Writing Personal Statements Presentation

Writing Successful
Personal Statements
Angela Gulick
Writing Lab
September 2013
The purpose of this workshop is to give you tips
on writing personal statements for admission to
other schools and for scholarships. This
workshop has three goals:
discuss ways personal statements are used
examine tips for crafting successful personal
mention pitfalls to avoid when writing personal
Ways Personal Statements Are Used
Personal statements are used to “fill in the gaps” not provided by
other documents such as college transcripts, portfolios, cover
letters, letters of support
 Know well what your other documents are telling your
reader and try to use your personal statement to either
explain something that might cause reader concern or to
highlight/showcase something that might get lost in the
 Examples: sketchy academic history, absence from school,
extra factors such as full-time work, self-funded education,
military experience
Ways Personal Statements Are Used
Personal statements are used to show your human
side, a side not always clear from grade point
averages and extracurricular experiences alone.
You are not expected to tell your entire life story in a
personal statement, so resist the urge to just write
random details and/or grocery lists. We will discuss
specific tips momentarily.
Remember that school admissions and scholarships
are competitive, so you want to be memorable without
being frightfully memorable!
Ways Personal Statements Are Used
Personal statements are used to show your ability
to follow directions.
Study the personal statement’s original language very
carefully. If you are asked to write 2 pages, write 2
pages. If you are asked to type the document, type the
document. Don’t overwhelm your readers with more
than they asked for.
Look for verbs in the original personal statement
directions. If you are asked to summarize, compare,
contrast, evaluate and so on, these are specific
expectations your readers will have. Bottom line: Give
your readers what they ask for!
Ways Personal Statements Are Used
Personal statements are used to show your writing,
organization, and critical thinking abilities.
Remember that in the eyes of a reader, you are your
paperwork. Your documents need to do the talking for
Take extra pains to edit and organize your work for
ease in reading. Some readers have literally hundreds
of applications to review, so the more user-friendly
your personal statement is, the better.
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Tip One: Read the application materials
carefully and answer the question(s) posed.
Underline any verbs you see. Pay attention to
formatting issues/page lengths. Don’t guess
or approximate an answer. If you don’t
understand the question or aren’t sure how
to answer it, seek outside suggestions (such
as the Writing Lab ).
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Tip Two: Understand what readers want to
see. In general, readers want to see people
with drive, focus, and a passion for where
they are headed next. Readers want to see
candidates with a “game plan” or clear
purpose. Some readers may wish to see past
experiences/knowledge, and some may not.
But most readers want to see applicants who
know what they want and are prepared to
work hard to accomplish these goals.
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Tip Three: Consider a chronological approach unless given
other directions. This approach divides your statement into
three sections:
 Before: What have you done to prepare for
 During: What are you currently doing to prepare for
 After: What will you do in the future to prepare for your
Note: The following slides offer tips for writing your
personal statement. However, keep in mind that you
shouldn’t try to accomplish all of these goals.
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Stage One: Before
When/how/why did you first develop your
interest in career/educational topic?
What are some key academic classes you have
taken that have helped you?
What are some significant readings you have
done in this subject?
What are some relevant projects you have
worked on in your career/educational area of
What significant extracurricular projects or
activities have contributed to your interests?
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Stage Two: During
 What are you doing right now that is aiding your
academic or career interests? Keep in mind that not all
experiences need to be formal academic ones.
 Do you belong to any organizations or associations?
 Have you done any job shadowing or internships?
 Are you doing any outside readings, particularly in
relevant academic, scholarly, or trade publications?
 Are you currently involved in any classes or outside
activities that show your on-going commitment and
Tips for Crafting Successful Personal
Stage Three: After
 What are your specific plans for the future, and how will
this opportunity (admission to a school, scholarship) help
you achieve those goals?
 How will this school specifically provide you with these
opportunities? For example, are there any specific
classes, faculty, or programs you want to take or work
with at the school you are applying to?
 What do you think you can offer your school in terms of
special skills, background knowledge, diversity,
personality. As uncomfortable as it sometimes is, you
need to do a bit of selling your reader on YOU.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing
Personal Statements
Pitfall Number One: The Timeline Approach
 Some students, because they don’t know what readers
want, try to provide a bit of everything in the personal
statement. Write about fewer topics but write about
them in greater detail and analyze them.
 Instead of analyzing an event, some students just tell a
story and think its point or moral is obvious. Don’t
assume anything you write is obvious; what is obvious to
you may be unclear to another.
 Remember: Be selective. Transcripts and resumes
generally give readers grocery lists of information. Your
job is to select significant experiences and make them
relevant to the reader. You also need to show the person
behind the details.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing
Personal Statements
Pitfall Number Two: The Extreme Approach
It is a good idea to show aspects of your personality in a
personal statement within reason. However, extremes
on either side (overly formal or overly informal) can leave
readers cold.
Overly formal approaches use elevated language,
“artificial” expressions that don’t sound natural, jargon,
and long and convoluted sentence structures.
Overly informal approaches use slang (“street
language”), clichés, and inappropriate humor.
A rule of thumb: Readers are more forgiving of formality
than informality.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing
Personal Statements
Pitfall Number Three: The Generic Approach
 While it is convenient to have a “one statement fits all”
approach, this can really backfire. Readers can sniff out a
generic statement that has been mass produced and it
leaves them cold.
 Work to customize your personal statement in some way
for the specific school or scholarship you are applying to.
Do a bit of research on the Internet; find out something
about the school or scholarship. Be sincere, but use this
information to show you are familiar with this
Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing
Personal Statements
Pitfall Number Four: The “Jerry McGuire” Approach
 The Jerry McGuire approach is based on the Tom Cruise
movie where the character Jerry McGuire yelled again
and again, “Show me the money!” Some writers err, with
regard to scholarship applications, in only discussing
financial need.
 Financial need is important, but don’t allow it to be all
the reader learns about you. One recommendation:
discuss financial need at the end of statement. This way,
your reader learns something about you before learning
about your financial status. However, your letter ends
with that information which might stick with the reader.
Some Final Thoughts
Have lots of people read over your materials to help you in
terms of clarity, correctness, and organization. But be aware
the more people you ask, the more advice you will receive.
Save all of your statements and other materials. While we
don’t encourage you to send out exact duplicates, you can
often revise an existing document to meet your new needs.
Make use of the Writing Lab; we look at personal statements
all the time. Please let us help you with personal statements
and other academic and professional writing tasks you have.
Good Luck!
Related flashcards
Create Flashcards