’s totally fine! Just pick the option of creating your own prompt. 

Do all schools need a personal statement?

Some schools require students to apply through a separate application portal, other than the Common App or Coalition App. These schools may have varied prompts with different word counts as well.

For example, MIT often asks four shorter questions, approximately 250 words each, but your personal statement can be modified to fit one of these shorter questions. The Georgetown University application and University of California application system for schools like UC Berkeley , UCLA and UCSB have modified questions as well. 

How much time do I need to spend on a personal statement?

For a two-page essay, the drafting process for your personal statement may take many months of work and hundreds of pages of ideas.

For context, I had 20 versions (no joke)  for my Common App essay saved when I was applying last year. Brainstorming began June after junior year and final edits wrapped up in early November of my senior year.

A recommended timeline is brainstorming in May or June after your junior year, pre-writing in July and August, drafting in September and October, and constant revising and editing until December.

Just keep in mind that early applications require a personal statement as well, which is often due in early November.  

Who should help me edit or revise my essay?

Sometimes students will refuse to show their essays to anyone. Other times, students will want to incorporate everyone’s little suggestion into their essays. The key to finding others to edit your essays is balance. It’s important to have a secondary opinion to make sure your message is coming through. On the other hand, it’s impossible to tailor your essay to fit everyone’s nuanced suggestion because you may lose your own voice in the midst of all the editing.

I recommend having three main editors.

  • The first editor answers all of your questions during the process of drafting. This person can be a parent, a teacher, a college consultant, a sibling or a recently graduated senior. They will be the ones you go to for advice on the minute details and decisions.
  • The second editor is there for the final rounds of drafts. In addition to edits like grammar and syntax, ask your editor to come up with three words or phrases to describe the person being conveyed in the essay. The second editor should be someone who knows you personally and has the ability to compare the “you” presented in the essay with the “you” in real life. This second editor can be your best friend, a sibling, a relative or a parent.
  • The third editor is there for the final round of drafts and should be a person you don’t know very well such as a new English teacher. Ask your third editor to come with three words to describe the person being conveyed as well. Hopefully, the phrases from the second and third editor should match. If they do, then your essay is successful in having a focused main idea and description of you as a person. 

Any final tips?

  • Use strong sensory language. As with any writing, good descriptions can transport the reader to any world—including your own. Create an immersive experience by taking full advantage of the writing skills that you have developed. Build an entire picture for the reader.
  • Explore different topics. Your first topic doesn’t have to be the one that you stick with. Allow yourself to try different things and experiment. Oftentimes we think that because we spent so much time editing one essay, that essay has to be the one that we send out. But this isn’t true! I want to emphasize creativity. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your writing—colleges really like this! Experiment with structure and metaphors. It has the possibility of making your essay memorable and unique. The last thing you want is for an admissions officer to be unable to distinguish your essay from the other 100 essays that they have read.
  • Be vulnerable. Tell a story that is deeply personal to you. Tell a story about a mistake or something that you might be embarrassed to talk about normally. Things like these humanize you, and the way you handle things like mistakes can say a lot about you as a person.
  • Find more tips in Niche’s guide for acing the college essay.

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personal statements college application

In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

personal statements college application

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 

personal statements college application

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?

personal statements college application

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

personal statements college application

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .

personal statements college application

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.

personal statements college application

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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How to Write a Personal Statement – 5 Personal Statement Examples

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How to write a personal statement? – Introduction

The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the college application process. For this reason, it’s often also one of the most anxiety-inducing. If you’ve been searching for personal statement examples because writing your personal statement has you worried (or excited), then you’re in the right place. 

In this article, we’ll present five personal statement examples and teach you how to write a personal statement that highlights who you are and demonstrates your full potential to colleges. We’re going to outline what a personal statement is, how colleges use them in the application process, and which topics tend to work best for college applicants. Then, we’ll offer some advice and tools to help you draft, edit, and finalize your own personal statement. Finally, we’ll walk you through five personal essay examples, breaking them down individually, so you can see just what makes them work. 

Writing a personal statement may seem like a daunting task, especially if you aren’t clear on just exactly what a personal statement for college is. After you see your first personal statement example, things may seem clearer. But first, let’s demystify the term “personal statement.” 

What is a personal statement?

Learning how to write a personal statement starts with understanding the term . I’m sure throughout the college application process you’ve heard your counselors, teachers, and classmates talking about the importance of a personal statement. While you may know that the personal statement for a university is extremely important, you still might not be clear on just what it is. You may have never even seen a personal statement example. So, before you attempt to start writing , let’s answer the questions: what is a personal statement for college? And just how do universities use them to evaluate students?

A personal statement for college is your chance to set yourself apart from other students and show admissions who you are. A strong personal statement for a university will describe your unique experiences and background in a first-person narrative. And when done well, it’s your opportunity to catch the right attention of an admission officer. 

No pressure, right? Don’t stress quite yet. The process of writing a personal statement can be fun! It’s an opportunity to write about something you’re passionate about. You’ll be able to see a personal statement example later on (five, actually!), and you’ll notice that it’s not about the perfect topic , but rather, how you tell your story. 

Personal statement basics

Now, let’s talk about personal essay specifics. Generally speaking, a personal statement will be between 400-700 words, depending on the specific university guidelines or application portal. The Common App essay must be 250-650 words. The Coalition App , by contrast, suggests that students write 500-650 words.  Try to aim for the higher end of those ranges, as you’ll be hard pressed to write a compelling personal statement without enticing descriptions. 

Apart from the word count, what’s the personal statement format? The personal statement for a university should be written in a first-person conventional prose format. You may be a wonderful poet or fiction writer but refrain from using those styles in your personal statement. While using those styles in a personal essay could occasionally be a hit with admissions, it’s best to showcase that style of writing elsewhere. If you choose to add your creative writing style to your application, you should do so by submitting a writing portfolio. Generally speaking, the strongest personal statement will be written in first-person prose language. 

General or prompted

When it comes to a personal statement for college, it will generally fall into one of two categories : general, comprehensive personal statement, or a response to a very specific personal essay prompt. In the open-ended option, you’ll want to share a story about something important related to your life. This could be about family, experiences, academics, or extracurriculars . Just be careful not to repeat your entire resume. That’s certainly not the goal of a personal essay.  

Remember, it’s a personal statement. So, share something that you haven’t elsewhere. If given a prompt, it will likely be open-ended so that you can flex your creativity and show off your writing style. You’ll be able to write a story that genuinely matters to you, ideally sharing something that has made you who you are. 

You may also need a personal statement when applying to certain programs, such as business or STEM programs. The basic idea is the same, but you’ll want to connect your experiences to the specific program. Check out the details of writing a personal statement for a specific field . 

That extra push

The college application process can seem rigid at times; the personal statement for college is your chance to show off in a way that has nothing to do with GPA or transcripts. The personal statement is an opportunity for colleges to meet students on their own terms. It’s essentially your written interview . 

At top universities, many students will have similar grades and test scores. A strong personal statement gives students the chance to stand out and show that they’re more than just numbers on a transcript. What’s the extra push that an admissions officer may need to admit a qualified student? A well-written, compelling personal statement can help you gain admittance to competitive schools . 

Having a support system throughout the college admissions process is important. Keep your parents in the loop with this personal statement webinar that offers details about the common app essay and the personal essay for college. 

You are probably wondering the same things as other students about the college application essay or college essay tips. Read an admissions officer’s response to some FAQs and get some useful college essay tips. 

The CommonApp Essay vs. The Personal Statement

common app essay

So, we’ve discussed what a personal statement is and why it matters. Now, let’s discuss one common type of personal statement: the Common App essay. While each school may have their own personal statement topics, the Common App essay section has general prompts that will serve as your personal statement. The Common App essay will respond to one of seven prompts.

For the most up-to-date information on the Common App essay, you can check their website .

Common App Essay Questions for 2022-2023:   

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Open-ended prompts

The Common App essay personal statement prompts are intentionally open-ended. They are meant to give you the chance to tell your unique story . However, one requirement is that your Common App essay must be between 250-650 words. 

You can choose to respond to any one of the seven prompts. Remember to choose the best prompt for you. It may seem obvious, but the personal statement for college is your opportunity to share your personal story. You’ll want to choose a topic you can write well about that will show how you’ve grown or changed. It’s also your opportunity to show off your writing style. So, pick a topic you enjoy writing about!

Check out some tips on how to tackle each prompt from the Common App essay blog. You may also want to read this Common App essay overview for juniors . We’ll get into more specific details later on how to write the Common App essay– and other personal statement topics in general– later in this article.

How important is a Personal Statement?

As we’ve mentioned, the personal statement is your chance to stand out in a pool of applicants. It’s an extremely important part of any college application. A personal statement for college will be a requirement of nearly every application you complete. Admissions will use your personal statement to get a sense of who you are beyond your grades and scores. So, if you want to show colleges what makes you unique, your personal statement is the place to do it. Figuring out how to write a personal statement is key to a successful application. 

Seeing what works when it comes to your personal statement for university can be a helpful first step. U.S. News breaks down the process of writing a personal statement and gives some successful personal essay examples. Reading another student’s successful personal statement example will give you an idea of what impresses admissions. It may even get you excited about writing your own personal statement for college! 

While every school will likely require some sort of personal statement, it may actually be used differently in the admissions process. How your personal statement is judged during the admissions process will depend on a school’s size, ranking, acceptance rate , and various other factors. Larger state schools will likely put the most importance on an applicant’s grades and scores while spending little time reviewing a student’s personal statement. 

Especially important at top tier schools

However, at Ivy League schools and other elite institutions, many students have the same impressive grades, scores, and extracurriculars. The personal statement allows these schools to distinguish between high-achieving students. If you’re looking at these types of institutions, then a lot of importance should be placed on writing a personal statement that is unforgettable and impresses admissions. 

So, we know that learning how to write a personal statement is key to many successful applications, but you may be thinking: what’s the difference between a personal statement and supplemental essays? Every school you apply to via the Common App will receive an identical copy of your Common App essay. The Common App essay serves as your personal statement. 

However, each school will have their own supplemental requirements, which may include additional supplemental essays . For schools with many supplemental college essay prompts, your personal essay may not have as much of an impact on your overall application. Admissions officers will see your writing style, and likely your personality, in all of the college essay prompts you submit. 

Additional personal statements

Still, you should always treat your personal essay with the utmost care. It can make a huge difference in the admissions process. You may also need to write other personal statements when applying to scholarships or specific programs . It’s good to get used to the process and the personal statement format during college application season. 

When should I start writing my Personal Statement?

When it comes to all things in the college application process, including any college application essay, it’s best to start early . Don’t leave your personal statement for a university until the last moment. Writing a personal statement will take time. The sooner you start your personal statement for college, the more likely you are to succeed. 

how to start a personal statement

This doesn’t mean that you should start writing your personal statement for university the summer before your sophomore year. High school is a time for development, and colleges want to get to know you at your most mature. It’s just good practice to start thinking about how to write a personal statement early on. 

Review personal statement examples

Think about personal statement format, personal statement topics, and personal statement ideas. Look at other students’ personal statement examples. You can start jotting down potential ideas for your personal essay for college at any time, which may be useful down the line. But, you don’t need to actually start writing your personal statement until the summer before your senior year .

Be open-minded to changing your personal statement topic as you grow and discover new things about yourself. Check out this personal statement webinar on how one student switched her personal essay for college at the last moment. Just like there is no set personal statement format, there are no rules against mixing up your topic as you see fit. But, at least try to allow yourself some time to revise and edit your personal essay for college to perfection.

What do I write in a personal statement?

There’s no one-size-fits-all outline when it comes to how to write a personal statement. Your personal statement for university will depend on your own background, interests, and character. Overall, it’s not the personal statement topics that will catch the eye of admissions officers– it’s how you write your story that will. You need to know how to write a personal statement that not only checks the boxes but is also powerful . 

how to write a personal statement

Important things to keep in mind when writing your personal statement: 

Choose a topic you’re passionate about.

What would you be excited to write about? Chase the personal statement topics that seem fun to write, think about, and talk about. If you’re passionate about your personal statement, your audience will feel it and be engaged. 

Really be you

Authenticity is key when it comes to writing a personal statement. After all, it’s your chance to tell your story and really show admissions who you are. Whatever you write about, make sure it is true, honest, and authentic to your experiences.

Give it some flair

Ok, we don’t mean do something too unconventional like a personal statement haiku. But, you should show off your writing style in your personal statement for college. Admissions officers want to get to know you and your writing. 

Knowing how to start a personal statement or how to start a college essay, in general, is often the most difficult part of the process. You’ll want to brainstorm some personal statement topics to get your creative juices flowing. CollegeAdvisor.com offers a masterclass on brainstorming personal statement topics for the Common App essay in case you need some help with how to start a college essay or a personal statement. 

Still have doubts? Read more on how to write a personal statement and get some college essay tips from CollegeAdvisor.com’s admissions experts. It will also be helpful to look at some successful personal essay examples and understand why they worked . Good personal statement examples can inspire you to tackle writing your own personal essay for college.  

Exploring Personal Statement Topics

It seems logical that when exploring the process of how to write a personal statement, you should start thinking about personal statement ideas. What are the best topics to write about in a personal statement? If you look at various successful personal statement examples, you’ll likely realize the topic isn’t necessarily the most important part. You don’t need to write about something that no one else has ever written about. You just need your personal statement to have its own unique spin. Lean into brainstorming personal statement ideas that show who you are. It’s helpful to read some personal statement examples for inspiration. 

While there is no exact formula for “how to write a personal statement”, there are some basic guidelines that students should follow. The personal statement should be written in first-person nonfiction prose form. Often, a personal statement introduction will include a story or an anecdote and then expand to reveal the impact of that experience on the writer. 

You may be specifically wondering how to start a personal statement. Well, it could be with a moment, a place, or a conversation that spurred some sort of change or growth within you. While this isn’t necessarily a “personal statement format,” it’s a very general format that works. 

Things to avoid

We now know that the personal statement format is fluid, but there are some things to avoid when thinking about how to write a personal statement: 

  • Profanity, explicit content, or crude language. 
  • Lying or misinterpreting events. Keep it authentic. 
  • Sharing overly personal descriptions of troubling life experiences. Remember that applying to college requires professional boundaries. 
  • Writing a narrative that revolves around others. The personal statement is all about you and your experiences. 

If you want to know what a bad personal statement example would look like, imagine one that includes any of the formerly listed items. You don’t want to catch an admissions officer’s attention for the wrong reasons. Good personal statement examples will be engaging, but inoffensive. Check out some more do’s and don’ts when it comes to how to write a personal statement.   

When pondering “how to write a personal statement,” it’s good to know that you don’t need to follow conventional essay guidelines. The best personal statement examples will exude passion and professionalism, while a bad personal statement example will lack soul. If you’re excited about a topic, then that’s a great place to start! Now, let’s get into the actual writing. 

How do you write a good Personal Statement?

To review, in the first part of this series of three articles on how to write a personal statement we answered the question “What is a personal statement?” We also explained how schools use a student’s personal statement for college to evaluate them. We described the Common App essay as an example of a personal statement for a university. Next, let’s dig into how to write a personal statement, including how to start a personal statement, the best tips for writing a personal statement, and some good personal statement examples and personal essay examples to inspire you.

personal statement examples

First, you have probably wondered how to write a personal statement that stands out from the rest. It all comes down to one thing: authenticity. The best personal statement examples and personal essay examples show schools what makes the writer unique, and they are written in an authentic voice. When giving advice about how to write a personal statement, admissions officers say that the best personal statement examples tell them who the student is beyond their coursework and grades. They are personal, and they tell a unique and interesting story.

Considering Personal Statement topics

So, as you think about how to write a personal statement, you may also wonder what the best personal statement topics are. When writing a personal statement, including the Common App essay, you don’t have to share an exciting story about the time you wrestled a wild bear or how you discovered a cure for cancer. For example, in their advice on how to write a personal statement, Wellesley College advises , “Tragedy is not a requirement, reflection and depth are.” 

Some of the best personal statement topics focus on insights about common experiences. Begin your brainstorming process by reviewing the list of Common App essay prompts as you think about writing a personal statement, and choose a story that genuinely matters to you. Then, get excited about telling it! Think about writing a personal statement, including the Common App essay and every other personal essay for college, as an opportunity to lean into your quirkiness or to share your unique insights.

What’s more, a good personal statement for a university should be well-written. Consider the advice offered by Purdue Online Writing Lab : “Be specific, write well and correctly, and avoid cliches.” This will take time—writing a good personal statement for a university or a good Common App essay doesn’t happen overnight. The process of writing a personal statement will include multiple sessions between the first phase of brainstorming and the final phase of editing. Be prepared to write and rewrite, and never hesitate to ask for help from an advisor, counselor, parent, or trusted adult. However, remember that your work should always be your own.

Now, let’s discuss how to start a personal statement.

How do you start a personal statement?

So, now you have the basic information on how to write a personal statement, including your Common App essay. Next, you’re probably asking, “But how do you start one?” In this section, we’ll break down the process of exploring personal statement ideas and how to start a personal statement. This information also applies to thinking about how to start a college essay. Then, we’ll discuss how to write a personal statement opening.

how to write a personal statement

Brainstorming is usually the first phase of any writing project to generate personal statement ideas. You may want to read a personal statement example like those here or here for inspiration to help get your personal statement ideas flowing. Next, ask yourself some idea-generating questions : Who have your intellectual influences been?  Which careers are you considering and why? What personal goals do you have? As you think about the answers to these typical college essay prompts, jot down personal statement ideas that occur to you. If you’re still feeling stuck, ask a close friend or family member , “What do you think differentiates me?,” or “What are my quirks?”

Pick a topic that excites you

Then, once you have a few good topics for your personal statement, choose one that you feel most excited to write about. Write a draft of your personal statement introduction and see what other ideas occur to you for later parts of your essay. Choose another topic and do the same thing. Don’t feel like these initial drafts need to be perfect—words on the page are always a great start! The goal right now is to decide which personal statement topics you feel most inspired to write about. Which ideas reflect something interesting about you ? 

Once you have selected which topic you will focus on for your personal statement, Common App essay, or personal essay for college, think about crafting a strong hook. The opening line (or lines) of the best personal statement examples include a “hook” for the reader, grabbing their attention and making them want to keep reading. For example, you could start with a question, an unusual or surprising statement, or an anecdote that will leave readers wondering what comes next. Whichever approach you select when considering how to start a college essay, make sure to use engaging language and vivid imagery.

Remember, start early and write several drafts .

The personal statement is an opportunity to write about a topic that is important to you and that also reflects your personality . Now, let’s discuss the personal statement format.

How do you format a personal statement?

Different applications may require different approaches to your personal statement format. In some cases, you may copy and paste your personal statement into an application and it will format itself automatically. In other situations, you will need to set up your personal statement format yourself. If this is the case, Times New Roman font, 12-point, with conventional margins and double spacing is a safe personal statement format.

When you are submitting your personal statement or Common App essay through the Common App, you may notice that the Common Application text box only allows formatting for bold, italics, and underlining. Therefore, it’s best to write your personal statement in Google Docs or Word and to write your paragraphs with block formatting (not indented). In addition, using Google Docs or Word will also allow you to easily check spelling and word counts before pasting your personal statement into the Common App.

Editing your Personal Statement

Many students wonder what the editing process for their personal statement for college, including the Common App essay and other personal essays for college, should look like. This varies by student and by essay. But, the best personal statements for a university go through at least several rounds of edits.

Firstly, once you have written the first draft of your personal statement for a university or personal essay for college, take a step back for a few hours or even for a day. Then, return with fresh eyes. Is your narrative well organized? Are there sections that seem unclear, ideas that don’t support your main point, or awkward sentences? You may want to reorder your paragraphs or sentences or delete and rework other elements. Revisit a personal statement example and consider how it is organized for comparison. 

personal statement examples

Making the cut

In short, don’t be afraid to cut sentences that don’t directly relate to the main focus of the essay or convey some important detail of the story. This will help clarify your narrative. Also, make sure that you have centered your writing around your own experiences—the story should reflect your perspective and insights.

Next, once you are confident that your personal statement is well organized and your main ideas are clear, do another round of detailed editing. Eliminate any typos or repetitive language; make sure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout.

Finally, ask a trusted adult to read your personal statement and provide feedback. Something that you thought was clear may not be to them. Also, ask them how engaging your personal statement is, and if there are sections that seem dry or unimportant. Ask whether your hook is effective, and review tips on how to start a personal statement if necessary. Sometimes feedback can be difficult to hear, but it helps to remember that even professional writers seek input from others. The goal is to create the best personal statement possible!

For more detailed advice on revising your personal statement, check out this CollegeAdvisor personal statement webinar, “ Revising the Personal Statement .”

How do I know when my personal statement is done?

There’s no definitive way to know when your personal statement for a university is done—you can keep editing most writing forever. However, as you revise and edit, you’ll notice that you have fewer things to fix with every new draft. Once you feel like there’s nothing major left to change, get feedback from someone you trust. 

personal statement examples

Your College Advisor expert can also provide valuable feedback and guidance at this point. If the notes and suggestions from others are also limited, you may be nearly ready to finalize your personal statement for college and press “submit.”

6 Tips for Writing a Great Personal Statement 

1. be authentic.

Remember, admissions officers want to know about you —your personality, your interests, your goals. A great personal statement is personal . Your personal statement for a university needs to express your unique ideas and insights in your own voice. Nobody can tell your story better than you. So, choose a topic that interests you and let your energy and ideas shine through.

Being personal also means that you should share sensory details and your internal dialogue. What did you see or hear at a critical moment? What were you thinking or feeling during that pivotal conversation? The more personal details you share, the more interesting your personal statement will be.

2. Start early

This is one of the most important tips on how to write a personal statement. You can start brainstorming topics for your personal statement at any time during high school. Some students keep a notebook where they write down personal statement topics and ideas as they occur to them over time. They also begin reading other good personal statement examples and Common App essays for inspiration. 

Regardless, a good plan is to solidify a draft of your personal statement for college the summer before your senior year. This will give you time to work on supplemental essays and other parts of your applications during the fall of your senior year.

how to write a personal statement

3. Brainstorm before you write

Take some time to think and reflect deeply before you begin writing. Don’t feel like you need to jump into a full essay draft as soon as you complete your junior year. Do some writing exercises and brainstorming activities first, including reading other personal statement examples. 

In each personal statement example you read, pay close attention to the personal statement introduction, the narrative arc, and the conclusion. Did the writer incorporate an effective technique for how to start a college essay? Why is the essay interesting? What does it tell you about the writer? 

4. Tell a story

Keep in mind that well-told stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They also engage the reader and arrive at a clear message or point by the end. In short, the best personal statement examples follow a narrative arc. 

Start with an interesting hook and use it as an introduction to a story from your life that addresses the given college essay prompt. Then, use the latter half of your personal statement or Common App essay to show why this story matters and how it reveals a key part of your identity. And always remember: show, don’t tell.

5. Avoid common mistakes

Steer clear of cliches in your writing—they do not help you stand out or demonstrate strong writing skills. Also, do not use your personal statement or Common App essay as an opportunity to rehash your activities or achievements. Remember, these are included in other parts of your application. 

The best personal statement examples show admission officers something about the writer that is not reflected in other parts of the application. They describe first-hand experiences and provide specific examples to illustrate ideas.

6. Edit carefully

Once you’ve written your personal statement for college, look for anything that doesn’t feel right. Eliminate awkward phrasing, delete or replace repeated words and phrases, and work to streamline your language. You might delete entire drafts, and that’s okay! It’s a process, and all the work you do gets you closer to your best work. Also, make sure to ask a few others whom you trust to read your essay and provide suggestions for edits.

Bonus tip: Ask for help

A second set of eyes can make a huge difference. Ask an advisor (like our team at CollegeAdvisor.com), counselor, or parent to look over your work. Don’t let anyone write your sentences for you—instead, use their input to help your voice shine through. 

For more great college essay tips on how to write a personal statement and college essays, check out this advice from college admission experts.

Personal Statement- Frequently Asked Questions

Where can i find a good personal statement example.

There are a variety of websites that offer good personal essay examples as models you can use to inspire you. A good place to begin is here , and there are also examples of personal statements in the next article of this series. As you read these examples, take note of the personal statement introduction, as well as how the writer focuses the essay on a specific topic or idea that reflects their personality.

Is it ever too late to change my personal statement?

While it is much better to begin writing your personal statement early, sometimes students decide later in the writing process that they want to rethink the personal statement topic they have chosen. If you find yourself in this position, you will find some helpful advice in this CommonApplicant.com personal statement webinar . 

My parents didn’t go to college. How do I explain personal statements and how to write a personal statement to them?

CollegeAdvisor.com has created a special personal statement webinar just for parents. In this webinar, we describe personal statements, the specifics of how to write a great college essay, and other college admissions terms.

I’m a high school junior. What should I be doing now to prepare to write my personal statement and college essays?

First, congratulations on thinking ahead! You can begin by reading “ Common App Essay Overview for Juniors .” Then, your CollegeAdvisor admissions expert can help you begin brainstorming and planning for your college application essays. They can provide you with examples of common college essay prompts, as well as helpful college essay tips. Also, they can provide suggestions on how to start a personal statement and share other resources on how to write a great college essay.

How will college admission officers evaluate my personal statement and college application essay?

Admission officers are looking for personal stories that are well told. How closely each of your college application essays is read will vary depending both on the school and the other components of your application. However, as more schools become test-optional, admission officers say that college essays are becoming even more important in the admissions process. So, as you plan your essays keep in mind that admission officers want to learn about you —your experiences, thoughts, and goals. They also want to see that you have solid writing skills, so make sure that you closely edit your essays before you submit them.

If you would like to hear directly from an admission officer and learn more about how to write a great college essay, including specific advice on how to start a college essay, check out this “ 39 Essay Tips ” article.

How is the personal statement for a university different from the Common App essay and personal essay for college? 

The Common App essay asks students to write a personal statement in response to one of seven provided prompts. All types of personal essays for college provide students with an opportunity to introduce themselves to college admission officers on their own terms. For a more detailed description of each of these types of essays, check out the first article in this series, “How to Write a Personal Statement.”

For answers to more frequently asked questions about personal statements for college and college essays, click here .

In the first part of this series discussing how to write a personal statement, we answered the questions “What is a personal statement?” and “How important is the personal statement?” In this second article of the series, we have covered the specifics of how to write a personal statement, including descriptions of the writing phases of the personal statement and personal essay for the college writing process. In the next article, we will examine personal statement examples and highlight key elements of each personal statement example. 

Introducing 5 Personal Statement Examples

By this point, you’ve gone from asking, “What is a personal statement?” to knowing how to write a personal statement. Now, let’s look at some personal statement examples. Reading personal statement examples is great preparation for writing your own personal statement for college.

However, keep in mind that reading about how to write a personal statement is one thing–writing a personal statement is entirely different. By reading these personal statement examples and why they worked, you’ll have a better grasp of how to write a personal statement.

personal statement examples

Each of these personal statement examples shows something that isn’t clear in the rest of the application. Top schools accepted all the writers of these personal statement examples. Our guide will walk you through each of these personal essay examples and discuss what makes them work. We hope by reading these, you can learn more about how to write a personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #1: Choosing a Great Topic

The first of our personal statement examples was written by a student who was accepted to Yale, Princeton, and other top schools. Their personal statement discusses the legacy of antisemitic violence in their family. While political and religious topics can be difficult, this student writes a fantastic college application essay about their topic.

Personal Essay Example #1

Across the ocean, there is war. Children mistaking rockets for fireworks, parents too protective—too careful—to correct them.          Back home, there are phone calls. To family, to friends. In English, in Hebrew.          “Are you safe?”         I pray they live far from Jerusalem.          Right here, in my room, there is turmoil.          Furiously swiping through Instagram, I wonder who will betray me next. I wonder which friend will decide that their loosely related, offensive commentary belongs on their profile.          Once the deed is done, I am quick to unfollow. To cut off perpetrators of what Jewish journalists call “the Social Media Pogrom”: when targeting the Jewish people online turns to real antisemitic violence (and a powerful reason to unfollow my friends).          So I flee from my friends’ Instagram accounts. But only because my family fled from much worse.          My grandfather found himself wearing a yellow star, living in a ghetto, and losing everything to the Nazis. One day, he ripped off the star and ran. Even though it meant never seeing his family again.          He did not flee for a better life; he fled for any life.          His son came to marry another refugee: my mother. Her story is a familiar one, shared by many in my hometown: escaping yet another antisemitic regime whose existence threatened her own, my mother fled Revolutionary Iran in 1979. Fortunately, she was reunited years later with all eight of her siblings, who had escaped in various other creative, illegal ways—“on camelback” being a personal favorite.           To this day, she bears a scar on her eyelid from antisemitic violence back home.          My family tree’s roots are settled in the soil of persecution. Swastikas have sawed away at its structure, and Revolutionary Guards have bent its branches. I know too well which winds will threaten the leaves: words wishing my people death, implicitly or explicitly. Calling on my cousins to evacuate their homes, for they are on the Jewish side of the land dispute. Denying the reality that no one deserves to be displaced.         When I hear these words, see them on a screen, I sense a chillingly familiar breeze. Sometimes, the breeze blows away a few leaves: a rabbi is stabbed, a synagogue vandalized.          Suddenly my friends, teetering on the edge of antisemitism with waves of painful posts, are no longer my friends. They are my enemies.          But then I hear a little voice:         “David, what on Earth are you doing?”         And I remember that they are not. They are not Nazis or Revolutionary Guards. I should not shun them or cease to show them love. I cannot wallow in my rage or simply “unfollow”—not on Instagram, not in life.          I soon return those beloved friends to my circle. I “follow” them once again.         Because dialogue is my lifestyle. I ought to be recruiting my friends to Model Congress or engaging them in class. Welcoming the people around me to a world of positive, exciting, and purposeful discourse is the best I can do. It’s also who I am.          My family passed down a sensitive radar for harmful rhetoric, but also gifted me with a powerful belief—a Jewish belief—in informed discussion and coexistence. Holding no hate in their hearts, my ancestors wore lenses of love that did not belong to their oppressors.         Today, I wear those same lenses with pride. Once infuriating Instagram posts no longer cloud my vision. I’ve instead fallen in love with the precious diversity of thought that surrounds me and find myself most at home when I am immersed in political dialogue.          I will face many “enemy” opinions, but I will not shut my eyes and cover my ears, give up a dear human connection, and miss out on a meaningful experience.            I will approach individuals with humanity rather than animosity, acceptance rather than judgement, and love rather than hate.          I will live by the lessons of my ancestors. 

What Worked?

What did this Common App essay do well? Firstly, it covers a great topic. This student writes about their family’s experience with antisemitic violence and its legacy in their life today. When writing a personal statement for college, such sensitive personal statement topics can be challenging. In this case, the writer successfully centers their experiences and thoughts rather than on controversial events.

Moreover, they cut through political tension with a core reality rooted in empathy: “No one deserves to be displaced.” This is a great strategy if you’re wondering how to write a personal statement on a sensitive topic. All personal statement topics have an angle that makes them universally relatable. If your personal essay for college is missing something, try an empathetic approach.

Ask for help revising

Don’t forget to ask other people to revise your personal statement for university. What makes sense to you may not read well to others. Especially with sensitive topics, share your work with someone you can trust to give you feedback. If possible, also include a non-family member like a teacher or guidance counselor who knows how to write a personal statement.

This student connects their family’s troubles with their own worldview. Good personal statement examples offer a look at the author as a person. A strong topic lets you reflect on how your experiences have impacted your engagement with the world and other people. And as shown above, the writer chose a great topic –not necessarily a great college essay prompt. College essay prompts are wide-ranging , and good personal statement ideas can come from any of them. Indeed, whatever your prompt is, personal essay examples are ultimately about you . 

Evocative language and imagery

With this in mind, look at how the writer’s attitude changes throughout their Common App essay. Good personal statement examples contain precise, evocative language and imagery. When you’re writing a personal statement, find the right words—not necessarily the longest ones—and sentence structures you need. This personal statement begins in a panic; the writer “furiously swiping” in the “turmoil” of their room, keenly attuned to betrayal from friends. These words and the short paragraphs bring each thought into sharp focus.

The writer’s passion for their subject shows through their language. Using structural repetition in “Wishing…. Calling…. Denying…” establishes a serious tone and keeps the personal statement fresh. In the latter half, words like “beloved,” “lenses of love,” and “precious diversity” signify a shift to a gentle, loving attitude. The best personal essay examples choose their words precisely. By choosing words carefully in combination with poetic and rhetorical devices, you can write a stellar personal statement for university.

Certainly, family histories can be great personal statement topics. Even so, suffering doesn’t automatically make a strong personal statement for university. If you know how to write a personal statement, even at first mundane personal statement ideas can become good personal statement examples.

Personal Statement Example #2: Finding a Great Hook

The second of our personal statement examples is by a student who was accepted to UC San Diego, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, and more. In their personal statement for college, this student uses their interest in Rubik’s cubes to frame other parts of their life.

Personal Statement Example #2

My life is as simple as a Rubik’s Cube: a child’s toy that can be solved in 20 moves or less IF and only if enough knowledge is gained. I received one on my 9th birthday and over the following months, I became obsessed with it.  I rotated the rows aimlessly, hoping that eventually the cube would solve itself. I was naive about the complexity of the cube which led me to apply some research. I began looking up tutorials on YouTube about solving the toy and was in awe over the amount of work that had to be done. I forced myself to go step by step until I could arrange a single face, and my progress pushed me forward until I could solve 4 of the 6 faces of the cube. Every night for an hour I would randomize the colors again and work my way back to ⅔ of the cube being complete. Until this point, I lacked the confidence in my everyday life and had never aimed for a difficult goal, especially one without external motivation. However, what I love about solving the cube is that you can follow the steps perfectly and still run into a stalemate based on the arrangement of the squares. This forces you to randomize the cube again and start from step 1. All the hard work and time put into this object can be useless, but it is unavoidable no matter what you do. Multiple times I faced this dilemma of running into a wall, but instead of giving up, my will pushed me forward. I shed many tears over my failures to solve a child’s toy. I needed to push through these failures until I could learn how to arrange the last faces of the cube. And just like that, it was complete! The Rubik’s Cube was arranged correctly. However, I wanted to get faster. I was inspired by the greatest, the individuals who could solve cubes within 5 seconds, and mix up the cube once more. I tried over and over until the point of obsession where I could get the cube arranged in under a minute. Sometimes it is necessary to disarrange a completed face of the cube in order to achieve the end goal of every face being complete. The colors of a cube can be compared to my academics, my athletics, my art, my leadership, my hobbies, and my family life. Though it is a struggle to juggle all these tasks, it is the desire to expand in all these subjects that pushes me forward. I want to learn more and master subjects within my academics, improve my form and get faster within my athletics, grow my skills of digital design within art, become a stronger role model as a leader, volunteer more within my hobbies, and get closer to supporting my family.  This mindset will continue to push me to expand my present knowledge and learn new concepts in order to complete my goals. 43,252,003,274,489,856,000: That is how many combinations there are for a single 3×3 Rubik’s cube, and there are probably even more combinations ahead of me in my journey through college and beyond. I have to struggle to learn how to solve my cube and put in the hard work in order to succeed at this game of life. Once I finish school and solve my cube for the first time, the game is not over. The next steps are to refine my work and ethics until I can get the process of solving my own cube down to 20 moves or less. My life goal is to carve a name for myself among the best and the brightest in the surgical field, yet there is always more knowledge to obtain which will drive me to continue growing.

Take a look at that hook! The classic personal statement format begins with a hook to draw the reader into a story, and this is no different. This personal statement introduction, “My life is as simple as a Rubik’s cube”, is bold, even seemingly contradictory, until you read the rest of the sentence. Either way, it makes you want to keep reading this personal statement example. 

The worst thing a personal statement for a university can be is boring. A good hook starts your reader off on the right foot. While many personal statement examples begin in the middle of a story, making a bold claim is also common. If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement, start thinking about what opening sentence would grab your attention.

Like the first essay’s writer, this student also uses descriptive language to bring their Common App essay to life. They didn’t simply try the Rubik’s cube, but they “rotated the rows aimlessly”. Rather than saying they kept working on the cube, the writer shows us how they scrambled and resolved it every night. When writing a personal statement, do your own experiences justice with the right descriptive language .

Thinking about tone

You may notice the tone of this personal essay example is very different from the first– intensity isn’t everything! In fact, it’s a reflection of the different subject matter of these personal essay examples. When writing your personal statement, your tone should match what you are trying to say. In the same way that one word can make a sentence, another can totally break it. 

From a vivid description of their childhood, the writer expands the scope of their Common App essay to other areas of their life. Good personal statement examples explore subjects that other parts of your application don’t. In this case, this student uses the Rubik’s cube to represent their varied activities and their aspirations for each. They also reflect on life lessons and personal traits: perseverance, ambition, and curiosity.

In other words, the writer creates parallels between their interest in Rubik’s cubes and their personal journey. In the same way that they obsess over speed-solving, the writer works to excel in other subjects. Furthermore, the writer shows us this instead of directly telling — a maneuver fundamental to all good personal statement examples. The writer makes a compelling case as not only an applicant but also as a future member of the campus community. 

Consider chronology

how to write a personal statement

Notice the chronological structure this student uses for their Common App essay. Specifically, see how it follows the writer’s life from their first Rubik’s cube to the present day. This is a simple way to craft a strong Common App essay. Personal essay examples like this make it easy to reflect on your growth, which is crucial for any personal statement for college. Lastly, by ending with the 20 moves needed to solve a cube, the writer neatly ties up this personal statement example.

Personal Statement Example #3: The Value of a Great Ending

The third of our personal statement examples is by a student who got into the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Southern California. The writer talks about how being on the swim team helped them cultivate confidence.

Personal Essay Example #3

When I joined the high school swim team, I never expected to go to school dressed as Shrek. Yet as Freshman Friday approached, I learned it was team tradition for upperclassmen swimmers to dress freshmen teammates in ridiculous costumes. Against my will, my teammates splotched green paint on my face, styled my hair into pigtails covered in green paper, and stuffed a pillow under my sweatshirt. Attending my classes was mortifying. With every stare, I buried my head further into my textbook and shifted my hand to cover my green and now bright red face; with every chuckle, I sank deeper into my seat, attempting to hide my massive pillow stomach. The frown on my face felt like a permanent fixture, and after dealing with the humiliation for a class period, I was done. I yanked the pillow out of my sweatshirt and ripped the paper from my hair. The only hint of swamp ogre that remained was the green face paint. When confronted about my lack of Shrek-ness at the end of the day, I claimed I was overheating and that the paper had fallen apart.  I lied. I was just embarrassed. I always knew I was shy — the “too-timid-to-signal-the-waiter” type of shy — but until Freshman Friday, I hadn’t realized the extent to which it affected the social and academic aspects of my life. Ever since I was young, my jaw would clench at the thought of humiliating myself by deviating from the norm and bringing attention to myself. I often closed myself off from friends by diverting conversations to trivial topics like gym class when they probed me about deeper subjects like my mental health. I even avoided participating in class by scouring Google for hours for physics help to circumvent admitting to my classmates that I was confused by asking questions. By hiding in the shadows to avoid embarrassment, I hindered my ability to cherish the humor in being Shrek, and, more broadly, my comfort in freely expressing myself.  However, I loved swimming and wanted to make my high school team’s environment as wonderful for me as my love for the sport. I slowly started creeping out of my shell, meeting the team, and participating in more voluntary dress-up days. Freshman year, I wore a dragon onesie on pajama day; sophomore year, I wore a Hawaiian shirt, a lei, and sunscreen for tacky tourist day. Junior year, I wore my swimsuit over leggings, goggles, medals, pigtails with award ribbons, and a towel cape, finally surpassing the ridiculousness of the Shrek costume. For the first time, I finally felt confident enough to prance around the school, laughing about my costume with my classmates. I felt like a true part of my team, joking with teammates, taking pictures, and letting the whole school know that I swam. With each year and its dress-up days, I gradually felt more of the sense of community, team spirit, and fun that I had craved.  Dressing up unleashed my confidence. This, in turn, made me happier and more involved in my school community. Most surprisingly, though, was how dressing up eventually better prepared me to enter engineering. Hispanic women are severely underrepresented in engineering, so I used to fear that I would be incapable of establishing a strong enough presence and earning my peers’ respect for my ideas. However, with every group discussion I initiated, every question I asked, and every club meeting I hosted, I saw myself making a place for my input and noticed that my teachers and peers actually valued it. I realized that I had found my voice and even enjoyed sharing my opinions. I’m now ready to take on the challenge of expressing my thoughts in a male-dominated field. In the meantime, I’m just looking forward to my swim team’s next dress-up day.

Like our last essay, this personal statement has an awesome hook. In fact, the writer drops us right into the action. This technique, known as in media res , is great for a Common App essay. You can immediately set the scene for your reader, then build context from there. Not only does the writer bring us right in, but they also expertly use language for tone. “Ridiculous,” “against my will,” and “splotched” all illustrate the writer’s opposition to what’s about to happen. This is an effective technique in personal statement examples.

Following the anecdote, the writer reflects on their intense shyness. They show self-awareness by recounting specific instances where fear got the better of them. Yet again, we can see the importance of showing rather than telling in a personal statement. Each sentence provides an example of how the writer’s shyness had a negative impact on their social and academic success. Thus, we see the true conflict in this personal statement isn’t the costume, but the writer overcoming their lifelong shyness. 

Personal growth and development

Ask anyone how to write a personal statement and they’ll tell you about growth. When writing a personal statement for university, demonstrating personal growth and an ability to reflect on it is key. Across college essay prompts, you should explore how your experiences have shaped or changed you. Being able to indicate specific causes and effects is part of all good personal statement examples.

From there, the writer clearly illustrates their journey from insecurity to confidence. They show us the ways that their shyness manifested before. Then, the writer shows us the increasingly ridiculous costumes they wore. Of course, the language changes, too—the writer goes from “creeping” to “prancing”! Yet another example of how small changes to wording can have a huge impact on your personal statement for college.

Finally, the writer provides a sound conclusion. They mention the numerous benefits of their newfound confidence and, more importantly, look forward. In the final paragraph, the writer takes the lessons they’ve learned and discusses how they will use them to accomplish their goals. Like both of the personal essay examples we’ve already seen, the writer closes by talking about the doors they want to open.

Circling back to your hook

We saw the effectiveness of linking the hook and closing paragraph in previous personal statement examples. Similarly, this personal statement example ends with the idea of dress-up day once again. This kind of personal statement format helps bring everything full circle. In learning about how to write a personal statement, the conclusion is one of the most important parts. Especially in chronologically structured personal statements, closing the loop in this way makes your personal statement feel complete .

how to write a personal statement

The best personal statement examples have a well-written conclusion. Taking your personal statement ideas and addressing them neatly in the conclusion is important. Whether you explain particular future goals or simply affirm your personal values, you should have a future-facing closer. Colleges want to know not only how you’ve grown, but also how you will bring that growth to campus. 

Personal Statement Example #4: Why This Essay Worked

Fourth on our list of personal statement examples is by a writer who applied to performing arts programs. This student wrote about their love for the performing arts and their heritage. They were accepted to schools like NYU Tisch, Point Park, and Roosevelt University. Look for the college essay tips we already mentioned in the personal statement below.

Common App Essay Example #4

At six years old, most kids I know get excited to help Blue find clues or recite Elmo’s songs on Sesame Street. So you can imagine my family’s surprise when they saw me ignoring the other kids to go belt alongside my grandfather’s mariachi trio in the backyard. Growing up, I had always loved performing for people. But my passion for performing in front of a packed house never compared to performing for my favorite audience: my great grandmother. From age seven to twelve, my dad would take our family on a three-hour road trip to visit my great grandmother’s nursing home every single weekend. I remember the clean, antiseptic smell, and the beeping of her oxygen concentrator as I perched myself next to her bed and sang all types of songs from romantic boleros to earwormy Disney tunes. Even as she began failing to recognize her loved ones due to her worsening Alzheimer’s, she would always remember me, her “palomita blanca,” or white dove. But as I got older, singing what once were innocent songs, like “Edelweiss” or “Almost There,” started to make me feel like an imposter. I knew I belonged on stage, but I never saw any Mexican representation in any of my favorite musicals and animated cartoons. By seventh grade, I was plucking away at my full eyebrows for community theatre the night before auditions because I was told it would give me a better chance at landing a lead role. When my great grandmother passed away, I had lost the person who constantly reminded me how powerful staying true to your identity is. Without her, I questioned whether I had a chance at pursuing the thing that lights my soul aflame. But I stuck through the late nights, sprained ankles, and endless sweating under stage lights, because I loved theatre more than anything else in the world. In my freshman year, I joined the Conservatory of the Arts program for dance and drama at my high school. After my first show, I remember feeling so comforted by the fact that I finally felt that I belonged in the theatre kid community. In sophomore year, I finally got my first lead role as Gertrude in my high school’s production of Seussical. At last! All of my hard work had paid off and I was going to be a lead after six years of ensembles. I was so excited to get the chance to show myself and the world that my identity was my power. I didn’t want to be any old Gertrude. I’d stay up until 2 a.m. on weekends coming up with ways to make her more memorable. Inspired by Juan Gabriel’s emotional ballads, I added vocal cry to Gertrude’s solos to better portray her insecurities. Instead of sticking to just belting in “All For You,” I sang runs similar to the high energy mariachi songs I grew up with to show off my character’s passion and newfound confidence. But in March 2020, the world stopped, and the show couldn’t go on. Distanced learning made the performing arts programs nowhere near as fun or educational as they used to be. Still though, as president of the drama program in 2021, I am determined to rebuild a community that was torn apart by a worldwide pandemic. I want to be the mentor I never had. My confidence in my identity has been an important tool in teaching others that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes progress. I work hard encouraging others not to be afraid to show the world what they have. Musical theatre is an art that thrives with innovation, so I’d like to bring the creative spice which my culture has enriched me with to the world’s stage. Maybe someday I can be that actress on stage or TV that’ll get a little Latina girl enthralled by the arts.

In this personal essay example, the writer uses vivid storytelling to show how they became the person they are today. Firstly, the hook tells us how the writer values both performance and her family. This light, fun personal statement introduction quickly goes for the heartstrings by introducing the writer’s great-grandmother. Personal statement examples sometimes avoid talking about family, because it’s easy to lose focus on the writer. But this writer never loses sight of their own memories, emotions, and experiences.

Equally important, those experiences are well-illustrated with rich imagery that clearly conveys the writer’s passion for their topic. Details like the smell and sound of the nursing home bring us into the moment. The writer also provides some examples of what they endured in theatre: “late nights” and “sprained ankles.” Use concrete images to get your personal statement ideas across with impact .

Also, the writer makes a point to explore the intersections of their Hispanic heritage and their passion for theatre. Particularly, the writer discusses their difficulty in putting them together, as shown by plucking their eyebrows. By establishing this conflict in the middle of her personal statement, the writer indicates their awareness of the wider world and their place in it. Many good personal statement examples will create context like this, showing the author thinking beyond themselves.

Show commitment to your topic

Broadly, the writer discusses their twin passions with powerful language and imagery. Exhibiting genuine enthusiasm for your personal statement topics is key. This personal statement shows that the writer has always been moved by their family and by the arts. Their triumph in combining the two feels huge precisely because we understand how much each of these things mean to them. Even if your personal statement topics aren’t as deep-seeded as this writer’s, you should show commitment to what you’re writing about.

If you’re reading this, COVID probably disrupted your school life at some point, as it did for this student. However, be careful not to linger on it more than necessary. This writer doesn’t completely gloss over the pandemic, but they keep their own journey at the center of the personal statement. The writer’s experience with distanced learning propelled them forward. Ideally, your personal statement for the university should keep a tight focus on you. The narrative personal statement format should show not only your experiences but also what you’ve learned from them.

Personal Statement Example #5: Pulling It All Together

The fifth and last of our personal statement examples is by another student who got into several top schools. They write about their participation and leadership at a club event. Keep an eye out for all the tips we’ve mentioned, from a good hook to showing-not-telling.

Personal Statement #5

One hundred and fifty bagels, all completely frozen. I couldn’t believe it. My school’s Model UN Conference was to start in thirty minutes, and breakfast for the delegates was nowhere near ready. I looked with dismay at my friends’ concerned faces peering out from behind piles of frozen bagels. As Secretary-General, it was my job to ensure that this conference went smoothly. However, it seemed that was not going to be the case. I took a moment to weigh my options before instructing Hannah, our “logistics coordinator,” to heat up the frozen circles of doom in the home-ec room. I knew Hannah enjoyed baking, so I trusted her to find a way into the locked room and thaw the assortment of bagels.  Cold bagels were not the only thing weighing heavily on my mind that morning. As I walked from classroom to classroom helping set up committees, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Our conference wasn’t going to be like those of the private schools- there were no engraved pens or stylish water bottles. Instead, people got post-it notes and whatever pens we could steal from the supply closet. Forcing myself to stop worrying, I chose instead to think of why we made that choice. Since most of the food was donated, and all of the supplies had been “borrowed” from the supply closet, we could afford to charge only a nominal fee to everyone attending. Making Model UN accessible was one of my top priorities as Secretary-General; the same desire motivated me to begin including middle school students in the club. I hurried back down to the cafeteria, and was relieved to see that all the bagels looked warm and ready to eat.  The bagels would not be the sole crisis that day. As debates were about to start, one of the Chairs sent me a panic stricken text: “We only have 5 people in our committee! We can’t reenact the creation of the Treaty of Versailles!” I hurried to where his debate was taking place, and sure enough, only five people were there. I quickly considered my options- cancel the committee?  Convince some delegates to switch into this debate through bagel bribery? Or maybe, come up with a completely new topic?  I settled on idea number three. But what topic could a committee of only five people spend a day discussing? I mulled it over until an idea began to form. I explained to the room, “Each one of you will represent one of the five major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The chair will guide you as you tweet, make campaign videos, and debate the most important political issues.” I spent a few minutes figuring out how to go about moderating such an unconventional committee, before heading off to check in on the other debates.  As I walked from committee to committee, fixing problems and helping move debates along, I felt a sense of pride. I had spent months working on this conference, along with the other members of my team. At times, I worried I could never pull it off. A part of me had wished our faculty advisor would just organize the whole thing for us. After all, I’m just a high schooler, how could I put together such a big event? But as the day went by, I realized that with the help of my peers, I had done it. All the little crises that cropped up weren’t because I was doing a bad job; they were inevitable. The fact that I could find solutions to such a wide variety of problems was a testament to my leadership skills, and my level-headedness. I didn’t just feel like a leader—I felt like an adult. As I look towards my future in college and later the workforce, I know that I can succeed, even if my obstacles seem as insurmountable as a mountain of frozen bagels. 

This writer has a great example of how to start a college essay. Their strong hook makes us curious – why are there so many? What’s going on, and can the writer fix it? The essay’s tone is clear from the outset, and we’re drawn in by the conflict. Moreover, the writer establishes themselves as a leader and problem-solver.

Like a short story character, this writer encounters various obstacles. Throughout this personal statement, the writer shows off their resourcefulness, leadership skills, and quick thinking. While other people are in this personal statement example, the focus never wavers from the writer’s thoughts and actions. Additionally, the writer details the thought process behind each of their solutions.

As we’ve mentioned, a good personal statement for a university shows information, rather than telling it. This writer walks through various aspects of the conference in the second paragraph, then explains their reasoning. Instead of just saying they wanted to make the conference accessible, the writer shows us how they made it possible by organizing food donations and only charging a small fee. This Common App essay shows us what the writer is like through actions as well as words.

A narrative of learning and growth

As with our other personal statement examples, the writer wraps up with a strong conclusion that recalls the hook. They recount their personal growth throughout this process. In addition, the writer elaborates on the lessons they have taken from this experience. As shown above, introspection on personal growth and values is part of any good personal essay for college. This Common App essay makes a solid case for its writer as a future student and community member.

personal statement examples; growth narrative

In sum, this writer takes a seemingly insignificant anecdote and uses it to reveal something critical about their experiences. By highlighting particular, telling moments, the writer shows us their personality and capability. What’s more, by using engaging language and a clear structure, the writer makes a lasting impact on the reader. For these reasons, this is a superb example of a personal statement for college.

CollegeAdvisor Resources on Writing a Great Personal Statement

By now, you’ve seen several personal statement examples and confidently say you know how to write a personal statement. But maybe you feel you need a little more information. A good personal statement for college starts with early preparation. Getting a head start on writing your personal essay for college is a great idea.

We at CollegeAdvisor have no shortage of guides on how to write a personal statement. We’ve got quick college essay tips from our admissions experts . If you have some more time, here are some frequently asked questions answered by an Admissions Officer. If you’re more of a watcher than a reader, check out a personal statement webinar from CollegeAdvisor.

How to Write a Personal Statement: Final Thoughts

You made it to the end! Now you know how to write a great college essay. Let’s briefly recap what we covered in this “How to Write a Personal Statement” guide.

Firstly, we answered the question, “What is a personal statement?” We outlined the expected length, personal statement format, and how important they are in the application process. Then, we explored some of the most common and effective personal statement topics.

Next, we looked at how to write a personal statement. We gave advice and tips on drafting, editing, and finalizing your personal essay for college. Specifically, we talked about the value of strong hooks, your unique voice, and editing.

Finally, we reviewed five personal statement examples and discussed what made them work. Each of our personal essay examples had effective language, structure, and other techniques that may inspire your writing.

Still a little stuck on how to write a personal statement for college? Aside from college essay tips and personal statement webinars, CollegeAdvisor also offers one-on-one support. We have hundreds of Admissions Experts and former Admissions Officers available to support you. Our Admissions Experts can work with you to help you craft a college application essay that highlights your potential.

personal statements college application

This guide was written by Sarah Kaminski , Lori Dunlap , and Gina Goosby . No matter what stage you are at in your college search, CollegeAdvisor.com is here to help. We’ve created a wide range of guides, to help you navigate the college admissions process from building your school list all the way to packing for your freshman fall. For more specialized guidance on writing a personal statement, click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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Examples of Successful Statements

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Media File: Examples of Successful Statements

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Below are samples of personal statements. You may also select "Sample Statement" in the Media Box above for a PDF sample.

Statement #1

My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A. It seemed only logical that I pursue a career in electrical engineering.

When I began my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to be exposed to the full range of engineering courses, all of which tended to reinforce and solidify my intense interest in engineering. I've also had the opportunity to study a number of subjects in the humanities and they have been both enjoyable and enlightening, providing me with a new and different perspective on the world in which we live.

In the realm of engineering, I have developed a special interest in the field of laser technology and have even been taking a graduate course in quantum electronics. Among the 25 or so students in the course, I am the sole undergraduate. Another particular interest of mine is electromagnetics, and last summer, when I was a technical assistant at a world-famous local lab, I learned about its many practical applications, especially in relation to microstrip and antenna design. Management at this lab was sufficiently impressed with my work to ask that I return when I graduate. Of course, my plans following completion of my current studies are to move directly into graduate work toward my master's in science. After I earn my master's degree, I intend to start work on my Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Later I would like to work in the area of research and development for private industry. It is in R & D that I believe I can make the greatest contribution, utilizing my theoretical background and creativity as a scientist.

I am highly aware of the superb reputation of your school, and my conversations with several of your alumni have served to deepen my interest in attending. I know that, in addition to your excellent faculty, your computer facilities are among the best in the state. I hope you will give me the privilege of continuing my studies at your fine institution.

(Stelzer pp. 38-39)

Statement #2

Having majored in literary studies (world literature) as an undergraduate, I would now like to concentrate on English and American literature.

I am especially interested in nineteenth-century literature, women's literature, Anglo-Saxon poetry, and folklore and folk literature. My personal literary projects have involved some combination of these subjects. For the oral section of my comprehensive exams, I specialized in nineteenth century novels by and about women. The relationship between "high" and folk literature became the subject for my honors essay, which examined Toni Morrison's use of classical, biblical, African, and Afro-American folk tradition in her novel. I plan to work further on this essay, treating Morrison's other novels and perhaps preparing a paper suitable for publication.

In my studies toward a doctoral degree, I hope to examine more closely the relationship between high and folk literature. My junior year and private studies of Anglo-Saxon language and literature have caused me to consider the question of where the divisions between folklore, folk literature, and high literature lie. Should I attend your school, I would like to resume my studies of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with special attention to its folk elements.

Writing poetry also figures prominently in my academic and professional goals. I have just begun submitting to the smaller journals with some success and am gradually building a working manuscript for a collection. The dominant theme of this collection relies on poems that draw from classical, biblical, and folk traditions, as well as everyday experience, in order to celebrate the process of giving and taking life, whether literal or figurative. My poetry draws from and influences my academic studies. Much of what I read and study finds a place in my creative work as subject. At the same time, I study the art of literature by taking part in the creative process, experimenting with the tools used by other authors in the past.

In terms of a career, I see myself teaching literature, writing criticism, and going into editing or publishing poetry. Doctoral studies would be valuable to me in several ways. First, your teaching assistant ship program would provide me with the practical teaching experience I am eager to acquire. Further, earning a Ph.D. in English and American literature would advance my other two career goals by adding to my skills, both critical and creative, in working with language. Ultimately, however, I see the Ph.D. as an end in itself, as well as a professional stepping stone; I enjoy studying literature for its own sake and would like to continue my studies on the level demanded by the Ph.D. program.

(Stelzer pp. 40-41)

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This Just In: Class of 2022 Personal Statement Examples & Advice

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With each application season, we get to read a new set of incredibly insightful and creatively crafted personal statements. Take a sneak peek at the essays and advice from members of the Class of 2022.

personal statements college application

The jaded will say that essay topics are overdone, but with each year, we are blown away by how students approach the same (or at least similar) essay prompts that have been around for years. After all, each student has a unique upbringing, experiences and interests.

While students may share similar experiences, such as immigrating to the US or conquering their fear of crowds, how they overcome these issues and choose to talk about them can be quite different. We are excited to share a snippet from the personal statements written by some of our Class of 2022 College Admits and the advice they offer to future applicants!

1. Chemistry Major, Stanford University ‘22

personal statements college application

Essay Excerpt from Nctoca

Essay Topic: Place You’re Content

“My home is a dynamic and eclectic entity. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers and intellectuals. While I may not always live within a 5 mile radius of a Bojangle’s or in a close proximity to Lab 304, learning to become a more perceptive daughter and sister, to share the beauty of my heritage and to take risks and redefine scientific and personal expectations will continue to impact my sense of home.”

Advice on how to deal with the stress of applying to college:

“Start early. I started planning essay topics in July of the summer before my senior year, and I truly believe that this helped me with the creative process. I had to go through several different drafts of MANY of my essays, and I wouldn’t have ad time to write the separate drafts if I hadn’t started early.”

Unlock Nctoca’s Stanford profile to read her full personal statement and application advice!

2. Computer Science Major, Vanderbilt University ‘22

personal statements college application

Essay Excerpt from Vanderbilt328950

Essay Topic: Feeling out of place

“The door was shut and the tension built in the atmosphere. The empty problems on my homework were not the best sight as my distracted mind longed to get off the chair. As long as my body was off the soft-cushioned throne and my pencils were off the paper, I was adventurous, changing the purpose of my pencils and my chair. In these moments, my pencils would no longer act as writing tools, but transform into drum sticks. For as long as I was on my throne, I was society’s puppet and as long as I was off it, I was a rebel.”

“Organization the in form of excel sheets and binders can work wonders. Time management comes from organization. If you have those two in place, you should be fine.”

Check out Vanderbilt328950’s Vanderbilt application file to learn more about his application journey as a first generation student!

3. Public Policy Analysis Major, University of Chicago ‘22

personal statements college application

Essay Excerpt from Annewlim

Essay Topic: Issue of personal significance

“The first time I went to the symphony—Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet—by myself, I took the essentials: my phone to communicate with my parents, my water bottle to stay hydrated, and The Fountainhead to keep anyone from wanting to talk to me.”

“I highly recommend ED/EA-ing somewhere! I was on the fence about UChicago, but figured I wouldn’t get in, so I ED’d anyway. I love the school and I didn’t have to go through the stress of waiting on the other decisions to come in March.”

Unlock Annewlim’s UChicago profile to read her full personal statement to find out how she overcame her confidence issue through her interest in the arts!

4. Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University ‘22

personal statements college application

Essay Excerpt from risssa_rose99

Essay Topic: Story central to identity

“In second grade, I received my first pair of prescription glasses. Those oval lenses, while improving the images I saw around me, marked a steep decline in the image I saw of myself. Before glasses, I was too nearsighted to see images of my sister calling herself fat in the mirror as she examined her thing body; I was too nearsighted to see magazines lining aisles of grocery stores with covers displaying what a “beautiful” woman looked like. And while my glasses gave me the ability to see clearly these outside images that were impressed upon my eight year old, it’s ironic that, they also stripped me of the pure, innocent clarity with which I viewed myself.”

“Yes, applying to college is extremely stressful, especially if you’re like me and you waited until the last minute. Start early. Also don’t get too bogged down in all the essays. After writing so many, they’ll start to write themselves. Try creating a schedule to work on the essays for each college to even the workload. Good luck!”

Unlock Risssa_rose99’s college profile to read her application essays and advice!

5. Engineering Physics, Brown University ‘22

personal statements college application

Essay Excerpt from Ishrat

Essay Topic: Work experience

“I woke at a 100-square-foot shoebox of a fragrance store located in the armpit of South Carolina. Perfume Bazaar is the last place on earth I would have expected to be diverse; but somehow, it’s a cosmopolitan paradise.

Any day at the Bazaar, bustling or slow, brings with it a cornucopia of people from vastly different walks of life. As a salesman, I’ve handed scent strips to everybody from a Vodou priest to a Chinese business tycoon to an Afghan refugee to a Serbian supermodel.”

Unlock Ishrat’s Brown University profile to read his full personal statement and supplemental essays!

Congratulations to the Class of 2022! Whether or not you got into your top choice, your admissions experience is valuable and we want to feature your application story. We can’t wait to see more of you join us and turn your success into insights for future applicants by  creating a College Admit profile . Plus, you get to earn some extra money!

personal statements college application

​Applying this year? For access to our college profiles, upgrade to our  premium plans  offer different levels of profile access and data insights that can help you get into your dream school.

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

personal statements college application

The personal statement. It’s one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn’t exactly easy. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to nail your personal statement, complete with example essays . Each essay was reviewed and commented upon by admissions expert Bill Jack. Let’s dive in!

Related: How to write an essay about yourself  

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a special type of essay that’s required when you’re applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you’re expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application. Personal statements are typically around 400 – 600 words in length. 

What can I write about? 

Pretty much anything, as long as it’s about you . While this is liberating in the sense that your writing options are nearly unlimited, it’s also overwhelming for the same reason. The good news is that you’ll probably be responding to a specific prompt. Chances are you’re applying to a school that uses the Common App , which means you’ll have seven prompts to choose from . Reviewing these prompts can help generate some ideas, but so can asking yourself meaningful questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process. For each of the following questions, spend a few minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind. 

  • What experiences have shaped who you are? 
  • What’s special or unique about you or your life story? 
  • Who or what has inspired you the most? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What are your goals for the future? How have you arrived at those goals? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most interesting scene? 
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you respond and what did you learn? 

The purpose of these questions is to prompt you to think about your life at a deeper level. Hopefully by reflecting on them, you’ll find an essay topic that is impactful and meaningful. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice on actually writing your essay. 

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

How do I write my personal statement? 

Once you’ve found a topic, it’s time to start writing! Every personal statement is different, so there’s not really one formula that works for every student. That being said, the following tips should get you started in the right direction:  

1. Freewrite, then rewrite 

The blank page tends to get more intimidating the longer you stare at it, so it’s best to go ahead and jump right in! Don’t worry about making the first draft absolutely perfect. Instead, just get your ideas on the page and don’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details. Think of this initial writing session as a “brain dump”. Take 15-30 minutes to quickly empty all your thoughts onto the page without worrying about things like grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. You can even use bullet points if that helps. Once you have your ideas on the page, then you can go back and shape them exactly how you want. 

2. Establish your theme 

Now that you’ve got some basic ideas down on the page, it’s time to lock in on a theme. Your theme is a specific angle that reflects the central message of your essay. It can be summarized in a sentence or even a word. For example, let’s say you’re writing about how you had to establish a whole new group of friends when you moved to a new city. The theme for this type of essay would probably be something like “adaptation”. Having a theme will help you stay focused throughout your essay. Since you only have a limited number of words, you can’t afford to go off on tangents that don’t relate to your theme. 

3. Tell a story

A lot of great essays rely on a specific scene or story. Find the personal anecdote relevant to your theme and transfer it to the page. The best way to do this is by using descriptive language. Consult the five senses as you’re setting the scene. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell? How were you feeling emotionally? Using descriptive language can really help your essay come to life. According to UPchieve , a nonprofit that supports low income students, focusing on a particular moment as a “ revised version of a memoir ” is one way to keep readers engaged. 

Related: College essay primer: show, don’t tell  

4. Focus on your opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your essay. In most cases, this is the best place to include your anecdote (if you have one). By leading with your personal story, you can hook your audience from the get-go. After telling your story, you can explain why it’s important to who you are. 

Related:  How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

5. Use an authentic voice 

Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn’t use fancy words just to show off. This isn’t an academic paper, so you don’t have to adopt a super formal tone. Instead, write in a way that allows room for your personality to breathe. 

6. Edit, edit, edit…

Once you’re done writing, give yourself some time away from the essay. Try to allow a few days to pass before looking at the essay again with fresh eyes. This way, you’re more likely to pick up on spelling and grammatical errors. You may even get some new ideas and rethink the way you wrote some things. Once you’re satisfied, let someone else edit your essay. We recommend asking a teacher, parent, or sibling for their thoughts before submitting. 

Examples of personal statements 

Sometimes viewing someone else’s work is the best way to generate inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. The following essays are written in response to four different Common App prompts: 

Prompt 1: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When I was eight years old, I wanted a GameCube very badly. For weeks I hounded my dad to buy me one and finally he agreed. But there was a catch. He’d only get me a GameCube if I promised to start reading. Every day I played video games, I would have to pick up a book and read for at least one hour. At that point in my life, reading was just something I had to suffer through for school assignments. To read for pleasure seemed ludicrous. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this proposed agreement. But I figured anything was worth it to get my hands on that shiny new video game console, so I bit the bullet and shook my dad’s hand. Little did I know that I had just made a life-changing deal. 

At first, the required hour of reading was a chore — something I had to do so I could play Mario Kart. But it quickly turned into something more than that. To my complete and utter surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed reading. One hour turned into two, two turned into three, and after a while I was spending more time reading than I was playing video games. I found myself captivated by the written word, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Lord of the Rings , Percy Jackson , Goosebumps — you name it. I was falling in love with literature, while my GameCube was accumulating dust in the TV stand. 

Soon enough, reading led to writing. I was beginning to come up with my own stories, so I put pen to paper and let my imagination run wild. It started out small. My first effort was a rudimentary picture book about a friendly raccoon who went to the moon. But things progressed. My stories became more intricate, my characters more complex. I wrote a series of science fiction novellas. I tried my hand at poetry. I was amazed at the worlds I could create with the tip of my pen. I had dreams of becoming an author. 

Then somewhere along the way my family got a subscription to Netflix, and that completely changed the way I thought about storytelling. My nose had been buried in books up until then, so I hadn’t really seen a lot of movies. That quickly changed. It seemed like every other day a pair of new DVDs would arrive in the mail (this was the early days of Netflix). Dark Knight, The Truman Show, Inception, Memento — all these great films were coming in and out of the house. And I couldn’t get enough of them. Movies brought stories to life in a way that books could not. I was head over heels for visual storytelling. 

Suddenly I wasn’t writing novels and short stories anymore. I was writing scripts for movies. Now I wanted to transfer my ideas to the big screen, rather than the pages of a book. But I was still doing the same thing I had always done. I was writing, just in a different format. To help with this process, I read the screenplays of my favorite films and paid attention to the way they were crafted. I kept watching more and more movies. And I hadn’t forgotten about my first love, either. I still cherished books and looked to them for inspiration. By the end of my junior year of high school, I had completed two scripts for short films. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to turn my love of storytelling into a career. I’m not totally sure how to do that yet, but I know I have options. Whether it’s film production, creative writing, or even journalism, I want to find a major that suits my ambitions. Writing has taken me a long way, and I know it can take me even further. As I step into this next chapter of my life, I couldn’t be more excited to see how my craft develops. In the meantime, I should probably get rid of that dusty old GameCube. 

Feedback from admissions professional Bill Jack

Essays don’t always have to reveal details about the student’s intended career path, but one thing I like about this essay is that it gives the reader a sense of the why. Why do they want to pursue storytelling. It also shows the reader that they are open to how they pursue their interest. Being open to exploration is such a vital part of college, so it’s also showing the reader that they likely will be open to new things in college. And, it’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the student’s family, especially if the reader can learn about how the students interacts with their family. 

Prompt 2: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

I remember my first impression of Irvine: weird. It was foggy, stock-full of greenery and eucalyptus trees, and reminded me of my 5th grade trip to a “science camp” which was located in the San Bernardino mountains. Besides Irvine, that was one of the few places in Southern California where you’d find so many non-palm trees. 

Of course, perhaps my initial impression of Irvine was biased, motivated by a desire to stay in my hometown and a fear of the unknown. While that was true to an extent, Irvine was certainly still a little peculiar. The city itself was based on a “master plan” of sorts, with the location of each of its schools, parks, shops, and arguably its trees having been logically “picked” before the foundation was poured. Even the homes all looked roughly the same, with their beige, stucco walls almost serving as a hallmark of the city itself.

Thus, this perfectly structured, perfectly safe city seemed like a paradise of sorts to many outsiders, my parents included. I was a little more hesitant to welcome this. As I saw it, this was a phony city – believing that its uniformity stood for a lack of personality. My hometown, although not as flawlessly safe nor clean as Irvine, was where most of my dearest memories had occurred. From the many sleepovers at Cindie’s house, to trying to avoid my school’s own version of the “infamous” cheese touch, to the many laughs shared with friends and family, I shed a tear at the prospect of leaving my home.

Moving into the foreign city, remnants of the hostility I held towards Irvine remained. Still dwelling in my memories of the past, I was initially unable to see Irvine as a “home.” So, as I walked into my first-ever Irvine class, being greeted by many kind, yet unfamiliar faces around me, I was unable to recognize that some of those new faces would later become some of my dearest friends. Such negative feelings about the city were further reinforced by newer, harder classes, and more complicated homework. Sitting in the discomfort of this unfamiliar environment, it started to seem that “change” was something not only inevitable, but insurmountable.

As the years went on, however, this idea seemed to fade. I got used to my classes and bike racing through Irvine neighborhoods with my friends, watching the trees that once seemed just a “weird” green blob soon transform into one of my favorite parts of the city. While I kept my old, beloved memories stored, I made space for new ones. From carefully making our way over the narrow creek path next to our school, to the laughs we shared during chemistry class, my new memories made with friends seemed to transform a city I once disliked into one I would miss. 

Through this transformation, I have come to recognize that change, although sometimes intimidating at first, can open the door to great times and meaningful connections. Although Irvine may have once seemed like a strange, “phony” place that I couldn’t wait to be rid of, the memories and laughs I had grown to share there were very real. As I move onto this next part of my life, I hope I can use this knowledge that I have gained from my time in Irvine to make the most of what’s to come. Even if the change may be frightening at first, I have learned to embrace what’s on the other side, whether green or not.

One huge plus to writing an essay that focuses on a place is that you might have it read by someone who has been there. Yet, what’s really helpful about this essay is that even if someone hasn’t been there, a picture is painted about what the place is like.  Admission officers have the hard task of really understanding what the student sees, so the use of adjectives and imagery can really help.  It’s also really clever to see that the green that’s mentioned at the beginning is mentioned at the end.  It’s a nice way to bookend the essay and tie it all together.

Prompt 6: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

I like getting lost. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Whether it be in the story of a love song by Taylor Swift, or in the memories brought back by listening to my favorite childhood video game’s background music, I’ve always appreciated music’s ability to transport me to another place, another time, another feeling. 

Alas, I cannot sing, nor have I practiced an instrument since my middle school piano class days. So, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. As he puts it, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” While I cannot speak for others, I have certainly not debunked his theory. Writing allows many, including myself, to attempt to mimic the transformative power of music – even if our singing voices aren’t exactly “pleasant.” Just as you can get lost in music, you can do so in a story. Whether it is in George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, or Little Women’s Orchard House, the stories outlined in novels can provide an amazing look into the lives and worlds of others, and an escape from the worries and problems of those in your own.

While I am certainly not claiming to have the storytelling abilities of the Orwells or Alcotts before me, I’ve had fun trying to recreate such transformative feelings for others. When I was nine, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods, only managing to get a couple pages through. As I got older, whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, I wrote about the same pig, Phil. He was always angry: in my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my school in 11th grade, I knew I had to join. I wanted to discern whether writing was just a hobby I picked up now and then, or a true passion. If it was a passion, I wanted to learn as much as possible about how I could improve. Although my high school’s writing club certainly wasn’t going to transform me into Shakespeare, I knew I could learn a lot from it – and I did. The club challenged me to do many things, from writing on the spot, to writing poetry, to even writing about myself, something that’s hopefully coming in handy right now. 

From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, storing short ideas, skits, and more in appropriately-labeled Google Drive folders. At around the same time, I became interested in classic literature, which largely stemmed from a project in English class. We had been required to choose and read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was certainly interesting and unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the writing club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and allowed me to develop new skills, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing as part of my future. In this endeavor, I hope that Phil, and the music I inevitably listen to as I write, will accompany me every step of the way.

Admission officers might read 70 (or more!) essays in one day. It’s not uncommon for them to start to blend together and sound similar. This essay might not make you laugh out loud. But, it might make the reader chuckle while reading it thanks to the subtle humor and levity. Being able to incorporate a little humor into your essay (if it is natural for you to do… do not force it), can really be a great way to shed additional light into who you are. Remember, the essay isn’t merely about proving that you can write, but it should also reveal a little bit about your personality.

Prompt 5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

I learned a lot of things during the summer I worked at Tropical Smoothie. I discovered the value of hard work. I figured out how to save money. I even mastered the art of the Mango Magic smoothie (the secret is lots of sugar). But most importantly, I learned the power of perspective. And I have Deja to thank for that. 

Deja was my shift supervisor, and one of Tropical Smoothie’s best employees. She was punctual, friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand. She knew the store from top to bottom, and could handle pretty much any situation thrown her way. She made everyone around her better. On top of all that, she was four months pregnant! I was always impressed by Deja’s work ethic, but I gained an entirely new level of respect for her one day.

It was a Friday night, and Deja and I were working the closing shift together. It was very busy, and Deja and I were the only ones on shift. We managed to get by, but we were exhausted by the end of the evening. After wiping down the counters and mopping the floors, we closed up shop and went our separate ways. I was eager to get home. 

I walked a couple blocks to where I had parked my car. Well, it wasn’t my car actually. It was my dad’s ‘98 Chevy pickup truck, and it was in rough shape. It had no heat or A/C, the leather seats were cracked beyond repair, and the driver’s side door was jammed shut. I sighed as I got in through the passenger side and scooted over to the driver’s seat. The whole reason I was working at Tropical Smoothie was to save up enough money to buy my own car. I was hoping to have something more respectable to drive during my senior year of high school. 

I cranked the old thing up and started on my way home. But soon enough, I spotted Deja walking on the side of the road. There was no sidewalk here, the light was low, and she was dangerously close to the passing cars. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She got in and explained that she was on her way home. Apparently she didn’t have a car and had been walking to work every day. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was complaining about my set of wheels, while Deja didn’t have any to begin with.

We got to talking, and she confessed that she had been having a tough time. You would never know from the way she was so cheerful at work, but Deja had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her mother, her boyfriend had just lost his job, and she was worried about making ends meet. And of course, she was expecting a baby in five months. On top of all that, she had been walking nearly a mile to and from work every day. The whole thing was a real eye opener, and made me reconsider some things in my own life. 

For one, I didn’t mind driving my dad’s truck anymore. It was banged up, sure, but it was a lot better than nothing. My mindset had changed. I appreciated the truck now. I began to think about other things differently, too. I started making mental notes of all the things in my life I was thankful for — my family, my friends, my health. I became grateful for what I had, instead of obsessing over the things I didn’t. 

I also gained more awareness of the world outside my own little bubble. My encounter with Deja had shown me first-hand that everyone is dealing with their own problems, some worse than others. So I started paying more attention to my friends, family members, and coworkers. I started listening more and asking how I could help. I also gave Deja a ride home for the rest of the summer. 

These are all small things, of course, but I think they make a difference. I realized I’m at my best when I’m not fixated on my own life, but when I’m considerate of the lives around me. I want to keep this in mind as I continue to grow and develop as a person. I want to continue to search for ways to support the people around me. And most importantly, I want to keep things in perspective.

Too often we can be focused on our own problems that we fail to realize that everyone has their own things going on in their lives, too.  This essay showcases how it’s important to put things in perspective, a skill that certainly will prove invaluable in college… and not just in the classroom.  Another reason I like this essay is because it provides deeper insight into the student’s life.  Sure, you might have mentioned in your activities list that you have a job.  But as this essay does, you can show why you have the job in the first place, what your responsibilities are, and more.

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal statement) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable, whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate). Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Ultimately, your essays should reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are, and should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to write your personal statement. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal statement essay is all about effort. Thus, so long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Also see:  Scholarships360’s free scholarships search tool

Key Takeaways

  • It may take some people longer than others to know what they want to write about, but remember that everyone, including you, has something unique to write about!
  • Personal statements should be personal, which means you should avoid being too general and really strive to show off what makes you “you”
  • Time and effort are two of the most important things you can put into your personal statement to ensure that it is the best representation of yourself
  • Don’t forget to ask people who know you to read your work before you submit; they should be able to tell you better than anyone if you are truly shining through!

Frequently asked questions about writing personal statements 

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10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay

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How to write a personal statement for college (15+ examples).

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Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/8/23

Are you struggling to write your college personal statement? You’re in luck! Read on for a complete guide on how to write a strong personal statement.

Writing a personal statement can feel daunting. Many students struggle to frame themselves how they want to — and we get it! It’s not always easy to talk about yourself. With that said, how do you write a compelling personal statement?

We’ll review how to write the perfect personal statement, from what colleges look for to what a successful personal statement example looks like. If you still have questions by the end, you can always set up a free consultation with one of our admissions experts to kickstart your college application. 

Let’s get started!

What is a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is a college admissions essay. A personal statement shares information beyond what admissions committees have already seen in your other application materials (transcripts, resume, etc.). 

This is your chance to show colleges your personality, strengths, and what matters most to you. Generally speaking, there are two types of personal statements:

A general personal statement is an open-ended essay with very few constraints, sometimes with no prompt or word count. While this type of personal statement allows you to write about whatever you want, it should tell admissions committees about you. General or open-ended personal statements are common in med or law school applications.

A response personal statement is an essay answering a specific question and is more common for college applications. These questions guide your writing but are geared toward getting to know you. For example, you may be asked, “What matters most to you, and why?” or “How have your life experiences led you to your current interests or goals?” 

Think about a story, moment, or lifestyle change that has shaped who you are today or influenced your educational and career goals. These experiences often make great personal statement topics! 

Female student smiling while working on computer

Why Do Colleges Ask for a Personal Statement?

Colleges ask for personal statements to evaluate students apart from their stats. When admissions committees read your essay, they’ll already know your grades, achievements, awards, and qualifications. Essays humanize candidates, allowing them to express themselves and their passions. 

Your personal statement can give you a competitive edge against other candidates if it stands out. When brainstorming topics, consider the unique experiences you’ve had that have shaped who you are. 

What to Include in a Personal Statement for College

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Before getting started, include all the necessary information you want admissions committees to know. Your personal statement could answer some or all of the following questions:

  • What is something unique in your life that has shaped you into who you are today? (Consider your culture, heritage, hometown, health, family traditions, hobbies, etc.)
  • What event first sparked your interest in your chosen field? 
  • What have you learned about your interest area so far, and what more do you hope to learn during college? (It’s a good idea to do school research to best answer this question.)
  • Have you experienced any unique challenges in your life? If so, how have you overcome them? 
  • How do you specifically intend to contribute to your field in the future? (What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?)
  • How does your unique experience set you up for a successful career as a student and a professional? (Think of things you’ve learned, your background, and challenges you’ve overcome.) 

You can answer these questions before you start writing your essay and try to find links to connect them. While all of your answers may not be relevant to the prompt you chose, they can help you get started! 

Note that a personal statement is different from a statement of purpose , in which you would focus more on your academic aspirations and goals. Statements of purpose are typically required for graduate school applications. 

How to Write a Personal Statement for College

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to write a college personal statement.

Step 1: Brainstorm 

Before you start writing, it’s essential to brainstorm; this is a valuable personal statement tip. Consider the questions above. What makes you unique? What challenges have you overcome? Ensure you answer each question in the brainstorming process.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, you can ask a family member or a friend who knows you well what they think makes you unique. This can help you gather some ideas to craft your story. 

Take plenty of time on this step and write down many ideas – even silly ones! You may be surprised by what comes to mind. By the time you move on to the next step, you should have at least five anecdotes to choose from and several pieces of information you want to include.

Make sure to keep the prompt in mind. Your prompt may cancel out some ideas if they don’t relate. 

Step 2: Select Your Strongest Ideas

Evaluate your brainstorming notes. Which story from your life compels you the most? Whichever idea gets you excited to write is likely the one you should choose. 

The story you write should have an apparent climax and a compelling takeaway. What did you learn from the experience? How has it shaped your life? This is what the reader should understand by the end of your essay. 

Step 3: Write Your Introduction

When you write, your introduction should immediately grab the reader's attention. There are many ways to do so – if you’re feeling lost, you can always refer to these five effective ways to start your college essay . 

In summary, avoid clichés and begin with a bang. Your introduction should only be one or two sentences before getting to the meat of the story.

Step 4: Tell Your Story

Your story should answer the prompt and show admissions committees what makes you a unique and qualified candidate. This is the main chunk of your essay. Ensure your writing is self-reflective, concise, and straightforward.

While your narrative should center on an experience you’ve had, the central theme should be bigger than that. Your takeaway should be a trait you’ve developed throughout the story or something you’ve learned that has made you a better person and candidate today. 

Step 5: End on a High Note

The end of your college essay is a crucial moment for the reader, so spending a lot of time here is important. This is the last thing the admissions officers will read, so it should be memorable. You want to ensure your narrative comes full circle and has a common thread. 

How you write your college personal statement’s conclusion is up to you; some students like to look toward the future, whereas others have different ideas about ending a personal statement ! 

Step 6: Revise, Revise, Revise

Once you’ve completed the writing portion, it’s crucial to revise like you’ve never revised before! There should be absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes, famous quotes, run-on sentences, clichés, or other errors. 

When giving your essay to someone else, ask if they agree with the following points:

  • Your writing is clear, concise, and straightforward. 
  • The essay is interesting from the very beginning, with a short yet compelling introduction.
  • Your story is easy to follow. 
  • Your story tells the reader something unique about you.
  • The essay has an effective conclusion in which the main theme of the essay is clear (i.e., what you’ve learned, your goals, or character traits).

You should also ask your revision partner what they’ve learned about you and ask yourself if their takeaway aligns with your original intention. Sometimes the intended message doesn’t always come across as it does in our heads, so this is an essential final step. 

College Personal Statement Examples 

Here are some examples of good personal statements and explanations of their success. These examples can provide inspiration to formulate your own writing. 

This is a personal statement example that worked from a student named Rozanne who was accepted to Johns Hopkins University:

“ The white yarn slipped off my aluminium crochet hook, adding a single crochet to rows and rows of existing stitches, that looked to be in the form of a blob. Staring at the image of the little unicorn amigurumi lit up on the screen of my laptop, and looking back at the UMO (unidentified messy object) number five, I was extremely perplexed.
…The remaining rounds were blurred into hours and minutes that should have resulted in a little white creature in the likeness of a unicorn, but sitting on my desk (much like the four days before today) was a pool of tangled white yarn…
Very much like learning how to crochet, my journey in forging my own path and finding a passion was confusing, messy and at times infuriating. Even in primary school, I had heard all the stories of individuals finding their own route in life. I had been told stories of those who found their passion at a young age and were exceptionally proficient at their craft, of those that abandoned their interests and pursued a lucrative career, even those who chose their dreams but regretted it afterwards. This weighed heavily on me, as I was determined to have a success story as many of my other family members had. The only problem was that I did not have a direction.
In the years following primary school, I stepped out of my comfort zone in a frenzy to find a passion…At my ballet school, I branched out to contemporary and jazz dance. I stuffed myself with an experience similar to an amigurumi engorged with batting. I found myself enjoying all of those activities but soon enough, I was swamped with extracurriculars. Just like the tangles of white yarn on my desk, I was pulled in all directions. I still felt lost…
It was not until high school that I realized that I could view this mission to find a passion from another perspective. While successfully completing a crochet project is an accomplishment itself, the motions of making slip knots, single or double crochets takes you on an adventure as well. The knots that I had encountered in my craft were evidence of my experiences and what shaped me as an individual…
Through trial and error, the current adventure that I am on resonates the most with me, taking me down the path of service and environmental activism. However, I have learnt that no one path is static, and I can be on more than one path at a time. While I may only be halfway to the proportionate unicorn amigurumi that some others may have already achieved, I still have so much to learn and so much that I want to learn, and so my journey to grow continues. ”

Why This Personal Statement Worked 

Rozanne’s narrative expertly showcases her hobby (which may not have been discussed elsewhere in her application) and connects it to her struggles to find direction and passion when everyone else seems to have everything figured out. 

Her strength in this essay is reflecting upon that idea: it also shows us her vulnerability. Beyond continually weaving in the analogy of a messy crochet project and her perceived lack of direction, this essay also shows she’s a curious individual willing to try new things. 

It also helps that she refers to the ideas in her introduction, conclusion, and the rest of her essay. Circling back to her crocheting hobby creates a nice narrative thread.

This is an NYU example that worked: 

Prompt : “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

“In her cramped kitchen, Titi Nana cracked the egg in the center of the pan, the cheeriness of the bright yellow yolk contrasting the harshness of the caldero. In a flourish, she jerked the bottle of alcohol in her hand, flames erupting from the griddle. She instructed me: "Wipe it all off," gesturing to dust off my shoulders and arms into the inferno. I laughed nervously as I removed the maldad [evil] from my body, one brush at a time. I left Titi's apartment that day confused about how our family's practice of Santería [witchcraft] fit in with my outward embrace of my heritage. I felt as if the parts of my Latina identity I claimed openly -- dancing salsa to Celia Cruz or enjoying lechón y arroz con habichuelas en Navidad -- were contradicted by my skepticism towards Titi's rituals. My experience with Santería wasn't new, as proven by my mother's kitchen altar lit dimly by prayer candles and adorned with evil eyes, statues of San Miguel, and offerings to Elegua; however, I'd never before witnessed such a tangible demonstration of my family's ritualistic beliefs. Although it surrounded me, I refused to believe in the effects of Santería... so I shunned it entirely. 
Moving to a predominantly white boarding school and away from the rituals my family had passed down, I avoided addressing the distance I had wedged between myself and my background. I pushed away all things Latina as my fear of failing to honor my Puerto Rican heritage intensified. This distance only grew as my classmates jokingly commented on my inability to speak Spanish and my white-passing complexion, further tearing away bits of my Latinidad with each snide remark. 
In an effort to build myself back up, I began to practice the small bits of Santería that I comprehended: lighting candles for good luck, placing a chalice of water by my bedside to absorb all maldad, and saying my prayers to San Miguel and my guardian angels each day. To my disbelief, the comments that attacked my Latinidad, or lack thereof, faded along with the aching feeling that I had failed to represent my heritage. As I embraced the rituals that I initially renounced, I finally realized the power in Titi's practices. In all of her cleansing and prayer rituals, she was protecting me and our family, opening the doors for us to achieve our goals and overcome the negativity that once held us back. In realizing the potential of Santería, I shifted my practices to actively protecting myself and others against adversity and employed Santería as a solution for the injustice I witnessed in my community. 
Santería once served as my scapegoat; I blamed the discomfort I felt towards black magic for the imposter syndrome festering inside me. Until I embraced Santería, it only served as a reminder that I wasn't Latina enough in the eyes of my peers. Now, I understand that while intangible, ethereal, even, the magic of Santería is real; it's the strength of my belief in myself, in my culture, and in my commitment to protect others.”

The writer has done an excellent job of telling a story related to their cultural background. We learn about the writer and their family in this heartwarming story, even learning things we might not have known about Santeria — but that’s not the central theme.

The main theme of this essay is the lesson of self-trust, cultural pride, and self-acceptance. While we are learning about this person's unique identity, the takeaway is that this person has a newfound respect for their identity and has learned to embrace themselves. 

Example #3 

Our last example excerpt details Stella’s journey as she takes the skies and what she learned: 

“ The first lesson I learned as a student pilot is that left and right don’t exist. Maybe driving on a highway or in a parking lot, left and right is precise enough to describe the location and movements of slow-moving bikers, pedestrians, and cars. But at 36,000 feet in the air in a steel tube hurdling almost 200 miles an hour? Left and right just don’t cut it.
During one of my first flights in a small Cessna-182, my flight instructor ordered me to scan the horizon for approaching aircrafts. To my right, I caught a glimpse of one: another Cessna with maroon stripes, the sun’s reflection glinting off its windows. Gesturing vaguely to my two o’clock, I informed my flying instructor, “There’s a plane to the right.”
“No, to your right. From his position, what direction does he see you?” From his angle, I was to his left. In that moment, I realized that perspective and precision of language is everything. The radio chirped: “Cessna One-Eight-Two Sandra, heading north to John Wayne Airport. Over.”
…Through flying, I began to consider all points of view, regardless of my personal perspective.
Perhaps it was my ability to scan the horizon to communicate a single story, uniting contrasting outlooks, that drew me to my love for journalism and the diverse melting pot that was my community.
To me, journalism modernizes the ancient power of storytelling, filled with imperfect characters and intricate conflicts to which I am the narrator. As editor-in-chief for my school newspaper, The Wildcat’s Tale, I aim to share the uncensored perspective of all students and encourage my editorial groups to talk — and listen — to those with whom they disagree. Starting each newspaper edition with a socratic, round-table discussion, I ask the other journalists to pursue stories that answer the questions: why did this happen and where will it lead?
Expanding beyond the perspectives of my classmates, I began writing articles for the Korea Daily, and later, the Los Angeles Times High School Insider. I schedule interviews with city council candidates, young and old voters, and mayors of my town, obtaining quotes and anecdotes to weave into my writing. My interviews with both Democratic and Republican voters have taught me to thoroughly report polarizing-opposite opinions through an unbiased lens. As a journalist, I realized I cannot presume the opinions of the reader, but instead simply provide them with the tools necessary to formulate their own conclusions.
I found that in my suburban community, people love to read about the small-town hospitality of their own friends and neighbors…My favorite stories to publish are the ones taped onto fridges, proudly framed on the mom-and-pop downtown diner, or pinned into the corkboard in my teacher’s classroom. I discovered the size of my story does not matter, but the impact I leave on the reader does.
In my time as both a student pilot and journalist, I grew to love these stories, the ones that showed me that living life with blinders, can not only be boring, but dangerous. Whether I was 36,000 feet in the air or on ground level, by flying and writing, I realized that the most interesting stories of life come straight from the people most different from me .” 

Why This Personal Statement Worked

Although Stella opens with an anecdote about flying a plane, that’s not really what this personal statement is about. She reflected adequately on points of view in the sky and connected it to how the ability to see an issue from all sides was instrumental to her success as a journalist. 

Stella shares some of her achievements in a way that doesn’t feel like a list, but her responsibilities give us a glimpse of her life. When she transitions to writing about the value in every story, big or small, we see her ability to connect with her community and deliver an impact, even without writing a years-long investigative story. 

Example #4  

Please note that this and subsequent personal statements have been anonymized.

“‘ I have the audacity of equality.’ The roar of applause explodes from the television as I hunch over a rapidly cooling bag of popcorn, my world rocked by this single line. Enter Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix comedy special Homecoming King, an ode to all the brown kids born and raised in the U.S., caught between the country they have known their entire lives and the countries their immigrant parents are still deeply tied to. As I sat enamored by Minhaj’s performance, it was as if the fog that often obscured how to navigate that middle ground of living as a mixed kid in America was cleared. I am the daughter of a [COUNTRY] immigrant mother and a first-generation [COUNTRY] father raised in cookie-cutter American suburbia, and I have spent my entire life in a strained limbo of feeling not quite red, white, and blue enough to fit in with my almost entirely white peers, while also feeling far too disconnected from my parents’ countries to find solace in their cultures. After a lifetime of feeling unseen, not fitting into a boxed-off identity, Minhaj’s special felt like a beacon of understanding. 
The day after watching the special, I announced my newest aspiration in life: to become a professional comedian. But after a few stale jokes fell flat, it was clear comedy would not be my future. Yet that image of Minhaj traipsing across the stage as his words held the live crowd, and me miles away, ensnared in their grasp, was unshakeable. I wanted to chase that feeling of using words to speak to and for others, especially those whose stories are often abandoned and unheard. So while I didn’t join any comedy clubs, I did sign up for my first year of competitive debate. 
Soon after, I found that I too could use my words to influence and speak to others, even if my audience was limited to judges and my spotlight was the glare of fluorescent lights in high schools across the nation. Addicted to the thrill of getting to discuss pressing issues I had previously only seen in the news, I amassed unholy amounts of research on American water resource protection for the 2021 season. As I plowed through mountains of research, I unearthed the truth that how we distribute water is also how we exercise justice, particularly in my community. In [STATE], where agriculture consumes over 80% of my state’s water, every-day people, especially other people of color, struggle to deal with the disproportionate impacts of water scarcity. Though I sat stunned and disappointed by my state’s water conservation practices, the line ‘I have the audacity of equality’ echoed, reminding me that I don’t have to settle for historically inequitable systems of power decided decades before I was born. I have a right to fight for the change my community needs.
Thus, when the opportunity arose to speak to one of my city’s biggest newspapers and radio stations about water conservation, I took it. I was shepherded in front of a voice recorder and later into the radio station, palms sweating as the black microphone that would project my voice city-wide hovered imposingly before me. Yet, I remembered that this was my chance to use my voice to uncover the stories that had been silenced. As my words flowed, (yes, like water) I felt that same spark of advocacy ignited in me years prior. 
However, it’s one thing to elevate silenced stories and another to act upon a desire to change those narratives. If outdated political decisions are to blame for water inequities, I know new ones from young, passionate people like myself must upend them. Accordingly, soon after my interviews, I sought out an internship where I could pitch those same ideas of water conservation to residents throughout [COUNTY NAME]. My audience morphed from high school debate judges to voters, porches as a stage where I amplify the voices of the people through the power of elections and democracy. 
Upon revisiting Minhaj’s comedy special, a line I first missed stands out. Hands gesturing wildly, he asks, ‘Isn’t it our job to push the needle forward little by little?’ I have established the answer is decidedly yes. I no longer miss that line when I rewatch the special because over the course of my advocacy my habit of mind has changed along with my actions. No matter the audience, the stage, or the spotlight, I view each opportunity to speak to issues I care about as pushing that needle forward. Despite my brief dream of comedic glory never coming to fruition, I am no less fulfilled in how I choose to speak for what I believe in because I understand that I have that same potential to inspire change .”

This personal statement example does an excellent job of keeping a narrative thread from the introduction to the conclusion. Through this statement, we learn about the author’s background, identity, values, passions, and skills without feeling like we’re reading from an itemized list. 

Their explanation about comedy not being for them is light-hearted and comical, but their speaking up for water inequities is powerful and shows their determination. 

Example #5  

This personal statement explores a student’s experiences with wildfires: 

“ A cacophony of alert ringtones blared loudly from pockets, backpacks, and desks around the room. I grabbed my phone: “EMERGENCY ALERT: Wildfire evacuation for areas west of [STREET NAME].” I looked out the window of the [HIGH SCHOOL] classroom, where I and the other Link Crew members had planned to spend the week before school started organizing freshman orientation. An angry column of black smoke billowed from just beyond the football field. This fire was closer and more intense than most. We booked it to a nearby friend’s house. An hour later, I received yet another [STATE] Fire alert. My heart dropped – I wouldn’t be able to go home tonight. Instead, the Fire had spread, cutting me off from my dad, mom, and little brother. What’s more, the fire was rapidly approaching our location. After receiving a second evacuation notice, we loaded up the camper and drove through falling ash to the nearest evacuation center, where I spent hours refreshing the [STATE] fire page and anxiously watching the smoke-filled sky.
Since I moved in 2014 from the [CITY] suburbs to [TOWN], a town of [NUMBER] in the [MOUNTAIN] Foothills, I’ve witnessed climate change firsthand. Years of drought gradually turned much of my pine forest playground into sticks of tinder. Instead of running on once-shaded trails at cross-country practice, we now dash through blackened remains of burned-out trees. While my old friends in [CITY] mow their lawns, I clear scotch broom and dead manzanitas from our property to reduce wildfire hazards. 
I recognize climate change for what it is – an existential threat. Yearly reminders during the fire season underscore the immediacy of the threat that climate change poses. Some think of our climate as a problem for the future. But I know that climate change already shapes the lives of me, my community, and millions around the world. Initially, my response to climate change was just on a personal level. After studying the meat industry’s carbon footprint at Tech Trek, a STEM camp at [COLLEGE], I cut meat out of my diet entirely and have been a vegetarian for almost five years. Last year, in response to the fire, I used the skills I learned in my engineering classes to design and construct garden boxes for people who had lost their plants in the blaze.
But I know that my actions alone aren’t enough to engender lasting change. I turned to my community to compound my impact. Partnering with nature preserves and conservation groups around [TOWN], my girl scout troop and I organize environmental cleanups of tributaries and hiking trails. I designed and taught Leave No Trace curriculum and organized challenges for local youth to increase community engagement in local ecological issues. 
More recently, I’ve begun to think more deliberately about how to further my impact on a larger scale. I believe that my firsthand experience with climate change, when paired with my passion for designing technological solutions to environmental problems, allows me to think about innovative ways to tackle climate challenges. To address the lack of useful resources on native and invasive plants in the [MOUNTAIN] Foothills, I’ve created a database of plants with tips and educational materials for each plant in order to create a resource that scientists, gardeners, and enthusiasts alike can use. Using the skills I’ve developed over the course of the last three years in the engineering pathway, I am drawing inspiration from temperature-regulating termite mounds to design a biomimetic home that uses air movement to maintain comfortable interior temperatures. 
My family and home were safe through the fire, but others weren't as lucky. My lived experience with climate change and subsequent response on a personal, community, and larger-scale level equip and motivate me to continue the fight for a more sustainable future. Climate change started this battle, it's up to me to finish it. ” 

The introduction immediately catches our attention for its vivid imagery and charged emotion as the student navigates an emergency. They connect this anecdote to the broader theme of climate change and other experiences relating to their values. 

Although the student describes what they’ve already accomplished, they share what they’d like to do to address climate change on a larger scale in the future and wrap up their story by referencing the anecdote from their introduction. 

Example #6  

This personal statement explores a candidate’s love of fashion: 

“ I nervously stand from behind my desk, ready for my turn. Eyes glare at me from all sides as the teacher beckons me to begin. I dread group introductions, the first days of school, or any icebreaker exercise because of this moment. I have never had a traditional fun fact to share, like ‘I play soccer’ or ‘I have a twin.’ I used to share something safe like, ‘I hate whipped cream.’ On this day, I decided to share my true passion. ‘I love fashion.’ Giggles float through the room. Whispers are exchanged through my classmates' smirks. I immediately began to second guess myself. Was my response too shallow? Too girly? No – fashion transcends the boundaries of gender and is the opposite of shallow. It is an intricate manifestation of a person's true, innermost feelings toward the outside world. It is a way to express oneself when words don't suffice. That does not seem shallow to me.
Each day, I gaze into my closet and try to answer the routine question of what to wear. A flowing white sundress or a worn, black leather jacket? A pleated blazer or a bright red band tee? I might choose a sundress when I feel carefree and lighthearted or a heavy jacket when the world seems overwhelming and I need protection. Though it may seem an insignificant question of comfort or trends, I am really deciding which version of myself I want to reveal that day through my clothing. I could wear a coastal, relaxed outfit, and tomorrow could feature urban business attire. By no means does this imply that I have an identity crisis. I am simply a human with a wide range of emotions that cannot be confined. It is because of my inner diversity that I am unique.
The fabric that wraps my body is not meant only for cover. It also allows others a window into my soul. Though the deep desires of my heart never waver, each day brings new emotions, obstacles, and circumstances that, at times, can be difficult to process. This daily change instigates a perpetual evolution that communicates I am not the same person I was yesterday.
It's human nature to try to categorize people and things. Certain styles and garments tend to connect with a particular aesthetic. For instance, a callous person must dress grunge, and a fun, free-spirited person must dress bohemian. But people are complex. We cannot be constrained by one specific personality type. The beauty of humanity is in its inherent diversity. People can be demographically grouped by their culture, surroundings, family, or upbringing. However, the people who make up those respective communities are capable of diverse and independent thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Fashion can express that.
Fashion is not just an opportunity to display the latest trend or designer clothes. Fashion is an intimate representation of the inner workings of one's being. Even those who claim not to care about their clothing subconsciously express their emotions through it. A girl going through a breakup would think she disregards fashion by putting on a pair of sweats and throwing her hair into a messy bun. In reality, she chose the sweats because she is vulnerable and wants to feel warm and safe, and her bun prevents her hair from drowning in her tears. Her attire tells us multitudes of details if we just pay attention. Acknowledging how she feels through her clothing choice can help her process difficult emotions. She deserves this outlet to express her current state of mind. Everyone deserves this chance. I believe in an industry that can provide the average person with clothing that helps them feel beautiful and confident, regardless of their stage of life or socioeconomic status. So maybe she and I deserve those few extra minutes to get ready in the morning so that we may define the current state of our ever-changing selves .” 

This personal statement shows the author’s love for fashion, particularly how they describe the various pieces in their closet. Their writing shows how they connect apparel choices to a person’s personality and feelings. 

This statement may be more metaphorical and poetic than others in this list, but it could be a compelling personal statement for an aspiring fashion or art student.

Example #7 

This personal statement showcases a high school student’s experience with physician shadowing: 

“ As I sat observing the patients scattered around the waiting room, my eyes stopped on a man flushed and gasping. He met my gaze; his own eyes were brimming with fear. His face began to take on a deep shade of red. The woman by his side jumped up and began shouting for help. A group of doctors and nurses came rushing into the waiting room. The man held my gaze and I returned his panicked stare. 
Over the four months I’d spent shadowing Dr. [NAME] at [HOSPITAL NAME], my days encompassed: accompanying him during his rounds, checking on patients, and taking vital signs for postoperative patients. I even shadowed him during a valve replacement procedure. I remember thinking that operating on a person’s most central organ, with calculated precision, was the pinnacle of what it meant to be a surgeon. However, as I sat paralyzed in the waiting room, unable to break eye contact with a terrified patient entering cardiac arrest— I knew I was experiencing a part of the medical field I’d never seen.
Dr. [NAME] and the nurses moved in a synchronous dance. The nurses placed the patient on his back and helped to hold him still. Dr. [NAME] centered his hand on the man’s chest and began performing CPR. I knew rationally things were moving in real time, but the doctor’s actions seemed to move in slow motion. Dr. [NAME] began cycling between mouth to mouth and chest compressions. I felt my own heartbeat pounding rapidly in my chest. 
A piercing ‘beep’ filled the room as the monitor detected a heartbeat. 
When the patient met my gaze, my first instinct was to leap from my chair and help him. However, my traitorous body had been paralyzed in terror; all I could do was hold his gaze. This concerned me. If I couldn't manage my anxiety for a patient during high stress situations, did I have what it took to be a surgeon?
‘How did you stay calm?’ I asked Dr. [NAME] as we sat in his office later that day. The regular sounds of the waiting room leaked under the door—as if nothing had happened. He paused for a moment, ‘I was nervous, of course, but years of experience has taught me to channel my nerves into treating the patient the best that I can.’
Although his words made sense, it still seemed impossible to not feel fear for a patient whose life is in danger. However, as I considered his words further, I realized Dr. [NAME] wasn’t telling me he didn’t feel emotionally invested in the patient’s safety. Rather, he was saying he had learned to channel his concern into focusing on providing the best patient care possible. 
During my time shadowing Dr. [NAME], prior to the day of the resuscitation, I learned the importance of surgical precision, clinical expertise, and confidence under pressure. However, as I sat in his office that day, my perspective of the medical field changed. I now understood that staying confident in the midst of chaos isn’t instinctive; it is learned. Moreover, a good surgeon recognizes that she can use her fear for her patient as motivation to save the patient. 
My inclination to help others and fascination with molecular biology is what attracted me to the medical field. From the waiting room ordeal, my preserving commitment to becoming a physician was only reaffirmed. It encouraged me that my natural empathy for others would fuel rather than hinder my ability to work efficiently during stressful situations. I look forward to using this thought process in my day-to-day leadership activities, and one day, as a surgeon. ” 

This personal statement offers a glimpse into the writer’s time shadowing a physician and shows their vulnerabilities and fears. This statement shows what they’ve learned from the experience and how they’ll use these skills and knowledge to realize their dream of becoming a surgeon. 

Example #8  

This sample personal statement is about an applicant’s journey with dance and religion: 

“ I stepped barefoot onto the cool wooden floor and bent down to lay my sweaty palms on the ground. I quickly got into line with the other girls and waited for the music to begin playing. My hips swayed while my heartbeat matched the rhythm of the song. Through each segment, my movements changed, evolving from Jhumar and ending in Dhamal. Behind every motion, there was an intention to send a message to the audience. 
I immediately found my place with Bhangra–a traditional Punjabi folk dance. I picked up the routines effortlessly, dancing with precision. I soon advanced to the older girls’ group, working on intricate choreography that required more stamina. Bhangra became not just a passion, but a path to better explore my Punjabi heritage. With each passing year, I came to see reflections of my life in Bhangra, connecting its many forms to different pieces of my identity.
Jhumar is delicate. It grows in intensity over time, but remains fragile. Full of smooth hand movements and soft placements, it builds on knowledge and experience, mirroring my relationship with Sikhism. For a long time, I was skeptical of practicing my faith. It seemed unnecessary–a method of control rather than a choice. My grandmother coaxed me to attend prayers and forced me to sit for long periods in the Gurdwara, all of which felt like more of a chore. Over the last two years, I found myself returning to the Gurdwara willfully. I had not completely restored my faith in God, but went there as a place of healing, finding comfort in the practices I once dreaded. I sat alone in the silence to calm myself. Gradually, my broken relationship with Sikhism wove itself back together, like the gentle motions of Jhumar. 
In my teenage years, I began to perform Giddha with my mother, aunts, and cousins, clapping and laughing alongside figures who shaped me. The dance is usually performed by women, telling tales of village life through skip steps and illustrative motions. Each gesture conveys the emotion and content of the story told. Giddha captured the evolution of my self-identity, reminding me of my support system and my ancestral roots. Performing next to these strong women in my life allowed me to grow my confidence and granted me a fuller sense of myself.  
Dhamal is the grand finale–bright and energetic, full of jumps on fast-paced beats. It is a dance that is usually performed at the end and demands the most energy. At the beginning of this segment, I am forced to make a decision: push forward and smile through the exhaustion, or flail my limbs and give up. I center myself to keep my hands sharp and clean while stepping with purpose, making every step count. I know I will regret becoming sloppy with my motions when I rewatch the performance, so I do my best to perform elegantly. It is a test of my drive. 
What began as a lighthearted use of time became a fundamental part of me. Bhangra allowed me to restore my relationship with Sikhism and turn towards it as a source of healing from times I felt lost and overwhelmed. I formed meaningful connections to the women in my family, and through them, my ancestors, bonding over traditions and experiencing my culture in depth. I learned to handle pressure with grace, pushing through difficulty with determination, and further strengthening essential parts of my identity. As I dance, I step, clap, and move through the parts of myself that make me whole .” 

This personal statement begins with an anecdote to immerse the reader in an event and showcases how Bhangra helped her reconnect with her heritage, religion, and culture. This narrative shows the applicant’s drive and talent while illuminating her journey toward strengthening her identity. 

Example #9 

Let’s see how one applicant transformed their love of chess into a winning personal statement: 

“ The wooden board promised possibilities and endless opportunities. On the maple wood of the battlefield, rooks, bishops, and knights stood ready in the most strategic war, chess.
My father lovingly taught me the game of chess as a young child. I immediately gravitated toward the game due to its strategic nature and quickly learned that chess appeared simple: just capture the king. Regardless of this apparent simplicity, my analytical mind always thought ten moves ahead. I never entered the battle without a full-fledged plan and a future-focused mindset that always seemed to be an advantage. From that point, many victories made me naive to the need to adjust my well-laid plans to meet outside challenges. Then, a particular game upended my strategies and confidence. This game began no differently from the others as I slowly set up the pieces and developed a seemingly invincible plan. And as my plan was forming, my confidence rose.
I started the game by bringing the king's pawn forward two spaces. In the very next move, I crossed my queen three places. I applied maximum pressure immediately to stay on offense and put my opponent on defense. After a few silly moves later by my father, I saw the opening to put his king in check, so I took it. I was executing my plan perfectly. However, my father started moving his rook closer to my queen, and in a matter of seconds, he captured my strongest piece. Playing it off as no sacrifice, for the rest of the game, I remained unwilling to change my plan, only to lose the game eventually. I realized at that moment that I had not appreciated the importance of adapting to changing circumstances and challenges–to the idea that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction, as I later learned in physics. Since that game, I began to balance my strategic planning with the need to adjust to the moves of my opponent as one must balance one’s strategic goals with the reality of the present; otherwise, life will deliver missed opportunities.
Yet one of my greatest passions was discovered by thinking far ahead in the future. From a young age, I became fascinated with engineering, both the physics of how objects move and fly and the potential for real innovation that accompanies the design and execution processes of engineering. Due to my logical nature, I prefer to set plans in order to optimize an outcome. When one identifies and defines problems logically and precisely, a plan is necessary, so thinking in future terms becomes essential. However, as time has passed, my love for engineering has grown, especially my passion for discovering how physical objects move and interact and plans can develop in creative and previously unthinkable ways. This future-focused mindset has influenced both my academic studies and my work in STEM internships as well as a recent apprenticeship with [LARGE COMPANY]. These pursuits, in turn, have allowed me to expand my vision of what my undergraduate studies and future career paths may hold. Still, future strategizing and adapting to the present are skills that will guide my future endeavors. Thus, engineering, like the game of chess, not only involves having a strategy going into the game, sometimes the key to victory, but also adapting to changing conditions can mean the difference between success and failure. ” 

The author used their experiences with chess to describe the development of skills such as strategic planning and adaptation. They effortlessly connect their story about a chess game to their love of physics and engineering. 

The chess game serves as a backdrop for their passion for STEM and what they’ve done to further explore their interests and connects the game to engineering and their cultivated skill to adapt amid changing conditions (such as new information) – a skill top colleges look for in candidates. 

Example #10

This candidate’s experience with a disposable camera helped them find the perfect personal statement: 

“ When I was fourteen years old, my mother bought me a disposable film camera, a shiny green plastic gadget from Walmart. At first, I was bewildered by how this seemingly superfluous object could supplement my perfectly efficient iPhone camera. Dangling the gift between my fingers with confusion, I was torn between telling my mother I had no use for this fossil, and graciously giving in to her request to ‘just try it out.’ I took the high road, and settled on the latter. 
Initially photography was an aesthetic hobby, however, it quickly turned into immense devotion to the art. I began to carry around the little green camera everywhere I went. Unfortunately, disposable film cameras have meager lifespans, and I could only take 27 pictures before the film was exhausted. After years of taking pictures with careless abandon, my photography was transformed by the idea of a tiny plastic box forcing me to choose my shots more carefully. Formerly, I could whip out my camera whenever I wanted to and take a picture, capturing a frame that would eventually disappear in the mass conglomeration of my iPhone camera roll. Conversely, my film camera required me to decide the right moment to capture a snapshot of a memory frozen in time. 
Ultimately, the narrative I have captured through my film camera has also helped me find my authentic voice through writing. I love using language to express my character, demonstrating my willingness to explore my passions and capture my every emotion. When I first attempted to write a full length novel, I recognized it would be a massive time commitment, and there would be hundreds of revisions. However, upon completing my first manuscript, I did not feel worried, or overwhelmed by the editing process. I was excited to embark on this next journey of perfecting my work. I was immersed in finishing my novel when my mom convinced me to apply for a Writing Contest. I followed her advice, and the risk ended up paying off. A few months later, I opened up my laptop to see an email announcing I had received the [TOP PRIZE]. The thrill of my teachers and parents could not be compared to my own surprise. I was absolutely overjoyed that the judges were moved by my story. My devotion to the film camera is now reflected in my approach to everyday life and my profile as a student. 
Throughout my high school career, I have dedicated myself to a few activities and developed my skill set, instead of spreading myself thinly in several fruitless activities. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I decided to sign up for a boxing class in my [HIGH SCHOOL] year. I looked forward to every training session, and began to transfer that energy into becoming an even better academic student. I loved learning new techniques and memorizing nuanced tips, until I eventually took the combat training style and made it my own. Yet another activity that began as a hobby, eventually helped build my self-confidence and provided strategies on how to approach adversity; from interactions with peers, to the boxing ring. 
I have yet to fully appreciate the fleeting nature of every moment. Incorporating my film camera into my everyday life has allowed me to take control and fill my high school career with a rich and genuine photo album of experiences .” 

The writer’s careful approach to using the film camera shows their deliberateness and newfound approach to their passion for art and photography. They connect this story to their love of writing, citing their finished full-length novel, a truly impressive feat. 

They also show their ability to step outside their comfort zone and passion for artistic endeavors with their experiences in boxing. This personal statement showcases their commitment to their passions and how taking pictures with a disposable camera showed them how to take control of their journey. 

Example #11  

Here’s another example detailing an applicant’s visit to the zoo: 

“ As the sunlight trickles through the willow trees and glitters on the surface of the water, I squint. Where is it? Even though I’m in the shade, sweat is pouring down my face; it’s easily 115 degrees out. I scour the swamp beneath me one last time, sigh, and give up. Every time I visit the [ZOO NAME], this singular [ANIMAL] (a type of crocodilian) evades me. Somewhere in the murky water underneath the pedestrian bridge, the elusive false gharial hides from view. It’s enough to make most people give up in disappointment, potentially anger. Not me. Each time I visit, I enjoy my experience to the fullest, regardless of what I see.
Since I was a toddler, I have been enamored with every zoo I visit. My mother doesn’t exaggerate when she claims I had to be dragged out of zoos against my will as a toddler. The animal kingdom is beautifully diverse, unique, and absolutely breathtaking; it enraptured me as a child and still does today. The fact that toucans throw their food in the air and catch it with their beaks, parachute frogs glide from tree to tree, or sea cucumbers eject their insides as a self-defense mechanism–these are all such incredible adaptations and behaviors that I sometimes am unable to comprehend the incredible scope of evolution. I am easily swept up in my admiration of all aspects of the natural world, completely losing myself in the experience.
The last time I visited the [ZOO NAME] with my extended family, I was astonished by the new Dome structure. A shimmering glass dome sparkling under the bright, hot sun, the building was reminiscent of a giant greenhouse. Although the eponymous pangolins had not yet been moved to their new home where I could see them, reading about their story was eye-opening. These cute armored mammals are considered the most trafficked animals in the world. As I traversed the rest of the building, I discovered that different levels are devoted to depicting various aspects of the Rainforest, the most ecologically productive biome in the world. Starting from the bottom of the dome, viewers walk through the tropical, fish-filled waters, then climb through the forest’s various levels, getting to see the complex intersection of energy flows, water use, and nutrient cycles. I was humbled by the experience. I left that day with a clear understanding of why I love zoos so much: zoos are a chance for humans to learn how to better coexist with the environment.
We live in a world where human development and conservation are almost mutually exclusive. A forest, field, or beach has to be destroyed, drilled into, or paved in order for ‘civilization’ to exist. Zoos prove that this does not have to be the case; they are a source of inspiration for how we can better live in harmony with nature. Every exhibit is a microcosm of a distinct aspect of the environment and can teach us how facets of nature interact. The aforementioned Dome, for example, uses natural light to simulate a real biome while conserving energy. Other conservationist elements–resource recycling and reuse, water conservation, etc.–are evident throughout the zoo.
In what feels like an instant after stepping out of the tomistoma enclosure, I realize that the sun has already begun to set and the cicadas have already begun to buzz. As I am dragged back into the car by my uncle, I reflect on how I can apply the zoo’s sustainable techniques to the general public. How can we adapt nature’s solutions to certain problems and conform them to meet our needs? For example, can we reduce a city’s temperature and carbon levels? Planting green roofs can reduce both. Whenever I want to solve such environmental issues, I think of the [ZOO NAME]. Nature has solutions to all of our problems; we just have to embrace them. ” 

This personal statement shares the author’s interest in biology and animal sciences through anecdotes showing their love and appreciation of zoos. The animal facts and musings about the new building show their passion for knowledge and happiness at the opportunity for humans to coexist with nature. 

The conclusion raises the writer’s questions but shows their critical thinking skills and how they can connect the zoo’s “sustainable techniques” to new solutions in cities. It also effectively wraps up the narrative.

Example #12 

This personal statement describes a candidate’s experience navigating the jungle and how it ignited a new passion: 

“ Immersed in the core of the [NAME] jungle, I was set to embark on my first plant medicine journey. At age 14, I was depressed and anxiety scheduled my days. For a week, I lived with the [NUMBER] year-old [NAME] tribe: waking before the sun, drinking cleansing tea with the Chief and his counsel, and cutting through the wilds with a machete to hunt for dinner. Known for centuries to be cautious of welcoming Westerners, the village members embraced me. I had the chance to hear the tribe passionately share their knowledge about native plants and ways to live harmoniously with the land. Songs of exotic birds and warm, crisp air breathed love into my lungs, and I felt my nervous system recalibrating. I partook in the ceremony with [TEA NAME], a plant based entheogenic tea that activates the pineal gland, and I felt my connection growing stronger with divine nature. It felt like I was washing my brain in ice water and I was inspired by the tribe’s devotion to Her. At night, I feverishly scribbled down my day in my Moleskin journal. By the time the week was through, every page was filled with thoughts, questions and feelings. 
When I returned back home, I wanted to learn more about these plants and why or how they became so scorned and abused in contemporary society. Taking research into my own hands, I proactively began to dig into the history of these plants. I was hooked after reading Terrance and Dennis McKenna's Stoned Ape Theory and listening to the podcast, ‘Avoid Gurus, Follow Plants.’ This year, I became the youngest to complete The Course [NAME] led by Dr. [NAME].  I learned about limbic healing, the psychoneuroendocrine immunology network, and the power of these sagacious teacher-plants. Dr. [NAME] discussed the harms of disrespecting plant medicines and how if we work for them, they may choose to work with us.
The course included conversations with Ph.D. student, [NAME], regarding her dissertation about the benefits of ketamine in psychotherapy. The thesis concluded that compounds in medicinal plants had healing properties to neurodegenerative diseases and those with terminal illnesses and trauma, all of which are imperative to our current and future concept of health. My enthusiasm for plant medicine spread into all aspects of my life; it was time for another journal and another journey. Thus, I began my podcast: [NAME]. Honoring the wisdom of the indigenous, the podcast bridged gaps between societies and generations, creating a safe space for curiosity to thrive and penetrating the walls of ignorance.  Recently, I watched my mom transform from a senior executive at a major telecommunication company to a [NEW ROLE] and CEO of her own firm. As my first podcast guest, she shared her mission to guide one million souls into personal sovereignty. Since then, I have been blessed to speak with Dr. [NAME], the Chief of a [TRIBE], who discussed the preview of her new book and shared how surrendering invites harmony to a person’s life. It was then that I realized that The [PODCAST NAME] was more than a podcast; it was a quiet voice with something loud to say. Today, its purpose is to focus on integrating spirituality into everyday life, and how to work respectively with these venerated and still controversial plant medicines. It is paradise for thinkers, visionaries, and pioneers. The words exchanged in the podcast are the planks in a bridge that connect some of the world’s most remarkable leaders to a generation that may benefit from their wisdom. The journey that began in [COUNTRY] struck the match to the wildfire of my passion, curiosity and devotion to plant medicine .” 

This personal statement illuminates the author’s experiences living with a different culture in a new environment, showing their ability to exit their comfort zone. The story shows the author’s cultural understanding, describes where their passion for plant medicine bloomed, and how it inspired them to start their own podcast. 

Example #13 

This personal statement explores the writer’s love of painting: 

“ I am a painter. The connection I feel to the art I create and love is — like the art itself — so much more than the words I can use to describe it. I become utterly absorbed in the process of creating, viewing, and studying art; it taps into my vulnerabilities and connects me to previously unknown parts of myself. Everything I paint, regardless of the apparent subject, reflects something about me. My recent painting ‘[NAME],’ for example, depicts a close friend curled up beneath a quilt festooned with red poppies. I have realized that it is a portrait of both of us that reveals our shared yearning for safety, warmth, and beauty. Likewise, my favorite pieces by other artists lay bare my own internal tensions and artistic aspirations. I believe that paintings unlock access to both the artist and the viewer. This has become apparent in an independent art history project I completed this summer about the early 20th-century painter Amrita Sher-Gil. I remember first seeing one of her works and feeling deeply drawn to her use of color. Compelled to learn more, I sought the mentorship of a local art history professor and embarked on an exploration of Sher-Gil’s work that has resulted in a tremendous affinity for her story – and a better understanding of my own.
In volumes of Sher-Gil’s letters, photographs, and paintings, I found an uncanny resemblance to myself. She was Indian and European, moved frequently, played the piano, and saturated her paintings with bold, warm colors. Sher-Gil drew inspiration from Rajput painting and stained her female subjects with a burning red that could have spilled out of the tube of cadmium red I squeeze each time I create an underpainting. In my work, the same Rajput-like red shines through the crevices of my overpainting and brings my subject matter to life.
As I became enthralled by Sher-Gil’s red, I learned about the color’s history and, in the end, I made an original discovery. Rajput artists surrounded their paintings with a luxurious red border and often used the color to adorn and highlight two lovers; this red became a mark of heterosexual longing. As I read Sher-Gil’s letters and looked at her paintings, I noticed that she used the Rajput-like red to allude to her own bisexuality; my paper pointed out that she reworked the color’s meaning to represent intimacy between and among women.
My research on Sher-Gil is a clear reflection of my own artistic process — sometimes confusing, far from neat, and often driving to an unclear conclusion. Nevertheless, it reinforced my relationship with art. Sher-Gil used paint to capture the complexity of her identity and illustrated her struggles, dilemmas, and moments of pleasure; in doing so, she has given me confidence in my own painting process and self-exploration. When I paint, I live in a space of meaningful and productive uncertainty. Just as the unexpected purple highlights on the arm of the figure beneath the poppies in my painting resulted from accidental layers of red, blue, and green, the meaning of my work may not be evident until the painting is complete.
In the same way, I am a work in progress. In art, I explore strength and vulnerability, femininity and masculinity, uncertainty and knowledge; I throw myself into my creative and intellectual interests as the practitioner and academic, the painter and viewer. When I paint, I value the companionship of my tubes of pigment, the subjects of my images, and painters like Sher-Gil, who has become a role model. I am eager to pursue studio art and art history and to introduce others to the possibilities of self-exploration through art. To know me, you should know my paintings: the ones I create, the ones I love, and the ones I will study, teach, and share with others. Painting reveals the fullest version of who I am .” 

This student’s love of painting and Sher-Gil’s work spurred them to seek mentorship and how, like their artistic process, they’re a “work in progress.” The author’s experiences and passion for art intersect with their explorations of himself and their strengths. 

Example #14 

This personal story begins with what appears to be a humorous anecdote that transforms into a well-written personal statement: 

“ During my first week of kindergarten, I pulled the fire alarm.
We had just come in from recess and kindergartners were lined up single file against the wall. It was our ritual before returning to class. I felt antsy, fidgety, and bored; my body was not ready for the impending ‘circle time.’
A quick turn of my head and there it was – a red, shiny, attractive box. The allure was all-consuming. ‘Pull the lever,’ an internal voice told me. Before I knew it, my thoughts had become actions, and I instantly became a legend. Blue ink on my palms from the dye pack gave me away when the blaring alarm and chaos settled. Despite initial frustration, even the principal appreciated my clever argument: ‘Why can a small kid reach the fire alarm – is it even really my fault?’
For years, I struggled with that question as I learned that my brain craves action and I need to learn to ‘pause’ while most others don't. I also discovered that I have a passion for understanding how and why the brain works, and a resulting interest in neuroscience.  
Recognizing that people learn and experience things differently and that it's not their ‘fault’ spurred my desire to help others from a young age. I cajoled my parents to take me to a library – an hour away, each way – that was willing to accept a 12-year-old tutor. Soon after, I developed [WEBSITE NAME], a service that provides a combination of learning and social support. I learned that each child has individual needs, different ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ for learning and experiencing the world – and I was fascinated by it all. 
My high school serendipitously had a program perfectly designed for me - [PROGRAM NAME]. I didn’t realize until I started working as a fellow with the [PROGRAM NAME] – a center for mind, body, and education science – that my “field” experience as a tutor coupled with my fascination with learning differences made the intersection of neuroscience and education an ideal focus. My innate desire to understand the brain's inner workings guided me to help others learn and feel comfortable with their own brain wiring. Whether leading a study on the biggest stress factors for high school students or exploring what types of music best influence learning, I am inspired to gain a deeper understanding of brain function and its educational implications.
My parents often tell the fire alarm story – it is pretty funny, after all – but it also represents something more serious for me: the realization that impulsivity is part of my brain circuitry. It's arguably a blessing. As a five-year-old, I needed to pull that alarm. As a more mature student, I need to pursue my desire to understand the brain, recognize I have no ‘fault’ to fix, and use scientific research and insights to help myself and others. To this day, I still believe the fire alarm should be higher than a kindergartner's reach.” 

Although this personal statement begins with a humorous anecdote, the tone remains serious enough to convey the author’s lived experiences and accomplishments influenced by their brain’s impulsivity. This exploration of themselves led to their interest in neuroscience and inspired them to learn more about brain function. 

The conclusion brings the narrative full circle in a light-hearted way while the author shares their conviction to use scientific research in the future to better understand themselves and others. 

Example #15 

This personal statement describes the a figure skater’s reflection of their path: 

“ The frigid air bit my cheeks as music breathed life into the otherwise dead-silent arena. I felt the intimidating stares of a million eyes as I started gliding across the gleaming ice in sync with the music, yearning to flaunt the moves I’d assiduously perfected during my early-morning practices. Flawlessly landing the last double lutz in my program, I was homebound. As the music reached its final decrescendo, I slowly exited my last spin and struck my final pose facing the motionless audience. The silence returned momentarily but quickly turned into thunderous applause and cheers as I took my bow after another ‘gold medal’ performance.
Exiting the ice, I noticed a haze of silhouetted smiles. Most were unrecognizable, but a few jumped out at me before I was even off the ice: those of my coach, my parents, and my exuberant little sister. However, after performing this same program multifarious times this season, each warm post-program greeting by friendly or familiar faces felt like déjà vu. 
Competition after competition caused me to gradually lose sight of my goal. An Olympic gold medal is known to be the pinnacle of a figure skating career, but the elusivity and cutthroat nature of the journey slowly became more of a deterrent to finding my way to the top of that podium. Instead, I was prompted to look beyond the bounds of this track as I sought to uncover a solution to the monotonous cycle that held me confined to the quotidian repetition of competition between training sessions and performances.  
Serendipitously, I soon stumbled upon a volunteer coaching opportunity at my local rink. Through the [NAME] Skating Program, I was given the opportunity to work with individuals with a range of physical and developmental disabilities on the ice. Initially hesitant to fill this position because it’d be my first coaching opportunity, I was soon elated by each skater’s positive demeanor and excitement to reach their fullest potential. To them, skating wasn’t about a collection of gold medals, but instead about the freedom granted to them on the ice and the resultant sense of coach-and-skater camaraderie so freely formed.  
After the program met each week, I continuously found myself exceptionally eager to return to the ice to improve my own skating skills. However, I began approaching practice sessions with a renewed sense of purpose, as I was no longer concerned with the minuscule details that’d cost me valuable points in competition. Shifting my focus from technicalities to the bigger picture, I could now enjoy my time spent on the ice while also enhancing my skills as a mentor. Precipitating fulfillment out of practice sessions, I discovered that the pride I held in my mentoring abilities was more valuable than any medal.
Reflecting on my decade of skating, I’ve come to find that the most rewarding times, just like the most rewarding and delicious recipes, tend to rely on a balance between leadership and zealousness, between seasoning and zest. The leadership seasoning has come from my coaching experiences, which have impelled me to thrust myself into even more leadership roles both inside and outside the rink. On the other side of the rink, my zest at my best is hard for the rest to test, so this equilibrium between leadership and enthusiasm is critical for me to maintain so that I can always be my best self not just for my own self, but also and mostly for others. Whether it be teaching a skating class, educating underclassmen on basic business fundamentals for DECA, or discussing how to write efficacious and mellifluous news articles for my school paper, I’ve constantly been able to find avidity in every activity I pursue through an equilibrium of mentorship and individual effort, even if it doesn’t earn me an Olympic gold medal in the end, because when it comes to being golden-hearted, I’ve already been Olympic-caliber all my life.” 

While the beginning of this personal statement showcases the author’s figure skating talent, the “reflection” piece shows how they handled feeling deterred from their goal of an Olympic gold medal. 

Their mentoring experience shows their community spirit, leadership potential, and adaptability – they connect these experiences to helping them enjoy their time on the ice again. This story conveys how they found balance and can apply it to other situations. 

These examples of college personal statements are just that: examples. While your statement doesn’t need to look exactly like these, reading examples is a great way to gain inspiration. 

Common Personal Statement Mistakes

Many students find it easy to fall into certain traps when writing their personal statements. Make sure to avoid these mistakes in your writing!

  • Relying on cliches : It is imperative that you avoid cliche saying, topics, or ideas in your statement. Admissions officers read tons of statements daily, so you want to make yours stand out. Using cliches will give the impression that you aren’t putting honest effort in and only writing what you think they want to hear. 
  • Choosing an inappropriate topic : Stay away from topics involving illegal activities, highly personal or tragic situations, or controversial ideas. You don’t want to make your reader uncomfortable in any way. 
  • Using quotes : Your personal statement should come from you. Using a famous quote in your statement is not only cliche but also takes up valuable space that you could use for your own words and story. 
  • Not proofreading : If you want to look professional and polished, you need to avoid grammar or spelling mistakes at all costs. Proofread your work and then proofread it again. Try reading it aloud to catch small errors. 
  • Repeating your application : You don’t need to talk about your GPA or test scores in your personal statement. The admissions committee has already seen them. Your statement is a place for you to show them who you are in a personal sense. 

FAQs: How to Write a Personal Statement for College

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to write a college personal statement.

1. What Should a College Personal Statement Include?

Your college personal statement should include a unique story about you and how the event shaped you. You can include important lessons you’ve learned, qualities you’ve developed over time, and your goals.

2. How Do You Start a Personal Statement?

Your introduction should be short and enticing. Don’t spend too much time on your introduction; starting with one or two sentences to set up your story and grab the reader’s attention is best. 

3. How Do I Make My Personal Statement Stand Out?

Your personal statement should highlight something unique to you. Think about your life experiences that meant a lot to you growing up and have shaped you into who you are today and who you want to be. Avoid clichés like famous quotes or general statements. 

4. How Should I Format a Personal Statement?

College application platforms typically provide a personal statement format, such as a word count or page limit. Generally speaking, you’ll want to select a basic, legible font, such as 12 pt. Times New Roman. 

5. How Long Should a Personal Statement Be? 

Your personal statement should ideally be between 500 and 650 words. However, make sure you check the specific requirements for your school to confirm how long your statement should be . 

6. What Should You Not Do in a Personal Statement? 

There are numerous pitfalls to avoid as you write your personal statement, including using famous quotes, making small spelling/grammar errors, or choosing an inappropriate topic. 

Final Thoughts

Your personal statement should be authentic, compelling, and give the reader an excellent idea of what makes you, you . The best personal statements include a punchy introduction, a compelling and unique anecdote, and conclude with a few lines nicely wrapping up the narrative. 

Don’t be afraid to get personal — it’s a personal statement, after all! Just ensure you end on a high note. Remember, your conclusion is the last thing admissions officers will read, so it should be memorable and impactful. What do you want the audience to take away? 

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Last updated March 7, 2023

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Blog > Common App , Essay Advice , Personal Statement > How to Write a Personal Statement for Colleges

How to Write a Personal Statement for Colleges

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

The term “personal statement” makes me laugh because it’s deceptively straightforward. Write a “statement,” but make it “personal.” Simple enough, right?

Wrong! If you’ve even begun to think about your personal statement for college, then you know that it’s a confusing and uncertain task. Different people have different perceptions of what “personal” means, there’s no way to know who the admissions officers reading your essay will be, and it’s challenging to strike the right tone and find the right topic.

When you factor in your other application components—transcripts, letters of recommendation, and supplemental essays—deciding how to approach your personal statement may seem overwhelming.

Luckily, at the heart of your personal statement is you . No one is a better expert on the topic than you are. Writing vulnerably about yourself isn’t easy, but you’re capable of writing a personal statement that stands out to admissions officers and speaks to who you really are.

And this guide will walk you through every step.

Let’s get started!

What is a personal statement?

We’ll kick it off with the basics: what even is a personal statement?

A personal statement, sometimes called a “college essay,” is the centerpiece of your college application.

Think of it like the entrée of a big meal: it’s the main attraction that the rest of your application components are structured around.

But it’s not just any old essay. What you write will be very different from any essay you’ve written for an English or social studies class. Instead of writing about someone or something else, you’ll write about yourself. And instead of making some kind of argument about the meaning of a book or historical event, you’ll convey an overall message about who you are and what’s important to you.

Personal statements are deeply meaningful, even vulnerable reflections on some aspect of your life. That doesn’t mean that you have to spill your deepest, darkest secrets or describe your worst trauma. In fact, it’s better that you don’t do that.

But what you write should go beyond the surface level. Your essay topic should be like a heartfelt conversation with a close friend or loved one, a brief glimpse into who you are and who you want to be in college. Your admissions officers are likely strangers. But after reading your personal statement, they should feel like they actually know you.

Because they should be interesting and meaningful, personal statements are also often exercises in creative writing. No, you don’t get to make up a story or write fiction. But you do get to use creative writing practices to make your personal statement interesting, compelling, and attention-grabbing. (Looking to learn more about how admissions offices process your application alongside so many others? We break it all down for you here .)

Overall, there are a few important personal statement features to keep in mind.

  • Topics: Personal statements can cover a range of topics. Depending on the application system you’re using, you may be required to craft an essay in response to a specific prompt. The Common Application, for example, has seven prompts for you to choose from.
  • Audience: As with any piece of writing, you can’t forget to think about who you’re writing for. In the case of your personal statement, you’re writing for admissions officers who will vote on whether or not to admit you to their schools. These admissions officers probably don’t know you, and they have hundreds (maybe even thousands) of other essays and applications to read. They are short on time, so your essay should work to quickly grab and keep their attention.
  • Theme: All good personal statements have a “theme.” A theme is the overall message that you want your readers to take away from your essay. It might be something like “I found strength by connecting with my family members through a difficult situation” or “My intellectual curiosity and passion for social justice is what drives my interest in engineering.” 
  • Literary Devices: Literary devices aren’t just for the authors you read in your English classes. They’re also for you! Since personal statements are usually exercises in creative writing, you may find yourself using devices like metaphors, allusions, imagery, and more. When done sparingly and with intention, these devices can add interest, depth, and maturity to your writing.

With these features in mind, let’s go over what goes in a personal statement.

What should a personal statement include?

You’ve likely never written a personal statement before. Asking you to write one for the first time during the college application process is like throwing you into an airplane without a pilot’s license. The stakes are high in college applications, but it’s hard to know what or how to write a personal statement if this is your first try.

First off, that’s why it’s important to make time to write multiple drafts. Your first draft won’t be perfect. You’ll need to try again, so save yourself a headache and get going as soon as you can.

Secondly, because you haven’t written a personal statement before, we want to break down a few of the conventions. These four criteria are what most admissions officers look for in your college essay.

Personal Insight:

As tempting as it may be, your college essay can’t just be surface-level nonsense. It may be fun to read about your favorite trip to New York or the time you made it to the basketball finals. But a personal statement that doesn’t actually reveal any genuine insights about its writer is not fulfilling its purpose.

Vulnerability & Meaning:

Vulnerability means opening yourself up to rejection. Just like it’s scary to share personal information about yourself with new friends, writing a vulnerable personal statement can be an intimidating ask. But only by being truly open can you write about something meaningful. It is this vulnerability and meaning that helps you go below surface level.

I’ll explain this criterion more soon, but the gist is that your personal statement needs to convey one of your core strengths. Admissions officers want to know what you can contribute to a classroom and college community, so your college essays need to show them just that.

Time, care, and attention:

Finally, your personal statement also needs to show time, care, and attention. We’ve all experienced those friends who don’t put in any effort to text back or make plans. In the same way, admissions officers want to see that you’ve put in the effort before they invite you to join their community. That means carefully planning your topic and essay, writing multiple drafts, and editing your narrative and language to the best of your abilities. Your personal statement doesn’t have to be Pulitzer material, but it should be clear that you’ve really tried your best.

Alright! We’ll get to the actual personal statement planning process soon, but first let’s go over some logistics.

How Long is a Personal Statement?

Before you start writing, it’s also important to think about the amount of writing you’ll have to do. The length of your personal statement will likely depend on the requirements set out by the school(s) you’re applying to.

But if you’re using an application system like the Common Application or Coalition, then your personal statement will be maximum 650 words. Other applications might require you to write anywhere from 450 to 700 or even 1000 words.

In all cases, our general rule is this: try to get to at least 80% of the word count. So if the word count is 1000 words, then you should aim for at least 800. If it’s 650 words maximum, then shoot for at least 520.

If you’re applying to schools that require additional supplemental essays, then you’ll also likely have to submit several shorter essays. In total, students can end up writing over 5,000 words combined for their college essays. So don’t just plan for your personal statement, but also leave time for those other essays, too.

For now, I recommend that you don’t worry so much about your personal statement word count. You’ll be able to add or remove words later on, depending on whether you’ve sufficiently told your story or need to pare things back.

What’s important to establish from the get-go, though, is a good topic and organization. Doing so will help you balance your time and application narrative.

How to Find a Personal Statement Topic

So now you have an idea of what a personal statement is and what it should look like. But that’s only the beginning.

Before you can start writing, you’ll obviously need something to write about. Now’s the time to choose a topic.

Choosing a topic can be one of the most intimidating parts of the personal statement writing process. There’s a lot to consider! How do you know which experiences to write about? Is your topic too personal? Not personal enough? You may have too many options to choose from or too few.

The following two exercises will give you something to write about, no matter what your experiences have been. And you won’t just find a topic. You’ll find a perfect topic. That’s because these exercises help you think about your personal statement topic in terms of your strengths.

At the heart of these exercises is our belief that all good college essays showcase the writer’s core strengths. “Strengths” isn’t just about being good at math or being the fastest runner on your track team. Instead, a “strength” can be any positive characteristic about yourself that shapes how you interact with the world around you.

Having read tens of thousands of college essays collectively, we know that the essays that earn admission are the ones that speak to the writer’s strengths. A strengths-based approach to your personal statement doesn’t mean that your essay has to be braggadocious or about a happy topic. What it does mean is that your essay’s topic should give you the opportunity to show an admissions officer something favorable about yourself.

This is important for two reasons.

First, your entire application works together to create a cohesive application narrative . Your essays, activities list, transcript, and letters of recommendation all turn into what your admissions officers understand to be your personal brand. Since the personal statement is the centerpiece of this personal brand, you want it to say something positive about you.

Second, admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of essays each application cycle. It’s extremely easy for individuals to get lost in the mix. Writing an essay rooted in your strengths makes your essay (and, by extension, you!) stand out. When admissions officers remember you, it’s easier for them to advocate for your admission.

With that brief in hand, let’s get into the exercises.

Archetype Exercise

The first exercise for you to complete is called the Archetype Exercise.

So what is an archetype anyway? And how will they help you write your personal statement?

Across all of the college essays we’ve read, a few strengths stood out again and again. We turned these strengths into “archetype” profiles. Think of them like a personality test. Your values, experiences, and intellectual and personal preferences determine what archetypes you best align with.

Take this quick quiz to find your archetypes . Once you’ve got that down, return to this post and think through all the areas of your life—anecdotes with your family, personal achievements or challenges, extracurricular accomplishments and more—that showcase your archetype.

Writing an essay rooted in your archetype profile will help you write a personal statement that stays focused on concrete strengths. And archetypes make your college application even more cohesive by helping you decide how to allocate your strengths across your personal statement and supplemental essays.

Here’s an example.

Archetype results: Artist and Founder

Topic brainstorm:

  • Selling my winter crafts at the holiday market
  • Photographing flowers in my grandma’s garden
  • Learning about art history from my art teacher
  • Teaching arts and crafts at the local summer camp

By focusing first and foremost on your strengths, you can get inspired and weed through all the possible essay topics to find the perfect fit.

Stanford Items Exercise

The second exercise you can do is the Stanford Items Exercise. If the Archetype Exercise didn’t give you quite enough ideas, or if you just want more to work with, then the Stanford Items will help you brainstorm.

We developed the Stanford Items Exercise from a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University. The study had a lot of interesting findings . But for our purposes, it’s their content analysis (on page 21 of that document) that is most helpful. After analyzing thousands of personal statements, researchers used content analysis methods to compile a list of the most common college essay topics. Good college essay topics don’t have to be unique. In fact, some of the best personal statements are about the most popular topics.

Because of this, the Stanford Items can be a great jumping-off point to begin writing your personal statement because it’s essentially a huge list of personal statement topic ideas.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular. Look at the list and see what piques your interest, brings out ideas, or inspires you to write.

  • Winning competitions
  • Work and goals
  • Family members
  • Helping others
  • Group leadership
  • Language experiences
  • Computer science
  • Life reflections
  • New experiences

Check out page 8 of the study for the full list. 

Brainstorming Questions

If you’re still having trouble deciding on a topic, don’t fear! We’ve got you. Check out our list of the 25 best college essay brainstorming questions to get you thinking.

How to Format a Personal Statement

By this point, you should hopefully have completed the Archetype and Stanford Items Exercises. You may have also answered some brainstorming questions. With those under your belt, you should have at least a topic or two in mind. You’ve should also have thought a bit about your core strengths and how you can connect them to concrete experiences in your life.

All of that combined, you may have come up with a topic list that looks something like this:

  • The lessons I learned from babysitting my sister
  • What it was like to lose the big debate tournament
  • My interest in ecology
  • Helping my mom can vegetables every winter
  • Building my computer from scratch

Now, you could just jump into your essay at this point and start writing. Some people prefer that method. But many writers find that writing without a plan leads to a jumbled mess. And you don’t want your personal statement to be a jumbled mess.

To make your life easier, it’s probably best that you sketch out a plan. More specifically, it’s helpful to sketch out a plan that turns your topic into a narrative.

Whereas a topic is just an idea, a narrative is a roadmap. It’s how your readers will get from the beginning of your story to the end. It details all the twists and turns, those key moments, and the overall understanding your reader should take away.

To fit your topic into a narrative, you’ll have to think about the format of your personal statement.

Like all personal essays, personal statements have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. These elements are essential components of any narrative.

Here’s what each of those sections should do:

Introduction : The introduction always begins with what we call a “hook”—a single sentence intentionally written to grab a reader’s attention, compel them to keep reading, and give them an idea of what your essay will be about. The rest of the introductory paragraph sets the scene, introduces your reader to the central conflict of the essay, or establishes the story the rest of the essay will tell.

Unlike an essay for English or History class, you don’t necessarily have to end your introduction with your essay’s “thesis” statement. But your introduction should at least hint to your reader where the essay is headed.

Length: In a personal essay, your introduction is typically around one or two short paragraphs.

Body: The body of your personal statement is where all the excitement happens. It’s where you tell your story, detail anecdotes from your life, and craft your overall narrative. Importantly, your body paragraphs should also have at least a small level of personal reflection. Since the goal of a personal statement is to provide your reader with meaningful reflection on some part of your life, don’t save it all to the conclusion. Mix it in with your narrative.

Length: The body of your essay will likely be several paragraphs, depending on how long you want your paragraphs to be. But the body of your essay should be at least two paragraphs. Trying to cram all your information into one giant paragraph leaves your readers tired and confused—and you don’t want an admissions officer who is tired and confused.

Conclusion: Personal statement conclusions can be tricky to write. The goal of your conclusion is threefold: 1) to tie up any loose ends that the body of your essay didn’t resolve, 2) to meaningfully reflect on the overall message of your essay, and 3) to leave your admissions officers saying, “Wow, that was a great essay.”

Length: As long as your conclusion fulfills these goals, it can be as long as a few sentences or as short as a single sentence.

Once you have your story broken up into an introduction, middle, and conclusion, you can begin to get more granular.

That means plotting out your narrative in an outline.

The Three Most Common Personal Statement Outlines

Outlines give you an even clearer roadmap for your essay. If the basic format you laid out in the previous section is an old-fashioned map, then an outline is the detailed Google Maps directions that will get you there.

The good thing about college personal statements is that you’re not the first person to have written one. There are some standard narrative structures—ones that have proven to work effectively—that you can fall back on.

Finding the right essay structure is important for two reasons:

a) It helps you organize your ideas so you stay on track. An unorganized essay can go on too many tangents, lose its main point, and be ultimately confusing for readers.

b) Clear organization makes your overall theme more impactful and digestible for your reader. Organizing your story into a plot structure they’re familiar with can help you convey your message more clearly.

These narrative structures give you a basic outline within which to plot your own story. In this post, we’ll cover three of the most common ones.

Upward Trending Growth

A very common structure is one I like to call Upward Trending Growth. Since college personal statements are all about showing your maturity and insight to admissions officers, many students choose to take an “upward trending growth” approach to their college essays. Upward Trending Growth essays, as the name implies, are stories about how a writer has grown in a specific area of their life. These essays often contain explicit turning points and deep reflection about the meaning of the growth to the writer.

The Upward Trending Growth outline can be an effective way to structure essays about family background, personal challenges, obstacles you’ve overcome, and more. It may work especially well for essays that respond to Common App prompts #2, 3, and 5.

I. Introduction: You begin at Point A. Point A is in some way a “low” point from which you’ll need to grow. Your introduction describes what Point A looks and feels like as the “before” state.

II. Middle: The difficulty grows, and the need to move from Point A becomes clearer. Then there’s a driving moment that sparks the climb from Point A to Point B. The transition may be difficult, but you show how you finally move from Point A to Point B.

III. You reflect on the growth that occurred. You may also reflect on how that growth will serve you moving forward.

Going on a Journey

Essays that detail a personal journey are similar to Upward Trending Growth essays, but they aren’t necessarily about getting yourself out of a hole. They may be simply a journey of self-discovery, creativity, or education.

Going on a Journey essays do exactly that: they bring your reader on a journey with you. This journey can highlight your strengths by showing how hard you’ve worked to cultivate them.

If you want to write about your experience in a particular activity or your journey learning about one of your academic interests, then this essay outline might be the right choice for you. While it can work for many essay prompts, you might find it helpful for Common App prompts #1 and 6.

I. Introduction: You begin in a place of discomfort or unease.

II. Middle: You push yourself further out of your comfort zone. The discomfort gets worse. But there’s a turning point. You being to transform—you learn something new, see the world from a different perspective, or gain a new skill. After taking readers on through your journey with you, they begin to see who you are now as a result of this journey.

III. Conclusion: You reflect on the journey, the changes you’ve made, and where you are now. You may even look forward to the journey that is still yet to come.

Understanding Self Through Other

Finally, another common personal statement topic is about how a person or object has influenced you. In particular, many students write about how a loved one has influenced them. Other students describe how a meaningful object in their life—a doll, car, or book, for example—shaped them or is in some way a reflection of who they are today.

These essays can be effective ways to show multiple strengths at once. Not only do you get to represent the lessons you’ve learned from the “other,” but you also get to showcase the more personal side of your relationship to your “other.”

If you’re writing about your experience canning with your mom, for example, you can show that you have an interest in the science behind canning at the same time you show your care and compassion as a son or daughter.

The Understanding Self Through Other essay outline can help you translate this large sense of meaning into a concrete narrative. It works particularly well for Common App prompts #1, 4, and 7.

I. Introduction: You introduce the person or object by opening with vivid details. The introduction makes it clear why they are important to you.

II. Middle: You elaborate on the person or object and explain what your relationship is and why it’s important to you. The focus stays on yourself rather than the “other.” The reader truly gets a sense of how the “other” has impacted you as a person. There may or may not be an inciting incident that sparks some kind of change.

III. Conclusion: You reflect on what your relationship with the “other” has meant for you.

(Want to see more personal statement example structures? Join the Essay Academy for exclusive examples and video content.)

Once you have your outline in place, it’s time to start writing. The first draft of your essay is simply about getting your words on paper. They certainly don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be good. What’s important is that you start writing.

How to start a personal statement

What’s that saying? The only way to start is to start . In the case of college personal statements, that’s half true.

When you start writing, there’s really no other way but to just begin. For your own purposes, the best way to start is indeed to start. It’s likely that your topic won’t be perfect the first time around, that you’ll have to re-write and re-organize, and that you’ll have to do two or more drafts. So don’t worry about things being perfect as you begin. Just start.

However, when it comes to the actual beginning of your final personal statement draft, your first sentence shouldn’t start out willy-nilly. It should be one of—if not the —most intentional sentences in your whole essay.

You’ve been told your whole life that it’s important to make a good first impression. Your college personal statement is no different. That very first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, and it needs to pack a punch.

Good hooks catch a reader’s attention and keep it. They do this by plopping the reader right into your essay.

There are lots of methods for effective hooks, but I’ll break down three of the most common ways to approach personal statement hooks.

a) Rich description: Many personal essays hook the reader in with rich description. This is a great way to begin, especially if your essay is rooted in lived experience and if you’re a talented creative writer.

Example College Essay #8 : The sun shone through my airplane window, hitting the tray table exactly right to reveal the greasy handprint of a child.

b) Proclamation: Another method is to make a proclamation related to your overall message. These are attention-grabbing because of their boldness. By saying exactly what you want your reader to know, you compel them to read on because they want to know how the proclamation came to be.

Example College Essay #7 : " I had a stuffed animal named Elephant when I was a child.”

c) Intrigue: Hooking your reader with “intrigue” means writing a sentence that leads to more questions than it answers. This approach to an introductory hook can be a little risky, but it can be effective if your entire essay has a unique or distinct voice that parallels the intrigue.

Example College Essay #5 : While some high schoolers get in trouble for skipping class, I get in trouble for arguing with my local government officials on Twitter.

How to end a personal statement

If you thought beginning was difficult, then get ready for concluding.

Thankfully, by the time you reach your conclusion, you’ll be a better, more practiced writer, ready to take on any challenge your essay throws at you.

Beginnings and ends are similar in many ways. They are two of the most intentional parts of a college personal statement. They both function to draw your reader more explicitly into your theme, and they give you the opportunity to ensure your message comes across loud and clear.

While your introduction has more of a creative, attention-grabbing function, your conclusion’s job leans more towards reflection. All good college essays contain deep reflection on your topic.

Let’s use the topics above as an example. An essay about canning vegetables with your mom isn’t just about canning. It could also be about your relationship with your mom, about the lessons of preparedness and slow living that you learned, or about the science of canning that intrigued you.

Similarly, your experience losing the debate tournament wasn’t a story of failure. It was an experience of resilience, good attitudes, and teamwork.

You can’t expect that your readers will understand your underlying message right off the bat. You need to do that reflection work for them.

This reflection should occur throughout your essay, but the conclusion is the place to drive it home. Good conclusions artfully resolve any remaining conflict and give you one last opportunity to make your case.

Let’s look at some examples.

Conclusion example 1 - from Personal Statment Example "Ann"

Going to college won’t mean leaving Ann. It will mean opening her world–and mine–to endless new knowledge and possibilities. She’ll grow and change, and so will I. When we reunite, we’ll smile our toothy smiles and embrace each other, our curly hair intertwining. We’ll sit at the kitchen table, focused and laughing, like nothing has changed.

Conclusion example 2 - from College Essay Example #6 "Fran's Flower Farm"

Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I’d own my own flower farm. It’s brought me so many joys, challenges, and friends. I know I won’t be able to bring my flower farm with me to college. But the heart of the farm is more than the flowers. It’s about me learning and using my skills to help others. Wherever I’m planted, I know that I will bloom.

Personal Statement Example: Kayaking the Missouri

The guide’s kayak thunked against the bank as we reached our destination. After three grueling days of paddling, we had navigated our way through nearly 50 miles of winding river. Emotions–pride, exhaustion, disbelief–welled up in me. I had waited my whole life to kayak the Missouri River, and I had gone farther than I’d thought was possible.((This sentence reflects subtly on the overall theme of the essay.))

I’d been fascinated with the Missouri River for as long as I could remember. The longest river in the country, it was also my first introduction to nature’s beauty. My parents took me on a camping trip alongside the Missouri when I was ten years old. At first, I hated the hot, sticky air and complained relentlessly about the mosquitoes. But soon enough, the sun began to set. I had never seen anything as beautiful as the dark blue-green water, the orange sun setting behind the nearby rolling hills. For days, I waded through the swampy, grass-covered bank, and I laughed manically with each fish that jumped. We returned to the Missouri River every summer.

When I had the opportunity to join a youth kayaking trip up the Missouri River, I immediately agreed.((This sentence reflects subtly on the overall theme of the essay.)) With twelve kayakers and two guides, the trip gave us all the opportunity to challenge ourselves. Kayaking along the river would give me an insider’s understanding of the river, one I’d never be able to see from the shore alone.

What’s most beautiful about the Missouri is the way it brings people together. Its wide banks and narrow corners present countless obstacles for the adventurers who dare to kayak there. As we worked together to negotiate its difficult passageways, we also negotiated working as a team. With no one but ourselves to rely on, we had to learn how to collaborate and overcome disagreements. Along the way, I also learned that part of being a team also means believing in yourself.((This reflection signals a shift in tone. As a reader, we understand that we’re about to learn how and why the writer struggled with self-belief.))

Our collaborative efforts came to head one night when we were close to camp. Our guides had mapped out a stopping point, and we had only a mile or two left to go. But the night arrived quickly. The wind blew in without warning. We were taken off guard. The river current started picking up, and we began to lose control of our kayaks. We had a decision to make.(( The short sentences and descriptive language here add to the drama of the inciting incident.)) Most of the group members wanted to push on to our original campsite. But a few of us argued that continuing on would be too dangerous, that we could find a closer place to wait out the storm. Because the trip was a training program, the guides let us discuss on our own before intervening.

As one of the few proponents of finding a closer camp, I held my position. My summers along the Missouri meant that I had become adept at deciphering the weather. The thickening clouds, the purple hue of the sky, the buzz in the air all indicated that a storm was on its way. The more experienced kayakers tried to get me to concede. Heart racing, I pushed back. I knew that none of them knew the Missouri like I did. At last, the guides pitched in. They agreed with me. We calmly made our way to shore and found shelter nearby.

That decision kept us safe so that we could continue on. We made thousands of other decisions along the way, but to me, that decision was the most significant. It showed me that I can trust my own perceptions, and I felt proud of myself for not backing down.(( This short paragraph serves an essential function in the essay. It is a moment where the writer explicitly reflects on the meaning of this story. Doing so helps us, the readers, understand the essay’s overall theme.))

Kayaking the Missouri River was like finding my way home, to the river and to myself. I learned that the trip wasn’t at all about the destination. It was about me, my fellow kayakers, and the long, flowing river. Now, as I plan to pack up my kayak for college, I begin to wonder what river I’ll learn from next.(( This final sentence ties the essay together perfectly with a forward-looking perspective.))

Personal Statement Example Analysis

I don’t know about you, but I felt like I was kayaking right alongside this writer. The essay has wonderful imagery and clear organization. It offers insightful reflection that really helps the reader understand where they’re coming from.

Let’s take a closer look.

Strengths: Maturity, personal insight, teamwork

Archetype: Partner

What this essay does well:

  • The writer has a nice balance of description and reflection. Notice how each paragraph contains a little bit of each.
  • The narrative is well-organized. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end. We clearly understand what incident inspired change in the writer, and we understand how the writer moved from Point A (being less confident) to Point B (being more self-confident).
  • Since the purpose of a personal statement is ultimately to communicate to an admissions officer who you’ll be on their campus, this essay also does a nice job looking forward to the future. The conclusion ties this example in with who the writer will be in college and beyond. They’re ready for the next challenge, which leaves a positive impression on an admissions officer.

Overall, this essay is a well-written, clearly organized essay that transforms one of the writer’s extracurricular activities into a strengths-based reflection on how much they’ve grown.

And with this guide under your belt, you can write one, too! If you think more examples would be helpful in your writing journey, we have lots. Check out our personal statement , college essay , and Common App examples and analyses.

Final Thoughts

Personal statements for colleges ask you to complete an emotionally and technically difficult task. Balancing a vulnerable narrative with skilled writing is so challenging that most adults never even attempt to write another personal essay after completing their college applications.

But the process can also be a transformative and rewarding one. When done thoughtfully, your college personal statement is the perfect opportunity to reflect on your strengths, your life, your personal growth, and your future goals.

Giving admissions officers a window into your world will help them picture you on their campus and in their classrooms. A good, strengths-based personal statement will make admissions officers remember you and advocate for you.

While the process may require a lot of time and effort, hopefully following these exercises has helped you take control of the process to find what works best for you. As you’re continuing on your college application journey, the Admit Report Learning Hub will be with you every step of the way. And if you’re ready to take your college essays to the next level, the Essay Academy video course and community await!

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College Personal Statement: Examples (250 Words) & Guide

One day, out of nowhere, you suddenly need to know how to write a 250-word personal statement for a college application. Such pressure would give even great essayists writer’s block. And what exactly are you required to compose?

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A personal statement is just an essay with a topic that focuses on the writer specifically. In all the best examples, college admissions committees are given real insights into applicants.

That is to say: Unfortunately, this article can’t give you a personal statement template because each is unique. However, our experts found some great college personal statement examples (250 words and 500 words). Below, you’ll see them and how to write a successful personal statement with our guidance.

  • 🧔 What Is It?

🏁 Starting Off

💡 writing tips.

  • 🎓 Graduate School
  • ⚖️ Law School
  • 🏥 Medical School

🧔 What Is a Personal Statement?

Many high school students think they have never written a 250-word personal statement before. But most of them are mistaken. Why is this? You have probably written plenty of personal essays as a high school student. Though, they differ from what you’ll have to deal with for your college application.

A personal statement should reveal information about its author (in other words, you). You cannot stay indifferent, discussing any topic within this task.

For example:

A personal statement on literature should go beyond your opinion of your favorite book. (Definitely do not write a report !) Instead, it should indicate what your favorite book means to you . Similarly, if you’ve chosen to write about your favorite sport, you must write about how and why you feel about it. See the pattern?

Most of all:

Don’t forget that you are the star of your personal statement—no matter what, you are the topic.

🔑 Keys to 250-Word Personal Statement

Before getting into the details about what makes a college application special, let’s review essay writing fundamentals. These rules should guide you every time you sit down to compose your statement:

  • Planning your writing is essential. Don’t throw an essay together at the last minute. Think about what you’re going to write, outline your personal statement, and then execute it.
  • Be sure to use a solid writing structure , especially if you have a freeform essay prompt. Many college admissions essay prompts are freeform, but don’t let your personal statement format be freeform. However, this shouldn’t be a problem because you already know the best personal statement format! Always use a properly structured essay format with a clear introduction, thesis statement, body, and conclusion (like the 5-paragraph essay).
  • The foundation of all good writing is rewriting—so don’t submit the first draft! You’re not a professional writer, but even acclaimed writers always need to edit and rewrite to perfect their prose. If you don’t have multiple drafts of your personal statement for college, you are in trouble. You even may want to use a reworder in order to make your text perfect.
  • Make sure your essay addresses the prompt. The first and only impression most college applicants get to make is through their application essays. A strong personal statement should always address the prompt directly. If the admissions committee thinks you’ve adapted old writing for your application, they might think you don’t know how to follow directions.
  • Get the reader’s attention by showing what makes you unique and a great applicant. Put yourself in the position of the college admissions staff. They read tons of essays. Accordingly, you should focus on grabbing the attention of the reader, but in the right way. Don’t lie, exaggerate, or try to be memorable for the wrong reason. Instead, find ways to emphasize the unique traits about yourself that would make you an ideal college student.
  • …so start writing early and don’t procrastinate ! Rushed writing is typically bad writing. When you have the time to write (and rewrite), the finished product will be superior. If you know that you have an application essay due next month, try producing a draft today.
  • … so don’t waste your reader’s time. This is the most important rule of writing. When an essay has to be 500 words in length, for example, make sure that you’ve chosen an appropriate topic. If you can only write 250 words on a subject and the rest is filler, your readers will feel like their time was wasted.

If you can follow this small handful of rules, you will be ahead of most college applicants. Remember, getting into college is a competition, so it is vital to learn how to write a strong personal statement.

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🌟 How to Write a 250-Word Personal Statement

So you’re finally ready to write your personal statement? You’ve Googled “write personal statement sample” and “how to start a college personal statement,” so now you know how to start a personal statement, right?

Not so fast:

Have you brainstormed? Have you written an outline? Have you developed the perfect thesis statement? If you haven’t performed these crucial steps, then you aren’t ready.

Crafting your college personal statement.

Here are a few more tips to ensure you get your personal statement started off on the right foot:

  • Think about a similar writing process.

Ponder the following. A college application essay is just a persuasive essay in which you are trying to persuade your reader that you would make an excellent college student. Of course, you want to be more subtle, but the purpose of a personal statement for a college application is persuasion.

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  • Read personal statement examples.

Many prestigious universities publish a handful of sample personal statements from successful applicants. These are the best sorts of personal statement examples, but you should be careful to avoid copying topics or language. Instead, pay attention to similarities to better understand the best format for a personal statement.

  • Don’t goof up the simple formatting issues.

Nowadays, the physical formatting of your personal statement matters less than ever because so much text is directly submitted through the web. In case you need to send it as a Word document file, use a standard font like 12 point Arial or Times New Roman. Do not make tiny or huge margins.

Nonetheless, you may want to add a heading that includes your name. This way, you’ll be sure that you are given credit for your extraordinary personal statement—even if your printed essay is misplaced. Most importantly, check any formatting requirements and apply them before writing one word.

  • Pay attention to the strengths of a school or program to which you are applying .

If you are applying to a college with strength in agriculture, you should write an essay that shows how well you understand crops or livestock. If you’re going to an engineering school, you should highlight your dexterity with calculations. In the case of a military academy, the last thing you want to do is describe how much you hate following rules.

Armed with these guidelines for a 250-word personal statement for college, you should be able to start writing an excellent essay to get into any school.

There are many tips for writing the best college application essay , and here are a few of the most vital.

  • First : Remember the purpose of writing a personal statement for a college application.

The answer is to get into the colleges to which you are applying. You’re not writing to express yourself, though good personal essay examples typically do that. Instead, you need to impress a university staff member, reading dozens of papers every day for a month.

  • Second : Select a topic that contributes to your success.

Since the goal is to get admitted to a college, you need to put your best foot forward. Try to choose a topic that highlights one of your most positive attributes.

Suppose you can write about a topic that clarifies what a great college student you will be—it’s excellent! Try to use your personal statement to show your incredible drive and resilient character inside the classroom and out. But again, don’t lie or exaggerate.

  • Third: Write about activities that define your personality.

If possible, write about activities that are on your application elsewhere, but are not well described. In case you were a class president, you might want to mention that.

However, if you started a unique club that did charity work, tutoring, or anything else benefiting the community, this would be a superior topic. Class presidents are popular students, while students who create positive change in their communities are rare gems.

  • Lastly: Never waste your reader’s time .

Follow the general rules given earlier in this article, but pay special attention to this one. The admissions staff that reads these college essays must read many application packets daily. They want to feel like every paper they read is worthy of their attention.

For this reason, never include filler in an admission essay. If there are any wasted words in your college personal statement (whether 500-word or 250-word one), cut them immediately.

🕵️ Specific Personal Statement Secrets

What if you’ve already been admitted to your dreams’ college? And now, your goal is to get into the graduate program. Or you’ve studied hard, done well in college, and decided to go to law school. Last but certainly not least, you may be applying to medical school.

You’ll need a personal statement that will get you in the school or program for all these cases. Below, we’ve gathered some tips for these particular instances.

🎓 Graduate School Personal Statement

Many students have to settle for safety schools when attending college. Still, graduate and professional institutions can provide a second chance to achieve your academic dreams.

Before you dust off the college application essay that got you into your current university, you should consider that graduate students’ standards are higher. You have to work a lot to get your Master’s degree or a Ph.D.

Here are a few tips that you should follow if you want to get into your dreams’ graduate program.

  • Pick graduate programs to apply to that suit your strengths from your undergraduate education. This isn’t exactly a writing tip, but it is a tip that makes your writing much more manageable. When you sit down to write your grad school application essays, it can be relatively easy if your résumé screams that you are a perfect fit.
  • Try to find and read more than one successful graduate school personal statement sample . If you are an overachieving undergraduate student, like many future grad students are, you may have strong relationships with your teaching assistants, instructors, and even professors. Many of these people may have graduate school 250-word personal statement examples from their graduate school applications. Many of them would be happy to share them with you if you promise to be nice. After reading a successful personal statement or two, you may see what is expected of a grad school applicant.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to the graduate program or your future graduate advisors ahead of time. Graduate school is not like undergraduate programs—you will probably work very closely with a professor. Accordingly, you should email or even phone them before you apply. The content of your conversations will shape your personal statement. For example, you may know the professor you want to work with also wants to work with you. Then you should include that information in your personal statement.
  • Get help from current or past grad students! Again, if you are an overachieving undergraduate, make sure to use your professional contacts to write the best essays possible. Some constructive criticism on your application materials could be just what you need to get admitted.

These tips are just the beginning of writing one of the best grad school essays that will be submitted to your graduate program of choice.

Above all else:

Remember to follow all the norms within your field. Every discipline and subject in graduate school has slightly different standards . Only use those tips applicable to your domain.

⚖️ Law School Personal Statement

Don’t make a boneheaded mistake with your law school personal statement! Following the rules outlined above is just a start. You’ll also need to read a few law school personal statements and pay attention to these specific features in the application process.

  • Make sure to use crystal clear language. Practicing law is all about communicating logically and persuasively. These three elements of communication are the fundamentals of being a successful lawyer. If your essay does not demonstrate these qualities, you will probably not be admitted to law school.
  • Don’t focus too much on your love of the legal professions or process. It is a little known fact that most lawyers never enter a courtroom in the average year. Trial lawyers make up a small percentage of lawyers. Most are corporate lawyers who use their expertise to advise their firms and write and analyze contracts. And of course, many individuals with law degrees use their legal knowledge, training, and skills for totally unrelated professions. Accordingly, you should focus on writing an essay that describes the positive attributes. Show what makes you well suited to learning and writing about law, rather than your long-term professional goals.
  • If you do talk about the implications of a legal profession or its importance to you, be careful! If you insist on writing about your imagined future as a judge or your deep and eternal love of the law, make sure your writing does not contain inaccuracies. Remember, the people reading your law school personal statements are probably lawyers—and they almost certainly have better understandings of the law than you. If your law school personal statement contains any legal content, perhaps have a lawyer read it.

🏥 Medical School Personal Statement

Medical doctors, optometrists, and dentists each have their special schools with their stringent standards. As such, read some sample essays and follow these tips to ensure your success.

  • If you are applying to medical school, be sure you apply to a program that might accept you. Be realistic when assessing your résumé, transcript, and MCAT scores. The medical schools you are applying to should be within reach. If you can match your desired schools’ qualifications, your medical school personal statement will be much easier to write. (However, one nice feature of med school personal statements is that you can often write an AMCAS personal statement and use it for multiple programs.)
  • Demonstrate your skills as both a scholar and a scientist . Medical school in the 21st century is equal parts book smarts and scientific knowhow. If you have laboratory research experience, make sure to share it. If you’ve had scientific publications, they need to be a focus of your personal statement.

Thank you for reading! We hope all these tips were helpful, and now you can nail your college personal statement. Share the article with other people who may find it useful for their essay writing.

Further reading:

  • Scholarship Essay Examples about Yourself
  • How to Write a Scholarship Essay about Why You Deserve It
  • Financial Assistance Essay: Useful Tips to Make It Rock
  • How to Write an Essay Describing Your Financial Need
  • Why I Want to be a Pharmacist Essay: Step-by-step Guide
  • Why I Want to Be a Teacher Essay Writing Guide
  • College Application Essay Writing Mistakes to Avoid

✏️ Personal Statement for College FAQ

Nearly any college or scholarship application procedure includes writing a specific paper. It may be a motivation letter, a personal statement, or an application essay, etc. A student should describe their background, provide relevant information about experience and goals, prove their motivation.

Applying for a scholarship implies writing a personal statement or a similar paper. If you want to succeed in it, look at multiple examples or even templates available online. Your main task is to highlight your strength and motivation.

For a college application, a standard format includes the following key points:

  • Introduction (name, age, place of residence);
  • Educational background (all levels + related courses);
  • The desired program you’re applying for;
  • Justification of your choice, your motivation;
  • Relevant additional details about you.

A personal statement might look a little different, depending on the type of application. For grad school, college, masters, jobs – each one might have its peculiarities. The common principle is that it should be well-structured, contain relevant details about your background, and prove your strong motivation.

🔗 References

  • How to Write a Great College Essay, Step-by-Step: Alex Heimbach, PrepScholar
  • 10 Top Personal Statement Writing Tips: Studential
  • Editing the Essay, Part One: Kim Cooper, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
  • Popular College Application Essay Topics (and How to Answer Them): The Princeton Review
  • Paragraph Structure: University of Maryland, Global Campus
  • College Essay Examples, How to Write Your Story: US News
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The Indian Express

The Indian Express

Study Abroad: Tips for writing a personal statement while applying to a university

Posted: 30 January 2023 | Last updated: 25 December 2023

— Helyn Gould

Across the globe, competition to get into universities is fierce. Even when applicants meet entry requirements, limited numbers of places can still mean those who make the grade are unsuccessful. Faced with applications of equal academic quality, university selectors turn to applicants’ personal statements to help them decide how to allocate places.

The first thing to remember is you have a limited character limit. For example, applications to undergraduate degrees at UK universities are made through the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) and must be no more than 4,000 characters long. For postgraduate students, who make applications directly to universities, statements will have varying word limits, so you should check this in advance.

Also read | Study Abroad: What does ‘holistic evaluation’ mean in college application

You should think of the personal statement as the cover letter to your application – which is akin to your CV with your academic credentials on it – so don’t repeat what’s already in that.  You can also include any work experience within the employment section of the application, even if it was unpaid.

Your personal statement should be written in your natural voice and explain:

— Why you want to apply for that discipline of study

— Any relevant work experience

— What your career aspirations are and how you hope to apply the skills you learn

— Your interests and activities outside school/college/work 

— Most importantly, how your skills and experience link to your study choice

Learn university's/country's culture: Your statement needs to convey your interest, motivation and enthusiasm for your chosen discipline and the personal qualities that would make you a good student. Learning a little about the culture and the values of the institutions you are applying to will give you insight into what they are looking for too.

Work experience: Before you put pen to paper – think about what initially sparked your interest in this subject, how has your interest and understanding evolved? Effectively explaining your motivation for a particular subject is important.  Selectors want to understand what sparked your interest and what you have done to develop it. Explain the journey you have been on — any clubs at school, work experience, any online courses — making it specific to that discipline, and any specialism within it. What excites you about it?

Also read | University of Essex offers Ian James Evans Scholarship for law students; check how to apply

By showing you are actively pursuing your interest, you are demonstrating that you can make the leap from school, where your education follows a set curriculum, to university where your learning is much more self-directed. Evidencing examples of how you’ve put this passion into practice are very helpful — so you should definitely highlight relevant work experience, volunteering or hobbies that have allowed you to gain knowledge and experience of your subject outside the classroom.

If you have a part-time job, think about how this applies to your chosen field of study and what you’ve learnt from it, rather than simply stating it as a fact. W hile it is helpful to give an indication of what your future aspirations in the subject are, don’t feel you need to have an exact career path plotted out. It’s more about showing an understanding of the pathways involved.

Highlight your initiative: Applicants often feel they need to demonstrate leadership skills – but at undergraduate level this isn’t something selectors are particularly expecting to see. Instead highlight your initiative, focus and creativity. It is better to demonstrate your collaborations skills – how you listen, negotiate, influence and inspire others as part of a team.

Value add: Also, don’t just think about explaining why you’re perfect for a particular programme of study – think about other qualities or skills you’d bring to the university community, beyond the academic.

Also read | List of foreign universities accepting JEE score for admissions

This could be interests and skills in sports, volunteering, and democracy (for example acting as a class representative). There’s more to a degree than simply getting a qualification – it’s about personal development in that period in your life and the opportunities that come with it. Successful students not only achieve academically but are also involved and active within their university community.

Take feedback: Always ask someone to read over what you’ve written – to get their feedback and also to check for spelling and grammatical errors. You want to aim to write it well, but don’t obsess about the language too much. What selectors want to see is enthusiasm and understanding, rather than a perfect piece of prose – unless you’re apply for an English Literature course,

Finally, remember to be authentic. Don’t try to fit a stereotype or pretend to be someone you’re not. I’d even advise against trying to align you statement with other people’s personal statements. Instead, just be yourself.

(The writer is Deputy Associate Principal at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow)

Study Abroad: Tips for writing a personal statement while applying to a university

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COMMENTS

  1. The Personal Statement

    The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories: 1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. 2.

  2. 12 Outstanding Personal Statement Examples + Why They Work 2023

    If you're applying to college, you'll most likely need to write a personal statement as part of your college application. (And please note that the personal statement examples below are for undergraduate applications—if you're trying to find grad school statement of purpose examples, please head to that link.)

  3. How to Write a Personal Statement

    When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.

  4. How to Start a Personal Statement

    Simply put, a personal statement is a type of college application essay. But, if you're looking for answers to, "What is a personal statement?" you probably already know that. At its core, the personal statement should be the essay that most clearly reflects your application narrative.

  5. How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges

    For undergrad admissions, personal statements are any essays students must write to submit their main application. For example, the Common App Essay and Coalition Application Essay are examples of personal statements. Similarly, the ApplyTexas Essays and University of California Essays are also good examples.

  6. College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips

    Sep 10, 2022 182,755 College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips Wordvice HJ College Application Essay Writing Tips for Success Watch on So, you have started your college application process and are hitting a wall. You got your high school transcripts and letters of recommendation in order. Your SAT scores are on the way.

  7. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    December 14, 2021 HBR Staff/Getty Images/Bulgakova Kristina Summary. How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here...

  8. How To Write a College Admissions Personal Statement

    A personal statement is the primary essay that prospective college students send to all colleges and universities to which they're applying. There are two main ways to send a personal statement, through the Coalition Application or the Common Application.

  9. What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the

    In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended. In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?"

  10. Personal Statement Examples

    As we've mentioned, the personal statement is your chance to stand out in a pool of applicants. It's an extremely important part of any college application. A personal statement for college will be a requirement of nearly every application you complete. Admissions will use your personal statement to get a sense of who you are beyond your ...

  11. What Is a College Personal Statement?

    While other aspects of your application offer insight into your academic skills, the personal statement shows colleges your personality. Sometimes, the personal statement is used interchangeably with Common or Coalition Application essay, which is usually written based on an assigned topic or topic of your choice about a specific issue.

  12. Examples

    Statement #1. My interest in science dates back to my years in high school, where I excelled in physics, chemistry, and math. When I was a senior, I took a first-year calculus course at a local college (such an advanced-level class was not available in high school) and earned an A. It seemed only logical that I pursue a career in electrical ...

  13. Personal Statement for College

    The personal statement is a reflection of your experiences, values, and goals. Written with clarity and sincerity, it amplifies your college application, offering admissions panels a clear insight into your character. As you embark on this writing journey, maintain focus, stay authentic, and emphasize your unique journey.

  14. How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

    To understand what the personal statement is, it's helpful to imagine your entire college application as a human body. The personal statement is the metaphorical "heart"—it captures the essence of who you are as a person and what motivates you, both academically and personally. Let's briefly clarify what it isn't.

  15. This Just In: Class of 2022 Personal Statement Examples & Advice

    This Just In: Class of 2022 Personal Statement Examples & Advice. admit advice. college application essays. personal statement. With each application season, we get to read a new set of incredibly insightful and creatively crafted personal statements. Take a sneak peek at the essays and advice from members of the Class of 2022.

  16. Personal Statements

    The personal statement, an integral component of most graduate or professional school applications, gives you an opportunity to tell your story to the admissions committee. A well-written, reflective personal statement can greatly enhance an application. It will not only demonstrate your writing skills but also explain why you are a qualified ...

  17. How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

    A personal statement is a special type of essay that's required when you're applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you're expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application.

  18. Personal Statement Format + Examples

    The personal statement format, structure, and content tips below can help you select an approach that helps you find and express the arc in your life, whether you're working on undergraduate college admissions, law school, medical school, or other graduate schools. What is the Correct Personal Statement Format?

  19. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Personal Statement Examples. Essay 1: Summer Program. Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American. Essay 3: Why Medicine. Essay 4: Love of Writing. Essay 5: Starting a Fire. Essay 6: Dedicating a Track. Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders. Essay 8: Becoming a Coach.

  20. How to Write a Personal Statement for College (15+ Examples)

    A response personal statement is an essay answering a specific question and is more common for college applications. These questions guide your writing but are geared toward getting to know you. For example, you may be asked, "What matters most to you, and why?" or "How have your life experiences led you to your current interests or goals?"

  21. How to Write a Personal Statement for Colleges

    But if you're using an application system like the Common Application or Coalition, then your personal statement will be maximum 650 words. Other applications might require you to write anywhere from 450 to 700 or even 1000 words. In all cases, our general rule is this: try to get to at least 80% of the word count.

  22. How important are personal statements in college applications?

    Writing a personal statement is a large part of the application process to colleges and universities. As you start the college application process, you'll have to gather relevant information about yourself to show colleges your unique qualifications. Students must submit SAT/ACT scores, grades, and descriptions of their courses and fill out info about extracurriculars and other academic ...

  23. College Personal Statement: Examples (250 Words) & Guide

    In all the best examples, college admissions committees are given real insights into applicants. That is to say: Unfortunately, this article can't give you a personal statement template because each is unique. However, our experts found some great college personal statement examples (250 words and 500 words).

  24. Study Abroad: Tips for writing a personal statement while ...

    For example, applications to undergraduate degrees at UK universities are made through the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) and must be no more than 4,000 characters long.